Monday, 29 September 2014

Board game digest

Digging into the back catalogue of posts never finished, I find this entitled simply 'Board Game Digest'. No, it's not an essay on the art of eating 'Fluxx' cards successfully, but apparently an attempt to talk about the recent board games that have hopped off the shelves into the collection and then right out back onto an Internet shelf again for sale.

It has been a rough year for buying board games. I don't seem to quite have the knack for it yet. There are stone cold classics like 'Carcassonne', 'Ticket to Ride', 'Citadels', 'Fluxx' and 'The aMazeing Labyrinth' that made it into the game chest at the beginning and will never leave, but since then? A mixed bag. Board games come in all types and difficulties, from silly party games to mid-weight fun for all the family to heavy duty strategy or social marathons. I try to aim for the middle, but somehow always miss. Never buy from what's available in the shop, it's a rookie mistake!

(I write this while playing 'Dual Transform' by the great Andrew Plotkin. It's exceedingly unusual, and not a physical game but a text adventure. Check it out. You'll need a Frotz interpreter to play it but fortunately everything's free! Or you can play it online. It's all on the link.)

So, in the spirit of reporting on the various games we try out here at the Quirky Muffin, a quick digest of the purchases over the last year or so.

Concordia: A Roman-themed strategy game which somehow manages to remain unplayed. It's supposed to be very good. We might never find out. I think the woman on the lid is peering into my soul.

Forbidden Desert: A great little cooperative tile laying game, in which everyone teams up to build the flying machine and escape the titular desert before... You know.

King of Tokyo: A knockabout monster-versus-monster battle for the city of Tokyo. The add-on features a giant panda in a bamboo hat. Lots of simple-minded fun and dice-rolling.

Mystery of the Abbey: A much more complex mystery and deduction game than Cluedo or Mysteries of Old Peking. Good interaction or non-interaction if you choose. You get to ring a little bell. Ting-a-ling.

Power Grid: A seemingly dry as desert dust strategy game in which you buy resources and do administration for your power plant network. Be dazzled by garbage powered electricity. Good if you're in an odd frame of mind!

Robinson Crusoe: A pretty good cooperative game, that is hampered by the epic setup and preparation time before you can play. It takes forever. It's thematic but a little dry. Not played enough to judge properly.

Sentinels of the Multiverse: A fairly boring cooperative superhero card playing game, very mechanical, and deeply linear. Sold it on.

Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective: A mammoth and legendary mystery game, cooperative, in which you all sift through the clues, papers and story book and try to solve the ten or so cases therein. Extremely atypical.

Suburbia: Best described as Sim City on a table, with lots of hexes. A lovely game. Plot to make the most money and win in the end or try to make a lovely ecological suburb all of your own.

Tales of the Arabian Nights: A story telling game (or almost a non-game if you listen to some people). Wander around the world on the board, collect story and destiny points, try to avoid being cursed or turning into an ape. Read lots and lots. Awesome.

Tokaido: An extremely simple and linear game about a journey along the great road itself. Not competitive, or thoughtful, a little routine but nice nonetheless.

In retrospect, now having thought about it, that's not a bad record. There's a board game for everyone out there if you really want to find one. I have to recommend 'Sherlock Holmes' highly if you happen to have someone with whom to play it. Sadly, that's my deficiency. One day, consulting detective, one day!


PS 'Dual Transorm' is actually very cute. Check it out, seriously.

PPS Looking for a copy of 'Snow Tails', due to 'Due South' and a penchant for dog sleds. Yee haa!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Food and Lies (A small retread)

Lying on the floor yesterday, in a mild doze, I was struck by a thought. It was about oranges. This isn't unusual. There are far worse things to think about! The thought was approximately thus: If every carton of orange juice is made from between 30 and 50 oranges, then if we stopped drinking orange juice there would be thousands if not millions of oranges available for everyone to eat in the world every year. This seems very strange. Oranges are being used unwisely.

The oranges are only the tip of the iceberg, or the smallest bay in the orange juice ocean. Imagine all the beef that gets converted into burgers, via the most profoundly horrible methodology that you absolutely should not look up, just being frozen as steaks or sold as trimmings for sandwiches or roast dinners. Then do the same for all the turkey and chicken, and the masses of pork that gets converted into barely edible sausages and frozen things. It's a mind boggling amount of food, and all of it effectively a waste and misleading as we end up eating more of what they do make very unwisely.

It is a naive point of view, I know, but maybe it should be said that the food industry is a ridiculous packing plant of lies, perverting the original intent of fridges and freezers for more than a century now. Those invaluable devices were meant for us to manage our own food preparation and storage better and reduce waste. Instead, for the most part and non-literally, we can't fit the second half of today's cottage pie in as it's already filled to the brim with burgers or turkey cheese fried things (name withheld for lack of publicity) or piles and piles of potato waffles, and several things with way too much sugar. It's all down to lies and gullibility and convenience.

In Dorothy L Sayers' 'Murder Must Advertise', Lord Peter Wimsey goes undercover at an advertising firm to investigate a death, which is really all just a cover for Sayers to vent her frustration with that industry she used to work in, and vent she does. The lies and manipulations are astounding, and not just in food. Gullible people are led to believe in the most ridiculous needs for things, and because they're gullible or just plain stupid - I can not deny the existence of stupid people, only hope I am not one of them while thinking the reverse - they enter into this bizarre chain of beliefs that cycles endlessly and which is completely ridiculous in actuality, and which has no opposition! No-one argues the opposite of convenience because they know it won't go well, but they really should.

"Drink orange juice, it's packed with vitamin C!"
"No, eat an orange, it's got all you need for a day."

"You must have this new iphone 6, it can do even more of the things you do already!"
"Go sit under a tree and talk to your friends. It's calm and relaxing."

"Our burgers are now 100% beef!"
"Wait, then what were you selling me before? What?! Infamy! I no longer trust you, creeps."

"Hello, we're selling these fine leather jackets."
"Actually, fine, no problem. Come in!"

'New and improved' is a particular favourite of mine, it being in many cases a tacit confession of guilt that were selling something worse before, and hoping no-one will notice that now. I might be the only to get the joke though. Also, whenever you see a picture of the Milky Way, it's actually not our galaxy but Andromeda. We can't get a picture of the Milky Way as we're inside it, but I digress!

There's no real answer of course, except to educate people in the idea that sometimes businesses lie to us to sell us things, and that they do it systematically and with great experience. Yes, at first thought the purchase of a quadlangular may have seemed like a good idea, but you will need to get the patent fuel pellets and replace the laser crystals every eighteen months, and then be tempted with the mark two quadlangular (the 'Duo'!), which will vibrate twice as quickly, but fall apart 20% more quickly on average. Sigh, it's all lies. Cynicism, thou art on holiday far too often when it comes to buying things!

In retrospect, I suppose my anger was mainly at the traps of life in this strange materialistic world, as I sit hypocritically buried under DVDs and novels, and brood over the loss of my boomerang in the cricket nets at the park this afternoon. What a world!


PS I do have quadlangulars for sale at a bargain price now! Just bear in mind you will need a medical permission and references from your local notary before sale is completed. Also, some garlic, to combat the 'verdant aroma'.

PPS While everyone was digging into the systematic exposure of tobacco companies in the last century, it's a shame they didn't kick over the confectionary and fast food firms at the same time. It might have saved the health services billions!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Story: Wordspace, XIX

(Part I , XVIII , XX)

War looked gravely up at the roof of the Zone, and contemplated the truths of what he had just been told. Behind him, at the tea table, the other Destructives waited to see how their long unrequired leader would react.

"When we were exiled here, trapped by those placid predictable preservers of the status quo, we settled down and we didn't hate. We tried to escape - surely who wouldn't? - but the Zone was impregnable in its very lack of meaning. We settled, and now when we're needed, should we venture back out into the world?" War looked at the party behind him. "We left it all behind us. And...  What became of Change?" The last question was pointed directly at Club, who jumped at the sudden shift. "Why isn't he here? What happened to him?"

"I, uh, he hasn't been seen in time memorial. Not since the exile." Club was fazed and then recovered, as Mystery took up the response. "He is supposed to be in here with you."

"He has never been in here with us. Never."

"The reports say - "

"The reports are wrong. He's out there somewhere, but that's for another day. If you don't mind waiting around the side of this structure, we will take a democratic vote. Gentle words of the Zone, we must decide!"

Lies led Mystery and Club around the hut, and then examined them critically. "I suppose there's not been much debate out there in the Wordspace without us. Your skills are definitely shoddy."

"It seems as if many of the things we take for granted on the outside are dubious, or perhaps everything we're being told here is a pack of lies." Mystery directed the pointed look he had just learnt from War directly at his old mentor. "I'm not that shoddy."

"Perhaps, perhaps." Lies merely smiled. "It is odd that Change never made it in here. We used to play such games, with fantastical variable rules, and such incomprehensible outcomes! But he wasn't here when I came. In my forgetfulness I forgot to mention it."

"He could be anywhere. Or even more than anywhere, considering where we've been. However, he's not dead, as there has been no new Change to replace him, or so we're told." Mystery's syllables tightened. "All this doubt changes everything!"

"Don't worry, Boss, none of it bothers me. Just tell me what to do, and I'll do it." Club was resolute and reliable, always and forever. Lies smiled.

A polite roar erupted from around the hut. The diminutive Shock scurried around, and motioned them to return. The full cohort of Destructives stood waiting for them, and determination seeped into the foundations beneath them, into the dome above them, and into the air around them.

The tea party was over.

More shall follow...

Wednesday, 24 September 2014


In the wake of an epic and apparently endless Film Bin recording of a fan commentary for 'V For Vendetta', everything is seeming just a little fuzzy but it's best to press on anyway, springing the textual traps of a Quirky Muffin upon both myself and today's reader. The rota says that that is 'Gene from Topeka' today. Hi, Gene!

Have I written about correspondences before? They form the backbone of a fashionably obsolete mode of communication, one that involves more than posting pictures of cats and tweeting about television shows, and one that can be very challenging indeed. The nature of the writing of 'proper' letters and e-mails entails that you actually do engage in a dialogue and establish the corresponding points of shared interest as well as the points of mutual discord. You actually have to absorb what the other person is saying, lest they give up on your endless self-serving monologue. You learn so much and share so much that it can become a reassurance even in the grimmer parts of life that there's someone out there, a pen friend, a correspondent. Someone who corresponds to some parts of what you are.

Correspondences have been a vital part of my life for a while now, mainly after completing the dreaded doctorate, and now they're compulsory for keeping touch with people long gone back to their own countries and lives. I'm terrible at it, and neglect many people, which is shaming. This very blog is very much a correspondence, and not just with you Gene, but with the fictional me that lives on top of the monitor, smiling and throwing peanuts at any puns that emerge. Gosh, it has been ages since a good pun!

Hang on, were puns ever a thing here? Did I make that up on the spot? Oops. It must have been the Clomp stealing the keyboard. The Clomp, evidence manifest of a youth spent wisely on silly story telling and imaginative lunacy. If only the Clomp were real and could go and menace people in the Job Centre who insist on little books being filled in and futile visits to their job search website. He/It/Whatever would probably laugh and zap off to a more entertaining time at the International Lint Exposition of 2094, as set in scenic Milwaukee. The Clomp is strange.

With that, and with much tiredness, the keyboard is hung up for another day and the world surrendered once again to the sunny glades of Morpheus. Much like many others out there in the world, but not Gene; He's currently on a week-long detox program that encourages pumpkins as a viable and stable food source. He won't be sleeping any time soon. There are few correspondences between anyone and Gene.


Remember: Be careful out there!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Story: Wordspace, XVIII

(Part I , XVII , XIX)

Mystery had not expected this. Club had not expected this. Only Lies had been expecting this, and it had kept the information slyly to itself. Before them stood the great legendary Destructives of the Wordspace, the villains who had been locked up here in the Zone of Meaningless Jargon for cycles uncounted, and they had been having a garden tea party?

Mystery was absently shaking War's hand, or whatever passed for a hand in a sentient word, as the giant made some genial introductions to his fellow prisoners. "It has been so long since we had new arrivals... Bad luck on your being here, old bean... This is Chaos, he's wonderful at murals, electrifying... Come over here, Shock, and show the enigmatic one your surprise tea cakes..."

Every Destructive seemed far less terrible than they were supposed to be! Every single one! Looking at its old mentor Lies, Mystery realised that if they were not slaves to their own meanings, why should the Destructives be? War had finally stopped speaking, in that domineering way it did. Mystery raised its voice slightly, and asked in a tone of curiosity, "You are not at all what I was expecting. Any of you." He realised his own rudeness. "I mean, you were all put in here for your shear uncontrollable tendencies, and thirst for power, not because you liked to drink tea or paint murals."

War smiled and elaborated: "I believe you might say that the reports of our crimes were rather exaggerated." It motioned around him. "All of us that you see here don't only tend toward destruction but also toward change. In fact it has always surprised me that Change himself isn't here with us. He must have been canny indeed to escape the purge, what?" A question crossed its mind. "Your predecessor took no sides in anything, and surely you would do the same." War towered suddenly as he stood at his full height. "Why are you here, Mystery?"

Club and Mystery stood flanking each other and then Lies lined alongside them. That lonely exile addressed the Destructives at their tea party with great firmness, deliberation and with no attention paid to Cacophany's hideous tea cosie. "Great fellow exiles, in the Wordspace we all call home, there is chaos outside and invasion in the air. A powerful nightmare has crossed over from outside - yes, there is outside - and proceeds to destroy all in his path. We stand here now to ask advice, assistance, and reinforcement. If you are so willing."

A recursive word that could only be the legendary Fractal muttered somewhat bitterly, "They must be desperate indeed."

"Aye, after what they did to us to conceal their own plans." Mused stately Disaster, tapping a cup with its digit. "Tell us more and then we shall talk alone."

Mystery told the story again, as he already had so many times. The now serious words all around him suddenly seemed far more imposing, and the box he had been sent here to open far more real. The words waiting outside the Zone, however, began to appear far more sinister in his memory, and the question that bothered him most was what might happen in the aftermath of possible success.

To be continued...

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Sting

A random jumbled up pile of words, masquerading as a blog post, that's what you will get today. No complaints now, as I know where the gold bullion is buried and which portions are really made of chocolate. Oh, the joys of chocolate gold bullion. There should be a novel about such a heist, with a milk float involved somewhere. Yes, a milk float!

In this random assemblage of nonsense, cunningly designed to distract from the sting of my latest job rejection, we begin with a sudden transition into the other activities at hand. For example: Blackberry picking. It's that time of year again when people trundle the trails and fields, picking fruit for free that would otherwise be paid for handsomely at the shops. Berry and fruit season is here, as is thorn rip and sting time. Yes, break out the plasters, it's pickin' month! Over two days, we managed to pick up three pounds of blackberries, left unaccountably on the bushes by the normally diligent local scavengers. Where could they all be, those people who normally trump me by days. Days! Has scavenging interest decayed generationally? If so, how sad...

Scavenging also features heavily in 'The Documents In The Case', an epistolic detective novel from Dorothy L Sayers, the only one not to feature Lord Peter Wimsey. It's a curious book, especially now various forewards have stated that Sayers really hated writing detective fiction / Wimsey stories after a while. It's a story formed from statements, letters, court and newspaper reports, and even some diabolically awful love letters. Oh, good grief, those love letters! Was it an attempt to break out of the genre box she had trapped herself in? I have no idea, but it's interesting. The ending doesn't surprise, but as an artistic challenge it's well done, and it features much talk about wild mushrooms and toadstools. It seems that back in the day there were far more mushrooms to be found. What happened?

Finding jobs to apply for is difficult right now. It's reassuring to have made it into two job interviews but no more are likely to appear soon. They were little stressed moments of success in a lifetime of tedium. Ho hum. At least there's lots of time to experiment with little projects and watch 'Star Trek' and catch up with 'The Mentalist' and its successor 'Gotham'. Yes, 'Gotham', you will get a chance. Also 'Zorba the Greek' has been lurking on the book pile for ever and must be broken in, while 'The Napoleon of the Notting Hill' is due for a re-read. GK Chesterton wrote a little masterpiece in that novel, and no-one seems to know about it. It's bizarre! So many books to come, and it will be a pleasure amidst the poverty. Oh, why not try 'Manalive' too?


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Story: Oneiromancy, XII

(Part O , XI , XIII)

The problem with having lucid and antagonistic dreams, was that was really no escape, or so Stanley thought as his car trundled toward the town centre. It would get them in the end, whatever it was, whether it was as a somewhat tweedy woman or a giant fluffy dice crushing them as they tried to escape its devastating course around the Temple of the Blatant Mango. All the hope was bleeding out of him in a most disgraceful fashion.

Beside Stanley, his new acquaintance Helen (not of Troy, nor of Tadcaster sadly) was thinking about hypnosis. She had a feeling that this would be a trip of great significance, at least if they managed to live out the following night unscathed. The sun was setting directly in their eyes, most aggravatingly. Tugging the shade down she looked to the left, out of the passenger window, at the passing landscape of Wigglesworth.

Hang on, though, there was something wrong with all of this, but what was it? What was wrong with Wigglesworth? Wigglesworth? With a rush, it all came crashing in on her! "Stanley! Simonson! There's no such place as Wigglesworth!"

The car veered all over the road, drunkenly. "What on Earth do you mean, there's no place called Wigglesworth?!" No, it was the car that was veering, but the road itself.

"We're asleep!" The tweedy woman was standing in the middle of the street as they raced down it, smiling coolly. "Dodge that fruitcake!"

"Urgh." The car missed the evil nemesis by a small margin, and they continued down the street. "We might have been better off mowing that monster down. When on Earth did we fall asleep?!" Stanley was confused as never before, except possibly as he had been at the last staff meeting, but that had involved a goat, the field hockey team, a bizarre reference to the Monkees, and the headmaster's parrot. Everyone had been confused that time. Except the headmaster. Why was his mind drifting so?

He kept on driving, past the town centre, onwards out of town again toward Egberttown, the petrol gauge never dropping even a millimetre. "Do you think we can get away if there's enough distance between us?"

"How would I know?!"

On the road ahead of them a shining light was swinging, as if suspended by some incredible and unsuspected string. Stanley stopped the car. Soothing music began to serenade them from the roadside, and then... they awoke...


The hypnotherapist's treatment room was warmly decorated, and smelt nice. Simonson and Ostrander slowly came back to themselves and examine their surrounding anew. "Ah, you're back with us, I see." Dr Kibbel looked at them gravely. That was quite the most bizarre interlude in my professional experience. You answered identically, down to the most bizarre details, upon being prompted about the details of your surroundings in the trance state. Astounding."

"Trance state... we shared a trance!" Helen blurted.

"Yes, and so did she, the tweedy woman, and I don't like it." Stanley's post-hypnotic calm began to dissipate.

Dr Kibbel listened, mused, and then leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as he rested his head in his hands. "I think there's something you really need to know." He levered himself up again, retrieved a sheath of papers from a drawer and handed it to them, Stanley taking the papers. He looked at them, and then passed them over to Helen. Kibbel continued: "You see, it is astounding, but not at all unprecedented..."

There shall be more.