Today I traded in my car. It wasn't my first car, but I got it as a graduation present from my mother 10 years ago. In that time, I put about 20,000 miles on it in that time. I didn't drive it much, but was great for trips to regional conventions. Over time, things broke, but they broke in a way I came to understand exactly how the car handled and how to get it to do what I need. I say this as someone who is absolutely not a car guy at all. I don't enjoy driving, but sometimes its the easiest way to get things done.
While living in NYC for the past 10 years, I rarely drove. Last November, I moved to Connecticut and started having to drive about once a week instead of once every couple of months. In the process, I had to spend way too much money to keep the now-15-year-old car going. With convention season coming up, I decided it was time to get a new car which I wouldn't have to worry about breaking down hours from home. An actual brand-new car, something I've never had.
Not being a car guy and not knowing what to even look for in a car, I turned to Car and Driver and Consumer Reports, looked at their best-of lists, and picked four models. One Saturday of test drives later and I'd settled on my new car, which arrived today. Despite taking a very methodical process during the selection process, I've been a nervous wreck about whether I'd regret my choice as soon as I got it.
I don't know why, but as soon as I saw "my car", I smiled. To me, it's nothing but a tool chosen for its practicality and reliability. But I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy sitting down inside for the first time.
Of course, it would be silly to buy a car to drive to a couple of conventions. The real reason I decided to buy a new car is because I'm preparing to start a new phase of my life. One as far away from my NYC-born-and-bred, subway-riding, pavement-pounding lifestyle as I could imagine. I'm moving to Texas.
It's a pretty terrifying thought for someone who has never lived more than two hours from NYC. But there's some things I want to do down in Texas and they're more important than my comfort. For awhile now I've been wondering what my next life goal would be. I now have one and it's time to act on it.
Fortunately, my current company has an office in Austin. Last week, I received approval from my manager to transfer down there. So I won't have to worry about both moving and finding a job, which is a privilege not everyone has.
The scariest part of this is, without a doubt, the inevitability of losing my friends. I have been fortunate to meet and befriend an amazing group of people in my post-college life. This includes people within the boardgame community and without. Sure, there will be conventions and maybe a trip back to NYC once a year. But, day-to-day, month-to-month, I'll be at square one.
Come October, I'll be driving halfway across the country in my new car. It's the scariest thing I've ever done. But if I can make a difference down there, it'll be the best thing I ever do.
This was a fairly standard Ruy Lopez opening, though he did fianchetto his dark-squared bishop onto g7. I thought this was a bad move. (Note: I have not run this game through an analysis engine, since I did not actually write down the move list, so my analysis might be complete horse hockey.) In addition to weakening his king's position, it trapped his bishop forever behind the e5 pawn, which was not going to go anywhere. My move at this picture was Bishop c1-g5, pinning his knight to his queen and clearing out my back rank so I could move my rooks freely.
At this point I had begun to prepare for a kingside attack. My b3 Bishop is targeted right at f7, my Queen was moved to d2 to both connect my rooks as well as possibly set up Queen d2-h6. I had already traded my dark squared bishop for the knight on f6 as soon as his Queen moved to e8 (unpinning that knight), removing its protection from the highly vulnerable h7 pawn (a consequence of his early move of the pawn from g7-g6). The move I just made before this picture was Knight c3-d5. In addition to attacking his Bishop on f6, it threatens d5-c7, which will dual threaten Queen and Rook, letting me win the exchange of Knight for Rook. His only move hwere is Bishop f6-d1, which protects c7. However, that's not only deactivates his Bishop (when he already weakened his kingside pawns to activate it), that bishop is then blocking his back rank, immobilizing the rook on a8. That would mean he would have only one active piece (knight on c6), whereas both my knights, my bishop, and my queen are all active, with my rooks having a clear path on the back rank to move where they please.
Unfortunately, he didn't see my threat of Knight d5-c7 (or decided that was less bad than deactivating the bishop) and put his Bishop on e7. I took his pawn and then his rook on a8 in exchange for the Knight. Not only was I ahead in material, I still had three active pieces to his two. More importantly, my pieces were all aimed at the kingside and his had no good way to swing over.
After that, I put my Queen on h6, launching the attack. He moved his knight to d4, attacking both my knight and bishop which were supporting my Queen's attack. After some calculation, I traded Knights. I figured I could quickly mobilize my f1 Rook to support the attack (faster than he could bring his pieces over to defend, anyway. Part of his problem was that his b7 bishop could not counterattack because of my e4 pawn.
Because I traded knights, I was then able to push my pawn to f4, giving my rook room to go to f3 (preparing for rook to h3, supporting the queen). He tried to dislodge my bishop by pushing his pawn to a5, but it was too late for that. His king was trapped by his rook, his queen and light-squared bishop were on the wrong side of the board, and his weak kingside pawn structure (remember that bad fianchetto?) finally was his undoing. I only needed Rook to h3 and Queen takes h7 to win, and it would take him too many moves to give his king an escape path. My b3 Bishop also pinned his pawn to f7, preventing the possible defense of pawn f7-f6, rook f8-f7 (guarding the h7 space my queen was about to take).
He moved Rook f8-g8, I put my rook on h3, and he resigned.
It was a decent game, and we were about evenly matched in skill, which is a super-rare thing to happen for two strangers deciding to play outside of a tournament. Most of all, it felt great to reactivate the chess muscles in my brain. It's been too long. I'd love to do tournaments again, but I can't spend a whole weekend playing chess anymore. Too many other things I want to do.
After that, I played a few games of Star Realms and then tried to learn Kana Gawa with someone else. The rulebook is very bad, and by the time we understood how the game was supposed to flow, we had lost interest. I retreated to relax for a bit.
In the evening, I played 2-player and 3-player sessions of "The Game", followed by a 4-player Letter Tycoon (I think that was the name.)
It's fine. The patent bonuses felt like easily-missed bookkeeping (especially if you're thinking about your own next turn when others play cards). The first player has a distinct advantage. Even though all players get the same number of turns, the first player can earn points from a patent bought on the last turn. The last player cannot. It ended up making the difference between first and second place players in our game.
Finally, we did a 4-player game of Wizard. I was doing very well early, including making a bid of 6 on round 10. But in the later rounds I kept missing by one in either direction and got overtaken right at the end. Great game. Haven't played it in 9 months, which is a shame.
Simon Pegg being the writer was the lone ray of hope. He is a uniquely talented and funny writer who is a genuine fan of Star Trek and was in a position to nudge it back towards its roots and away from the hollow action spectacle Abrams had morphed it into with the awful take on Khan.
But then I saw Pegg's interview at the Star Wars premiere. The look on his face when he said "Hang in there, be patient" is excruciating. It made me certain that the studio had overpowered him and made "Furious Space".
However, the Red Letter Media review convinced me to give it a chance. In addition to being film critics whose opinions often align with my own, one of the duo (Mike) is also a Star Trek fan. His analysis of Abrams' reboot helped me understand why I found it fun but never felt a strong need to rewatch it. His partner (Jay) is not a Trekkie at all. So, when they both recommended it, I swallowed my concerns.
So, here are my thoughts on the film:
Finally, it's hard not to be struck by the politics of Star Trek. The villain's goal is to disrupt the Federation because he does not feel humans should be working together with aliens. Uhura claims that we gain strength by uniting with others. The villain (a human who has been disfigured over the years by surviving through killing non-humans) retorts "Unity is not your strength, it’s your weakness."
At first I thought it was a funny coincidence how a Star Trek movie coming out right after the political conventions in the United States had a message that so well aligned with the arguments between the nominees. But then, of course it would, and should. Star Trek was birthed in the idea of people coming together to build something greater than themselves. It was no accident that the original crew had a Russian man, a Japanese man, and an African-American woman. World War II was still firmly in the everyday consciousness, the Soviets were putting missiles in Cuba, and the civil rights movement was in full swing.
Star Trek established a future where we didn't survive through conquering our rivals. It wasn't about winner and losers (ahem), but about partners. This film returns to that ethos. The villain is revealed to be a human who has come to believe that the only way to be strong is by attacking others. He is defeated not just by a lone action hero punching him in the face. The crew works together, coordinates their actions, and sacrifices themselves for each other.
Star Trek: Beyond is about people who pick each other up instead of stepping on the weak. Who lend a hand to outsiders even after they've been betrayed in the past. Who don't see others as nothing but marks to be exploited for personal gain. Who see success not in terms of what happens to oneself, but how everyone comes out together.
Kirk begins the movie wondering why he's out there in space when there's nothing in it for him and wanting a way out. He ends it turning down a personal promotion; committed to being part of a team whose mission is to serve others.
What's surprising isn't the politics of this Star Trek movie. What's surprising is that even after 50 years our country is still having the same fight. With just a new coat of paint on the villain's face.
Today I had to assemble some furniture and the Mets game on my Tivo was finished before I was, so I resorted to watching Jurassic World as I finished.
"...Good is Dumb" - Dark Helmet
Let's assume that you were forced to divide the characters in Jurassic World into two camps, Good vs. Evil, based on how "good" they became by the end of the movie.
Now let's examine the major decisions in the movie, whether they were smart or dumb, and who is responsible.
So, what does this analysis reveal? Every dumb decision that endangered lives was made by a "good" character. Every smart decision that saved lives was made by an "evil" character. According to this movie: Good is dumb.
The Movie Hates Itself
Up until the ending this felt like a normally bad Hollywood cash-in sequel. I was ready to completely forget about the movie. But then the denouement convinced me there's something deeper to this movie. It inspired me to actually think about what I saw and write this article.
Brief recap: to defeat Ghostface Killah Rex, Gwen Stacy releases a T-Rex, which (along with the velociraptors) was the big bad of the original movie. She guides it into a fight with the new monster via handheld flare (directly referencing a tactic used in the original movie). Together, the T-Rex and the Raptors kill the new kid on the block.
This convinced me that the film's makers hated this whole film and were trying to subliminally let the audience in on that secret. Howso?
The control room guy who wears the Jurassic Park t-shirt is clearly an audience stand-in, specifically audience members who fondly remember the original movie enough to spend hundreds on a t-shirt for it. He spends the whole of act 1 loudly complaining that breeding new fake dinosaurs is dumb, because the dinosaurs in the original movie were awesome enough. Lady Macbeth mocks him in front of everyone. At first I thought this was the filmmakers making preemptive fun of critics.
When all else fails and the protagonists are about to finally get the chewing they so richly deserve, Sansa Stark turns to the man she previously looked down on, who again represents people that think the original film is way better than this one. She needs him to open the T-Rex pen, because everyone else has fled. This is the filmmakers saying "We recognize we can't possibly succeed without you, even though you will be our harshest critics. Please stick around to save us from our own stupidity in making this movie."
Finally, the T-Rex and Raptors win. This is the filmmakers admitting that the original movies monsters were superior to this new bullshit. Adding in 20 years of technology failed to improve on the original. Which is of course a metaphor for this sequel. The new CGI is inferior to what we had before and the new characters are incompetent ninnies who need a guardian of the past film to save them.
Am I reading too much into that ending? In case you think otherwise, I am not someone who cares that much about this movie. I don't hate it. I am not one of those die-hard fans of the original film. I was barely paying attention by the time this one was over. Which is why I'm so confident that this was meant as a blaring admission of failure by the filmmakers. I wasn't looking for any such thing. It was just there for all to see.
Do you agree? Am I a lunatic? Is analyzing a movie a full year after it was released a tremendous waste of time?
Spoilers for Pandemic Legacy, August
It's been a few game months since I did a recap. The reason for this was that there was nothing terribly interesting to write about. Sure, the game added new stuff. But it was in a predictable manner.
10 Month n: make managing the zombies harder.
20 Month n+1: give a new tool to manage the zombies.
10: Make 1/4 of the cards in the deck worthless
20: Add equipment stickers that make them kinda useful if you're lucky.
10: Make zombies untreatable.
20: Add Quarantines.
10: Make zombies appear faster via player deck.
20: Add roadblocks.
It all added up to a pile of who cares. Worse, it made every game take longer and longer. A half hour would be spent opening doors and explaining the new stuff. And, Pandemic continued being Pandemic, where our victory was determined by nothing so much as the shuffle of the two decks. I seriously considered pulling the plug without completing all 12 months.
July finally changed things. It added a new mechanic, searching, which made you want to go into zombie cities and take actions to search for a Virologist, then an Immunologist the next month. These appear to be pieces tied to wrapping up the story at year's end. But more importantly, the game was no longer "spin the plates until you get 5 of a color". There was now an objective to pursue that felt genuinely different than all other mechanics.
I immediately used the soldier for the first time, Master Chief, and went searching for the Virologist. In a later game, I got to use the Virologist I found, Dr. Quinn, to go smack around zombies. It felt like I was playing a parallel game to my companions, which was good. For the first time this didn't feel like playing Pandemic with elaborate window dressing.
Don't get me wrong, in the end, Pandemic still Pandemic'd us by being all about the deck shuffles. But even with multiple losses, we still completed both searches. This gave us a technical loss, but some upside outcome, which is something missing up until now. Before, it was all just win or lose. Yes, if you lose things get a little easier next time, but the shuffle of the decks are so overwhelming in determining victory that it doesn't really matter.
It also felt nice to Nuke a city. We took out Mumbai, which had already collapsed, because it was key in several chain outbreaks that cost us a couple of games. It was cathartic to rip up that damn infection card that seemed to always find its way to the top of the pile.
For the first time in awhile, I'm looking forward to next month and not just going through the motions.
Copyright © 2015-2017 Michael R. Keller
archive by Andres Gleixner from the Noun Project
archive by Andres Gleixner from the Noun Project