Category Archives: games

Werewolf Cards

werewolfCard

My favorite role in Werewolf is Moderator. Often, I’m the one introducing Werewolf to a new group. Also, I’m an unconvincing liar, and thus have become more interested in running the game than in playing it.

Werewolf is an excellent ice-breaker, with easy-to-learn rules and little equipment. All that’s required are cards containing the correct proportion of roles that can be randomly distributed among a group. A standard deck of cards or even scraps of paper can be used, but I’ve found that having a proper set of Werewolf cards adds to the pageantry of the game. As such, I made some for myself, designing, printing and laminating them for durability.

werewolfCards

You’re welcome to use this image for your own game. Print as many copies as you need. The game scales well, but the relative proportion of the roles should stay the same. It’s sized for 8.5″ x 11″ paper at a resolution of 300dpi. I’d suggest using a card stock to make the cards feel sturdy in the hand; a manila folder will work in a pinch. After laminating, round the corners with scissors with a sheen of professionalism. Enjoy!

Download Werewolf Cards »
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Dominion: The Game

Among all of my board games, which include Ticket To Ride, Tichu, Scrabble and Settlers of Catan, I have a proclivity for Dominion.

It was given to me by my former colleague and fellow board game enthusiast, Mike Duncan, and it was designed by a man whose name, Donald X. Vaccarino, is frighteningly similar to that of our former CEO. My wife, my in-laws and my friends are also partial to the game, making it a popular choice when anyone suggests playing. For me, though, Dominion’s real appeal lies in one simple mechanic, a system that strikes a chord in me and resonates with what I value about people, organizations and companies.

In the game, a player’s deck of cards is his Dominion, which the player cycles through many times throughout the game. Throughout, he adds cards (he generally cannot discard them) that enable him to gain “skill” cards, gain money cards and gain victory cards. It’s these victory cards that are so interesting, because while you need them to win, it’s a disadvantage to have them until the end of the game. That’s because they don’t do anything. They have no value except the value ascribed to them, and serve only to bloat and clog your deck of useful cards until the end of the game.

What the victory card mechanic rewards is leanness. It creates a situation where a deck devoid of victory cards is a powerful Dominion, with each card providing some tangible benefit or benefits. It’s not until the tipping point is reached toward the end of the game when it behooves players to race for the victory cards.

The game is a beautiful metaphor for a lot of things. It reminds me of my possessions, my baubles, and how they can clutter my life without providing any real value. It reflects how I want capability to be rewarded in the workplace. It suggests that the larger an entity gets, the more susceptible it is to gathering trappings of little value, or value as defined in a narrow and unimaginative way. It’s notable that the game isn’t typically enjoyed only by the victor, and the victor tends to be forgotten while the sense of society and pleasure remains among the players.

My Top 5 For 2007

After seeing numerous end-of-year lists around the web, I thought it fitting to sum up my Top 5 in each category of The Cookblog. And so, without further ado, here they are:

The Cookblog's Best of 2007

Art

These are the best web sites and artists that I discovered during the past year.

  1. Edward Gorey – I’ve posted about him before, but the maestro of macabre was my #1 artistic discovery of the past year. Meticulous pen sketches combined with a wickedly dark sense of humor make him my favorite by a country mile.
  2. Rockwell Kent – Moby Dick is a terrific book (at least the first few chapters), and these illustrations are great. They capture the majesty of the ocean, the madness of Captain Ahab and the calm of an evening anchorage in attractive woodcut style.
  3. Chema Madoz – There’s something about black& white photography that is just cool. The pictures on these sites juxtapose and re-imagine common elements in interesting ways, like a match set against a plank so that the grain of the wood looks like smoke. Check it out.
  4. BibliOdyssey – A really fascinating site packed with high-res illustrations of esoteric old books. The quality of the images and care with which they’re chosen really sets the site apart.
  5. OldBookIllustrations – I love old books and I love the types of illustrations on this site. On top of that, most are in the public domain, so I definitely plan on returning if I need fodder for any graphic design projects.

Food & Drink

These rate as the best beers I’ve discovered during 2007.

  1. 840 IPA – An absolute classic, this well-balanced but beautifully-hopped India Pale Ale is the standard by which I now measure all others.
  2. Ten Penny Ale – The perfect counterpoint to the hoppiness of an IPA, the malty, smoky Ten Penny is made in East Hartford and finds its way into the refrigerator more than any other beer.
  3. Chocolate Stout – A great beer for a change of pace, this goes particularly well mixed with Saranac’s Carmel Lager or Guinness.
  4. Racer 5 IPA – A tasty brew offered on tap at The Library, a bar near my brother’s apartment in Los Angeles. Nice and floral.
  5. Southampton IPA – A random discovery at the local package store, this IPA with an orange label is thoroughly drinkable and always welcome.

Games

I’ve played a lot of games this year, but only a few stack up against my high standards. They are:

  1. Carcassonne – Board games don’t get more classic than this. Every game is different and the social aspect makes it perfect for beginners
  2. Tichu – A favorite at work and probably the best card game in the world, combining bluffing, anticipation and cooperation. It’s only $7. Get it.
  3. Caylus – The opposite of Carcassonne, involving almost zero luck and total diplomacy, Caylus would be the chess of board games if chess wasn’t a board game.
  4. Foosball – The only non-board game here, there have been some epic shots and games over the past few months with my work colleagues. The laws of physics bow down before our deft control and puma-like reflexes, but we’re still easily beaten by the slow roller.
  5. Ticket to Ride: Europe – The chosen game at home, it’s good for two players and conjures up images of actually riding a train from Edinburgh to Athena. Also, my girlfriend and I can usual overcome our rage at losing after only a few minutes.

Literature

I haven’t had a chance to read as much as I would have liked, but these are the books that I enjoyed at least part of this past year.

  1. Morbo – Phil Ball has a wonderful turn of phrase and the intensely interesting subject of Spanish soccer comes alive with his words.
  2. Selected Verses of Ogden Nash – Perfect for reading to that special someone, the quirk and wit of Ogden Nash never fails to bring a smile to my face.
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – That’s right, I’m a Harry Potter fan.
  4. The Stories of Paul Bowles – Imagine my delight when I found one of my favorite books at a library book sale for 1/4 cover price.
  5. The Devil Drives – A biography of Sir Richard Burton, it’s a gripping account of a man who lived in constant adventure, from India to Mecca to Ethiopia.

Music

There was some great music this year, and though I usually prefer individual tracks to full albums, these were great the whole way through.

  1. Radiohead – In Rainbows – One again, Radiohead has delivered a phenomenal album packed with electronic hooks and human feeling. By far the most played this year.
    Reckoner
  2. Feist – The Reminder – A great discovery, Feist has since come to prominence for her role in an iPod commercial, but the rest of the songs on her album are equally bouncy and catchy.
    I Feel It All
  3. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – Vintage Spoon and no complaints from me. This is piano rock at its best.
    The Ghost of You Lingers
  4. The National – Boxer – One of the most genuine bands around today, The National’s “Fake Empire” is one of the songs of the year.
    Fake Empire
  5. Peter Bjorn and John – Writer’s Block – According to the Wikipedia, this was a 2006 album, but Rolling Stone put it in their best of 2007 list, so I am, too.
    Up Against the Wall

Soccer

I like to think I have a talent for spotting quality when it comes to soccer players, not that it’s difficult to tell that these five footballers are several cuts above the rest.

  1. Kaka – The Brazilian is the Zidane of this generation. His seemingly-effortless skill has been winning match after match for AC Milan, including the World Club Cup and the Champions League trophy
  2. Lionel Messi – The only player that can rival Kaka, Messi has been carrying one of the biggest and proudest clubs in the world on his shoulders. That he’s already made Ronaldinho dispensable is an indication of his importance to Barcelona.
  3. Christiano Ronaldo – Like the two players above him, he has dragged his team to victory even when they haven’t deserved it. If he can deliver European success to Manchester United, he’ll move higher up the list.
  4. Didier Drogba – His questionable temperament doesn’t take away from his qualities as a player. Powerful and intelligent on the field, he takes his team into a different class when he plays and is worth far more to Chelsea than the rubles they paid for him.
  5. Daniel Alves – A marauding right fullback who has been the impetus behind Sevilla’s recent success, Alves will surely earn a move to a major club soon, where he should establish himself as the best wingback in the world.

Travel

I haven’t taken too many exotic trips this year, but these places have been welcome breaks from the usual routine at home.

  1. Boston – An awesome trip up to watch the Red Sox earn a spot in the World Series still rates as one of the best days this year.
  2. Los Angeles, CA – A great visit with the family for Thanksgiving was the perfect way to spend those vacation days.
  3. Onset – Having returned there for every year since I was born, it’s impossible to underestimate its importance in my life.
  4. Danbury – Always a relaxing and comfortable place to visit, you never know who or what you’ll find at the casa de Angela, Kathleen and Connor, but it’s always a good time.
  5. New York – A weekend in NYC with John, Georgia and Co. was a ton of fun. My only regret is that it was the only one.

Web

I’ve seen a lot of websites in my 25 years on this planet, but these deserve special mention.

  1. Slightly Shady SEO – The best blog about SEO in my opinion. Gives away secrets that are worth plenty, which makes me wonder how much more he knows.
  2. Asobrain Games – A great place to play Carcassonne with no frills, no fuss and no fees.
  3. Strange Maps – Since maps are something of a hobby for me, this site is always full of interesting things.
  4. Coudal Partners – I’m still not sure what they do there, but their features, including Photoshop Layer Tennis and the Museum of Online Museums are worth regularly checking out.
  5. Smashing Magazine – With their fingers firmly on the pulse of web design, this site displays great examples for study and inspiration.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my picks and I hope that 2008 has as much good material to see, read, hear and blog about. If you’ve got something to say about any of my choices, go for it!

A Smattering of Online Games

I spend hours each day working on a computer, so when I get home, it’s usually a relief to read, exercise, visit friends or watch TV. However, I’ve got some side projects that also require me to use a computer. All work and no play makes Brian a dull boy, so short gaming breaks are welcome. Here’s some games I’m playing online these days:

Tichu

Tichu

I’ve discussed Tichu here before, but must once again give the game my highest recommendation. Recently, a group of my friends has become addicted. I can’t say I’m surprised. Part poker, part setback, part bridge and part arsehole, Tichu boasts a ridiculous amount of variation and strategy. It’s perfect for four people who are looking for some fun and want to learn a new game. You can also play for free online against an assortment of Eurotrash Europeans at Brettspielwelt. For rules, strategy, forums and more, check out this Tichu site.

RBI Baseball

RBI Baseball

I never had a Nintendo growing up, which is probably a good thing. Having a computer instead helped introduce me to the fact that computers could do more than just play games. Still, it’s nice to make up for lost time every once in a while, and this web-based RBI Baseball ROM is the perfect way to do it. Besides standing alone as a great little time-waster, I love being able to play as the Boston Red Sox circa 1987; Roger Clemens, Jim Rice, Ellis Burks… they’re all there! And don’t even get me started on the music. Just check it out.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Still one of my favorites, Carcassonne is an excellent introduction to Euro-style board games. Easy enough for noobs to understand, but complex enough to keep seasoned gamers interested, Carcassonne has a lot going for it. The puzzle mechanism ensures that every game is different, while it also lends itself to lots of discussion between players. Those two points are vital for a game to become a classic, and Carcassone has earned that status. The AsoBrain version of the game (called Toulouse) allows you to play against computer players, which is great for honing your skills. The Friends-themed monikers(get it?) and weak AI will also keep your confidence high.

Room Escape Games

Noobs Room

I love lateral-thinking puzzles and riddles, and room-escape games really strike a chord with me. Typically, you have to find your way out of a locked room using only the items you can click on with your mouse. The items may be hidden, they may need to be combined with other items to serve a function, or they may require some logical leap to use appropriately. Little is explained and players are usually forced to get creative to solve the puzzles. Noobs Room is a good one for starters.

So those are my favorites games at the moment. Not many, I know, but I’m usually busy crushing tween dreams, astroturfing or decreasing the overall quality of the Internet. Who has time for games?

Travel, Film and Game Links You Should Know

I don’t like to brag, but I’m 1/4 of the most dynamic company with the best prospects in the world. I’m talking, of course, about Borgamo LLC, a board game business that is now expanding into all sorts of areas including travel and video games.

Toucan

These sites will very soon turn into outstanding repositories of information on their respective subjects, run as they are by people will extensive experience in those areas (for example, check out where I’ve been). In short, check back often to monitor the sites’ progress and be part of the revolution that is Borgamo.

Red Sox vs Indians ALCS Game 7

There’s a reason it’s taken me three days to lay down a record of my trip up to Boston last Sunday: it was a day packed so full of fun and memories that I hadn’t even recovered until now. So let’s begin at the beginning.

Trip to Boston

In my line of work, I am rarely but occasionally given the opportunity to purchase tickets for events at expensive-but-not-outrageous prices. Typically, I care nothing for the events featured, but the stars aligned this week and gave me the chance to get Red Sox bleacher seats for their theoretical Game 7 ALCS clash against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway. I managed to secure six seats in a row at $100 each, bringing the full price of my order to $5 more than I paid for my car. It would be me, Angelina, Marta, Dan, Paul and Steve basking in the glow of playoff baseball in Beantown. All that was left was for Boston to win Game 6. This they did with style, 12-2. The stage was set.

My aforementioned car happens to be a 1990 Chevrolet Celebrity Eurowagon, purchased from Craigslist. With comfortable seating for up to 7 people, it was just the vehicle to make the trip north and east. After filling it with some badly-needed power steering fluid, inflating some soft tires and gassing up, we picked up the rest of the crew and piled in, setting out around 1:30 PM on Sunday, October 24. The trip gave everyone a chance to enjoy the rustic appeal of my automobile. The upholstery on the ceiling sags. The front and back bumper both look like they’re riddled with bullet holes and about to fall off. I have to open the door at toll booths since my window won’t open. The front-side passenger needs to bench 120lbs in order to have the requisite strength to open their door. In short, it’s a perfect car for a road trip.

Marta admires the spaciousness of the back seat.

We powered down I-84 and the Mass Pike to the tune of Dan’s iPod, blasting an eclectic mixture of baseball songs and 1990 hillbilly Radiohead esoterica. To everyone’s relief, the car survived the first leg of the journey and we pulled into Riverside station on the outskirts of Boston to ride the “T” into the city.

Ange and I await our metal chariot.

We arrived at Fenway Station around 3 PM, five hours before the game was due to start. There was already a palpable buzz around the place, people looking to score tickets, others just hoping to soak up the atmosphere and some booze. The fact that we already had tickets placed us firmly in the latter camp, and we strolled over to the Boston Beer Works to wet our whistles. It was still early, so the crowds weren’t bad and we sidled into the largest booth I’ve ever seen.

The first side of the booth.

The second, more good-looking side of the booth.

For the next few hours, we ate all manner of nachos, burgers and fries, washing it all down with several pitchers of Boston Beer Works’ finest. Though we fell short of our stated desire to get a pitcher of everything on the beer menu, we made a valiant effort. The food, the drink, the conversation and the shoulders comprised the perfect pre-game program and we walked out well-satisfied around 6:30 PM. The gates to Fenway Park weren’t open yet, so we opted to pass some time playing foosball at the mafia-owned Jillians just down the road. I was able to drop some jaws and raise my social status with a series of powerful goals and miraculous saves en route to a thorough spanking of all opponents.

Marta and Paul fall to the irresistable force of Brian and Dan.

After that exercise, it was time to enter Fenway Park, the night’s theater of dreams. Arriving over an hour before the game gave us ample time to stock up on $8 Sam Adams Oktoberfest and find our seats in the bleachers. For the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone would want to sit anywhere else. There’s no place in the stadium where the passion and rowdiness is so evident and so enjoyable. New England aloofness is discarded like so much junk mail, and people become friendly.

That early before the game, though, there were only a few people and they were lined up at the top of the wall waiting to catch balls from batting practice. We had to make do with watching the Indians warm up, which turned out fine when Grady Sizemore turned and tossed a ball up in our direction. I plucked it out of the air with my bare claw and gave it to Angelina, like any boyfriend who wants to stay out of the doghouse. She spent the rest of BP showing everyone how she grips her curveball and arguing with me about who Sizemore was trying to throw the ball to (we both grinned in his direction). Just to be safe, I told Grady that he was a bastard and that this girl was taken.

Sizemore prepares to throw like a jerk.

The game itself was a tense affair with the Red Sox scoring some runs, then being pegged back by the plucky Indians. After a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th-inning stretch, they opened up a 5-2 lead. But it was “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the 8th that really did the trick, with Dustin Pedroia doubling and Kevin Youkilis homering to send Fenway into a happy sort of chaos. We hung around after Papelbon closed the game out, watching the on-field celebrations, viewing the post-game interviews on the Jumbotron and taking pictures.

A deliriously happy Fenway celebrates.

We took a detour after the game to hit up the convenience store and avoid the crowds at a T station besides Fenway. Unfortunately, it began to look like the trains were no longer servicing other stations, and we hoofed it back, managing to catch the last train out to Riverside. Once again, we piled into the car and started pulling out of the lot when the “Tailgate Ajar” light came on. Despite my half-assed efforts, I couldn’t get the latch to catch, so we headed home with the gate rattling. It didn’t seem to stop anyone from sleeping and no one fell out the back (as far as I know). We even had time to stop on I-84 so that Angelina could enjoy the crisp fall air, the brilliant night sky and the scent of the grass. As I helmed my car Manchesterward, I saw two shooting stars, which effectively summed up the entire trip. Imagine a great thing, and then imagine it doubled.

We dropped off the rest of the crew in Vernon and walked in our door at 4AM on Monday morning. Mocking reason, I woke up three hours later and put in a good day’s work before finally catching up on some sleep. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mock my brother for opting to stay in California instead of flying East for one night. Shame on you, Aaron. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank Angelina, Dan, Marta, Paul and Steve for a great day out. You can find more pictures of the day here. Go Red Sox!

A great day out with friends.

I’ll Teach You Tichu

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Tichu is an addictive trick-taking partnership card game in the mold of Rook and Bridge. The downside is that it always requires four people to play. The upside is that it’s awesome.

Special Tichu cards

The deck consists of the standard 52 cards plus these four special cards: the Dragon, the Phoenix, the Mah Jongg and the Dog.

Tichu’s rules are fairly simple: the player with the Mah Jongg goes first and plays a singleton, a pair, consecutive pairs, three-of-a-kind, a straight longer than four cards, or a full house. The next player must follow with a higher set of the same type or pass. Once three players in a row have passed, the winning player takes the trick and may then lead with a different set, which the next player must follow or pass. The exception to this rule is a bomb, which consists of four-of-a-kind or a straight flush longer than four cards. A bomb can be played at any time by any player, no matter what type of set is led (except for the Dog), and can only be beaten by a higher bomb.

Those are the basic rules. Are you ready to buy Tichu yet? First, know that the rules aren’t quite that simple.

First, they are complicated by the fact that a player may call “Tichu” at any time before playing his first card in a hand. By calling “Tichu”, the player is betting 100 points that he will get rid of all his cards before the other three players. If he does so, his team gets 100 points. If he fails, his team loses 100 points. A player may also call “Grand Tichu” after seeing only 8 of the 14 cards she is dealt. This is the same as calling “Tichu”, except the risk/reward is 200 points.

After all players are dealt their 14 cards, each player chooses one card to give to each other player, that is one card to his partner and one to each of his opponents. He also receives a card from each player. Then the player with the Mah Jonng begins.

Calling “Tichu” is not the only way to score points, of course. The 5’s are worth five points each, the 10’s are worth ten points each, and the Kings are also worth 10 points each. The Dragon is worth 25 points, while the Phoenix is worth -25 points. After 3 players have gotten rid of all their cards, the only player with cards gives the cards in his hand to the other team. He gives all the cards in the tricks that he has won to the first player to get rid of her cards, which may or may not be his partner. Then the points on the cards are added up, the successful/failed “Tichu call” points are added/subtracted, and the scores are written down. The first team to reach 1000 points wins.

The only exception is in the case of a “double win”, where both members of a team get rid of their cards before any member of the other team does. In this instance, the double-winning team gets 200 points and the hand is over.

There are four special cards, and these are their special powers:

Dragon – The highest singleton, only a bomb can beat it. Though worth 25 points, it can only be played as a singleton, and when it wins the trick, the person who played it must give it and all of the cards won during that trick to a member of the opposing team. The Dragon-player then leads the next trick.

Phoenix – A joker. The Phoenix may be used as a wildcard, but cannot be a part of a bomb. When played as a singleton, it is one-half higher than the last card played. So when played with an 8, it makes a pair of 8’s. When played on top of an 8, it becomes an 8.5 and can be beaten by a 9. It is worth -25 points, so the team who wins the trick it is played in loses 25 points.

Mah Jongg – Also called the Sparrow. It’s holder starts the hand and may or may not play the Mah Jongg, which is equal to a 1. When the Mah Jongg is played, the person who played it may make a request, which subsequently must be satisfied at the first possible opportunity. Therefore, if the Mah Jongg player plays it as a singleton and wishes for a 3, and the next player must play a single 3 if possible. This wish remains in effect until it is satisfied.

Dog – The Dog has no value and so it must be lead, since it cannot beat anything. It immediately gives the lead to the player’s partner. It cannot be bombed.

These simple rules and special cards combine to make an extremely deep game, and the line between strong and weak Tichu players is very fine. It’s best to learn with a group of friends, so that no one has the considerable advantage of experience. After learning the mechanics of the game, it’s a good idea to read about strategy, particularly passing strategies, which help prevent opponents from getting bombs and give your team the best chance to go out first. Some good articles on strategy can be found here, here and here.

You can find me on BrettSpielWelt as jamesplankton. I’m a frequent patron of the Tichu tables and love to play against new people. I also enjoy the new Tichu hangout, Tichu World. Any comments or questions are welcome!

Rook: A Good Ol’ Game

Rook has become a lunchtime staple around the office. There are a lot of reasons for this, including the fact that it supports anywhere from two to five players, we’re able to get several hands in during the hour, four people can play with partners, and there’s a different winner almost every time.

Rook bird

The history of the game is pretty interesting, too. A trick-taking card game, it was created in 1906 for Puritan Christian types, who viewed the traditional playing card deck as evil on account of its roots in tarot. A fearsome bird-themed deck is much better, of course, and it grew wings to become Parker Brothers’ best-selling game until Monopoly hit the market.

Rook is easy to learn and a good thing to have on hand to while away the hours while sipping a cold drink on the porch with friends. Check it out.