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The anti-climatic death of an incompetent tragic prince
July 25, 2014, 2:34 pm

The following is the story of Cal Arath, a Barbarian Prince who lost his kingdom. Forced to flee his homeland, with little money and no friends, he began a journey to regain what was rightfully his.

Cal Arath began his tragic journey north of the Tragoth river. Not well versed in the ways of the sea, or rivers, he failed to find his way south over it. Fortune smiled on him the following day, however, when he ran into a raftsman willing to ferry him south west to the city of Cumry...for a fee.

What better way to regain a Kingdom than to banter in the taverns of Cumry, seeking information and making friends? Though Cal found no useful information or any followers who sympathized with his quest in the days he spent seeking whatever he might find, he did grow rather fond of Cumry and its people. That is why what came to pass is so tragic. His time in the taverns proving fruitless, Cal sought council with the town leaders, hoping for some ally or any information at all. Insecure and threatened by Cal's powerful visage, the leaders of Cumry instead threw Cal into the dungeons, under the pretense that he insulted the mayor's wife.

For nearly a week Cal spent his days languishing in the dank pits of Cumry's dungeon, but not before being stripped of what few possessions he had. On the sixth day of imprisonment, he escaped to the hills northwest of the city. After a few uneventful days of foraging and hunting for food, Cal decided it was time to pay Cumry a visit.

Getting to Cumry would be no easy task. To get there he needed to avoid a rather large group of Cumry lawmen that were seeking him. Arriving in the city after some evasion, Cal was intercepted by two well armed, and wealthy looking, city guards. Robbed of all his money before being thrown into the dungeon, Cal knew he needed some gold, and these guards were surely no match for a Barbarian Prince wielding the mighty Bonebiter.

A vicious battle ensued, and though Cal Arath emerged the victor, he was only a little richer, and seriously wounded. He had no choice but to return to the refuge in the hills, northwest of the city, where he spent the next week recovering and looking for food.

On one of his days of rest, he came upon ancient ruins that he, and his mapmaker, had not known existed so close to a major densely populated town. Tempted by the treasures he might find, Cal Arath explored the ruins. On an altar, protected by a magic spell of unknown power, sat a ring. Unfazed by the magically induced fear that came upon him as his approached the ring, he discovered the spell was nothing but a harmless ruse. And he was awarded for his bravery: a Resistance Ring!

Exploring the ruins became an obsession. If the ruins had magical rings laying around on altars, protected by practically nothing at all, it might have more riches to offer him. Twice Cal Arath faced fearsome spectral figures that threatened to whisk him away to astral dimensions. But with his ring, nothing could harm him.

When Cal found a room filled with ancient treasures, guarded by four ghostly warriors, he brazenly charged into battle. Fortune would not smile upon him for his foolhardiness this day. After felling his first Wraith Warrior, his ring failed him, melting into nothingness as the three remaining ghostly warriors attempted to avenge their recently vanquished friend. They beat the now vulnerable trespasser mercilessly.

Shocked and beaten, Cal fled from the ruins to south. He had no chance to rest. The next day, as he tried to recover from his recent failure, an opportunistic great cat leaped out of seemingly nowhere. With what energy he could muster, he killed the cat. And ate it.

A day of peace finally came to pass the next day. Though his body was still covered in wounds, Cal Arath felt confident in his hunting skills, and he he sought to find a meal. An extremely foolish thing to do, given the ample rations he was carrying with him at the time.

There, in the open countryside, the once mighty Cal Arath, Prince and rightful heir of the Northern Kingdoms, tripped, fell, and broke his head while looking for some food.


The story above was a session report of a solitaire game called "Barbarian Prince" that I posted to BGG.

board games played in 2013 5+ times
January 7, 2014, 1:24 am

I posted this list to bgg: five and dime 2013

My games played 5+ more times in the year 2013.

I haven't been keeping exact records, so this is from memory. My plan for 2014 is to keep track of my plays.

2013 was a year heavy with cooperative games. But what's interesting is the wide variety of styles: Hanabi, Buffy, Pandemic, Sherlock... They're all quite different than each other.

  • Hanabi
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game
  • The Resistance: Avalon
  • Race for the Galaxy
  • San Juan
  • Lost Cities
  • Summoner Wars: Master Set
  • Pandemic
  • Alien Frontiers
  • Carcassonne
  • Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
  • For Sale
  • Roll Through the Ages: Bronze Age
  • Puerto Rico
tags: board game
History of Happy Holidays
January 2, 2014, 9:46 pm

Bing Crosby isn't a likely person to target as perpetrating a war on Christmas. In 1943, the film Holiday Inn won an Academy Award for best original song for "White Christmas." But that same movie opened with Bing singing Happy Holiday. There's a scene in which a small black child dressed up as Father Time joins in the song. If it had been made today, Fox News would certainly be taking the movie to task.

Wikipedia has several articles that speculate that the phrase "happy holidays" as a greeting was popularized by Holiday Inn. (here, and here). That would be ironic if true, that the same movie that gave us "White Christmas" also popularized a now polarizing phrase. I can't find any proof that the film is responsible for the popularity of the phrase. But, while I admit the written corpus that Google NGrams uses might be quite different than verbal usage, plotting "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas" should be revealing. It does show an increase in popularity of the term "happy holidays" after 1944. It also shows a corresponding drop in the use of "merry christmas" which continues on until the 1970s.

So the words "happy" and "holidays" start appearing in Google's corpus around 1806. From what I can tell from a cursory investigation, throughout most of the 1800's, the meaning is usually like having a pleasant vacation. But over time the term begins to evolve so that it's more directly associated with Christmas. A case sensitive search for "Happy Holidays" makes things a bit clearer - around the 1860s the phrase appears to be clearly about the Christmas and New Year season.

A blogger, Jeremy Aldrich, collected some early ads that use the phrase Happy Holidays. These date back to the 1860's. They aren't quite the same as modern usage - "happy holidays are coming" and "hail happy holidays!" aren't the same as the greeting "Happy Holidays", but are recognizable.

So "happy holidays" is rather old. From my memory, the offense at the phrase is quite new - less than a decade old in fact - and is a sign that Fox News is winning their manufactured war.

blokus links
December 24, 2013, 9:18 pm

Blokus is an abstract game with extremely simple rules that I suspect is rather deep that I recently played and enjoyed.

Blokus Links:

blokus strategy blog - blokus strategy and tactics articles.

duo to the death - blokus duo strategy

blokus discoveries - blokus puzzles, investigations...includes the blokus puzzler, a java applet with a solitaire mode for solving puzzles or planning strategies. Also allows for online play. www.gottfriedville.net seems to be interesting in general.

pentobi - open source Blokus clone for PCs (linux/mac/win). Has an AI at multiple levels of difficulty

pentolla - play a blokus-clone online. This seems to have replaced the official blokus online game.

Blokus on BGG

Blokus on Wikipedia

official blokus.com - decommissioned by Mattel. used to have online play. Forums are overrun by spam.

blockfuse - android blokus clone.

There used to be an iOS blokus game but I can no longer find one.

Other blokus clones: blokish, block'em, freebloks 3D

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
December 20, 2013, 1:39 am

"...it has been established that the ape mob is under the command of a super-normally intelligent chimpanzee who has acquired the power of speech. This would suggest that the ape leader may be the child (thought to have been destroyed) of the two talking Chimpanzees, Cornelius and Zira, who came to us from outer space twenty years ago. As such, he constitutes a threat to the future of the whole human race..."

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is a mess of a movie, that is really too ridiculous for logical discussion. Each Planet of the Apes movie is worse than the one before it. The first, one of my favorite movies, is a long way from this, the fourth and second to last in the series. With a such a silly plot, and a lot of Ricardo Montalban, I had hoped that it would at least serve as campy fun, and it does to some extent, but it isn't as fun as I would have hoped.

The whole movie does lead up to a very violent ape riot that I did enjoy, and maybe that's worth it. There's also a speech by Caesar, leader of the apes, who incites his fellow apes to violence - in English, which the other apes couldn't possibly understand - and reveals his plan to wait for the day humans destroy each other, and make room for the apes who will rise from what's left of the world. It's the kind of thing I had been waiting for all movie.

If you're watching the theatrical release, the only version available prior to 2008, you'll also see a second speech in which Caesar, changing his mind, calls for a more peaceful resolution to the day's violence. The test audiences of 1973 reacted negatively to the original ending, so the movie cuts in the the new audio with what video footage was available, making an already cheap looking movie look worse.

So the premise is this: in 1983 or so, a virus, from outer space, was brought back to earth by astronauts. Humans were immune, but the virus killed the entire population of dogs and cats. Humans sought to replace their dead dogs and cats with apes. It turned out the apes were so good at learning how to do things, they later became servants, and by 1991 they are treated as slaves. (We learn of all this via exposition by Ricardo Montalban).

The events of the previous movie, Escape from Planet of the Apes, happened 20 years ago. Cornelius and Zira arrived on Earth, from the future, and had a baby chimp, originally named Milo but now called Caesar. Armando, an ape loving circus trainer, has kept Caesar, an intelligent ape capable of speech, a secret the entire time. Somehow, Armando has concealed the enslavement of the apes from Caesar, but apparently chose to reveal it to him as he and Caesar walk around the the city promoting Armando's upcoming circus show.

The time loop of Escape from Planet of the Apes means that the apes of the future are responsible for their own existence. That was an unfortunate direction to take the series, because one of the appeals of the first movie is that it suggests humanity's self destruction, opening an ecological niche that was filled by the apes. Conquest continues to develop the poor direction from Escape, while introducing a new even more ridiculous element: that the evolution of the apes was spurred by their enslavement by humans, humans who trained them to be more human. None of this was suggested by the first movie

So while walking around the city, Caesar sees a fellow ape being beaten, and he can't help yell out "Lousy, human bastards" (an allusion to the original movie). Armando takes the blame to try to cover up the secret of Caesar's existence, leading to his eventual death, and Caesar vows revenge upon humanity. It's interesting that Caesar's rebellion against humanity is actually caused by the death of a human.

This all leads to the long bloody climax, in which Caesar and the apes take over the city, an entertaining spectacle - especially in the unedited version. It's a small conquest, but in a well delivered speech, to apes that don't speak English, Caesar promises that there will be more to come.

Caesar predicts that the humans will destroy each other, and the apes will be waiting for that day. Couldn't Escape and Conquest just have been skipped over? Can Battle for Planet of the Apes be any worse than this?

Some points of note:

  • The apes of 1991 are supposed to be your standard variety orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees. But they all look like anthropomorphic apes from the original Planet of the Apes.
  • America(?) of 1991 is an Orwellian state. At least for apes - it's difficult to tell exactly to what extent humans are being oppressed. By the looks of the Nazi-like uniforms the security forces wear in the movie, it doesn't look too hopeful.
  • 1991 is quite technologically advanced: force fields and the "authenticator," a menacing looking truth extracting machine.
  • Apes make lousy slaves. The opening is full of scenes in which apes do human tasks poorly. They're scared of open flames. They overfill glasses of water. They can't comb hair very well. It seems to take almost as many security people to keep the apes in check as there are apes doing the manual labor.
  • Training apes consists of almost no positive reinforcement. They're often beaten, but rarely rewarded for doing something right.
  • We never see Caesar inspiring the other apes into a rebellion until the end of the movie. The apes just listen to Caesar for unexplained reasons.