1. It's in the $50 to $60 price bracket.

  2. To maintain dramatic tension in the end-game, don't allow the players to be certain that the game is about to end. That works for other games. Not Habitat. To accomplish this:

    • Each time a stack of discs is depleted, put a "Comet Disc" in the bag. If three Comets are on the track at the same time, the game is over.

    • Each stack of terrain tiles should have one tile, shuffled into the bottom three copies in the stack, which ends the game when revealed.

  3. Players don't know how to make moves that advantage themselves until halfway through their first game. Most successful games have this problem, but it's avoidable.

    • A simplified pre-designed "intro setup" will be crucial for new players to get comfortable with the system.

    • Accommodate what everyone intuitively expects about nature. For instance, if a predator has no prey when it needs to eat, it should starve and leave the game board.

    • The default scoring system is now simplified. If there are going to be end-game bonus multipliers, they should be introduced in subsequent play-throughs. Allow experienced players to mix and match from a selection of complex variants in the back of the rulebook.

    • "When a terrain tile leaves the board, it is awarded to a player as a fossil."

    • "When it leaves the board."

    • "When it leaves. Leaves." <-- Pantomiming picking up a tile off the board. The 12th time this question was asked by the same player. I think the fossilization rule has a problem.

  4. This game is definitely ready for me to stop using the generic discs that I use for many of my prototypes. The mechanics have come along far enough in development to spend the time on graphic design to enhance the theme, which in this game is very strong and unique.

  5. "The best Euro-style game I have played at Protospiel this year."

I have been told that I need the following things for my first trip to Pennsic in a week and a half (August 1-4). Part 1- Things I still need to obtain include:

• Tent
• Air mattress
• Tarp
• Tent floor: picnic blankets/rugs (probably unnecessary)
• Snacks: meat sticks, beef jerky, granola bars
• Comfortable shoes for lots of walking
• Feast gear (I don't even know what this means)
• Knife
• Water bottle
• Flash light
• Dirty laundry hamper (optional)

Things I do not need to obtain include:

• Clothes: Underwear, all tunics/SCA clothes, socks
• Belt pouch, belt
• Wallet and keys
• Phone and charger
• Aloe and sunscreen
• Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, hair comb, shampoo, conditioner, razor, tweezers, nail clipper, towels
• Camp chair
We can't level a playing field by pretending it's already level. The laser cutter that I use is frequently mis-aligned, and cuts poorly unless I level the platform. Imagine if I keep getting bad lasering jobs, and instead of leveling the platform, I get mad because I feel all defensive and accused. "I'm in favor of a level playing field! I'm not the sort of person who pushes it out of level! Why would I do that?"

This is why there are two definitions of racism and sexism. By one definition, racism and sexism are deliberate choices, made by bad people, out of hostility and antagonism toward a group. By the other definition, racism and sexism are systems of unintentional disadvantages, resulting from the well-intentioned actions of good people, like you and me. If you don't understand why somebody told you that you did something racist or sexist, it might be the second kind.

The second kind is like my laser cutter's alignment.

I'm going to say something now that will be scary to many of you for a minute, but bear with me, and it will get less scary. Almost every time I use the laser cutter, I have to grab the higher end of the platform (whites, men, straights, Christians, able-bodied, thin, that's you), to keep it from rising, while I grab the lower end of the platform (non-whites, women, LBGTs, non-Christians, disabled, fat, that's you) and lift it up to the same height. That's how to get a level playing field.

Un-leveling mostly happens accidentally, passively, easily. Leveling happens deliberately, with energy and difficulty. I favor the lower side of the platform over the higher side until there is no longer a higher and lower. I can't do it by being "level-blind". If I'm "level-blind", I'm keeping the platform out of level. Breathe deeply while I say the next thing-- Are you ready? -- By the second definition, if you say "I'm color-blind", you are an unintentional racist.

If the higher end of the bed were a person, it would probably feel like it's being punished. If it only knows the first definition, un-leveling is only something that happens deliberately. It knows it's a good person who does not deliberately put the platform out of level. Therefore, it assumes the bed is already level. All it has to do is abstain from deliberately un-leveling it. Therefore, the laser must be cutting fine, and the resulting parts must have been intended to look that way. And even if it is out of level, isn't it the whole machine's fault? So change that! Or redefine the word "up" so the current alignment of the platform is the absolute reference frame of the planet Earth. Anything but putting my hand on top of the right side of the platform to prevent it rising while I raise the left side.

The right side of the bed will assume, since it believes that it's already level, that if it lowers, it will go out-of-level, and be lower than the left side. This is why, very early in any discussion of equality, the subject changes from helping a disadvantaged class, onto making sure the people who are already advantaged do not become a new persecuted class. We pay far too much attention to that. That is not what's at stake, but that doesn't even need to be said. Whites, men, straights, Christians, the able-bodied, and the thin, do not need to ask for reassurance about that.

If you want reassurance of that, just be on the lookout for your advantages. It takes time, but it's possible to start noticing them. Pretty soon you'll realize how wealthy with privileges you are, and you'll realize just how little it costs you to level the playing field. And that's the part where this concept becomes much less scary.
Friday night, 8PM: FoolMoon, a parade of luminary sculptures on Washington Street at Main Street. It's a branch of FestiFools, an event two days later.

Saturday afternoon, noon to 5PM: Work on the TuxTrax site for Penguicon, at All Hands Active hackerspace, 525 E Liberty. Lunch is provided to developers.

Saturday evening, 6PM: Nerdsplosion, a concert of nerd music at Cavern Club on 1st Street at Washington, sponsored by Penguicon.

Sunday evening, 5PM: FestiFools, a glorious parade of giant puppets on Main Street. My past FestiFools reports:

My FestiFools 2011 report. (Schematics) (Video)
My FestiFools 2013 report.

I'm presenting or leading the following events at Penguicon this year:

Friday 6PM: Developing Software For Penguicon

Penguicon has begun to host hackathons year-round to develop software to help organize this convention. Please join us at the whiteboard! Developers and interested stake holders will meet to discuss the project’s purpose, stack, and next steps. Look at the user stories in the readme and the flowchart image in the wiki: https://github.com/MattArnold/penguicontrax

Saturday 2PM: Penguicon Board Meeting

You’ve done the convention, you’ve met the staff, and you’ve even socialized with the ConCom. But what about those *other* Penguicon people? Those shadowy figures that create the multi-year rules, have their fingers on the money, and cause a ConChair to mysteriously appear every year in a puff of penguin-scented smoke? Ever wonder what the Penguicon Board of Directors does in their secret sanctum, and where they are taking Penguicon? Come to the Board of Directors meeting and see!

Saturday 6PM: Annual Dominion Tournament

In this million-selling “non-collectible card game,” players start with the same simple deck, and use their hand to buy cards into their collection from the middle of the table. Whoever buys the most expensive victory cards first, wins. Winners take home plastic trays for displaying cards during play. Plan to play through two games with pre-designed sets. Please sign up at Ops, but walk ins are still welcome!

Sunday 10AM: Board Game Design

What does it take to design and produce a new game? We will discuss all aspects, from initial concept and mechanics to playtesting and even funding through Kickstarter. This is a Q&A panel so bring your questions!

Sunday 11AM: Creating Machine Tool Paths In Adobe Illustrator

If you use a laser cutter, vinyl plotter, or other CNC tools at i3Detroit or another hacker space, you need 2D paths that the tool will follow. This path, or “vector”, is described with various formats such as SVG (scalable vector graphics), AI (Adobe Illustrator), or DXF (digital exchange format). This class will teach you the basics the premiere vector illustration tool, Adobe Illustrator, with an emphasis on how to prepare your file to be used as a tool path. Computers and software are not provided, we can help if you bring a prepared file or Illustrator.

I'm exhausted and happy. See my last blog post for background info on what I'm talking about. Eighteen developers attended. This weekend, we accomplished the following:

  • Got a consensus on our technology stack, and the direction we want to go.

  • Learned how to develop with technologies some of us were previously unfamiliar with.

  • Completed the functionality for anyone to sign in using an account they already have on another site.

  • Gave Staff users the ability to move an event suggestion through statuses: "We Followed Up On This", "Closed as rejected" and "Closed as approved".

  • Polished up the home page where you can filter a report of events by topic tags.

  • Made the event submission form interface prettier, but also broke it.

  • Made a Head of Programming user, who can make other users into Staff users, and make Staff users into Track Heads.

  • Made a page that shows the events in "Closed as rejected" status (these events are hidden everywhere else, unless you are logged in as Staff).

  • Designed a database schema for taking a "Closed as approved" event suggestion and making a "Scheduled Event" out of it.

  • Almost finished the system for attendees to RSVP to events. The star icon on each event will have a digit next to it, showing how many people RSVPed. The star will light up when you click it, and that number will increase by 1, and your RSVP points will decrease by 1.

  • Made "person" database objects, so the site can deal with people who are not users of the site. Every User has one or more "person"s (some of whom are aliases, such as their con name). Some "person"s have no User account, but later if they make a User account it can be associated to them.

  • Made a personal page for every user, giving them the ability to make their RSVPs public, and eventually this will show them everything they've done on the site.

  • Sat in the hot tub.

In one month, several of us will meet again for an evening at the All Hands Active hackerspace in Ann Arbor. Until then we'll continue to collaborate online. Thank you SO MUCH to our support staff, Cylithria Dubois, Rhiannon Llewellyn, and Dan Eckerd! Fantastic job, everyone! We will definitely do this again!

Here are some of the pain points we hope to solve by creating a scheduling web app for Penguicon. Come out and help us this weekend! More details at: penguicamp.com

1. Errors And Hassle From Data Duplication

For years, Penguicon has planned the schedule using two systems, and kept them in sync manually.

In a spreadsheet, we represent rooms as columns, and times as rows, so we can catch conflicts. But it doesn't store the event description, the topics, whether or not it is "just an idea"/"probably happening"/"confirmed", and other important data.

A database lets us store and present a schedule with all the details associated with each event. But the databases we have used could not catch conflicts in which two events are scheduled in the same room at the same time, or a presenter in two places at one time, or duplicated events or presenters.

We need one solution which stores all the data we use, and also alerts us to conflicts.

2. Unresponsiveness From Penguicon

Our diversity requires that we get a lot of people to plan our various tracks. Most of them work incredibly hard. Unfortunately, due to unexpected changes in their lives, about ten percent of them per year do not respond to communication for months at a time.

There is understandable anger from some program participants that they submitted an event and heard nothing back, or didn't receive a response for months at a time. Someone on the team has silently quit, or plans to do all their work at the last minute, or after the deadline.

What is a hard-working and active staff member to do? The problem is hidden in someone else's @penguicon.org email inbox. The conchair and head of programming don't find out this is happening until there is a flood of public complaint. Believe me, I've done both of those jobs, and I can tell you, it's incredibly challenging to distinguish who is "Quit" and who is just "Quiet". We have lacked the tools to solve this.

Event requests should be public, and a public system should let us track which ones received a response. This way, the Penguicon staff has the ability to know when something is not getting done. They can then delegate tasks to someone who is willing to send an email saying "We heard you and we are working on it."

Normally, communication to Penguicon should receive a timely response, even if the response is "I don't have the answer yet." Silence is never acceptable. The solution is to delegate and rely on the rest of the team. For this, we need to know which communications are not followed up.

The Penguicon staff has some amazingly active and attentive members. They stand at the ready to fill in for someone for a week, a month, or perhaps the rest of the year. They are willing to help when someone needs to take a break. Let's make it possible for them to go to a site and find the overdue work that needs doing.

3. Penguicon Workers Get Discouraged To Work For An Event That Mistreated Their Friends

When the hidden problem of unresponsiveness bursts into the public limelight in a torrent of frustration, it can de-motivate and discourage our staff. Early detection will let the group work as a team to respond to the public before that happens.

4. Program Participants Want To Know What Their Status Is

Presenters, game masters, performers, panelists, and teachers would like to look up the answers to these questions:

  • Did Penguicon receive the event I submitted?

  • Is it approved yet?

  • How many events did I submit? I don't remember. There were a lot. I might have overbooked myself.

  • Am I scheduled too early or late in the day?

  • Is my itinerary spread out so I have time to rest and eat?

  • Do I qualify for a reduced registration rate or other rewards?

It would be good to be able to do this without having to email Penguicon and wait for a reply. Many of them are frustrated that these questions remain mysterious for far too long, due to overworked staff. (This also would take some workload off of our staff.)

Looking at a page about my own information, I can discover problems which otherwise I would not have thought to ask about.

5. Proofreading Should Already Be Mostly Done Before It Goes To The Desktop Publisher

It takes a lot of work to format a schedule into a printable schedule book. The problem is, all too often, no proofreading is done until we see a PDF of the book. That means the desktop publishing person receives a corrected version of the schedule (or worse, receives a list of individual edits and has to edit them by hand) and has to re-do a lot of work.

During the months before the publishing deadline, the proofreading should be done online. The public should be able to see the work in progress and suggest edits. The Penguicon staff can click "approve" to accept each edit.

6. The Public Wants Something To Get Excited About

When deciding whether to attend, or what to plan for, all the attending public wants is a tentative idea of things that are probably going to happen at Penguicon. Before the convention, they do not yet care what the rooms and times are. Neither do they need absolute certainty that the events are all going to happen-- they understand some things will be canceled.

Concealing the work in progress is a lost opportunity for promotion. Concealing it until a week before the convention is a frustration to everyone. We should show the work in progress throughout the process.

7. Feedback Was Not Captured

"The presenter never showed up." "A panelist kept derailing the discussion." "The show started an hour late due to negligent planning." But this report was not captured, and we scheduled the same person the following year.

After the convention, the site is still useful, because attendees should be able to comment on events. Penguicon can use these comments to decide which presenters to accept again in the future.

8. Most Of The Events You Wanted To See Were Scheduled At The Same Time; Or, The Room Was Too Packed For You To Get In

It would be nice for attendees to be able to indicate a few events they are the most interested in. If this is done far enough in advance, the site can report statistics to the staff about attendee interest before assigning rooms and times. They can use this to estimate the projected interest, and put an event in a room of the appropriate size. They can move two events out of the same time slot because the web app reports they share a very large number of attendees.

9. I Want To See Video, Audio, Slide Decks, And Other Materials For A Past Event

It would be nice after the convention to look up an event, and find links to the video taken during the event, or a link to a slide deck or other documents hosted somewhere. (We don't have to host them on our own site, just link to them.)

I recently attended Code Crafters Saturdays and was talking to the guy who runs it, telling him how many RSVPs we have for the upcoming Pre-Penguicon Code Sprint. (More info at penguicamp.com.) He said generally, it's safe to say about half the people who RSVP for a coding event will show up. The Code Sprint Facebook page currently has 17 "Yes" and 17 "Maybe", for a total of 34. Three attendees are not on Facebook, so that comes to 37. Half of 37 is eighteen, so that's half again as many as I projected!

The current challenge is, our attendance increases outgo rather than income. The more people show up to give us their work, the more of them there are to eat and drink. All my potential sponsors have either declined or not responded. Currently there is enough money for 12 attendees, out of the Penguicon Board's bank account, and Penguicon 2014's bank account. I'm determined to provide enough food and drinks for additional attendees, by paying out of my own pocket. After the event I'll report to the board about how productive we were, and how much our attendees grew their skills. However much they feel like reimbursing me, I will accept at my own risk.

In the meantime here is our progress report, and it isn't even Saturday yet!

Jeffrey Quesnelle already got logins working with OpenID. All users will log in with accounts from other sites they already have.

Two or three Javascript experts from a consultancy in Wisconsin named Bitovi, have rented a hotel room and will work pro-bono. They'll teach us how to use CanJS to load live data to the site up-to-the-second. I'm enthusiastic because it's very approachable and easy for newcomers to learn, compared to alternatives that I've used.

Those who have been following this project will remember how I was at a standstill for months because I couldn't deploy the site anywhere. W Kent Novak set up our project with a new technology called Docker.io which will make deployment problems go away forever!

Penguicon's webmaster, James Gamble, sent a small donation and became a "Macaroni Penguin Level" sponsor! Thanks James!

Two of Penguicon's consuite staff, Cylithria and Rhi, will do the shopping and personally cater the food and drinks. They're the ones who make Penguicon and ConFusion's consuites the envy of fandom across the country. Lithie and I inventoried the cube and I posted the results to the Penguicon.info wiki page on the storage cube. We're all set for food service supplies.

Both of the adjacent guest rooms are rented, and if any of them need to back out, the hotel will move one of our other attendees adjacent to the suite, so we don't need to worry about noise complaints when we turn this into a party after 8PM and the non-programmers show up with a dish or drink to pass.

Idle Games

Jan. 27th, 2014 11:07 pm
I admit I spent most of Sunday playing CivClicker. It's yet another game in the "Idle Game" genre-- games that play themselves with barely any player interaction. This one adjusts that premise somewhat, because if you don't have sufficient stockpiles for your people to weather plagues or invasions when you walk away from the computer, it is possible for your civilization to crash before you get back.

A Dark Room is the obvious inspiration, though CivClicker lacks the beautiful prose style. I don't expect any Idle Game to be as creative and personally affecting as A Dark Room.

On the other hand, CivClicker is a great deal more involved than CookieClicker and Clicking Bad. But that's not saying much.

If you're looking for somewhere intermediate to start, try the great-granddaddy of Idle Games: CandyBox. If you're patient for the first few minutes, you just might be rewarded.
I liked the vast majority of 2013. I'm less happy than I was a year ago, but most things are cyclical. My circumstances are on an upward trajectory, overall.

I had career and relationship milestones this year. I got a job as a software developer, and as a result, started spending a lot of my time in Ann Arbor. Today I finally achieved a savings goal that I've had for nearly a decade, and will probably stay above it even after this month's projected expenses.

The main reason for me to select one job over another is how much control it will give me over where I spend my free time, and with whom. My last job, while menial, was down the street from the i3Detroit hacker space, where I do everything that I care about the most, and where most of the people who I care about tend to spend their time. That job set the gold standard. Working in my actual field will make it possible in the future to return to something close to those priorities, in a financially sustainable way.

With those priorities so vividly present in my mind, it is not possible for me to accidentally fall into a gilded cage of high expenses that keep me dependent on a high income. I know people who incur a terrible price with stress and boredom, to pay for isolated McMansions in a lonely gated community. I don't want that. My current path will vastly increase my options. I plan to keep living in densely populated urban centers full of activities with lots of great people.

Speaking of people, that brings me to the topic of relationships. In October, I posted this to Facebook:

A relationship of a year and a half has come to an amicable end. It was both of our great good fortune to be with each other. In that spirit of gratitude, our relationship transitions into warm friendship.

Here are the things that help me during a time like this. Your mileage may vary.

When I start every relationship, I say that it's a gift to each other, not an obligation. I say that if she needs to make new life decisions, and if I don't fit into that life in the same way, I won't make it difficult for her. Past experience says I'll follow through, so that's a comfort.

--I don't want to sugar-coat this. Like anything else worthwile, my relationship philosophy has tradeoffs. For every one to two years of ecstasy (the likes of which many people only fantasize), I experience a couple of weeks of withdrawal from dopamine, oxytocin and norepinephrine. I'll take that deal. During those weeks, I practice disguising my sobs as sneezes, in public. I accept the stormy emotional weather. I ride out the brain chemicals until they pass. If I had avoided loss, I would never have had such rewarding relationships to begin with.

During the infatuated period of "New Relationship Energy", when neither of us can conceive of a day when we don't fit into each other's lives in the same way, I talk about it anyway. The infatuated period is the most difficult time to lay the groundwork for the end of the relationship to be a warm and loving one. But that's when it most needs to be said.

With each goodbye, I remind myself that new connections and new loved ones have never followed far behind.

-- This prediction has already held true. 

When we say goodbye, and I say we'll always be loved ones, I can look at the loved ones who still call, and keep in touch, and miss me, and look forward to visiting me, and I know that real love stories can have endings. Because that's how they can have sequels.

--I was reminded of this when I had a visit from J this month. (J lived with me during 2010 and 2011, predating the relationship which recently ended.) She spoke of her plans to try to move back to Michigan and start a video game company with some others. They were inspired by a game idea I had, and I'm really excited to be in touch with her more often.

With strong connections, and new resources, the groundwork is in place for 2014 to be an amazing year for me.
Kelly Birke mentioned it would be great to have access to a computerized automated embroidery machine. Twenty minutes later, I got Jen to donate hers to i3Detroit if we'd cover the shipping cost. Twenty minutes after that, I had taken up a collection and raised $140. It now sits in i3Detroit's craft room! Maybe we can make Nerd Merit Badges for Penguicon!
Games I don't own:
Puzzle Strike: Shadows,
Ticket To Ride: Heart of Africa,
Lords of Waterdeep,
Dominion: Team Variant,
In the Year of the Dragon,
Glory to Rome Black Box Edition,
Alien Frontiers,
King of Tokyo,
Eminent Domain,

Games I own:
Thurn & Taxis,
Dominion (Guilds, Hinterlands, Prosperity, Dark Ages, & Promo cards)
I've been using Mint and Pocketsmith. You give them access to read your bank account transactions, and they provide the friendly front end user interface that banks lack, including charts of your spending trends. Each service has strengths and weaknesses.

Mint.com is mostly good at tracking and categorizing your expenses. I love its handy mobile app to manually record and categorize cash transactions as they happen. It give you a cash balance "account" based on your ATM withdrawals, and deducts the manual records from that. Pocketsmith has a mobile version of their website, with offline support that synchronizes your activities when your device goes online. However, since my phone broke, I haven't used the mobile Pocketsmith yet. I'll find out more next week.

If all you want is to receive an alert when you're about to exceed your spending limit in a certain type of expense, Mint.com would suffice. But it's not a planning tool. It lets you increase your budget on any line item to any amount you wish, without alerting you if you're going to spend more than you earn. For years, I've used spreadsheets to forecast my cash by comparing my projected income to my estimated expenses. Spreadsheets! What a pain. Mint.com has ignored requests for a forecast feature for the last several years. Mint's business model is to gather information about your spending habits, so they can try to persuade you to use their company's advertised clients-- not in ads, but embedded in the context of "advice" about your specific financial circumstances. Mint is free because the service itself is an ad to persuade you to switch credit cards, car insurance, or investments.

If you want to analyze patterns in your cashflow to get a forecast of your future balance, you'll have to pay for it. This is the purpose of Pocketsmith, which costs $10 a month, or $24.95 for three months. It is based around calendars. You can schedule projected expenses and incomes into the future, which will be over-ridden by your actual transactions as each new day arrives. Your upcoming twelve months are shown as a line graph, so you can adjust your spending plan until the line points upward.

The free Pocketsmith plan is really just a demo, since it will automatically categorize everything into far more categories than the twelve that you are allowed for free. Then it will only allow you to work with twelve categories it chose arbitrarily. It will treat the rest of your transactions as if they do not exist, leading to a useless analysis and forecast.

In either system, your expenses will be imported from your bank and automatically categorized-- badly. In Mint, correcting category mistakes is convenient, but in Pocketsmith, it's done piecemeal in several confusing interfaces. I spent painful hours categorizing transactions through the "Categories", "Personal Summary", and "Cashflows" views, each of which conceals part of the information you need to figure out which categories are messed up. Then I discovered that the best views to use for this process are called "Merchants" and "Bank Statements" for some reason.

Also, I am only using my main bank with Pocketsmith, because the one that I use for supplemental purposes was nowhere to be found in their account setup section. I'm not sure if this is their fault, or that of the bank.

Once your transactions are correctly categorized, though, Pocketsmith gives you the information and calculations that you need in order to decide what areas you need to cut back on, and when you can afford something you are saving for. Soon I expect to transition out of Mint entirely.
I prepared for this year's tournament more meticulously than any before, but got a worse outcome than ever before. Contestants: I hear you, I understand exactly what caused this, I have a plan to fix it, and it will never happen again. Previously, I have never had such space constraints that I would have to make it clear to the programming team that my event needed tables empty for an hour beforehand to set up the tournament. That was my downfall.

The sign-up sheet was almost full. The tournament was scheduled to start at 4PM. I was scheduled to be in the Penguicon Board of Directors meeting from 3 to 4 PM, so I got some minions to set up the tournament. I gave them setup instruction sheets and one pre-assembled material packet per table. Unfortunately, there was a presentation going on in the Private Dining during that hour, so all the tables were full of gamers. My minions are kind-hearted and would never kick gamers out of the only places available to play. Due to space constraints, they would effectively close down the entire game room, end all the games in progress, and kick pretty much everybody out. I was the only one assertive enough to do that, and I was in a meeting.

As a result, setup did not take place, and the tournament started almost an hour late in a huge panicky disorganized rush, while the room was crowded with contestants. A lot of our signed-up players walked out during this time, meaning we had to re-organize the seating chart, and it took even longer. There were some setup errors, so some games had cards in them which I did not intend, resulting in extremely slow and/or swingy games.

How to fix it:

1. A sign on each table at the start of the day, saying "Please be done with games on this table by 3PM, to allow for Dominion tournament setup".
2. Do not accept being scheduled to do something else during setup.

Congratulations to the winner, Mike Riverso! He jotted his contact info and shipping address on Evernote on my phone. As soon as he left, it gave me a "java.io.IO" error and lost his information. I put up a sign in the lobby, and he sent me his info through email, so all's well that ends well. He will receive a copy of the new Dominion expansion, "Guilds", in about a month when it is published.

New things that went well:

Penguicon's new Dominion collection. The convention now owns two copies of every Dominion product, so we had enough cards. With thirty-two players and eight simultaneous games, it was the largest Penguicon Dominion tournament ever, so we needed it!

Using a megaphone. No more shouting myself hoarse.

I ordered plenty of "Estate" "Duchy" and "Province" ribbons to hand them out to each contestant. I have next year's supply already.
I am presenting in the following events at Penguicon:

Friday, 8 PM: Sci Fi on the Radio
Come attend a live dramatic reading of several early century radio scripts! Close your eyes and use your imagination, and allow our talented voice actors and foley artists to create terrors and intrigue!

Friday, 9 PM: Vinyl Cutting Demo
Your own custom design would be way better for your car window than stick figures of your family, or Calvin peeing on things you hate. This class will explain and demo how to: make vector art; use a plotter to cut it out of vinyl; weed the excess off; transfer it to a masking tape backing; and apply it. Bring an SVG or AI file on a thumb drive to go away with your own decal.

Saturday, 1 PM: Laser Cutters
The i3Detroit hacker space in Ferndale raised $6,800 in donations to buy a 150-watt laser cutter and engraver with a 3'x4' bed, capable of cutting through up to half an inch (depending on the material). This will be a presentation of photos of the machine, samples, a description of the process and capabilities, and a demonstration of the laser cutter software. This class can be your first step in certification to use it.

Saturday, 3PM: Penguicon Board Meeting
No, it's not spelled B-O-R-E-D! The important, long-term decision making squad assemble for a quarterly meeting. Open to the public.

Saturday, 4PM: Annual Dominion Tournament
Plan to play through 2 games with pre-designed sets. You can sign up at Ops to make it easier on me, but if not, please just walk in! Winner will be shipped a copy of the "Guilds" expansion when it becomes available. In this million-selling “non-collectable card game”, players start with the same simple deck, and use their cards to buy cards into their collection from the middle of the table. They go through their deck repeatedly to use their new cards to buy even more lucrative cards. Whoever buys the expensive victory cards first, wins.

Saturday, 11PM: Divination With Dominion Cards
Just for fun, we will pretend to perform cartomancy with Dominion cards. I have devised an intricate system for interpreting 20 randomly-selected cards, to tell you the winning strategy for the next few days of your life.

This was the most noteworthy of all FestiFools in which I have participated. The differences were pretty interesting, so I'm writing about it. I didn't make a puppet of my own this year, and decided to help out as a volunteer puppet operator.

I went with Adrienne, who some of you may know from conventions and others may know from i3Detroit hacker space. We went to a pre-meeting last weekend. Some of the central organizers for the event are new this year. One of them gave a description for an elaborate choreography that they were going to try to introduce. The very idea of choreography struck me as a bit out-of-place, given that the theme of the event is chaos and spontaneity, which has always been pretty fun. But in reality, the spirit of Festifools is not so much "chaos and spontaneity" as "whatever happens, roll with it, and see what emerges". So I rolled with it.

On the day of the event, we showed up a little bit later for setup than anticipated. After we signed in for volunteering, the organizer had to pause and give some thought to which puppets needed more operators. That was unusual, in that normally they have been starved for puppeteers.

One of the event organizers teaches an art class at the university of Michigan, and this class produces most of the puppets for Festifools. We were directed to what the organizer called "that grid thing over there". The artist who made that grid thing over there was one of the students. The artist was on the phone, and attempted to have half a conversation with us until I suggested that we discuss it when the call was complete.

The grid thing was a cage with a multitude of mannequin arms which were painted brown. After the phone call, the artist explained the message of the artistic thesis, concerning the perpetuation of slavery into the modern day. We were introduced to a paper-mache head that the artist had made to come out of the top of the cage. It was a blackface caricature, with googly-eyes and big red clown lips. To the cage were attached large cartoony paper-mache shackles which we were to wear over our necks.

"Are you OK with your mouths being duct-taped shut?"

"This doesn't look like it's a lot of fun", I said. "Is it intended to be a fun part of the festivities?"

"No, it's not fun. We're going to operate these arms in a way that expresses grieving and desperate fear."

"I'm not sure I know how to do that in a way that would get across your vision. I'm really good at giving a light-hearted or comical performance, but I might not be the right performer for this." I did not also say that I don't want to be guilty of cultural appropriation as a privileged white heterosexual male, pretending to be part of an aggrieved party, while benefiting from oppression.

The blackface minstrel show artist was really cool about it. We went back to the event organizer to see if I could be assigned to a different art project and the artist could recruit a different random stranger to use insulting stereotypes to promote social justice in an April Fool's Day parade.

After being directed to several puppets whose artists told me they were full up, we finally landed in a puppet troupe centered around a performer who carried a huge melting clock. Another carried a replica of the face of Salvador Dali. Each other member of the troupe carried a pole bearing a paper mache blob. I had the good fortune to carry the only other recognizable object: a human ear. The artist explained that when aligned in front of the clock he was carrying, these blobs would form up into a recognizable approximation of a human face, inspired by the surrealist style of Salvador Dali.

We were instructed to keep the pieces separated and show no connection until instructed to assemble. Until that time, this puppet had to be explained to the crowd by the artist shouting at them.



Fortunately, when we performed our Voltron-like assemblage, the face emerged and there was much applause.

One part of this artist's vision was for us to suddenly hand out our parts of the puppet to random onlookers in the crowd. We had been carrying the puppet pieces for about fifteen minutes when he called upon us to do this. "Roll with it", I thought, and immediately held out the pole with the ear, and asked the audience who wanted it. About a dozen hands raised eagerly. Unfortunately, one hundred percent of the hands were that of children. I gave the ear to the nearest child, who was the first to respond. You can guess what happened next. Her parental unit didn't want to be dragged into the parade, and wouldn't let her wander off. I pointed out to the artist that the ear was still poking out of the crowd about a block behind us. The artist thought that was fine.

Adrienne similarly divested herself of her puppet part, as instructed. No one else had rolled with it. The two of us followed our assigned group, not as puppeteers, but just a couple of people wandering through the middle of the parade for no apparent reason. So I took some pictures. I had been a parade participant for probably twenty minutes, tops.

Soon a drum beat started up, and the artist said we should all conga, so I rolled with it. Once again, Adrienne and I were the only ones who followed his instruction. It was as if no one else heard him at all. So we all stopped.

I'm not sure what happened to the choreography that guy planned out for the overall procession. If anyone enacted it, I didn't notice. But that's fine! Each FestiFools is a more vivacious spectacle than the last, and this one was no exception. The lesson learned this year is to once again make my own puppet for FestiFools 2014, or at least, to not be late and get stuck with the last pick of the puppets.
The French illustrator Naiade is my favorite game artist. FunForge has started cranking out games that immediately grab my attention with his art. So naturally, Tokaido caught my eye.

This is a game that moves quickly, and only takes about forty-five minutes.

It has a very light and non-violent tone. This is a game of vacation planning. You attempt to have as good a trip as possible along the East Sea Road ("Tōkaidō") in medieval Japan. Eat sumptuous meals, view gorgeous panoramas, buy beautiful souvenirs, and meet interesting people. Each stop along the track gives you one of these in the form of a card, which you keep face-up in front of you. Mostly, you are trying to collect combinations of cards.

The gameplay is simple: if your pawn is the farthest behind on the road, it's your turn. Move it forward to one of the tourist attractions, and take a corresponding card. Whoever is now in the back of the line-- even if that is still you-- takes a turn.

The attractions can get too crowded. Each attraction can only accommodate one or two guests at a time. In order to make sure nobody crowds you out of an attraction that is important to completing a set of cards that you need, sometimes you should pass an empty attraction and skip ahead. You can usually have exactly what you want, if you are willing to sacrifice.

The first question you will hear during an explanation of Tokaido is "So, as my first move of the game, I can go all the way to the end of the road?" There are inns at the conclusion of each of the four legs of your journey. You are required to stop at each inn and wait for all the other players to catch up. Besides, you wouldn't want your first move to go as far as the game rules permit, because your first leg of the journey would score you only six points (your meal at the inn), while your opponents would soak up all the luxuries you skipped. Probably the most subtle and crucial decision in the game is when to skip an attraction.

Be advised, each player starts with a different character who confers a unique advantage. The tacticians among you may wonder if your choice of character at the beginning of the game has an undue influence on who wins. This is also a game in which you are unlikely to win if you focus on yourself. Observe which sets of cards your fellow travelers are attempting to build.

The production values make the equipment a joy to use, the play is suitable for children and adults, and it's short enough that I found myself wishing the East Sea Road was a little bit longer.
Ladies and gentlemen, I humbly suggest we may have found our next Penguicon Hack of Honor. Not to mention that the creator of this device is renowned in the hardware hacking community and is GoH-worthy in her own right.

nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Minutes ago, I was in the final elimination round of the Dominion tournament. I was in a 3-player rather than 4-player game, so that was easier on us. The cards were mostly from the Seaside expansion, which my opponents had never played, and which I've been playing for years.

I noticed they both bought Outposts, widely considered one of the worst cards in the game.

I used Ambassador to put my least useful cards into my opponents' decks, and Salvager to recycle the rest for money. This left me with a tiny powerhouse deck of cards into which I put two Treasure Maps, and used Haven to store them so they came up together. The Treasure Maps put four Golds on top of my discard pile. My opponents complimented me on these fancy stunts and said they were in awe. We all agreed I had the game in the bag.

But when the score was counted, I lost by four points. It took too long to set up all those flashy stunts, and I wasn't able to catch up on their early lead.

But no matter! I won the new base card reprints with gorgeous illustrations! I got into the elimination round! It's been an incredible day.
I noticed some of yesterday's laser cutter pledgers are from MakerWorks in Ann Arbor, as one of their members put this pledge drive on the Shop Mates mailing list. We now have 22 pledgers.

Not even one person has filled out the "$0" option in the questionnaire yet, so who knows? If you haven't pledged zero dollars, maybe you're still going to pledge a few bucks! If you're one of those, is the two-thirds mark what you were waiting for? Because we passed the $4,000 dollar mark yesterday! $6,000, here we come!

Remember, please keep spreading the word about this! We need ideas for other groups where we might be able to find pledgers. Thanks!

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September 2017

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