Thursday 10 December 2020

Long Live the Queen! Turns 361-370

It's been almost four months since we last checked in with our communal game of Civilization VI with the Blaugust gang. If you've forgotten all about the game or want to refresh your memory, the summary page can be found here, my previous turns can be found here, here, here, and here, and Krikket's turn preceding this one can be found here.

With all that out of the way, I'm pleased to announce that the Good Ship England is still well afloat. We've given up expansion on Earth and have turned our eyes towards the heavens, with our race to establish a colony of Mars moving along quickly. Thus, the world map looks much the same as it did 60 turns ago, except now with the full-HD addition of our host of navigation satellites giving us 100% map coverage (and a very frustrating 'Activate Windows' watermark that I can't get rid of despite hours of concerted effort and hair-pulling, please ignore that!).

Our armies are still massing on our Western borders, just in case Gilgamesh tries anything, but they're mostly just drilling while the nation's energy goes towards fueling our terrifying scientific machine. While we could drop a pile of cash in modernising our military forces if we needed to, I have other plans for the treasury and as it is we hugely outgun any potential enemies anyway. I think there's a good chance I won't have to touch the military at all during my reign.

Catherine approaches seeking niter, and taking a cue from Krikket's diplomatic efforts in the last post, I decide to give it to them in exchange for one of their cultural relics. France has all sorts of Great Works, so Catherine is willing to part with it without bankrupting us, and I figure this is a good deal given that we have a lot of cultural buildings sitting empty and every little bit of tourism power that we can sap from France makes it less likely that they'll be able to sneak a cultural victory before we finish colonising the stars.
Cleopatra also wants a deal, but she doesn't have any cultural artifacts to give up. I'm not entirely sure what the benefits of a Research Agreement are, and suspect they're probably better for Egypt than they are for us, but if it keeps Cleo onside and gets us a few more luxury goods to help sate our entertainment-starved population then that's a good thing in my book. Deal signed!
And just like that, the English Monarchy becomes the English Constitutional Monarchy, with Her Majesty's government electing to try out the advantages of an actual democracy for once. Her Imperial Majesty was quite good about it, really, all things considered. Taking the Democracy government type lets us stack up a bunch of economic and diplomatic policies to give us big boosts to our gold and culture outputs, at the cost of some advantages to our military that we weren't really using anyway.  I suspect out policies will need a little refining instead of this quick selection, but it's a start. Welcome to the future!
Continuing the theme of trading useless things for cultural advantages, Pedro was also willing to part with a Great Work in exchange for some horses, and I think our diplomats mostly managed to keep a too-obvious grins of their faces as they signed on the bottom-line for that one. At this rate, England will be a cultural powerhouse before we know it. And Brazil will have some horses.
Krikket had also set me the job of finding something useful to do with our Great Admirals, so I took up that gauntlet by rush-buying a destroyer in Bristol so that I could expend their bonuses on it. I don't expect to have to do anything with the first navy that we've had since our early misadventures in the Great Southern Lake, but it's here just in case we need it, and I've set it to randomly patrolling the ocean.

Keeping on the theme of Great People, I also recruited a Great Merchant, who gave us some additional tourism points for our Industrial Zone. I guess people are paying to come tour Birminghmam's world-famous power plant now?

I've also recruited a number of new trader units while I tried to work out what to do with all these cities we have lying around. My current plan is to use them to trade from Stoke-on-Tent with other nearby English cities in order to earn bonuses to production in order to speed along the Moon Landing program. I'm sure there's a more efficient way of doing this, but we've managed to make significant headway on the project this way, so maybe it'll turn out to be worth it.

With the advent of Composites, we've opened the path to research Nanotechnology, the final step needed in order to begin to establish our future colonies on Mars. There's not a lot of other things left on the tech-trees at this point, but our scientific power is still growing in leaps and bounds, so I honestly expect that by the time my next turn comes around there'll be nothing left for our scientists to do but sit around and admire the scenery.

As a slight diversion. If you're reading this on a phone or tablet, woudl you might letting me know if it was readable for you or if the formatting has been all sorts of whacked out? I'm not going to pretend that formatting has ever been a strong-point of the Leaflocker, but the new blogger editor and I really aren't friends and the preview is suggesting that the formatting of this post might be a bit of a headache for those on mobile devices. It works for mine, though, so maybe it's not a problem.

At the end of my term of Government, I'm proud to announce that the combination of our government reforms, the British Museum doing a roaring trade, and a little light extortion of foreign dignitaries has resulted in England successfully becoming the world's cultural leader. Sure, the French might still have more tourists for now, but before you know it they too will be wearing our knitted jumpers and eating our black puddings.

Thanks for joining me for the three-monthly update. I hope to get the Leaflocker off rolling again at some point soon, but for now, look forward to the next update on the game over on the blog of the Rambling Redshirt.

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Blaugust Promptapalooza: Posting when there's nothing to post about

This year's Blaugust is taking the form of a more relaxed drop-in style with a daily prompt, after the main annual blogging festival was brought forward to April. I haven't really been engaging in the whole thing, but today's the day that my name came out of the hat, so I guess I'd better give it the good old college try. Luckily, my prompt isn't something I feel like I'm going to struggle to talk about:

With the pandemic, we are going through an unprecedented time. In what ways has this shared global event impacted your content creation?

A quick glance over at the sidebar makes the short answer to this one painfully obvious. With a whole nine posts with April, including four Civ VI session reports, it's pretty clear that the whole pandemic situation hasn't exactly done wonders for my creative output here at the Leaflocker. But I have quiet months at the Leaflocker all the time, nine posts in months without blogging festivals isn't that far off the usual.

When I zoom out a little and start to look at other creative engagement, though, things become a little clearer. It's one thing to not actually be putting to many words to paper, but to even get to that stage, one needs to be engaging with new and interesting ideas. For me, creative input is the thing that drives creative output, and at the moment I'm just struggling to engage with anything much.

The seemingly eternal librarystack of doom
Take reading, for example. I borrowed five diverse and interesting books from my local library back in March. I have successfully read one and and half-way through another two. Let's call it two books in five months, for someone who reads a book in a day or two when in the right mood, that's a clear indication that something isn't quite right. Somehow, scrolling the old social media feeds has become a significant proportion of my reading, and that just ain't right either! Is it really a surprise that there's not a lot of inspiration for writing happening?

Or gaming. The blog is often full of thoughts I've had about new experiences, but for the last few months I've been on a steady diet of old reliables, spending all of my ludicrous amounts of gaming time on CounterStrike and Mahjong and reinstalling and murdering my way through Hitman again. I feel like I'm getting a lot better at all of these things as I play about with some of the nuances, but incremental improvements in better crosshair placement don't make for good fodder for blog posts, and it hasn't translated into making any progress in my long-planned Battle for Wesnoth campaigns, either.

I think something is very wrong at 24-across

Or crosswords. I've been enjoying doing crosswords each and every day since the beginning of the lockdown, really getting in the swing of them and noticing my solving times considerably improve (in no small part due to having the help of smarter and better-informed friends, but still), but this feels like a little bit of a rut, too, and it certainly isn't driving crossword creation, which has been completely stagnant despite the hours spent staring at blank pages.

Thankfully, I'm only employed for a casual ten hours a week at the moment, as with work just as with everything else, actually engaging on a deep enough level to make meaningful progress has been a real challenge. If I was still trying to do a full-time job I'm pretty sure I'd have had a meltdown by now.

So there you have it, this global event isn't doing a whole lot for me and I can't say I really know what to do to get out of this funk just at the moment. But for now there's a gap in the rain so I'm going to go for a walk and see if I can't find some inspiration somewhere out there.

On deck for tomorrow's prompt is Telwyn over at GamingSF, do drop on by and find out what some of those whose creativity has been less adversely affected by this whole thing have been up to.

Sunday 16 August 2020

Long Live the Queen! Turns 291-300

There hasn't been much going on here at the Leaflocker of late, with a general dearth of creativity and lack of the ability to focus hitting pretty hard in recent months. This is the first August that we hasn't seen a bump in output around here for years, but despite three or four partial drafts and a clean new blogger interface update, I just haven't been able to get into it. Despite the good work being done by Belghast and the gang with the Promptpalooza alternative Blaugust event, here on the Leaflocker, it's just been.... crickets (and not the good kind!)

But then, on the Blaugust discord channel, I was summoned by.... Krikket.
The Thin Red Line
It's just a couple of days short of two months ago that I last checked in on the Kingdom of England (yes, we may have developed Flight but we're still holding on to the Monarchy) in the communal game of Civ VI that I've been taking part of since April, and during my period of inattention we've gone to war, liberated three cities from the Sumerians, and brokered peace all over again. The world is now back in a state of alert watchfulness, and I missed the whole thing!
Time for a call for prayer
If Krikket's trademark move is messing around in boats or boat-adjacent activities, mine is certainly spending all of my fellow leader's hand earned currency on knick-knacks, so I quickly blew our country's accumulated stockpile of Faith points on a small army of Buddhist Prophets and Missionaries to combat Brazil's wave of incoming Catholic zealots, as well as on rushing the employment of a Great General, Sir John Monash, who provides a small rank increase to a unit but more importantly provided an additional envoy in Preslav, returning the city state to the protection of the Empire.
We've got this Diplomacy thing in the pouch
While we're on the topic of City States, I also devoted a few spare envoys we had lying around to gaining control of Stockholm, giving us some sweet scientific bonuses. If there's one big difference that I notice between this difficulty an the higher ones, it's gotta be just how easy it is to dominate the game diplomatically, allowing for a kind of blanket approach that just isn't feasible on 'hard mode'. I can more or less hold my old at Civ VI these days at anything less than the top couple of difficulty modes, but trying to hold on to more than one or maybe two city states is generally beyond me.
We've been driving around...
Having apparently learnt nothing from losing the eastern half of their empire, the Sumerians have sent a Settler unit (in it's fancy campervan) out to rebuild on our borders again. I'm not very keen for that, but unfortunately modern Settlers have better movement skills, so my previous herding tricks don't seem to be working. I could capture the Settler, I suppose, but war with the already crippled Gilgamesh doesn't really seem worthwhile at this point.
Don't tempt us, Pedro
I did get a notification for the possibility of a war against a more attractive opponent, though. Our technological advantage over the Brazilians has opened up the possibility of declaring a Colonial War against Pedro, and while I'm not in a position to explore this avenue further right now, since all our units are still on the western front, taking out the Brazilians would not only gain us some excellent looking cities in the North but also prevent the never-ending flood of missionaries getting in the way of converting the world to the wonders of Buddhism.
The Walrus did beseech
All this talk of war has gotten Teddy all upset, though, and he's decided to try to exhort a little cash. Since this is a pretty small amount of money for us and because I'm generally a friendly guy, I was a little tempted, but the United States has a comically small army so they really have no way to back up their threats, even if they are currently leading the world technologically. We might end up having to gun Teddy down in order to win an eventual scientific victory, so I'm content to let him be upset with us in the hopes that he eventually declares a war that can't he's got no hopes of winning.
Burning out a fuse up here alone
With the development of Rocketry we can start building our three Spaceports in order to start constructing the Mars Colony that we need to establish in order to win ourselves a scientific victory. I start up the first in Stoke-on-Trent immediately under the careful eyes of the boffins at Oxford University, but spaceports require a truly insane amount of production for a city that's not exactly an industrial powerhouse. I also purchase a worker to try to grind a little more production out of the hexes around the city in order to speed up the process a little bit, but as it is it might be my turn again before we see the first space flight out of Stoke.
All the decent campsites have already been taken
Having failed to block that Sumerian settler, I eventually settle (heh) for camping the hexes that would have provided it a viable location. Guess you're going to have to look elsewhere if you want to grow, Gilgamesh!
Hong Kong looming out of the mist
Finishing off the Natural History civic gave us the extra envoys we needed to gain suzerainity of Yerevan, but just as I was getting ready to celebrate being overlord of the whole Earth, Yerevan's superior map knowledge revealed the previously unknown city State of Hong Kong nestled between Teddy Roosevelt and Gilgamesh. How they managed to keep it from us for so long I'm not exactly sure, but we are going to have to work a little harder if we're going to tick of that goal of being the undisputed diplomatic masters of the universe.
The site of one of the ancient battles of the fabled Galloping Arrows?
Natural History also gives us access to the Antiquity sites, one of my favourite aspects of Civ VI and a key part of every successful cultural victory that I've ever managed. Since Victoria has a bonus for Archeology making her museums insanely powerful this could be a pretty good route for us to go down, but the investment of production into museums and archeologists could be a tough ask when our resources are already committed to the Space Race.

I guess I'll find out if we picked one or the other or decided to try for both next time I get made Prime Minister. For now, it's over to the Rambling Redshirt once again.

Friday 10 July 2020

Board Report - Ticket to Ride: Stay at Home

When we first entered this lockdown, I had some vague ambitions that it might be a new renaissance for board games in our family and to brush a little dust off of our games cupboard. While this has been true for me, with the chance to rejoin my old college board game night as it went digital, it hasn't been all that I'd initially hoped when it comes to two-player board games over a physical table, as my time together with Mrs. Owl mostly having been devoted to educating her about early 2000's serial drama television and other important screen-based pursuits instead of staring at pieces of cardboard.

I did, however, get the opportunity to make myself a copy of the pandemic-themed print-and-play release of the Ticket to Ride: Stay at Home, expansion, in which up to four family members attempt to complete routes around their own house (the idea of a game that is fundamentally about travel being subverted like this makes me giggle), and after low-level badgering over a period of weeks Mrs. Owl eventually agreed to play it with me.

In TtR:SaH, each player gets 32 trains (just less than 3/4 of a full size TTR game), then picks one of four characters and gets a random two of that character's special tickets as well as a selection of two of the general shorter tickets that will make up the deck during the game (as usual, they can pick and choose which they keep as long as they keep some). This means that players who've studied the cards (maybe while cutting them out) or who have played on this map a couple of times will have a pretty good (but not certain) idea of the general area where the other players will be intending to play depending on their role.

This aspect has loomed large in the online conversation about this game, since the featured family is a pretty typical nuclear family, with a mother that cooks and decorates, a father who likes board games, a girl who dresses up as a fairy princess and a boy who likes trains, and given the board games community's poor track record in the area, a game reinforcing this much WASPy heteronormativity feels pretty on the nose for a 2020 release. That was my first reaction too, but as I've thought about it I've adjusted my headcannon into believing that rather than being intended as a stereotypical average family that the featured player characters are actually based on the game designer Adrien Martinot's actual family. This is based on some pretty flimsy evidence, like the cat being called 'Rouky' being weirdly specific and the Dad character looking vaguely like Martinot himself if you squint, and I have no idea if he has a family at all, but I prefer this interpretation, so I'm just going to run with it for now.

The other significant change is the addition of starred multi-coloured 'Family Routes', a number of longer, relatively central special routes that can only be filled one train at a time and can be shared cooperatively between all the players that contribute to them. These routes definitely slow down the game a little, as a single route can take many turns to complete, but they do add an interesting element of getting along together that seems very thematic. In the two player game they were pretty underutilised, since I built a lot of them while Mrs. Owl mostly did her own thing in the corner. With more players with overlapping routes (I suspect this game will be at it's stressful best with four) it feels like they might have a little potential, though testing that theory is going to have to wait until we can have friends over to play again.

Even with that slight slow-down, the game was over much more quickly that either of us anticipated, as we'd both taken extra tickets part way through the game that we ended up well-short of being able to complete and had to take negative points for (I guess we're just both wired on some deep psychological level for a full-length TtR game), leaving us both feeling a little bewildered and wishing it were a little longer. When the dust settled and the points were counted (as TtR traditionalists, we only ever count TtR points at the end) we both ended up with 70 points and an equal number of completed routes, so we had to settle for a tied game. We'll have to have a rematch soon to settle the question of which of us is the best player, but I guess it'll have to wait at least until the end of series 2 of Grey's Anatomy, at least.

If you think this looks interesting, or you want to play any other print-and-play games that have been released during the pandemic, check out this handy list over at Board Game Geek. I've already downloaded the Pandemic: Hot Spot variant to try some times, as though we don't own the base game we've both played and enjoyed Pandemic games before and you can apparently play it with any old pieces. And besides, it's a pandemic, after all, not playing Pandemic at all during all this time inside it would just feel wrong.

Saturday 20 June 2020

Long Live the Queen! Turns 211-220

It's been a while since we checked in on our communal game of Civilization VI, but turn 210 has rolled around so it's time for us to revisit the British Empire for the government of UnwiseOwl the third, Prime Minister to her Eternal Majesty Queen Victoria following the tenure of Krikket. 4 of the 5 black city states on the map swear fealty to the Union Flag, but we're quickly running out of any usable space for expansion.
Since our last term, both the Babylonians and the Egyptians have built new cities inside lands that I would have preferred to remain firmly under the control of Her Majesty. Gilgamesh has another Settler eyeing up the river to the west of Stoke-Upon-Trent, so when diplomatic efforts to stop him settling fail, I decide to rush build a settler of my own and send the military out to slow him down a little. If we get lucky, maybe we can beat him to the punch.

We also begin cultural development into Humanism, which should give us the ability to build museums for a much needed culture and tourism boost. We're ahead by almost all the other measures, so improving our cultural output should pretty much guarantee that we can't lose this game.
There's a lot of unexplored area out past the Eastern edges of our empire near the newly settled city of Sheffield, so I embark the unused military units into the ocean to go for a little bit of a swim and scout around. The only military threat anywhere near by is Pedro, and I figure he's unlikely to mess with us again any time soon. We could actually build a navy out here once we get the infrastructure built up in Sheffield, but that's not likely to happen any time soon, and I'm not expecting to find that many major landmasses out there anyways.
Gilgamesh isn't a big fan of my settler shepherding strategy, but given that our military is more than twice the size of his I'm pretty confident that he's not going to go to war with us about it. He seems very unsettled about our forces on his borders at the moment, and looking at this fearsome army massing just here I can't say that I blame him.
Poor Pedro wants in on the settling, but sadly for him he's a little boxed in up in his northeastern peninsula, and I'm not willing to give him give him an inch for expansion or for his military, scant as it is, by granting free passage through our territory for a paltry 6 gold pieces.
Having just researched Military Science I successfully settle the city of Plymouth, gaining a free Redcoat unit and and forcing Gilgamesh back to Ur; He's going to have to find somewhere else to build his cities. Since he rudely insisted on expansion earlier, I'm not willing to promise him that we're not going to expand further either. I feel a little bad about upsetting him, since he's one of my favourite Civ leaders (I just want to bury my hands in that fabulous beard!), but friendship has to work both ways. 

I can't say I was particularly interested in either of the potential scientific prospects, but I decide to investigate Economics. I've also started work on Oxford University in Stoke. If we complete it it'll give us a huge science boost, but it's going to be slow work.
To help with the wonder building, I begin recruitment of a few more traders. I hope to transfer control of them to Stoke in order to increase the production output there to allow the builders to hire a few more workers finish building Oxford a little faster. I also notice a single potential city building hex to the the northwest of Birmingham, and with Gilgamesh and Cleopatra both with settlers on the prowl look to secure it for the realm. It's not an amazing spot for a city, but I'd much rather put a British city there than let our neighbours expand, so I'm going to leave this knight here until we can scratch a settling party together.
One of the major developments since my last tenure has been the development of English Buddhism, so I do my part for the faith and deploy a couple of Apostles. Both of them have neat upgrades for converting cities in foreign civilisations, so I've sent them off to spread the good news in Egypt. I thought about sending them after Pedro, but since he has a religion already and is likely to put up a bit of fight over it, I thought it might be easier to convince the heathens.

Just like that, my term in office has come to an end. Feels like at least bit a little more this time around, but at this point I'm starting to get the impression that there isn't that much that could stop the English steamroller now that it's gotten up steam. The Rambling Redshirt is the head of the incoming government, and can find the save file here.

Thursday 18 June 2020

USA Today Crossword - June 18th 2020

Island where Queen Lilioukalani was born / City name in Texas and Ukraine / Sound of rushing wind / Comedian Poundstone / Genre of the song "Duke of Earl" / Hughes who wrote "I, Too" / Blanket statement's lack

Constructor: Evan Kalish

Difficulty: A little on the easy side. It only took me two sweeps of the grid to solve in my morning semi-catatonic state. (7:46)

Theme: JUST MY TYPE - The first words of the three theme anwers give the name of a common typeface.
  • TIME'S A-WASTING (20A: "Let's get moving!")
  • NEW MANAGEMENT (36A: Different ownership)
  • ROMAN NUMERALS (60A: Something popes and Super Bowls have in common)
I dunno how many folks are solving crosswords in serif fonts (even the New Yorker uses something simple and understated for the grid, though their clues are written in their distinctive typeface), but as a bit of a fan of a good embellishment myself, I'm all for the idea of this theme, even if I have small quibbles with each of the theme answers. And yes, this is a blog about the minuitae of crossword puzzles, so of course I'm going to share them.

Having TIMES as one word in the answer rather than cheating it over two words ala TIME SIGNATURE was a nice touch, but the answer having an apostrophe when the theme doesn't want one just makes me feel a little squicky. I can't think of a good replacement with TIMES TABLES and TIMES SQUARE both being a little short, though.

I'm also not convinced that different owners always mean NEW MANAGEMENT. Don't get me wrong, it was a gimme of an answer, but it lacks a certain degree of precision.

Last and almost certainly least, though I enjoyed the mental image of elderly pontiffs in crash helmets and body armour lining up on the gridiron, I feel compelled as a pope fanboy to mention that by my count 44 of the 266 Popes up to this point, including the incumbent, don't have Roman numerals in their names. 

That little rant out of the way, this was a pleasant grid without that much spoor. Sure, there's PSST and PFFT, the ever-present APP and BAA, but none of them are in places where they cause a problem. I continue to be uncomfortable with IDED (identificationed? Identity Documented?) but have to admit that as little as I like it I would like IDD even less. The larger down answers like DOOWOP, SMUDGE , NOODLE, NUANCE, LANGSTON are all good solid fill, very gettable but not the sort of thing you see every day, so overall the puzzle gave me fresh vibes, which is all one can really ask for. Did you know EARTHA Kitt was Batwoman for a while? I didn't.

Today I learned: Zakat (almsgiving) is one of the pillars of ISLAM. Easy enough clue given the context, Islam famously has pillars, but I certainly can't name any of them other than the always crossword-ready HAJJ.
There are five principles that should be followed when giving the zakāt:
  • The giver must declare to God his intention to give the zakāt.
  • The zakāt must be paid on the day that it is due.
  • After the offering, the payer must not exaggerate on spending his money more than usual means.
  • Payment must be in kind. This means if one is wealthy then he or she needs to pay a portion of their income. If a person does not have much money, then they should compensate for it in different ways, such as good deeds and good behavior toward others.
  • The zakāt must be distributed in the community from which it was taken. (wikipedia)
Word of the Day: EMPORIUM (40D: Big store). I generally think of an Emporium as a small store with an intense sort of focus, Crazy Dave's Kitchen Lighting Emporium, or Marvels of Parquetry Emporium, or something like that, but I guess this is just another case of the dictionary in my head being out of step with the dictionary the rest of the world is using.

Shout-out to WHOOSH, though. It's just a fun word.

Wednesday 17 June 2020

USA Today Crossword - June 17th 2020

When this appeared in my feed last week I was truly tempted to pick up my keyboard and go to work, but I figured that it was pretty likely that someone a little more qualified would leap to the challenge. Rex Parker (as well as being an old internet acquaintance via the spirital blogmother) is the king of angry crossword twitter and I figured his royal seal of approval would be all it would take to get a regular USA Today crossword blog up and running. As if I didn't spend enough time thinking a out crossword every day as it is.

Sadly, a week of enjoyable USA Today crosswords later and I haven't seen any evidence of a new blog appearing just yet, so in the meantime thought it might be fun to try imitating Rex's style for a little while here on the Leaflocker and share my enjoyment of the puzzle that has recently become a staple of my days in quarantine.


Yes, I'm hot in this" garment / Island whose capital is Oranjestad / Character often said to have been based on Bass Reeves / Tamal wrappers / Company with a duck mascot / "What was I thinking?"

Constructor: Zhouqin Burnikel

Difficulty: I've only been doing this puzzle for a few weeks, so it's hard to say how difficult this one was compared to usual. I'd say it's in the mid-Tuesday NYT range, which is about right for the sort of thing I've come to expect from the USA Today most of the time, and the 8:44 I took is also pretty typical for me for a puzzle completed with my clumsy thumbs.

Theme: WOLF PACK - First word of each of the three theme entries start a phrase completed with the word 'wolf'
  • LONE RANGER (16A: Character often said to have been based on Bass Reeves)
  • TEEN CHOICE AWARD (36A: One of 28 won by One Direction)
  • GRAY MATTER (60A: Brains)
Sure, three theme answers doesn't feel like a lot for a puzzle without a revealer, but I've gone over the puzzle twice, and unless false wolf and cheap wolf are phrases this is what we've got. They're all definitely wolves and as a nice bonus they triggered flashbacks to a certain Michael J Fox movie that seemed to be constantly being played on Australian TV during my childhood in the '90s, so...thanks I guess?

I didn't notice the theme at all during the solve, but I did notice that the keystone One Direction clue was accompanied by a LIAM at 46 down, so I was expecting to find the names of the rest of those early-teens heartthrobs as an easter egg, but was sadly disappointed that in a grid with a LOU and a LOIS there doesn't seem to be a LOUIS hiding anywhere. If this wasn't going to be five-year-late OneD tribute puzzle, then why not use someone more current, like Taylor Swift, who has almost as many wins, or BTS, who won some awards in 2019?

That minor quibble aside, the grid was full of the good stuff that we've come to expect from the Agard-edited USA Today puzzle: Easy fill that doesn't require two many second guesses (I had START instead of RESET for a while) but avoiding a lot of the usual crosswordese dross even if there was an OWIE or two along the way, with a decent chance of the solver learning something along the way. I'd never met Yes, I'm Hot in This or Oranjestad, but they both seem like things to know about.

Clunkers: I'm not a big fan of AH I SEE, but the crossings were all pretty straight forward, so that's all good. As a non-Usonian I tend to trip up a little on brandnames, too, but since EARLE seemed inevitable AFLAC came together nicely, and a few years of buying the grape juice for communion meant that WELCHS was a gimme. Some things just don't change even on the other side of the Atlantic, it seems.

Word of the Day: SCOOTED (25A: Slid while seated) Simple, elegant, and could never be anything other than SCOOTED. Just the word itself brings back happy memories of cafeterias and camps back in the days when we spent time in the same place as other people.

There should probably be a picture or video clip or something, but I'm not going to subject you all to the highlight of 80's cinema that was Teen Wolf and my reference library of music leaves a little to be desired. So uh....

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Getting Cheapass in Tabletop Simulator

My Monday night online board games night has been one of the triumvirate of touchstones that I build my week around over this quarantine period, along with the weekly staff meeting and the daily crossword-solving conference call. I haven't posted about it for the last few weeks because there hasn't been all that much to say, but I really can't overstate how much I look forward to it and will miss it when we all eventually go back to our normal lives.

This week we tried out in implementation of Veritas that I made a few weeks ago for Tabletop Simulator. Veritas was one of the games that Cheapass Games made when they came out of their hibernation at the start of the 2010's. It was made with the old-school Cheapass gimmick philosophy, that game pieces are pretty much all interchangeable so they're not going to ship them in the box, but came with a slightly higher production value than the earlier entries in the series (colour printing and all). Veritas is a neat little game and it's still available for tenbux at, but it's basically unknown (only just squeezing into the top 10000 games on BGG at the time of writing, and with five plays recorded in the last four years I'm the equal-second-most frequent player of the game that logs their games on the site). I think the reasons for this are that it came during a huge growth period in board games, when Cheapass just didn't have the reach or the brand recognition that they once did, and because the 'standard' pieces that it required were actually a little obscure, as it needed about 40 stackable 20-30mm diameter discs for each player. If the pieces had come in the box and they'd just charged a little more for it, maybe it would have done better. But then it wouldn't have been Cheapass enough, I guess.

A few years back I painted a set of British 2p coins to use as my truth tokens, and though they could do with another coat of paint and then a little varnish to seal them or something and the yellow went a very unappealing greenish colour when it dried, they fit the purpose very well (and make a very satisfying clunk when you drop them on the table). I was expecting to be able to link to the previous post that I've written about that set at this point, but it seems like I've never written a post about it before, just mentioned in passing back in 2016 that I should probably get around to it. Good work, there, Mr. Owl. 

Given the lack of popularity of the game, maybe it's not surprising that there's not already a Tabletop Simulator version of it. A dedicated soul has made TS versions of many of the older Cheapass games here, but since Veritas occupies the ambiguous middle ground between Freetown and Expensiveburg I guess it doesn't fit into that category. My implementation is a little quick and dirty at the moment, but I think I'll go ahead and fired off a request for permission to publish it just in case, and if James Ernest or who whoever owns the right to the game since Cheapass' acquisition by Greater Than Games last year is willing to give permission, spend a little time improving the art assets and as many quality of life changes as I can without having to learn how to do any actual programming before sticking it up on the Steam Workshop for others to hopefully discover and enjoy this unappreciated diamond in the rough.

It's my first attempt at making something for TS, and while it's pretty clear that I haven't quite gotten the physics to work right, I was pretty pleased about how it turned out. We were able to sit down with four players and play out a painless game via screen-share in a little less than an hour, which is a comparable time to playing it in person, the game hit all the usual high notes of a game of Veritas done right, and everyone (winners and abject losers like myself) had a good time, which is always a bit of a relief when I introduce something new to the group. I have a couple of little tweaks to get to after this playtest, but overall I was very pleased with how it turned out. 

Not pleased enough to consider learning lua to actually program some smarts into the implementation, but pleased nevertheless.

Sunday 17 May 2020

Long Live the Queen! Turns 131-140

In a piece of fortuitous timing, I got the ping in the discord channel letting me know that it was my turn in our communal succession game of Civ VI just as I was trying to work out what to do next this evening. If you're interested in the details of the last few millenia, check out Naithin's game page here

I then decided I'd better strike while the iron was hot when it came to drafting this, because with other people waiting just letting this post sit for weeks in the drafts folder like everything else I've written in the last fortnight seemed a little rude. 
Since I last laid eyes of realm (a couple of weeks ago for me, a decade short of two thousand years for the English), it's grown from two small cities hugging the Southern Ocean to a sprawling Empire on which the sun never sets, with six settlements spanning the continent. We've gone from being about to discover the secrets of Bronze Working to being on the brink of discovering Gunpowder (though we don't seem to have worked out how to mine Iron just yet). 
Unfortunately, some of these new cities are looking a little bleak. I've never been to the real-world Bradford, but looking at this little collection of hovels squatting in the ice doesn't make me particularly keen to check it out. Since both the growth and production in this sad little place are essentially nothing, I go ahead and purchase a builder to try and get a little industry going, and switch the production into building a Dockyard. This is not so much to service our Navy, which I've now disbanded since it turns our that we're landlocked and not likely to get a lot of use out of it, but to boost the production of our fleet of fishing boats a little. Maybe somewhere down the track Bradfordians can look forward to some more crab in their diet.
Stoke-Upon-Trent, on the other hand, is in such a good location that the Sumerians have decided to try and build a city right on the doorstep. Gilgamesh seems like a nice guy, but extending the hand of friendship doesn't extend to giving up the natural resources that are the birthright of the British people, so I spend all our gold planting the Union Jack on the wonder tile and trying to secure the incense before Ur grows too much. Unfortunately I'm a little too poor after investing in that builder last turn (another thing to lay at the feet of the poor beleaguered people of Bradford, I suppose), but hopefully I'll be able to scratch together the gold to finish the job somewhere in the next few turns. The campus here just finished, and I set the city to working building a military encampment, since Stoke is a bit of a frontier city and that seems like a good place to build up our military might in case anyone starts spoiling for a fight.
Growth has slowed to a crawl in both London and Birmingham. It looks like London just can't produce enough food, while Birmingham is producing a huge surplus, but has completely run out of room to house people. I'm going to bring that builder over from London to try and put down a few farms and plantations to put roofs over a few more heads in the hope that things start to pick up. Ideally I'd get a little more production here too, but we're going to need a lot of builders to get that done, and gold is kinda in short supply around here at the moment.
In the southeast, the skirmishing with the barbarian hordes has gone relatively well. We did lose a unit of archers that got caught out of position, but with three units down here now and the enemy trapped on poor terrain things are looking good for our ranged units to make short work of it. Unfortunately this leaves a good portion of our army well out of defensive range of our cities, but with the French and Brazilians cowed for now, good relationships with America and Babylonia, and quite a few military units wandering around without anything to do, I'm not terribly worried.
We've gotten a trade route, so to mend fences I decide to send a caravan to Curitiba. Hopefully this will make Pedro like us a little more and be a little less trigger happy, and it also brings in a nice little haul of science and culture. We're leading the world with our scientific nous at the moment, but our cultural game leaves a little to be desired.
To the west of Stoke,our valiant spearment holds to ford against the barbarian swordsmen (how did the barbarians work out how to mine iron when the greatest minds in Britain still haven't been able to put the theory into practice?), while our warriors try to capture that poor lost worker unit. We can always use more workers, after all. There's a lot to do around here!
Teddy wants access to our bountiful sugar plantations in exchange for open borders and a small pile of gold. I feel like he's less likely to attack us if he's happy to loosen tourist visas, so I'm keen to agree to this, especially since the French denounced us again last turn. Teddy won't agree to be my friend just yet, but if we can get an alliance with him somewhere down the track maybe he'll help dissuade people from going to war with us again. We really don't want any more wars, they're bad for business.
Bristol, the first of our new antipodean colonies, has just finished building city walls, which means we can now fire a few salvos from the battlements to scare off all these barbarian fleets that keep bothering us up here. I'm setting the city to build a granary in the hopes of keeping growth here high for a while, as it would be good to pump out a couple of settlers to expand our holdings in the north. That could be a little bit of a challenge given the limited prospects for production in this city, but it might be worth a shot.
Leeds has growth problems as well, and though I have the newly-produced builder on hand, there's no good tiles to develop to help with the  critical housing shortage. Since I still can't afford to buy any more agricultural land, I set the city to constructing a theater square; having a higher cultural output is apparently what helps push the borders out further in this game, which is what we'll need if Leeds is going to grow at all. There's not any fresh water anywhere around here, so we can't just build an aqueduct and be done with it. 
The Galloping Arrows and their new crossbowmen friends have made short work of the barbarians. Crossbowmen are really an order of magnitude better than anything else that we can field at the moment, so getting our experienced archers back to the homeland to get new equipment will result in a big power gain when we finally finish shooting all these scouts and warriors down here.
With the bounty from that barbarian camp I've finally got the resources to buy the incense from under Gilgamesh's nose. I'd like to be able to spend to money to get either the ivory or the horses here, since those tiles are both better to work than the incense, but securing the luxury resource that could be nabbed any moment is the priority, and hopefully that new builder we just stole will be able to work it pretty soon to provide amenities to produce happiness across the empire and help spur on a little more of a population boom.
Since we've reached halfway to Feudalism, I decide to switch it out in favour of investigating Civil Service, since I figure we can probably trigger the Eureka moment for it pretty soon anyway and save ourselves a few years of painstakingly puzzling out exactly how to get armour on our horses. Unfortunately we only have three farms instead of the six that we'll need to get that boost, but since farms are a big priority on the agenda at the moment anyway that doesn't feel like such an impossible task. In what has become a familiar story lately, growth has completely stalled in London, so I decide to pause what it was working on and focus on getting another settler to try and relieve a little pressure by encouraging some emigration.
Eeek! Sumeria has just founded a religion, which leaves just one available for us to grab and a three-way race to found it with us only slightly ahead against our fellow heathen nations. Since we've already got really strong faith generation it would be a real shame not to be able to spend it on anything, so I've set the people of London the task of concentrating their efforts on praying with all their might for the advent of a Great Prophet. Hopefully we prove to be better at praying than the French or the Egyptians. I guess that Settler will have to wait.

All too soon, my short reign comes to an end. I researched no technology, made no cultural advances and fought no wars, but a nation is built by the leaders that quietly contribute to industry and the economy as well, so I hope our people will look on me with kindness when it's time to write the history of the English Empire. Time to hand the reins to the Rambling Redshirt and sit back and enjoy the show.