strapped in the chair of the city’s gas chamber; why I’m here I can’t quite remember

Weekend adventures included:


  • Drinking at the Davis Square VFW in a benefit concert for the upcoming Avon walk for breast cancer research. Attendees too numerous to list: essentially, the entire Davis Square community on LiveJournal. I had plenty of beer and cheap gin – there’s no cheaper drinking than VFW drinking, let me tell you – and watched Provocateur do their usual electro-pop dance spectacular. Pictures available on Facebook.

  • Shouted myself hoarse over the soundtrack at The Field while drinking with Hawver, Fraley, Dave G., Melissa and Katie H. Hawver and I debated which country would become the next world superpower after oil took another price spike (my vote: Canada; his vote: nobody). The conversation wound its way to rock music, at which point we all listed our five essential rock albums. We all agreed on Appetite for Destruction.

    This gave me the opportunity to recount my favorite Axl Rose anecdote, as told by Sebastian Bach:

    I had just finished shooting Supergroup for VH1. It was on TV in America while we were gallivanting across Europe. We had a beautiful dinner at some incredible Italian restaurant. We are sitting there and I go, “Dude, I just shot this reality show for VH1 and they paid me this amount of money, man. It was fucking easy. It was only like two weeks. It was hilarious. Axl, if they paid me this amount of money, they’d pay you like a million bucks for 10 days of some shit.” He’s looking at me with this look on his face and he’s all quiet and he goes, “Sebastian, you don’t understand.” I go, “What?” He goes, “I will pay VH1 $2 million to leave me the fuck alone!”

  • Beating BioShock. Maybe I’ve missed out on some key developments in FPSs over the last five years, but the level design in BioShock seemed a little repetitive. You get within three feet of a goal in the first 10 minutes of the level, then some arbitrary wall is thrown in your path. So you have to backtrack through the level to get MacGuffins A, B and C, then you can advance the remaining 50 feet and fight the boss. Plus, the game would arbitrarily make the standard mooks that you run into more challenging at various points. I don’t mind facing harder enemies and having to upgrade my gear – I just mind when it comes without warning.

    That being said, it was rewardingly challenging, opulent in both graphic design and original score, and the rare type of video game that makes you think about the human social order. Expect more on that later.

  • Jiu-jitsu on Sunday. While my work schedule stays crazy, I’m taking advantage of the new open classes on Sundays. Aside from some initial cardio there’s no fixed format – you work on what you like for as long as you like. I’ve learned and practiced some pretty exciting wrist locks these past two weeks. Plus it gives me an active cornerstone to what might otherwise be a lazy day.

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gonna call the president, gonna get myself a private eye

This media blow’s good for either $10 cash or $20 in house credit. Have a shot while you think it over.

Chinese Democracy: Any album 14 years in the making has a certain weight of hype behind it. Chinese Democracy does not live up to that hype. But I still like it. I never counted myself among GnR fans but the mastered versions of “Madagascar” and “I.R.S.” rock out pretty hard. I don’t think drunken frat boys will be singing “Rhiad and the Bedouins” at karaoke twenty years from now, but not every album can be Use Your Illusion.1

Pandemic: I played this at Greg’s on Sunday and had a blast. You and 1 to 3 other players make up a CDC disaster team. Outbreaks of four different diseases – represented by yellow, red, black and blue cubes2 – break out in major cities around the globe. Your task: travel to these cities, quash the outbreaks, and research a cure to put an end to them.

Complications:

  • You draw cards that have city names on them. These cards act as an in-game currency, allowing you to travel across the globe in an instant or research a cure. But the limited number of cards may mean that you can’t get to a critical location at the right moment.
  • Every turn, you flip over two outbreak cards and infect the cities depicted with one disease cube each. If a city already has three disease cubes – or if you flip over an Epidemic – the disease can vector to adjacent cities. This can start a cascading effect that will plague an entire continent.
  • Each player has a special ability that makes one rule of the game easier. The dispatcher can move players between cities instantly; the researcher can hand off cards from her hand; the scientist can research cures cheaply; etc. A lot of the most exciting parts of the game happened between turns, when we coordinated our moves to deliver the right people to the best possible places.

The game immersed us very quickly, from the panicked babbling of four people planning at once to the heavy silence when Bangkok went viral. Good, quick fun.

The Happening: Not sure where all the disappointment came from. I’ve been waiting to see this team-up for a long time and I stayed on the edge of my seat throughout:

… oh, you mean that other Happening. Yeah, that shit sounds awful.

Keep on the Shadowfell: I played this with Jonathan, Dev, Jen, Nathan and Will S. on Wednesday a week. I named my pre-gen dragonborn paladin after a Santana album; he named his tiefling warlock after a Rush song. That’s what D&D’s all about.

Thoughts on the new edition:

  • I can’t imagine playing this game without minis. Tactical movement reigns supreme – a 1-square shift at the right time turns a stand-up fight into a massive beatdown. Being able to catch the right number of targets in a burst, or put a wall at your side to fence in your enemies, makes all the difference.
  • Understanding player roles helps a great deal. We nearly lost our rogue in the first fight because she went toe-to-toe with a couple of minions, instead of ducking and stabbing and gaining sneak attack damage. My paladin soaked a little too much damage in the second fight and quickly hit 0 hp. Know the difference between skirmishers and defenders, and between leaders and controllers, and the odds work in your favor.
  • Playing at 1st level became fun again. Every 1st level character has at least four options to choose from in a round – two at-will powers, one encounter power, one daily power – in addition to just running up and hitting a guy. Options mean tactics, which makes for engaging gameplay.

D&D still runs best at one speed – sword-and-sorcery combat – so I don’t think it will replace every game in my library. But it still does what it does better than any game on the market today.

Deadwood: Oh. So that’s what the fuss was about. S1 spoilers under the cut:

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1 Strictly speaking, only two of them can be.

2 I christened these outbreaks Yellow Fever, Red Death, Black Plague, and Bluemonia.

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