Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Summer Movies 2008 - Iron Man

1 Down, 9 to go.

Of course I'm talking about this year's batch of highly anticipated movies for the summer and I just saw the first of them - Iron Man.

Ever since I first heard that Robert Downey Jr. was set to play Iron Man, I've had very high hopes for this movie. As a kid, I always thought that Iron Man was one always one of the cooler superheroes, right up there with Spiderman, Batman and Superman. I think that the key to a successful superhero film is how popular the comic character was to begin with. It's no surprise that Batman and Superman were probably the two most popular comic superheroes back before any movies, with Spiderman a very close 3rd. These 3 made up the "A" list of characters, while Iron Man, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Captain America were probably more of the "B" list type. Finally you have characters like the Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider that lead the "C" list in terms of popularity.

Where a character's popularity initially lies is a key to understanding how well it's chances are that a big screen adaptation will be successful. You only have to look at the big three of Batman, Superman and Spiderman to see the truth in that, while movies like HULK and The Fantastic Four have been either total flops or acceptable popcorn faire.

I'm very happy to report that the new Iron Man movie is definitely more like the Spiderman movies, than the terrible and misguided HULK disaster in terms of entertainment value and appeal. Iron Man was an exciting 2 hours of fun, laughs, cool special effects and a solid story about the origins of Tony Stark and his unorthodox superhero.

Robert Downey Jr. as the playboy Tony Stark was an inspired bit of casting, as Downey's own personal demons seem to be mirrored perfectly in his characters. Instantly likeable externally, yet distant and destructive internally, Downey nails the complexities of the character by filtering his acting through his own personal experiences of destructive tendencies and behavior. You can't help but root for him early in the film, even though you already know he's on a downward spiral. This only makes his later change in behavior more satisfying and the specifics of how he becomes Iron Man are explained in a level of depth and detail comparable only to what was seen in the early Superman films as well as the more recent Batman Begins.

I won't discuss any of the plot here or give away any spoilers, I hate when that happens to me and I'm not going to ruin your movie experience by doing that myself. All I can say is go see it SOON, before you hear too much about it (good or bad) so you can judge for yourself it's merits.

One thing I will recommend you doing is to STAY THROUGH THE FILM'S CREDITS at the end! You will not be disappointed.

With IRON MAN now out, the summer movie season has now begun and I'm anxiously awaiting to see these films:

May 9th Speed Racer
May 16th The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
May 22 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
June 13 The Incredible Hulk
June 13th The Happening
June 20th Get Smart
June 27th Wanted
July 2nd Hancock
July 18th The Dark Knight

See you at the movies!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Perfect 10's (Part 1)

Having been able to play a few of my most highest rated games over the past 2 months or so has led me to contemplate if they are still worthy of the "10" that I've given them at BBG. I'll attempt to evaluate them on how I feel about their merits TODAY and not let nostalgia or any other bias cloud my judgement.

First up: Colosseum - last played on 09/01/2007

Colosseum is still the new kid on the block. I played it an awful lot when it first came out and got all my family and friends hooked on it. I can specifically think of 3 people who I have directly influenced to get the game. Colosseum has many traits of other successful Days of Wonder games like Ticket to Ride, Memoir 44 or Cleopatra:

1. Its an easy game to play
2. The production values are very high
3. The game experience is varied enough to warrant repeated play
4. It's very fun to play - even if you are losing.

That being said, it's been 6 weeks since it hit the table and I find myself wanting to play something else when given the opportunity. That right there should be a warning sign, but I really think that it's more of a dynamic of the past few game nights than anything to do with the game itself. Lately the CVW has steadily been having 8-10 players show up for game night and I've been lobbying for games where we could all play at once as opposed to breaking off into two smaller groups. We had an 8 player Circus Maximus game a few weeks ago that was a lot of fun. We don't get the opportunity to play with that many very often and it was every bit the blood fest we expected and I loved it - even if I don't rate Circus Maximus higher than Colosseum.

The following week I pushed for multi player B-17 - as we had another group. Again, lots of fun was had from a game I rate lower than Colosseum - but the dynamics were just right to play B-17 on that night and we seized it.

Time will tell here. I think I'll need a few more games under my belt before I can tell if I've had my fill of Colosseum, or we've just had some unusual opportunities arise at game night.

Next up: Fury of Dracula - last played on 09/07/2007.

Where as I may be a little ambivalent about Colosseum, I'm 100% certain of my 10 rating for Fury of Dracula. I have yet to have a game of Fury od Dracula leave me wondering if my rating was too high or if I should re-evaluate it.

Fury of Dracula succeeds on many levels for me. The hunt/search mechanic feels as if it was designed specifically for Fury of Dracula - even if it has been used in other games before. The fantastic artwork and components enchance and enrich the immersive theme of traveling through old Europe as you conduct a desperate hunt for a nefarious villain. It is fun to be either a Hunter or Dracula, as each task has it's moments of tension, cunning and satisfaction when things go your way.

Update: - last played on 10/26/2007

As predicted, Fury of Dracula was played last Friday - before I had finished this post. We had a full 5 player game - one of whom had never played before. It was an amazingly close game ultimately, although Dracula had a quick 3 point lead after the first day had passed. It came down to the wire with us hunters emerging victorious after a very close pursuit across western Europe.

This game still does it for me completely. It is engrossing thoughout the entire game and even with 5 players, you never feel as if you are waiting for your turn. Still a 10.

I'll cover a couple more of my current games raed a ten in the next update... Seeya then!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Land Ho!

Here are those pictures I promised...

"A Great Black Ark of Naggaroth waits in ambush for the Imperial fleet."

"A Bretonnian patrol along the coast of Sartosa and Pirate's Cove."

It's been very slow at work for me lately so I've had a little time to catch up on some scenery projects that have been gathering dust for a year or so. The top picture shows some Chaos scenery that I've had for a long time that has been used in many, many games. It is stored in a plastic tub and has taken a fair amount of abuse over the years. With my Man O War O Rama coming up in just over a week, I needed to spruce up this scenery and get it up to par with the rest of the stuff I'm using.

Luckily, this was very easy to do. Black spray paint to touch up the worn corners, a little white latex paint for the highlights, re-glue some of the lichen and VOILA! - it looks like new again.

This is the same photo as above - before I Photoshopped it.

The lower photo shows some brand new scenery that I've added to the mix. I uses to have a piece of scenery that had a sheltered cove in it similar to this one, but it was very thin and flimsy and the two "arms" that made the cove broke off and I eventually tossed the whole thing. This scenery was made with 4" thick solid Styrofoam and it is very strong.

The process is very simple, but a bit time consuming. I start by carving the foam into the basic island shape with a hot knife. I've never had good luck with the electric wire type so I have an old wood handled long bread knife that I just lay on the stove burner or the BBQ grill to get hot and carve a bit at a time until the knife starts to cool.

The contours and cuts make this island appear to be very real.

After the basic shape is cut-out, I use the knife to make contours, depressions, hills, valleys, cuts and other shapes to make it look like real land. For cliff areas, I'll cut in a near vertical line so they can be very steep and convey the right look. After all the carving is done, you get various types of glue - such as contact cement or model airplane glue, and brush them on to eat away at the Styrofoam and create irregular patterns. I do this on the cliff faces mostly as I want some really random rock formations. Once that is done, use a diluted mix of white glue and spray the whole thing to provide a protective coat so the spray paint won't eat through the Styrofoam as you try and paint it. (You can also you a neutral color latex house paint, but that takes longer and it hard to get into all the nooks and crannies). Let the whole thing dry for a few days before you start painting.

Painting is the easy part. Pick the darkest color overall and coat the whole thing. Once that dries, add other layers in specific areas to give different effects. New layers should be lighter in color and should be "dry brushed" on to let the previous layers show through. For my cliffs, I'll spray paint black into all the holes created by the glue, then dry brush the base color and all successive colors on top of that.

Most of all, EXPERIMENT! I had some 'textured' paint in a gallon can that we didn't use in a house project and I ended up using it as one of the upper layers. It looks great and added additional texture (from the sand granules in the paint) to the overall look that looks fantastic.

You'll then need some Model Railroad scenery items. I use "Talus" and Bird cage gravel to simulate large rocks and smaller boulders. You'll want various colors of lichen (for trees) and a bunch of colors and sizes of ground foam to cover the terrain.

This part goes fast. Pick the spots to place the largest pieces of Talus and use drops of white glue to sit them in. Don't worry about being neat. User finer Talus (it comes in several sizes) around it to show boulders - just drop these over the large pieces of Talus you placed. Don't worry about the glue just yet. Finally grab a pinch of the bird cage gravel (or fine playground sand) around/over this whole area and then do the next one.

To secure everything, you'll need two sprayer bottles - one with a 50/50 mix of water and white glue and the other with plain water. Spray a light mist of water first to just make everything damp - you are only trying to make it slightly wet so the next step flows everywhere. Next, spray the diluted glue over all the "rock" that is lying there, making sure it has soaked all around it. All the water evaporates and the glue remains to lock it all in place.

Use this same process to do all the ground foam. DON'T BE NEAT! Just use pinches of ground foam over the wet/glue areas and mix and match the colors however you want. Spray the whole thing again with the diluted glue and then add clumps of lichen in drops of full strength glue to finish it off.

A better view of my Chaos scenery - with weird steam vents (seashells mounted on Styrofoam and painted).

This is a great way to make lots of EASY, nice looking scenery.

Have fun!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Man O War O Rama - ConQuest SF 2007

In just two short weeks, it's time for another fun-filled 3 full days of gaming for me. ConQuest SF will be August 31st through September 3rd at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Hotel. I plan to be there from Friday around 12 noon through Sunday evening.

As usual, I'll be running a game - and as usual for ConQuest, it will be Man O War. I'm trying something different this year. Usually I create a special scenario for 6-8 players that runs from 6-9 hours and seldom gets finished - even with me speeding things along as the Game Master, but this year will mark the first ever Man O War O Rama!

What the heck is a Man O War O Rama you say? Well, I had a few specific goals in mind this year:

1. I wanted there to be more than 1 game.
2. I wanted the games to be 2 player.
3. I wanted the games to be fast.
4. I wanted to give the players the option to continue playing if they won.

So I decided to run 3 tables at once. Each table will have it's own scenery and will feature small fleets of up to 1000 points for each player. Games of this size should take 2-3 hours tops and some of the smaller games will be only around 500 points a side which should make them even faster.

Players will be given a similar sized random fleets (for balance) and turned loose at one of the 3 tables. I'm still working on the details, but so far I'm thinking it will work like this:

Points will be awarded by Battle Honors and you'll get the points you earned even if you lose. There will also be extra points for winning. If you win your game, you will have a good chance to stay at the table to take on the next player. A die roll will determine if you stay or go - players will roll a d20 and add in the Battle Honors they earned with the high roll staying at the table. If you are forced to sit out as a winner, you will be put into the rotation for the next available table and receive a few bonus points for having to wait.

This will continue for 8 or so hours at which time the person with the most points will be the winner and declared the "Best Admiral on the Sea of Claws". I'm hoping to be able to provide some sort of prize for the winner. Being this starts on Friday afternoon at 3pm and runs until 11pm, I'll have all day Saturday and Sunday to play whatever I want.

With all that in mind, I've been busy making some new scenery for one of the tables as well as touching up some of my older scenery as well. Making scenery is very therapeutic - it's been so long since I last did it, I forgot how enjoyable it can be. I'll add some pictures tomorrow of the work so far so you can get some idea of what the game is all about.

Until then...

Monday, August 06, 2007

Gaming Galore!

This past weekend turned out to be a great one for gaming - all in all I played 6 different games and one of those 6 was played 3 times.

It started off on Friday night, my sister and her family was possibly going to show up early for their weekend stay, but their plans changed and they weren't able to make it until Saturday morning. I still managed to get in a great game of Railroad Tycoon (RRT) with my wife Mary, my daughter Jenna and my friend Shawn. He had only played once before and Mary and Jenna a few more times than that. RRT is one of my Top 10 Games of all time and I really look forward to playing it every time. There is always a multitude of strategic decisions to be made and the game really captures the feel of the early Railroading Era well I think.

I also introduced my RRT Event Deck (see previous post) to the others and everyone really seemed to like it. Their response was enough to motivate me to finish up the 2nd RRT Event Deck and upload it to BBG - it's still pending at the time of this writing as it awaits approval.

Jenna and I tied for 1st place, although a minor error on her part on the last turn actually cost her some points, so it was really a victory for her as far as I'm concerned. Mary seemed to really enjoy the game too, which is very satisfying as her original response to the game was considerably cooler. I think she enjoys it more now that she is more comfortable with all the aspects of it and can just plan on a strategy instead of trying to remember how to play the thing. All in all, this was one of the highlights of the weekend for me.

Saturday my sister and her family arrived. After some lunch, shopping and chit chat, we sat down to play another awesome game of Colosseum. This game is continually a crowd pleaser and everyone was in it up to the final turn. My sister Jade ended up beating me by just a few points, but she had a good plan throughout the game and executed it perfectly. Ultimately the game came down to the Emperor being in her arena for the final show and not mine - which was only a few spaces away, just around the corner!

We had some unexpected company show up at dinner time and they ended staying late, so there was no big game, but Decio (my brother in law) and I managed to play 3 games of War & Sheep - a very underrated game on BGG if you ask me. This game has a lot of randomness to it from the deck of action cards, but the movement of the sheep and wolf is total strategy. I ended up with 2 victories to Decio's 1 and declared myself masterba aaaa aaa... um... the winner.

Sunday morning, Jade and I tried a game of Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation, something neither of us had played before. It was very interesting as the Sauron player has a completely different playing strategy than the Good player does. This one came down to the wire and Frodo made it to Mt. Doom just a few turns before the Shire was overrun.

Mid-day Sunday I convinced everyone to try another new game for us, Caylus. I had just played this the prior week at game night for the Central Valley Wargamers (The CVW) and I really enjoyed it. This was a good thing as the rulebook is a bit convoluted if you ask me and I was glad to have learned it the prior week. Teaching it to the family took about 20 minutes but I know it made more sense to them than the initial rule reading had made to me.

We jumped right in and played a couple of turns before everything became 2nd nature and then the strategies began becoming more and more obvious. Mary nailed this game as she had a lead from the midway point and never looked back. Even when she denied ending the game early from the provost moved back behind the bailiff every time on the last few turns, she STILL pulled ahead with continual points for more and more earned favors.

This one was a brain burner, but it is still very satisfying for a "Heavy" Eurogame - much like Die Macher is (which is another game I think they'd like).

Finally, we played a 6 player game of Citadels - this time with my daughter Kendra and my niece joining us. Kendra had several strong turns and quickly got to 8 districts ahead of everyone else. I think the next closest person only had 6 built. She also ended up having the most points and was happy to win the one game she played in all weekend.

The weekend was a tremendous amount of fun which is usually the case when my sister comes to visit. The kids get along great, the weather was perfect and the pool was warm. Having made gamers out of both my family and hers over the years, it was very satisfying to see that something I've always been passionate about has spread to the rest of the family and that they get as much enjoyment out of gaming now as I do.

Now to just get them interested in the German election process...


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Home Grown Variants - a Hobby in Itself.

In case you haven't heard of it, Boardgame News is another great site for information on the latest and greatest boardgames coming out in the near future. They also have a group of regular (and occasional) Bloggers there that comment on various aspects of the Boardgaming Hobby on a weekly basis.

One of their regular Bloggers, Kris Hall, sent me an email regarding a small expansion I made for one of my favorite games, Railroad Tycoon. He ended up doing a brief interview with me about it and it was posted on the site as part of an article he wrote about "Tinkering". Arkham Horror and War of the Ring were the other two games mentioned in the FULL ARTICLE that you should really check out as it was a very interestesting read.

With Kris's permission, I've reposted the portion that pertained to me below:



Kris: Just last week, I came across a set of Railroad Tycoon random event cards on BoardGameGeek that were invented by Scott Di Bartolo. These cards also try to create interest in the western area of the board by adding cubes there. They may also act as a subtle game-balancing mechanism. Because a card is turned up whenever the high-scoring player scores a multiple of ten, every player will probably have a chance to take advantage of an event card before the high-scoring player’s next turn. I haven’t played a game with these cards yet, but they seem promising.

I wrote to Scott to ask him about his variant. He was kind enough to respond.

Kris: What inspired you to create the RRT event cards?

Scott: My gaming group really took a liking to RRT and we played it pretty heavily for months from the day it came out. One thing that always bugged me was that there were large areas of the board that never were utilized for various reasons. Of course being on BGG all the time kept me informed about all the various ways people were trying to “fix” this issue, but one of the things I didn’t like about most of the methods were that they were then known factors and you could plan around them. What I mean by that is if you make a rule that makes Dallas a permanent Red city and you play that way all the time, the game is really changed at that point and the dynamics of people’s overall game strategy are very different. I typically don’t like to make house rules that fundamentally change the way a game is played.

There were a lot of various things that people had done at BGG to increase competition in the “dead” areas of the board and I wanted to incorporate them somehow without making them so people could plan on them occurring. This brought about the idea of an “Event” deck where every so often a card would be turned over that would have some small effect on the game. I took some of the ideas that others had posted and put them on a card instead—the Mexican and Canadian links are examples of that. The other card effects were ideas of mine that I thought would add some nice twists to the game. Having 1/3 of the deck have no effect on the game meant that the Event Deck would not drive the game as on average every third draw would not change anything. This reminds me, I really need to add some credits in the ReadMe file for those that came up with the rules that inspired certain cards in the Event deck.

Kris: Most of the cards place more cubes on the board. I could think of lots of other potential event cards, like discounts on purchasing track or train upgrades or building the western link. Do you think you’ll make a 2.0 version of the cards?

Scott: The various card effects were meant to mostly increase player interaction in the southwest and far northern areas on the board which are usually ignored in most games. In our games, Dallas has never been linked to, New Orleans very rarely and Duluth only if the Service Bounty came up. The Major Line card from New Orleans to Minneapolis never was awarded in any of our games—not once. Part of the problem is that the game can end too early as cube depletion occurs and people don’t have any incentive to build out into those areas before the game is going to end. I made a bunch of the cards simply add cubes to a group of cities in various areas—one of the two “Growth of the South” cards, for example, adds a random cube into Tulsa, Little Rock, Jackson and Shreveport. With that card, these 4 uncolored cities now look very enticing with 2 cubes on each of them instead of just 1. The other Growth cards also add cubes to the South(east), the North and the Midwest. Two new hotel cards also made these neglected areas more interesting and the unique thing is that the first person to BUILD to the city gets the card, not the one who draws the card. Adding more cubes is a simple way to extend the length of the game.

I also tried to add some cards that would help those NOT wanting to head into the south with things like “Bustling Economy” which adds 2 cubes to the red cities of Chicago, New York and Charleston. Then there are other cards that are beneficial to everyone like the “Empire Builder” card that gives everyone a 4th round to use in a turn or the “Stock Split” card that cuts Stock Certificate interest payments in half for the turn. That can be a real boon to a player struggling to get out from under his debt.

Dallas was a real issue, too, as there were many ideas being kicked around on BGG to try and make it a more viable option for people. I took the best of those and made three Dallas cards: “Dallas Metropolizes” (Turns Dallas into a Red City), “Dallas Urbanizes” (Dallas becomes a Purple City), and the “Mexican Link” (Free Urbanization and adds cubes to Dallas for each delivery made to Dallas). Then the problem was what happened if more than 1 Dallas card came up during a game? After much debate, the simplest solution was to treat any Dallas event cards after the first one as a “No Effect” card.

I had a long list of potential card uses and this first batch were the ones that I really wanted to see how they affected the game. I definitely have a bunch of other card ideas I have been kicking around.

Some of the better ones are:

Labor Dispute: Track Construction costs are increased by $1000 per hex this turn.

Boomtime: Track Construction costs are decreased by $1000 per hex this turn.

Westward Ho!: The cost for the Western Link decreases by $2,000 per turn from this point on. The Western Link may never cost less than $20,000.

Major Line: Dallas to Charleston: 10 Victory points.

The Depression: Remove two empty city markers from the amount needed to end the game. If this would trigger the end game, ignore this event.

Change of Management: The player who revealed this card may return his Railroad Tycoon Card to the deck and randomly draw a new one.

I have a few other ideas that still need a bit of tweaking, but there are about six others at this time. One nice thing about the deck is that you can print up more “No Effect” cards to change the ratio of how often an event takes place. Those that want a bunch of new stuff can simply remove the “No Effect” cards and you are guaranteed a new Event whenever someone gets to a multiple of 10 on the scoring track. Another interesting and very strategic option is to turn over an Event card at the beginning of each turn and the player that wins the bid can execute the card or simply discard it at his option (in addition to his regular turn). I’ve found that removing all the “No Effect” cards is a good way to use this option.

Kris: Have you made variants for any other games?

Scott: Yes. It’s a weird hobby of mine. I’ve made a few other variants for the games I enjoy playing. I made a Treasure Scoring Variant for Tikal where the type of treasure depicted on the discs determine the value of the treasure. This means that the “beaded necklace” is worth much less than the “Tikal Mask”. I believe I posted this variant in the Tikal BGG entry. The majority of what I’ve made is for my favorite game of all time—Man O War! I have created over 20 additional ships to supplement the various fleets—meaning rules, templates and the miniature to go with it, for each of those ships. I’ve also made lots of new rules for the game.

I’m also working on my own game from time to time. It’s based on a day at an Amusement Park and has elements of a lot of games that I enjoy in it. It introduces a new game mechanism that I have yet to see in any other game so I’m kind of proud of that. Unfortunately, I’m going to keep the details a secret for now, as people I have shown the game to think that it is probably a wise thing to do. I expect to have a prototype completed soon and then I’ll be playtesting it at the local conventions to see what needs to be changed or improved.

Thanks to Scott for answering my questions.


I really enjoy all the Blogs at Boardgame News and the site has a lot of other neat features (Gone Cardboard is one of my favorites!). Be sure to head on over there and check out all the Blogs and other news that pertains to this awesome hobby of ours!

Until next time...


Monday, July 02, 2007

Never Underestimate the Power of Having Fun.

The last few weeks have allowed me to play some really great games that have just recently come out. One thing that I really enjoy about boardgaming is that there is always something new to try and buy - a characteristic of this hobby that from an outward appearance may seem somewhat detrimental (You have to buy another game? What's wrong with the ones you already own?), but in actuality, is a one of the reasons I enjoy gaming so much.

Case in point. Colosseum by Days of Wonder. I was at game night two weeks ago and John (the host for the meetings of the Central Valley Wargamers), pulls out this new game that I had passed over at the dealer's booth of DoW at Kublacon. It's not that the game had anything wrong with it at first glance, the problem was that I never even glanced at it as I was drooling over Battlelore and the Memoir 44 stuff they had out.

So John sets up the game and we go through the rules in about 50-60 minutes as none of us have played - not a problem for me, but some of the guys can't sit still for more than 15 minutes at a time without fidgeting and losing focus.

Most of us treated this as a "learning" game - meaning we know mistakes will be made and just go with the flow. We play the first 2 turns and everyone is kind of getting the hang of it when we have 2 other members show up and we decide to restart the game so everyone can get in. We pair up the two new players with a couple of us that just ran through the 1st two turns to explain as we go and we restarted it.

The 2nd game went really smoothly. Basically, you are collecting tiles (assets) to produce "events" for the nobles of Rome who are travelling around the board visiting different Colosseums throughout the city. There are assets like Gladiators and Chariots and Scenery and Animals and various other things that you bid on in groups of 3 and then have the option to trade away to the other players for items you need.

Each of the 5 game turns you can produce just ONE event which can earn you points and money to expand your Colosseum, buy bigger events, or build special features which can attract the traveling nobles more easily to your Colosseum.

Colosseum has some great subtleties to it and there are various ways to work strategies even if you don't have the optimum assets to complete an event. The really cool thing is that your score is not cumulative - your score marker only is moved pass it's current location IF the event you just produce scored higher than any of your previous events. This is usually pretty easy to do, but there are reasons not to score higher which you will discover through a few plays.

We found out we still had a rule wrong in this 2nd game (we were not allowing people to produce the same event again in a later turn), but everyone still was engrossed by the game and I'm sure it will hit the table alot at our CVW game nights.

The next day was a Saturday and my sister came over (a converted gamer of mine) in the afternoon with her family to swim and spend the rest of the day with us. Food was first on the menu, and everyone wanted something different so we split up into groups - she came with me because I had told her about this "great game" I played last night and we planned to sneak over to the local game store to see if they had it. She assumed it was a purchase for me and I was pleased to see that they had a copy and I grabbed it.

Once in the car, I handed it to her and said "Happy Birthday!" which caught her off guard. I could tell she was unsure about this blind purchase (for her anyway), but she was very gracious and said I had to teach it to her tonight before they all went home.

After dinner, I punched out everything and the four of us sat down to play. My wife, Mary HATES learning a new game, but I kept the explanation short and planned to just walk through a turn and let them catch on. I went first and we went step by step through all the phases and scored the first turn of the game. My brother in law Decio took and early lead, but everyone had a good grasp of what to do and the rule questions became fewer and fewer as the game went on.

My sister seemed to be falling way behind in the points, but she had a smile on her face regardless. Success I thought! Little did I realize how off I was.

We finished the game and an amazing thing happened. THREE of us tied for 1st place. My brother in law was in "last' place by just 3 points. Now it was about 10pm on a Saturday night at this point and they live about an hour and fifteen minutes away. I asked what the thought of it and all of them, my wife, my sister and my brother in law began raving about how much fun the game was. I was thinking to myself "This never happens on a first playing of a game!"

They sat there and discussed strategy and errors and new things they'd try for 15 minutes - all the while I'm putting the game away and smiling to myself. Then the big surprise occurred when Decio suggested we play again - right now. It was 10:30 at this point and usually he is the one that is chomping at the bit to get on the road because he hates driving at night. We always offer to have them stay, but they had to be somewhere in the morning at 9am. So he's pleading to all of us to play again and that he's willing to drink a bunch of coffee and drive home after the game so they can still make their son's soccer game in the morning.

Both my wife and sister immediately sit down and start setting up the game again. I was dumbfounded.

We ended up playing until 12:15 - this game went much faster now that we knew what we were doing and it was just as much fun as the first game. I managed to be the only one to produce a "mega" event and won the game by 10 points, but nobody cared who won and the table talk continued for another half hour until 1am.

They left close to 1:30 and I felt really good about the game as a gift - I was glad they both loved it and I knew that my nephew Zach (who had been working at couldn't come) was going to enjoy it too. The final part of this story occurred last Wednesday - not even a week since our games on the previous Saturday night.

I'm working on an report here at home when my phone rings. I look down and see that it's my brother - a big surprise since he rarely calls - even if it's an RSVP to a party or something. He is not a gamer at all - he usually avoids them like the plague, but recently, I have managed to get him to play (and enjoy) both Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride. He actually got both these games as Christmas and birthday gifts from me the past year too.

Our conversation went something like this:

"Hey Jon, how are you doing?"

"I'm good, but I need some help if you have a minute."

"Sure, what do you need?"

"Well... I'm looking for this game... it's called "Colosseum", and they don't have it here."

I don't think I said anything for at least 20 seconds as I tried to get over my shock. He had showed up at my sisters the past Sunday and they literally had to force him to sit down and try the game. He and my nephew Zach both got into it and they "worked" the trading phase ruthlessly - something they both excel at!

I ended sending him over to another game store I knew about close to his house and ended our conversation with a smile on my face.

There really is something powerful in these games. I've seen it.