29 October 2010

The Grinder

Why did I ever think it was a good idea to put the date in the title of these things?

The Daily Weekly Occasional Whenever I Get Around To It Grinder

Just in time for Halloween: The Battlemech costume!

Found in this Gizmodo article


It's hard enough to face one of these when playing Battletech, but now my allergies can also suffer!

DeviantART MURO a very cool little drawing application (Java?)
Hat-tip --> John Schutte

I started a Tumblr, but I'm not sure quite what I'll do with it. I don't seem to have any time for more bloggish stuff, but I could divert the cartoons I post on Google Buzz here.

Top 10: Los mejores robots gigantes
This appears to be a childs' playset.
These kids have a very cool Dad.

That is all. Keep those dice rolling.

Actually, no. That's not all. I've got a bunch of good stuff half written and no time to fix/finish to publish here. It's very frustrating.

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22 October 2010

Math versus Tanks

This story at Wired tells how statistical methods were used to estimate German tank production during World War II:

The Germans had given each tank a production number, and each captured tank provided information about how many more tanks were in the German army. If you capture 10 tanks, and the highest production number among these is #800, then you know there are at least 790 other tanks out there. If you can assume these tanks were captured more or less at random, then it is unlikely that tank #800 just happened be be among these 10, and the 10 numbers observed ought to be spread out unevenly between 1 and 800. The total number of tank should be something just a bit more than the highest number you happen to know.
Allied intelligence noticed each captured tank had a unique serial number. With careful observation, the Allies were able to determine the serial numbers had a pattern denoting the order of tank production. Using this data, the Allies created a mathematical model to determine the rate of German tank production. They used it to estimate that the Germans produced 255 tanks per month between the summer of 1940 and the fall of 1942.
Turns out the serial-number methodology was spot on. After the war, internal German data put der F├╝hrer’s production at 256 tanks per month — one more than the estimate.
That's a very good estimate. Are the statistics here really that good, or did they just get lucky? Using the formulas in the article and my example above with 800 the highest number observed out of 10 captured, the estimate of total number is equal to 800+800/10 - 1 = 879, with a margin of error (~1 standard deviations) of plus-or-minus 88, or about 10% of the estimate That's not so bad given that I only "sampled" 10 tanks, but there is a lot of room for error. It gets better as the sample gets larger though. It turns out the variability of this estimate is inversely proportional to the sample size, 10 tanks give a standard deviation of about 1/10, or 10%. Bump that up to 100 tanks and the standard deviation is 1/100, or 1%, and now the estimate is precise enough that your military planners won't care about the error.

This isn't the only example of statistics in war; many basic quality control methods were originally devised as part of the effort for World War II.
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15 October 2010

10 Games To Be Forgotten

image source
As a follow-up on my contribution to the 15 Games That Will Always Stick With Me meme, my better half suggested "10 Games I Would Rather Forget" as a follow up. The rules are a simple modification of the previous ones:
The rules: Don't take too long to think about it. List 10 games you've played that somehow didn't click with you. These might good games, but something about them wasn't fun, a game that just didn't reach its best potential, or even a bad experience with a game you really like. List the first 10 you can recall in no more than ten minutes. Pass the meme along if you can, and link back so other can follow the responses (or just post them here).

To be clear, I intend to include games I like and play,

  1. Striker (GDW) - Miniatures rules for Traveller, with a detailed construction system that let you create you own soldiers, weapons, armored vehicles and aircraft in the full range of Traveller tech levels. VERY COOL. The down side is that it came with no very little in the way of pre-designed soldiers, weapons, armored vehicles, or aircraft, so if you wanted to play you had to create all of these things for yourself. This meant hours of paperwork and hand-calculations (this was 1981) to create the gun you wanted to mount in a fast scout tank, only to find out that it was too heavy and you have to redesign the gun or redesign the tank. Very frustrating. File this under "Too far ahead of it's time."
  2. D&D - Yes, this was on my "Stick With Me" list too, but this time I am specifically referring to persons or player groups that were just unbearable. My example is a Dungeon Master who only wanted to feed his own ego, and letting him be in charge of running the game was just a bad idea. File this under "Bad Experience."
  3. Mechwarrior 3 - The Lifepaths character creation system from this RPG is practically a game in itself, and is perhaps it's best aspect. Character creation can also be tortuously complex, so it's also a bad aspect. After all this work, you either end up with a character that is mediocre at everything, OR, if you work extra hard to twist things to turn out a certain way, you could actually have a really good skill level in one area. None of this matters much, because the 2D10 exploding dice skills system tends to minimize the importance of skills anyway. File this under "Why did I bother?"
  4. Life - Sort of a personal thing, but I got "fired" in the game shortly after losing a real job, and it stung. File this under "Well, that sucked."
  5. Trivial Pursuit - Fun once in a while, but the amusement quickly fades. There's little worse than being stuck in a group of people who are keen to play "just one more round" after you have already played 2 or 3 games. File this under "Enough Already."
  6. Battletech Total War - Battletech is another game from my "Stick With" list, and the single game I have played more than any other. - BUT - The were some rules changes in the new Total War edition of Battletech that never should have been. The Battlemech will always own this game, but in older editions it was possible to play armored vehicles (tanks!) and have fun challenging the new kings of battle. Under the Total War rules, already weak vehicles were totally emasculated by critical hits and motive hits. In a typical game, your vehicle is quickly immobilized, and then it explodes. If you are lucky enough not to explode, then you can enjoy playing a pillbox for as long as you can (but usually not long). The critical and motive hits rules are a good addition to the game - they add interest - but they are unbalanced. This has sort of ruined vehicles as being interesting and fun, where they used to be a good feature of the game. (Don't ask me what I think about WiGE's.) Mea Cupla: You will find my name among the playtesters for this book; I complained then, but now I wish I had complained louder. File this under "I'm going to catch some heat for this."
  7. Diablo - I enjoyed playing Diablo, until I tried playing it online. I thought I knew what "bad behavior" in online gaming was, until I tried playing it online. If the transcendence of WoW is any indication, some of those issues with early online communities have been worked out. I sure hope so. File this under "Does not play well with others."
  8. Zynga games - 'Nuff said (but I'm lookin' at you, Facebook.). File this under "Exploitation of privacy."
  9. The Lottery (most any lottery will do) - Otherwise known as a tax on people that can't do math. File this under "Tax the poor."
  10. Dawn Patrol (TSR) - I like air combat games, or at least I think I do, because I own a small  fleet of them. I don't own Dawn Patrol, but it illustrates a serious flaw. I expect an air combat game to be about crafty maneuvers and outwitting your opponent in an aerial duel. In Dawn Patrol the planes are generally mobile enough to get a good shot at whomever may have moved before them, and moving first is a death sentence. There is no strategy, no outwitting your opponent, just luck in who happens to move first or last. Interestingly, this same thing often occurs in Batteltech, with 'Mechs forming a "conga line of death". The outcome in these situations is much more uncertain in Battletech, and the player generally has a chance to either escape or go down fighting. File this under "Barely Interesting."

That's my 10, pass it on and link back (please). Or not.

06 October 2010

15 Games That Will Always Stick With Me, Too

I picked up this meme from D20 Sapphire's post at 20 Sided Woman:
The rules: Don't take too long to think about it. 15 games you've played that will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I'm interested in seeing what games my friends choose.
You can probably tell this originated from Facebook, but like my friend Sapphire I'm going to skip the tagging part and link back to her instead. When I started my list I thought I would have trouble coming up with 15 games, but within 5 minute I was already trying to decide which ones to leave out. SO many choices! At risk of over-thinking the question, I have split this into two parts: board games/RPG's and computer/console game (of any sort), and Honorable Mentions are included along the way. Each will be roughly in chronological order, starting with the board games:
  1. Risk (Parker Brothers) - I would go to slumber-parties with my friends and play Risk and Monopoly for 12 hours straight, fall asleep, then wake up and play for another 12 hours. We never got tired of playing (but we did eventually get tired). Honorable mention: Monopoly.
  2. Dungeons & Dragons (TSR) - Starting from the blue box, I played all I could when I was a young teenager.
  3. Ogre/GEV - Originally published by Metagaming, and Steve Jackson's first published game. This was my introduction to the "map, chits, and dice" wargame. Honorable mention: Warpwar, also by Metagaming.
  4. Air War (SPI) - I'm skipping a bunch of other games to list this one. I played many combat/battle board games, but Air War was sort of the apex of these games for me. Air War is quite complex, and as much a simulation as it is a game. Honorable Mention: Armor (Avalon Hill?), a great tank combat game.
  5. Traveller (then GDW) - Science Fiction role-playing. I played quite a bit, but it wasn't until I hooked up with a college gaming group that it really started to shine for me.
  6. Champions (Hero Games) - Another game I found in college, and with the same game master, my friend Pat (who also GM'd Traveller). Honorable mention: The Fantasy Trip (Metagaming) - Another game by Steve Jackson. This was an a very simple RPG based on the Microgames Melee and Wizard, and the basis of the two best fantasy RPG campaigns I ever played (One GM'ed by Pat, again!).
  7. Battetech (then FASA, now Catalyst) - Fastforward about 10 years - graduation, job, grad school, job-hunting, marriage - where I didn't play board games at all. I did play some computer game version of Battletech, Solaris 3025 (online) and Mechwarrior 2, and I bought a rulebook so I could understand the computer versions better. I wan't until I took a job in Milwaukee, started going to GENCON (when it was still here), and fell-in with a group of die-hard Battletech players that I really learned to love the board game. Maybe more importantly, Battletech re-awakened my love of painting miniatures, something I still enjoy just as much as playing.
  8. Squadron Strike (Ad Astra Games) - 3D science fiction space combat, and I get to help the author with some of the mathematical aspect of the game too - something I ought to be writing about!
And now the computer games, which I hate

  1. Asteroids (arcade) - I plunked a lot of quarters into arcade video games, and this is the game that started it. Gamers much younger than me won't recall a time when video and computer games didn't exist, but I do. I'd like to think that all of today's gamers would still be gamers even if there were not any electronic involved at all, but for many kids today, computer and console games are all there is (which is sad). Honorable mention: Donkey Kong.
  2. Hack/Rogue - This amazing little dungeon crawl game was being passed around among the computer science students when I was in college, and I found it incredibly addicting - and still do. I have a version on my Palm Pilot now, and still play it from time to time. Honorable mention: Empire.
  3. Harpoon - A computer version of Larry Bond's miniatures game, and a great naval warfare simulation. Honorable mention: 688 Attack Sub and Sea Wolf - Two submarine simulations that I spent a lot of time with. These games typically have long intervals of increasing tension as you hunt your target (or vice-versa), punctuated by a few minute of heart-and-keyboard-pounding excitement when the torpedoes start to run.
  4. Master of Magic - Sort of a cross between Civilization and Magic, the Gathering. This game offered many different choices during setup that allowed for variety and interesting play.
  5. MUME (Multi Users in Middle Earth (MUD) - A text-based "dungeon" adventure devoted to re-creating Middle Earth. This was my first experience in online gaming, and a terrible this to discover during graduate school, because it threatened to suck-up my every waking moment. I was never able to get a fast connection though, and this generally resulted in BAD things happening to my characters when this started getting tough, so I finally wised-up and focused on studying instead. I still log in every few years to see if there are still any of the old players still playing there (and there are). Honorable mention: Doom + Quake - Two games I refused of purchase because they definitely would have made me flunk out of grad school.
  6. Starcraft - I've got to have an RTS in here somewhere, don't I? 
  7. Gran Turismo 2 (Playstation) - The only console game I'm listing here, because it's the only console game I've spent much time with. Even then, I had to get up early on Saturday mornings to run the longer races (100 laps) before my son want the PS2 for himself. This isn't so much a game as it is a driving simulator, and it's as close as I'll ever get to driving a real performance car too. I have the newer editions of the game too, but they don't have the same memories.  Honorable mention: Netrek - Another online multi-player game, one if the first of its kind, and a whole lot of fun. This got demoted to "mention" status because I haven't actually played it all that much.
That's my 15 games I'll always remember, but I already know what number 16 will be:

Honorable mention: Gratuitous Space Battles - My first computer game purchase in a long time, and I am really loving it. Look for a proper review on these pages sometime soon.
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05 October 2010

The hazards of dog ownership

If you happened to be paying very close attention to my  last yesterday, you might have spotted two things which didn't belong in the photos below. (Pencils and shoes don't count)

The first is easy to spot above, but the second is harder. This other item is more obvious below:

Got it figured out yet? Scroll down when your are ready for the reveal ...




Yes, I own a dog, and some days there might be dog kibble scattered about the carpet. Such are the hazards of dog ownership. :-)
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04 October 2010

Battletech 4th Edition

I made a good find yesterday at Half-Price Books: The Battletech 4th Edition boxed set.

The box itself was a bit beaten up, and I already own a beaten-up 4th edition box minus the original contents.

One quick peek inside the box was enough to show me at the original rulebook was still there. That, and a very distinctive lump metal, shown just to the right. I still wasn't sure the $25 price was worth it, even for an out-of-print Atlas miniature, but what the heck.

Later, out in the parking lot, I broke the box open again to show my wife the Atlas, and found the Zeus mini too. THAT'S when I was sure I'd made a good buy.

The rest is icing on the cake. The box may have had some wear and tear, but all the components appear to be in perfect condition.

There is also a set of stickers (above, on the left) with the Inner Sphere House insignia that I didn't expect. (Also a nice Power Rangers pencil.)

This is my second stroke of luck with used FASA games. Needless to say, I am quite pleased.
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