Saturday, March 31, 2007

Gaming With Grandma - 12

My mum came over to our house today for her regular Saturday morning catch-up and gaming session.

First up we played Scrabble. You may remember when we played last week mum beat me 252 to 247. While I was happy to post a personal best with 247 I was keen to see if I could beat that score this week.
Probably the most obscure word I played was TOR ( a type of rock outcrop formed by weathering).
The dodgiest word I played was QATAR (an emirate in the Middle East). I'm not sure if the name of a country is legal in Scrabble, but I was proud of the fact I was able to play it through mum's GEAR and ROT to form an additional two 2-letter words (TO and AT - which I eventually turned into BAT using the last letter on my rack at game's end).
Longest words I played were STOREY and SLIDER.

I'm trying to improve my ability to work off words already on the board. I was able to do this by laying VENUE then turning it into VENUES and then into AVENUES with the word HATER.
Another cool moment was playing PROVEN through mum's WEAN to also form IN.
The most frustrating part of the game was when mum laid down AID on the S in my SLIDER to form the word SAID. This only scored her a measley 6 points but effectively blocked two Triple Word Score squares and blew away several minutes of my planning. D'oh! At first I thought it was some cunning plan on her part to deny me points but later she admitted that's all she could lay down.
My highest scoring word was JOIST using a blank for the O. That picked me up a cool 54 points. Mum's highest scoring word was ZOOM for 25 points. I was lucky to get both blanks and 3 of the 4 S's in this game. A couple of times I had bingos that I could just not find a place to lay down. Talk about frustration. It is hard to have to decide to break up a word but also consider what letters would be best left on the rack for the next turn.
The final score was me on 331 (personal best) and mum on 176. I averaged 18.39 points per round.
After that game Maddie joined us. Her choice was a Wiggles version of Snakes & Ladders. Groan. Maddie came first, Grandma came second and Dad came third.
Our final game of the day was Gulo Gulo. Maddie showed off just how dexterous her tiny fingers are by plucking out those eggs with the greatest of ease to take the win (which was even more impressive as Gulo Junior was at the bottom of the 5 tile stack).

Friday, March 30, 2007

Borat - High Five!

I saw Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan on DVD the other day. I've been a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen's Da Ali G Show for many years so I knew what to expect.

Borat is sent to the USA by Kazakh TV to report on the 'greatest country in the world'. The film is about a journey across the United States in an ice cream van, in which Borat is obsessed with the idea of marrying Pamela Anderson. Along the way he meets and interviews many citizens of the USA who all display various sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist or jingoistic characteristics.

I wasn't that impressed with Ali G's move to the big screen in Ali G Indahouse back in 2002. While the Ali G character is great at the short interview I felt the character failed to work in a fictional full-length movie. Baron Cohen, however, succeeds with the Borat character in this movie because it is filmed as a mockumentary (fake documentary) and allows him to use his hilarious interview style to hold a mirror up to USA culture and society.

One of the funniest, and most cringe-worthy, parts of the film is when Borat wrestles naked with his obese producer, Azamat Bagatov, in their hotel room. You gotta see it to believe it.

An interview that had me laughing was from the DVD extras which unfortunately wasn't shown in the movie. Borat is in a doctor's office explaining various sexually-transmitted diseases he has had. Link to video.

Borat: I once catch Herpes from my sister.

Doctor: That means you had sexual relations with your sister?

Borat: Yes!

Doctor: And is that usual in your country?

Borat: Only on the Feast of Shurik.

Doctor: Did you have sexual relations with any other family members?

Borat: No, I am not sick.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Cool Change

It's Autumn here in Brisbane, Australia. It's been noticeably cooler over the last few days. The heat and humidity of Summer is still a recent memory but there is a change in the air. I like Autumn.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Alexander Does It His Way

Alexander the Great is one of my favourite historical figures. I admire his determination, his leadership and his ability to act quickly. I've read many books on Alexander and his campaigns and I find him a fascinating character. I have plans for re-fighting some of his major battles using the DBA miniatures rules. I have enough 15mm miniatures for an Alexandrian Macedonian army and also a Later Persian army that I'll get around to painting one day.

Here is an example of Alexander's sheer force of will to attain what he desired from The Generalship of Alexander the Great - J.F.C. Fuller 1960.

The Persepolis Campaign

Persepolis lay some forty-five miles north-east of Shiraz, near the present town of Kinareh, a few miles east of the Palvar river, an affluent of the Kur, and some 370 miles to the south-east of Susa. To reach it Alexander decided to pass through the land of the Uxians, a pre-Aryan people who inhabited both the plains and the mountains. The plainsmen were ruled by a Persian governor, but the hill tribesmen had never been subdued; they lived by brigandage, and hitherto rather than subject them, the Persians had found it more convenient to pay them a toll for free passage through their mountains, much as centuries later the British at times paid the tribesmen of the North-West Frontier of India.

When Alexander set out from Susa, he first crossed the river Pasitigris (Karun) and then entered the land of the Uxians. Those who lived on the plains at once submitted to him; those in the mountains, who expected that he would follow the Persian custom, demanded the customary toll. In reply he sent a messenger to them to meet him at a certain pass to receive it; then with the royal body-guards, the hypaspists and 8,000 other troops he made a night march by an unfrequented track, fell upon the Uxian villages, and slew many while still in their beds. He then advanced swiftly to the pass at which the Uxians had gathered in force to exact the toll.

While still at the villages, he must have questioned the captured headmen on the nature of the pass and its vicinity, because on his way to it he sent Craterus ahead to seize certain heights that commanded the probable line of retreat the Uxians would take when he had dislodged them. He pressed on with utmost speed and occupied the pass before the Uxians could man it, drew his men up in battle order, and led them from a commanding position against the Uxians, who were ‘astonished at Alexander’s swiftness’ (Arrian, III, xvii, 3) and fled in panic to seek refuge on the heights which, unknown to them, Craterus had occupied. Some were killed by Alexander in his pursuit, many, we are told, lost their lives by falling over the precipices, and many more were destroyed by Craterus.

In twenty-four hours Alexander settled a problem which for two centuries the Persians had feared to tackle. The Uxians were permitted to inhabit their territories in peace on payment of a yearly tribute of 100 horses, 500 oxen and 30,000 sheep. These, we read, ‘were the “gifts” they received from Alexander (Arrian, III, xvii, 6).

I had to laugh when I read this. The Uxian hill tribesman had expected Alexander to continue paying them a toll as the Persians had done for 200 years. However, he turned the tables on them. Not only did Alexander force them to allow him free use of the mountain pass, but they had to pay him a yearly tribute for the privilege of doing so! Classic Alexander.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Personally, I Prefer Partnership Whist

Another amusing game-related excerpt from the RED DWARF series. This is from Series 6, Episode 1 "Psirens".

Lister has just awoken from 200 years of Deep Sleep and can't remember who he is or anything about his past life. Kryten, the mechanoid, attempts to help him remember.

[Kryten sets a box in front of Lister]

KRYTEN: Perhaps these will help. Your personal artifacts. You asked me to keep them safe.

[Lister takes out a photo]

KRYTEN: Kristine Kochanski. You dated her for three weeks once. Before she discarded you for a catering officer.

LISTER: She's beautiful.

KRYTEN: It's your ambition, sir, somehow to get her back and lie on top of her and move up and down rapidly in that curious way that humans find so agreeable. Personally, I prefer partnership whist.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Barrow

Back in 1996, while travelling around Great Britain, my wife (girlfriend at the time) and I visited the West Kennet Long Barrow in Wiltshire, England. A barrow is a burial mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves. We'd stopped at nearby Avebury to see the standing stones and after lunch I convinced my wife to walk with me the 1.5 miles to the barrow.

It was a beautiful, crisp November day as we hiked past Silbury Hill, which is the tallest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe. As we walked we had to cross several fenced fields. We did so by stiles. A stile is a pair of steps or ladders that is accessible to pedestrians but generally inaccessible to animals. I'd heard of them but had never seen them until that day.

We eventually came to the barrow. It was getting on in the afternoon by that time and we were the only people there. The barrow was built about 3600 BCE which is around 400 years before the first stage of Stonehenge was constructed. The size of some of the stones were quite large. I'm about 6' 3" to give you an indication of the size of the stones in comparison to me.

Me outside the entrance to the barrow

Inside the barrow were several chambers used by these Neolithic people to bury their dead. Archaeological excavations in the past have found at least 46 burials, ranging from babies to elderly people. It was a strange feeling to be in such an ancient tomb, standing where people so long ago mourned and buried their loved ones.

Me inside the barrow
My mind couldn't help being drawn to the time when I first became aware of the meaning of the word barrow; I was about 12 or 13 and I was reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time. In one of the early chapters, the hobbits were trapped in a barrow and just barely managed to escape from the barrow-wights.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Formula De - Team Jordan

Here are my Formula De cars painted in the 2002 Jordan team colour scheme. The miniatures are 16mm in length and made from pewter. I painted them in acrylic colours and sprayed them with gloss varnish for protection.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Gaming With Grandma - 11

My mum came over to our house this morning for her regular Saturday visit and gaming session. After a cup of tea and a chat, Grandma, Maddie and I went out to the table on the back deck to play some games.

The first game we played was Money Money Money. We played this game for the first time last week and we all enjoyed it. In this game players draw plastic coins of four different colours from a bag and stack them on top of each other in coloured stacks in front of them. Each turn you must guess if the coin you will draw will be higher or lower than the top coin of the matching coloured stack. If you guess correct you go again, if you guess incorrectly you put the coin back and your turn ends. There are some 'wild' coins that change things a bit by telling you to draw more coins, lose coins or exchange coins. It's a guessing game using probability as a guide.

Maddie had several excellent guessing rounds to go on to take the win with 37 coins, with Grandma 2nd on 17 coins and me 3rd on 14 coins. In the photo above you can see how the winner is determined by stacking all four coloured stacks on top of each other.

Grandma and I then decided to play a game of Scrabble together. This was my third game of Scrabble in my adult life and the first since I'd finished reading Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis. I was eager to see if I could get a bingo; that's laying all 7 tiles down on one's turn to get a bonus 50 points on top of the word score.

Mum drew both blanks and got most of the high-scoring tiles like Z, J, X and Q. Her highest scoring word was 27 points and my highest was 24 points. At one stage I had GLOATER sitting on my rack but no place to lay it down. That would have been a cool first-ever bingo. Alas, it was not to be.

It felt a little weird when I laid down VAGINA in front of my mum, but she appreciated the finding of the word. Maddie was watching Grandma's rack and suggested POO (which she'd only learnt to spell the night before) and Grandma accommodatingly laid it down. Maddie was quite chuffed she'd been able to find a word.

I feel my anagramming skill is developing and I was able to make several 5 or 6 letter words, it's just that they weren't necessarily on good scoring squares. Mum skillfully worked off my longer words with shorter ones but in valuable scoring squares. We also used the challenge rule this time with both of us having one successful challenge each. Neither of us were left with any tiles at the end of the game. It was a very close game. Mum won on 252 points and I came 2nd on 247 points.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Formula De - Team BMW Williams

Here are my Formula De cars painted in the 2003 BMW Williams team colour scheme. The miniatures are 16mm in length and made from pewter. I painted them in acrylic colours and sprayed them with gloss varnish for protection.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Formula De - Team Jaguar

Here are my Formula De cars painted in the 2002 Jaguar team colour scheme. The miniatures are 16mm in length and made from pewter. I painted them in acrylic colours and sprayed them with gloss varnish for protection.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Word Freak

I was never a big fan of Scrabble as a kid. It may have been that I was too young when first introduced to the game and it left a bad (read boring) impression on me. My wife had an old copy of the game lying around and I recently decided to give the game another try. It was the first time I'd played the game as an adult and I was pleasantly surprised.

Some of the personal comments for this game on BoardGameGeek recommended a book called Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis. I decided to borrow the book from the library to see what it was like.
Stefan Fatsis is a sports reporter who delved into the odd subculture of competitive Scrabble players. Word Freak is a fascinating journey as the author himself becomes addicted to the game and obsessed with increasing his national ranking score. He discusses the history of the game, the top-level players and details just what it takes to become an expert Scrabble player. It is informative, enjoyable and often humourous. I highly recommend Word Freak.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Formula De - Team Ferrari

Here are my Formula De cars painted in the 2002 Ferrari team colour scheme. The miniatures are 16mm in length and made from pewter. I painted them in acrylic colours and sprayed them with gloss varnish for protection.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Gaming With Grandma - 10

My mum dropped by on Saturday morning for her weekly visit. As ever, Maddie was eager to play some games with her Dad and Grandma. We chose to play on the back deck as it was cooler than inside.

Our first game was Money Money Money. I bought this game at a garage sale a year or two ago. It was produced in 1987 by Action Games and Toys Ltd and made in Australia and Hong Kong by Crown & Andrews Pty Ltd Sydney NSW Australia under license from A. Eddy Gold Farb & Associates. It hadn't hit the gaming table before because initially it didn't look very interesting. However, I'm trying to reduce my unplayed games so today was the day to give it a go. I was the one who uploaded Money Money Money to the BoardGameGeek database and I appear to be the only user to own a copy.

In Money Money Money, players are attempting to win by achieving the highest stack of coins. There is a surprisingly sturdy canvas bag that holds stackable plastic coins of 5 colours. There are 16 red, green, yellow and blue coins with values ranging from $1 to $16. There are also several white coins which have special functions such as acting as a 'wild' coin, causing the player to miss a turn, or allowing the player to exchange a coin with another player, or take an extra coin or two on their turn.

On your turn you take a coin from the bag. However, before you do this you must first state whether you think the coin you draw will be 'higher' or 'lower'. Whether it is higher or lower depends on the colour of the coin you draw from the bag compared to the colour of the topmost coin of the same colour stack you may already have in front of you. If you guessed correctly you add the coin to the same coloured stack in front of you and draw again. If you guessed incorrectly you put the coin back in the bag and play passes to your left. If you don't already have any coins of the colour you just drew then the coin goes on the table in front of you to start a new stack and you draw again.

Money Money Money is a very simple game of determining probabilities. As there is little reading it is a perfect game for teaching probability to children. Maddie is 5 years old and at first didn't know what Daddy meant when he started talking about 'probabilities' and 'odds'. However, within a few turns she started to grasp the concept and soon shot to the lead. What a wonderful learning tool games are for children! Maddie got so excited each time she drew a coin and realised she'd guessed correctly.

Each time you draw a coin from the bag you must recalculate the probabilities. To help you to do this you can see the number of different coloured coins already drawn and stacked in front of yourself and the other players. Although you can only see the value of the top coin in each stack, if you have a good memory you can try and memorise what coins have already been drawn (which is a beyond me).

I was very pleasantly surprised by this game. Both Maddie and Grandma enjoyed it so I'm sure it will become a regular game for our future sessions. Grandma ended up coming 1st, with Maddie 2nd and me 3rd.

Next up was another game we hadn't played before. You may remember a recent blog entry where I purchased Pounce. Well, today it also hit the table. It was funny because after finishing Money Money Money Maddie exclaimed "It's my turn to pick a game!" and off she ran to the game cabinet. I tried not to groan out loud as a vision of her returning with Bratz Passion for Fashion flashed into my head. However, my daughter surprised me by returning with Pounce.

In this game players are attempting to be the Cat (the player attempting to catch the mice) for a certain number of times. We chose 5 times as the victory condition. This is a game all about reflexes and I have to say in the first game I totally outclassed my two opponents. In the second game I tried to handicap myself by using my off-hand and resting the cat on the table (rather than holding it right above the mice). I still won the second game but Grandma and Maddie were both close to winning also. This is a game that would improve with more players. It would be a cool game for adults to play with a couple of drinks as well.

Maddie also picked the next game; my home-made copy of Diamant. I bought lovely (cheap) glass beads to represent the diamonds and rubies. I also made the cards myself. My danger cards are simply different coloured exclamation marks (as seen in the image below). Diamant is always a fun game although I prefer it with more players. Maddie was the winner on 41 points with Grandma 2nd on 33 points and me a distant 3rd on 12 points.

We were joined by my wife for the final game of the morning, For Sale. Maddie normally does quite well at this game but I think she was getting a bit tired by this time and also a little distracted by having Mummy game with us. I explained the rules to my wife who had not played For Sale before. The game flowed fast until a single $1000 cardboard coin rolled off the table, across the deck and down into the back yard. It took me about 5 minutes to locate it in the grass. Surprisingly, my wife went on to win the game with $75K, me 2nd on $70K, Grandma 3rd on $63K and Maddie 4th on $44K.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix

The 'Flying Finn', Kimi Raikkonen, wins the 2007 Australian Grand Prix for Ferrari! Second place goes to two-time World Drivers Champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso for McLaren and third place goes to British rookie Lewis Hamilton in a brilliant debut for McLaren. Recreated on a Formula De board for your amusement.

The crowds go wild on Formula De Track #20 Melbourne as Kimi crosses the finish line.

A close up of Kimi winning the F1 Australian Grand Prix

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Kissing The Blarney Stone

Every Saint Patrick's Day I tend to do two things; 1) reminisce about my trip to Ireland and 2) drink Guinness.

Back in late 1996 my girlfriend (now wife) and I travelled overseas. We visited China, Hong Kong, France, Switzerland, England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

Me in front of one of many Irish pubs I visited. Mmmm...Irish pubs.

We spent 8 weeks in a motorhome driving around Great Britain and Ireland. We spent one of those weeks in Ireland. It was early November, it probably rained about 70% of the time we were there, it was cold, but we had a fantastic time.

One of my favourite memories was of our trip to Blarney Castle. At the top of the castle lies the Stone of Eloquence, also called the Blarney Stone. It is said that those who kiss the stone are endowed with the gift of the gab (great eloquence or skill at flattery). It is not as easy as it sounds though. First you have to climb well-worn stone steps to the top of the castle. On the day we were there the stone steps were slick with dampness and the stairways were steep and narrow.

Standing in front of Blarney Castle

When you finally reach the top you make your way to the battlements where you see the Blarney Stone. It is actually set into a part of the battlements. You lie on your back and hang backwards over an almost 90 foot drop to kiss the stone. Thankfully, they have someone to hold you while you do it.

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of myself kissing the Stone, but my wife did film the incident. The funny thing was that when I came back up from kissing it, we realised the tip of my nose was red from the lipstick of previous female kissers. Here's a link to someone else kissing the Blarney Stone so you can see what you have to do.

On top of Blarney Castle

Having wiped the lipstick off the end of my nose, I now have 'the gift of the gab'

We also spent a few relaxing hours exploring the beautiful Arboretum, the Rock Close and the woodland walks on the estate. The thing I remember most is the amazing shades of Autumn hue of the many trees. That and the greenness of grass. I can see why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle.

A magical place
OK, now that I've finished reminiscing about my trip to Ireland I usually do something else on Saint Patrick's Day. What was it? Oh yeah, drink Guinness! Here's one (of several) I prepared (drank) earlier.


A glass of Guinness silhouetted against the view from our back deck

Friday, March 16, 2007

My Formula De Cars

I follow Formula 1. I'm particularly excited as the F1 season commences with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne this Sunday.

I also enjoy racing games. I bought Formula De several years ago but unfortunately I've only played it once (and that was a 2-player game). Formula De comes with plastic cars but I also purchased a set of pewter F1 racing cars and painted them in F1 team liveries. These miniatures are only 16mm in length. The image below shows one balanced on the tip of my index finger. All images are clickable for a closer view.

I've painted a total of 8 cars so far of the 20 I own. I plan on painting all of them in the F1 team colours. I think I painted these ones back in 2002 - 2003. In the image below, they are (left to right) Ferrari, Jordan, Jaguar and Williams. Such is the nature of Formula 1 that the Jordan and Jaguar teams now no longer exist.

Here's a side view. They're all are lined up and ready to race!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

My Wife Beats Me

A sad man walks into a bar, and the bartender asks him what the problem is.
"My life is awful," the man says. "Every night, I play Lost Cities with my wife, and every night she beats me."
"Well, why don't you just stop playing Lost Cities?" the bartender asks.
"I love the game," the man says. "I'm brilliant. I never lose."
The bartender is confused. "I thought you just said your wife beats you."
"Well," the man says, "she's a sore loser."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Australian White Ibis

At one point in time, not too many years ago, the only birds one would see in the parks of Brisbane were pigeons. However, over the last 10 to 15 years Brisbane has been invaded by the Australian White Ibis. This subspecies of the Ibis family is actually native to Australia. It is common in northern and eastern Australia and its preferred habitats include swamps, lagoons, floodplains and grasslands. As we are well aware of in Brisbane, it has also become a successful inhabitant of urban parks and gardens.

An Ibis in Post Office Square

There is some evidence to suggest that with increased water use for agriculture in inland New South Wales and Queensland, along with the continuing drought, these birds have been forced into coastal cities. They now inhabit the Brisbane City Botanical Gardens and can be found in the many city parks scavenging for food in rubbish bins.

Ibeses ready to snatch any unwatched food

Some people view these birds as noisy nuisances. However, whenever I see them I am reminded of ancient Egypt. Our Australian White Ibeses look very similar to the Sacred Ibis which was venerated and often mummified as a symbol of the god, Thoth.

An Ibis searching for bugs and worms with its long beak

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Time Team

Ever since I was a little kid I've been interested in archaeology. In fact, if I could have been anything when I grew up it would have been an archaeologist. I've always been interested in the detective work that goes into unravelling the mysteries of the past. I find it fascinating to find out how our ancestors lived.

My interest in this field has been mainly satisfied by reading books and viewing documentaries. However, a year or so ago, I came across an excellent TV series produced by Channel 4 in the UK called Time Team. The series is presented by Tony Robinson who is probably best known for his role as Baldrick in the Blackadder series. The Time Team crew are a team of archaeologists who congregate at a site, usually in the United Kingdom, and uncover as much as they can about the archaeology and history of the site in three days, often in conjunction with the local archaeological unit.

I highly recommend this show for anyone interested in archaeology and the history of Britain. Series 7, which was filmed in 2000, is currently screening on the ABC in Australia on Tuesdays at around 6.00pm.

Monday, March 12, 2007

One Stress Ball Just Ain't Enough

Some days at work one stress ball just ain't enough!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Cane Toad

The cane toad was introduced into north Queensland in 1935 to combat two insects that were damaging the sugar cane crops, the grey backed cane beetle and the frenchie beetle. Although the cane toad ate the beetles when they were available, as a biological control agent they had no impact at all. Within five years an effective insecticidal spray became available and the sugar industry lost interest in the cane toad.

Now, the cane toad has spread through Queensland, into the Northern Territory and also south into northern New South Wales. It is considered a pest and there is evidence to suggest it is partly responsible for the dwindling numbers of native frogs as well as some other native animal species. The cane toad is poisonous at all stages of its life and it has no natural predators in Australia. It is one of Australia's worst environmental disasters and the government is spending a lot of money looking for ways to eradicate it.

I came across this cane toad as I was mowing the lawn today. It is now an ex-toad. No, I didn't run the mower over it. The most humane way of disposing of them is to put them in a container in the fridge for several hours which causes the toad to go into a coma-like state. Then move the container into the freezer until the next bin collection day.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Gaming With Grandma - 9

My mum dropped by this morning for her weekly Saturday morning visit. Maddie couldn't wait to play the Harry Potter Hogwarts Dueling Club Game that my wife had bought a few days ago. Even before Grandma was able to sit down and have a cup of tea, Maddie was bugging her to play the game.

We decided to play at the table on the back deck as it was cooler outside. The first thing we did after getting the game ready was choose our characters. Maddie chose Hermione, Grandma chose Ron and I chose Malfoy. As there were less than four players, Harry was set aside as a non-player character.

In this game players move around the board which represents Hogwarts School of Wizardry. They attempt to improve their power by collecting spells from the classrooms and magical items from the common areas. Once you feel powerful enough you can move to the dueling room in the center of the board and challenge any of the other characters or non-player characters to a duel.

The board set up prior to play commencing

Spell combat in the duel is determined by what spell card is currently sitting in the player's spell book. Each spell card has two columns of numbers and when inserted into a spell book shows how many spell combat dice you may roll. There are two spell combat dice. The green die has hits on 3 of its 6 sides and the blue die has hits on 2 of its 6 sides. Each of the two players in the duel rolls a number of dice according to the spell they are casting to score hits. The person who scores the most hits wins. The winner gets a plastic token of their opponent's colour to keep.

When a player has won a duel against all their opponents, including all non-player characters, they may fight a final duel to win. They make their way to the dueling room and fight the final duel against the strongest of their opponents. If the challenger wins the final duel they win the game. If not, they miss the next turn.

The magical item cards mostly affect the outcome of duels so are very important to have. The spells are of varying powers and you are only allowed to have a maximum of three at any one time. As you must always have one of your spells in your spell book it can be a tough decision as to which one to choose. Do you put in a powerful spell now or keep it for later for the final battle?

There are also the Wizarding Games where you can challenge other players when you land next to them. These challenges are determined randomly by three cards. There is a rock-paper-scissors challenge, one where you put the three cards on the edge of the table and attempt to flick them face up on the table, and also one challenge where you have to throw a card as close as possible to the edge of the table. If you win you get to steal a spell from the loser.

Maddie (as Hermione) was the first to win a duel against Grandma (Ron), myself (Malfoy) and Harry Potter. However, when Maddie made her way to the dueling hall for the final duel, Grandma and I chose her to fight Grandma (as Ron). Ron had a really powerful spell ready in his spell book and ended up winning the final duel. That meant Maddie missed the next turn.

I was having bad luck with winning duels. Grandma was the next to get a token from all the other players. She made her way to the dueling hall. Maddie and I decided Maddie was toughest so she fought Grandma. Both of them played magical item cards to tie the first round. They fought again. Grandma just beat Maddie by 1 hit to win the final duel and the game. Maddie came second and I came third.

The game took about an hour and a half to play, which is fairly long compared to most of the games we normally play. I'm sure this was partly because it was a game none of us had played before and I had to spend time explaining what the magical items did during the game. Maddie and Grandma said they really enjoyed it. I had a good time as well. I rated it a 6 on BoardGameGeek.

Georgia awoke around this time so she needed to be fed. We then all had a late morning tea of basil pesto and garlic cheese and crackers that Grandma had brought. My wife had returned from shopping with her dad so they joined us as well. By this time we'd run out of time for any more games so it ended up we just played the one game today.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Postcards From Brisbane - The Boer War Memorial

My office building overlooks Anzac Square in the heart of Brisbane city. Thousands of people walk through Anzac Square every morning and afternoon on their way to and from Central Station. At the entrance to the park stands a monument, composed of a sandstone plinth atop which stands a huge bronze sculpture of a horse and rider. This is the memorial to the Queenslanders who died in the Boer War. I popped out from work the other morning and took the following photos.

The Boer War (also called the South African War or the Second Anglo-Boer War) was fought in South Africa in 1899 - 1902. As part of the British Empire, the Australian colonies offered troops for the war. At least 12,000 Australians served in contingents raised by the six colonies (or from 1901) by the new Australian Commonwealth.

The Boer War was the first war in which Australians fought under their own flag, as Australia became a country in its own right with Federation on 1 January 1901. The Australian War Memorial lists 598 Australians as having died in the war, about half in action and half from disease. On either side of the sandstone plinth are listed the names of those Australians from the state of Queensland who fell in this war.

The Boer War statue was cast in bronze in England, but wasn’t actually erected in Brisbane until 1919. As Anzac Square had not been constructed at that time, the memorial had stood in front of the Trades Hall. The statue was transferred to Anzac Square prior to Anzac Day in 1939.

The image below is taken from Post Office square with the trees of Anzac Square serving as a backdrop. The sun popped out from behind the clouds as I took the photo.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Into The Land of Shadow

I finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring on the train this morning. It's taken me a leisurely 8 weeks to finish but that's just reading on the train to and from work and occasionally during my lunch break. One of my goals for 2007 was to re-read The Lord of the Rings, so I'm now one third of the way there.

It has been many years since my last reading. Although I've enjoyed reliving the adventure I did find the chapters 'In the House of Tom Bombadil' and 'Fog on the Barrow-downs' to be not that enjoyable. I can now understand why Peter Jackson did not include those parts in his movie.

And so, Frodo and Sam have left the Company. "Then shouldering their burdens, they set off, seeking a path that would bring them over the grey hills of the Emyn Muil, and down into the Land of Shadow." I can't wait to start The Two Towers tomorrow morning.

Below is a picture of my battered Unwin (1979 third edition reprint) paperback version of The Fellowship of the Ring. I think I would have purchased it around 1981 and it has been well-read and well-loved.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A New Game!

My wonderful wife picked up a complete Harry Potter Hogwarts Dueling Club Game for only AU$4.00 from a thrift store today. Maddie is very excited as she has seen the first Harry Potter movie (with me fast-forwarding through any potentially scary bits) and can't wait to defeat Daddy in spell-to-spell combat. We'll play it with Grandma on Saturday.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

J.R.R. Tolkien Made Me Snigger Like A Schoolboy

I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring on the train to work this morning. I am up to the part where the Company is about to leave Lorien. It is a sad and somewhat solemn occasion. They know they are leaving the peaceful and beautiful Elven haven to journey into fear and darkness.

Galadriel is describing the lands that they will soon journey through. They will follow the river Anduin as it flows southwards until it falls over the cataracts of Rauros into the Nindalf, which in the human tongue is called the Wetwang.

And this was where I started sniggering like a schoolboy.

Wet - adjective: moistened, covered, or soaked with water or some other liquid
Wang - noun: vulgar slang for the penis.

And the fact that she mentioned 'tongue' in the same sentence just clinched it for me. :)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Postcards From Brisbane

One of the things I've always found odd is that most people, myself included, don't see their own city, or home region, through the eyes of a tourist. I've worked in the city centre of Brisbane for almost 22 years but have never really explored it. I don't see it through the eyes of a tourist, where everything is new and full of wonder and there's a surprise around every corner. I don't really appreciate Brisbane for its history, its architecture, or its beauty.

To me, Brisbane city is a dull and dreary place. It's humdrum. It's where I go to work. Every weekday morning it's a 25 minute train trip with my head down reading a book. I get off at Central Station and then walk across Adelaide Street to my office building. I usually don't venture out at lunch time, and if I do, it's a fast walk to the library or a game shop. In the afternoon I walk out of my building, cross Adelaide Street, and catch the train home, all the while with my head down reading a book.

From now on I'm going to imagine I'm a tourist in Brisbane. I'm going to try to see familiar sights in a new light. I'm going to attempt to learn about, and appreciate, where I live. At lunchtimes I'll go out and explore. I'll take my camera with me to document my findings. In the coming months I'll be sharing my 'postcards from Brisbane' on my blog for those of you who have never visited my city.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Rhinoceros Beetle

My wife, my father-in-law, the girls and myself went down to the local Leagues Club for a nice Sunday morning breakfast. As we were leaving the club I noticed a dead Rhinoceros Beetle (Xylotrupes gideon - Family Scarabaeidae) in the garden. I picked it up and brought it home with me so I could take some photos. All are clickable for a larger image.

Since I was a kid, I've always been fascinated with these particular beetles. They make a very loud hiss when they are threatened. Apparently, in Asia they are popular children's pets, being clean and quite harmless. They are also used for gambling in Asia, with two male beetles forced to try and knock each other off a wooden log.

They are noted for the protuberances on their heads which look like horns. Here's a picture of him so you can see his size in comparison to my fingers. He's a relatively small one; I've seen some that are twice as large as that.