Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Last Day of Spring

Moments of beauty can be fleeting. I just had to take a photo of the sunset early this evening on the last day of November. The view is from my back yard looking south-west past my neighbour's house.

A crescent moon hangs lonely in the sky as the sun sets on the last day of spring.

Spring officially ends today in the southern hemisphere. Tomorrow summer arrives. I have a feeling it's going to be a long, hot summer.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gaming With Grandma - 82

Another Saturday morning gaming session with my mother (AKA Grandma) and 7-year-old elder daughter (AKA Maddie). 2.5-year-old younger daughter (AKA Georgia) played close by and occasionally hopped onto my lap to watch. My wife was at work.

Our first game of the morning, Old Maid, was chosen by Maddie. This traditional children's game is certainly not one of my favourites but I was prepared to put up with it because Maddie wanted to play it. One thing I noticed during the game was that Maddie always chose a card from the middle of my fanned out hand of cards. On the occasions I did have the Old Maid I always put her in the centre of my hand knowing that Maddie would always choose a card in the middle. It was quite amusing watching her face when she selected it. She tried to keep a poker face but would then quickly glance at me and see me grinning evilly at her. This then caused her to giggle. This happened a couple of times during the game. The interesting thing about the victory condition for this game is that there is no winner - only a loser. Even with all my evil tricks it ended up that I was the loser left with the Old Maid. Boo hoo!

Heh heh! She took the Old Maid - again!

Our second game of the morning was also chosen by Maddie. It was Go Fish. I feel the same about Go Fish as I do Old Maid. Our deck was actually a fish-themed deck with pictures which reminded me of the sort of sea creatures you would find living on the Great Barrier Reef which lies off the east coast of our state of Queensland. As for Go Fish, it couldn't have ended soon enough for me, but I did go on to win the game.

Is that Nemo on my number 2 card?

After that I requested a different game. Maddie looked through our dining room game cabinet and selected Hive. Now this is a game I enjoy. We decided to play three games. It would be me against Maddie (with a little help from Grandma). I was black in all the games.

Game 1 - I win while Maddie has only two surrounding my Queen.

Game 2 - I win again but Maddie was only one behind me.

Game 3 - I win for the third time. I think Maddie was getting a bit tired by this time 'cause I won convincingly.

Maddie chose The aMAZEing Labyrinth for our next game. This is an old family favourite that we all enjoy playing. We gave Maddie a handicap of allowing her to look at her top two cards while the adults only looked at our top card. I think this was a good handicap because it turned out to be a very close game. I won with 8, Maddie and Grandma came 2nd with 7 each.

The ever-shifting maze of The aMAZEing Labyrinth.

After that Maddie chose another game - Blokus Duo. This is the 2-player version of the well-known Blokus. The object is to try to place as many of your tiles on the board while at the same time preventing your opponent from doing the same. I won with 71 and Maddie had 60.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of how the game looked at the end. Here's a photo of the box.

Maddie then decided to take a break from playing games so that left Grandma and I to look for a two-player game for us to play. Grandma suggested Battle Line. This is a great little card game. We decided to play two games.

Game 1 - I win with a 'breakthrough' (three adjacent flags). 3 to 0 vs Grandma.

Game 2 - I win with an 'envelopment' (five flags in total). 5 to 3 vs Grandma.

At that point we had about 40 minutes before Grandma had to leave. I looked through the game cabinet and spotted Cartagena. This is a game we both enjoy playing as a two-player game. We've played this many times and I always remind Grandma not to let her pirates fall behind as it's then too hard for them to catch up. I was green and she was yellow. I ended up winning with all six of my pirates in the boat while Grandma was only able to get two of hers on board.

Grandma's two yellow pirates look nervously at the six scary green pirates who are about to row off leaving the four remaining yellow pirates to their fate. Arrrr!!!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Red Triangle Slug

Last week, shortly after the storms , I noticed a large slug on the road. It was about 10 cm (4 inches) in length and had a bright orange-coloured triangle on its back. As I had never seen a local slug of this length and type before I just had to take a couple of photos. All photos can be clicked on for a larger image.

It's quite beautiful in its own way.

Through a quick Internet search I was able to find that this is a Red Triangle Slug (Triboniophorus graeffei). It is Australia's largest native land slug and grows to a size of up to 14 cm. The distinctive red triangle on its back contains the breathing pore.

The Red Triangle Slug is found along the east-coast of Australia and is most commonly found in heath, woodlands, forests and urban areas. It's diet consists of microscopic algae growing on the surface of smooth-barked eucalypt trees. Apparently, if given the chance, it will also remove bathroom mould. Imagine that. An environmentally safe way of keeping your shower clean - just adopt a Red Triangle Slug as a pet!

In this photo you can clearly see the open breathing pore in the red triangle.

I understand that Red Triangle Slugs come in a variety of colours depending on the location of their habitat. They can also range in colour from pink to bright red to a beautiful mango-yellow colour.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Board Games Evening

Friendless and I had arranged to play some games at his house on Friday evening. The last time I'd gamed with Friendless was back on 9 April 2008. I can't believe it's been over seven months since I've played games with people other than my immediate family. Friendless has been my only opponent for Commands & Colors: Ancients so I was certainly looking forward to replaying some ancient battles with him.

On arriving, I found that Friendless, his fiancee Scrabblette, and his son Harley22 (AKA The Kid) had kindly set up some stacks of games from which I could choose our first game. I chose Aquaretto as I'd never played it before. This game is designed by Michael Schacht who is the designer of Coloretto and the 2007 Spiel des Jahres winner Zooloretto.

Aquaretto is a set collection and tile placement game where the objective is to gain victory points by successfully managing a SeaWorld-style water zoo. This was a first time play for me and I could see the similarity to Coloretto which I've played before. Aquaretto had lovely components and was an enjoyable game. Final scores were Friendless 1st with 38, me 2nd with 30 and Scrabblette and Harley22 sharing 3rd on 18 points each.

My aquatic zoo in Aquaretto.

Friendless and I then sat down to play Commands & Colors: Ancients. We would play the first scenario of the base game, the Battle of Akragas (406BC), and then swap sides. In this way we would get the opportunity to experience the challenges of commanding both forces in the same battle. It's also a fair way of determining overall victory by comparing the totals of banners (victory points) won in both games.

The Battle of Akragas (406BC)

Historical Background (From the C&C Ancients scenario book)
It is a time of violent competition between the Syracusan Tyrants (military dictators) and Carthage for control of Sicily. The Carthaginians under Himilco have besieged Akragas, a city allied with Syracuse, prompting Daphnaeus and his army to march to its aid. The Carthaginians split their army into an observation force in front of Akragas, and a blocking force sent to oppose Daphnaeus. The Carthaginian army was almost totally mercenary, while Daphnaeus’s contained veteran heavy infantry that proved invincible when committed to the battle. The survivor’s of Himilco’s badly beaten army fled to the coastal fort sheltering Mago’s observation force. There was no pursuit and no further battle. Daphnaeus’s force was spent, and the forces in Akragas did not sortie. Before another assault could be made on the Carthaginians, their navy managed to interdict the Greek supply line, forcing Daphnaeus to withdraw. Akragas fell eight months later without a fight.

The stage is set. The battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. Can you change history?

War Council

Carthagian Army
• Leader: Himilco
• 5 Command Cards

Syracusan Army
• Use Roman blocks
• Leader: Daphnaeus
• 6 Command Cards
• Move First

5 Banners
Special Rules

Image from
Click for a larger image.

GAME 1: In our first game I commanded the Carthaginians (brown blocks - the historical losers of this battle), while Friendless commanded the Syracusans (grey blocks). I was aware that my Carthaginians were outclassed four to one in Heavy Infantry by the Syracusans. There was no way I was going to advance my weaker infantry towards the meat-grinder that was the Syracusan centre.

My aim in this game was to wait for the Syracusans to advance towards me and pepper them with missiles to hopefully break their line and reduce their morale (i.e. knock out blocks from the units). I had received the card Darken the Sky (which allows missile troops to fire twice when ordered) in my first hand so I was looking forward to using that.

The Syracusan general Dionysius advanced on my left flank with his Medium Cavalry, Auxilia and Light Infantry. Having a greater movement range, Dionysius and his Medium Cavalry units were a tempting target sitting out in front of my troops all alone. Whether it was a ruse or not, I found the temptation too great and rather impetuously charged my Heavy Chariot and Light Cavalry forward to engage the sole Dionysius and his sole unit of Medium Cavalry.

My attacks were ineffective (I think I only killed one block) and Dionysius' battle back killed a block of my Heavy Chariot unit (leaving only one). The next turns saw Dionysius and his Medium Cavalry attack and wipe out my Heavy Chariot and Light Cavalry units. Friendless was ahead two banners (victory points) already.

Dionysius was soon overextended and I managed to finally wipe out his Medium Cavalry with a unit of Auxilia and send the general fleeing back the the safety of his rear.

Meanwhile in the centre my missile troops (Light Infantry and Auxilia) were slowly wearing down the Syracusan centre which was still lumbering slowly forward.

Photo taken about halfway through the game.

I soon managed to even the score to 2 banners all. The Syracusan's then advanced over on my right. I sent my Heavy Chariot unit on my right flank into action and it managed to do some damage before dying. As the Syracusan Heavy Infantry came closer in the centre I decided to charge a Warrior unit forward with good effect. All along our battle line we traded kills until we were 4 banners each. For a turn or two it was quite tense until the Syracusans were able to finish off one of my remaining units to win the game. Final score was Friendless (Syracusan) with 5 banners and me (Carthaginian) with 4 banners.

It was only as we were finishing the game that we realised we'd forgotten to put a Syracusan Light Bow unit on the board. We also noticed that I'd mistakenly used my Carthaginian Medium Infantry units as Warrior units (how embarrassing!). That's what comes from having seven months between C&C Ancients games and not re-reading the scenarios notes before we started playing! To be fair we left the Syracusan Light Bow unit off the board for the second game and also allowed the Carthaginians to use the Medium Infantry units as Warrior units.

GAME 2: I commanded the Syracusans (grey blocks) and Friendless commanded the Carthaginians (brown blocks). I was dealt a Line Advance card in my initial hand so spent the first turn getting my units into a straight line so that I could use the card in a later turn.

Over on my right flank I sent forward Dionysius with his Medium Cavalry supported by some Auxilia and Light Infantry. Just like in the previous game Dionysius was able to take out the opposing Carthaginian Heavy Chariot and Light Cavalry units.

However, unlike the previous game, the Syracusan Heavy Infantry led by Daphnaeus in the centre were able to make contact with the Carthaginian forces. I kept pushing my Syracusan Heavy Infantry forward with every chance I had (Line Advance and Double Time cards came in handy) and it soon turned into a bloodbath.

The battlefield at the end of the game. You can see Daphnaeus and his Heavy Infantry (grey blocks) have penetrated deep into the Carthaginian centre.

The Carthaginians did manage to kill a Heavy Infantry unit in my centre. However, it turned out to be a major Syracusan victory. Final scores were me (Syracusan) 5 banners to Friendless' (Carthaginian) 1 banner.

The final total score of both games was me with 9 banners to Friendless' 6 banners. When we next meet we will play the first scenario of C&C Ancients: Expansion Pack #1: Greece & Eastern Kingdoms - Marathon (490BC).

After those two intense battles we decided to join Harley22 for a game of Dominion. Dominion was only recently released and has already shot into the Top 10 games at BoardGameGeek. It is basically a game of deck-building and includes 500 cards. I won't go into the rules too much here but if you're interested in a review then click on the game link above. This was my first play of Dominion and suffice to say that initially I was bewildered but after a few turns I caught on. We played the 'First Game' set up. I enjoyed Dominion and can see what the hype was about. I actually went on to win the game with 35 points, Harley22 came 2nd with 31 points and Friendless came 3rd with 24 points.

My starting hand.

As it was getting late we decided we'd have enough time for a final quick game. This turned out to be Risk Express (on loan from CyberKev63). The original Risk was one of the first boardgames that I enjoyed in my youth. I really enjoyed the conflict, the secret victory conditions and the dice-rolling. However, I didn't necessarily enjoy the ganging-up, player elimination and game length of the original. Risk Express condenses the fun parts of Risk and makes for a very light, enjoyable and tense short game. Essentially you roll dice (with images of infantry, artillery, cavalry and generals) to match corresponding symbols on 14 card discs representing regions of the world. At the start of the game no player owns any of the 14 discs. On your turn you roll your dice and then decide, based on what you roll, onto which disc you will place matching symbol types. You then roll the remaining dice to try to match the remaining symbols on the disc. If you cannot match any of the required lines of symbols you remove one die and roll the remaining dice. You keep rolling until you either match the remaining symbols on the disc which allows you to claim it, or you run out of dice and play passes to the player on your left. Each disc is worth a certain amount of victory points.

The Risk Express box is actually a plastic dice rolling tray.

Discs are coloured and each colour represents a continent. Obviously Europe and Africa have more discs than say South America or Australia. If you claim all the discs of a continent you can turn them over and they are then worth a victory point total which is worth more than the individual discs combined. The other advantage is that when they are turned over your discs cannot be attacked and claimed by other players. To claim a disc owned by another player you must fulfill all the required dice combinations as well as roll a further general symbol.

I shot to an early lead and looked to have the game in the bag. Friendless and Harley22 then attacked me and took over some of my regions. It was then anyone's game and came down to Friendless taking a last disc with the required roll of a symbol on his last die roll (before it would then have been my turn with a chance to snatch the win). It was a tense couple of last turns and Friendless' winning roll caused us all to cheer. I find that luck, so often disparaged by many, can be an important and fun part of games. This was my first play of Risk Express and I found it to be an elegant and enjoyable game. It was only after I came home and was logging my plays on BoardGameGeek that I found that it was designed by Reiner Knizia!

Final scores were Friendless taking the win with 15 points, myself 2nd with 13 points and Harley22 3rd with 7 points.

And after an evening of great company and fun games and with midnight fast approaching I took my leave.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More Severe Weather

Another storm hit Brisbane late Wednesday night. Some areas received up to 250 mm (10 inches) of rain causing extensive flooding. There has been widespread commuter chaos, more homes damaged and sadly another death (an 85-year-old woman who died when a car was carried away by raging floodwaters west of Brisbane). Thankfully we're all safe and suffered no further damage to our house.

Here are some photos I took early this morning of Kedron Brook where it passes under a bridge along Dawson Parade at Arana Hills in Brisbane's northwest. Normally the stream in this location is about 1.5 m (5 feet) wide with a depth of about 30 cm (1 foot).

Note the pathway which is totally under water.

It's plain to see that the water level had been at least a metre higher at its peak.

What was once a stream I could have jumped across is now a swollen river.

More storms are predicted to hit this evening.

UPDATE: Another storm did hit this evening. However, in our area it was just some rain which soon stopped but there was a lot of thunder and lighting. The power was again knocked out so we had no electricity from 7.00 pm to 10.30 pm.

Here's a couple of photos of the approaching storm.

The weather bureau has predicted further storms over the weekend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

67th Anniversary of the Sinking of HMAS Sydney

A memorial service was held at the Shrine of Remembrance in Brisbane city this morning to mark the 67th anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Sydney in World War II. I was able to take some photos. All photos can be clicked on for a larger image.

HMAS Sydney was sunk on 19 November 1941 with the loss of all 645 hands, which represented the greatest loss of life in an Australian warship, and the largest Allied vessel to sink with all hands during the war.

At about 4.00pm on 19 November 1941, off the West Australian coast, the Sydney sighted and challenged what was initially thought to be a merchant ship. The merchant ship was actually the German merchant raider Kormoran disguised and sailing under a false flag. The Sydney closed to within about 1000 metres when the Kormoran surprised her by opening fire at point-blank range with concealed artillery and torpedoes.

The Kormoran was also badly damaged in the exchange and had to be scuttled by the crew. German survivors reported last seeing the Sydney on fire as she disappeared over the horizon. The fate of HMAS Sydney and her 645 crew has been a mystery for over 60 years. It was only on 16 March 2008 that the wreck was finally discovered.

The wreck of the Sydney will be treated as a war grave and protected under the 1976 Historic Shipwrecks Act.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Storm Damage Photos

Monday afternoon, 24 hours after the storm, we took a quick drive around our local area. The following photos were taken from our car as we drove through Arana Hills and Keperra. We didn't go near the harder hit suburbs of The Gap or Ferny Grove due to inaccessible roads and slow traffic.

You can click on all photos for a larger image.

The Morning After

The morning after the storm we were still without electricity. I decided to go for a walk around our local area to see the damage. Maddie came along for the walk.

A house in the next street lost its roof.

The local Police Citizens Youth Club had its fence blown over.

A fallen tree at the local athletics track and field oval.

Fallen trees near the playground at Leslie Patrick park.

Maddie in front of more fallen trees near the playground.

Maddie on one of the many fallen trees near the entrance to Leslie Patrick park.

A bike pathway crossing Kedron Brook at Arana Hills. Note the steel rails pulled out of the cement on the right.

A Perfect Storm

Sunday 16 November in Brisbane was hot and humid. About 4 o'clock that afternoon we experienced what has now been described as the worst storm to hit Brisbane in 25 years.

About 10 minutes before the storm struck. Even though it was only early afternoon it became so dark that the street lights came on.

The storm hit with a fury. It was like a mini-hurricane. The howling force of the wind caused rain and hail to fly horizontally. Lightning flashed constantly overhead. Within minutes of the storm hitting we lost power. The storm cell has since been described as having the force of a Category 2 cyclone. It was incredible.

Thankfully we suffered only relatively little damage. A tree at the side of our house had its trunk snapped in two and fell down. Luckily it missed the house and only caused minor damage to the fence. We had an amazing 82 mm (over 3 inches) of rain in 30 minutes. At the height of the storm I was bailing out water with a bucket from in front of the main entrance to our house. A pile of towels thrown into the entrance and much bailing and sweeping prevented the water from getting too far. However there was water damage to mats and items in our garage and on our back deck. The pool was littered with foliage debris. It was all pretty hectic.

The map below is from We're at Everton Hills in the Severe Damage circle to the south of the map.

One 20 year old man lost his life at Chermside when he was trapped in a storm water drain and drowned. It was believed he, and a friend who survived, had been taking photos of graffiti in the drains.

After the storm had passed Deb went for a quick drive to where her business was located at Arana Hills. Luckily there was no damage but flood waters came within a metre of the front steps. She was able to take some photos nearby.

An hour after the storm passed. Flooded intersection of Dawson Parade and Patricks Road at Arana Hills.

Over 240,000 homes and businesses in South-East Queensland were without electricity as a result of the storm causing trees to bring down power lines. We spent an evening sitting by candlelight and listening to the radio. We didn't get power back on until Monday morning, some 16 hours later.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gaming With Grandma - 81

Well we haven't played any board games for over a month now. Grandma has still been visiting on Saturday mornings but we've been doing other things. It's warmed up enough to swim so we've been spending a lot of time in the pool. Also Georgia is now of an age where she's starting to drop the morning nap which means it's more difficult to play games when a two (almost three) -year-old is wanting attention.

However, this morning we did get to play a game. My wife, Debbie, recently picked up a second-hand Ravensburger children's game called Cat & Mouse for $2.00. It's a roll-and-move game but has some lovely components. Of note is the large plastic cheese in the centre of the board.

The object of the game is to be the first to claim five pieces of cheese. On your turn you roll the die. It's a special die with only 1 to 3 on the faces. You move clockwise that many spaces. Depending on the space you land on you can either grab one or two pieces of cheese, give a cheese back to the bank, or move Max the cat to any space (Max will scare any mice on the space and they drop a piece of cheese). If a mouse lands on a space containing a ladder you get to climb to the top of the wedge of cheese and drop your mouse down a hole in the middle. Your mouse will then slide down through the cheese and out through one of the holes to a random space. After you've moved your mouse you must move Max the cat clockwise one space. Any mouse on the space that Max moves to must give back a piece of cheese.

And that's basically it. Not that much fun for adults but it should keep the kids amused for a while. We played three games.

Game 1: Maddie 5, Grandma 4, Me 2
Game 2: Maddie 5, Grandma 3, Me 2
Game 3: Me 5, Maddie 1, Grandma 0

Friday, November 07, 2008

Gears of War 2

The fate of Mankind is in my hands...

Gears of War 2 was released in Australia today. I thoroughly enjoyed the first Gears of War so the sequel was on my short list of must-buy games for my Xbox 360 in 2008. I ended up getting it this morning at Big W in the city for a very reasonable release-day price.

Now it's time for me to go and blow away some Locusts!

Oh No You Didn't!

I just had to share this song. I love it so much. Not only has it got a catchy tune it's also very funny. It's by the Wojahn Brothers and was written to promote the release of the video game Mercenaries 2: World in Flames by Pandemic Studios.

Here are the lyrics. Feel free to sing along in your best Mercs voice!

Oh no, Oh no, Oh no
Yo Yo Yo
Oh no you didn't
Sucker tried to play me
But you never paid me, Neva
Oh no you didn't
Payback is a' coming
You will be runnin', foreva
Oh no you didn't
Until I get my vengeance
I will never end this mayhem
Oh no you didn't
I'm a mercenary
You ain't got a prayer, you owe Me!
Oh no you didn't

Oh no you didn't [x4]
Didn't you, oh no
You didn't pay me what you owe, me
So now its over for you!

Yo yo, check it out
Oh no you didn't

First you try to trap me
Then you bust a cap in my ass
Oh no you didn't
Such humiliation will bring annihilation
At Last!
Oh no you didn't
It will be delicious
When I get vicious tomorrow
Oh no you didn't
Theres no second chances
You will do the dance of sorrow
Oh no you didn't

Oh no you didn't [x4]
Didn't you, oh no
You didn't pay me what you owe, me
So now its over for you!

What a fool
Alright come on!
Oh no you didn't

Better watch your back boy, keep runnin
This ain't just a game
I'll never stop coming
I got my arsenal
I put out the call
And when I finish yall
You'll be a rag doll

Fool tried to diss me
Now ya gonna wish you were dead
Oh no you didn't
After I deliver
Your blood will be a river, of red
Oh no you didn't
Better be aware when noones there to defend you
Oh no you didn't
So many ways to kill
It's gonna be a thrill to end youuuuu
Oh no you didn't

Oh no you didn't [x4]
Didn't you, oh no
You didn't pay me what you owe, me
So now its over for you!

Oh no, Oh no, Oh no
Oh no you didn't

Here's a video of the Wojahn Brothers doing a live rendition of their song.


Here are some pictures of two cave-trolls I sculpted to use as Behemoth elements in my Hordes of the Things Lord of the Rings Mordor army. They are 15 mm scale and stand approximately 30 mm tall from their feet to the top of their heads.

I much prefer the sculpt on the left. He has a more dynamic and threatening pose.

I smell man-flesh!

They stand on bases 40 mm x 40 mm. For more info on how I sculpted them click on this link.

Unfortunately, they have never been used in combat. Oh well, one day I'll finish my HOTT Lord of the Rings-themed armies and then these trolls will be let loose on the gaming table. One day.