Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Game Review - Kingdomino

Kingdomino was the Spiel des Jahres (German Board Game of the Year) winner for 2017 so I was naturally intrigued. There are 3 levels of the Spiel des Jahres: a children's game award, a family game award and an "advanced" or "strategic" game award. Kingdomino won in the standard/family category so it fit into a sweet spot for my family of gamers.

The theme of the game is that each player is a ruler in a land trying to build up their kingdom to contain the most prosperous swaths of different types of terrain ranging from deserts to mountains to lakes and others in between. That said, the theme is very light in this game so it's doubtful you'll feel like a regal Lord or an imperialist land baron without some serious role playing at the table.

The mechanics of the game are based on game play from dominoes (hence the mash-up in the game title). The game consists of a number of rectangular tiles (the number varies based on number of players). Each rectangle can be thought to split down the middle like a domino with each side containing an image of one terrain type or another...for example a tile may have a forest on one half and water on the other half...or you may find the double-mountain tile or some other tile with the same terrain across the entire tile.

The twists to the game that differentiate it from dominoes come in the way you select your tiles, the way you place them in your tableau to build your kingdom and the way you score at the end of the game.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Book Review - Red Planet

I still haven't read much by Heinlein and consistently hearing that he's the "master" or "father" of science fiction, I keep feeling like I need to seek him out more often. I happened to find a copy of Red Planet at our local used book store so I decided to give it a try.

The edition I read included an introduction that informed me that this was one of Heinlein's "juvenile" novels or "boy books." The introduction also included a description of the "censorship" that happened by way of severe editing of this book in its initial release (as well as commentary on the heavy editing of Heinlein's other books). The intro made it clear that the edition I was reading had been restored to Heinlein's original edition, reverting the edits that Heinlein had objected to. The intro alluded to a couple of the edits (such as removing/minimizing references to weapon use by the boys and information as to the biological nature of Willis, the Martian "pet" of our protagonist). It's interesting to think of these types of content as potentially controversial or threatening to readers of the 1940s and 1950s. I suppose part of the reaction was due to this being aimed at child readers but my 21st century sensibilities found no objection to the content called out by the intro. Still, I'm not sure what else may have been trimmed or modified so I can't wholly condemn either the editor or the author.

The story is a fairly simple one but with a couple of interesting twists to keep the adventure intriguing and to help propel the plot. The book takes place on Mars in the distant future. Mankind has begun colonizing Mars and is currently just a couple of generations into the process. They have numerous colonies on the planet and have a system of migration from north-to-south and back in order to try and stay in the more "temperate" zones of the Martian seasons. Colonists live under the rule of a combination of government and corporate oversight while also reporting to absentee leaders back on Earth.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Book Review - The Wise Man's Fear

Even though I was late to the party when I finally read The Name of the Wind, I was a little relieved to know that I wouldn't have to wait 4 years to read the second book in the series. Instead, I was able to immediately pick up a copy of The Wise Man's Fear and add it to my "to read" list (sliding it past a couple of other books already in line).

The first novel really drew me in with wonderful imagery, beautiful writing and a fabulously immersive and intriguing story. The second novel takes each of those things I already loved and refines them even more. I grew more and more impressed by Rothfuss' writing style and loved the story with every page I turned. Knowing that the third (and final?) book in the series has not yet been released, I intentionally slowed down my reading a bit to stretch out the enjoyment.

This second novel picks up where the first ended. It gives a slight interlude to reacquaint the reader with the world and the characters before diving headlong into the story. In spite of this brief settling in period, I wouldn't recommend a new reader skip straight to book two...there's too much world and character building in the first book to gloss over.

Like the first book, we are hearing the story of Kvothe as he narrates his life to a man (the Chronicler) who will write his biography. There are brief breaks that bring us back to the "present time" for Kvothe and the others to grab a bite to eat or deal with issues in the current time. I felt like these 'intermissions' had a little more meat to them in this book. Partly they expanded the potential for a new plot/story to unfold after we finally finish hearing Kvothe's biography to this point.

In the history told in Wise Man's Fear we learn about two major periods of Kvothe's life.

Books Read in 2017

For the past few years (20162015, 2014, 20132012, 2011, 2010, 2009) I've had a goal to read and review a bunch of books over the course of each year.

My goal had been to average a book per week and end up with 50 books read and reviewed at the end of the year. I usually don't include smaller books (early middle grade, picture books, etc) unless I feel really strongly about them. For the past couple of years I've dropped well below my 50 and only ended up reviewing 9 books last year (though I did read more than that). I don't know if I'll get back to the ~50 range, but we'll see what I can do. Wish me luck.

  1. Ready Player One
  2. A Wrinkle In Time
  3. King Solomon's Mines
  4. Peter Pan (re-read)
  5. The Ultimatum
  6. Herland
  7. The Man in the High Castle
  8. The Metamorphosis
  9. Otherworld
  10. A Wise Man's Fear

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Review - Otherworld

Upon reading the book summary for Otherworld, I expected this novel to be somewhere in between Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Mortality Doctrine series by James Dashner. There were plenty of similarities in the sense that the books involve the characters getting dangerously lost in a Virtual Reality game that’s more than it seems. It’s probably a bit closer related to the Dashner series than Ready Player One but it’s different enough to stay fresh and keep me interested.

Otherworld is a virtual reality game that’s expansive and hyper-realistic. At the opening of the book, current technology includes visors, gloves and VR haptic gear…pretty standard concept. The game is in a very exclusive early release phase with gear and access costing hundreds or thousands of dollars. This high entry point and seemingly limited release did have me a little confused later in the book as our characters encounter a ton of other player characters, but I guess there are plenty of hard core gamers who will shell out high costs for something like this.

The book focuses on the main character of Simon. He’s the high school son of ultra-rich parents who are mostly uninvolved with his life except as it comes to scolding him for misbehaving. Through his childhood and early he made a secret friendship with a girl named Kat. Due to the interference of their parents and trouble that got Simon kicked out of multiple schools, Kat is no longer associating with Simon at all and her stepfather has threatened legal action if he finds Simon around. Naturally this doesn’t stop a headstrong teenage boy and he keeps trying to figure out why Kat is being so standoffish towards him.

After a few days there’s a major accident that leaves numerous students dead and others, including Kat, in a coma. Specialists arrive from the Company that created Otherworld and they invite the comatose Kat to participate in a special beta of a Disk. The disk takes comatose patients into a virtual world where they can have a form of life while waiting for their body to heal in the real world. Simon naturally suspects a conspiracy and worries that Kat is in danger. Developing some new alliances, Simon decides to go into the virtual world to save her.