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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen

Friday Free Game: Jetpack Mission

This week, we have another first for the Friday Free Game. This week's game is called Extra Jetpack Mission — as in Extra Sugar-Free Gum. Now, we all know that adver-games are rarely any good, let alone challenging and innovative, but this one offers some very nice graphics, just-hard-enough gameplay and a low barrier to entry to make an experience that is perfect for wasting time while you should be doing something else.

Now, we've all played the umpteen variations on the "mother of all games". I was playing them on my Commodore 64 in the eighties: two cannons shooting at one another (or archers firing arrows, or gorillas throwing bananas... you get the idea). Enter an angle, enter a power, and see if you can guess how to get your bullet to arc correctly so that it lands on your opponent and blows him up. The more recent and more famous incarnation is Scorched Earth, released in 1991, which took the game to an unnecessary level of depth and complexity and entertained us with random quotes when the CPU would blast us to smithereens ("I told you to leave my sister alone!"). The game was inexplicably addictive, maybe due to the lack of real randomness. It was satisfying to finally figure out that if you arc the shot at 72 degrees with 63% power, it would clear the mountains and destroy your older brother's tank.

Well, Jetpack Mission takes this tried-and-true mechanic and puts a small number of interesting twists on it. Let me reiterate: there is nothing new in this game, but it is a nice combination of features seen in other games. The story: Origummy's girlfriend has been kidnapped, and he has to save her by pursuing the villains using his trusty jetpack. And collecting gum. For some reason.

The game uses the arrow keys as well as the mouse. You use the arrow keys to move around the platforms, and use the mouse to jump. You can also hit the arrow keys while in mid-jump to do acrobatics and score extra points. The idea is to jump in such a way that you can collect the gum and land on the platform safely by guesstimating what angle and velocity to jump at. It's tricky enough, especially since it's hard to tell what 50% power means without actually trying it a few times, but the game is forgiving enough that you can mess up a bunch and just keep playing.

So, borrowing the coin-collection mechanic of Mario, the midair tricks mechanic of Tony Hawk, and the angle-and-power mechanic of Scorched Earth, Jetpack Mission manages to deliver a fun time with some really nice graphics for a free game. I found myself playing for way longer than I had intended to, and I knew that despite it being a glorified advertisement for gum, Jetpack Mission is a great little game. Check it out.



Quotes like this are why I love Overheard in New York.


Friday Free Game: Blueprint

This week's Friday Free Game is a unique puzzler called Blueprint. The object is to arrange the board such that the ball reaches its target. To do so, click and drag the various ramps, conveyors, springs and tubes so that the ball is guided to its destination.

There are about thirty different puzzles available, with a nice range of complexity, but even the easy ones aren't that simple. Arrange the board and then hit the red "START" button to cause the ball to drop. Sometimes you have to let the ball drop further than on other boards to build up momentum. For example, on the second easiest puzzle (in the lower-left corner), if you arrange the parts in the obvious way, it won't work because the ball doesn't have enough speed to hit the target from underneath. The graphics are good, the levels are well-designed, and the challenge is definitely there.

This is a traditional puzzler; there are no time limits and you'll be spending most of your time staring at the board, arranging and rearranging. If you're looking for a game that's fast-paced and action-packed, go play something else. But if you like brain teasers, this one is just the ticket.


Sex Advice from a D&D Player

Man, Gnomie. You always manage to find the gems.

Many thanks to the small, furry one for providing a link to this blog post featuring Sex Advice from a Dungeons and Dragons Player. Some of the highlights:

My lover and I enjoy role-play, but I’ve gotten tired of the same cliché scenarios like student/teacher and boss/secretary. Any recommendations for new roles that might help spice it up?

I don’t know what system you’re playing, but "student/teacher" and "boss/secretary" do not sound like choices that would inspire one to role-playing greatness. Consider a classic like "cleric of the watcher from the depths/virgin" or "half-orc paladin/gelatinous cube." And remember, silken rope may be more expensive, but it’s nearly half the weight in encumbrance.

I’ve been dating someone really great for a few months, but he’s never referred to me as his girlfriend. How do I take it to another Level?

While the obvious answer is "“Accomplish a story task in the boyfriend track for XP equal or greater to your next level threshold," I get the feeling you might be hinting that you want to descend into the fetid labyrinth that festers beneath his ancient wizard’s tower. In that case the stairs are in quadrant M23, behind the Throne of the Kobold Hetman.

My girlfriend is older and more experienced than me. What can I do to impress her in bed?

Ah ha! Clearly you are looking for Feats, introduced in the Third Edition ruleset, which offer a variety of abilities that can be used to impress or distract your opponent. Consider: "Acrobatic," "Alertness," "Animal Affinity," "Armor Proficiency (Medium)," and "Athletic." (And that’s just from the As!)

See also: "Blind-Fight," "Cleave," "Craft Rod," "Deflect Arrows," "Enlarge Spell," "Extend Spell," "Greater Two-Weapon Fighting," "Iron Will," "Mounted Combat," "Rapid Reload," or "Shot on the Run." (Actually, pretty much all the Feats are gold.)

Careful how hard you laugh at this one. Laugh too hard and it's obvious you once cracked up with your friends in Chess club about the "Rod of Lordly Might".

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George Washington Lyrics

I can't get Washington out of my head! So to satisfy some bizarre compulsion, I had to transcribe the lyrics since I couldn't find them anywhere online. I consider this a service to my own sanity:

Washington, Washington
Six foot eight
Weighs a fucking ton
Opponents beware
Opponents beware
He's coming
He's coming
He's coming

Let me lay it on the line
He had two on the vine
I mean two sets of testicles
So divine
On a horse made of crystal
He patrolled the land
With the mason ring and schnauzer
And his perfect hands

Here comes George
In control
Women dug his snuff
And his gallant stroll
Ate opponents' brains
And invented cocaine
He's coming
He's coming
He's coming

Washington, Washington
Six foot twenty
Fucking killing for fun
Spread, spread
The Delaware
He's coming
He's coming
He's coming

Sue me if I go too fast
But the sons of his opponents
Wished that he was their dad
Got a wig for his wig
Got a brain for his heart
He'll kick you apart
He'll kick you apart

He'll save children
But not the British children
He'll save children
But not the British children
He'll save children
But not the British children
He'll save children
But not the British children

(drum sounds)

He had a pocket full of horses
Fucked the shit out of bears
Threw a knife into heaven
And could kill with a stare
He made love like an eagle
Falling out of the sky
Killed his sensei in a duel
And he never said why

Washington, Washington
Twelve stories high
Made of radiation
The present beware,
The future beware
He's coming
He's coming
He's coming

Did I mention his four nuts?
Well he also had four dicks
If you took off his boot
You'd see the dicks growing off his feet
I heard that motherfucker had like thirty god damn dicks

He once held an opponent's wife's hand
In a jar of acid at a party

Dude, Washington is a total f*cking bad ass.

The animation is brilliant, the lyrics are gold. I find it hard to believe I couldn't find this anywhere else online. Well, now you can. All of you who yearn to memorize the lyrics, because Cox and Combes have devoured a portion of your brain, your search is over.


This is quickly becoming one of the most popular posts on my humble little blog. For those of you here for the first time, welcome! Why not check out the Friday Free Game, if you like that sort of thing. You see, you'd never know it, but this was supposed to be a game design blog, but it hasn't exactly turned out that way.

Since you like George Washington, might I direct you to some other campiness I've blogged about: like awful Star Wars costumes, geek classics and retro video games.

Or leave. And try to get Washington out of your head. Good luck with that.

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Friday Free Game: KDice

This week's Friday Free Game is a first in two ways: it's the first sequel to a previous Friday Free Game and it's also the first multiplayer game I've recommended. The Friday Free Game was supposed to be about keeping you busy for just a few minutes by entertaining you in a way that was challenging and original. You might say that an eight-player remake that lasts for about 20-30 minutes doesn't fit this bill, but since the original game was so well-loved (for example, DanC of LostGarden was obsessed for a time), and since I've had so much fun playing the multi-player version, I just had to share. The Friday Free Game is about fun, after all, and that's what this version is all about.

KDice is a direct descendant of Dice Wars (FFG 08/18/06), so there's not much to say about the basic gameplay here, because this version is nearly identical to the original. Except now you get a rating and can join in the battle against other people online, and even play your friends (okay, BigDog.... it's time for us to see who's really better at this game).

A few caveats to those who played the original Dice Wars and are thinking they'll go into this game and just mop up. First, remember this isn't some wonky AI you're playing against. People are much smarter than computers when it comes to strategy. You'll have to use a little bit of psychology in order to stay alive. Second, this game has become massively popular, and so the server tends to bog down. This can cause problems especially if you're in the middle of a game; your turn times out pretty fast and you are marked as "Away" until you hit the "Sit In" button. Also, the game also suffers from the same problems as the original, including having no control over where your reinforcements are placed. Also, the random placement of players and random turn selection can put you in a bad position just by luck.

All that said, I've had a great time playing KDice and you will, too. Check it out.


Strange Maps

Steve Jackson (you know him, of course: GURPS, Illuminati, yadda, yadda, yadda) has a blog/newsletter called The Daily Illuminator. This past Staurday, he recommended a blog called Strange Maps as the "Illuminated Site of the Week". It's something I would have done, if I had had the time and the idea: its creator periodically posts interesting maps of lands that never were and places that might have been. It's a fascinating look at history and an exercise of the imagination through a cartographic lens. Check out the maps of Mongo (Flash Gordon), the United States of Britain (what the UK would look like if absorbed by the US), the Middle East of the future as imagined by the Armed Forced Journal, and a map of the Lunatic Asylum Districts of Pennsylvania.

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation

I have been looking for a two-player strategy game and read favorable reviews of Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, so I decided to pick up a copy. The game is by Reiner Knizia, perhaps the most famous game designer of the German school of board games that emphasizes simple mechanics and strategic gameplay. Knizia has been criticized in the past for his games lacking flavor, but this game is sure to silence his critics. Not only does LOTR:TC have a nearly perfect mix of strategy, luck, bluffing and resource management, but it also succeeds in capturing the feel of Tolkien's trilogy. This faithfulness to theme may be the game's undoing, but I will elaborate on that a bit later.

The board is laid out like a diamond, and at one corner is the Shire, the home base of the Fellowship, and the other is Mordor, the stronghold of Sauron. Each player gets nine characters and begins with four of them in his home base and the other five scattered on his side of the board. Figures are placed inside stands with one plain side so that one's opponent does not know the location and identity of the pieces on the board, like Stratego. The object for the Fellowship player is simple: get Frodo into Mordor so that he can destroy the One Ring. Sauron can win by either getting three of his minions into the Shire or by killing the Ringbearer before he reaches his goal.

Each character has a special ability that alters the rules. For example, Frodo may slip away if he is attacked, Boromir automatically defeats anyone he fights but is defeated himself in the process, the Flying Nazgul may move anywhere on the board, and Shelob returns home automatically after she gobbles Hobbits. These special abilities and their interactions are what make the game interesting, and a skilled player will base his strategy on figuring out how best to employ each character at each stage of the game. For the Fellowship player, understanding and utilizing each character correctly is the key to winning, because the dark forces of Sauron are at a distinct advantage in combat.

When combat is resolved, each player must play one of nine cards he holds in his hand. The Sauron character gets Strength Cards with values from 1 through 6, plus three special Text Cards. The Fellowship gets Strength 1 through 5 and four Text Cards. A large part of the strategy invovled in the game revolves around which card one chooses to play. You want to keep track of where characters go when they are revealed, and since you know what cards your opponent has played, you can try to outsmart your opponent by guessing which card he will use.

The guessing games that go on between the two players is what really makes this game shine. It's fun to try to figure out ways of setting up your characters strategically, thinking about all of the special abilities in play. What's more, in the deluxe edition, there are also two alternate forms of play, one of which consists of a drafting process. I'm a sucker for any board game that uses CCG mechasnics as effectively as this. I played this game for the first time as Sauron and lost because I didn't understand how to play the game. The key rule to remember in this game is that your pieces only move forward. The dark side has several mobile pieces and so you might be tempted to bum-rush the significantly weaker Fellowship player. I was out of position and Frodo slipped into Mordor. One molten ring.

But I wanted to play again.

And so did my girlfriend, which is always good. I won the second game, but here was where I got worried. It just doesn't seem fair. It really does seem like the odds are stacked against the Fellowship. Let me explain what I mean.

Each character is given a strength rating which indicates its effectiveness in battle:

Fellowship Character Strength   Sauron Character Strength
Gandalf 5 Cave Troll 9
Aragorn 4 Witch King 5
Legolas 3 Balrog 5
Gimli 3 Shelob 5
Merry 2 Saruman 4
Sam 2 Black Rider 3
Pippin 1 Flying Nazgul 3
Frodo 1 Warg 2
Boromir 0* Orcs 2
If you look just at sheer numbers, Sauron's average strength (4.2) is about two points higher than the Fellowship's (2.3), but the special abilities really tell the story here. Boromir is valuable in that he can take out the Cave Troll if you need him to, and Gandalf can take him out, too, if you still have your 5 card. But the other characters are generally fighting losing battles. You just have to pray you can maneuver Gimli in to kill the orcs before they kill Pippin and Legolas first.

I guess the reason this seems troubling is that while I trust Dr. Knizia to make a balanced game, the rulebook does say,

We recommend that you play two games. Each player should play the Fellowship player once and the Sauron player once. The winner of each of these games receives one point for each of his characters that remain on the board at the end of the game (the loser receives no points). After two games, the player who has the highest total number of points is the overall winner.
This feels a little like a skewed game if he's going all meta-game here, though I suppose it does artificially balance what seems like an unbalanced game. I want to try playing a few more times as the Fellowship before passing judgment, but it does seem like it at least takes a lot more clever play on the part of the Fellowship player.

Overall, it's a good game. Fun, fast, and well-designed, a joy to look at. Try it. You'll like it.

YouTube Links

Two great videos from a good friend. Rejection: Just watch it. 9 minutes 20 of insane goodness. And George Washington. Dude, Washington is a bad ass.

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Friday Free Game: The Missile Game 3D

The Missile Game is incredibly simple, but tough: navigate a missile through a tunnel, avoiding obstacles along the way. Sounds easy until you try. You have to move your mouse to fly the missile from the first person perspective, and the game gets progressively faster as it goes on. There are only nine levels, and after several tries I never got further than level three and still wanted to play again. Give it a try; it's the perfect ten-minute distraction from all of that stuff you're avoiding doing.


White and Nerdy

Thanks, Sparrow. I didn't know "Weird" Al Yankovic wrote a song about me.

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Anthony's Song

If you don't get the title of this post, then you're definitely not from Long Island.

My time living in Manhattan is officially over. I've moved in with my wonderful girlfriend into a new apartment in Astoria, Queens. It's a big change. As thrilled as I am to be moving in with her, I can't help but feel a bit sad to be leaving this great city, despite all of its warts and scars. The skyscrapers, the Dutch architecture, the French restaurants, the tourist trap that is Little Italy and the San Generro festival, the fashionistas, the street performers, the gawking Europeans, the gawking Americans, the trendy places, the dingy places, the way-too-cool-for-you places, the clubs with no sign, the surly bartenders, the self-important Wall Street types, the good pizza delivery at 4:00 AM, the ever-present police in Midtown, the alien landscape of Chinatown, the oasis that is Central Park, the gigantic rats in the subways, the feeling of limitless potential each time I stepped on to the street. I will miss living in Gotham, and I am leaving behind a long string of memories. It's a time I will never forget. But it's time to move forward; on to bigger and better things.

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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.