Pandemic Legacy (game 1)

Pandemic Legacy 1.pngBack in February, I wrote a review of Pandemic.  Pandemic Legacy is a game which is based on Pandemic, and, at least at first, plays almost identically to that game. But it is a ‘Legacy’-type game. The term ‘Legacy’ comes from the very first game to do something very similar, “Risk Legacy”. The idea of a Legacy game is that you play a series of games, and the game evolves as you progress. Legacy games come with sealed components, rules, instructions, etc. that you are not supposed to look at until the game instructs you to do so. When you are told to do so, changes can happen to the game in progress and potentially future games. You may be instructed to place stickers into your rulebook, to add or change rules. You can get stickers to place on your game board, and/or game cards. You may even be instructed to destroy a card in the game, or write on a card, or write on the game board, thus making permanent changes to the game. Legacy games are meant to be played in a series from start to finish, and then never played again in some cases (though I’ve heard that Risk Legacy can be played again and again in its final state). Players may be called on to make decisions that will affect future games, so it’s possible that two different groups of players playing the same legacy game may have different experiences. Note that there are two editions of the game — Red and Blue. But both are identfical, except for the color of the box. The reasoning behind having two editions is that, if you are so inclined, you could theoretically have two simultaneous Pandemic Legacy ‘seasons’ going on at the same time with two different gaming groups.

maxresdefault (2)Because the game has a lot of secrets in it, and I do not do spoiler reviews, I can’t tell you in detail about what happened in my first game, but I can tell you the basics, and how I and my fellow players felt about our experience.

Pandemic-legacy-dossiers-secretsFirst of all, part of the fun of playing Pandemic Legacy is that you share the experience. Pandemic Legacy is for 1 to 4 players, but we had 4 players in our group, including me — 3 of our regular game group, plus one person who dropped by who wanted to join us. Normally the rules recommend that all players be experienced with the standard rules of Pandemic and that they have at least a couple of games of that under their belt before they tackle Pandemic Legacy. In this case, we’d been having such a terribly hard time trying to schedule our game, and having to cancel it time and time again, that this time, we decided to go ahead with the game and simply give the new player a brief overview of the rules, and then hand-hold him through a lot of the game. And that seemed to be ok with him, so that’s what we did.

Pandemic-Legacy-Legacy-DeckI’m only going to tell you stuff that you’d know if you simply opened the game book and started playing. Pandemic Legacy comes with an extra deck of cards called the “Legacy deck”. You are not supposed to look through the deck, and you are supposed to be EXTREMELY careful in handling the deck so that the order of the cards remain as they are set up. Note that they are marked to specify an order, but because they contain secrets that you aren’t supposed to know, the rules suggest that if you accidentally drop the deck and they become scattered, that you get someone who is not playing the game to pick them up and reorder them for you. Fortunately, that never happened for us. But I’m mentioning that so you get an idea about how the game is programmed to tell you to do different things at different times.

When we start the first game, we were supposed to start drawing cards from the legacy deck, and keep drawing until the top of the card says ‘stop’. The first thing it tells us is what the goal of the game is (and at the start, it is the same as standard Pandemic, to cure all 4 diseases). But it also tells us that the as soon as we draw and handle our second Epidemic card, that we are supposed to draw again to get new instructions. And that’s what we did (what happened then, you’ll have to discover for yourself). And that’s basically how things operate in a legacy game — you keep playing according to whatever the current rules are, at least until certain conditions are met, at which time, things can change.

I’m not going to go into great detail, other than to say that the legacy deck is there to help us tell a story. When that second Epidemic hit, there was a twist in the tale, and we had to deal with it. I won’t give any specifics, but I did have to destroy a game component… and doing that was oddly liberating. I’ve heard that some people find it slightly traumatic the first time, and maybe even subsequent times in legacy games when they read that they are supposed to destroy something in their game. Not me. I knew that it was going to happen at some point. Maybe at multiple points. I knew that because I had read about the game, read about other people’s experiences (not spoiler reviews, but just articles like this one, from that person’s point of view). I will say that a couple of my fellow players did have an almost horrified look on their face as I ripped up the card.

Now there are other things about this game that I can talk about because it’s right in the rules.  There’s something new in Pandemic Legacy that isn’t in the original game, and that is that every city has a panic level. It starts out at 0. Whenever an outbreak happens in a city, the panic level increases by 1. And that’s a permanent change. There are stickers that you put on the map, and the panic level of a city after enough outbreaks can go all the way up to 5. But in the first game, odds are that if you know what you are doing, you won’t have any cities that go beyond 1. That said, eventually, I know that after a couple of more games that that will not always be the case.

Panic level 1, the city is unstable, but there isn’t any further effect. At panic level 2 or 3, the city is rioting. Destroy any research station there — it cannot be rebuilt. Also you cannot take direct flights into or out of a rioting city. At 4, the city is collapsing — you have to discard a card of the same color to enter it via land or ocean. At 5, the city has fallen. You now need to discard 2 instead of 1 card of the city’s color to enter it. If your character is in a city when it has fallen, he is lost.

There’s actually another way that a character can be lost — if your character is in a city during an outbreak, that character gains a scar, which is a sticker you have to put on your character’s card to indicate a negative effect. If you have to gain a scar and you already are at the maximum number of scars for that character, he is lost instead. A lost character is dead — you have to tear up the character card.

Note that the game starts you with 5 basic characters — if you run out of characters, you will be forced to play a civilian. A civilian is a character that has no special abilities (But he can’t gain scars either).

Every game you play, you have a specific funding level. For game 1, your funding level is 4. You know those special cards that were in the deck that allowed you to do certain things, such as Airlift — well Pandemic Legacy has cards like that also (some are the same as in the original game, some are different). Well for every level of funding that you have, you can choose to include one of those special cards in your deck. If you win a game, then your funding level for the next game is 2 less. If you lost your first game, then the funding level is 2 greater. So that will make the game slightly easier.

We happened to win our first game, but we didn’t really have time to resolve the victory (we’ll do that next week, hopefully). Besides changes in funding, there are other results that we get to deal with. The first game takes place in the first half of January, and the whole series lasts a year. Had we lost the first game, we’d have to play a second game for the second half of January. But because we won, we proceed to February. Also, because we won, supposedly, the Legacy deck may tell us that we start with a special bonus for our next game. Regardless of whether we win or lose, we get to choose two upgrades for our next game. These can include making a research station permanent, turning a city card into an event card (it then can operate as either one), giving a character an upgrade, or giving a disease a positive mutation, making it easier to cure the next time.

20160124_172907Our game, as is often the case for normal Pandemic, felt incredibly close, but the reality probably was that we had a very good start, and luck seemed to be on our side, so the odds may have been in our favor. That said, everyone was smiling when we finally did win the game. It was an incredible feeling. And everyone was excited to play the next round  next week. Part of the excitement was that now that everyone had a feel for how the legacy system worked, that we really wanted to know what surprises would be in store for next time. I guess we’ll find out.


Suicide Squad

Let me preface this by saying that I really wanted to see this right when it first opened, before everyone was talking about it. But I’ve been sick with I-don’t-know-what — either with a bad cold or flu. I’m better now but unfortunately, that means I couldn’t see it without being inundated by comments from friends and acquaintances and bloggers that I listen to and so on. But I tend to enjoy comic book films. I didn’t go into this film with high expectations. I was just hoping to have some nice mindless fun. So on with my review.

You probably know the premise of the film by now, if you are reading the review. Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis) is trying to create an elite team of soldiers, out of some of the worst criminals she can find. plus a few others And she’s not above using blackmail and threats to convince them, criminal or otherwise, to cooperate. The team is lead by Rick Flagg, played by The Killing’s Joel Kinnamon. His girlfriend, Dr. June Moone (Cara Delavingne) is possessed by an ancient and powerful mystical spirit — when she lets the spirit take over, she calls herself The Enchantress. There’s also Deadshot (Will Smith), an assassin-for-hire.  Harley Quinn (Margot Robie) used to be a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, until she fell in love with Arkham’s most insane inmate, The Joker (Jared Leto), helped him escape, and was eventually driven mad by him (although the order that all of that happened is not 100% clear). Then there is Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a metahuman who can create and control fire. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), probably the unlikeliest one in the entire bunch, can (you guessed it) throw boomerangs. And finally, there’s Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who played Mr. Echo in “Lost”) a metahuman who has a crocodile-like skin and sharp teeth. We also meet Slipknot (Adam Beach), who can climb anything we are told (though his lack of a back-story is all too obvious a sign of things to come). And finally, there’s Katana (Karen Fukuhara), who has a magic Katana that steals souls.

It takes nearly half the movie to introduce all of these characters, giving most of them back stories. And then, without spoiling it, they have a job — things have gone horribly wrong in Midway City in (unfortunately) an entirely predictable way — I debated whether saying what the specific way that things go wrong is — on the one hand, yes it’s a spoiler, on the other hand, the movie telegraphs this right from the start. But I’ll err on the side of silence and not say what it is that has gone wrong. But if you actually watch the movie, and you don’t see it coming, you really weren’t paying attention.

Waller has tiny nanobots injected into the rest of the squad’s necks, and she explains that she can cause them to explode via remote control if Rick Flagg dies, or if any of them try to escape of if they even ‘irk’ him.And thus FINALLY the story begins.

First, let me tell you what I liked about the movie. Margot Robie is terrific as  Harley Quinn. She has a perfect mixture of madness and sexuality. She’s certainly a villain in every way. I was also somewhat surprised by Will Smith — let me say right up front that I really liked him in Ali, but I’ve never liked his more comedic or his more iconic ‘Will Smith’ roles (like in “Independence Day”, or “I, Robot”). He was better than that here and the only reason why is that he managed to avoid all of those ‘Will Smith Cliches’ which to me are like fingernails on a chalkboard. The “Oh hell no”s, etc. His performance here was a bit more subdued, and I really appreciated that. It’s a small thing, but it also surprised me in a pleasant way. And I also really liked Joel Kinnamon as Rick Flagg. He’s an actor that I thought did an excellent job in “The Killing”, and he is fairly good here as well. Most of the rest of the cast were adequate, with one exception, which I’ll get to shortly…

Now the bad… Where to start…

The writing was not good. They created a new Joker, played by Jared Leto who was not bad in his role. But he’s written more like a dangerous gangster than the over-the-top murderous but fun-loving psychopath of previous outings. Which I guess is one way of depicting him. But it’s just not as fun as either of the over-the-top performances of Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger. That said, as unexpectedly underwritten as his character was, his appearances in the movie are among the higher points, which isn’t a good sign.

Some of what happens seemed formulaic — the character deaths, even the non-deaths seemed to be by-the-numbers. The villain had to be the villain — totally not unexpected (in fact, it kind of makes Amanda Waller seem incompetent, which undermines her needing to also be entirely evil and in control for the story to work).

And then there’s the villain. Lot’s of people have complained about Marvel’s villains — with a few rare exceptions, Marvel’s villains have been relatively weak, but we forgive that because the heroes are often so much fun to watch. Well, this film has one truly horrible performance by the person playing the villain (Again, spoilers). The ‘evil henchmen’, the things that the Suicide Squad had to fight to make it to the villain just seem to die far too easily. Then the villain itself, well the actor moves in a way that is both distracting and disturbing, but not disturbing in a good way. It’s just embarrassing. I don’t know how much of this to blame on the directing and how much to blame on the actor. It’s just not good. Now as underwhelming as the Joker is in this film, this would have been a far, far better one, had they simply gone with Joker as their main villain.

I had such high hopes for this film after watching the trailers. The marketing for this film was just genius. They highlighted all of the best parts of the film — especially Margot Robie, who is just so fun to watch in almost every scene she’s in. And there is some good in this film. It’s just that there’s so much in it that’s bad that I cannot recommend it. There are parts in it that I really did enjoy. But the parts that are bad are just so incredibly bad.

Now I know that some of you may want to see the film anyway, and I’d urge you to wait until it’s on cable or netflix so you don’t have to pay full price to see it. But just in case you do decide to see it anyway (and I know that some people have liked this film a lot more than I did), then I have to tell you that there is a mid-credit scene that is worth staying to see, seeing as you’ve already paid to see it.

And now for the truly genius part of the film, the trailer:



biblioslayoutBiblios is a light card-drafting game for 2 to 4 players that plays in about 30 minutes. The idea is that you and each of the other players are competing to build the best collection of books.

You start with a board and 5 dice — each die represents the victory point value of having a superior collection of books within a specific category. At the end of the game, if you have, for example, the most books in the brown category, you’ll get the number of points indicated on the brown die. And that number can go up or down, as I’ll explain later.

The game is split up into a “Gift” phase, and an “Auction” phase. In the gift phase, you start by removing certain specific cards depending on the number of players. Then you shuffle the remaining cards and remove a specific number of random cards, so no one will have advanced knowledge of what is and is not left in the deck. Then each player, in turn, will draw, one at a time, a number of cards equal to the total number of players + 1.

With each card, you’ll decide to do one of three things. You can either keep the card for yourself, put the card face up in the middle of the table, or discard it to the auction deck. You can only keep one card for yourself, and you can only place one card into the auction deck. Once you decide what you are doing with that one card, you’ll draw another and repeat the process until you’ve kept 1, given one to auction, and put a number in the middle equal to the number of other players. Then, starting to your left, each player will choose one of the face-up cards to add to his own hand.

There are gold cards representing from 1 to 3 gold — they aren’t worth points, but you’ll be able to use them during the auction phase to purchase cards from the auction deck. There are also a variety of collectable cards in 1 of 5 colors, representing the books, tomes, etc. And they will have specific values on them. And then there are church cards which allow you to manipulate the values of the different categories. They will either be +1 or -1, and they may allow you to change the values of one die or two dice.

The church cards are never added into your hand. When you get one, whether its through keeping it or taking it during the gift phase, or buying it during the auction phase, you immediately increase or decrease the values on one or two dice (as indicated) by 1. That means that you generally want to give those cards to the other players when it’s too early to guess who will be strong in any given color. The later you are in the game, though, when they are revealed, the more valuable they may be.

Once you’ve gone through the entire deck, you  shuffle the auction cards, and then in turn order, the first player turns up the first card, and players take turns bidding on the cards or passing.  If they do not want to bid. If everyone passes, and there is no highest bidder, the card is discarded, and you repeat this with the next player. Note that for gold cards, you are bidding the number of cards that you will discard to take that gold card. For every other card, you are bidding the value of the gold cards you will spend to take that card (and you cannot make change, so you may have to overpay).  Once all cards have gone to bid, you count up your total value in each category, determine who has the highest value. Total up the score, and see who is the winner. Ties in a category are broken by assigning the points to the tied player who has the card closest to the beginning of the alphabet.

This is a very clever, and quick-playing game. It’s easy to learn, easy to teach, and easy enough to get a handle on. You know you want to increase the values of categories that you  think you have the best chances of winning, you know you want to decrease the values in categories that you are sure you will lose.But there are also decisions to be made that may not be easy — do you bid on an item that you

But there are also decisions to be made that may not be easy — do you bid on a card that you don’t want to increase the amount that other players will need to pay to get them? Do you save your money waiting for that really valuable card to come out that you know you know is there? Are you satisfied that you will likely have a majority in a category, or do you continue to bid on cards in that category in order better cement or guarantee that majority? Do you keep an ‘ok’ card, or do you get rid of it to get a chance to obtain something better?

I really enjoyed playing the game, as did the person who I taught. As soon as we finished the first game, he immediately asked to play a second. There certainly is a degree of randomness to the game — at times you’ll be forced to give a really good card to your opponent, and vice versa. Some games you may end up with very little gold, or you may end up with too much gold and not enough good cards. But the whole drafting and auction mechanisms are fun. As soon as we finished our first game, my friend asked me if we could play again. And then when we finished that game, he wanted to play yet again (and that’s in spite of the fact that I shut him out in those first two games). That, in my mind, is the sign of a good filler game — even if you lose, you still had so much fun that you just want to try again.

So my verdict on Biblios is that it’s a really good game — check it out if you want something light and easy.

Richard Feynman

Feynman_2553738bA couple of weeks ago, I started giving some talks — I’m not going to go into any detail about where or why. The talks are basically very brief anecdotes of things in science that I find fascinating. I don’t know all of the subjects I talk about that well, so I do research first, but they are usually things that I’m aware of at least on a superficial level. They aren’t meant to go into any great detail, which is good for me since I’m trying to learn stuff also, as I do them. Anyway, I thought I’d share the one I’m planning on giving next week. Instead of talking about something from science, I’m going to talk about a person who I actually met way back when I was in college. Although some of this can be found in his autobiography, all three of the Los Alamos anecdotes were told to us at a dinner party at Page House at Caltech back around 1980 (give or take), where Mr. Feynman was our guest. The rest, I simply got from his Wikipedia page.

“Instead of my usual science anecdote, I decided instead to talk about an actual scientist, someone who I met back when I was in College, and who was considered to be one of the most brilliant Physicists alive, at least until his death from Cancer back in 1988. But instead of focusing on his scientific achievements, many of which are completely beyond me, and I could never really explain them to you. Instead, I’m going to focus on him as a person.

Richard Feynman was born May 11, 1918, in Queens, NY. His IQ was nothing extraordinary, but at age 15, he taught himself Trigonometry, Advanced Algebra, Infinite Series, Analytic Geometry, and both differential and integral calculus. He applied to Columbia for college but was refused because of a quota they had of Jewish Students. Instead, he attended MIT, where he studied Physics. Before he even graduated, he had already published two papers in Physics journals, and his paper on Cosmic Rays was even quoted by one of the great physicists of the day, Werner Heisenberg. All this before he got his degree.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, was recruited to Los Alamos to work on Uranium enrichment for what would become the Manhattan Project. I got to meet Feynman years later when he was a dinner guest at my student house at Caltech (where he was teaching at the time).

Richard-Feynman-KF012575-Corbis-1725x810_26895One of the many stories he told us was about how bad the security was at Los Alamos. The whole base was surrounded by a fence with barbed wire. Unfortunately, there was a big, gaping hole in the fence that virtually everyone, except for the MPs knew about. Being a practical joker, he decided to illustrate the vulnerability by playing a joke on them. He would sign out to leave the base, sneak back in through the hole in the fence, and then immediately sign out again. He repeated this until the MPs figured out that something was wrong, and only then did he explain the problem.

feynman-letter-to-wifeAnother story he told was with regards to the safes that all of the higher ups had in their offices to store classified documents. One thing he noticed was that nearly everyone when they received a safe, would leave the combination at the default setting, which would usually be 0-0-0.  Also, one other vulnerability he found was that people would always leave their safes open while they were in the office. What most people did not know was that Feynman’s father had been a locksmith so he had picked up a whole lot about locks of all kinds while he was growing up. One thing he could easily do is to look at the open safe and be able to tell immediately what the combination was.  So, of course, instead of telling people about the vulnerability, he played another little joke on them – leaving notes in the sealed safes with the message, “Guess Who?”.

Newcomers to Los Alamos would quite often, late at night, hear the pounding of bongo drums coming from the desert. Such people would always ask about that, and the response would usually be “Oh that’s just crazy Feynman”.

large_pwADoLVt7sO79V9HtTUKLNSPTEtIf you want to hear more stories about Feynman, you can read the first half of his Autobiography, Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman (Adventures of a Curious Character), it’s sequel What do you Care What Other People Think, or see the film “Infinity”, in which he and his wife were played by Matthew Broderick and Patricia Arquette – it tells about his experiences at Los Alamos, and about the relationship with his wife, who was dying of Tuberculosis while he was working there. Or, if you want, I can tell you more stories next time.”

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

20130205-135717Book 16 in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series tells the story of what happens when Rock and Roll music and culture leaks into the Discworld dimension and causes all sorts of mayhem. The novel is similar in concept to his 10th novel, Moving Pictures, which involved Hollywood movie culture.

Imp Y Celyn, a young Harpist from Llamedos comes to Ankh-Morpork seeking his fortune as a musician. Unable to pay the Musician’s guild dues, he meets up with a dwarven hornblower named Glod and a troll percussionist named Lias, to form an unlicensed band. When his harp is destroyed, he finds an unusual guitar at a rather odd music shop. They then decide to create “The Band with Rocks in”. Imp takes on the stage name Buddy (who everyone says ‘looks a bit elvish’ (ie. a combination of Elvis and Buddy Holly), and Lias takes on the name “Cliff”. At one point, Cliff actually says “We’re on a mission from Glod”, an obvious allusion to “The Blues Brothers”. This is Pratchett at his punniest. Later, the recruit Unseen University’s Librarian (an Orangutan — don’t you ever call him an ape) as a keyboard player, but he doesn’t last long. And soon, all over the Ringworld, people become obsessed with music and with “The Band with Rocks In”.

Meanwhile, Death has become obsessed and disturbed by the fact that his memory is perfect, and he decides that he wants to learn how to forget. He leaves his job behind to seek the means to forgetfulness. His Granddaughter Susan is recruited as a temporary replacement. Like her father before her, Mort, she’s not so much a stickler for rules and soon becomes obsessed with Buddy (Imp) and keeping him alive. You see, the Musicians guild wants him dead for playing without paying guild dues.

This is a hilarious book, but the kindle edition is marred by extremely poor editing. Footnotes (which Pratchett uses to great effect) sometimes point to the wrong text, which are the most annoying errors, but there are a lot of others as well. If you aren’t reading a kindle edition, this should not be an issue. But it was for me. But regardless, I do highly recommend this book. I don’t consider it Pratchett’s best, but it is pretty darn funny.