unity 2012

My son asked me “so when the room is not full of hundreds of people playing board games, what do they use it for?”. That day, at the Woburn Hilton Hotel, it didn’t really matter. The main ballroom (as well as a few surrounding hallways) was packed with tables full of people playing games. In the Eastern Massachusetts area there is a loose coalition of gamers and game-groups known as Unity Games. Occasionally they hold full-day gaming events and this past Saturday was one of those. As most people who know me know, when I say boardgames, I don’t mean one of the hundreds of licensed Monopoly re-treads. I am referring to the growing market of games that have a bit more depth and are a lot more fun.

On Saturday we managed to play five different games. We started with a light game that could be played two-player, just to get into the swing of it. Dungeon Raiders was a fun light card game that captured the idea of a dungeon crawl pretty nicely. I think it needed to be played with 3-5 to get a bit more competition on the adventure cards. Next we played a 3-player game of Elder Sign, one of many recent H.P. Lovecraft-themed games from Fantasy Flight. This one is a cooperative game that uses a currently very popular mechanic of very Yahtzee-like sets of six-sided die rolls. Given the theme, multiple choices for characters to play and the random “big bad” that sets the tone for the game, I think it will have a lot of replay value – that is if you don’t mind lots of random die rolls. We did get one key rule wrong in this one that made our victory a little too easy. I look forward to playing this one again. Following this we played a four-player game of Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, an area control game that has lots of funny randomness which follows the theme of Terry’ Pratchett’s universe very nicely. I liked this one a lot but we ran into a player who seemed to suffer form analysis paralysis and took forever to take his turns. ImageThis of course was ironic in a game that had so much chaotic randomness. Next up, a familiar game of Race for the Galaxy. We taught a new player how to play the game so it was a little slow but fun as always….and my son won again, as always. Lastly we played a four-player game of Kingdom Builder, with my gaming friend Aaron (who of course won). I’ve played Donald X. Vaccarino‘s newest game twice now and I think I am starting to like it. It could suffer from the “multi-player solitaire” problem like his previous hit game Dominion does, but savvy players will start to add defensive moves where possible to try to block others from romping.

All in Unity was a great day. I also managed to sell off a number of game stat had been collecting dust in my basement  – and I only bought one new game. There is nothing like being in a ballroom packed full of people enjoying your favorite hobby.

collectable rfid

ImageBack in the 1990’s I was working for the Technology and Innovation group at the now-defunct Arthur D. Little consulting firm. At that time we were doing some work with the then nascent contact-less smart cards. Having recently discovered the multi-colored cardboard crack that is Magic: the Gathering, I thought it would be a great idea to develop a contact-less smart card version of the game where a console would be used to read and write the cards that would store all the stats about your play and the monsters and characters represented by the cards. Unfortunately the idea had already been pitched to another client so I couldn’t do any internal development for patentable IP on this one. Fast forward ten years and I am working at ThingMagic, developer of technology for reading and writing the now much cheaper UHF RFID tags. I pitched my idea again there but it was not in line with the core business so it never gathered any steam. Roll forward to my most recent work at FIrst Act where we used toy-class RFID from Nuvoton in the Voice Rockrz voice-changing microphone. The tags are in bling that ships along with the microphone that contains a reader. Tap the tag to get the new effect. It was fun but I of course still wanted to do something with my old idea of the collectable with RFID. ImageThat didn’t happen there either…..and now present day and we see my decades-old idea is on the market from Activision in the Skylanders product. From one review: “Using a plastic platform about six inches in diameter, the figures connect wirelessly to your video game system…As with other games, you still control their characters on the screen. But you need the figures, which store data and transmit characters’ histories to the nearest game console. Each works like a wireless thumb drive for data storage. Connect it to the system, and the game recognizes all that the character has been through.” Sounds very cool…and very familiar….I may need to buy this game just to see how they implemented that idea of mine from way back when.

game present

Quite often I have non-gamer friends ask me for recommendations for games. This is especially true around this time of year when presents are on people’s minds. Thankfully there are some great lists out there:

If you are looking to get your family started on games beyond the traditional Hasbro/Mattel fare this list from blogger Matthew Baldwin is a great place to start. I have played all of these and own most of them. They are all accessible and great for the family. This list is a “best of” compilation from his annual best lists which are also a great resource if you are looking to go the next step beyond the first list. This year’s edition can be found here.

If you are ready to dive in deep then you cant go wrong with the top rated games on the boardgamegeek. The main list tends toward heavier strategy games. Fortunately they have sub category lists for Family Games, Children’s Games, Party Games, and many others.

..and lastly here are some of my favorites:



gaming manga

I recently started reading the manga Hikaru No Go, a story about a boy who becomes possessed by the spirit of a Go Master who lived a thousand years ago. What interests me most about this is that it is a manga (and a derivative anime as well) about a board game. Today I discovered that this title exists about a young Japanese girl who enters the the Chinese world of competitive MajJong. I love this trend…can “Hiraku no Catan” be far behind?



pic213590_t.jpgThe other day my older son came home with some homework that involved doing some history research. He had to look up some information online on Hannibal’s famous war-elephant march on the Roman Empire. Being the good father that I am I mentioned to him that there is a very highly rated game that acts out some of the history around the Second Punic War. This, of course, was a great “reason” for me to finally invest in the new reprint of that game, Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. I’ve actuially never played it but I’ve  now walked through almost all the rules and am ready to go through some of it with him. He seems mildly interested but, even though he is an avid Magic: the Gathering player, heavy rule sets tend to intimidate him. Of course I would love the opportunity to play with some of the real experts out there that I know occasionally read this blog.


341971.jpgThere are a few people who, through their life work or a specific effort, had a great influence on shaping me in my youth. Some are authors like Isaac Asimov, Douglas Hofstadter, JRR Tolkien, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Others had various achievements of fame like Neil Armstrong and Bobby Orr. Still others created different works of art, entertainment, etc, …Gene Roddenberry, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Edward Hopper…Gary Gygax was definitely one. The report of his death the other day made me think of the effect his creation had on my life. Many of my hobbies and interests today stem directly from that work. I am sure I am not alone in thanking him for that.

sock wars

OB-AU814_sock_20071130105930.jpgsock wars has to be the best social network (should I say "knitwork"?) game I have seen yet…based on the classic game Assasin with a wonderful knitter’s twist.

get a clue



thanks to brother Bill for sending this one to me! 





Bedlam.PNGI just love when two or more of my hobby/passions converge ina cool way…The Mars Volta has a new cd in the works, The Bedlam in Goliath, and in their true odd cryptic fashion they are offering a free download of a single, albeit very short, track – only after you finish a classic slide 15 puzzle of an image from the cover of the new release…prog rock & a puzzle…sweet! 

P.S .I finished it in 242 moves…nothing to boast about.


ac_box_sm.jpgI’ve tried Guitar Hero once and found it very difficult. Maybe because it is too close to the real thing but not quite there… Now perhaps I have found the game for me…Accordion Hero II is here!  (via make)

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