Friday 6 September 2013

Nice Glorious Typical Chopstick

It's a funny thing - I find English being misspoken with a thick Indian accent rather frustrating, but the closely-related phenomenon of English being 'misspoken' in print, in a way that smacks of computer translation from an East Asian language, oddly endearing sometimes.

Take, for example, the text on the chopstick packet from the noodle bar Sam and I went to in Littlehampton, on one of the days out from Root Hill last week:

    "Welcome to Chinese Restaurant.
    Please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks
    the traditional and typical of Chinese glorious history.
    and culture

I think the text says it all.  If you appreciate the Engrish, then you appreciate it; if you don't, then no amount of explanation on my part is going to make you get it.

One other thing - it wasn't even a Chinese noodle bar.  It was Thai.

- The Colclough

Wednesday 4 September 2013

First Impressions and Beginner's Luck

Over the course of Root Hill 2013, I got introduced to at least half a dozen new games, and I thought I'd do a post about them and what I thought of them.  In aproximately the order I played them: Gloom, Resistance, Zombie Dice, Carcassonne, Alhambra, and King of Tokyo.

Gloom: appeals to the more twisted side of my sense of humour, as each player controls a family of five characters, and must spend the game trying to give them the lowest possible self-esteeem.  The game consists of a special deck of cards, and nothing else - with the twist that the cards are mostly see-through, so they can be stacked to hide or reveal various parts of each other, with the outcome affecting your score; you have to tell some story to explain each card you play, which makes things rather more interesting; the idea is to play the bad-event cards on your own characters, and the cheerful ones against your rivals to give them unwanted positive self-esteeem points.  The game ends as soon as all five of one player's characters are dead, and then whoever has the lowest overall self-esteem points across their family wins.  Mwahahah.

I'm almost tempted to describe it as The Nightmare Before Christmas: the Card Game, but to be honest it's more TNBC without the Christmas - just gleeful misery.

Introduced by Sam; my opinion 4/5.

Resistance: to all intents and purposes, you're the Rebel Alliance out of Star Wars, or a comparable ragtag group of freedom fighters standing up against a big bad empire.  The political whys and wherefores are irrelevant; the point of the game is to figure out which of the five to ten players are actually Resistance, and which ones are spies sent in by the aforementioned big bad empire.  A subset of the players are selected to take part in each of five Missions, and the Resistance win if 3 missions are successful - the rub being that if spies are chosen to go on a mission, they have the option to fail it.

Somewhat like Mafia, but more structured and much more prone to mind-games.  Also, don't play it with Simon; he takes the spy-hunting far too seriously...

Introduced by... can't remember; my opinion 3 or 4/5.

Zombie Dice: very simple, really - you're a zombie, and you chase humans.  Draw 3 dice, roll them: a brain symbol means you catch the quarry and get their brain (duh), a flash symbol means the quarry pulled a shotgun and, well, shot you, and a pair-of-feet symbol means they got away, so you re-roll that particular die if you decide to continue your turn.  Get shot 3 times and your turn is over, with nothing added to your score.  So basically you collect brains and quit while you're ahead.

 The strategy is made more interesting by the different colours of the dice - red ones are more likely to land on a shot, while greens are more likely to turn up brains, and yellows are equally balanced, which means that you can gauge the likelihood of a positive outcome in a re-roll based on the colours of any dice which turned up feet the previous time.

Introduced by Sam (again); my opinion 2/5 for mental stimulation, but 4/5 as a quick bit of entertainment, ideal for when your brain's already gone to sleep.

Carcassonne: in a rustic mediaeval landscape made of square tiles randomly drawn from a bag... okay, I'll give up on the narrating-it-like-a-film-trailer thing.  It wasn't working.  Anyway...

The tiles are drawn at random, but there are rules on how you can lay them - specifically you must place similar edges together, grass against grass, city against city, and so on.  Then you start laying claim to various bits of road, field and city, in the hope that they'll get bigger and you'll win points for them.  Various other stuff happens, but that's the basic idea.

The version I played included 2 or 3 expansions, which give you extra turns, or give you extra points for getting the largest share in various industries (textile, grain etc); usually I'd prefer to play a game vanilla before introducing expansions, but the basic rules of Carcassonne are sufficiently simple that I was happy to make an exception.

The look of the landscape may prompt a comparison to Settlers of Catan (remember Hannah's post on that one?), but there's actually very little in common between them except for their rustic pre-technological settings.

Introduced by Josh (I think); my opinion 4/5.

Alhambra: gave me a sense of deja vu as it features a very similar landscape-generated-from-random-squares thing to Carcassonne, but this time round each player builds their own layout and it only represents one palace complex instead of a whole country.  The novel mechanic is the presence of not one but four different currencies within the game; for any given round there will be four different bits of palace available to purchase, and each requires a different currency.  Sometimes you opt to collect a particular currency to buy a particular bit, but then again, somebody else might buy the part before you get a chance to, so it's a bit of a gamble.  Points are awarded at three specific moments during the game, based on who has the most of each type of piece, and who has the longest wall surrounding a part of their palace.

The separate landscapes are both an advantage (nobody can cut you up) and a bit of an achille's heel (you can't cut anybody else up); the different currencies are an interesting mechanic, and help to make the game more engaging on the whole, but they can sometimes slow things down, especially at times when most or all of the available parts are expensive.

Introduced by Josh; my opinion 3/5.

King of Tokyo: in spirit, this is basically half a dozen Kaiju movies mashed up into an affectionate, board-game-shaped pastiche.  It mostly runs on die rolls, and various die faces can give you victory points, give you 'energy' (currency, used to buy power-up cards), or attack whichever monster is currently occupying Tokyo City (unless you're in there yourself, in which case you attack everyone else at once!), the aim being to keep your health above zero and be the first to reach 20 victory points.  Unfortunately I failed to keep my health up; out of the six games I'm writing about, this is the only one that I didn't win at least once during Root Hill - hence the "Beginner's Luck" part of the post title.  But the bit before I got stomped was quite enjoyable.

Introduced by Sam and/or Josh; my opinion 3.5/5.

- The Colclough

Pictures from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Never Twice the Same Circle

Sam suggested recently that I should do a post on how life has changed over the years, and I've decided to take up the suggestion, focussing specifically on the seven years since I first went to Root Hill.

I'd just finished sixth form, back in 2006.  I didn't know what I wanted to do next.  I'd barely started work on my giant mosaic project.  Cylinder and Miserable had only just started, and Grace and Caffeine wasn't even a twinkle in my eye yet.  I still had Arthur & the Punk in post-production, and the likes of Day-Glo! and The Probe Has Succeeded hadn't been so much as storyboarded.  Yateley Baptist was just two years into Adrian Reynolds' pastoral tenure, and the end wasn't remotely in sight.

In myself, I knew there was something wrong with me in terms of a chronic inability to empathise, but I had no idea what caused it or what to do about it.

And Root Hill?  New, bit scary... we had Andrew 'Moneybags' Sadler as one of the leaders, and we went to Guildford for the Tuesday outing, with Laserquest, boating and other things.  Other leader Dave Hollands was sometimes seen waving a tape-writing camcorder around, and the resultant video was available on either VHS (yes, really!) or DVD.

Fast forward seven years to 2013: I've been on the Root Hill camp eight times.  Andrew has been replaced by Jim Sayers (after a transition period in 2009 / 2010), and Guildford has been replaced on the timetable by Horsham, from 2011 onwards, because they shut down the Laserquest in Guildford.  The choice of churches on the Sunday morning remains largely the same, although I've switched my habits from Chilworth to Dorking in the interests of a shortened commute.  I took over as the videographer in 2008, and killed off the VHS option; my temporary successor went widescreen the next year; this year the video was shot by another newcomer, using a DSLR, and will be released exclusively online.

The people have nearly all changed - almost nobody else from the 2006 camp was still there for 2013 (one or two exceptions, but not many), but I'm not complaining.  I came into Root Hill as one of the youngsters, and felt a bit lost among the established friendships between the older campers; now, I am the older campers, and it's a lot easier taking on the younger ones as they arrive rather than trying to make my way around the whole new camp all in one go.  For me, the 2013 crowd feels much more like home - and feeling like home is, in my books, a very good thing.

But in spite of all the changes, Root Hill remains very much as it always was.  There's still a big pile of wood chippings next to the bonfire area each year, which I like to go and perch on top of to chew over things on some of the evenings.  The timetable and the menu barely change at all, in their major components at least.  And that's where the title of this post comes from: Root Hill is largely cyclical - it's ended up being a bit same-old-same-old, but it's a good kind of same-old-same-old, which is precisely what I keep going back for - but the cycle never repeats itself perfectly.  There's a degree of circularity, but it's never twice quite the same circle as any of the previous times.

This whole 'people' thing leads into another point of change over the last 7 years: the shift in my understanding of myself.  Five years ago, I was presented with the answer to why I struggle so much with people: it's a high-functioning autistic-spectrum condition, most likely a variant of Asperger's Syndrome.  In the half a decade since July 2008, the diagnosis has gone from new and shocking (I kinda wish my old Tailcast blog posts hadn't got wiped off the internet, as the one I did about my initial reaction would be good to link to for back-reference) to being fully accepted and normalised (as I mentioned a couple of posts back).

Adrian left Yateley Baptist four years ago after five years as our pastor.  We found and called his successor Andrew Wigham a few months ago, and he has moved in and started his work over the last two or three weeks.

I've passed my driving test, and been driving for long enough to pick up all sorts of terrible habits - palming the wheel more frequently than the gearstick, for example - and I've had a younger sibling get married, since 2006.

Cylinder and Miserable has run for 2126 episodes (1920 of them published, and counting); Grace and Caffeine has long since folded (after 178); cross-continuity spin-off Fort Paradox has had time to appear from nowhere, make strides, get forgotten, and get revived; the mosaic got completed, moved, damaged, repaired... I don't even know if it still exists, to be honest; Portal and its sequel got released, I got into them, and I found my other niche in life as a Portal 2 test chamber architect; The Probe Has Succeeded is very old news indeed, and my animation efforts have more recently been focussed on the likes of Papercuts and The Murkum Show.  What's next?  Who knows.

I probably missed a lot of stuff.  But you'd get bored if I went over everything.

Sam: thanks for the suggestion.

- The Colclough