Wednesday, January 27

Blogger’s FTP Migration Plan: Tricky, Weird, But Effective

I was going to call this post “the worst FTP migration plan, except for all of the others,” but I was afraid that that would truncate poorly on Twitter. But that’s kind of where I’m coming from.

Blogger is turning off FTP publishing, which sucks in a lot of ways, but I think everyone will be better for it: bloggers will be happier with the performance and features of custom domains, and engineers will be happy not to have to support a creaky system that uses an even creakier protocol.

Though we’ve tried to put together a migration process that will work smoothly for everyone, I’m sure it won’t be perfect; there are too many moving parts in FTP publishing to guarantee that everyone will have a great experience. Nevertheless, I believe that our overall plan is sound, so I’d like to tell you about what we came up with, as well as some of the alternatives that we considered (and that might work better for you if you want to try them out).

Wednesday, January 20

Bird Song Trail: Tufted Titmouse and Chickadee

The first of three videos from our trip to the Mendon Ponds Park Bird Song Trail a few weeks back. This shows a tufted titmouse and then a chickadee eating seeds out of my hand.

We usually bring just sunflower seeds and get chickadees, but this year we discovered that the birds are crazy for peanuts. Besides the titmouse, we also had two species of nuthatch eating from our hands.

Update: Meh. Blogger video currently broken. Grumpy internal escalation initiated.

Update #2: Replaced with a YouTube video instead.

Sunday, January 17

Two Tolkien Games Part Two: War of the Ring

The other day I blogged about Lord of the Rings, a co-operative board game that was a failure of both theme and gameplay. Cait and I have recently played another Middle Earth board game, War of the Ring, and—contrastingly—it immediately became a favorite.

War of the Ring succeeds everywhere that Lord of the Rings fails:
  • It’s thematic. War of the Ring evokes Middle Earth with an intensity. Elements of the game tie directly to points in the story: if Merry or Pippen get attacked and have to leave the Fellowship, they survive because the orcs were told to take hobbits alive; if Gandalf the Gray dies he can come back in Fangorn as Gandalf the White; if Minas Tirith is under siege, Sauron can coerce Denethor into weakening its defenses.
  • It allows for choices. In the last post I lamented that, by sticking to a linear re-“telling” of the books’ events, Lord of the Rings denied the gamers the agency to explore other possibilities within the setting. While War of the Ring still matches specifics from the books (Gandalf the White can only pop up in Fangorn or an Elven stronghold, not just anywhere in Middle Earth), it nevertheless offers players a great deal of freedom to chart their own course: avoid Moria by taking the pass through the mountains? Ignore Rohan and hit Gondor directly? Keep the Fellowship together right up to the Black Gates?
  • It’s fun. Cait and I are both fans of Risk-like games such as this, where you pit forces against each other in battle and roll dice to see who dies. The game mechanics are concrete—move armies, move the Fellowship—and are therefore substantially more satisfying than the abstract discarding of cards in the co-op Lord of the Rings.

Tuesday, January 12

Two Tolkien Games Part One: Lord of the Rings

Cait and I recently played two of Lord of the Rings board games. One has quickly become one of our all-time favorites. The other, I don’t think we’ll ever play again.

That game is Lord of the Rings, a co-operative game from board game legend Reiner Knizia. Even though the experience of muddling though it was pretty lousy, it’s nevertheless worth reflecting on, since it raised a crucial and rarely-seen existential question: should this game have been made at all?

Lord of the Rings plays out over a series of four boards, representing Moria, Helm’s Deep, Shelob’s Lair, and Mordor. (Full disclosure: in our first—and only—game, Cait and I didn’t even make it through Helm’s Deep.) Gameplay is identical on each: players draw tiles that can trigger either generic or scenario-specific bad things, and then they advance pawns along the board’s tracks. These tracks confer tokens that are used to either activate Gandalf’s powers or keep the ring from corrupting the Fellowship. Track advancement and bad thing–prevention is done by trading in cards, which have symbols that represent friendship (a handshake), hiding (a bush), fighting (a sword), traveling (feet), or wild (a star).

I cannot describe the tedium of playing this game any better than BoardGameGeek user MontyCircus:
Player 1: "Okay I flip this. Darn. Does anyone have a bush? Or a star would work too."
Player 2: "I have a bush."
Player 1: "Awesome that you had that bush card."
Player 2: "Okay my turn. Flip this. Darn. Does anyone have a handshakey?"
Player 3: "I have a handshakey."
Player 2: "Good thing you had that handshakey. Okay I'm going to move this cone and take a ring."
This repeats until you get to the end of the fourth board or until the Sauron marker reaches all of the hobbit markers on the corruption track.

Does any of that sound like Lord of the Rings to you?

Lord of the Rings?

Friday, January 1