May 17, 2013

Great Books

Posted in Hobby at 4:03 pm by Transmuter

I’ve just gotten back into blogging and I’ve already let myself slip from my goal of one post every week. Sorry about that.

Over the past decade I’ve read a lot of books, many of them very good. I’d like to highlight several books and book series that I thought were excellent. I’ve read physical books, ebooks, and listened to audiobooks.

The Wheel of Time series is an epic 14-book fantasy series by the late Robert Jordan, and finished from his notes by Brandon Sanderson. My wife and I listened to every book in this series in audiobook format via Audible. We’d listen while doing chores around the house, before going to bed, and while doing hobbies. This series is very good, though it does drag quite a bit from around books 8 to 10. As soon as Brandon Sanderson began co-writing the last three books (12-14) the pace of the plot rocketed forward and the series went from plodding to zooming. I still haven’t had the opportunity to listen to the final book in the series, but I’m really looking forward to it.

After learning about Brandon Sanderson from his work on finishing the Wheel of Time series, I decided to check out his other works. The Mistborn trilogy is a fantastic series about a group of outlaws trying to kill the godlike Lord Ruler, a nearly immortal emperor with incredible magical powers, and the results of doing so. It’s action-packed, has an interesting magic system involving the use of various metals that are ingested to produce differing effects, and is generally just a fun read. Other novels by Sanderson, such as Elantris, The Emperor’s Soul, and Warbreaker, are also excellent reads. One not-so-secret fact is that all of Sanderson’s adult fantasy novels take place in the same universe, though most of them occur on different planets. There is even a certain mysterious character that shows up in many of the novels; he’s fun to look out for. Of particular note is The Way of Kings, the first in a planned 10-book epic fantasy series titled The Stormlight Archive in a similar vein to the Wheel of Time series. It’s a huge novel, but in it develops a fascinating world, interesting cultures, great characters, and an intriguing story. I strongly recommend it for epic fantasy lovers.

Another great fantasy series, but one very different from the epic stories of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, is the Discworld series. Written by Terry Pratchett, the Discworld novels chronicle the lives of various people living on the Discworld, a flat, disc-shaped planet carried through space on the backs of four enormous elephants, which in turn are carried on the shell of an immense turtle. The series is silly, funny, witty, and couches some fairly biting cultural criticism in the guise of humor. Some of the novels follow Rincewind, a failed wizard who gets dragged into adventures despite his best efforts of running away from it. Other books tell the story of Sam Vimes, captain (and later commander) of the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch, the nocturnal police force of the Discworld’s largest city. Several novels have witches as the protagonists, though these witches tend to perform magic in a distinctly non-magical, very psychological way. The anthropomorphic personification of Death – skull, scythe, hooded cloak and all- frequently makes an appearance throughout the novels. Rather than being scary – to the reader at least – Death is charmingly businesslike in the way he reaps souls, and even seems to have a fondness for humans, although he has a hard time understanding their idiosyncrasies. Despite not understanding some of the jokes from time to time – some aspects of British culture elude me – I have highly enjoyed all of the Discworld novels, and eagerly await any more that Terry Pratchett is able to write.

On a histirocal note, I have been on a Roman history kick recently. The Roman republic and empire has fascinated me ever since I was young, but over the past year or two I’ve really been digging in and enjoying learning more about it. My favorite board game – Commands and Colors: Ancients – is set in the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. I’m eagerly awaiting the upcoming PC strategy wargame Total War: Rome II this fall. I’ve been reading a series of murder mystery novels by Steven Saylor about a Roman man named Gordianus the Finder, who acts as an ancient Roman private investigator living in the final decades of the Roman republic. The series, called Roma Sub Rosa, is very interesting, and Saylor has Gordianus and his family interacting with various historical figures. Saylor does an excellent job of making me imagine what life was like 2000 years ago. Usually it was dirty, dangerous, and not a lot of fun for most people, but people made do and lived their lives like everyone else has throughout history. I’ve also read a few very good non-fiction books on Rome. My favorite so far is The Punic Wars, by Adrian Goldsworthy. This account of the three wars between the Roman republic and the Carthaginian empire is detailed and very informational, but still has a very readable and approachable tone. I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in Roman history or military history. Ghosts of Cannae, by Robert L. O’Connell, is another good book about the second Punic war, and focuses specifically on the Battle of Cannae and the events leading up to it. Cannae is often regarded as Hannibal’s greatest triumph, and this book talks about it’s real and perceived impact on the history of the Roman republic. Caesar: Life of a Colossus, also by Adrian Goldsworthy, is a very interesting chronicle of the great Gaius Julius Caesar. It ranges from shortly before his birth to several years after his assassination, and focuses mainly on his political and military careers.

So those are my picks for some great books I recommend. Check them out! I mean, literally, like from a library. That’s where I found all of those books about Rome…


May 5, 2013

BGG Contests

Posted in Board Games, Games, Hobby at 8:17 pm by Transmuter

So on Board Game Geek, the wonderful website that is all about board games, there is at least one contest a week. These contests require contestants to fill out a multiple choice quiz about a new or upcoming board game; more correct answers means more contest entries. Winning usually means acquisition of a copy of the game in question. The primary purpose of the contest is for game publishers to raise awareness of one of their games in hopes of attracting more buyers. I have entered more than a hundred of these contests.

I originally started doing the contests for the unique microbadge that you get for entering each contest. Up to five microbadges can be displayed under your avatar when posting on the BGG forums. It’s a fun little game on the site to collect as many as possible and display the microbadges most relevant to your current interests. Despite not expecting to win any of the contests due to large volume of entrants, I still entered the contests for these little geeky badges.

I actually, finally won my 56th contest, sponsored by Polish publisher I got my choice of one of five of their upcoming games, and I decided on The Cave. The Cave is a game where players control a team of speleologists, scientists who study caves, and race to achieve the best and most discoveries in a large cave system. Points are awarded for being the first team to photograph underground rock and crystal formations, the first to dive in and explore underground lakes, the first to get through tight squeezes, and so on. Teams must return to the base camp to resupply their stocks of rope, oxygen tanks, and most importantly food. I found the game to be quite fun, and I have enjoyed my half-dozen or so plays.

49 contests later I won again! This time I won a copy of Torn Armor, a miniatures skirmish game that was funded via Kickstarter. The game is scheduled to be released around November 2013, but I’m looking forward to trying it out. Painting the miniatures should also be fun.

Speaking of Kickstarter and miniatures, last year I went in with a couple of my friends to back Reaper’s Bones kickstarter project. This project was not for a game, but simply a huge number of plastic miniatures for use in role playing games and the like. It appears that the minis should finally be arriving sometime this month. It’s going to require a lot of painting, but it should be enjoyable. I will make a more detailed post once they come in and I have had a chance to paint at least some of them.