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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Errr, umm, hi, I think....

It's about this time that I'm really beginning to wonder what I'm doing here. It sounded like such a cool idea at the time, to be part of a regular blog group. KInd of like those great ideas in the pub on a Friday night after several pints of beer. Like the one we had to drive down to the south of France for the weekend, leaving right after lectures on Friday and getting back for lectures on Monday. From the north of Scotland. Only 1000 miles as the crow flies, except we weren't crows and had to deal with such minor inconveniences as ferries, motorways, tolls and other such details that are oh so insignificant after the afore mentioned several pints of beer. In the light of day the idea was tossed as being rather impractical, although we reckoned it could be done. At least long enough to write a postcard saying 'Hello, mom!', a quick paddle in the Med and then time to head off again. Man, I miss being a student.

Anyway. As the others seem to have started with a brief summary of their gaming history, I might as well do the same. I recall playing some games with my parents. Flutter, especially, comes to mind, and I recall evenings playing that with my mom, dad and brother. I was also very much into building plastic model kits, which developed into miniature wargames and from there it was a short (side) step to SPI/S&T wargames, Avalon Hill and that ilk. (Does anyone ever use the word 'ilk' any more? Is it just a Scottishism?) From there I developed into the early AH attempts at Euros, Brittania, History of the World, etc. At college I remember us playing lots of Talisman and Maneater.

After coming over this side of the world (further details are on my web-site for those desperate to find out more about it.) I met up and became more acquainted with the other fine gentlemen here, and most recently it's been almost exclusively Euros I play these days.

I say 'almost' because until very recently I hadn't played any wargames in an absolute age. I still had plenty on the shelf, and sometimes took them down, looked at the rules and lovingly caressed them. (Dave, you did say PG-13 was OK, right?) I even set up one or two of them, but could never quite find enough enthusiasm to actually play them. And so I started selling them. Slowly at first, and then in a big flood. Bye, bye S&T magazines! Bye, bye AH classics! Oddly enough it's been quite invigorating. (Hello, my name is Mike and I'm a game addict....)

And then a strange thing happened. I started playing wargames again. Mostly Columbia block games (which could be argued aren't really wargames), but there was some GMT stuff in there, with hexes and small counters! Egads! I'm looking for more opportunities to play deeper games of longer length. I'm still planning to sell the ASL collection, as I don't think I'll ever get back to that level of depth, but I'm no longer eyeing the last AH remnants for what they'll fetch on eBay. I'd like to thank my fellow gamers in the group for re-awakening my interest in these games.

So, where was I. Ah, yes, I was pondering on how I could possibly write an introductory blog entry, and how I'm under pressure to perform. Well, I appear to have achieved that target, in a roundabout sort of way. Enough for a first entry, more next week. (I bet you can hardly wait....)

Stream of Consciousness

Time to introduce myself, your Wednesday "columnist."

My name is Doug Cooley, and I'm sorry to say that I can technically be called the founder of Rip City Gamers. I've had games ever since I can remember, with such exciting titles as King Oil, Billionaire, and even the old Monday Night Football game. That should date me pretty effectively! Sadly, all of these games are long gone, I believe I have nothing from that era other than my AH wargames.

I like games in general, although I have learned that almost anything collectible (which is to say open-ended) is not for me, just a bit too much of the addiction gene in me to make this financially wise. While I've dabbled with miniatures, I have to say that my preferences for historical gaming tend more to the general rather than the specific (such as uniforms, insignia, etc) that seem to be a big draw for the minatures gamer. That and I have enough expensive hobbies. However, I do enjoy wargames and euros quite a bit, to the point that I've effectively run out of places to hide them from my wife.

A little more bio: I have an electrical engineering degree, and have worked in high tech as a coder, high-end engineering customer support tech, course developer, trainer, and project manager. I also have a master's in choral music conducting, and am at the very least competent in voice and piano, not to mention computer music. Which is all to say that I get bored very easily. Currently I'm working as a bookkeeper for my family business, having effectively retired a few years ago. Strange that when I stopped working for the Man I suddenly had considerably less time to surf the net...

The final thing you should know is that, according to the Myers-Briggs test, I am fairly extroverted, which is to say that I type as I think. When I put something out on the blog, it isn't intended to be Gospel (although that will happen occasionally). My comments are intended as part of a discussion, and while this may or may not be what happens thanks to the ominpresence of spam in comments sections (b*stards), I do hope that people will call me on things that they disagree with.

Silly me, this is the web. Of course I'll get called out. Duh.

Currently I'm recovering from a very long weekend spent playing wargames with my good friend Chuck (and a few others who joined as the week went on): Royal Tank Corps, Barbarossa to Berlin, The Mighty Endeavor, War of the Ring, Wellington (twice), Sword of Rome, Rommel in the Desert, and I'm sure one or two others. BtB was particularly gratifying, I won as the Germans with much uncertainty on the last few card plays. Key strategy: ignore North Africa for the most part. That, and draw the right cards in the right order (Achse and Nordlicht in particular were quite timely, although Taifun wasn't). I can hardly wait to play again.

In the future, I hope to discuss some key differences between wargames and euros, pbem vs ftf, why Who you play with is more important than What, and that new game smell. Until then, remember that there are no solutions, only choices.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Is this thing on?

Hey there, everyone. Looks like Chris has taken care of the initial Welcome, and Dave has (somewhat) handled the origins of our group and this blog. Guess that just leaves me with an introduction.

The background details of how I got involved in this group are a tad murky. I don't honestly recall how I first found BoardGameGeek or Spielfrieks. I do know that my BGG profile dates to 12-26-2002, and my SF membership goes back to November of 2001. My exposure to Nigglybits came via SF, and that's how I "met" Dave. When Jodie (my wife) and I decided to move to the Portland area (from the general Seattle area) I emailed around asking about gaming groups. Dave recommended me to the group (note - not the other way around), and after a brief hosting session at my place, I was in.

I'm the most recent member of the gaming group that's part of this blog, and my tastes are sometimes a bit different from the other guys. I'm also wondering how I qualify as an "engineer." (I'm a tech writer by trade.) Most of my t-shirts involve miniature wargaming or softball, so I can't possibly be a techie.

Blogging? I got started in blogging when Jodie and I discovered we were expecting a baby. The original idea was to use the blog as a diary of an expectant father. I think I've only made a handful of posts about fatherhood, so obviously, that wasn't an outlet I needed. I have tried to post on there regularly, as some of you know. If this blog proves successful, I'll likely change the focus of my personal blog - no point duplicating effort.

So... what can you expect from me on here? My contributions will likely be as varied as my gaming background.

The first game I can honestly remember wanting was Strat-o-Matic Baseball. I was either 10 or 12 years old. (I'm trying to remember when I got the game. I can't recall if my copy had the '75 White Sox and Indians, or the '77 versions.) I still have memories of taking whatever magazine it was that had the advertisement and asking a clerk at The Emporium in San Francisco if they had a copy. (and I can still remember being very scared and intimidated about it - this was a 10-or-12-year-old me asking a strange adult in the Big City a question...)

I played that game to death. Of course, that led to tracking down other baseball games. I had copies of the Sher-co, All-Star Baseball (the one with the spinners), Pennant Race, Statis-Pro, and a couple others I can't recall. I ended up being a fan of the APBA series, and still have copies of the six primary games they had at the time (Baseball, Football, Basketball, Bowling, Golf, and Horse Racing.) At one point, I had played about 7 weeks into an entire Major League schedule by myself using APBA. I kept score on index cards, and kept stats on graph paper. That's over 500 games, and probably puts APBA Baseball as my most-played game after chess and cribbage. I even programmed the Bowling game into the VAX in college and had it play out the qualification part of PBA tournaments. (then I'd play out the step-ladder finals like they have on TV by hand.) It also showed me that I have a liking of games that can be considered somewhat mechanical. I love the Empire Builder series, for example.

One thing led to another, and over the years I've probably touched about every possible niche in gaming. I went from baseball simulations to hex-n-counter wargames (didn't everyone own Avalon Hill games in the early 80s?) to RPGs to tournament chess to card games to CCGs back to RPGs to video games to miniatures games to boardgames.

These days, my tastes run towards historical miniatures games, eurogames, and wargames. I haven't done any role-playing in years, and pretty much gave up on playing CCGs around the time the Magic Pro Tour started. And after spending all day on the computer, the last thing I want to do is play a video game. I had been away from the hex-n-counter scene for quite a while but the (generally) excellent games put out by GMT got me back interested again. My interests in wargames, though, tends to be more as historical research as much as gameplay. I rarely get these games on the table. It's not easy finding the time with a 17-month old and a wife that's not so interested in wargames.

Probably 2/3 of the games I play these days are with Jodie. After Megan goes to bed, we'll frequently play a couple games to wind down. The story of how she got started in gaming would be a good one for another post. And yes, I'm the one responsible. So, most of the games you'll see me talk about are games that can be played by two, and probably don't involve direct conflict.

I'll also occasionally ramble on about miniatures. I've been an avid DBM (De Bellis Multitudinis) player for a number of years now, and still play whenever I get a chance. And given I'm about the only DBM player in the Portland area, that's not common. As with most miniatures gamers, I've always got at least a handful of projects underway.

I think that's about all for this week. It should let you know where I'm coming from, at least. Type at you again next Tuesday.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bloggin' Bloggin' Bloggin'

Well, it looks like Chris provided the welcome message, so I can get right into it. It’s traditional for a blog’s first post to be about blogging itself, and I’ll all for tradition, so let me start out by telling you how much I loathe board game blogs. But first, I have to evoke some painful memories…

My first experience with Internet discourse (can we just call that “intercourse” for short?) was rec.games.board on Usenet. I started posting heavily in 1998 (the year I could finally afford to buy these beautiful games); in fact, it was here (more accurately, here) where the Rip City Gamers was first formed. When the Mav-Kohr wars started getting out of hand, a mailing list was formed and people quickly bailed when they found the action was gone.

Spielfrieks started out a kinder, gentler group. Unfortunately, it required a threaded mail reader with a filter defined just to reproduce the Usenet experience. Eventually, I just read it via the web interface. However, as conversation on Spielfrieks was more casual, it eventually got a bit cliquish; I would notice that a new person could post something insightful without getting a response, but if an established person posted something light or less worthy, it would get several responses. As the popularity of the hobby increased, and the volume of the mailing list with it, it got to be so much work that I eventually unsubscribed from Spielfrieks and its offshoots (e.g., Nigglybits).

I still try to read some web forums, most notably the BoardGameGeek (BGG) forums. As a forum ages, it too get a bit cliquish, especially with the presence of avatars and, on some forums, a post count. What I’ve noticed on BGG is that the majority of discussion is no longer strictly Euros. Wargamers are migrating from Consimworld, and the rabid fans of big games like Doom, Arkham Horror, and Heroscape are spilling over the publishers' own message boards onto the ‘Geek. I appreciate the egalitarian nature of the ‘Geek, but it’s getting out of hand, especially the game articles; you have to check every day for new articles or else they will roll over.

Which brings us to blogs. A blogger recently penned “Blogs are where the interesting boardgame conversations are taking place.” I vehemently disagree. The current organization of RSS feeds makes blogging the most ephemeral of all the forums; if you don’t jump in with a comment right away, you’re usually speaking to the void. For one example, look at Chris Farrell’s blog (I pick on Chris because I like his content the most, and I tend to agree with him anyways). His Euro thoughts would be at home on Spielfrieks or BGG (particularly his scathing comments on Shadows Over Camelot), but, as it is, the nature of blogs makes it a one-sided argument; the blogger is presumed to be correct until proven otherwise. On the other hand, Chris’ interests vary so much (CCGs, wargames, RPGs, etc.) that it would not make sense for him to exclusively post on any one public forum. Being condensed in one place makes it an interesting overview of one man’s tastes, but some of his views warrant discussion in a more open forum, in my opinion. The blogger I quoted above went on to write: “the good conversations are spilling over into multiple blogs.” To me, that’s just sad that folks are holding discussions so indirectly, but not surprising in a world in which I see city parks empty on the weekends.

An example of an appropriate use of blogs is The Tao of Gaming, where Brian often posts his first impressions of games. He has a sharp mind, and it is interesting to read his initial analysis; posting something like this on a broader forum is unwise, especially as it encourages more dull minds to post first impressions. When he is ready for a review, he does cross-post this on the Geek. I hope I do not sound overly curmudgeonly; while I do think that my Usenet experience has been the best so far, I have hopes that this is just part of a painful transition to an ideal end. I understand that the hobby has grown so much that a single, truly democratic forum is only a utopian’s dream, which is why I have focused primarily on the local scene.

That brings us to this blog. What motivated me to initiate it were several recent lists of folks’ favorite blogs; for some inexplicable reason, Eric Landes, Mike Deans, and Chris Brooks keep showing up on these lists. I thought to myself “What do these guys have in common? Oh yeah – I regularly hand them their asses.” That’s right – we’re all in the same gaming group, which most of us affectionately refer to as Rip City Gamers. My gaming thoughts on my own blog get buried in a mound of music posts, so I thought what better way to expose them to more people then to mooch off the established exposure of my comrades.

The title of the blog is a tongue-in-cheek title I gave to our semi-annual gaming retreat at Doug’s vacation home. Not everyone here appreciates the joke, so if you have a better idea for our blog (ideally with some reference to the Pacific Northwest), we’re all ears. Just propose something in the comments. It’s to be expected that the denizens here will be poking fun at each other. Also, to give our communal blog a unique spin, in the first full week of each month, our blog will feature a Question of the Month that each of us will respond to. Eric is working on the initial one, so I will see you next Monday with my answer to his query.

Until then, don’t get me started on podcasts…

Friday, August 26, 2005

Welcome to the Gathering of Engineers!

The Gathering of Engineers is a new group weblog authored by a group of gamers who happen to mostly be involved in the high tech industry. If you are looking for a weblog about video games, you are in the wrong place! Here we’ll be discussing board games, card games, war games, and maybe even collectible games.

Our goal is to to publish about daily with a consistent rotation among our team members… speaking of which, here’s a list of the crew:

We’ll let each author introduce himself during the first round of posts.

Edit: In response to the Gamefest.com announcement, I wanted to clarify in this welcome message that we are all members of the same gaming group.