Seattle Cosmic Game Night

(Saturday, 27 May 2000)

Or, The Night of Intense Focus

Good evening, ladies and germs, and welcome to the latest Seattle Cosmic newsletter. Say, did I ever tell you about the time a couple of weeks ago Dave's chair collapsed during a game of Cosmic? Says here he was holding a Wild Spill. (Rim shot.) Did I say a Wild Spill? Seems to me Mark Purtill told me someone had just played a Chair Zap. (Rim shot.) But seriously folks, Dave lost the game that night -- it was a total upset! (Rim shot; catcalls from the audience. A tomato is thrown; also, a slug.)

Another successful Seattle Cosmic night occurred on Saturday, 27 May. Present were Ron and Marty Hale-Evans, Paul Unwin, Peter Schultz, John Braley, the seldom-seen Karl Erickson, Dave Adams, and a new player, Dave's friend Kathy Kizer. All told, there were 8 people. Mark Purtill was mysteriously absent, and we missed him.

8:00 PM: The evening started off slowly as Ron wrestled with the toilet. Er, wait, that sounds bad. Marty let in most of our guests as I closeted myself with the water closet, which had a broken seat. While I struggled to make the last-minute repair and everyone else fidgeted, Marty came in and told me Paul was leaving the party and wouldn't be back until 11:00. Peter explained the situation when I finally emerged, couching the situation delicately in Democrazy terms: "Paul got an 'Absolute Yes' vote from his girlfriend." Marty had been tromping around Northwest Folklife all day and went off to veg out with her sister Meredith Wilson and Mer's husband Bob.

We had been planning to play Acquire, but Dave prefers to play with only 2 or 3 others, saying games with more than 4 players are long and random. Karl, John, and I had been itching to play 3-player Focus together, so we forked a process and did so posthaste. The following is a shot of our board. Yes, I am a participant, but invisible because I do not have a head -- and no photo this week will gainsay this claim. Karl and John tried to convince me I do have a head by a majority vote of 2 to 1, but I pointed out that the Indiana state legislature tried to make the value of pi equal 3.0 by fiat, and that didn't work either.

Meanwhile, Dave, Kathy, and Peter launched into a game of Acquire using the handsome new Hasbro edition. For people who haven't yet seen this edition, check out this shot from early in the game:

Here's New Gal Kathy pointing out an important move on the board -- or a mistake someone made, or something:

Here's Peter, caught at the end of a high-five with Dave during a particularly adroit Acquire play:

Dave has logged many hours playing Acquire, and he won the game handily Saturday, with about twice the dough of his closest rival, Peter. (It may also have had something to do with Dave's insistence on no more than 3 opponents, and all the variant rules he introduced...) I can't tell if the following shot is of Dave putting away the game or of actual play. In other words, is Dave cleaning up, or is he "cleaning up"?

Dave's FABULOUS PRIZE (actually it was his prize from last week) was a deck of cards titled "52 Great Cheap Dates." Each card listed a single (purportedly) great date you and your sweetie could go on for not much money. One side bore a graphic and title, the other the description. Below, Dave and Kathy display 52 great dating possibilities. SAY CHEEEAP!

Well, there were 52 possibilities anyway, but some weren't so great. While Karl, John, and I played Focus, Dave and Kathy weeded out a few of the less-than-great possibilities. Pictured below are Face Painting, Photo Op, Camp Out, Indian Nights, Pet the Animals, Tea for Two, Hairdo and Tattoo, and Old and Used.

"Old and Used?" I said. "Hey! Thrifting! Marty and I do that all the time!" (You can find a lot of amazing games that way.)

"It's not so much a date," said Kathy, "as a way of life."

Wait a minute, if the Cheap Dates deck was Dave's prize from last week, I think I owe him one from this week now. Dave, expect another prize...

Meanwhile, Karl, John, and I were all playing the Sid Sackson classic game, Focus. Part of the attraction for me of playing Focus with Karl and John was the devout hope that John, who had a Master rating in Chess at one point, would wipe the board with Karl, whom I had never yet beaten in a 2-player match. Instead, Karl beat John and me together, although I held my own this time, and it looked as if I might beat Karl until I got overconfident and started squandering reserves late in the game.

I dug through the prize bag for a book for Karl, but Karl insisted on an "Archie McPhee prize," so I dutifully handed over another of Marty's toy anthologies, the "All-American Collection," which consists of, according to M., "two generals, an admiral, a bald eagle, a debutante, and a smiley face." Here 'tis. The great military man in the middle is obviously telling the debutante in a muffled voice, "Voglio mettere la testa sotto la tua gonna." (That's the only Italian I know. My good old college roommate, Luciano, taught it to me. It means, "I desire to place my head beneath your skirt." What? Yes, it was sophomore year -- how did you know?)

At this point, Dave, Kathy, and Peter were still playing Acquire, so Karl and John talked me into a game of Speed Focus. John is notoriously slow at making moves, and we didn't have a timer, so whenever it was John's turn, I leaned in close and shouted "TICK! TOCK! TICK! TOCK!"

Naturally, or perhaps unnaturally, John tended to move quickly. This had the unfortunate effect of further weakening John as a Focus player, so Karl won again, although I still didn't do too badly. For Karl's victory, he was awarded the book Stopping Spam by great geek publisher O'Reilly and Associates. This little piggie went to the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email:

Like two lovable little Teletubbies, John and Karl cried, "Again! Again!" Not for the first time, I rued introducing Karl to Focus. I tried to talk K&J into a nice game of Icehouse, but when I went to print out the rules reference sheet from the Web, they immediately ditched me and started a third game of Focus, this time with two players. What a rotten trick!

With no significant time limits and a 2-player game this time, Chess Master John was well prepared to kick Karl's can all over the Focus board, which he proceeded to do in a leisurely fashion. Not much is known publicly about Focus strategy -- there are no Focus leagues, for example, although my Focus-playing friends agree there should be. It was therefore a marvel to everyone present when John introduced a wholly novel game-winning strategy: immobilising one's opponent by capturing every one of their pieces. (Prisoners were formerly considered to be of little value.) In the below photo, John is playing green and Karl is playing red. Karl seems to be clenching his fist and muttering "Curses!" Karl, you were present at the birth of a new way to play Focus. Hold your head high, man!

By this point, we were running low on prizes, so I handed John a copy of Handbook for the Positive Revolution by Edward de Bono. "Um, do I have to read this?" he said.

Answer: no. Hmm, people don't seem to like our book choices. I really like the Yellow Book, as the book I gave John is known, and I thought John would too. In fact, Marty and I maintain a Positive Revolution FAQ here at ludism.org; check it out, see if you like it. If you do, tell me, and you may be slated for a copy of the book as a prize. Otherwise, we'll aim for more Archie McPhee and stuff.

While Karl and John were playing Focus, Dave, Kathy, Peter and I broke out the Bohnanza deck and settled in to play a full game (our last game was truncated). We found out it doesn't take much longer to go through the deck 3 times (a full game) instead of once (what we did last week), because so much of the deck gets turned into gold coins. The second time through is much shorter, and the third time through the deck goes by like beans through a... er, it goes fast.

Here are a couple of my fields early in the game. On the right is a field of Feuerbohne ("fire beans" or peppers) -- you can just make out a bean leaning on a disposable lighter and firing up a cigarette. On the left is a field of Blaue Bohne (blue beans). For some reason the blue beans on these cards look like little bullets, packing pistols, dressed like cowboys and strolling through a street with a sign reading "Gun Town" (in English).

We've been able to figure most of the cards out, but we've all been scratching our heads over that one. My hypothesis -- and this is purest conjecture -- is that "blue bean" is German slang for bullet. As for the cowboy getup: the reason we have been seeing so many high-quality family strategy games coming out of Germany is that the Germans have had a taboo against media depictions of war since World War II, so German war games are practically nonexistent as a category. The U.S., on the other hand, is well known as a violent society. Perhaps many Germans associate guns and bullets with the U.S., and what could be more American than cowboys?

Even Peter, who speaks German, can't clear this up. I'd be interested in getting the straight dope on this (mmm! dope! another American specialty!), so anyone reading who has some facts is cordially invited to email me, and I will pass on the facts to the group.

Speaking of Peter, he won Bohnanza for the second week in a row, and was instantly awarded the title of BeanMaster (Bohnmeister in the original German):

Peter also received a copy of O'Reilly's Stopping Spam, with which he was delighted. He told us of a few very creative ways of stopping spam...

By this time, Marty had returned from watching "very bad TV" with Mer and Bob, and Paul had returned from whatever he was doing, so around 11:00, Marty, Paul, Karl, and John started a 4-player game of Focus:

4-player Focus (without teams) is completely different from both the 2-player and 3-player versions. It ceases to be a pure abstract strategy game and becomes a social game of negotiation and "bash the leader". Marty was the leader getting bashed for most of the game. She was far ahead of her opponents at one point, with John in second place. Karl decided since he was in third place (heh), he would strew chaos across the board by bashing Marty and strengthening fourth-place Paul.

Speaking of leader bashing, I have found a cogent analysis of this phenomenon on the Web. The piece was originally printed in Counter magazine, and discusses many of the games we play, including Cosmic Encounter. I am eager to discuss it with Seattle Cosmicians (that's Marty's term for Seattle Cosmic members -- but how about Cosmologists? Cosmetologists?). Anyway, it's a fine piece of ludology. Read and discuss.

Because of leader-bashing and Karl's chaotic influence, the endgame was quite stable, and the game ran from 11:00 to 1:30 AM -- 2.5 hours! And it's still not finished. We decided to snap a photo of the board so the four could finish their game later, then record the fact that it is Paul's Turn:

The Seattle Cosmic Space Slug begged for mercy, crawling over the Focus board and muttering about 1:30 being past its bedtime, so we put away the games and bid goodnight to one another. See you next week!

To be continued, with a vengeance...

P.S. Forgot to mention, Peter and I also squeezed in a game of Button Men during the fourth Focus game (Peter was Avis, my current favourite, and I was Hammer). Peter beat me 3-2, but modestly disclaimed a prize for the 15-minute, 2-person pickup game. That's good, cos the prize bag had the dry heaves by this point. Time for a run to Archie's!



Saturday, 3 June 2000, 8:00 PM at Ron and Marty's in Kent.

Remember, game nights at Ron and Marty's are every Saturday at 8:00 PM. Come play for fun and FABULOUS PRIZES! Please bring a snack or drink (cookies, chips, soda, juice, etc.).

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Page last updated 29 May 2000.