Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Friendly Sherlock Holmes Quiz

This is the quiz I wrote to accompany the Holmes piece.

There are two kinds of readers of the canon: those who have read and enjoyed them, and those who have read and memorized them. The following quiz attempts to find a happy medium between the two.


1. Watson used numbers in the titles of several stories.  Add the following together: Napoleons, Orange Pips, Gables, Students, then multiply by the number of Garridebs,

2. Name four shades of red hair described by Jabez Wilson.

3. What was the hiding place of the blue carbuncle?

4. What made the face yellow?

5. This was the first case Holmes tackled.

6.  Who was the victim at Thor Bridge?  Who was the perpetrator?

7. Where in London is 221B Baker Street?

8. What kind of tobacco does Holmes prefer?

9. What does Holmes write in bullet holes in a wall of 221B?  (Take extra pipe and plug of shag if you can name the kind of bullet he uses)

10. What was one of the books Holmes dropped when, in disguise, he bumped into Watson in “The Empty House.”

11. Which original stories were not written by Watson?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Technical difficulties...

Spent the entire morning in the ER with a crushed toe that wouldn't stop bleeding, so I'm going to spend the rest of the day in my happy place, which is filled with Vicodin and cheese steak a generous selection of the films of Ishiro Honda.

Have a nice weekend.

PUZZLE: The Blue-Eyed Sisters

Here's another one from Martin Gardner:

If you happen to meet two of the Jones sisters (this assumes that the two are random selections from the set of all the Jones sisters), it is an exactly even-money bet that both girls will be blue-eyed. What is your best guess as to the total number of blue-eyed Jones sisters?

App O' The Mornin': Mr. Runner Review

As far as I’m concerned, you can keep almost every “run-to-the-right” game in the app store. If there’s one (other than Canabalt) that has some hidden element of wonderfulness, please let me know.

I say “almost every” one because I actually kinda dig Mr. Runner. It’s not related to the old-school platformer of the same title that’s floating around on various websites.)

You thought Canabalt was minimalist? Wussies! They actually used grey. And shapes.

Mr. Runner, on the other hand, is hardcore minimalist gameplay, with black and white graphics, stick figure animation, and the kind of techno music you buy by the yard from someone named Uter.

And that’s kind of its appeal. The gameplay is crushingly simple, literally. A white space in the middle of the screen is sandwiched between two black constructions, top and bottom. These black elements are carved into different shapes, mostly voids and stairs, with certain landmark shapes (Big Ben, State of Liberty) set at various intervals.

You control a little stick figure running through the white space, but you’re only able to make him go a little faster or a little slower. Every few seconds, the top and bottom of the screen slam together. If you’ve timed it correctly, your little stick dude is in a void and survives. If not, he’s squished flat.

GameVision has managed to imbue their little character with a lot of personality. The animation is very smooth, and he even pauses to strike a pose when he makes it safely to one of the landmarks.

A little more actual gameplay could have been added, even just some kind of scoring system. As it is, there’s a speed mode that tracks how long you run, and a life mode that gives you three lives.

Right now, the game is free, and it’s well worth every penny. It’s a minor game, but it does show that running games can actually have some style to them.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

KEM Playing Cards: A Closer Look

KEM is the king of cards for a good reason. They are well-made, insanely durable, and last forever. They are also incredibly expensive. The two-pack sets come in a plastic tray with a lid, and retails for about $30 per set. If you shop around, you can find them for less, but it’s still the most expensive card you can buy.

What makes them cost so much? I put the question to a representative of the company, and here’s what he said: “KEM is made from cellulose acetate, which is a specific blend of paper and plastic giving it the feel of paper cards but the durability of plastic The material which gives KEM its premium performance and durability is more expensive than paper or plastic alone. The material is also much harder to print and run through the manufacturing process. It takes over 2 weeks to complete a deck of KEM cards from start to finish.”

The result is a card that lasts forever. I’ve heard of people playing on a single deck of KEM for 25 years. No paper card would hold up that long, and no plastic card would feel as good.

How do they measure up to the Bicycle Premiums? I’d say the Bicycle is very, very good for a synthetic card, but KEM just feel a bit more natural. They’re light, have a good texture, and shuffle better than anything I’ve ever used.

Yes, they’re very expensive, but as I said about Bicycle Premiums, if you use them for heavy play, in public areas where there might be wet spots, or with kids, they might be cheaper in the long run. Put it this way: a single deck of KEM costs as much as five decks Bicycles, but they’ll last far longer.




Click to embiggen.

PUZZLE: Big Cross-Out Swindle

Here's an easier one. Martin Gardner made this for GAMES a long time ago.

Cross out nine letters in such a way that the remaining letters make a single word. 


N A I S N I E N L G E L T E T W E O R R S D


A reader later wrote in with an alternate answer, which was also correct, and unforeseen by Gardner or the editors. Each answer requires a different kind of logic: one requires more lateral thinking, while the other is more language based.

Puzzle Answer: Got a Problem?

I did not expect this one to be a poser. Here's the original problem:

Make an equation with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, +, =, with no more or less than 2 digits in each part of the equation, and each digit only used once. (eg: [2 digits] + [2 digits] = [2 digits])

One possible answer is 43 + 12 = 65. (If you're not getting the character formatting the equation is 4-cubed + 1-squared = 65)

I know there are some others that work as well.

App O' The Mornin: Froggy Launcher Review

Of making many vertical jumping games, there is no end. Froggy Launcher is the latest to take bits of Bird Strike and Doodle Jump and make them again, only with a different character.

I’m already on the record expressing my approval of adding frogs to pretty much anything, including soup. (Unless, of course, that anything is a compulsion loop game, in which case people are just manipulating your froggy love and should be punished accordingly.)

Froggy Launcher is a perfectly decent riff on the vertical jumper, with a nicely animated ragdoll frog collecting coins, gems, and boosters as he tries to reach ever-higher. He is initially launched by a simple pullback input (just like Bird Strike), and after that you just keep the jump going by tapping him. Tilt controls shift him right or left, with the graphics wrapping around. (In other words, if he exits screen right, he’ll re-enter screen left.)

Along the way, he picks up different objects to help him, such as a laser that keeps him from falling off the screen, a rocket booster, balloons for floating, and soforth. It’s all familiar, but it works well enough.

Froggy Launcher also has a feature called “pimp my frog.”

(Let me just pause for a moment and beg everyone to please stop saying this. I know “pimping [some object]” is now part of the vernacular for customizing things, but it still has its origin in a fairly nasty profession based on the criminal exploitation of women. Every time someone says this, Henry Fowler weeps with the angels.)

Anyway, “pimp my frog” allows you to buy accessories for your frog, ranging from new outfits to gear that actually helps with the game.

Now, pay close attention. Froggy Launch is free, but it includes both in-games ads and in-app purchases. All the really cool froggy gear costs a lot of gems; more than a normal person could ever earn in the course of playing the game. You can, however, buy 255 gems for the low low price of $4. I really don’t want a hat for my frog so much that I’d ever do this, but obviously someone does or the business model would fail. And internet-based business models never fail, right?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Memoir '44: Winter Wars

If you haven't played Memoir '44 yet, you're missing one of the real treats of board gaming. It's easy to learn, fun, and incredibly flexible. I just got word from Days of Wonder that a new expansion is due in November. Called Winter Wars--The Ardennes Offensive, it covers the last major German offensive on the western front.

Here's what DoW has to say about it:

Packing a big punch, the Winter Wars expansion includes: 88 Winter terrain tiles; 20 Winter Combat cards; and most significantly in terms of game play – 80 new Command cards designed specifically for Breakthrough battles. This expansion also introduces new Winter Combat rules and new Troop badges representing the all new Tank Destroyer and Heavy Anti-Tank Gun units, and late war versions of an Anti-Tank Gun, Mortar and Machine Gun.

These will all be critical to fighting the ten scenarios contained in Winter Wars, all focused on those crucial two weeks in December 1944 in the Ardennes. The first six scenarios included are standard scenarios, playable with a single base game and this expansion. Deployment on a Winter/Desert board, while optional, creates a more accurate visual effect. The other four scenarios are gigantic Breakthrough renditions of the Battle of the Bulge. These scenarios will also require a single copy of the already released Eastern Front expansion and Breakthrough Kit board maps.

Winter Wars lists for $30.

And our next prize sponsor is....

Yep, those guys.

PopCap will be our prize sponsor throughout October, and I understand that a box o' PopCap games and swag is winging its way eastward at this very moment. I'm tingling all over just thinking about it.

This sponsorship thing has been easy so far, because both companies (first Bicycle and now PopCap) are ones I truly enjoy and admire. I remember talking to PopCap co-founder Jason Kapalka about ten years ago when they were just getting off the ground, and it was clear they were doing something new: a fresh kind of casual game with a much broader appeal. I never dreamed it would get this big, and I frankly thought their pursuit of mobile gaming was daft. (Obviously, I got that one very wrong.) Ten years on, PopCap games are everywhere, and Plants vs. Zombie shows that they can still innovate in ways we never imagined.

I consider them one of the major forces in gaming today. About a year ago, I wrote a column in Maximum PC in which I suggested the future of PC gaming belongs to PopCap and the casual gaming revolution they ignited. I still think that's the case. On the short list of Games That Changed Everything, Bejeweled is near the top.

So, beginning in October, we start passing out the PopCap love. Stay tuned.

Thanks to Garth, Eric, and the PopCap family for their kind support.

Games Without Pieces: Ghosts and Superghosts

Open any book of decorum or household advice from the Victorian period and you’re likely to find countless tips on how the Good Hostess can keep her Guests properly entertained in order to avoid Crushing Shame and the inevitable Whispered Comments. These parlor games, as they came to be known, range from silly little time wasters to fairly intense brain scramblers.

Ghosts (also called Ghost) was one of the more popular parlor games well into the 1950s, when James Thurber could still write about it as though it was a common pastime. The rules are very simple. A player thinks of a word, and says the first letter. The next player adds another letter, which continues that word without completing it. This continues, with each player trying to add a letter to the growing word without making a complete word. Proper nouns and abbreviations don’t count.

If a person adds a letter that forms a complete word, he loses the round and gets one point. The next player is allowed to challenge the previous player to reveal his word. If the challenged player can’t produce a complete, valid word, then he loses the round and gets one point. For instance, if player 3 adds a “Z” to create “TEZ,” player 4 can challenge him to produce his full word. Since player 3 was bluffing and has no word beginning with the letter “TEZ,” he loses the challenge. The loser of a round gets 1 point, and players are eliminated when they reach 3 points. Last player standing is the winner.

For instance, I think of the word FIRING, and say the letter “F.” The next person, building on the F, thinks of the word FERAL and says “E.” (“FE” is not a valid word under Scrabble rules, which is what people should use for this game.) The third person can’t think of a letter that doesn’t make a complete word, so he blurts out “B” and hopes his bluff will work. The fourth player challenges player three to produce his word. Unable to think of the word “FEBRILE,” player 3 fails the challenge and loses the round, earning 1 point. If he earns 2 more, he’s out of the game.

Although Ghosts is a pleasant game suitable for all ages and mixed company, Superghosts is an absolute brain sprainer. It preoccupied the mind of James Thurber so much that often he couldn’t fall asleep until he’d figured out all the words that could be made from certain letter groupings.

Superghosts is simply Ghosts in both directions. People don’t have to start spelling a word at the beginning, but can (and usually do) start spelling it at the absolute hardest possible place. I’ll let Thurber describe how this game haunted his mind:
I spent two hours hunting for another word besides “PHLOX” that has “HLO” in it. I finally found seven: MATCHLOCK, DECATHLON, PENTATHLON, HYDROCHLORIC, CHLORINE, CHLOROFORM, and MONTHLONG. There are more than a dozen others, beginning with “PHLO,” but I had to look them up in a dictionary, and that doesn’t count…
Starting words in the middle and spelling them in both directions lifts the pallid pastime of Ghosts out of the realm of children’s parties and ladies’ sewing circles and makes it a game to test the mettle of the mature adult mind. The Superghost aficionado is a moody fellow, given to spelling to himself at table, not listening to his wife, and starting dully at his frightened children, wondering why he didn’t detect, in yesterday’s game, that “CKLU” is the gusts of “LACKLUSTER,” and priding himself on having stumped everybody with “NEHE,” the middle of “SWINEHERD.”

The Oxford Guide to Word Games includes a few letter clusters as examples of just how maddening this game can get. Can you make words that include the letter groupings HQ, PK, XW, ADQ, EKD, GNP, PEV, SPB, and THM?

App O' The Mornin: Undercroft Review

Undercroft is one giant piece of vintage 1989 RPG cheese. Man, this baby has it all: stepped movement in a “3D” environment, flat sprites with a few frames of animation each, endless short corridors, gloriously over-the-top text, turn-based combat, party-based questing, skeletons, rats, spiders (what ever would we do without the spiders?), and all the rest. Playing this game is like being back on my 80286, banging away at Eye of the Beholder or Might & Magic.

And I loved every minute of it. Sure, it reminds you just how better RPGs have gotten in 20 years, but it’s still a great experience. This is old skool, baby, and it’s palm sized! That just gives me a certain kind of geek-thrill available only to people with a few decades of gaming behind them.

You begin by creating 4 characters, or choosing a random party. Stats are simple: strength, dexterity, and constitution. You can use some extra points to boost your stats, or, depending upon your class, buy some additional powers. Characters can be a warrior, mage, priest, summoner, or assassin, and if I have to explain what those classes are, then this game probably isn’t for you.

Soon after you begin, you find yourself in a basement killing rats, striking with each of your four characters in turn. Once you’re engaged in combat, you can swap items in inventory, use potions, change weapons and spells, and do everything but move.

The adventure follows the silly and predictable path of any late-1980s RPG. You pick up random tasks like delivering letters, catching chickens, or cleaning out monster-infested tunnels. These in turn help pump the levels as you get ready to take on gradually more serious creatures.

Undercroft is a free game, and its creators claim it has 20 hours of gameplay. Although I only have a few hours under my belt, I don’t doubt there’s probably 17 more hours lurking in there somewhere.

I’d say that, as an example of its kind, it’s well-nigh perfect. The only thing that bothered me were the healing mechanisms: either allow us to rest anywhere, or provide more health potion drops.There are some glitches, to be sure. A drop graphic might show one item, which the pickup menu shows another. Music keeps turning itself back on. Other rough spots simply add to the retro charm.

I have a feeling that not everyone will probably react to this game that same way I do. I’m viewing it through a gauzy scrim of nostalgia. My son didn’t like it at all. When I tried to explain that “This old school!” He said, “Yeah, real old school.” That hurts, son. That hurts…

This is a style of party-based first-person role-playing we just don’t see any more, and until Undercroft I hadn’t realized just how much I missed it. Your mileage may vary, but considering that the sucker is free, it’s not like you have much to lose by giving it a try.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Puzzle Follow-Up: Got a Problem?

Wow, no one took a stab at this one

Maybe it will help if I show how the easy one is done. The problem was to make an equation using only the following: 2, 3, 4, 5, +, =? (Each digit should be used only once.)

The answer is 4+5=32
(In case that doesn't show up on your screen correctly, the answer is 3-squared.)

(Okay, I just realized how hard it is to do superscripts in a combox. The tag is SUP. This was probably a poor puzzle choice for a blog.)

The tougher problem was to make an equation with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, +, =, with no more or less than 2 digits in each part of the equation, and each digit only used once. (eg: [2 digits] + [2 digits] = [2 digits])

Update: Another way is to represent exponents as words: square, cube, zenzizenzic (fourth), surfolide (fifth), zenzicube (sixth), second surfolide (seventh) and Zenzizenzizenzic (eighth).

It has the benefit of being completely outmoded and wonderfully obscure, which are always nice features for me. They were created by the man who invented the equal sign. I know what you're thinking: "Someone invented that?" Why, yes he did. Apparently "=" was his only flirtation with brevity and clarity.

PUZZLE: Sporting Chance

Bill covers the sports beat for a local newspaper. Has to file a story on the results of several hockey games played over the weekend, but his notes are incomplete. Would he be able to figure out the all the results from the partial information given in the table below? Can you?

TEAM            A      B     C
PLAYED          2      2     2
WON             2
LOST
TIED                   1
GOALS SCORED           2     3
GOALS AGAINST   1      4     7  

Bee Club Special: A Closer Look

Bees are one of my favorite cards. They have history, style, and a good feel. Until USPC send me some plastic cards, I never used anything but Bicycle and Bee, and I still think Bee is perhaps the best paper card made.

Consolidated-Dougherty started printing Bees in 1892, which explains that mysterious "92" on the Ace of Spades. USPC aquired the company soon after, and they've been printing them ever since.

They're a popular casino brand, and sometimes you can find them in discount stores with casino logos on the backs. They're also apparently a popular card for counterfeiters, as this site amply demonstrates.

The most striking aspect about Bees are their borderless backs. The diamond pattern on the back extends all the way to the edges, and creatives a distinctive down the sides of a stacked deck.

Face designs have been standardized in line with Bikes, but the Ace and Joker remain distinct.
Detail (Bee Joker)


Detail (Bee Ace)

App O' The Mornin': Tafl Review

Yesterday I continued the Colonial Gaming series with a look at Fox & Geese. There’s no version of Fox & Geese in the app store, but I did find a compilation of Tafl games, which are closely related.

Simply called Tafl, this app is the work of Machine Codex, which has done a good job at translating these games to mobile formats. The features are different for iPhone/Touch and iPad. The version I tested on my Touch includes Brandubh, Fidchell, Ard Ri and Tablut, while the iPad version adds Tawlbwrdd, Hnefatafl and Alea Evangelii as well.

The visuals are appealing, and the touch inputs are as simple as you can get. You just touch a checker and move it. It works perfectly well.

The four games are all variations on the classic Tafl gameplay, in which each side has a different number of pieces and different victory conditions. The first three are played on a 7x7 checker board, which creates an odd rank and file at the center of the board. This is where the “king” player usually begins. Tablut is played on a 9x9 board. The white side is the defender, while the black is the attacker.

Brandubh is a an Irish form of the game, and the name means “raven black.” This may be a reference to the color of one side, to a bit of lore suggesting that the game is about ravens attacking a king, or to something else entirely. No one really has any idea, since references are limited to a couple ancient poems and even the reconstruction of the game is hypothetical.

In Brandubh, the white player has four regular pieces and a special king piece called the “branan” (or “chief”). The black player has eight regular pieces. Both sides may move along the rank and file any number of spaces, like a rook in chess. Any piece surrounded on either side is captured and removed. The goal of the white player is to get the king from his starting place at the center of the board (the “Throne”) to one of the four corners, or “Keeps.” The goal of the black player is to prevent this.

Fidchell is a similar game with sketchy origins, and any modern version is pure guesswork. The version in the Tafl app simply doubles the number of checkers in play: eight white plus a white kind, and 16 black, although it’s still played on a 7x7 board.

Ard Ri is Fidchell played with a different configuration. In place of the cruciform layout of Brandubh and Fidchell, it groups the nine white checkers in a block at the center.

Tablut is the best known version, and for a very cool reason. Biologist Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, discovered people still playing the game in 1732 during an expedition to a remote area of the Laplands. They used boards made of reindeer hides, featuring 9x9 grids. Since he didn’t speak the language, Linnaeus sussed out the rules by observation, referring to the white pieces as Sweeds and the dark as Muscovites. The version in the app is played on a 9x9 board with 9 white versus 16 black.

At $3, the app might seem a little high for an abstract strategy game, but it’s a hybrid iPhone/iPad version with a good AI, and is the only worthwhile electronic version of these games that I’ve ever played.

Monday, September 27, 2010

PUZZLE: Got a Problem?

Can you make an equation using only the following: 2, 3, 4, 5, +, =? (Each digit should be used only once.)

How about 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, +, =, with no more or less than 2 digits in each part of the equation, and each digit only used once? (eg: [2 digits] + [2 digits] = [2 digits])

Sorry Revenge Review

I’d have to say that any game of Sorry is revenge enough. Much as I love ancient games, Pachisi is one I could live without, and it doesn’t get any more enjoyable by adding slides and squaring the board. Race games, as a rule, are not that interesting without the introduction of some unique gameplay mechanic or theme. (One example is the German game Hexentantz, which hides the color of each piece under a witch’s hat, making it a far more interesting experience.)


Thus, it was with some reluctance that I picked up Sorry Revenge, one of Hasbro’s many “expansions” to their core franchises. Sorry as a card game didn’t really seeming like a particularly brilliant idea, but I wound up liking it for a simple reason: it has almost nothing to do with Sorry other than it’s visual elements.

Sorry Revenge mashes together elements of 21 and Uno to create a pretty entertaining game. Up to 4 players each have 4 2-sided pawn cards, which are laid in a row in front of them. These begin the game with the “Start” side up. The goal is to flip all 4 cards to the “Home” side. The first person to do so, wins.

Each player is dealt 5 cards for a hand. The goal is to play a number card so that the running total adds up to 21 during your turn, without exceeding it. For instance, player A puts down a 7, the player B puts down a 10. If you can play a 4, you get to turn over a pawn card. If, however, you can only play a 5 or more, everyone else but you turns over a pawn card.

Once 21 is met or exceeded, the count resets to 0 and begins again.

There are a lot of special cards that allow you to switch direction, take two cards, play two cards, block someone’s pawn, counteract a block card, or slide the cumulative score to a specific number.

This was obviously an attempt to come up with something like Uno, and it partly succeeds. All the elements are there and it’s a perfectly enjoyable game. It just doesn’t seem to have that something special that makes a game a classic. This might have something to do with the constant addition and running totals, which can slow the game down a bit.

It works okay with two players, but is a lot more entertaining with 4. (There's no reason why two decks can’t be put together for an 8-player game.) It’s a good little family game or warmup game. Although it’s not going to replace Uno, it might make a nice little alternative.

COLONIAL GAMING: Fox and Geese


Fox & Geese is another ancient game that followed a winding road to the New World. It’s usually classed as a “Tafl” game, which is a category of games in which the sides are unevenly matched. The games derive their name from a cluster of Icelandic games related to Hnefatafl, but in fact “tafl” just means “board” or “table.” It’s a word found in various Germanic languages, and is often used as a suffix in games as diverse as Halatafl (an early version of Backgammon) and Sk├íktafl (a kind of Chess).

Over the years, “Tafl” just came to mean any game where one side outnumbers another, with the weaker side having different movement rules or victory conditions. Technically, they're called "asymmetrical abstract strategy games." These are classed as “hunt” games, and usually feature some kind of force (fox, wolf, king) trying to elude or eliminate a larger force (geese, hare, soldiers). The first reference appears in the Icelandic Sagas around 1300 AD, but the games are no doubt older than this. The earliest English reference to a game like Fox & Geese comes from the household inventory of King Edward IV (1461-1470), where his account books list an order for “two foxis and 26 hounds in silver overgilt.” It was not unusual for the "geese" to be called "hounds." (There's also a game called Fox & Hounds, but that's a different beast.)

Although there’s no written or archeological record for either the origin of Tafl games or their migration to England, we can always speculate. The Viking raids on Britain ended, oddly enough, in the very busy year of 1066, when the Norsemen were defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Once the Norse were shoved out the back door, the Normans came in the front door, and stuck around a little while. (Like, forever.) Since the Normans were descended from the Norse, we can speculate that Tafl games might have found their way to Britain through either source. Either way, it’s wholly possible that Halatafl, the game most like Fox & Geese, might have been in Britain as early as the 11th century.

Some of my own ancestors (the de Suttons) arrived with the Normans, and their descendants found their way to American soil in the 17th century. This is how folk culture migrates. The Norse conquer Northern France, intermarry, and create lots of little Normans. The Normans conquer Britain. The English colonize America. The Americans drive off the English. Along the way, they carry their games with them to pass the time, transmitting them across the space of a thousand years to the point where I buy a small portable set in a gift shop in Williamsburg and play the game in a Colonial tavern with my kids while waiting for our meals to arrive. Cultural migration and transmission is not particularly mysterious, but it is fascinating.

In any case, by the 18th century we find Fox & Geese well and truly entrenched among the colonials. It was a popular board game, although one generally favored by children rather than adults.

Colonial children also used their Fox & Geese boards to play Solitaire, a jumping game in which a marble is placed on every space save one. The goal is to eliminate as many marbles as possible by hopping. If you've ever eaten in a Cracker Barrel, you've probably played a version using golf tees on a triangular piece of wood.

How to Play

The rules of Fox & Geese evolved over the centuries, but the version played in Colonial America was probably the 1 fox, 13 geese version, which is the one most popular today. It’s played on a cruciform board with 33 spaces. Most boards use marbles for pieces and an indented playing surface to keep them from rolling all over the place. The geese are arranged on one side of the board, with no gaps between the pices. The fox is place near the middle. It can also be played using 17 geese.

The player controlling the geese needs to surround the fox so that he can no longer move. This is commonly done by cornering him and surrounding him on all sides. The player controlling the fox has to avoid being cornered long enough to reduce the number of geese to the point where cornering is no longer possible.

To accomplish this, each side has different movement rules.

The fox can move one space in any direction. If he is capable of jumping over a goose, that goose is “killed” and removed from the board. He may also double-jump, capturing two or more geese in a sequence of jumps, just like checkers. There are no forced jumps.

The geese, on the other hand, may only move forward or to the side. They may not move backwards. They also cannot capture. (After all, they’re geese. Their much feared Honking and Nipping Attacks really don’t bother a fox all that much.) Their strategy is to herd the fox into a corner before he can escape or jump.

Most commentators consider the goose to be the favored side, with the fox unable to win if played correctly.


Halatafl board discovered in Viking ruins, Ballinderry, Ireland

App O' The Mornin: Splode Review

This has been free for a couple of days, so check the app store. Otherwise, it’s $1 It's back to $2.


I’m not quite sure what to make of Splode, since it’s really not the kind of game I normally like. In fact, I wouldn’t call it a game at all, or even a puzzle. It’s more like a kind of soothing activity with a bit of physics puzzling squeegeed across the surface.

Splode is so minimalist it’s more like a zen meditation than a puzzle. The entire game is made up of the same single screen puzzle repeated over and over again, with the most minute variations for each new level. The input is a single touch on the screen, and everything else is chain reaction.

I’m not saying that you set something up and touch the screen to trigger it: I’m saying that you literally only touch the screen once.

Each level begins as a black-and-white image of the night sky, framed by pine needles and flowers. Floating through this scene are “splodes,” which are little puffballs that slowly bounce off the edges of the screen and each other. When you touch the screen, any splodes nearby will activate, turn from black-and-white to color, and move away from the shockwave.

This begins the chain reaction, as each triggered splode travels a short distance, explodes, and triggers more splodes. The goal is to clear a minimal number of splodes from the screen, the changing day to night and black-and-white to color.

There’s no strategy that I could discern, and no real trick to solving each screen. The only variations are the increasing number of splodes on the screen and the number of them which need to be cleared.

The game also includes a “score attack” mode, which is basically just a continual version of the regular game with increasing splodes and a fixed number of taps.

This is not a game at all, but more like some kind of strange meditation aid. The calming harp music, the soothing graphics, and the nonexistent gameplay are clearly meant to create a mood to be enjoyed rather than a puzzle to be solved.

Strangely enough, I did kind of enjoy it. I played 40 levels in minimal time, mostly because I kept expecting something to, y’know … happen. (I’m funny that way.) When it didn’t, I just went with the flow, and enjoyed watching the little puffballs float around and change color. I guess it’s kind of like a lava lamp, which raises the distinct probability that someone using mind-altering substances would probably think This is the greatest thing ever, man. Anyone looking for an actual game, however, should probably look elsewhere.