Friday, March 25, 2011

Cheese ... or Font?

Your five-minute time-waster for the afternoon: Cheese or Font? Can you tell whether the name is a cheese or a font? I know my cheese, Gromit, but fonts? A little less so.

We actually did pretty poorly on our practice run. Give it a try. Bring your own Wensleydale.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chess World Hit By Cheating Scandal

Sebastien Feller
Two Chess Grandmasters and an International Master have been suspended by the French Chess Federation for cheating. IM Cyril Marzolo and GMs Sebastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard were found “guilty of a violation of sporting ethics."

The cheating involved heavy usage of text-messaging during the 2010 Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiys. An investigation showed that Marzolo sent almost 200 messages to Feller and Hauchard during the tournament, with the majority of them during times when Feller was playing. has a thorough story on the investigation, reveling how the scandal unfolded:
Joanna Pomian, Vice-President of the French Chess Federation, told the committee that she had uncovered the matter on September 27, 2010. Cyril Marzolo, who was beset by financial difficulties, had worked for her company. Since he was blacklisted by mobile operators she had paid for his mobile phone account. On September 27, Cyril Marzolo was in the Pomian’s home to give back some papers, and while he left the room a few minutes and left his phone on the table. She saw a sms message arriving, from Arnaud Hauchard, mentioning “Hurry up, send moves…”. Subsequently, when checking the dues, she discovered that she had access to the records of the SMS text messages sent during the Olympiad. Pomian said she knew that Feller and Marzolo were very close, and that she has also heard rumors of cheating during the 2010 Paris Championship (which Feller won with 8.0/9 and a 2859 performance).
Arnaud Hauchard
The report cited by ChessBase explains how they did it:
  • Cyril Marzolo, who was in Nancy at the time of the Olympiad, sent SMS texts with phone numbers
  • The first two digits of the numbers were always 06
  • The next two were the move number
  • The fifth and sixth were the "from" square
  • The seventh and eighth were the destination square
  • The final two digits were random and of no importance
  • For example: 06-01-52-54-37, 06-01-57-55-99, 06-02-71-63-84, 06-02-67-65-43 are the first moves of the Latvian Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5).
Cyril Marzolo
Hauchard, the captain of the French team, had his phone and Feller's. He would go to the bar, check the messages, and then return to the hall during play in order to give Feller a signal for the proper move. There is some evidence that Marzolo was consulting a computer chess engine.

Marzolo is suspended for five years. Feller is suspended for three years, and has to do two years of community service with the French Chess Federation or he gets an additional two-year suspension. Hauchard was reprimanded and banned for life from being a captain or coach.

h/t: R. Wayne Schmittberger

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Big Game Hunter

Bruce Whitehill has redesigned and relaunched The Big Game Hunter, a gigantic resource drawing on Whitehill's 30 years of game writing and collecting. Whitehill has the largest collection of antique American games in the world, with items from over 400 companies from 1843 to the present. Game fans can get lost in his site--filled with history, collecting tips, design articles, and much more--for hours.

A Closer Look: French Tarot: Trumps 11 & 12

Many people are familiar with the standard Tarot suits (the "Major Arcana") used for "divination" purposes, but they're less aware that Tarot cards were created for playing trick-taking games and have a rich and diverse design history. These images are part of an ongoing series highlighting the art of a single deck used in France, which contains scenes of rural and domestic life in the 19th century.

Click to enlarge

Tarot Trump No. 11 Detail
Click to enlarge

Tarot Trump No. 12 Detail

The Amazon App Store

The Amazon App Store for Android is open for business, at least for now. Apple is objecting to Amazon's use of the name "App Store," and is suing to make them stop.

The suit claims that “Amazon has begun improperly using Apple’s App Store mark in connection with Amazon’s mobile software developer program.... Customers of mobile software downloads are likely to be confused as to whether Amazon’s mobile software download service is sponsored or approved by Apple.”

On the other hand, Angry Birds Rio for Android is free for a limited time! (Perhaps more limited than Amazon realizes.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Road to Canterbury

Designer: Alf Seegert
Publisher: FRED/Gryphon
Players: 2-3
Ages: 10+
Time: 45-60 minutes
Due: Summer 2011

One of my useless skills is the ability to read and recite Middle English, the language of Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales) and Langland (Piers Plowman). It's an ability that serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever other than giving me pleasure, and those are the things that tend to make life worthwhile.

I am an unapologetic medievalist. Civilization started to go pear-shaped with the Renaissance and really went to Hell in a handbasket (or perhaps Sheol in a sackbut?) with the Enlightenment. Medieval literature, art, history, and theology are fascinating to me. So, naturally, I was thrilled to see all of them converging with my love of gaming in Alf Seegert's upcoming game The Road to Canterbury.

Seegert is the designer of Trollhalla and Bridge Troll (both from Z-Man Games) as well as an English professor at the University of Utah. When I read Seegert's discussion of the game in his interview with Dice Hate Me, I wrote to him asking for details. 

"It might sound weird considering that it's based on Chaucer and I'm a literature professor," he replied, "but it's not too heavy on narrative--it's a more Euro-style design with different cards (Pilgrim, Sin, Pardon, and Relic cards--with art largely drawn from the Ellesmere Manuscript of the Canterbury Tales) that all interact together with a main gameboard that tracks the progress of the journey to Canterbury and shows which sin is currently denounced by the Parson, and which Pilgrims are currently available to tempt with sins and then pardon for ready cash. The board is itself based on Hieronymus Bosch's 16th c. tabletop of the Seven Deadly Sins."
Bosch: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Last Four Things
Here's the official description of The Road to Canterbury.
Greed, Pride, Gluttony, Wrath, Luxury, Idleness, and Envy—the infamous “Seven Deadly Sins.” For the faithful, they instill horror. For you, on the other hand, they present a wonderful business opportunity! In The Road to Canterbury, you play a medieval pardoner who sells certificates delivering sinners from the eternal penalties brought on by these Seven Deadly Sins. You make your money by peddling these counterfeit pardons to Pilgrims traveling the road to Canterbury. Perhaps you can persuade the Knight that his pride must be forgiven? Surely the Friar’s greed will net you a few coins? The Miller’s wrath and the Monk’s gluttony are on full public display and demand pardoning! The Wife of Bath regales herself in luxury, the Man-of-Law languishes in idleness, and that Prioress has envy written all over her broad forehead. And the naughty stories these Pilgrims tell each other are so full of iniquity they would make a barkeep blush! Pardoning such wickedness should be easy money, right?

Not quite. For you to succeed as a pardoner, you’ll need to do more than just sell forged pardons for quick cash. To keep your services in demand, you will actually need to lead these Pilgrims into temptation yourself! Perhaps some phony relics might help? There is also one big catch. The Seven Deadly Sins live up to their name: each sin that a Pilgrim commits brings Death one step nearer, and a dead Pilgrim pays no pardoners!

So much to forgive, so little time. Will you be able to outwit your opponents by pardoning more of these Pilgrims’ sins before they die or finish their pilgrimage to Canterbury?
Chaucer in the Ellesmere Manuscript
The game is due from FRED/Gryphon this summer, and Seegert is working with the publisher to finalize the art for the board and cards. I'm guessing the "Last Four Things" part of the painting, with Bosch's typically vivid depiction of the torments of Hell, will probably not appear in a game intended for family play. The Ellesmere Manuscript, which is the other artistic inspiration for the game, is the most famous and elaborate illuminated manuscript of The Canterbury Tales, with illustrations of the pilgrims and Chaucer himself. 

(Pointless Digression: As an added bonus for conspiracy theorists, the Ellesmere Manuscript was owned by John de Vere, the 12th Earl of Oxford, who wound up at the wrong end of the headsman's ax for his loyalty to the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses. He was the ancestor of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford and the man some people believe wrote the works of William Shakespeare, despite the inconvenient fact of his being dead when Macbeth, The Tempest, and Henry VIII were actually written. However, I think these connections prove incontrovertibly that Geoffrey Chaucer actually wrote the complete works of William Shakespeare! Alas. the whole Oxford/Shakespeare debate is about to go massively mainstream thanks to a big-budget movie from crap-auteur Roland Emmerich.) (These rambling asides are bonus content, and are added free of charge.)

I'll write some more about The Road to Canterbury as it gets closer to completion.

Other games by Alf Seegert:

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Walled City of Carcassonne

Atlas Obscura did a brief entry today on "La Cite Mediavale de Carcassonne", the restored medieval walled city that inspired the popular game series. It's a concise overview of the famous French city, so for those who want some more information on the real thing, point your browser at a couple of official French cultural & tourism sites for maps, history, interactive tours, and more. (English versions are available for both of these sites.) Its famous concentric walls and blue roofs will be familiar to fans of the game.

Tick Tackler = The Very Stuff of Nightmares

This is what Mike and the 'bots used to call "good old-fashioned nightmare fuel." The Lyme Disease Association has created a browser-based game to teach kids the horrors of the world away from their video games proper way to safeguard against tick-borne illnesses.

The game begins with l'll Jack suffering the night-sweats from a terrifying dream of an army of invading ticks. A dream no doubt caused by playing this very game!

The experience is divided into several sections to teach various skills for preventing tick bites: packing and dressing correctly for being in the frightening world outside your front door, staying to the path to avoid ticks, removing ticks, sorting ticks, and other fun parasite-based gaming activities.

The section called "Leading the way" begins with a child screaming "AAAAAAA! GEDDITOFFME!" like a drunk with the DTs. A sense of danger lurking in every blade of grass and behind ever shrub pervades the entire game. The "Tick family attacks" section, which shows ticks crawling all over your screen, will haunt me for days.

If you want to terrify your kids, let them spend a few quality hours with Tick Tackler. I know Lyme Disease is pretty serious. Trust me: I've put in my time with Scouts and have done the tick dance too many times to underrate the dangers posed by these tiny terrors. But there are just some experiences that can't be taught with a game, particularly one that is a queasy mixture of jauntiness and paranoid fever dream.