The Red Ring of Death

aka, The Red Ring of Doom; aka, The Eye of Sauron…

Every Xbox 360 owner fears it, and I just had my second one. Given the heavy-duty workout this unit gets (it’s the original Xbox 360, provided by Microsoft about 5 years ago), I can’t really complain.

Okay, I can complain. It happened right as I was beginning work on the Games 100, our biggest issue of the year. Also, and rather suspiciously, it happened only two months after I added an external cooling fan. Since I started using Netflix streaming regularly, I was worried about the wear-and-tear from extra heat. I’d heard complaints about the fans doing more harm than good, and I’m bit more inclined to believe that now.

There was a time when I would have just ripped that sucker open and fixed it myself.  That time is not now.

Microsoft is sending along a new unit for Tuesday, which will get me back in business to finish up this section. In the meantime, we’ve been using the Wii for Netflix, and it does a respectable job. It’s a bit cumbersome, since you need to have a special disc in the drive (?), and the image isn’t as good, but it gets the job done.

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Parents Who Love Their Kids Don’t Give Them Hannah Montana Playing Cards

I’m just sayin’.

Look, I have more than a few “novelty decks” in my collection: Elvis, Looney Tunes, Barbie Classic and Kicky Outfits (what the!?… how did that get in there?), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (yes, really; and don’t ask what’s on the Queen), more Elvis (there is no such thing as too much Elvis … except in playing card form), Iraqi fugitives, World War II plane spotters and the like.

They all have two things in common:

  1. I didn’t buy them and 
  2. I DON’T USE THEM.

I keep them on a shelf in my library, like little trophies. When someone asks if they can use one for a game, I usually just say, “Oh no, that would ruin the resale value!”

The picture at the top of this post is what a Jack of Spades looks like. We’ll talk more about playing card aesthetics in time. (Yeah, I said “playing card aesthetics.” Anything that’s a) designed, b) produced, and c) has a 600 year history is going to have an aesthetic aspect.) For now, let’s just take it as read that this is what a Jack of Spades looks like, and what he should always look like. Each time someone lays out a Royal Flush, everyone shouldn’t have to pause to figure out that Elvis 68 Comeback Special in Black Leather is the King, while Cilla is the Queen, and Elvis doing “Clambake” is the Jack.

Look, 9-year-old-girls have enough trouble telling between a small blind and a big blind or when to peg a crib. Don’t make them have to learn that Hannah’s “come hither” look is a Queen of Hearts (“’cause she’s so cute she’s the Queen of all our hearts!”) , while Hannah singin’ & spunky is a King of Clubs. (I’m just angry that I have to type the word “spunky” at all. As Lou Grant said: I hate spunk.)

As for the novelty cards people give kids to get them “into” cards: just don’t. Give them their own deck of real cards and teach them what they should look like. They’ll like the fact that they’re playing with the same kind of deck Dad and his friends use on Friday night, while appreciating that they don’t stink of stale beer, cigar smoke, and desperation.

They’ll also learn how real cards should look and feel. Yes, many of the novelty decks are made by the US Playing Card Company (the finest manufacturer of playing cards in the world) to their usual high standards. Everyone else is making a buck from Hannah Montana swag, so they might as well get their piece. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy them. Walmart sells a two-deck pack of Bicycle Rider Backs (one red, one blue) for $1.97. For a pittance you can place an actual slice of the adult world–one that is instantly recognized the world over, and can be used in hundreds of different ways–in your child’s hands. Why pay a premium price for a card where most of the cost is for the product license? (As I mentioned in my entry on American-style games, a company will slap on a brand on anything they can.)

A deck of Rider Backs is one of the most ubiquitous pieces of pop art of our time: instantly recognizable and know the world over. A deck of Naruto-themed playing cards is an abomination.

PS: What the heck is on those Hannah Montana cards anyway? Pillows? Doilies? A two of spades on a DOILY? Are you KIDDING me?!

App O’ the Morning: Roll Through The Ages

Roll Through The Ages is a game that benefits immensely from an App conversion. Although it loses the tactile element of dice rolling, it gains a lot from having the program handle goods management, which can be a be a little tricky to master in the original game.

I wrote about the tabletop version yesterday, so I’m not going to rehash the rules here. The app is an faithful conversion of the original, with a functional design and few audio/visual embellishments. There are options to play against AI opponents, or against any number of players using pass-back mode. (This means handing the device to the next player when it’s their turn.)

Each turn brings you to a Turn Order screen, which enables you to Roll, Build, Buy Development, and End Turn. Rolling is simple enough: push a button, click on any dice you want to save, and move on to the “Feed” stage when you’re done. If you’ve rolled enough food, or have enough banked, it’s automatically deducted. If not, you suffer a penalty.

This moves you straight to a Cities and Monuments screen, which looks like a color version of the paper scoresheet. Touch inputs allow you to check off boxes to assign workers, and separate buttons allow you buy developments and manage goods. When everything is done for one turn, you move right on to the next. This allows you to dash through a 10-round solitaire game in as little as 10 minutes. Even if you can’t finish a game in a single sitting, the App will save any number of games in progress.

On the downside, I thought that the flow from one screen to the next could be smoother and more logical, and not all of the feedback is helpful. (The main screen doesn’t tell you if you’ve assigned your workers or not.) Fortunately, the game won’t allow you to continue if you forget to complete a stage.

As a bonus, the Roll Through the Ages app offers the alternative Bronze Age variant, which adds some interesting items to the Developments menu, including an the “shipping” advance.

This a very plain port, but an extremely entertaining one. It loads fast, the controls are very simple, and it allows you to play a quick game of RTTA without any setup or fuss. I played the app version before the tabletop version, and found that it really helped teach the the game. If nothing else, it provides an excellent tutorial and practice mode for your live games.

Roll Through the Ages is available in the App Store for $3.  (Warning: this link will open iTunes.)