Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review of Discworld Ankh-Morpork

I would probably be blogging, but instead I'm writing an article for The Gazebo, where I write boardgames reviews. So I thought I'd treat you all to a previous review I did. Originally published in The Gazebo, issue 1, here's a review of the excellent Discworld Ankh-Morpork boardgame.

Discworld Ankh-Morpork is a rare breed, a themed boardgame which is both a great game
and true to its theme.

The plot of the game is that the Patrician has disappeared. The players take on secret
personalities, each with a specific objective. For example, Chrysoprase the mobster troll
needs to amass a certain amount of wealth and Commander Vimes wins by stopping
everyone else winning until the cards run out.

The board is a map of Ankh-Morpork. Each area can hold one building, which will give its
owner a specific ability. The more expensive the area, the better the ability. The cards are
familiar characters and locations from the stories. Flavour text is unnecessary because the
personality of the card is exposed through mechanics. Be careful when playing any
magicians, because doing so causes random magic events. Any member of the Watch will
remove trouble from the board, except Nobby Nobbs, who just collects money. Watch out
for someone playing the Fire Brigade on you, they'll burn down your building if you don't
give them money. And so on.  The game is delightfully full of in jokes and references, but is
still great if you don't get any of them.

Some cards are better than others, and some more suited to certain personalities than
others. Moist Von Lipvig might be said to be a bit too powerful, and the Peeled Nuts really get in the way. But unless you're very unlucky, you're likely to have some card in your hand
that will help your cause on any given turn.

Four of the seven possible personalities have the same goal, and playing those guys can get a
little tedious. And I've heard it argued that if everyone plays optimally, Vimes always wins,
but either we don't play optimally, or this just isn't true!

This is a really great game that plays quite differently depending on who’s playing and what
personalities they get.  It's not unusual to finish the game wanting to play again. Thankfully,
since it plays in about an hour, this is often possible.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I didn't keep my name

I got married in June. I changed my surname to match that of my husband and our son. Some people think that that was not a very feminist thing to do. However, I believe that this decision has to be a personal one in each case. I want to live in a country, and a world, where people who get married can keep the surnames they already have, or take each others', without gender becoming an issue. Since I think gay marriage should be possible, it makes no sense for me to have an opinion on whether a woman should, or should not, take her new husband's name. But in each case it has to be a personal decision based on the circumstances of the people involved.

For the record, here are my reasons.

1) I wasn't very attached to the surname I had.
Around the year I was born there were a lot of little girls given the same first name as me. I got really sick of it. So when I started college, I translated my name into Irish. The easiest way to change your name in this country was one tick away. My student card with my 'new' name got me a bank account. From a bank account you can go pretty much anywhere. The only downside was that there was no 'translate my first name into Irish' box, only a 'translate my name' box. So I translated my whole name, and, up until June, it was my name everywhere.

That surname didn't connect me to my family. I'm the only person I've ever known to use the Irish form. The way Irish 'Mc / Mac' surnames work, unmarried women's surnames begin with 'Ní' or 'Nic', for daughter of, and men's surnames (married or not) begin with 'Mac', for son of. Married women are 'Uí', for wife of. There is, to my knowledge, no way of altering a name to 'husband of'.

2) I wanted to have the same name as my husband, and our son.
When registering a birth in Ireland, you need to choose a surname for the child. It can be the mother's surname, or the father's, or both. (Actually you can choose another surname, but you need some special dispensation). When our son was born we had the impression that my now husband would get more rights if he they had the same surname. I suspect we were misinformed, because I can't find any proof. But it was an impression we had, and certainly a factor in our choice of our son's surname.

Regardless of our reasoning, our son has always had the same surname as his father. I wanted to have that surname too, to share it with them. I suppose we could have looked into changing their names to match mine, including finding some way to deal with the complications mentioned above. But it also gave me a chance to ditch a name I was not, as I said, particularly attached to.

So anyway, that was my choice. And those are my reasons. I am grateful to women who fought for me to have the choice.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When being nice is more important than the rules

The other day I decided to combine my run with a trip to the supermarket for a few things we needed. I probably looked quite odd, arriving at the express checkout sweaty, in running gear, with two cartons of cooking cream, 2kg of strong white flour, a packet of sunflower seeds and a bottle of Yazoo. But the very pleasant young man working the till didn't bat an eyelid. After he had scanned my items, I made two attempts at my PIN and still didn't know it. He was fine with putting my things (half of which I were already in my running bag) to one side while I went outside to call my husband to check if he knew it. He didn't. I came back in and made a third attempt, but got it wrong again, locking my card. My friend behind the till put my groceries aside while I went outside again to call my bank. They told me that if I had locked it at a point of sale I could unlock it at a bank machine. I went back in, explained, and went out to the bank machine outside the shopping center. Where I proceeded to make another two failed attempts at remembering my PIN. I rang the bank again. She told me that she would send a PIN reminder and that if I got it wrong at the machine again my card would be swallowed. I went back inside and explained the situation to the man behind the till. He said, somewhat conspiratorially, that he could try swiping it and see if it would let me sign instead of using my PIN. I was, of course, aware that he was offering to break the rules for me. And I was delighted. He tried a few times, and eventually it accepted the card that way, I signed for and received my groceries. Under normal circumstances, I'd be dismayed at the idea of someone being allowed to sign to use a locked chip and PIN card. But honestly, if someone had gone to the bother of staging all of that in order to steal eleven euro worth of groceries from me? I'd let them have them.

I'm a big fan of rules. But sometimes, being nice is better than following them.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


At Electric Picnic I saw the wonderful Niceol Blue play. Her audience was around twelve people, about half of whom seemed to know her personally. But that wasn't unusual for the bit of the festival we were in at the time.

We wandered in while she was playing a song I didn't recognise, possibly one of her own. After a few more she was told she had time for one last song, but it could be a long one. She said she didn't usually play this anymore, but the gods or someone or something was telling her to play it.

She played Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. But she didn't play his version, or Rufus Wainwright's version, or any other version I'd heard before. This was clearly her own take on the song. She had breathed it in and mixed it with herself before sharing it with us. And it was amazing.

I already new the song. I have Rufus Wainwright's version in my Grooveshark playlist, because I like his voice better than Leonard Cohen's. So I joined in, softly, at the chorus. As did everyone else. She told us we sounded great. And we did.

She sang the song as I knew it. And then she sang two more verses, the last two. They're amazing on their own, but if you're not already familiar with them I recommend that you read or listen to them in context. She kinda ruined Rufus Wainwright's version for me, because I now see the whole song as one thing, and I feel like his version misses the point. The verses I knew were just the prelude to the thesis of the last two verses. It's a song about love, sex, faith, and fucked-up-ness, and how they're all the same thing somehow. At least, that is what it now means to me, that's how I see it. And it doesn't really work without them.

And I sincerely hope that, even if it all goes wrong for me too, someday I too will stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.