Thursday, September 17, 2015

Android: Netrunner Ladies Night Thoughts

I'm going to jump into the details of this event shortly, but I wanted to give some quick background on myself and our league.

Our Android: Netrunner league, the West Seattle Cyberpunks, is only slightly more than a year old and I've only been the league administrator for just over a year. I started playing Netrunner right around the time the league was formed, in early 2014. One of the things that drew me to the game was its view of the future, which included a beautifully diverse cast of characters. In fact, I'd just completed writing my second novel, set in a near future in which the main character had a job as a 'runner' (no relation to hacking). It was an amazing coincidence and one that pulled me into the game very quickly.

A year later, after finishing an 8 week league cycle, we decided to have a series of one off events mixed in with some casual play and learn to play events for awhile. That's when the idea for a ladies only event was born.

I've been a gamer my whole life and I've been the type of gamer who has almost always played games with my female partners. I also typically play with men who include their partners. So for me, it feels natural to game with women, whether it's a board game or an RPG. Having never played in a league setting (I didn't come from a M:TG background), it felt strange to me that so many men played A:NR, yet so few women. Especially since women are so well represented in A:NR.

Our league has had a few female players over the last year, but two that have been with us almost since the start: Hilary and Emma. Both of them are smart, fun players and I knew that as soon as I thought of the idea, that they'd be the ones to take the reins and handle this right.

Anyway, we had a total of seven ladies show the evening of the event and another three said they wanted to come but couldn't make it. We let them take the leagues main play area (we have a tournament space we regularly play in called the Thunderdome). The boys all played in the cafe.

Everything seemed to go well. We heard lots of laughing and yells over in the cafe. Someone called out, "I'm never playing against Jinteki again!" which made us all laugh.

The next day, I sent out an email to all of the ladies that came to the event and that I had contact information for and asked a few questions about their experience.

There was a mixed reaction as to whether things felt different without the boys present. Some women felt it was exactly the same, other said they did notice a difference in a positive way. No one reported a negative change.

There was a general sense that the more experienced a female gamer was, the more likely it was she experienced what Hilary referred to as 'micro-aggressions' when playing in predominantly male groups. For the most part though, most everyone seemed to think that while this was still the case in the A:NR community, it was less prevalent than in other game circles. (Just a note to fellow league admins out there - in the year that I've done this job, I've had two incidents where female players have come to me to complain. I chose to send out a blunt email that made it clear that there would be zero tolerance for any kind of harassment or discrimination. So far, so good.)

When I asked about future events, most of the women reported that while the event was fun and that they'd attend another similar event, some missed playing with familiar male players or that the level of competition was more significant than the gender of the players. I'll also note here that the ladies got along well enough that there was talk among them of organizing their own separate meetups again.

Lastly, when asked about things that might draw more women to the game, pretty much everyone reported the same thing. That is, just expose more people in general to the game and more women will be drawn to it.

I have to agree. While I think having a ladies A:NR event was a great move and we may do more of them, the best selling point to gender (and racial) diversity in the A:NR community is the game itself. I'm going to call the night a success and I highly encourage any and all female A:NR players out there to work with your local groups and get your own ladies A:NR event going. I think we can all agree, more nets must be run.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Bif! Bam! Pow! The Card Game

This is a very rough outline for a card game I'm developing. It's my first real foray into game development after being a long time gamer and general nerd. I'm entering this idea into the Hasbro Gaming Lab contest. If selected, I'll be putting up an IndieGoGo campaign for it and we'll go from there.

Bif! Bam! Pow! is a fun social card game inspired by classic comic books and campy TV shows. Players take on the role of stalwart heroes or dastardly villains in a light-hearted battle of good and evil. Each player is randomly given a role, hero or villain – which they keep secret until they are ready to reveal themselves to the world! Through simple card mechanics, players build their heroes or villains, giving them powers, weaknesses and origins and use them to achieve their goals and defeat their opponents. For the heroes it might mean saving the the lady who just fell from the top of the building or stopping the bank robbery! For the villains it may mean making sure that you've secreted away your death ray plans or stolen the gold bouillon! As soon as someone is out of cards, the game ends and players find out who the SuperHero is, who the Arch-Nemesis is, and who has won the day!

The game takes roughly 20-30 minutes depending on the number of players. The game plays 2-6 people but can expand to accommodate more by combining sets of cards. Each game comes with 8 Role Cards, 60 Disaster! Cards and 300 Bif! Bam! Pow! Cards.

Monday, August 10, 2015

My Colonial Marine Armor

Since having to sell my Star Wars Stormtrooper armor, I'm really missing having a great costume to wear at parties, conventions and around the house making pancakes.

In that spirit, I've decided to try to assemble a new costume, but this time, I'm going with a something different. A set of Colonial Marine armor from Aliens! More specifically, I want to recreate Corporal Dwayne Hicks' armor.

Putting this together is going to be a labor of love and time and money. I'm not asking for help here, but if anyone wants to be me any gifts, these are items that I need to help make my armor a reality.
If you can't buy an entire item, but want to help, contact Jen (my girlfriend) and she can help you put money toward one of the things on this list.

USCM Marine Armor Costume With Steel Helmet in Movie Camo 
(Top Item on the page on the left, Regular Sized Ab Pad)

Evike Pulse Rifle

BDU Blouse
Size Small through XL
(Up to a 48" Chest)
(measurements posted soon)

BDU Trousers
Size Small through XL
(measurements posted soon)

Altama Black Jungle Boots (Size 9)

IR Sight (w/ LED)

Marine Headset Kit
Other things will be added to list (or hopefully taken off!) as needed.

For details, contact, Jeniffer at

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Think Twice (A Short Story)

“And remember to listen to your grandmother,” The Boy's mother said as she headed off to work. It was what she always said. But what did his grandmother know of space stations and lost treasure? What did she know of superheros and spies?

The Boy obeyed his grandmother even though most of her orders only consisted of “Wash the dishes” or “Sweep the porch”. When The Boy came home from school he'd find her in the same spot she had been in when he left. She would be sitting in her chair at the kitchen table, a cup of strong black tea next to her, comfortable sandals resting half way off of her old, wrinkled feet, her glasses halfway down her nose, peering into a thick book full of words and totally lacking in pictures.

The only order of hers The Boy always looked forward to hearing was, “Go outside and play for awhile. Get the stink off of you,” which always came out less mean than it maybe sounds.

The Boy loved adventure. He often got his other friends in trouble. Not intentionally. He just tended to want to go further than others did. The Boy was never malicious or mean, just curious. Where does that lead? Who is that? Why is that there? All questions The Boy often felt driven to get personal answers to.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Breaking the Ice on Netrunner

A genetically modified teen girl who has tricked out her computer - that looks like a lovable little toy dinosaur - with her own personal hacking code has broken into a remote computer server of a massive corporation that has a station on the moon called Heinlein. But it turns out that they were expecting her and the trap waiting for her scrambles a massive chunk of data on her computer and she's barely able to unplug her neural connection before her brain is entirely fried.

That's a sample turn in the game called Android: Netrunner. I'm going to make this post brief, but I really need to explain to you all why this game has changed my life.

First, I've been playing games since I was a wee one. I learned chess at six. I moved on quickly to Dungeons & Dragons, Axis & Allies and plenty of others. I got in early on the Collectible Card Game (CCG) movement. As the years rolled on, I hopped on board the euro train with games like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne and Ticket To Ride. But it wasn't until May of this year that I began working at a Friendly Local Gaming Store (or FLGS for those of you not in the know), and a customer introduced me to Android: Netrunner. It was love at first play.

Android: Netrunner, by Fantasy Flight Games is the re-imagining of the Richard Garfield designed, late 90s CCG, called Netrunner. Garfield created Magic the Gathering and after he'd moved on, he wanted to create something that was a little deeper, a little heavier, a little brainier. His vision of Netrunner never quite caught on and the game stalled more than a decade ago. Fantasy Flight licensed the game and, took many of the core mechanics, put it into the universe they'd created for a board game called Android, and created a masterpiece.

But enough history. I said this would be a short post and I'm already getting long winded. The skinny! The game is a two player only card game that lasts ~30-45 minutes. The game isn't difficult *but* it is complex. It really helps if your first go through you have someone who knows how to play who can guide you.

So, what is the game? One player plays one of multiple ruthless mega corporations while the other player plays a 'runner', a hacker attempting to break into the corporation and steal information. It's a card game, but it's not a collectible one. There are no 'rares' or 'booster packs'. There are expansions, to be sure, but everyone gets the same cards. No guessing involved.

The game is asymmetrical, meaning each side plays differently. This isn't like chess where the only thing differentiating the players are the color of the pieces. Each side can only play cards that are designed for their side. Each side has it's own format, rules, card titles and more. The core concept is that there are cards in the corporate deck called 'Agendas'. These are the corporation's plans. Scoring seven points worth of these will win the game for either side. But the runner has none of them in his deck. Which means the hacker player has to break in or 'make runs' on the corporate player's computers. This leads to a great mix of bluffing, resource management and brinkmanship that I haven't seen the likes of in any other game.

I'll end the description there because quite frankly, it's like an alien asking what Christmas is about and trying to sum it up by saying, "Well, people get together once a year and give each other presents." It just doesn't really give you the flavor at all.

But this isn't just a game review here. This is a post about how much this game has had an effect on my thinking and on my life. I currently administrate the league here in West Seattle. I play twice a week outside of the house and I play my girlfriend as often as she'll indulge me. It's gone from being a game to a hobby.

That's not all though. I wanted to share a few links to other articles that for me, really put into focus why the game has had such a profound impact on me.

First is an article called 'Why Netrunner Matters':   This great piece dives into this history of hacking, back to Allen Turing and others and explains why hacking is an important cultural touchstone for us.

Second is an article titled, 'Breaking Gender and Racial Barriers in Netrunner'.  You can guess what this one covers. It's really gratifying to see so few 'average white guys' portrayed in this game.

Third is one called 'The politics of Netrunner'.  This one nails the intelligent humor and insight that Netrunner slips into the game. It's rare that a game in our modern era can make smart commentary without sounding like it's preaching.

So yeah, it's not just that I love the game. It's that it is a great game. It's smart, well thought out, fun to play, constantly changing and evolving.

If you've read through this and I've piqued your interest, Fantasy Flight put together a very slick video on how to play the game. It's made for folks who have already purchased the 'core set' (which runs about $40). Feel free to take a look though:
The game isn't easy to pick up if you've never played anything beyond Monopoly. Nevertheless, I truly believe that this game elevates the tabletop experience on every level. It's setting a new standard. And I'm having a hell of a lot of fun.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Brett Henry

If someone approached me and asked me to provide a single human being to represent our species in a first contact situation with alien beings, I would choose Brett Henry without thinking twice. It's not that Brett was perfect. He had flaws, plenty of them. To say that life had knocked Brett down into the dirt and kicked him in the teeth a few times would be an understatement. He might have even walked into a few of those ass kickings.

Brett was the best man I knew because of those hard times. They were the chisels that sculpted out his character and his moral compass, which was unerringly true. They weren't qualities he bragged about. He never saw himself as better than anyone. But if you were to stand him in with a group of his friends and loved ones and asked them all to simultaneously pick out a leader, there wouldn't be a vote or a debate. Brett would be the only one not pointing at Brett. He was kind without being soft. He was smart without being high-handed. He was funny without being goofy.

He gravitated toward grizzled, underdog heroes because that's what he was. He was the Aragorn in our Fellowship. He was the Hicks of our Colonial Marines. And when those aliens made first contact and asked Brett about humanity, he wouldn't have sugar coated it. He wouldn't have painted a Norman Rockwell portrait of life on Earth. But he wouldn't have shit on humanity either. He could see the best in the worst, whether it was a situation or a person. He could you make you feel like it was okay to look at yourself in the mirror. Without even trying, Brett made it easier to get up the next day and face the world again, even when he was struggling to do the same.

I don't want to rehash a bunch of personal memories of my friend here. Those are mine to keep close. My friend is dead. I loved him. While I want answers about the circumstances around his death, those answers won't change the most important thing: Brett Henry lived. And his life made mine a better one. I plan on spending the rest of my days trying to be half as good a human being as Brett Henry.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Biographical Body

As I hit my 40s, I really began to become comfortable with not just my personality, but my body, my history, my entire identity. I'm actually a pretty fascinating person and I really do like myself. In celebration of my 44th birthday a couple of weeks ago, I decided to take three pictures of myself (with Jen's help). Specifically, I wanted to show aspects of my body that tell a tiny story about me. Things people look at and see every day on my body but don't know the story they are looking at. It's my biographical body.

This picture is titled 199619751990 because the three images above relate to those three years, 1996, 1975 and 1990, respectively. Along with this photo, I thought I'd write the very short version of each story.

1996: Although the inspiration for this tattoo behind my left ear came from the Brujah clan of vampires in the White Wolf game, Vampire: The Masquerade, I didn't get it to signify them. Nor did I mean it to advertise that I followed any kind of stereotypical anarchist political agenda. Instead, I liked the symbol as a personal statement of liberation and individuality. I was smart enough at the time to realize I might not have a mohawk style haircut forever. I could cover the ink by simply growing my hair out. But I remember saying that even if I changed my thinking over the years, I wanted 25 year old me to occassionally tap future me on the shoulder and say, 'Hey, don't forget this ink up here. Whatever you're doing in life, do it your own way for your own reasons.' Thanks past self. Good job.

1975: That line down my left eye isn't a laugh line or a really big crows foot. It's a scar. One I got in in 1975. I wasn't supposed to be standing on our dining room chairs. I was  four, going on five and I was just excited to sit at the big table with the adults. I slipped though and I hit my face on the edge of the adjacent chair. Blood went everywhere. It was possible I was blind in that eye. My mother scooped me up and ran me to the hospital. I was screaming and crying and the more the doctors tried to hold me down to suture me up the more I flailed. I wanted nothing to do with that needle near my eyeball. But inspiration struck my mother. She knew that I was a fan of the then hugely popular show The Six Million Dollar Man. She said, "Son, hold still. They're going to give you a bionic eye. Just like Steve Austin." That was all it took. I held still and took those stitches like a champ. For weeks after, I would close my right eye, convinced I could see much farther with my new left one.

1990: I was an unhappy kid in the military and my saving grace was my friend Eric. He and I and my friends Scot, Dave and Bryan often drove into L.A. to hit various clubs. We were cash poor, dorky and totally not cool. But what we lacked in style, we made up for in enthusiasm. One night at the Kontrol Factory, the song Burning Inside by Ministry came on. I ran to the dance floor for an impromptu mosh pit with my friend Bryan. He didn't see me barreling toward him at full speed and Bryan is not a small man. He just happened to swing an elbow up as I came flying at him, literally airborne. His elbow caught me right in the mouth. My canine tooth chipped, my lip split, blood went everywhere. In the bathroom, people were horrified as I washed my mouth out in the giant circular communal sink and the water turned red. I can still feel that ding in my canine and it always reminds me of Bryan and Ministry.

My body is full of stories.