Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Risky business

I'm feeling better now than I've done in months (probably since May) and have no real idea why. The diet, the pills (I'll be dropping back again on Friday), the long weekend, who knows?

Dad is supposed to be back now, but with the storm, I've no idea whether his flight actually took off when it was scheduled to. When someone in my family attempts to fly somewhere, myself included, a severe weather event is almost guaranteed. I gave him a ring at the weekend, and also had a longish chat with my brother who was a mixture of happy (that he's with his friends, half a world away from his horror story) and cheesed off with his financial situation, which is about as bad as mine.

Dad's trip to the UK has meant I've spoken to Mum on the phone even more than usual. I'm happy with that - we get on pretty well these days. She hasn't been feeling 100% for a while but stubbornly refuses to see a doctor. She thinks it's all down to the food she eats. That includes the rash on her upper arm that keeps slowly expanding.

The highlight of the long weekend for me was my first ever proper game of Risk. We played at Tracy's place - the same crowd (well, three is a crowd) of Tracy, Tom and me. The idea was that we'd play for two hours, and whoever occupied the most territories at that point would be the winner. I was fortunate to snag Australia early on, and it was close for the lead between Tom and me. As such, most of my attacks were directed at Tom. After about 90 minutes we felt like we were just getting going (man it's a long game) so we upped the time limit to three hours. I focused almost exclusively on the Southern Hemisphere, and as I threw more than my fair share of fives and sixes, I was able to control South America and/or Africa. But my luck ran out and Tracy, who had kept a low profile, came marauding in. At the three-hour point my yellow army still occupied more regions than Tracy's red (Tony's green army was on the wane), but with someone making such a strong fightback, finishing at that point wouldn't have been "right", so we decided to adjourn until the weekend after next, at my place. How do we do that? Ah yes, take a photo of the board. I'm not sure I can wait so long to play again - it was a very absorbing three hours. Tracy has so far had one extra turn (she started), I'm next up, and I'm already thinking what I should do with my new complement of eleven yellow plastic cylinders. Tracy said after an hour that she was doomed, but I think that was a bluff. She's a smarter, more experienced gamer than either Tom or me, and I'm sure she knows it.

My hand-me-down copy of Risk is the 1963 version. The actual copy can't be that old - it's probably early seventies, which admittedly is still pretty damn old. Even after playing one session I can see that Risk has its flaws, but it's still an excellent game, and in its time it must have been revolutionary. Board games up to that point were: roll the dice, move your counter the number of squares indicated on the dice, then do what it says on that square (if anything). Risk is a complete departure from this. Plus it does seem to simulate war rather well at times - often I was thinking, yes I took that territory but boy did I lose a lot of men doing it. I'm glad I've got this version which requires you to choose, in turn, where to place armies on the board at the start, rather than having them randomly determined. I think that choosing territories adds an extra dimension.
The instructions give me a window on what life was like in the sixties and seventies. "The rules which follow are new and are the result of continuous research and testing ... They develop strategy sooner and make for better play." So you knew the game took seven hours, but that wasn't a problem?! Wow. In 2013 a mass-market board game taking more than a couple of hours would be a non-starter. The time factor is probably the biggest criticism of Risk. Then there's the role of luck - it's hard to determine how significant that is given the sheer number of dice rolls in a game. Thirdly there's a rich-get-richer mechanism (the more territories you've got, the more armies you get, which enable you to control more territories...) - that would probably be my biggest complaint.

Before the game we talked a bit about computer programming. Both Tracy and Tom love it. "It's fun." Well, programming for its own sake, or even to achieve a goal I don't care about, ain't my idea of fun. I did a short programming course at uni but we weren't actually taught anything, as far as I could see, and the two or three people on our course who already knew about the language drip-fed the "answers" to the rest of us who were completely clueless. If, on the other hand, my program is doing something I'm interested in, you know, creating an app or something, I could see myself learning the relevant language.

On Sunday I went to sit out on the bank at the Basin, and to my surprise there was a four-day game going on between Wellington and Otago. The home side were doing well, and when one of the batsmen was dismissed for a century, on came Jesse Ryder for the first time since March when he almost died following that attack in a Christchurch bar. As it happened, his father, his girlfriend and other members of his entourage were right in front of me. I spent more time watching them than any of the players. Ryder raced to 48 by the end of the day and was out for an impressive 117 on Monday.
(Edit: I shouldn't pretend to know anything about domestic cricket. Jesse Ryder had moved teams over the winter and was now playing for Otago against his old side.)

This morning Birmingham and Stoke played a memorable match in the League Cup. With the score at one apiece, Blues had a man sent off on the stroke of half-time. Unsurprisingly Stoke, the superior side on paper, capitalised to go two goals up. Eleven minutes to go and Blues bring on Peter Løvenkrands, and what do you know, he pops up to score twice in the final six minutes to force extra time. Only three minutes into the extra period and Stoke go back in front. Blues are dead on their feet as they try to scramble another equaliser which they somehow manage in the 118th minute. It sounded far too good a game to be decided on penalties (and don't forget, Birmingham played the last 75 minutes a man down) but alas Blues missed their first two spot-kicks and that was pretty much that. For all my cynicism about football and team sports in general, this was a "feel-good" game for me, in spite of the final result.

Update: Dad is back; I just spoke to him. No problems with the scheduling, but he felt very ill at Hong Kong after an ultra-cramped Virgin Atlantic flight, and was worried he wouldn't be able to continue his journey. He vowed never to fly with Virgin again. He flew with Air New Zealand (a far less painful experience) on the second leg.

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