Mostly Successful Baking

I just baked some peppermint-flavored butter cookies. They turned out great, except for one thing: I made them too big.

The peppermint flavor is not very strong.  I only had peppermint oil, not peppermint extract, so I had to be careful with how much I used. The oil gave off pretty strong vapors; my hands can still feel the tingly coolness of the oil.

The cookies themselves are super light and fluffy.  I had never made butter cookies before, so I was unsure how they would turn out.  I had no idea if the cookies would contract at all (they did not) and I used the amount of dough per cookie as depicted in the recipe (2 oz per cookie).

Really, if I hadn’t made the cookies so large they would have been absolutely perfect. As they are, you can’t really eat them in any sort of graceful manner.  The cookies are just too thin and fragile.  Even putting frosting on them was enough to break them if I was not being delicate enough.  I’m a little disappointed because I was hoping to share them.

Here are links to the recipes for the cookies and the frosting.

After The Last Jedi

Well, The Last Jedi certainly did have a different, non-Star-Wars feel to it through much of it, but I liked it.


– – – SPOILERS – – –


I’m still digesting the movie, but here are some thoughts:

Snoke: I didn’t really like Snoke as a villain in The Force Awakens.  However, while watching The Last Jedi, the character really grew on me. I ended up liking the character so much that I’m a little upset that they killed him off.

Poe: I’m glad Poe got more of a focus in this film.  I felt he got the short end of the stick in TFA.

Finn: Finn was almost a secondary character in this film.  You could remove all of his scenes from the movie and it would have no real effect on the end product. It was a little disappointing.  I really thought they were going to kill him off at the end.  That would have been a pretty bold film-making move.  Alas, he is robbed of a heroic sacrifice.

Rey: Again, Rey ends up being great.

Kylo Ren: I was please that Kylo saw more character development in this film.  The character had great “story” potential in TFA, and a lot of it is realized in this film.

Hux: Not much happening with Hux, which was all right.  He was entertaining enough for the bits he was in.

Leia: Leia’s few scenes were all right, but I felt the whole “coming back from the dead” thing was kind of lame.  Even though that was all done before Carrie Fisher died, I couldn’t help but feel like Leia’s apparent on-screen death and resurrection was in bad taste.  I know that’s not a fair judgment, however.

Luke: I really like what they did with Luke.  The whole “failed master” thing was a refreshing change.  Hamill did a masterful job.

Others:

  • Chewbacca gets a couple of good scenes, but he’s out of the picture for the most part.
  • The three main droids all see reduced roles, too.
  • I liked the new Vice Admiral Holdo character, played by Laura Dern. It sucks that they killed her off.
  • Benicio Del Toro’s character, DJ, was great.  I’d love to see more of his character.
  • I liked the few First Order officer characters with speaking roles, especially the captain of the new Dreadnought ship.

One new main character which I haven’t listed yet is Rose.  I actually have a fair number of gripes with this character.  I just did not like this new character, even from the first few still images I saw of her before the movie.  At first it was just an unfair dislike just because of her haircut (an unfair criticism, I know), so I kept an open mind for the movie.  I even started off liking the character a little at the beginning of the movie, but that gradually faded.

Rose and Finn’s part of the story were entirely unnecessary.  In fact, it totally felt like the movie was written without them in mind at first, then they were hastily written into the story after it was complete — Finn being added in because the script writer just forgot about him, and Rose being added in solely to appeal to the growing market in China.  It didn’t help that the character was so clichéd, either.

I don’t care that the character of Rose was played by an Asian actress; it’s just painfully obvious that that’s the reason Disney added the character to the movie (a similar thing happened with Rogue One, but at least we got two awesome characters out of that).  Seriously, stop writing in characters for their race just so you can pretend you don’t care about race.

It also felt like half the time Rose’s character was CGI and/or had her voice dubbed over.  That was particularly jarring.  I don’t know if this is just my mind playing tricks on me or what.  A similar thing happened in Rogue One with the character of Baze Malbus in one scene.  I don’t know if the filmmakers are using CGI to “fix” issues with acting, lighting, or whatever in post, similar to the way Lucas was editing together the performances for different actors from different takes to make one “ideal” take in the Prequels.

I felt most of the space battles were pretty lackluster.  Some of that may be due to the fact that I saw the movie in 3D (due to lack of options).  Dogfighting scenes in these movies are ruined by 3D: everything looks muddied and blurry.

The ramming of the Raddus into the First Order’s flagship, the Supremacy, was particularly spectacular.  This was one of the best scenes in all the Star Wars movies combined.  Even when it became obvious what was going to happen, it was still shocking.  It was just a masterful piece of film-making. You could actually feel the entire theater’s collective jaw dropping when it happened, which is something I haven’t felt in a theater experience before.  For those few seconds people were left speechless — the only sound the odd person’s voice being able to make was a gasp.

Some people complain about the comedy, but I thought it was all right.  I was worried at first with Poe and Hux’s interaction at the beginning (“I can hear you, can you hear me?  Is he hearing me?”); if the movie had had that tone throughout then it would have been an awful, awful movie.  In hindsight, it’s similar to Poe’s humor at the beginning of TFA.

There’s still more to say about the film, but I’m just tired of typing.  Again, I enjoyed it, and I’ll see it in the theater again.  I’d rate it maybe a B-.

Before The Last Jedi

I’m going to be seeing the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, in a few hours. I’ve been very careful to avoid spoilers for it, but I have been checking out the ratings the movie has been getting. It’s sounds like it’s getting mixed reviews in many cases.

On Rotten Tomatoes the movie is rated at around 56% among movie goers at the moment.  For comparison, The Phantom Menace sits at 59%.  Critics are giving it 93%, but I find that professional film critics, as a whole, are either very bad at rating movies or are basically acting as advertisement for films.  On IMDB, the movie is sitting at around 81%.

One consistent theme that is coming across to me as I’m carefully skimming spoiler-free online forums is that the movie is somehow very different from the kind of Star Wars movie we’re familiar with. It almost sounds like we’re not getting a Star Wars movie, but rather some other kind of movie with the Star Wars characters in it.

I’m keeping my expectations low.  At this point I’m actually less interested in seeing where the saga’s story is going than I am in seeing how the film could possibly be so non-traditional a Star Wars movie as many are saying.

I really hope the movie is not terrible, though.

Who Goes There?

The classic sci-fi/horror movie, The Thing, is one of my all-time favorite movies. I’ve been wanting a board game based on this movie for years, and the collectibles company, Mondo, recently released a game that is exactly what I have been looking for.  It’s called The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31. It’s the first board game that company has ever designed, and they did a phenomenal job.

The premise of game is as follows: a group of people are trying to escape a research base in Antarctica. The players must sweep the base and collect certain supplies before they can take to the helicopter and leave.

There is a big problem which makes a successful escape very difficult, however. The research team at the base has come into contact with an alien which was discovered in the ice after having been frozen for 100,000 years. This alien grows by absorbing other living things, and can split itself into multiple, independent creatures. The alien can also change its shape, transforming itself into unimaginably horrific forms. With no known original form, the alien is only referred to as the Thing.  So, in addition to finding the necessary supplies, the players must also kill every instance of the Thing hiding in the base before they can make their escape.

At the start of the game, each player selects a character from the movie and takes that character’s file card and game token. Each player’s game token starts in a central meeting room within the base. From there, game play is broken up into rounds. Each round, a different player becomes the “captain” who must take on a mission to another room in the base in an effort to find supplies and kill aliens. The captain must select a number of additional players to accompany him on the mission, his choices being affected by the requirements of that particular mission. At the end of a mission, all players return to the central meeting room.

Unfortunately for the players, there is one more complication: the shape-shifting alien can infect, absorb, and perfectly mimic any creature it absorbs…and it has imitated one of them! The players absolutely cannot allow the alien imitation to leave the base and reach the mainland or it’s ‘game over’ for all of humanity.

And here is what makes the game so special: while the players are all trying to destroy the monstrous incarnations of the alien lurking about the base and then make their escape, one of the players is secretly an imitation — a Thing — whose goal is to sabotage their efforts. No one but that player knows who the imitation is.

Who is human and who is an imitation is represented by a “blood sample” card which each player keeps secret. Everyone is dealt one of these cards at the beginning of the game, and one of the cards dealt is guaranteed to be an “Infected” card which denotes that the player is an imitation.

The humans know at least one of their number is an alien imitation, but they don’t know who. Their mission now is to not only successfully sweep the base clean of other alien monstrosities and leave via the helicopter: they must also escape *without* taking along any player who is an imitation. The ‘alien’ side wins if they manage to sabotage things to the point where the base is in shambles and escape is impossible, or if one of them successfully convinces the other players that he is a human and is allowed to join the escape via helicopter at the end.

As the game progresses there are opportunities for one other player (or, in larger games, two players) to become absorbed and imitated by the alien creature also. Who the new imitation is is also kept secret — even from the original imitation.

A brief “Assimilation Phase” occurs at two points in the game: once when the players have swept a third of the base and again when the players have swept two-thirds of the base. At this point a second deck of blood sample cards containing one or two “Infected” cards is distributed among all players. Every player looks at his current blood sample card and the new card he receives, keeps one, and returns the other. If either card is an “Infected” card, the player must keep that card.

The fact that one or two players might have it in their best interest to cause missions to fail makes the captain’s job in selecting a mission team each round much more challenging. The captain needs to select the right players for each mission, avoiding anyone whom he thinks might be an imitation who will attempt to spoil the mission. Furthermore, because team captaincy rotates among all players, it is guaranteed that an imitation will sometimes be in charge of a mission!

At the start of every round in the game, the captain must take a random “mission” card from a deck of such cards and show it to everyone. This card lays out the number of players required for the mission and the requirements for the mission to succeed. Mission requirements take the form of “supplies”, which are also represented by cards. Each player has his own hand of supply cards, and every player selected to go on a mission (including the captain) must provide one of their own supply cards into a pool of cards which represent the team’s collective efforts toward accomplishing the mission’s goal.

Each player must keep his hand of supply cards a secret from every other player. Any cards provided to the mission captain must be given face down. Once the team captain receives a supply card from each member selected for the team, he must then shuffle the pool of supply cards for that mission so that he doesn’t know which player gave what card. After this is done, the captain then reveals some or all of the supply cards (depending on the mission requirements) to see whether or not the mission succeeds.

This may sound pretty straight-forward, but there are some additional details which, while simple, serve to complicate the decisions everyone must make each round.

In addition to having a specific number of players, missions also have an additional requirement which the captain must attempt to fulfill when selecting team members. The characters in the game each belong to one of three “departments”: science, operations, or maintenance. Each mission will require that a certain number characters from one or more department must be included in the mission team. This can sometimes force a captain to choose to bring along a player who might not have the right supplies, or whom he thinks is an imitation who may attempt to sabotage the mission.

Supply cards have both an item type (e.g. flashlight, knife, copper wire) and a dice bonus ranging from +0 to +3. For example, one supply card is the Petri Dish with a dice bonus of +0. The supply card requirements for a mission’s success take on one of three forms:

  1. have a certain number or combination of types of items (e.g. a knife and a fire extinguisher)
  2. have a certain sum or combination of dice bonuses (e.g. two cards with a +2 dice bonus)
  3. have a certain dice roll result (e.g. have a dice result totalling some value or higher)

Because each supply card has two properties — a type of item and a dice bonus — and because a mission’s success depends on one or the other, it can sometimes complicate which supply card a player may choose to offer toward a mission.

There are also some supply cards which are not supplies but “sabotage” cards. These will usually cause a mission to fail unless some difficult condition is met — usually requiring that the captain or team members discard certain high value cards from their hand. While imitations might carefully slip one of these into a mission pool when the time is right, it is also possible for a human player to end up with a hand of nothing but sabotage cards (one of which he will be forced to play if he is chosen for a mission).

It may sometimes be the case that none of the players have the required supplies to guarantee the success of the current mission when the captain is selecting team members. This does not happen very regularly, but it happens enough to be a concern when a player decides which supply card to provide toward a particular mission goal. To help combat this, after looking at the pool of supply cards for a mission the team captain is allowed to swap out one supply card from the mission pool for a new card from the supply card deck.

If the captain elects to swap out one supply card, he must keep the new card secret from even himself, shuffling the mission pool again. This can add an element of danger (the captain could pull a sabotage card which will ensure the failure of the mission) or an additional layer of obfuscation to the game when the mission cards are revealed to all players (i.e. is the captain really telling the truth about which card he swapped out?).

Further complicating the selection of supply cards to play is the fact that certain cards — the flashlight and the fire extinguisher — can be used outside of missions. These particular cards can be used in order to provide access to rooms suffering a power outage or to put out fires which threaten to burn down the base.

Due to the secrecy involved in everyone’s supply cards, every round of play involves a lot of table talk. Players are still allowed to tell others what cards they are holding…but they are not required to tell the truth. Imitations may often lie about what supply cards they can offer, and humans may lie in an attempt to flush out an imitation. The only glimpses of truth are when some or all of the supply cards put toward a mission are revealed at the end of that mission.
When a mission succeeds, one of three things may happen:

  1. the team captain will receive some sort of special object (e.g. rope, dynamite, or a flamethrower)
  2. the entire team will be allowed to discard a supply card from their hand and draw a new one
  3. the team will discover a Thing and will have to fight it

When a Thing is discovered during a mission, each member of the team (including the captain) must provide another supply card for a new pool. The sum of the dice bonuses on these cards determine how many dice the captain can roll in order to fight and defeat the Thing. Defeating a Thing in battle requires rolling three-of-a-kind or four-of-a-kind within a certain number of rolls, the difficulty changing depending on how far along the players are in sweeping the base. The captain can lock dice between rolls, but even this is sometimes not enough.

When a mission fails (or when a team fails to defeat a Thing after successfully completing a mission), the game’s “Infection Tracker” is incremented. As the Infection Tracker progresses, rooms will randomly lose power or start on fire. Furthermore, as the situation deteriorates, the humans gradually lose the option of performing up to two “blood tests” at the end of the game when deciding who gets to escape on the helicopter.

In the “Escape Phase” which occurs at the end of the game if the humans manage to clear the base, a captain is elected among the players. This captain is the one who gets the final say on who gets to escape on the helicopter and who gets left behind. The captain also gets to perform up to two blood tests on other players (assuming the Infection Tracker has not progressed too far due to too many failed missions). A player who is blood-tested must reveal whether he is a human or an imitation by revealing his “blood sample” card.

Several special objects can be found during missions which provide useful effects, but they can only be used once or twice.

The rope allows a player to “tie up” someone for one turn, preventing them from taking part in that round’s mission. If the player ties up the captain, then the captaincy immediately moves to the next player.

The dynamite lets the player increase or decrease any die result by one. This may not sound like much, but it can really come in handy.

The flamethrower is the most powerful item, and is only found in the last third of the base. With the flamethrower the player can add three more rolls to the current mission or fight, apply a blood test to a single player (the tested player shows his blood sample card to the person with the flamethrower only), or outright kill another player. Using a flamethrower to torch someone suspected of being a Thing requires a vote among all players.

I’ve played four games so far: two 4-player games, one 6-player, and one 7-player.

There were four players the first time I played, and the outcome really sold everyone on the game. The humans made it about halfway through the base before it burned down around them, ending the game. What was great is that the three players who turned out to be human were the ones who were all accusing each other of being an imitation throughout most of the game, and the one player that saw the least suspicion ended up being the Thing.

The second 4-player game ended even quicker than the first one with the base being destroyed while the players were still going through the first third of it.

In both the 7- and 6-player games the humans made it to the Escape Phase. Unfortunately for them, an imitation managed to make it onto the helicopter both times resulting in a loss for the humans.

In that 6-player game only five of us made it to the end, however, because I killed one of the players with the flamethrower. I managed to convince enough of the other players that he was an imitation (and he was) in order to torch him. The kicker was that at that point I was also an imitation. My successful killing of one of the other imitation players convinced the other players that I was human…so much so that they elected me to be the captain in charge of the final escape, dooming all of humanity. It was a lot of fun being the only imitation left, being elected the final captain, and listening to all the other players arguing among themselves and trying to convince me to allow them on to the helicopter.

My only beefs with the game at this point are very minor.  There are some rare “edge cases” between rules that can occur and for which the correct resolution is not clear.  The instruction manual actually includes a list of most of these sorts of situations, but we found that there are still one or two other things that could stand to be officially clarified.

Some more optional rules to tweak the game balance between the humans and the imitations would have been nice to have.  Again, the game already does this to a degree by providing two Infection Trackers and having certain mission cards be excluded if there are too few players, but it would have been nice to have just a few more minor optional rules which players can use to keep things balanced if their gaming group is exceptionally good or bad and the whole bluffing and lying aspect of the game.

My last beef is that some of the components are not “color-blind friendly”.  I found it difficult to distinguish between the particular shades of bright yellow and light green used for the plastic player tokens.  This doesn’t really detract from the game in a significant way, however.

The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 does a fantastic job at capturing the theme of the movie and providing an atmosphere within which paranoia can run high. With every game so far there has been lively debate, accusations, denials, and a surprise or two in the end.  The components for the game are great, and the artwork is superb — everything is pleasing to the eye.  Anyone who is a fan of the movie and/or a fan of “hidden information” games like Werewolf and Secret Hitler should check it out.