Timeline: Science and Discovery

About a month ago, Luke at Start Your Meeples mentioned Timeline: Diversity, one of the many games in the Timeline series from Asmodee Games. This prompted me to pull out, yet again, our copy of Timeline: Science and Discovery, a game that we play infrequently but regularly.

In terms of rules, all of the Timeline games are the same. Each player is dealt 4 cards with the date side down and the rest of the cards are left in a pile in the middle of the table (date side down). Turn over the first card and then the players take it in turns to pick a card from their hand and place it in the timeline (leftmost is the earliest event and rightmost is the latest). If you place your card correctly, well done, if not the cared is discarded and you have to draw another card.

The first player to get rid of all of their cards wins the game, but the competitive part of the game takes a very long second place to its ability to provoke discussions.

What happens is this: Someone picks a card and says something about what event they are sure it happened before or after. At this point everyone else starts jumping in with their own best guess as to where the card should be in the timeline. This will continue until the player turns their card to reveal the date, at which point we all say either Aha! or Oh.

With 110 cards in the deck, it’s not possible to memorise all of the dates so the game forces you to start thinking about when discoveries happened in relation to each other (was bacteria discovered before or after the arrival of The Mayflower, for example).

Timeline is not a game that we play particularly often, but when we do it can trigger a conversation (and often, much Googling) for the rest of the evening.

Grutte Pier: Dutch Beer

This being Belgium, in the run-up to Christmas we visited a Christmas market. Me being me, we found a stall selling beers. This stall had a number of beers from a brewery I hadn’t heard of before — the Grutte Pier brewery in the Netherlands.

So I bought a selection and have been, slowly, working my way through them ever since.

The first one I tried was the Dubbel. This is normally a safe bet for me but, in this case, it was way too sweet. Obviously, I finished the bottle, but it’s not a beer I would pick up again.

Surprisingly enough, the Tripel proved to be a lot better. Surprising, because I don’t usually like Tripels, but this one was nicely dry and went down very well indeed. This makes it one of the very few Tripels that I would buy again. And again.

The blonde was a bit watery, but this probably doesn’t tell you anything as I usually find blondes a bit watery. If you like Heineken, you’ll probably be happy with this.

Similarly the Bretttûne was a bit bland. Again, if you like blondes you might like this, but it’s not for me.

The wood smoked double Bock, however, was a lot better. For a winter warmer, it’s quite light and has a nice smokiness to it. While a bit on the sweet side, the sweetness was far from overwhelming.

The Lente Kuit was a tad yeasty but didn’t have a lot of flavour to it.

And finally there was the Friese Boezem, another tripel and a very typical tripel at that. It was better than average but not that great.

All in all it was a bit disappointing. When I picked up this pack I was expecting to enjoy most of the beers. While I would happily drink the tripel again, and would be more than willing to have a few of the bocks on hand next winter, most of the beers were drinkable but unexceptional.

At least I got a free glass out of it.

Ferdinand

This is a film that we missed when it hit the cinemas, so we saw it on DVD instead. I’m quite glad that we didn’t go out to see this because it’s quite a forgettable film.

The film centres on Ferdinand, a calf living at the Casa Del Toro academy where he is learning to become a fearless fighting bull. Ferdinand, however, would prefer to smell the flowers. Things come to a head when Ferdinand’s father is picked to fight in the bullring and, inevitably, doesn’t return. And young Ferdinand escapes…

Here’s the thing about Ferdinand. At some point I dozed off and was prodded awake some time later when my snoring became too much for the rest of the family to tolerate. When I woke up, it took a single glance at the screen to know exactly what had happened so far and what I could expect to happen next.

It really was that predictable.

There’s nothing wrong with the film, but nothing right with it either. Ferdinand is very much a by the numbers kids film about being true to yourself that leaves no lasting impression at all.

I don’t regret having seen it, but I can’t see any of us ever wanting to watch it again.

Continue reading “Ferdinand”

Avicii: The Nights

Wednesday was a fun day. I turned up at the station at the usual time, only discover that all trains were cancelled due to a defective train further up the line.

Since I can work from home, and the station was giving no information about when the problem would be resolved, I went home.

Coincidentally, Alexandre was feeling a bit ill on Wednesday and we had already decided he could miss karate this week. As I was already home, it made sense for him to stay at home with me rather than go to the sports centre to watch his brothers for an hour.

This, of course, meant that it was Alexandre and I that went to collect the pizzas.

The TV in the pizza takeaway happened to be tuned to a music channel this week. One of the songs that happened to come up was The Nights by Avicii. This is now Alexandre’s favourite song.

I think he was mainly inspired by the footage of people jumping off things. Whatever the appeal, though, I can’t fault his taste.

250,000 Dominoes

While William and I were looking for something completely unrelated, we stumbled across The Incredible Science Machine on YouTube.

250,000 Dominoes were toppled at Zeal Credit Union’s Incredible Science Machine: Game On! This event features 3 new US domino records: largest domino field, largest domino structure, and largest overall domino project in America. 19 builders from 5 countries spent 7 days (over 1,200 combined hours) building the Incredible Science Machine.

It’s spectacular

Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel

Steampunk is a genre of fiction that often manages to both fascinate and irritate me. At its best, counterfactual histories in which Babbage built his Difference Engine and explorations of how this would have impacted Victorian society absolutely appeal to the science fiction nerd in me. All too often, however, we end up with yet another tale of cod-Victorians running around in brass goggles.

And so to Phoenix Rising, the first novel in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series.

Evil is most assuredly afoot — and Britain’s fate rests in the hands of an alluring renegade… and a librarian.

These are dark days indeed in Victoria’s England. Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as corpses on the banks of the Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences — the Crown’s clandestine organization whose bailiwick is the strange and unsettling — will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless and exceedingly lovely Eliza D. Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest… and she’s prepared to drag her timorous new partner, Wellington Books, along with her into the perilous fray.

For a malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons. And Books and Braun — he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices — must get to the twisted roots of a most nefarious plot… or see England fall to the Phoenix!

I really wanted to like this novel, and it certainly started off in a spectacularly explosive manner as the decidedly tongue-in-cheek tone is set. A secret society is introduced and a novel featuring a Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences certainly gives itself the right to throw a few peculiar occurrences at the reader. I would have been more than happy if the authors, Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, had decided to tip over a few tropes and head off on a tangent of their own devising.

Unfortunately, they didn’t.

The novel starts off feeling like a jolly romp through a collection of Victorian and pseudo-Victorian stereotypes but, as the story progresses, things become more serious and the early light-heartedness is abandoned. This would have been okay if there had been some attempt to either explore the technology or the ways in which it had impacted society.

But it doesn’t.

In fact, Victorian society seems pretty much unchanged apart from the fact that people are running around with devices so ill-defined that they might as well be magic.

And the occurrences were nowhere near peculiar enough.

I found Phoenix Rising to be a rather strange book. While the two main characters were engaging and generally fun to spend time with, the authors never quite manage to decide what sort of a novel they want to write and the shifts in tone make for a jarringly disjointed read that never quite achieves its potential.

This is the first novel in a series and, while I would like to see more of Wellington Books and Eliza Braun, I’m in no great hurry to do so.

When puns go bad

March is international bowel cancer month and, from VRT, comes the news that Belgian charity Stop Darmkanker (Stop Bowel Cancer) has launched a campaign to get people to encourage their friends to test for early warnings.

Since 2013 test kits have been sent out to the over 50’s every two years. The tests are designed to trace bowel cancer in its early stages. A laboratory checks whether there are traces of blood in the excrement, something that could point to the early stages of bowel cancer. There is a 90% chance of being cured of bowel cancer it it is detected early enough.

In order to encourage the 50% of Flemings that don’t bother using the test kits to do so Stop Bowel Cancer wants Flemings to encourage people they know that have received a test to actually use it.

This is all good stuff and it is obviously far better to catch the disease while it’s still treatable rather than waiting until it’s too late.

I’m just not entirely sure about calling on people to Become a shitty friend.

Become a shitty friend

Board Game Arena and Blooms

A couple of months ago, someone mentioned Board Game Arena to me and I signed up to take a look. The site carries a huge collection of board games, all of which can be played online. You can either play in real time (live against an opponent) or (as is my preference, turn based in which each play has a day or more to make a move. Not all games lend themselves to turn-based play, but the ones that do are handled well by the site.

Board Game Arena has recently added Nick Bentley’s Blooms to the site. And this is proving to be a frighteningly addictive two-player game.

The rules are pretty simple. The game is played on a hexagonal board made up of smaller hexes. Each player has two sets of coloured stones. The first player players a single stone and in each subsequent turn players can place one or two stones onto any empty space — if you play two stones they have to be different colours. To capture a stone or ‘bloom’ of connected stones you have to surround them so that there are no empty spaces into which the bloom can expand.

And that’s it.

The game is inspired by Go in that you place stones to surround territory but differs in that the emphasis is on capturing stones rather than territory. Also, the much smaller board size makes for a much faster game.

The number of stones you have to capture varies depending on the size of the board (15 stones when it’s four hexes per side; more for bigger boards).

What makes this game really fascinating is that you have to watch out for your opponent’s pieces but also your own. Each player has two colours which means that, if you’re not careful, you can end up trapping your own pieces. This adds a whole new element to the game and one that makes it a real challenge.

I’m still terrible at this game, but the depth that emerges does leave me wanting to play more and to get a much better handle on the game. It’s a game that is easy to understand but one in which you really need to think about your moves if you want to avoid tripping over the sort of mistake that can quickly lose you the game.

It’s certainly a game worth playing, but I would suggest you avoid the four hexes per side option. This makes for a very small playing area in which the outcome is determined by whoever makes the first mistake.

The Greatest Showman

This is another film that we missed when it first came out, but it was strongly recommended to us over the Christmas holiday and onto the watch list it went. And it’s utterly marvelous.

The film is highly fictionalised account of PT Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman. The film follows him from his poor, working class roots as he meets and marries the girl of his dreams and finds himself in a stable middle-class job. It’s when he loses this job that the PT Barnum of the title comes to life — sinking money into what eventually becomes the circus for which he is famous. Along the way, he enjoys tremendous success, loses sight of what is important in his life, and comes to his senses in plenty of time for the happy ending.

It’s fair to say that aren’t any surprises in this film, and when I put the DVD in the player I wasn’t expecting a lot. But as soon as the soundtrack started, I was completely carried away.

Hugh Jackman’s performance is outstanding and the supporting cast are excellent. But the main draw is the music and this is superb. Each song is different and all of them are integrated perfectly with the story, making for an uplifting and genuinely happy film about embracing difference and recognising the things that matter. I loved every minute of The Greatest Showman.

This is how all musicals should be made.