Century: Spice Road, a fan Solo Mode.


Century: Spice Road. A new Wifeberg favorite.

Century: Spice Road is just a stellar game. Most important, Wifeberg just loves it. As much as I’ve had years of fun with Splendor, now I see why everyone says this replaces it. (Part of why is because I played Splendor for so many years.) Recently I have learned the joy of playing games solo. Scythe comes to mind, it has a first-rate Automa opponent that lays clear just how little I know about the game.


One thing about Scythe: when you play around the table, you really play around the table.

But I also have a soft spot for fan-made expansions. Ticket to Ride: Emerald City being my hands-down favorite. I’ve been enjoying a simple-to-play, yet fairly challenging fan-made solo mode for Instabul: The Dice Game, so when I saw someone made a solo mode for Century: Spice Road, I resolved to play it.


Look at this. A fan made this. As a labor of love. Because he loves Seattle. It’s gorgeous. And best of all, it plays wonderfully.

While the next paragraph talks about some positives, let’s get this out of the way: these rules aren’t very good. The opponent hobbles itself by constantly using its cube supply to buy market cards, all game. Its next turn is always obvious. In our one and only bout I creamed it by an outrageous margin. It would have been a total blowout had it not  managed to grab a single point card simply because of the good luck of the card turning up just as it had the cubes to purchase it. I’ll never play those rules again.


This AI opponent is so dumb it’s going to spend the next turn tossing a green cube to take a market card rather than get one more brown cube for the 14-point card above.


So what do I like about it? Well, go back to the post on BoardGameGeek. There’s a community of users there, that are providing their own feedback on how they might adjust the AI, trying to make it better. Even I gave my own thoughts on the matter, with a derivative I haven’t actually played despite my promises. But people are trying. So what’s good? The framework was interesting enough to generate discussion. And so now I keep thinking about how to tune the AI so it doesn’t just grab market cards, it grabs good market cards. And just like a human player, it should be part of the early competition to grab decent market cards (or rather, take them from other players) but during the late game not even waste its time on them, and focus on growing their little cube-shaped empire. And the next step should not be predetermined. One thing I learned from the AI opponents in Scythe and Istanbul: The Dice Game: the AI opponent doesn’t even have to play the same rules. It just needs to be tough competition.

These things are surmountable. I’m not about to draw up an Automa deck with a Phase I side and a Phase II side. Or am I? Such an interesting idea.


Thing I Made: Gingersnaps

I enjoy the Food Wishes YouTube channel. And while I mostly watch, these Gingersnap cookies looked too good not to try. And cookies with candied ginger, black pepper and cayenne is my kind of cookie.

If you don’t want the video, here’s the same recipe in standard form.

The first batch was so good, I’ve now made it four times.


Mine never had the light brown color, and that’s probably because I’m using dark molasses. But those give it a wonderful molasses flavor.

Look, I’m no baker. I’ve made cookies from scratch maybe four or five times. But these are so easy and so pleasing, that I just keep doing it. This last time I even got Wifeberg to pitch in. Next time I’m hoping she’ll make the cookies.

Some things I learned:

  • Soft butter is super important. I’ve tried leaving butter out overnight and still it was too hard. Today with this fourth batch I learned a nice technique: keeping the butter in its wax paper, microwave it for 5 seconds, rotate 90 degrees, microwave for another 5 seconds, and rotate again. I did this four times and got wonderfully soft butter.
  • Pressing the dough down with a ramekin never worked for me — I could never lift the ramekin without taking the dough with me. So I switched to my palm.
  • Putting two sheets in the oven at once really speeds up the process.
  • Not so much something I learned, but I love any opportunity to use my mortar and pestle, so I used it to finely grind the pepper corns, salt and whole cloves.

All in all it makes just over 80 cookies. Just enough to impress everybody.

Rest in peace, Maggie

Our good dog and best friend, Maggie, was put to sleep yesterday after her fourth bout with pancreatitis. We hoped she would rally like she had in the past. And for a while she did. And then she did not.

The house feels empty. We see reminders of her everywhere. The pill sheet. The box of toys. The piles of blankets we stacked everywhere on every floor, and all the water bowls, so she could sleep and drink wherever she chose. The kid-gate we bought just last week to prevent her from climbing the stairs unaccompanied.


Maggie’s pill reminder sheet. We stopped trying to give her pills Sunday night. Five days later we put an end to her suffering.

With Wifeberg in NYC last weekend, through Monday morning, Maggie and I visited friends in South Jersey. Maggie was healthy. Happy to walk, just … slowly. On one of her last walks she nabbed some random food or poop thing. Could that have been what got her sick? It doesn’t matter.


A big Maggie fan, who wanted to be part of every walk.

And we had a nice long walk Sunday morning. I’m not giving details, but we had a scary incident which only later did we realize was an early warning sign.


Later that night things took their turn for the worse.


Monday through Thursday were the same: visits to the vet, hydration, carrying her outside, offering her food, and looking for signs of improvement. Wifeberg closed in the living room with the plastic gate, and someone was with her all the time. Someone slept downstairs with her every night, some nights both of us, up every two hours to carry her outside to make her peeps.


This was Thursday. I thought that was the day we were going to do it, so I asked Wifeberg to take this photo. The vet suggested we try one more day. Friday we rushed to the vet and neither of us had our phones. Not that I wanted more photos.

Wednesday night started to see some bad signs: she threw up water all night. (She had long passed wanting to eat.) The vet suggested one more round of treatment, along with a nausea suppression. We expected some improvement by Friday.

The improvement didn’t come.

On Friday morning we knew it was time. At 9AM Wifeberg dropped me at the front door to the vet’s office. I carried Maggie inside while she parked the car. We sat by her side the whole time, giving her pets, telling her stories, and saying thank you. By 9:45 she was gone.

“Are you a hugger,” I asked the vet? “Because I’m a hugger.” I learned my vet’s office has a lot of huggers.

Many of you understand the kind of love we shared. We were a family of best friends.

It’s sad. We’re sad. But we know how lucky we were. How lucky we are.

I don’t have a graceful ending here. And I’m tired of editing this post. And if you’re sad, please don’t be. Because we had the greatest dog there ever was. And they were the best 11 years of my life.


“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them.

And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart.

If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.” (source)

Thing I Made: ipuz to puz converter

My friend and sometimes colleague Chris Pickel is making crosswords! Little 9x9s full of Chris’s brain and whimsy. Go subscribe!

It doesn’t come as any surprise to me that Chris would prefer the ipuz file format over the puz file format.  ipuz is an open specification, more expressive than puz, and I think the app he’s using to create crosswords reads and writes in that format. The puz file format is a closed format (though they support an open text format) and I suspect is still more popular than ipuz. The NYT publishes its crossword puzzles using PUZ, as it seems do most other major newspapers. My mobile crossword app supports puz (and jpz) but not ipuz.

To make it easier on, well, on myself, I created a converter in Python that relies on two other github projects: puzpy, which reads and writes crossword puzzles in the puz format, and ipuz, which reads and writes crossword puzzles in the ipuz format. Pretty simple work to convert between the two formats. Chris added some changes that support drawing shapes in cells, and non-ASCII characters, all to support his own puzzles.

Go subscribe!

PS This is supposed to be the year of staying off the computer. Still, I made this thing.

Year of Making Things: Secret Hitler


Like I said in my prior post, I’ve been getting into print-and-play. My second project was to be a print-and-play copy of Secret Hitler, a lovely social deduction game I played last year. Even though it’s available for purchase, the manufacturers provide a free version.

I didn’t even really want my own copy, but I wanted to make it and give it away two weeks later at my framily holiday party and gift exchange.

This was an ambitious project, with a lot of pieces:

  • Playing cards
  • Playing board
  • Placards
  • Legislation cards
  • Card envelopes

Even though the manufacturer gives away a black-and-white PDF, that didn’t stop the gaming community from colorizing it.

The original lacked some card backs, and I found someone who added their own.

Each of the five components were made with different materials:

  • The playing cards were glued onto standard playing card blanks, and sleeved.
  • The playing board was glued onto foam posterboard, with some painter’s tape to allow them to bend.
  • The placards were glued onto very standard thin cardboard.
  • The legislation cards were glued onto double-thick cardboard. (This gives them a great feeling in your hands.)
  • And the envelopes, well, that’s below.

Of everything, the path to envelopes needed the most work, and was also the most satisfying to do. I had no template to go on, but found a fabulous and highly recommended blog post about the game’s original graphic design. It came with this good quality image of an example envelope.1_la-lIynnl9915r-EuWM3gw.png

Well, it was almost perfect, except for that shadow. That took me about an hour in GIMP to replace, and then I loaded it up in Google Docs to size and test. Once in Google Docs I actually replaced the original YOUR ONLY with text written in Twentieth Century typeface to give it a cleaner look when printed.

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My original test envelope folded lightly on the sides, but I preferred that the sides have more strength.

For the final envelope I printed on both sides, with a large block of the envelope color on the back. This gives the envelope an authentic feel. When people look at it they can’t believe it came out of a laser printer.

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All in all I had a complete set!




That’s when I made the big mistake of trying to preserve them with a Rust-Oleum spray-on matte. See, the spray caused all the colors to bleed. All of them.

I wound up having to reprint and recreate the legislation and placards. I forget whether the envelopes came out okay, or I just got lucky, or I ignored those. I ignored the damage to the foam boards, because it wasn’t going to materially change anything. And if the recipient cares, I’ll be happy to do it. besides, I expect the foam player boards will loosen up. Because, something else I’ve learned is that it’s really hard to get something to stick to that foam. Every glue I’ve thrown at it fails, terribly. For a future project, I’ve moved to double-sided tape, and that seems to be working.

I’m proud of the outcome. I’m particularly proud of the variety of material types, and the envelopes in particular.

Total time: 13 hours, over two weekends and several evenings. But that’s 13 hours off the computer. Which was the whole point. So while I’d love to edit this, and write some more about it. Off I go.

The Year of Making Things: Flash Point Locked Doors

I said I was interested in Print and Play, and I’m a fan of the game Flash Point: Fire Rescue. If you’ve played Pandemic, you’ll understand the basic game mechanics already. It’s a cooperative game where you all play a member of a firefighting team running into a building, trying to keep the fire under control while you find and save victims. It’s simpler in a lot of ways than Pandemic, and as a result avoids much of the Alpha Captain syndrome. It’s also easy to expand: while the publisher has added all kinds of new buildings and rules to the game, I’ve printed out some fan-made buildings, too.

The base game has markers representing doors. Doors are either opened or closed.


But at some point the manufacturer came up with another idea: locked doors. If you turn up a door with a lock, you’ve just wasted an action, and then must spend two more just to knock the door down.


But they were only available as a short-term kickstarter expansion.

But I loved this idea, and wanted to make them. It’s a little tricky: because the game starts with all the doors closed, you won’t know if a door is or isn’t locked. So if I just made the locked doors, they’d be easy to tell apart from the ones that came in the box. So I had to make both locked and unlocked doors, as long as they had the same front.

Surprisingly, I was able to get almost all of this myself using Google Drawings. (Actually the drawing tool embedded in Google Docs.)

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Even making the lock isn’t that complicated. That’s four shapes, total.

I can’t recall, maybe drawing all three shapes took an hour? Two hours? Google Drawing failed me in just one case: the open door looks like a sheared rectangle, but in Google Drawing you can’t both shear a rectangle and give it rounded edges. So I had to compromise — the open door doesn’t have rounded corners. My buddy managed to put something together with paint.net, though. Oh, well.

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I printed them all on 20lb paper through my laser printer. Then I punched those icons, along with some thin cardboard, into 1″ discs using a circle punch (like the one below.)


Then it was just a matter of gluing from paper to cardboard. In fact, I used two cardboard discs with each door. It’s about half as thick as the original doors that came with the game.

The end result looks and feels pretty good. You can tell the difference. My background is intentionally gray to make them a little easier to tell them apart.


The professional tokens are up top. Mine are on the bottom.


Other things I learned:

  • My first draft of these tokens had a circular gray background. The problem with a circular gray background is that you have to be very precise with your hole punch, else you’ll get white edges. So I just made the whole background grey. Then I could be close but not perfect.
  • I wanted each token to be consistent in how they turned over. That was easy to do, and called for a little mindfulness when gluing the opposite sides together.
  • I made a set of these for my friend’s custom board. It’s smaller than a normal board, so fortunately I also had a 3/4″ circle punch. Easy peasy.
  • I am concerned about the ink smearing over time, so I found what seemed to be a good preserving matte spray can. In another post I’ll describe the horror that turned out to be. Many of these tokens also now have marks and leaks from that spray can. Next time I will try Mod Podge.

PS I thought this circle cutter would be a good purchase, what with varying radii. Nope, it’s no good for anything even mildly thick (and entirely unusable with cardboard, let alone the printer paper.) Avoid.

Year of Making Things: Introduction

I don’t much go for New Year’s Resolutions. But when my friend Amy told me her plan to “try something new every week” I joined up with her, just as a way to put some structure around an exciting way to something. Thinking about it some, I didn’t really want to try something new every week. So instead I came up with this plan: make something every week. Amy and I will still share our achievements from week to week, but we’re just doing very different things.

I recently started dabbling in what’s known as print-and-play. “Print & Play games are those which are often free to any player who wishes to print them off themselves. Many are available on the Internet.” [src, BoardGameGeek]

In the past few months I’ve learned how to cut paper straight, grabbed some circle punches, and more glue sticks than I’ve used in my life to date. So this will easily fit into feeding that habit. I mean hobby.

The goal is that it gets me off the computer. I’m not going to be draconian about it (some image editing will come into play, for instance) but writing software and hacking on Arduinos will be given a sidelong glance.

Three weeks in and things have gone pretty well. I’ll try to write a little bit about what I’ve done and what I’ve learned, but writing quality may suffer. Goals of staying off the computer and all that.