Thursday, August 31, 2017


First, let me say that I was very fortunate in that Harvey was mostly a big rain storm that just wouldn't stop.  Houston is occasionally prone to events I call "The Week That It Rained," which are different than actual tropical cyclones.  These are heavy and long lasting rain events where, it rains for a week or more, usually flooding some part of the Houston or another.  For me, Harvey felt like one of those events - it rained a lot and was overcast for a week, but except for two small power outages (one for 30 minutes and one for 2 hours), I wasn't particularly in danger, nor was my property.  The area I live in only received 21 inches (53.3 cm), or about half a year of rain, over the four days Harvey threatened.

Not everyone was that lucky.

One of my friends lives in the (upside) vicinity of the Addicks Reservoir and faced mandatory evacuation Tuesday.  He's now in Austin at his brother-in-laws place with his wife and two kids.  My in-laws' neighborhood became an island, with all roads in flooded at some point.  This happened to several other friends as well, whose homes became islands as the streets flooded in their neighborhoods.  For some this was expected as it is how their neighborhood deals with heavy rains.  For others, this was the first time it ever happened.  Rainfall levels ranged from 30-50 inches (76-127 cm) over the four days of the storm, depending on where in the Houston area they live [I can't find the official map right now].

At this moment, no one I know personally had water in their home, but that may change as some were evacuated and haven't been back to check yet.  I attribute this statistical anomaly to the fact that most of my friends are long term Houston residents and researched what potential flood plain their home might be on before buying.  Most of us are on the 500+ year flood plain, which is as high as regulations require designating.  I suspect that might change in the next couple of years.

You might have seen pictures online showing flooded freeways with Downtown in the background [I can't find the image I've seen now and it's late enough I have to pack it in for work tomorrow].  One of my routes to work goes through that area.  It is clear now and I'm going in to the office tomorrow for the first time since Harvey approached the coast last Friday.  The biggest flooding was on the south-southwest-west sides of town and those parts of those areas will have water for up to two weeks or so as the rivers slowly empty.  Most of the bayous are already way down, with the notable exception of Buffalo Bayou, which is being fed by the release of waters from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs [to avoid complete failure of their retaining walls].

That's it for this week.  I hope to have something more game related for next week.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

On the Edge CCG Game Day

This past weekend I held a On the Edge CCG game day at my place.  I supplied all the cards, folks just had to show up ready to learn a new game.  After various scheduling twists and turns I ended up with four people attending (including myself).

The first round was played using pre-built decks.  The decks were:

  • Mad Science! : a deck based on the Gladstein conspiracy supported by a Dog Face contingent, because all mad science should have monkeys involved (in this case, Attack Baboons).  The deck has plenty of Fringe gear and conditions to boost characters.
  • Hermetic Aries : a deck using the Hermetic magic-based conspiracy boosted by Aries gang muscle, because Hermetics have pull but are pretty weak by themselves.
  • Big Government : a deck pulling from the C&I, the DBI, and the CPC.  Pretty strong, but requires an additional Resource or two to get its characters out.
  • Beginners Deck : a deck based on the example deck in the OTE User’s Guide.  The base deck is weak and unable to win, so I tweaked it a bit – it is still the weakest of the four pre-built decks.  This is the deck I used in the teaching round.

The advantage of teaching with themed decks is that they work immediately (barring a bad shuffle).  They show the benefits of having characters and resources that support each other in play and reduce the number of duplicate characters, avoiding the need to discard characters due to uniqueness, which would be frustrating to new players.  I should also note that these decks were all ~40 cards each.

The first game ended with the Big Government deck winning after a slow start.  In hindsight, the slow start may have helped.  By the time the Big Government player was finally able to get characters in play, the other three players had beat each other’s’ conspiracies down.  This left the Big Government conspiracy in a position of strength, able to smackdown or resist the other conspiracies’ attacks.  It was a good game and everyone had fun, even though it ran long.

Once that game finished, I passed out decks and boosters from the Burger Box starter set.  This gave everyone a Standard starter deck, 2 Standard boosters, and 2 boosters each from the Arcana, Cut-Ups, and Shadows expansions.  This gave everyone a pool of 140 cards to build a deck with.  We did not trade between players before the first game, each player building their deck as a solo exercise.  As a result, all four of us had the Aries gang in our deck (they are common cards).  This produced some frustration for all of us during the second game, especially for those of us who were unable to get them in play quickly enough.

After the second game (first one with the self-built decks), we all re-tooled our decks to fix their deficiencies.  One player doubled down on the Aries gang.  Two of us jettisoned the Aries gang entirely and replaced them with different factions, borrowing cards from other players to make it happen.  I added in the Kergillian faction [aliens conspiring to take over the world with implants, ala Triffids] and the other player chose the Throckmorton faction as she had both the Throckmorton Device and Angela Reyes [a conspiracy based on sub-quantum interference in reality from the future by the Device making sure it is made so it can give control of the world to Clyde Throckmorton, currently a humble bug exterminator].  I’ve played using the Kergillians before, but I’ve never seen anyone field the Throckmortons before, so I was interested in seeing how that worked out.  The fourth player dropped the Hermetics from his deck and focused more on non-Hermetic Astral cards as he had few cards that supported the Hermetics specifically.  I should note he was playing with a 60-card deck to the 40-card decks the rest of us were using – it seemed to be no more or less effective than our decks.

The third game was quicker and ended once I was finally able to get my Kergillians in play, especially Fabrissa Melors, whose Surprise ability coupled with a Hostility Channeler allowed me to efficiently pop the heavy hitters and blockers the other players were fielding, exposing their pullers to easy attack.  My late start also meant that the other conspiracies were running on fumes after battering each other early.  I’m beginning to think that not doing anything but bringing out Resources for the first 4-5 turns may be a winning strategy in a 4-player game.

After a dinner break and a few more tweaks to the decks, we played a fourth game.  We were pretty even in Influence and felt we had time until the Throckmorton player brought out Angela Reyes and flipped her to bring out the Throckmorton Device in one turn.  The Throckmorton Device is a Resource that can generate Pull for Influence (victory points).  None of us had anything in our decks to go after resources, so all she had to do each turn was crank the Device for an Influence and wait until the inevitable happened.  Suddenly the table was on a count-down!  We thrashed and flailed, but, long-story-short, we were only able to stop each other from winning before she did.  After that game was over, anti-Resource cards were quietly slipped into the rest of our decks “for next time”.

After the fourth game, we started cleaning up and talking about what folks thought of the game.  Everyone enjoyed playing and we scheduled a repeat in October [I don’t want to have them too often to avoid burnout].  We also noticed that certain cards always showed up in our hands.  The Throckmorton player always seemed to draw Atavism: Ninja early from her deck and Rain of Walrus seemed to always be in my starting hand [I used it in games 2 and 4 to great effect].

I really liked the limited resource environment.  Players had to field what they could, not necessarily what they wanted.  At later events, my shoe boxes of cards will be available to pull from, so certain cards will likely disappear from play because there are better choices and that will be a little sad.  On the other hand, I’m able to play a CCG I really like again for the first time in over 20 years, so I have that going for me.  😊

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Personal Update

Two items of news:

  1. Have not heard back from Atlas Games on getting permission to write in their IP since the initial inquiry.  I'm hoping sending my draft as a writing sample was not a mistake.  I was up front that it was a draft and not a polished piece of work, but I still have a niggling worry about it.
  2. I was in the hospital for arrhythmia three days last week.
That second item is what I'm writing about here.

Tuesday night at 2:30 AM (so really early Wednesday morning) I awoke from a dream with my heart racing and occasionally pounding in my chest.  My wife was just coming to bed and I was wide awake, so I got up and sat on the living room couch, hoping my body would calm down and I could go back to sleep.  I dozed a bit, but at 5:00, my wife came out and asked if I was OK.

I really didn't know.

We talked a bit and tried a few things that are supposed to help fix an irregular heart beat and they didn't work.  At 6:30, we decided to get me to an urgent care facility.

[Note: not all urgent care facilities are open 24 hours a day.  Some only open at 9:00 AM, like the closest one to our house.  They are all over the place where I live, so I checked online with my phone for the next closest one that was affiliated with a hospital and went there.]

I checked in to the urgent care facility and they hooked me up to get readings from my heart.  I couldn't see the readouts, but the doctor and the nurses put on faces that outwardly said "You should keep calm as we can fix this," but inwardly said, "Holy Shit this looks serious."  Based on what they saw, my atria were "spazzing out" and firing randomly while my ventricles worked overtime to keep my blood circulating.

They started me on an IV drip and a bit later added another medicine, trying to get my heart back to a sinus rhythm [the "lub-dub" everyone is familiar with] and slow it down.  They also wheeled in a defibrillator and put two large patches on me, one over my heart and one under it on my back, "just in case".  As the saying goes, "Prepare for the worst, hope for the best."

Because of where the defibrillator sat at the foot of my bed/chair/seat thing, I could see my pulse rate readings.  They varied anywhere between 98 and 174, rapidly switching and hitting random numbers in between.  Occasionally, I'd get a solid thump or two in my chest.  I sent some texts to my family to let them know something was up.  My mom called back and we talked, but the nurses asked me to stop talking on the phone as it was negatively impacting my blood pressure and heart rate.

The ER doctor told me that. as I had not responded immediately to the IV drip, they were going to transfer me to the hospital.  Some short time later [I really have no idea how long], they arrived and hooked up a different set of electrodes to me [their equipment was not compatible to the urgent care facility's], asked me the standard set of questions [Any pain? Any shortness of breath? Any allergies? Any alcohol use? Any smoking? - all "no" by the way], and helped me switch over to their trolley.  [That's not the right word, but is how it felt.  I'm 6-foot tall and had to concentrate to keep my flip-flops from falling off.]

The ambulance ride wasn't special but beat walking - the guys did a good job keeping it low key.  I'm glad it was early morning as the A/C was not the strongest and the guy riding in back with me said the interior got way to hot in the afternoons.  When we got to the hospital, they wheeled me up to one room, but not my room.  My room number had been changed while they were coming to pick me up, so their paperwork was dated.  While one of the guys sorted it out with the nurses, the other guy printed out the current reading of my EKG as they rarely got to see someone in that stage - usually it was later when things went critical.  I'm was fine with being an educational experience and did not really think about the unstated part of what he said.

As an aside, I had no chest pain and was breathing fine.  Mostly, the situation was distracting.  My concentration was pretty short-term as every 10-20 seconds my heart would make a big thump or what felt like a gurgle, which is VERY distracting.

They sorted out my correct room number and took me up to the 7th floor, where I had a corner room.  They attached ANOTHER set of contact to me for their machine, which was a small pack that wirelessly transmitted the data to the monitoring station.  So with five contacts per monitoring device, I had 15 of the contact points stuck to me at this point.  They did take the defibrillator patches off, which was a good sign.

Once I was settled in, texts went out to friends and family and I started having visitors.  The docs upped my dosage of the IV drip and gave me shots of another drug through my IV connections.  [Yes, plural, as they stuck me on the back of both hands.  Did I mention I have a thing about needles?  I totally do.]  Most of Wednesday was chatting with friends and family while waiting for my heart to get its act together.  If it didn't, they'd have to a procedure to shock my heart into sinus rhythm.  I'd be unconscious as it would be very painful.  It was scheduled for 1:00 PM on Thursday.

Around 10:00 PM, the last person finally left (my mom) and I got some sleep.  When the nurses came in at 11:30 PM to take my blood pressure again [done every 4 hours], they told me my heart had slipped back into sinus rhythm.  Now they had to get my blood pressure down.  That took another two days before the medicines brought it down far enough the doctor would discharge me.

So after dinner on Friday, I got to leave and come home.  I'm on four medicines and need to make follow-up appointments with my primary doctor and the attending cardiologist.  I'll participate in a sleep study, as sleep apnea can trigger this and my diet now radically reduces the amount of sodium I can have.

Saturday morning it finally hit me how close I came to dying.  Writing this on Sunday is still hard.  I've had to pause several times to de-stress while writing this.  In fact, I'm stopping here for now.  I'll do an edit later - I just needed to get this written so I can think about other things.