Monday, October 5, 2015

Film Review: The Martian

"Houston, be advised: Rich Purnell is a steely-eyed missile man."

Last December I read Andy Weir's The Martian. My blogging frequency was pretty low back then, so alas, no review was ever written. Last Friday my group at work went on an outing to see film version of The Martian at one of those funky luxury theaters with reclining seats and everything. Must talk with the wife about securing such a setup at home...

Like any good geek, I love space. I knew everything there was to know about the Apollo missions, all but two of the moon landings happening before my birth, and the space shuttle, which I eagerly awaited the first flight of (and was disappointed by countless delays). I had my Space Shuttle Operator's Manual as well as the fictional Mars One Crew Manual. I've also devoured The Case For Mars. I'd like to point out I'm massively disappointed no human has walked on Mars. I'm 44 years old folks, I'd really like to live long enough to see us visit Mars in the flesh.

So, The Martian. The Martian is your great man vs. nature story. But short of "The Cold Equations", I can't think of someone with a deck stacked more against them than our protagonist, Mark Watney. Watney is a botanist on the Ares 3 mission to Mars. The six-person crew is forced to abort their mission due to extreme winds (Andy Weir has admitted that such a windstorm actually wouldn't happen on Mars, one of the few outright scientific boo-boos in his book and this film). During the evacuation, he is struck by a flying antenna and blown away. His life signs all go negative prior to losing contact with his suit. The rest of the crew tries to find his body but with their ascent vehicle about to topple over in the high winds they are forced to launch.

And then some time later Watney wakes up. The antenna had pierced his life support monitor, making his crewmates think him dead. And he nearly was dead, though the antenna and his blood managed to seal his suit shut. He limps back to the hab module. He is alone on Mars. The main antenna has been lost. The backups are all up in space aboard the Hermes, their interplanetary vessel. He has no way to tell anyone he's alive. There's another mission coming to Mars in several years, but he'll be dead of starvation by the time they arrive, should nothing else go wrong.

And so Watney is forced to improvise like crazy. He needs to find a way to grow crops on Mars. To get more water. To find a way to contact Earth. To make his limited supply of equipment serve him in ways it was never designed to. He needs a heat source that won't drain electricity? Well there is the sealed but radioactive module they buried when they first arrived... It'll generate heat. What can he use to fertilize soil? (The book details this a lot more than the movie, but suffice to say his own waste products do not go to waste...)

The film largely focuses on Watney, but it also showcases what is happening on Earth and on the Hermes. It preserves the novel's use of log entries from Watney - not quite to the same extent as the book, but it is a useful technique for an isolated character to explain what he's doing or thinking. It also preserves Watney's humor and snarkiness. There's a lot more I can say that would give away major plot points - I won't, though to be honest, the joy in this film isn't in what happens but in watching it happen. It was pretty faithful to the novel and I still greatly enjoyed the film.

I think what I most admire is it played straight. It didn't need anything supernatural, it didn't go for contrived action sequences. It embraced both the isolation and beauty of being the only person on an entire planet. The struggle not to be the first person to die on another planet. A little bit of a mental breakdown as Watney declares himself "the best botanist on the planet", decides he's technically a Martian since he's put down crops and colonized the planet, and decides he's actually a space pirate. Not to say he even remotely approaches crazy, but you definitely feel the strain he's under as he struggles to survive. There's not a single person out to get him. Just a whole uncaring planet.

I mentioned it above, but it bears repeating - Mars is absolutely beautiful to behold in this film. It's something I'll never get to see with my own eyes but it would be a tragedy if no human ever experiences such sights for real.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Rewind to Star Frontiers

I first saw Star Frontiers on the shelves of a Kay-Bee store in the Naugatuck Valley Mall. Neither the store chain nor the mall exist anymore. I remember being a bit confused as the box (the back cover I believe)  indicated it contained the "Expanded Rules". I assumed that meant there was a basic game I needed to get somewhere.

I eventually picked it up and discovered that, yes, that boxed set was all I needed.

So what was Star Frontiers? I guess you could say it was TSR's answer to GDW's Traveller RPG. It wrom the vaiouas a science fiction RPG set in "the Frontier", where the four main species of the region came together to form the United Planetary Federation (UPF). They were opposed by the vile Sathar, a worm-like alien race which was pretty much pure evil. They committed suicide rather than be captured and had a tendency to have spies from the various Frontier races. The Frontier was a loose alliance - a later adventure showcased a war breaking out between two planets in the Federation.

One thing that I really liked about Star Frontiers was the background, a least to my 12-year old self, seemed really neat. I still think it was pretty cool. Looking back, it had a strong classic science fiction feel to it - I remember the map that came with the original boxed set that just screamed golden age of science fiction with its hovercars and monorails. I still like the four main races of the game:

  • Humans - like us, but not from Earth
  • Yazirians - monkey-men with both hands and feet that could grip and a membrane between their arms and legs, allowing them to glide. Warriors.
  • Dralasite - Though multicellular, they looked for all the world like walking amoebas. Able to take different shapes (slowly, not talking superheroes), create additional limbs, etc. Love bad jokes and puns, giving opportunities for bad human comedians.
  • Vrusk - Something like a giant ant that is a bit like a centaur. Really odd things. Good businessmen.
The Frontier was a good place for adventure. There was the threat of piracy and Sathar invasion, Exploration - the opening adventure, Crash on Volturnas, had the characters going to explore the planet Volturnas, only to have their ship waylaid by pirates and the PCs to get away in an esape pod and crash in the middle of a desert.

The rules were... ok. Nothing wrong with them, just a basic percentile-dice based system. Characters had professions, but they basically just made it easier to buy and improve certain skills. I do remember relative to character stamina, weapons, especially non-powered ones , did very little damage.

TSR supported Star Frontiers pretty heavily for several years, eventually releasing a second boxed set to cover outer space combat, details about interstellar travel (the first set had a lot of handwaving and no rules for starship combat). 

Oddly, Star Frontiers is pretty easy to get digitally - just to a search for "Star Frontiers remastered". Even stranger, these digital copies are essentially legal. I was part of a Star Frontiers email group (run out of an Iowa State email address if I recall correctly) in the mid to late 90s, back in the era when TSR's digital presence seemed to be essentially dedicated to threatening anyone who used the term "hit point" online. Some people in the mailing list asked the TSR internet rep for permission to do a digital compilation of Star Frontiers - I forget the exact permission requested but essentially it was granted, much to everyone's surprise. It had a bunch of limits but apparently it was broad enough (likely unintentionally) to allow for these digital copies to be distributed. I seem to recall a number of attempts to have these copies taken down over a decade later and seeing that permission being sufficient protection (or at least a strong enough case to make the threat of a lawsuit have less teeth). 

You can still find elements of Star Frontiers pop up now and then. The various races got adapted for AD&D 2nd Edition's Spelljammer setting. The setting itself made a brief appearance in Wizard of the Coast's d20 Future. I played Star Frontiers quite a bit back in middle school and a little bit in high school. I'm curious to see if it ever makes an official reappearance. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Ho-Hum, Another Mass Shooting
Oh look, another mass shooting, this one at Umpqua College in Oregon. Let me see if I know the script:

"I'm offering my thoughts and prayers."

"More people are killed in automobile accidents. Or by cancer."

"Criminals don't follow the law."

"2nd Amendment."

"Background checks (or some other regulation) wouldn't have stopped this incident."

"Now is not the time."

So one at a time:

I'm offering my thoughts and prayers.
That's wonderful. Mass shootings still seem to be happening though. I don't think your thoughts and prayers are doing anything.

More people are killed in automobile accidents. Or by cancer.
I've got a ton of thoughts to this. First of all, as a nation we seem to be more than willing to work at improving automobile safety. And we also are willing to fund cancer research. But we're totally unwilling to tackle anything to do with firearms.

I've heard the argument that the number killed in mass shootings (or any kind of shooting) is relatively low. Certainly compared to cancer deaths. But compared to other nations...
Washington Post 2012
That's awful. And demonstrably preventable. Moreover, beyond ending individual lives and devastating families, if the United States can be said to have a soul, this is making our soul rot.

Criminals don't follow the law.
Of course they don't. And yet we're willing to make other things illegal.

2nd Amendment.
The interpretation that the 2nd Amendment gives an individual right to bear arms is relatively new And to be honest, in my opinion, a bunch of jiggery pokery, argle bargle applesauce. At the time the Bill of Rights was ratified people were worried that standing armies would be used to replace the militias of the several states.

Beyond that, we're clearly willing to apply some limits to the Bill of Rights. Freedom of Speech exists but it is nevertheless regulated. Your freedom of religion does not permit human sacrifice. Very few believe there should be a right to own a nuclear warhead. And Congress seems ok with banning guns from the US Capitol.

Background checks (or some other regulation) wouldn't have stopped this incident.
Automobile safety standards came incrementally. Unless the US were to perform an outright ban on personal ownership of firearms and enforce it, changes to the law to reduce gun violence will come incrementally as well. It is possible to create a suite of laws which, together, reduce gun violence. I've heard a number of good ideas. These include requiring insurance on firearms, holding sellers criminally liable if they sell without following procedure, and mandating background checks.

Also, these would need to be at the Federal level. I keep hearing how Chicago has restrictive gun laws yet high levels of gun violence. Apparently criminals know how to leave the city to get guns.

Now is not the time.
I know. I mean we did nothing after a bunch of kids were slaughtered.

I don't imagine we'll ever be like a European country with low levels of individual gun ownership. But one would hope we'd at least try to find ways to reduce massacres.

Image credits

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Random Thoughts on Adventuring in the Solar System

Mars with an Arctic Ocean, Image by NASA
The internet got some scientific excitement yesterday with NASA's announcement of discovering evidence of water on Mars.

This got me thinking to science fiction set in our own solar system - primarily in RPGs. It's not a particularly common setting, especially once you remove retro style games which focus on a pulpier version of the solar system such as Space: 1889 and Rocket Age. Those are wonderful games, but I'm talking games set in a slightly harder setting.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a few - many of which I've minimal familiarity with. The one I know best is probably TSR's old XXVc RPG, published in the late 80s and early 90s. It gets a fair amount of negative attention, largely due, I suspect, to the fact that heirs of the John F. Dille, creators of Buck Rogers, were in control of TSR and dictated this game be made. With that caveat, I do feel it to have been an unappreciated game - looking at the credits of the game and its supplements I see designers like Mike Pondsmith and Ray Winninger. It wasn't an especially hard game, with massive amounts of genetic engineering and some pretty advanced propulsion systems, but it made the attempt to at least feel grounded in the real solar system. Essentially, Earth has become quite the wasteland in the aftermath of nuclear warfare and ecological collapse, with a terraformed Mars being the superpower in the system.

Other games grounded in our solar system, games I'm less familiar with, include The Mutant Chronicles, Jovian Chronicles, Cyberpunk: 2020Eclipse Phase, and GURPS Transhuman Space - the last two having strong elements of transhumanism - going beyond humanity with your mind being software. Though its default setting is an interstellar empire, most incarnations of the Traveller RPG give a thorough overview of interplanetary travel.

One item I like, both from Mutant Chronicles and XXVc, is the idea that the Earth is used up. It gives a heck of an incentive to be out there in the unfriendly environment of the solar system - and it really is a hostile place. Earth is a great place to live. We're used to the gravity, the atmosphere shields us from the worst of the sun's radiation, there's food pretty much everywhere.

Off the top of my head, I'd say there's a number of challenges to be overcome and a number of things you need in a solar system-based RPG. Since you're avoiding the pulp connotations of magic rockets and exotic substances like Space: 1889's liftwood, you at least need to give some thought to how expensive it is to leave the gravity of the Earth.  Look at the Apollo missions to the moon - a whole lot of fuel and propulsion and just a teeny tiny bit of cargo and passenger space. Generally speaking, most settings do assume some pretty big advances in rocket technology and it is also reasonable to make use of concepts like the space elevator or the skyhook to make it cheaper to achieve orbit.

You also need something to do. XXVc made Mars the "bad guys" of the solar system, making life difficult for people trying to earn a dishonest living and providing an enemy for those seeking Earth's independence. Mutant Chronicles adds some esoteric elements like the Brotherhood and the Dark Symmetry and have hobbled the "thinking engines" of mankind. Eclipse Phase featured an AI that almost destroyed humanity and the aftermath of this war against humanity left behind wormholes known as Pandora Gates. This avoids the standard "ooh, easy FTL travel" by making passage through such gates often fatal and usually one-way.

Looking through some of these random thoughts I've posted, thoughts I might explore further at another point, I see that while grounded in reality, the games that appeal the most to me make some bold decisions with their backgrounds, going well beyond "well let's calculate your delta-v based on the fuel you can burn..."

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Common Core Math

In my Facebook feed I see a lot of pictures mocking common core math. The latest to go viral is the dad who used "common core math" to write a check.

Friendly Atheist over at Patheos wrote a blog post The Dad Who Wrote a Check Using “Common Core” Math Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About which describes what the deal is with "ten boxes" and how the check isn't even correct for using ten boxes.

I'm mildly qualified to give my own opinions on the whole common core math thingamabobber. I'm married to a science teacher which gives me access to someone in the business (though not in math). But don't take any of this to be her opinion; this is all me. More importantly, I've two kids, ages 10 and 13, who often need help with math homework. Imagine my surprise the first time I tried to help them and they told me I was "doing it all wrong". So I get the frustration a lot of parents feel.

Last year I attended a curriculum night for my younger daughter, then in 4th grade. Her math teacher talked about what's the intention behind common core math. The big thing is for kids to understand just what it is they are doing. Why when performing arithmetic do you borrow from the column to your left. What does it mean to "carry the 1". Kids are still taught the "old way" as well but the new standards allow kids to get the why and to also have tools to doing math quickly (more on that later as it might seem counter-intuitive). What I witnessed happening to me in the 80s and 90s is calculators made me dumb at simple math. I had to wean myself off of using them for everything. When you use a calculator you have no visibility at all what you're really doing. That's not to discount them as tools - when you're doing complicated equations they can be essential. But they can also blind you to the what's going on. This becomes even more important as you get to higher math - not something all kids will need but being prepared for the possibility is a good thing. For example, just what is a sine? A cosine? A derivative? What does it mean to integrate? These become essential in fields like engineering. For example, when you know the math you see that the formula for acceleration is just integrating the velocity.

"Fine. But most kids won't need that." And I agree, though most kids won't need chemistry either and I see the value in teaching that. But also consider doing math in your head. If I asked you to add 297 and 184 in your head could you? Probably. How would you do it? For me, I'd notice that 297 is just 3 away from  300 so I'm going to call it 300. Then I'll take those 3 away from the 184 to get 181. 481. Boom. Or to write it out..
297 + 184
297 + 184 + 3 - 3
(297 + 3) + (184 - 3)
300 + 181
Written out it looks a lot more complicated. That's because you are breaking it down into steps, steps that you're able to do intuitively. Common core math is all about teaching kids these steps. It's giving kids a toolkit and often with multiple ways of solving a problem.

Do I blame parents for the frustration? Not really. Like I said, it was frustrating for me to be told I was doing math wrong. I wound up googling to figure out the way the kids were being taught. But I have the advantage of being an engineer with a background in math. I think the best thing schools can do is make sure that parents are prepared for what they are going to be seeing from their kids - when using new teaching methods it is easy to dismiss the concerns of parents. I feel that the school isn't just teaching the kids they are also teaching the parents - at the very least you need to tell the parents why you are doing things the way you are - and in most cases, you can also assure them you will also be teaching them the "old way". I'd also suggest that in addition to teaching the why, schools should also make available the how. Prepare a pamphlet or handout for parents for each unit of math, explaining what is being taught, why it's being taught, and how help your kids with such problems. It certainly is more work for the schools but I feel it would go a long way towards buying parent buy-in. And saving my Facebook feed from angry parents puzzling over their kids' math homework.


Some follow-up thoughts a few hours after my initial post... A friend pointed out (as you can see in comments) common core does give more opportunity for something to go wrong. I actually agree with that diagnosis. I still think common core math is worth pursuing as the goal is to truly understand what you're doing with the math. That said, I've also seen it done incredibly wrong. Common core is not present "this is the way to do it", it is supposed to show "this is a way to do it". Having kids try different ways absolutely makes sense. But making them do it only one way is against the whole point. When "ten boxes" or other strategies are presented as the way, you are combining the worst of both worlds - a method which might not be initially intuitive along with a method that is rote.

Why do something that might not be initially intuitive? So that what we work our kids towards is mastery - understanding what it is they are doing, why they are doing it. Rote "carry the 1, borrow a 10, first-outside-inside-last" are methods to do something but do not necessarily impart knowledge.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Fiction Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness  

I first discovered Ursula K. Le Guin in my last semester at UConn, in the first half of 1994. I'd met almost all of my engineering requirements, needing two computer classes - compilers and graphics. I also needed some additional credits and it turned out they could be in literally anything. So I rounded my college experience out with classes in racquetball (yes I got a credit to play racquetball!), dinosaurs, and science fiction. Le Guin's novel The Dispossessed was one of the works we covered in our science fiction class. I absolutely loved it. The entire class actually proved to be rather influential for me - it introduced me to various science fiction movements, an introduction to fanzines, exposure to early debates on the proper term for science fiction, and even an introduction to the "slash" fiction of the 1970s. It was a great class - I was disappointed I never had the opportunity to take the class the professor taught in the fall semesters, covering graphic novels. (I knew some people in my dorm who took it the previous semester thinking they were going to have an easy class since they'd "only" be reading comic books. I recall many people being mystified by the complicated plotlines of Watchmen and understandably shaken by the experience of reading Maus.)

Going from memory, our syllabus consisted of the following works:

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
  • The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume 1
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Frankenstein Unbound by Brian Aldiss
  • China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh
  • Startide Rising by David Brin
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson

I enjoyed all of those works with the possible exception of Frankenstein Unbound - I seem to recall not caring for it but it's been so long I can't remember why - maybe it's time to take it for another spin...

Anyways I've read a variety of Le Guin books since then but for some reason I got around to reading one of her more famous ones, The Left Hand of Darkness. The novel is part of her Hainish Cycle. I'll confess to being far from an expert on the cycle, only having read this and The Dispossessed in that cycle. The universe is one in which a very long time ago humanity was seeded to a number of worlds, Earth among them. The different branches of humanity have many physical and social differences between them. The union of worlds in The Left Hand of Darkness is called the Ekumen. It's not quite like the Federation of Star Trek, it is a much looser arrangement. In this setting faster than light travel is not possible - starships travel close to the speed of light, with time dilation making these long voyages possible. However the worlds are united socially with an exchange of ideas made possible by the ansible, an instantaneous faster-than-light communications device, albeit one of low bandwidth. This is the opposite of universes like that of Traveller's Imperium where FTL travel is possible but communication is limited by the speed of travel.

The plot of The Left Hand of Darkness deals with the Ekumen's envoy, Genly Ai of Earth, sent to the planet Winter (called Gethen by the natives) as a solo representative to encourage the Gethenians to join the Ekumen. He is on his own as is standard for such contacts by the Ekumen.

Winter is, as one can imagine, a cold world. Its habitable region is between two glaciers. It has no axial tilt, with its mild summers caused by the distance of the planet from its star. It is notable for the sexuality of its branch of humanity - the people there are androgynous for the bulk of their month. However in a narrow window they enter a period of kemmer where their normally dormant sexuality emerges and they are filled with a strong desire to mate. In a coupling, one will take on male traits and the other partner female ones. The gender one assumes is variable - the same partners in a couple will likely take on different sexual roles in different couplings. They consider Genly to be something of a deviant, always, from their perspective, in a kemmer state. Outside of kemmer the people of Winter have no interest in sex, inside it it becomes an obsession. In the case of a pregnancy the female gender will be maintained throughout the pregnancy and nursing, otherwise the participants will return to their androgynous states.

Possibly as a result of their unique gender roles, the people of Winter are different from other humans in many ways. The most obvious is they have no concept of gender roles. Though conflict is not uncommon (and much of the novel deals with a territorial dispute between two Gethen nations), all-out war is unknown - conflicts stay localized. Genly spends his time in two nations, learning about the people of Winter, the differences between the nations, their religions, their legends. He encourages the leadership of both nations to join the Ekumen, knowing if one joins its rival will almost certainly do so as well.

As the preceding paragraph indicates, Winter has more than one nation. The two main nations dealt with are rivals, with some hints that they may be approaching their first real war. The leaders of the nations have their own assumptions about what Genly is "really" doing and their own plans on how best to use him for their own purposes. Genly has to learn just who it is he can trust.

In the tradition of the best science fiction Le Guin takes real-world issues and explores them in an otherworldly manner. Winter and its people feel real yet alien - more alien than your typical "funky foeheaded alien of the week" often seen on television. The people of Winter have their own dreams, failures, glories, and dreams. I recommend it strongly.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

First Impressions of D&D 5th Edition

It's a little late to be doing a review of D&D 5th edition. Be that as it may, I recently ran my first 5th edition game and it seemed a reasonable topic to give my first impressions of it.

This isn't a full review - a little googling will find a few gazillion of those.

First, some background. Earlier in the year we played some Dungeon Crawl Classics. It was a blast, at least until the total party kill. I'd gladly play again, but I felt free to allow my GM ADD to reign. We played Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. It's a game I enjoyed, but it's a bit of a mental shift from other game which had me doing a lot of legwork as GM. With me beginning my long delayed (part-time) pursuit of a Master's Degree this fall I wanted something that didn't require quite as much prep work. After some back and forth we kicked off a 5th edition D&D game set on Eberron.

So one of the goals of 5th edition D&D, as I understand it, was to bring players from older adventures back into the game. Though I've played all versions of D&D, I have to confess to some frustration with newer versions - 3/3.5 took far too long to prep for and while 4th edition was much quicker for prepping, we found combats lasted far too long for our tastes. The combats were a ton of fun mind you, just too much a time sink. I'm not going to run through every detail of 5th edition but some things stuck out for me.

First of all, the universal d20 mechanic of 3rd and 4th editions remains. For nearly everything you want to roll high on a d20. However, the extreme min-maxing that the 3.x editions encouraged is largely gone. Feats from the 3.x editions are still possible but are optional - every few levels characters have a chance to bump up two ability scores. In place of that a character can take a feat. Feats are considerably more potent as a result, but you can absolutely play without them without missing them a bit. Or have some players use them and others not.

One thing which did surprise me is the fact that some ideas from the 4th edition were used - for example, all characters get a proficiency bonus which increases as they level up. For things they are proficient with - spells, certain weapons (or all for fighters), certain skills, certain saving throws, etc. the proficiency bonus is applied to d20 rolls in addition to other bonuses. Otherwise it's just a straight d20 roll, modified by ability scores. One thing I found noteworthy is the proficiency bonus is modest - it starts off at +2 and maxes out at 17th level at +6. This greatly smooths out the power curve of the game. As a result, magic items are more modest as well and it wouldn't be all that difficult to run a game without any magic items or with very few - something that other versions of D&D would have difficulty with.

Prestige classes are gone. Instead at low levels characters make choices which can shape their character. For example, a 2nd level ranger chooses a fighting style and at 3rd level chooses and archetype (the Player's Handbook offers hunter or beast master for rangers). Multi-classing remains possible though not perhaps as necessary - for example there's a fighter archetype that gives access to some basic offensive and defensive wizard spells, in keeping with elven fighter/wizards.

Magic using characters have a bit more flexibility - a character can have a certain number of spells in memory and also a certain number of casting slots. When a spell is cast it uses up a casting slot, but no spell is forgotten.

As far as how it actually played - I'm still getting my feet wet. However I will say I was able to prep the first adventure we did from scratch very quickly and in a brief session we were able to get through some roleplaying scenes and multiple combats. No miniatures were needed though they might have helped a little bit - not so much for tactical usage, more for a clearer big-picture sort of idea. No deaths from our first adventure but one character came awfully close and more than one fell to zero hit points.

I haven't yet gotten a feel for the advancement pace of the game - leveling up to 2nd level was very quick, easily achieved after one session. I'm not sure if the pace remains fast or if it levels off like it did in older editions. I might do a little work on a spreadsheet to get an idea of how fast a party will level up when presented with challenges appropriate for the party's abilities.

Wizards of the Coast seems to be keeping releases for this new game to a minimum. A few large-scale adventures and a few sourcebooks/rules expansions, some of them outsourced. To be honest, I actually prefer this strategy - in the era of the splatbook the game you played could diverge considerably from other people playing the same edition of the game. From a business perspective, I'm a little unclear what that means - does Hasbro have more modest expectations? Do they want more of the business to come from other products such as video games, novels, etc.? One peeve is the lack of any digital version of the game - no pdf/epub/mobi version of the core books. Wizards of the Coast has begun rolling out pdf versions of older core books over the past few months, so there is hope they are now open to core books available digitally, but we will see if that extends to the current version of the game.

Regardless of the business side of things, my impression so far is it is enjoyable and smooth enough to keep running at least through my first trimester at Brandeis, after which we'll see. Call of Cthulhu always wants to be played and zombie apocalypses are always fun...