The Dynamic Symbology of Dragon Dice

Posted on 10th September 2018 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Dice Dice and More Dice

Dice Dice and More Dice

Introduction

Games are played in the contexts of rules, play, and culture. A game of chess played a century and a half ago would have a very different context and meaning between players than a game played today. Those players would be more likely to see one color of abstract playing pieces as Napoleon’s army. While I can imagine players today taking a more generic view of the pieces as something less meaningful to our historical context. The thread connecting the game today with the same hundreds of years ago is the rules–but even rules can change.

In 1995, my gaming group and I were eagerly anticipating TSR’s collectible dice game Dragon Dice. We were super-excited, having enjoyed Magic, The Gathering for several years at this time. We picked up starter sets, traded into the races that appealed to us (there were only four races at the time), spent a day playing, found the game extremely unbalanced (one magic-heavy player dominated every game), and never played again.

Fast-forward 22 years to 2017, where I pick up a copy of the Dice Commander’s Manual at a used book sale. In it I find five races I’d never heard of, but I also find that the game is still alive and well among a diaspora of fans online. I learn that, after TSR was bought by Wizards of the Coast, the company SFR literally saved the Dragon Dice inventory from being dumped unceremoniously in a landfill and continued publishing the game, revising the rules, and adding new races. Their gambit appears to have worked, because they have sold off and reprinted many dice over the years.

[Continue Reading…]

Ten Mechanics to Make Candyland Bearable or Even Awesome

Posted on 13th August 2018 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Chutes and Ladders Actions and Consequences

Chutes and Ladders Actions and Consequences

My young kids hate Chutes and Ladders. They hate the complete randomness of spinning that stupid wheel. They hate the complete lack of player agency as there are zero choices to be made. In fact, the game has its origins in teaching children about karma and accepting one’s fate. The modern theming of the board, with artwork of children making good/bad choices before the experiencing the consequences of going up a ladder or down a slide, is completely contradicted by the game’s mechanics. Even very young children recognize they are being bamboozled and quickly lose interest in the game.

CandyLand is a completely random game, completely devoid of player agency. Children take turns drawing color cards and advancing their pieces to the next matching color spaces. Like Chutes and Ladders, candy cards can leap them forward or backward along the path. The games are practically isomorphs of one another, substituting candy and shortcuts for slides and ladders and color cards for a spinning wheel.

Kids LOVE Candyland.

Candyland

Candyland

[Continue Reading…]

Comments Off on Ten Mechanics to Make Candyland Bearable or Even Awesome

Lessons Building a Magic Square Tic-Tac-Toe AI

Posted on 28th May 2018 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Magic Square Tic Tac Toe

Magic Square Tic Tac Toe

Introduction

Adding to my expanding collection of Explorable Explanations (EEs), I’ve been interested in isomorphs of various board games. For example, the game Snakes and Ladders / Chutes and Ladders (a game with zero player agency originally intended to teach Hindu children the concepts of karma and destiny), can be played with just a six-sided dice and some rules:

  1. Each player takes turns rolling the dice. Starting at zero, they add each role to their score.
  2. If a player’s score is any of the following, change it according to this chart:
    Value New Value Value New Value
    1 38 48 26
    4 14 49 11
    9 31 56 53
    21 42 63 19
    28 84 64 60
    36 44 92 73
    51 67 95 76
    71 91 98 78
    80 100    
  3. The first player to reach 100 wins.

[Continue Reading…]

Comments Off on Lessons Building a Magic Square Tic-Tac-Toe AI

Makers: A Creative Commons Licensed Sitcom About a Nerdy Family

Posted on 23rd April 2018 by Ryan Somma in Creative Commons Works,Geeking Out

In 2016, I was notified by a friend of a new partnership between Google and The Black List to give grants to screenplays promoting diversity and challenging nerd stereotypes in film. There were articles about it referencing the Computer Science Education in Media program run by Julie Ann Crommett at Google.

So I spent a month writing up something I was excited about. Makers is a family-friendly sitcom that follows the Glasper’s, a family comprised of two geeky, parents who work as software developers. Nef, a mother of African American descent, telecommutes on various IT contracts from her highly-unprofitable makerspace/gaming shop that has been in the red for so long the IRS has made her downgrade it from a business to a hobby. Zack, the father, works in Laboratory Information Management systems, and is a heavy gamer off-hours. They have two young children, Sagan and Ada, named for Carl Sagan and Ada Lovelace. The episodes were to center around modern first-world nerd problems: torrenting, gamer trolls, H1B1 ethics, generational conflicts over technology, code-switching, and gaming addiction.

[Continue Reading…]

Comments Off on Makers: A Creative Commons Licensed Sitcom About a Nerdy Family

The Long Con: Board Games for Young Children

Posted on 19th February 2018 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Tower of Board Games

Tower of Board Games

An online friend started a board gaming club at his elementary school. Occassionally, he posts pictures of the free games companies send him. Other times he posts photos of his students engaged in play. I asked him about the games and what it was like teaching children so young board games.

“We have good and bad days, but we stick to it and try different things,” he told me. “It’s all about the long-con.”

In a world of easy entertainment like movies and dazzling entertainment like video games, I’m overjoyed to see boardgames surging in popularity in America. I’m glad to see adults embracing “child’s play” as a means of cultivating mental plasticity. Games keep our minds young by challenging us and prompting us to think in unusual ways.

Plato recognized the importance of gaming in childhood when he said, “[I]f a boy is to be a good farmer or a good builder, he should play at building toy houses or at farming and be provided by his tutor with miniature tools modelled on real ones… One should see games as a means of directing children’s tastes and inclinations to the role they will fulfill as adults.” I also see immense potential for gaming in education. I’m not talking about gamified education, which involves skinner-box methods of hooking children into learning for rewards, but rather game-based learning, which means using actual game play to teach and explore concepts.

Here’s what I’ve learned from a few years of playing board games with my young boys.

[Continue Reading…]

Comments Off on The Long Con: Board Games for Young Children

Arduino Time Zone Portal LED Project

Posted on 27th February 2016 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Bally Time Zone / Space Time Pinball Backglass

Bally Time Zone / Space Time Pinball Backglass

Photograph by Matthew Allison

Introduction

I recently became interested in arcade history. Pinball history is particularly fascinating for the way inventors have come up with so many mechanical innovations over the years. From the first springer launch to the first speaking pinball to incorporating a wide variety of illusions, pinball remains something that simply can’t be replaced with virtual versions.

While investgating a 1972 Bally Time Zone pinball machine (also known as Space Time), I found an innovation that screamed 1970s. Check out the “portal” in the bottom center of this video:

Unable to fit an entire pinball machine in my home, I went for attempting to replicate this one part. With the popularity of the Maker Movement and easy-electronics development with the arduino, I decided to see how quickly I could replicate this piece with LED lights.

[Continue Reading…]

Comments Off on Arduino Time Zone Portal LED Project

Number Spiral Mandalas with HTML Canvas

Posted on 21st July 2014 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
HTML Canvas 12-times Spiral
12-Spiral in HTML Canvas
(Primes highlighted in red)

Mathematics is about exploration, not the rote memorization of algortithms. It’s about finding patterns, appreciating how numbers relate to one another. That’s why I love programming. Much of writing code involves experimentation with mathematics, tweeking a variable to see what comes out of a complex function. It’s wonderful when a program doesn’t give you the answer you designed it to; that means you are about to learn something.

I was really inspired by this post on Moebius Noodles about Joey Grether, who creates spiraling artwork with the number 12 that seeks patterns in the lines of numbers radiating out from the center. Reminiscent of Ulam’s Spiral, building a spiral around a clock, with 12-segments in the rotation, puts multiples of 3 at {3,6,9,12} o’clock, multiples of 4 at {4,8,12} o’clock, multiples of 2 at {2,4,6,8,10,12} o’clock, and primes at {1,5,7,11}.

[Continue Reading…]

Comments Off on Number Spiral Mandalas with HTML Canvas

20 Years of Magic the Gathering

Posted on 16th September 2013 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Friday Night Magic at Earth 383
Friday Night Magic at Earth 383

20 years ago this month, I introduced my college friends to a new concept, the collectible card game (CCG). Magic the Gathering was instantly addictive for all of us, a game one part role-playing, one part exploration and discovery, and ten parts ingenuity. I’ll never forget when my friends confronted me after a few weeks of play, demanding, “Why did you keep this from us for so long?”

Truth is, I had just discovered Magic a few months earlier when I found a couple of friends playing in their apartment. A game where you play a Wizard (excuse me, “Plainswalker”) collecting spells and creatures into your spellbook to use against other opponents? Sold.

[Continue Reading…]

Comments Off on 20 Years of Magic the Gathering

Is Web Design All About Hacking or Kludging?

Posted on 5th May 2013 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out

So I decided to spend the weekend redesigning/modernizing my lifetime project, a citation-management tool mxplx, because the site is old and ugly looking and I wanted to play with some of the shiny new toys in CSS:

The 00s Called, They Want Their Website Design Back
The 00s Called, They Want Their Website Design Back

So hundreds googlings and SOings and two sugar-driven all-nighter’s later, I’ve got the new “placeholder” tags in my inputs, nifty-gradient backgrounds in my divs, my inputs are modern-ish looking, and my checkboxes, buttons, and selects are all replaced with images. Yay!

Shiny New Website
Shiny New Website

[Continue Reading…]

In Defense of “The Big Bang Theory”

Posted on 4th February 2013 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Sheldon Fashion
Sheldon Fashion

I love love love The Big Bang Theory (BBT). I love the intelligent science references, the highly-debatable geek-culture references, and the cameos only a nerd would enjoy. Most of all, the portrayal of idiosyncratic individuals who bare an incredible resemblance to people I’ve had to deal with for decades working in IT and hanging out at Cons and Comic shops.

So it comes as a shock to me that there is a lot of hate for BBT in geek culture. Many geeks seem to loathe the way the show portrays geek mannerisms, habits, and argue that the show invites normal people to laugh at geeks and encourages belittling them. The show is simply a televised extension of the bullying we had to endure in high school. Geeks see it as validating that abuse through the reactions of the “hot girl” Penny, who lives across the hall from the geeks and whose reactions to the geeks are a source of amusement for the audience.

I don’t see it, and I’m honestly offended at some of the opinions and parochialism being exhibited by some of my fellow geeks. Defending an opinion isn’t like defending a scientific position, I can’t cite journal papers and research to back it up, but I can use logic and anecdotal evidence. So here it goes…

[Continue Reading…]