If I’m not getting my life back, y’all are coming down with me

Oh dear, I’ve been sucked back into Shandalar.

Let me explain. Shandalar is a Magic the Gathering video game from 1997. MtG has had many other video game properties since 1997. Battlegrounds was weird, real time stuff. Didn’t work. Duels of the Planeswalkers (later known as Magic: Duels) was okay, just straight games with a story mode and deck builder. Sometimes neat little bonuses. Then that got discontinued. Magic Arena has been amazing. It’s like a streamlined version of Magic Online. It’s colourful with cool effects. The UI is mostly pretty well done. It’s free to play with in game currency. They’re hunting for their white whales, and the rest of us plebs provide a player base for them to battle. It’s a working eco-system and a pretty huge deal for the future of Magic. I’ve spent innumerable hours in the past year on this game. I love it to bits. It’s not Shandalar.

Shandalar is my forever mistress. It’s hard to escape, because it’s so fucking fun. For people who haven’t played before, I figure I might give some tips. First of all, if you want to play on Windows 10, here’s a really good tutorial from streamer Gaby Spartz. It’s an old game, there’s some finagling required. Okay, the gist of Shandalar is that it’s a MtG based RPG. You wander around a world map battling cronies of evil wizards, building your deck up over time. Eventually you battle the wizards and save the land. Sometimes you’ll find dungeons, which have old cards very few of us get to play in real life. Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, etc. The game also features an ante system, which means you can lose your precious cards, or steal cards from opponents. The ante system, while heartbreaking in real life (and thus has been expunged from paper magic) actually makes the game really fucking exciting. You’ve got skin in the game, and you’ll feel super shitty losing a Mox Sapphire to some dork on a horse.

With that out of the way, here are some tips for the game:

  • Money. Money is a thing in this game. It helps you buy cards in towns, or from vendors. You can use it to buy food, which helps you keep a good speed walking around the map. Money is important.
  • Towns have different economies based on their size. It’s a good principle to buy cards you want from smaller towns. Or if something’s a good card in a small town, you might be able to flip it for more money at a larger town. Buy your food from small towns if you can.
  • Liquidate everything you’re not gonna use, and try to sell your more expensive cards at big cities. You’ll get a lot more for them.
  • Once you can consistently beat enemies, they’re a great source of revenue. Sometimes you’ll randomly get really powerful cards from them too.
  • Travel by roads. It’s faster and you can evade enemies.
  • The honest to god best thing about having money in this game is being able to pay off enemies instead of battling them when you’re trying to get around the world map. When you start out, your deck will be shite. A multi-coloured monstrosity. You can streamline it eventually. Before you do, however, your win loss rate will be pretty rough. If the choice comes between risking losing a good card to ante or paying 40 gold, the gold is well worth it. I mean, you’re in the game to play Magic and have fun, so do that too. Just don’t lose your key cards to errant druids.
  • The upside of paying people off is that it frees you up to do quests for towns. This will help you power up faster.
  • Quests: Take quests that give you mana links. Your life starts at eight or ten. Each mana link you get raises your life total permanently by one. Once you have 15-20 life, the game gets more reasonable and you’ll find yourself actually winning games.
  • Quests: At the start, do the dorky quests that just require you to take messages around in exchange for single amulets or mana links. When your deck gets good enough, you can start doing battle quests where you’ll get two or three amulets for defeating powerful enemies. It’s great. You can use these to buy new cards.
  • Amulet rates: Vendors sometimes sell cards by type and amulet colour. Rares cost three (very occasionally, four) amulets, uncommons cost two and commons are one. It’s a good idea to have multiples of three amulets whenever you open dialogue with a vendor. Once you choose to engage with a vendor, you won’t be able to engage with that same vendor again.
  • Contract from Below is in this game. It is fucking insane. Take a chance to play with it, because you’ll never, ever get a chance to play it in real life. The extra ante is irrelevant. If you’re drawing 7 cards for B, you’ll usually be winning that game.
  • There are different random locations that appear on the world map. Little mountain crags, sunken ships, graveyards, alabaster columns or little forest hovels. They’re random events, and usually have a more positive outcome than negative. Sometimes you’ll wander into a thieves den and they’ll steal half your amulets or gold. Mostly though, you’ll find cards, merchants who’ll sell cards for gold or amulets, or dungeon clues. Sometimes you’ll find a powerful monster with good spells up for grabs.
  • When you have a random encounter with a powerful monster, you usually don’t put cards up for ante. It’s risk free. You might as well take the battle and sell the cards, because otherwise the monster will just disappear for good.
  • Dungeons. Get dungeon clues so you know what you’re encountering. Life losses/gains are carried over between matches. There are dice that will give you a bonus of either extra life or a card to start with. You can accumulate life bonuses, but once you have something to start with, getting a new dice replaces that entirely, even if it’s another life bonus.
  • Dungeons, cont: The best practice in a dungeon is to entirely avoid battles if you can. Scope out every available hallway without taking dice if you’re able to. Leave dice scattered around, and once you have no choice but to battle someone (to get a treasure (which in this instance is always an amazing rare card)), collect dice until you have something good to start with. It’ll make the battle a lot easier.
  • You can run as few as 40 cards. Once you’re below 40, the game will start randomly adding in lands to your deck. Try to keep at 40-43 (in case you lose a battle out in the world and want to stay above 40 cards). You can run up to three of each card until later.
  • Worldmagics: There are a bunch of worldmagics. They’re not all created equal. The ones to get are:
  • The one that lets you walk through swamps faster.
  • The one that lets you walk through mountains faster.
  • The one that stops you consuming food when you’re walking through a forest.
  • The one that makes cities offer more cards for sale.
  • The one that lets you run up to four copies of each card in your deck.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: The one that makes the evil wizards require five conquered cities instead of three. It’ll give you so much more time

Speaking of time, that’s all I have right now. If you’re into Magic I implore you to check this game out. It’s sincerely amazing, and despite (or even because of) the graphics, it’s a riot. It’s very exciting, gripping, and I don’t think Wizards of the Coast will ever make another game like it. It’s not a lucrative enough system.

Happy casting, friends.


You ain’t seen nothin’ jetty

Greetings from cottage country. I’m splayed out on my belly, lying atop a dock. Or is it a jetty? What’s the difference? Is it a matter of protrusion? It’s certainly a matter of confusion. Who cares? I’m on holiday.

I’ve got a writing partner here with me today. She’s working on some comedy bits while I type. We’re chatting, discussing, thinking about wording and intonation. Well, she’s bouncing ideas off me anyway. It’s beyond idyllic here. This dock/jetty (I looked it up, I think it’s a dock rather than a jetty. I also learned that jetties are used to disperse currents and create a safe harbour for seafaring vessels (or since they need to disperse currents, maybe they’re sea fearing)) is idly rocking, and it’s absurdly pleasant. Our neighbours are whipping out on their stand up paddleboards, having a great time. We can see right across, it’s a gorgeous view.

Okay, cut to an hour and a half later. I didn’t get my writing done, ’cause we chatted a bunch instead. Now we’re back in the house, it’s a hive of activity. People are walking around clothed, in their undies or nothing at all. One of our pals walked in from the bunkie. There’s a great flow. People are chopping potatoes for some kind of hash. Someone else is frying stuff up in a pan. There’s some Big Chill style motown bursting out from a portable speaker. I’m getting repeatedly distracted, but I think that’s part of the process. Who knows? We’re on cottage time now, baby. Today’s writing has been a slog, not because I’m not enjoying it, but I’m having a hard time with stimulation overload.

We had a great night yesterday. We arrived, and the group who got there earlier were already a bunch of drinks in. I played catchup rather adroitly, and played darts at the same time. I won, somehow. The game itself wasn’t the hard part. See, I’m not a competitive person. I love cheerleading my opponent when they make good plays, but my opponent asked me specifically to trash talk her. I was puzzled, because I’m ever aware of the difficult line to walk when it becomes mean. I don’t like being mean. I tried, and I think managed to not destroy her very being. I did destroy her in the game though. This place is super stocked with board games, etc. Someone found a card game that was basically a forum to encourage intimate conversations, so we talked deep into the morning. I was somehow drunk enough for a nice deep sleep, and woke up grinning.

But now? Now it’s time for lunch. Catch y’all on the flipside!

I cracked the code! He’s just saying that to throw us off his trail!

Forgive me while I watch this video of Billy Joel flipping out on repeat for the rest of the day.

It’s so great. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen it already. I’m sure everyone already knew about it, but e-fucking-gads it’s hilarious. I got so sweaty laughing that I became relieved I keep a towel at work. It’s not just the juxtaposition of seeing a usually benign artist like Billy Joel losing his shit, there’s so much more going on. Hearing him intersperse furious production demands throughout his lyrics (“When am I gonna take control get a hold of my emotions-STOP LIGHTING THE AUDIENCE. Why does it only seem to hit me in the middle of the night-STOP IT.”) was a good enough gag, but it’s only amplified by the joyous muppet on the keytar in front of him barely breaking his stride. Then if that wasn’t adequate, he fucking FLIPS THE PIANO and runs out front to start wailing on the stage with his mic stand. Perhaps I need to learn more about his ouvre aside from “We Didn’t Start The Fire” and “Uptown Girl”. Wait, maybe he did start the fire.

I had another flying dream last night. They’re not super uncommon, but this one felt quite sustained. What I thought was interesting (and I knooooow that everyone falsely thinks that their dreams are fascinating), was that flying in this particular dream had a profoundly physical element to it. Flying was like a muscle. None of this magical levitation, there was a specific action linked. I just tightened something inside of me. You know when you tighten your core? It was like that, but further internal. The more I tightened it, the faster I’d ascend or move. It felt incredibly visceral. I’m not gonna try to really pin down the narrative (something about being in a small yee-haw Western outpost and having to hide my ability, so as not to appear a witch), but it was so strange actually intellectualising the sensation and how to work it best. Like trying to better understand your gait and how to make it more efficient. Throughout the dream, I noticed my ability increase substantially. Maybe it was just someone mentioning the film Chronicle the other day, but the ties were pretty apparent. Y’know, I’m well overdue for a Spider Man dream come to think of it.

I got bored today and figured I could play a harmless prank. A few weeks back, I talked about the mysterious package that showed up at my desk. This left me with an interdepartmental envelope. Everyone else was out at a stakeholders’ meeting, but since I’m leaving soon, I got to skip it. I took the envelope to my co-worker’s desk (the one who sits right next to me) and jotted down her name/desk number in the appropriate sections. Inside I put a little note on a post it. “TAG! You’re it! No tag backs!” That was it. I sealed the envelope and took it downstairs to the mail room. So far it hasn’t been delivered. Maybe it’ll come tomorrow, who knows? My eternal hope, is that it suffers the same fate that the envelope did on its way to me. That took months to deliver, MONTHS. If this thing kicks around the system for several months, then she ends up with a dumb tag note from someone who used to sit directly next to her, how great would that be? It seems silly, but fun, and I’m sure something like that could lift her day immediately. Do I feel guilty for tying up the mail room with my own dumb jokes? Likely not as guilty as I should. Who knows, this could move all around the company and start a building wide game of tag. Why would that be something to feel guilty about?

If anything, I’m sure perennial firestarter Billy Joel would approve.

Go Naps! We the Snore!

Congrats to the Raps!

The city is alive today. People climbed atop a TTC vehicle. Idiots were chastised for being menaces downtown. Some dude in the house across from me was playing 80s music and dancing in a circle to himself. Mostly, people are pretty chuffed. I don’t really care about the game itself, but it’s quite satisfying to see people let go of the tension they’ve been holding for anywhere from a week to two and a half decades. It all feels like a Boston Red Sox situation. Years and years of disappointment. Not quite getting there. Have the Raps ever made some kind of finals before? I know googling it would be only too easy, but I can’t be bothered right now. I’m gonna assume by everyone’s reactions that it’s the case. So GO TEAM! You don’t get dudes dancing in a circle on their lawn to 80s tracks without the Raps making the finals for the first time, THEN WINNING. I’m past the weird adversarial stance I used to take in my teens and early 20s. You know, that whole this isn’t my thing so fuck this thing thing? It’s not my thing, but people are stoked and outside of a smattering of douchebag behaviour, that’s all it is. People aren’t taking this excuse to be shitty. That in itself almost feels worthy of celebration. Yay, go Raptor fans!

I finished season 1 of Barry last night. Turns out people were right. The show is excellent. It took me a few episodes to get there, but then again I didn’t find myself truly enjoying Mad Men until near the end of the first season. Good things take time. Especially cheese. Apparently critically lauded cable dark comedies too. The show does a fantastic job of slowly adding in cumulative elements that get adroitly accessed at pivotal moments. There’s not a ton of waste in the script. The characters develop and learn, with the backdrop of the acting class providing thematic advancement. Henry Winkler is a fucking vision in this show. Also, who knew Bill Hader was a legit actor? The layers of an actor playing a hitman playing a bad actor trying to learn to be a better actor without giving away secrets are stacked so high, and he walks that tightrope without slipping. I had a little frustration feeling like they weren’t doing enough with newcomer Sarah Goldberg’s character, but she seemed to get bulked up as it went along. Though Anthony Carrigan kills it with probably my favourite character. Maybe the critics know what they’re talking about with this one.

Ugh, I’m tired. This entry has been a slog, and well over 30 minutes in the making. Some days you have it. Today I don’t.

Maybe I should have a nap instead.

Do or do not, the nomenclature is “goal”, not “try”

Bass kit bowl.

Toronto’s going crazy for it, so I’m gonna talk about it today. Our resident sporty dinos are tearing it up on the NBA scene, and we’re all proud. I think. Look, I’m not a basketball person, but it makes me happy when people get excited about something that doesn’t hurt or put down other people. It’s bringing a lot of folks together, and I’m chuffed at all the celebration. Good for them. So here’s some stuff about basketball and me.

  • When I had a kid I was very into the idea of being into basketball, but it rarely flowed into actually enjoying watching the game. It was the 90s, the Chicago Bulls were everywhere. I thought Jordan was the fucking coolest, even before Space Jam hit the screens.
  • I asked my parents to buy me one of those Michael Jordan mesh jersey things when they were in America. I was so excited to get it, then once I tried it on, I realised I didn’t like wearing it at all and gave it to my best friend. He wore it tons and loved it.
  • When the Raptors emerged as a new franchise, I was sold. It was around Jurassic Park times and dinosaurs were still my everything. I had a basketball and a hat. I felt very cool and wore tha hat constantly.
  • We had a basketball hoop with backboard on our driveway. Dad would rarely play with us, but when he did, he had this recurring bit. He’d come out, shoot once and sink it. Every time. Then he’d be all “well I guess I got a 100% shot rate, that’s good enough for me.” He’d then go inside, or just watch as I played and practiced, passing me the ball if it went too far for me to catch up. To this day, I don’t know if my dad was actually good at shooting, or if, as an adult, the hoop was just incredibly low and easy to sink.
  • I played miniball as one of my childhood sports. If it wasn’t apparent, it’s basketball for kids, with lower hoops and a smaller ball. I dunno, it’s sorta in the name. I loved playing miniball, I had a couple of friends in my team and while we never did well, we had fun. It was co-ed and low stakes. I could only ever dribble with my right hand and I think I scored a total of six points in the entirety of my miniball career. Once we got old enough for bigger hoops/balls I noped the fuck out of there and never looked back.
  • At one of my flats, we had a PS3 and NBA Jam. We all played a bunch, and it got really aggressive. Lots of swearing, yelling and taunting. No serious personal insults, but boy oh boy it was fun to rile each other up. My friend’s mum came to the door while we were playing once. She was very mild mannered, and upon hearing our loud shit talking, got quite a fright. After that day, she never visited our flat again.
  • I know nothing about basketball, and for years I had a solid 3 minutes of talking points just to make conversation with people. Thing is, they all came from my experiences in NBA Jam, and occasional statements my friends let slip while we played. On more than one occasion, I was stuck not knowing how to connect to people at parties, bars, work events, etc. I used the same rote talking points to make new single dose friends. Very handy.
  • There’s a band called Sledding With Tigers, and they have a fantastic EP based around the film Space Jam. I highly recommend that you listen to it, or even buy their entire discography for $12.50USD.

Good luck for tonight, and I hope our team sinks all the putts!

If you have an interim job in a bowling alley, would you call it tem-pin’ bowling?

I don’t normally think of Bowling as a drop in activity.

We tried, yesterday. We were walking out East with no particular designs on the day, when we stumbled upon a bowling alley. A simple sign advertising a bowl-o-rama or bowleria or whatever. We walked down the stairs into a small establishment, perhaps eight lanes. The music was loud, the lighting was cosmic. There was probably a kid’s birthday party going on. A mustachio’d gent who looked like he’d been churned through an algorithm to be the perfect bowl-o-runner (one who runs a bowl-o-rama, obviously. It’s in the name). Did you know that it costs about $20 for half an hour to rent a lane, and that shoe rental is $3? Did you realise that you could probably get a game finished in 30 minutes? Especially with two people. You could 100% throw down $13 and have a game of bowling out of nowhere. I haven’t gone bowling in years (the last time was part of a planned “low class date”), but it’s apparently more accessible than I thought. If I’m prepared to drop $5 on a coffee, $13 isn’t as much of a stretch for some good ol’ fashioned novelty entertainment.

Of course, for a ton of people bowling is a pretty regular activity. At least, movies have taught me that bowling leagues are commonplace, especially for dysfunctional men with a ball-and-chain mentality. I’m not one of them, so bowling rings in my mind as a mainstay of children’s parties. It’s funny to think of how subjective “regular” is. Our hobbies and interest help us find delight in the world, to meet other like-minded folks. I’m sure most would find the amount of time and brain space I devote to Magic the Gathering to be pretty weird. I’m one of them. But it gives me an area to focus on, and helps keep me engaged. To me, Magic is like an endless puzzle, with nigh infinite pieces (but realistically, over 18,000 unique ones. It’s actually relatively quantifiable). New sets are released on a regular schedule, which means constant recalibration and adjustment. Novel options arise to change decks that’ve held in their form for years. Archetypes shift, and the metagame is in a continual state of flux. I’m sure this is exciting for exactly me, and the hordes of players worldwide. I’ve found a niche I like, for others, that’s bowling.

I truly know nothing about the life of an avid bowler. Are there variations in strategy? Or is it all getting that technique honed to a fine point, then lather, rinse, repeat? Do people at high level ever make mistakes? Or do they dole out constant 300 point games? When you’re of such a calibre, where does the excitement come from? Are there hair trigger differences that can throw a match? Is ball technology important? Are there specific resins or chemical compounds that make for better balls? What role does superstition play? Or do players know that technique makes the difference, and superstition takes a backseat to physics? Are high level bowlers held with the same esteem we reserve for NBA players? Does the sport have legends, competitors who rose above and beyond? What of controversy? Is there a Tonya Harding of bowling? What of gender bias? Does the difference in ball sizes eliminate score differential between genders? Since everything’s turn based, does that mean women and men compete in the same leagues? Or is there still a massive disparity, like so many sports? Hell, what does an ideal bowling body look like? Would the Sports Illustrated Body Issue of a bowler have one massive arm? Are there specific body parts that get toned? Do they have super rigid wrists from keeping the ball aligned? Or are there surprisingly jacked back muscles that help send the ball straight and true? I have so many questions.

But I’m just a filthy casual who now thinks about drop ins. Will I ever learn who the Michael Jordan of bowling is? Have I ever had the impulse to know these things before?

Guess I should strike while the iron’s hot.

1999 called. It just wants to say it’s still thinking of you

I never watched Justice League, but if you don’t think the credits should’ve rolled with “Superman” from the Tony Hawk soundtrack, you’re flagrantly incorrect. For all I know, they do, which just means it should’ve played twice. I guess I’ll never know.

I still can’t understand how those Tony Hawk games were so popular. I’m not implying that they weren’t awesome. I bought the first one on PSX. I gave that game 50+ hours of my life. I just don’t know why. Back in the 2000s, skating captured the zeitgeist in an all encompassing capacity. Like the 70s reborn, it was pop punk bands and wide, cushioned, slacker footwear all the way down. Jackass thrived. Blink 182 united listeners across genre spectrums until that weird Tom DeLonge verse from “Miss You” made us give up the ghost. Then he got mixed up in alien conspiracies, which should’ve only made him more endearing. It didn’t. He isn’t. I’m saying all this as a non-skater. I don’t know that I so much as stepped onto a board, but I had friends who did. It’s like when yo yos got cool in the 90s again. I never had one, but it seemed like something I should be enjoying. And what are skateboards if not cordless yo yos bound by trucks to a deck? Everything’s connected, so I guess that entirely explains the colossal popularity of Tony Hawk (before they adopted the awkwardly juxtaposed acronym THUG). Or maybe they were just fun games. Perhaps they even set the stage for sandbox games to emerge. Would you have Batman: Arkham City without Rune Glifberg’s Christ Air? Geoff Rowley did Dark Slide for our sins.

On some level, Tony Hawk gave rise to a kind of grounded fantasy. As far as game settings/scenarios, it was mundane. You were skating in urban environments. Whether in the city, a big airplane hanger, or a school, it’s not like you were grinding rails in Narnia. But then you had a secret alien in Roswell. You could paint entire buildings by doing tricks off them. You made physics your bitch at every turn. Glass windows shattered with your arrival. Glass ceilings, maybe less so. Though at least you got to play as Elissa Steamer. And Officer Dick proved that cops could bust a mean kickflip. Even within these limited stages, you felt free to explore your own whims, instead of following a prescribed course. Subsequent games got steadily more insane. Manuals meant you could chain up ludicrous combos and stack multipliers. They had something like eight games, making Tony Hawk a household name/brand. Funny, he wasn’t even the best character in his own game.

Look, I’m mired in nostalgia here, slipping into the past. I can barely think about writing when I’m mentally doing ollies in 1999. It’s time to let the credits roll on this entry. HIT IT BOYS!

So here I am, growing older all the time,
Looking older all the time,
Feeling younger in my mind.