Posts Tagged review

Card Kingdom and Cafe Mox

There is a mecca of gaming in the Seattle area. It arrived about a year and a half ago now, I think, and it is truly outstanding. This haven is Card Kingdom’s store in Ballard, just north of Seattle, and their attached “gamer bar” Cafe Mox. I went there yesterday with some awesome co-workers to play games for like 6 hours and (as always) enjoyed every minute of it.

Card Kingdom’s store space is laid out in a somewhat unusual way for a game store. Rather than packing as many games as possible into as little space as possible, and leaving play/demo space to a minimum, there are large aisles, well organized and categorized sections of product, and many tables on which to play. There’s even an entire three rooms devoted to card games, miniature games and roleplaying games respectively, each with their own appropriate table space! It’s really amazing.

But the reason I keep returning there is actually Cafe Mox, the bar right next door owned and operated by the same folk. In this bar, there are a large variety of beers, wines, mead and even food – sandwiches, salads, some delicious fried stuff. You can check games out from Card Kingdom and play them in Mox, plus there are even two large rooms off the bar you can book for long sessions with big groups (I’ve done so for day-long drafting, for example.)

I highly recommend anyone in town who has any inclination toward playing ANY games at all (and honestly, that means everyone who reads this AT LEAST) to visit and relax there for a few hours. If you come visit me, let me know and I’ll be sure to set up a trip!

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I’m about halfway through Season 1 of Glee, which I picked up on DVD after having it highly recommended to me by multiple friends.  And indeed, it is a very fun show.  The ever-present drama and comedy of your standard sit-com (this one set in a high school) is as expected, maybe even a little better than usual because the characters seem to display more genuine emotion.  The fact that the cast breaks out into song, musical-style, about 2-3 times an episode is also totally awesome, and I really enjoy it for the same reason I enjoy singing along with the radio and singing along at karaoke – sometimes you’ve got emotions that are easiest to release via song.

Above all, however, the thing that makes me most happy about Glee is the show’s theme: that people are happiest when they are being themselves, even it means looking foolish in front of others.  I’m sort of a sucker for emotional moments in television, but it hits me harder in Glee because the aforementioned message is reinforced time and time again through the winding plot.  It’s an ideal I strive for in my own life and it resonates with me as the characters of the show struggle with it in their own circumstances.

I don’t want to give it a full blown review quite yet, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone who shamelessly sings in the shower, hums along to the radio, or just enjoys emotional, musical television.

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Review: Hump

Last night, I was able to snag the last ticket Keridwyn had for a showing of Hump, The Stranger‘s amateur, local Pacific Northwest porn shorts festival.  Yes, porn.  The description reminded me of the sci-fi short festival I went to with Jason earlier this year, but both the crowd attending – a bunch of awesome folks including Brandon and Keridwyn, Paul and Erin, Joe and Karyn, and other new folk who are equally sweet – and the comfort zone boundary exploration made Hump a much more interesting proposition.

There were about 20 shorts, and although some were animated, most were – well, amateur pornography.  Of course, they had a level of self-awareness and hilarity to them that was much appreciated.  Understand that I consider myself quite prudish and have a hard time discussing stuff like this openly, but overall I would say the sex scenes were earnest but not that impressive.  I definitely found the most enjoyment from the shorts that were (a) well put together (as with any film) and (b) humorous.  To give some context and let those who weren’t there in on some of the humor, there was a silent film parody of the classic plumber scene (with gender roles reversed), a parody of America’s Funniest Home (Porn) Videos, and a scene with a masturbating nun that was hilariously over-the-top blasphemous.  Some of the pieces were uncomfortable, but as Dan Savage told us at the start of the show, that’s to be expected and is really part of the total experience.

Certainly, the show was not for everyone, but I’m happy to know that I indeed enjoyed it, most importantly I feel okay talking about it, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in a fun time watching, uh, porn.  From local talent.  In a theater.  Yeah.  I’ll stop now.

Overall: B+
Hilarity Value: Over Expectation
Best in Show: Sink

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Review: Blog-a-Day (and

I figured I would conclude this month’s set of reviews with one of my own blogging experience thus far, only two months from the close of the year.  This blog has been a challenge, so much so that I have basically ignored all my other resolutions for the year :( , but overall I believe it has been a great success.  It’s more of a success due to its public nature than due to personal benefits, however, and that’s what I want to talk about in this post.

This blog has helped me to strengthen communication with some of my friends with whom I have lost or lapsed contact.  It’s also apparently inspired some of my friends to start or reignite their own blogs, which is wonderful for two reasons – hopefully they too will reap some of the personal benefits I’ll list below, and also by regularly blogging, they are doing the same favor of strengthened communication with me and therefore I’ll be less likely to lapse in chatting with them.  The discussions both among and from my friends on the various topics I’ve written about has been great to see.

On the personal front, I think I am getting less out of blogging than I was hoping.  That’s not to say I’m lacking in benefit!  I feel like I can express my thoughts a bit better, I have an easier time writing, and overall I feel like I communicate my beliefs and opinions to my friends better.  However, I was hoping that having a daily blog would give me a better routine (it didn’t – still post at haphazard times!) and/or would make me more organized in general (still not quite there).  I also think that doing a blog a day was a fine experiment, but I won’t be doing it that frequently come 2011.  Instead, I expect it’ll be much more of a “I had something to say” phenomenon.  Still, I am very very happy with my progress on this particular resolution, and happy that I stuck to it and reaped the various rewards.

Overall: A-
Difficulty, Overall: Medium-High
Difficulty, Per Blog: Not That Bad
Smell of Accomplishment: Hickory

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Review: Halloween

Halloween is kind of an odd holiday.  Unlike most others, it is not (in my mind) a primarily family/traditional holiday, but rather a creative one.  It does afford the opportunity for families to go out and for kids to trick-or-treat, but since the parents usually stay out of it (only in it as chaperones), it’s more about individuals and their expressions, even for kids.  I know I’ve certainly had a lot of fun over the years thinking about potential costumes and/or gimmicks for Halloween, and then enjoyed seeing people’s reactions and seeing their own costumes as well.

As an exercise in creativity, regardless of Halloween’s other purposes and associated history/meaning, I think Halloween does something great.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I felt like I had a good opportunity to craft something without feeling obligated to spend a ton of time – over the course of many weeks – due to needing a costume for a Halloween party.  Similarly, I think it’s great to give adults and kids alike a kind of sanctioned fantasy day where you can be a zombie or a wizard and not feel out of place, even be respected for your creative expression and/or aesthetic choices.

Because Halloween is a holiday, and is often celebrated in the workplace (I know mine does, almost to a crazy extent!), I also need to comment on its intrusiveness.  I don’t particularly mind when people express themselves creatively around me, but I do mind when I am (a) berated for nonparticipation or (b) expected to dole out treats because somebody showed up to my door.  I guess I just wish there was a simple social convention, like a sign I could wear, that was like, “I am not in a Halloween mood, please go elsewhere!”  Christmas sometimes has this feel to me (because I am Jewish and don’t really celebrate, and yet it is everywhere all the time).

Overall: B-
Creativity Outlet: High
Intrusiveness Factor: Medium-High
Overall Fun: A-

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Review: Penny Arcade

The PA guys (Jerry and Mike, or more widely known as Tycho and Gabe) are doing another “reader poll” to see which side-project they should spend effort on, and I was reminded again why I think Penny Arcade is so sweet.  If you haven’t read them, you can find them at – they have two interesting one-page treatments of two possible side projects (Sand and The New Kid) up, and of course huge archives of their primary gaming webcomic.  I recall starting to read PA in college, and I know Todd and Garrett and I attended the first (and subsequent) PAX expos after I was in grad school.  I own all of their books, and read them fairly religiously.  So, maybe I am biased, but I think I can still render some opinions in reviewing their material.

One: Penny Arcade is a comic by gamers for gamers, and they aren’t assholes (to their audience).  They also happen to fit the profile of your “growing up gamer” and so they happened to be perfect for me as I passed through college and into working life.  (Not so much now that they are family men, but their in-comic avatars are still basically bachelors.)  This is kind of a drawback if you haven’t previously read their stuff, because reading through archives is not quite the same as associating life experiences of the time with reading, but it’s still an interesting aspect to my “relationship” with PA.  Penny Arcade is really much more of a blog in comic form than most other webcomics I have read, and it gives it a much more authentic feel.  Because of that, they have a lot of currency/capital to spend when they do go off a little and do weird things (Cardboard Tube Samurai, Twisp and Catsby, these reader-directed projects, etc.)

Two: Penny Arcade doesn’t make any apologies.  It doesn’t skirt around issues in the gaming world that Jerry and Mike believe are relevant and important to tackle, and it doesn’t censor itself for the sake of protecting reader’s… eyes? Ear-analogues.  They are able to infuse their opinions with humor, and to me that’s a big win.  They can tend to ramble, or focus too much on topics that seem small on a global scale but are quite relevant to them personally, but I don’t fault them much for this – it is their comic/blog after all!

They also were the genesis of the Child’s Play charity, which I think is really amazing at directing gamers (generally generous people, in my opinion) toward spending for greater good.  So brownie points to the people for that!

Overall: A-
Humor: B+ (rises if you know the specific games involved at any one time)
Variety: A+ (no other webcomic I know treats so many different topics/games within the sphere)

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Review: Ozzie’s

I go to Ozzie’s basically every week for Monday Night Karaoke.  Karaoke on Mondays has become something of a tradition, transitioning from the U District’s Dante’s to this Queen Anne bar due to (1) slightly better seating arrangements and (2) much better turnaround on singing songs.  Ozzie’s isn’t without its problems – after all, it is in many senses a dive bar – but the clear winning draw for karaoke is the crowd of friends I go out with.  So, I will attempt to correct for my bias for this review.

Ozzie’s is first and foremost a bar, and it’s not a particularly good one.  There’s one exception to my valuation here – shots – but for regular drinks of most kinds, it seems like the bartenders are far too surly and also not quite knowledgeable enough for my tastes.  They also seem to be missing fairly key ingredients (oranges, lemons, limes, milk) for alcoholic beverages.  I mean, I guess the guy made it clear to me it was a dive bar, but still.  I am usually not thrilled with going up to a bar and getting a frown when I try to order.  They do have reasonable table service (as in, some service) in the karaoke area, so that’s a slight positive.

As for karaoke, the selection is not bad, although a little out of date.  The sound system is hit or miss, but it’s been mostly fine in my experience.  The “KJ” (karaoke jockey) Deanna is very friendly and good at her job, which helps a lot.  I have never found it to be too crowded, either, unless our own group has 20+ people show up (then we are crowding it).

I have never tried their food, so I can’t really comment on that.  I also hear they have fun trivia, and their on-tap beer selection is medium-good.

Overall: B-
Karaoke Experience: B+ (Dante’s is worse, A Terrible Beauty is better)
General Feel of Queen Anne: Laid Back, Kind of “Don’t Give a Shit”

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Review: Panera Bread

Panera is a chain of bakery/sandwich/soup/salad places, but it’s at the healthier/more respectable end of chains (like Chipotle or even Starbucks).  There’s one basically in between home and work, in the Tukwila Southcenter mall area, and I have taken to (a) getting breakfast there infrequently and (b) eating the soup/salad combo there, also infrequently.  I have now gone there for a sufficient variety of meals that I feel capable of reviewing it, and in addition, I can talk about their rewards program!

One thing I really like about Panera is that their meal selection is interesting enough that you feel like the choices are different (sandwich selections feel very different, and they always have 5-7 soups available), but you aren’t overwhelmed with choice like you might be at a sit-down restaurant.  It fits in that perfect niche between fast-fast food and the slower Whistle Stop style venues.  Also, bread bowls for soup are like the best thing ever and they are EQUAL in price to regular bowls there – mindboggle!  My recommendation for breakfast is their French Toast Bagel, but their breakfast sandwiches are quite good as well.  Price is where I’d expect it, around +$0 to +$1 over Starbucks or so for equivalent items.  I rarely pay more than $6 for a breakfast or $10 for a lunch there.

Their rewards program, My Panera, has got to be the best thing ever.  Or maybe it’s just intended to seem like the best thing ever.  There are no points or plans involved – just sometimes, you get free stuff.  Very Skinneresque in nature, quite effective.  I got a free espresso drink and a free pastry fairly quickly toward the beginning of my purchases (within 5 meals or so?) so my guess is they weight newcomers more highly, which makes a lot of sense.  Regardless, it seems to be a great way to convince people to keep coming back, so props to them.

Overall: A-
Bread Bowl Bonus: 5 pts
Added Loyalty Due to Operant Conditioning: Moderate

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Review: Aaron’s Random Card Comment of the Day

Director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe posts his thoughts on a variety of cards in Gatherer using the Random function.  I wanted to review this because (a) I think it’s a great idea and a great tool for discussion of Magic cards, and (b) Aaron told me he was inspired by my blog, so mise.  Also I enjoy talking about stuff my friends create if the stuff they make is sweet.  Aaron posts his comments using Gatherer’s comment system, which has flaws but in general does good things, and then tweets that he has posted for maximal distribution.  If you want to check out the ones he’s done so far, you can check the #arccd hashtag on Twitter or do the Gatherer search for his comments.

I think Aaron is doing a lot of things right with his series.  By posting about 3-5 paragraphs on each card, he’s not drowning out other discussion (as an essay might) and there’s enough room for him to give personal opinions or tell short stories about the card.  It’s a great way to release his general thinking about Magic into the aether without the drawing the same ire that an explicit article might; basically, players who care get some insight into his thinking, and I think that’s net positive.  Also, by using the random function, no one can read into his selection, so the comments stand on their own.  I have seen both the number of comments and the length of comments from other folk go up since his series began.  Add to that the fact that the content is perfectly associated with its context (the card) and its audience (Magic players) and you have a big win.

On the other hand, using random means if he did want to theme his comments over a period of time like a week, it would mean breaking the routine.  I think it’s also worth noting that Aaron must be having the same issue I have with my blog sometimes, which is that you have to self-censure when you know you are going to say things your audience shouldn’t hear.

Gatherer wasn’t designed for threaded discussion, and it has a variety of bugs that cause trouble now that Aaron’s Comment of the Day is shining light on that feature of the product, but I don’t consider that a negative on the part of his series.

I’m glad Aaron has this series, and I’m mad at myself for not thinking of it on my own!

Overall: A
Frequency of Homeland Cards in Supposedly “Random” Hits: Very High
Expected Ratio of Good to Hidden Information in Aaron’s Comments: Medium-High

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Review: The Social Network

I’m not sure if I liked the Social Network.  Well, let me rephrase – I definitely enjoyed watching the Social Network.  What I wonder is whether I think it is a good movie.  It is so far (generally) from the kind of movie I watch, that I am really only finding two reference points: Garden State and Fight Club, both excellent films that I also really liked.  The reason I picked those two is because the central conceit of the movie is watching main characters change through everyday (or sometimes extraordinary, but still believable) action, without other genres mixing in too heavily.  Garden State (which mixes with romantic comedy) and Fight Club (which mixes with action) are both within that space, but the Social Network is still different enough that I’m having a hard time evaluating it properly.

Things I do know about the Social Network:

  • The dialogue was totally awesome and well performed.  Every actor in this movie did an excellent job.
  • The pacing and flow of the action was perfect.  I was never bored, I was interested in what was having due to and to the characters, and the plot made sense.
  • It felt a little rushed near the end, like too many threads woven together meant the plot had to accelerate to close them all off.
  • Most of the characters were heavily flawed, which contributed greatly to the film’s sense of realism, and yet I still identified with them (indicating I share their flaws, or I still found value in them).

I think I would want to watch it again in the comfort of my own home, and I certainly wouldn’t fault anyone for doing that rather than watching it in a big screen theater.  I wonder how much of the plot was true to fact, but honestly, I think it’s the right level of realism regardless of how factual is actually is.

Overall: B+ (pending second watch)
Number of FB Users Acquired Per Movie Minute (average): ~8,300
Times I Wanted To Punch Zuckerberg’s Character: ~6

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