Thursday, February 28, 2019

Board Game Review: Catan: Milk Chocolate Edition

Catan: Milk Chocolate Edition designed by Klaus Teuber and published by gamesformotion

Catan (formerly known as Settlers of Catan) is a classic hobby board game that has seen many expansions, editions, and reimaginings. This latest iteration is designed for the Christmas/Valentine's Day market. I bought it for my wife as a Valentine gift and we played it with the older kids since it plays two to four.

Cover for the latest edition of Catan

The game comes with all the components needed, including thirty-two Belgian chocolates (at eight pieces per serving, it's perfect for four players). The game also comes with resources cards, a spinner, and instructions.

Components in the box

After separating the resource cards, we sorted the chocolates. They were little squares with wrappers identifying what components they were. The settlements had their upgrade to a city on the back, so upgrading is a quick flip-over. Settlements come in various colors and players can have only one of each color in their individual area.

Back and front of the wrapper

The other chocolate resources were the roads (which need to be built between settlements, but only one road in this game (unlike standard Catan's requirement for two roads)) and the knights, who were worth half a victory point and let the purchasing player take one random resource from each of his neighboring players.

Roads and knights

The randomizer of this game is a spinner. The spinner has sections for each resource with the three colors that produce that resource (as in regular Catan, a settlement generates one resource and a city two resources). The question mark lets each player take one resource of their choice. The robber forces anyone with more than seven resource cards to discard half of those cards, rounded down.

The spinner

Players start with two settlements and a road in between. They also have three resource cards. Each player's turn follows three steps. First, the active player spins the wheel and resources are collected by all players. Second, the active player may trade resource cards with other players. Third, the active player may build as many chocolates as possible with current resources.

Play ends when a player reaches five victory points, which isn't too hard since the initial two settlements put each player at two points to begin with. Upgrading to cities gains a victory point; adding settlements (which requires a road as well) gains a victory point; buying a knight gains half a victory point.

The game was a quick and light version of Catan. It's a perfect introduction to the mechanics of the game (my children have never played the original game but caught on very quickly). The spinner is just as good a randomizer as dice in my opinion. The game is intended as a one-time play but we've saved the wrappers and may attach them to cardboard squares so the kids can play it some more.

Recommended, even outside of a holiday season. Just realize it is very light and very quick (and the chocolate was mediocre, more for the novelty factor than for refined tastes).

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

TV Review: Doctor Who: Warriors' Gate (1980)

Doctor Who: Warriors' Gate (1980) written by Steve Gallagher and directed by Paul Joyce

Fourth Doctor Tom Baker comes to the border between E-space (where he's been trapped for several stories) and N-space (where he came from). The area is a white void that is populated with another ship trying to return to N-space and the domain of the Tharils, time-sensitive humanoids with lionish faces. The Tharils are being used as navigators by the crew of the other ship, though basically the Tharil navigator is tortured to get the ship going the right way. And they have a dozen or so Tharils to be sold to other space travelers if they can make it back to N-space. So they are basically slave traders. Can the Doctor both free the Tharils and get back to his own universe?

The story is a bit convoluted and not terribly interesting. The Tharils are sympathetic and have some background, but not enough to give a full picture of them. Companion Romana (Lalla Ward) gets some action in her final episode. Her departure is a bit abrupt even though it had been hinted at during the previous stories. New companion Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) slowly becomes more significant and more active in the story. The slavers are fairly generic space baddies and not at all interesting, other than being mildly bureaucratic.

This is a fairly mediocre Doctor Who story, notable mostly for the departure of Romana and K-9.

Mildly recommended.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

World Trade Center, New York City--From the Top

We splurged on tickets to One World Observatory, the observation deck that's part of the new World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan. The brochure modestly claims it as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere (and patriotic too at 1776 feet tall!).

One World Trade Center, NYC

The visit starts in the basement. Displays show the bedrock foundation of the tower and how it was built after the 9/11 attacks. Then, a "skypod" takes visitors 102 stories up to the observation level in 47 seconds. Before seeing the outside windows, there's another presentation on the construction of the building. The screens rise up dramatically and visitors look out over the city.

Screen presentation

Screen going up

View of the city

The views are pretty amazing from the top.

Looking south

Liberty Island and Ellis Island

For $15, we rented an iPad that identified famous sites (like the Statue of Liberty above) and had short videos with a helicopter-eye's view of those sites. It was impressive and kept the kids engaged, especially when looking at the dense crowd of buildings on Manhattan Island.

West side of Manhattan

Just below us on the West Side

A bunch of tall buildings

On the East Side, we could see the Williamsburg Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Brooklyn Bridge spanning the East River.

Three bridges

Plenty of other buildings caught our eyes.

Looking down on a high rise being built

We called this the "slap dash" building

Fancier buildings

Three bridges again

To the south, we saw Governors Island, which looked like it would be a relaxing place to visit.

Governors Island

Ghost of my son

Down below, we saw the Oculus, which is a very fancy transportation center and part of the Trade Center's shopping mall.


St. Paul's Church, just past the Oculus

The observation deck has other amenities. A tour guide provides all sorts of information about the city as he is surrounded by screens. He has advice on places to eat and things to see.

Good info

The deck also has a bar and a restaurant for those who want to dine at the top. We didn't get anything to drink or eat, but did admire the display. They stock wines named after the building!

For sale and consumption

The views from the observation deck are worth the visit.

Monday, February 25, 2019

World Trade Center, New York City--On the Ground

We visited the New York World Trade Center complex in February. It has an impressive array of things to do and see, from the 9/11 Memorial to the tallest tower in the western hemisphere to the transportation hub and mall.

One World Trade Center is the tallest building at 1776 feet. It has 104 stories and has an amazing observation deck at the top for visitors, which will be the subject of the next blog post.

One World Trade Center

Construction in the area is still ongoing, which I found amazing.

Ready to build more

The 9/11 Memorial Plaza is eight acres with two memorial waterfalls at the footprints of the original twin towers. The names of all who died on that day and also on the February 26, 1993 attack are written on the perimeter. It's a somber reminder of the loss we all experienced that day.

The South Tower Memorial

On their birthdays, flowers are put by the names of people who died.

Reading about the memorial

A birthday flower

Another view

The memorial plaza includes a museum that we did not visit. I wasn't sure if the kids were up for it (we do have a four-year old).

View of museum from memorial

Just down the street is the New York Firefighters Memorial, a long bronze bas relief depicting the heroism of the firefighters. It was dedicated in 2006 and is moving tribute.

The whole wall

Left-most part

Left middle

Right middle

Right-most part

Part of the complex is a transportation hub that is also part of the shopping mall. Called "The Oculus" it was designed by Santiago Calatrava. From the outside, it reminds me of a large skeleton's ribs, though maybe it's meant to be an eye with long white lashes.


The spines/lashes

Inside is very open and airy. The arched spines give a church-like feel to the place.

Inside the Oculus

Just on the other side is a festively decorated area that looks like a gathering place or a great spot to have an outdoor lunch.

Fun decor!

In the next post, we visit the observation deck atop One World Trade Center.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Book Review: The Life of Frederick Douglass by D. Walker et al.

The Life of Frederick Douglass written by David F. Walker, art by Damon Smyth, and colors by Marissa Louise

Frederick Douglass was a famous orator from the American Civil War era. He was born a slave in Maryland, barely knew his mother, and was shifted around to various homes. He wound up in Baltimore with relatives of his owner. Miss Sophia, the lady of the house, taught Douglass to read. This was a changing point for him. When he returned to the plantation, he clandestinely read to the other slaves and continued his education. He realized the only future was in running away. He escaped to New York City where he wound up in the abolitionist movement. Douglass spoke well and had a compelling, first-hand story of the horrors of slavery. He worked with all sorts of people, including John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and Abraham Lincoln. He had a fascinating life and is a very important figure in American history.

The book does a great job relating his life and his own personal thoughts. The author did very thorough research and clearly struggled through how best to write it. He chose to give a first-person narrative with Douglass as an old man retellling his life story. It makes for very compelling reading.

Highly recommended.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Movie Review: Here Alone (2016)

Here Alone (2016) directed by Rod Blackhurst

A woman (Lucy Walters) is alone in the woods, living off the land as best she can. It's slowly revealed that a virus has wiped out most of humanity and all of civilization. She fled with her husband and infant daughter as the outbreak happened. Now she just walks through life remembering her past. Coming back from a supply raid, she discovers an injured man and his step-daughter. The woman helps. She brings them back to her camp where they slowly open up to each other. Learning to trust can be hard after so much isolation and loss.

The movie is slow and lyrical. The woods are idyllic and stark, a contrast to the morbidness of their lives. Long stretches go without any dialogue, making the actual bits of dialogue more important. The characters grow closer to each other and more of the woman's back story comes to light. Their plight is tough and her struggle to regain compassion and forgiveness is moving. The story falls into a familiar narrative arc in the last third, lessening the impact it has. The ending was a bit nonsensical and unsatisfying, even though the woman winds up in a better state just by becoming more human.

Mildly recommended--the story is fairly slow and ends poorly.

Parental warning: the movie is not rated. It has some gory moments but that's not the focus. There is enough f-bombs for an R rating and a surprising amount of non-sexual female nudity.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

TV Review: Doctor Who: State of Decay (1980)

Doctor Who: State of Decay (1980) written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Peter Moffatt

Fourth Doctor Tom Baker is still trapped in e-space (which for the 1980s is something totally different from what we'd think of now) trying to get back to the regular universe (called "n-space" in the series). He stops off at a primitive planet where there's one village with a semi-gothic tower looming over it. The three lords of the tower (actually two lords and one lady) have oppressed the locals from time immemorial. They use the locals as slave labor and as occasional mysterious sacrifices. Soon enough, the Doctor discovers that the lords are not just sucking the metaphorical life-blood from the villagers, they suck actual blood.

The story is an interesting blending of Doctor Who and vampire tropes. The Doctor explains a bit of the folklore, and not just Earth folklore. Having other planets' vampire mythology enables one or two variations on the theme and some interesting twists. Some of the acting and set designs are too obviously inspired by Hammer-horror vampire movies. The big monster at the end is disappointing, probably due to budget constraints. Overall, I found it fun.

Recommended for the classic Doctor Who fan.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Baltimore Museum of Industry Part II

A continuation of yesterpost...

Several exhibits at the Baltimore Museum of Industry show different industries in different times. Below is the "Garment Loft," dedicated to the clothing production industry.

Making clothing

Across the hall is a print shop with presses and other equipment for putting out newspapers and a variety of reading materials.

The print shop

A linotype

Across the hall is a recreated druggists' shop, the forerunner of today's pharmacies. This shop has a vintage soda fountain along with the classic apothecary's cabinet.

Druggist...why don't they call them that now?

Soda-shop part of the druggist

Drugs and household items for sale

The temporary exhibit "Why We Work" (on display till April 14, 2019) shows photos of various workers on their jobs and asks visitors to give feedback on three questions about job satisfaction. Visitors choose a sheet that describes their industry and use the stickers on the sheet to indicate their answers on the three walls. My kids loved putting stickers on walls without getting into trouble.

Why We Work

One gallery has a wall lined with small displays on local industries, some no longer around, some still going strong. I didn't realize Black and Dekker was from Baltimore.

America's first railroad!


A communications exhibit shows everything from semaphore flags to telegraphs to telephones to television. Semaphore is just as confusing and hard as Morse Code. Practice and regular use would probably make it easy, but ten minutes in a museum is not enough to become an expert.

Trying to figure out semaphore

An old-fashioned phone booth!

The chart below was amazing to me. It lists the types of homes--those with only cell phones, those with land lines and cell phones, and those with only land lines. Just slightly more than half of households are cell phone only!

Chart on phone usage

Near the truck in the wall, we saw an old-time elevator that was charming but no longer functional.


This factory bell was used at the Hooper Mill to call workers to the start of their day. The bell is from 1854, and the factory made cotton sails for clipper ships.

Cast-iron factory bell

This model of the Baltimore Harbor shows what it looked like in 1930. The model was made by Joseph F. Schmitt.

Old time harbor

Right nearby is a recreation of what a dockside would have been like.


We headed out for one last look at the 1942 "whirley crane" that was used in ship-building during World War II. The "whirley" part comes from the fact that it can rotate 360 degrees.

Farewell, crane!

The museum was a lot of fun to visit. We recommend it highly!