Tim Minchin = Genius

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Quiet Around Here …


Yep, sorry about that. I’ve been doing regular articles lately for the Games Paradise and Toys Paradise commercial blogs, and I haven’t had time to do personal writing. I’m now creating all the articles and article graphics for both blogs. Both are all about promoting products for sale at the online stores of course, but I do get to throw in some more personal reviews and opinions now and again on the Games Paradise one. Feel free to drop by and leave a comment now and again!

On other news, I’ve finally been doing some work on my own card game design—yes, you heard it hear first, Universal Head is finally working on his own game! In fact I’ve vowed to publish it this year if at all possible, so stay tuned for more news on that as it develops.

As always, updates to existing game sheets and brand new ones keep hitting my Game Sheets section. There’s been a small update to the very popular Arkham Horror sheets and updates to Battles of Westeros and Space Hulk 3rd Edition. There are brand new sheets for FFG’s Civilization: The Board Game (I haven’t even played it yet) and the very funny Invasion From Outer Space from Flying Frog Games (just try to play the alien invader without making “dak dak dak” noises). Isla Dorada is also new (again, have yet to play it). Enjoy!

Other random tidbits. Visit the fascinating blog of London eclecticist Tears of Envy. Watch the over-the-top violence, sex and surprisingly entertaining plotlines of Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Gaze upon the three astounding Dr. Grordbort’s miniature rayguns my girl got me for Xmas (the Goliathon 83 Aether Oscillator, the Pearce 75 Atom Ray Gun, and the F.M.O.M Wave Disruptor Gun). Read Mike Mignola’s excellent Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels (go ahead Mike, steal all my ideas you bastard!) Tear yourself away from the addictive iPad—the closest thing yet to sci-fi actually being here now.

Mick Karn 24 Jul 1958 – 4 Jan 2011


Mick Karn, bass player with the unique New Wave band Japan, passed away two days ago. Japan was one of the many exciting and interesting bands that I grew up listening to. There’s a bit in the film clip above at 2:24, where the drummer Steve Jansen looks at the camera, and to me that was the absolute definition of early 80s cool. And as a drummer in a band myself, I aspired to the kind of precise, effortless, and original drumming that has always characterised Jansen’s style.

One of the highlights of our set at the time was a rendition of Gentlemen Take Polaroids that segued into The Cure’s Fire in Cairo. I loved playing this Japan song.

Karn was a pioneer on the bass—he was no slouch on the saxophone and bassoon either—and while it’s quite incredible that he was self-taught and never learned to read music, perhaps that was responsible for his unique style. His sinuous fretless bass playing has been emulated far more than he ever received the credit for. Just listen to this bass line, how it manages to burble away in its own little world, and yet underpin and ground the entire atmosphere of the song.

80s music is often ridiculed for the fashions and the sugary pop, but from my perspective, a musician in my late teens and early twenties, it was a very exciting time for music. My band members and I would alternately laugh at, abuse and be annoyed by the ever-present Top 40 garbage, but at the same time there was an incredibly wide range of very original music available if you digged a little deeper. Early Simple Minds, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, Talk Talk, Cocteau Twins, XTC, The Smiths—not to mention Australian bands like Hunters & Collectors, The Church, Midnight Oil, The Go-Betweens … all in their early heyday and striking out in completely original new directions.

Rest in peace Mr. Karn.

Greetings from the Hollow


Xmas 2010

A very merry xmas to all those who stumble across this site in their travels; may happiness and good health await you at every turning. Headless Hollow has now existed for some five and a half years—a lifetime on the internet. I will vow, as ever, to update this site more often next year!

Gasping for Air


Whooping Cough

When I was a baby, I almost died of whooping cough (that’s me on the left with Mum). As the story goes, my father rushed me into the hospital emergency ward, where a nurse heard my desperate gasping for air, ripped me from his arms with a look of horror and ran down the corridor to put me in a humidicrib with no time to spare.

No doubt the story has been embellished over the years, but I swear I still have a memory of that terrible feeling of trying to draw breath between wracking coughs.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease. We may think of it as just one of those things that babies and kids used to get, but in fact, according to Wikipedia, it affects 48.5 million people yearly resulting in nearly 295,000 deaths. It’s also completely preventable due to a vaccine.

Of course, there are a growing number of complete idiots that think they know better than all the scientists and researchers whose efforts have saved millions of lives, and advocate not immunising your child against whooping cough (and other preventable diseases). Despite the fact that the vaccine, introduced in the 1940s, has dramatically decreased the number of deaths from the disease, unscientific and unsubstantiated anecdotes and rumours swirl about on the internet that vaccination can cause brain damage.

I was thinking about the idiocy of people who would rather trust anecdotal evidence than scientific research, as I’ve recently been suffering from what my doctor suggested may be whooping cough. My last immunisation was at the age of 15 and apparently it can wear off in your forties. Then I read this article which claims that a recent epidemic of the disease may be attributable to the ‘conscientious objectors’ of Byron Bay and the eastern suburbs and northern beaches of Sydney, who are not immunising their children. It’s not too far beyond the realms of possibility that I got my dose of it from just such a child.

Seriously, what is it with these parents? Want to go back to the ‘good old days’ folks? Back when mumps, tuberculosis, meningitis, smallpox and measles, to name a few, caused millions of death worldwide? In the same way smallpox was eradicated, we could actually conquer these diseases, wipe them from the planet, only some people read a few crackpot internet articles or believe their village witchdoctor or priest and decide they know better than the people who devote their lives to this research—and the disease lives on, feeding on ignorance and fear.

Science is not perfect, and there’s been the occasional misstep along the road to enlightenment. But by its very nature, it learns from its mistakes, and it’s the best method we’ve got of saving lives and making the world a better place. We have to eradicate the ignorance that causes people to believe anecdotal evidence and superstition, and to think that science is somehow involved in some vast evil conspiracy of secrecy. Everything I’ve read about the history of this planet tells me that there were never any ‘good old days’; in fact, most people led nasty, brutish and short lives, right up to the most recent of times (and of course, many people in less developed countries still do). What has improved most lives in almost every conceivable way? Science.

The most cursory review of the facts tells us that the human race has never had it so good—let’s not start going backwards now.

What Happened to the Museum?


Australian Museum

I was one of those kids who loved going to museums. There was one in Sydney called The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences—everything there moved to the new Powerhouse Museum in 1988—that was full of the most fantastic exhibits; strange machines and engines, with buttons you could press to make them work, a machine that played noughts-and-crosses, and of course an Egyptian mummy or two (I was obsessed with archaeology back then).

The other great museum in Sydney was the Australian Museum, a big old building next to Hyde Park full of the most fascinating stuff. There were upstairs galleries, their walls lined with thousands and thousands of specimens of creatures; slightly moth-eaten life-size diaramas (one of early man confronting a sabertooth tiger) in the stairwells, and a skeleton room that featured a skeleton man riding a skeleton horse.

I spent many, many hours wandering these places, and even then, one of the things I loved about them was the feeling of antiquity, not only of the exhibits, but of the buildings themselves. There was an old English stuffiness about the Australian Museum especially. You went there to escape the noise and bustle of the busy streets outside; to go somewhere cool and quiet and wander among the glass cases, perhaps casting a cursory eye over them, or perhaps immersing yourself in one small field of study for a few hours, reading every placard and studying every object in that field.

I hadn’t been to the Australian Museum for a while; perhaps for the occasional disappointing exhibit. Not only have I been around the world a couple of times since those early days, and seen places like the British Museum and the Louvre, but the shows always seemed so low-budget and thrown together on a shoestring. A symptom, perhaps, of the Australian obsession with sport, which wallows in bountiful corporate sponsorship, while our sciences and arts continue to struggle.

So my recent visit came as a shock, because the Australian Museum has completely transformed itself into a children’s creche. It’s a noisy, frantic place full of screaming, running children and bored parents with prams. Most of the exhibits seem to have disappeared—the upper galleries are empty—to be replaced by temporary walls, basic text in big easy-to-read fonts, bright colours and jigsaw puzzles and toys scattered around the floor.

Now I understand why the Museum has gone this route—they need money. I suspect it happened around the time they changed the logo from something simple and elegant to something that looks like it belongs in a children’s picture book. I also understand that kids need interactive exhibits these days; that the games and movable wall tiles are just extensions of the buttons I used to push in the old science museum.

But what happened to the museum? What happened to the place you could go to learn something? Where does the kind of kid that I was—the kind of kid that actually likes the fact that they’re in an adult place of learning that’s quiet and serious, and is mentally stimulated and made curious and challenged by that kind of atmosphere—where does that kind of kid go? Because today’s museum is a noisy playground just like every other noisy playground. And I can tell you, that’s exactly how most of the kids there were treating it.

I guess the museum has to make money like any other business these days. And they’re pursuing that agenda pretty ruthlessly it seems, with things like two hour ‘backstage’ tours at $130 per person, or children’s Halloween parties at $75 A kid. Something has to fund the research going on behind the scenes. It just seems a shame that the whole quality of the museum seems to have become so kid-focussed. Perhaps the latest research says you have to entertain the kid before he or she learns anything.

Maybe that’s how kids are educated these days. But if I look back and remember the kinds of child I was, who enjoyed the hushed, rarified atmosphere of learning in those old museum halls, I wouldn’t have learnt anything if the museum was like the playground it is today.

Unfortunately, there’s certainly no reason for me to go there as an adult with no kids.

What tha-


Bear with me folks, I’m finally converting my blog to WordPress. It may be a little messy around here for a while.

You know you’re a game geek when …


War of the Ring CE… you get the War of the Ring Collector’s Edition.

Yes, I’m now the proud owner of the Holy Grail of board games: number 600 in the 2,000 worldwide print run of the Collector’s Edition of my favourite game of all time. And what a monstrous beast it is! A big, heavy wooden box measuring 480 x 550 x 130mm. I’m still trying to work out where I’m actually going to put the thing.

I put off buying this edition when it was first released, thinking it was really too much, and that one day I would get around to painting all the miniatures myself one day, but after playing the game again the other night I realised just how wonderful a game it is; and how much better it would be with a larger map, larger cards, and fully painted armies. So the next day I started hunting for a copy, not really believing that I could get one for anywhere near a realistic price. Luckily, I found a fellow gamer who was willing to part with his set.

The quality of the paint jobs on the 200+ miniatures is much better than I expected, and the perfect bound, hardcover, high quality rulebook is a beautiful thing.

Sure, it’s a crazy, self-indulgent purchase. But the time is long past for me to pretend that I’m not a boardgamer through and through, and in a way this is the ultimate expression of my enjoyment of that hobby—not to mention my lifelong love of The Lord of the Rings.

Update: New War of the Ring rules summary and reference sheets on the Game Sheets page.

Little Metal Dog Show Interview


Little Metal DogI was recently interviewed by Michael Fox, who runs an up-and-coming games podcast called The Little Metal Dog Show, about my boardgame rules summaries.

This is the first time I’ve done something like this, and I’m a tad horrified at how I sound in the interview. The low quality audio through my MacBook mic doesn’t help either—the lack of detail makes me sound like I have a much broader Australian drawl than I do in person. I also seem to have a rude habit of not letting other people finish their sentenc—!

—anyway, vanity aside, check it out if you wish to hear my incoherent ramblings. I’m off to get some elocution lessons.

PS Sorry Blackbeard: you’re not that bad, really, I was on the spot.

Computer Game Review: Mass Effect 2


Mass Effect 2

Warning: Possible Spoilers. Mass Effect 2. Universally praised. The best game yet on the Xbox 360? Read on and find out …

Considering all the effort that has obviously gone into the rest of the game, the overall story is really pretty bland, and consists of ye olde ancient race invading the galaxy and what-not. Despite reams of conversation and backstory, I never did work out the motivations of the Collectors and Geth and all the rest of the bad guys, and it didn’t really matter. The focus is really more on the different characters that make up your crew and their personal stories, which thankfully are relatively interesting.

Like many products designed for the largest market possible, I suppose there’s too much risk in doing something really different in the story department. It’s a shame, but hopefully it’s early days for the industry in this regard.
There is a much-touted emphasis on developing, shall we say, a more intimate relationship with one of your crew members. Sure, I got it on with Miranda in the engine room, which was strange because the conversation options made me feel kind of sleazy and wimpy at the same time to get there. Hold on, aren’t we all here to save the universe? I applaud the developers for trying to include some adult emotions in the game, though you do get the feeling they don’t get out much.

The lynchpin of the whole game is the conversation choice system, and where it puts you on a sliding scale from Renegade (selfish, bad-ass) to Paragon (sensitive nice guy hero). It’s this system which I actually think is the weakest part of the game. The game rewards you for consistency—to the point where emphasis on one type or the other opens up more conversation options (usually powerful ones). To me, this detracts from the realism. As I started playing I found myself wanting to make all kinds of choices—sometimes I wanted to ‘do the right thing’, other times I wanted to shoot the guy in the head for looking sideways at me. But after reading a bit about the game online I soon realised that this approach would get me nowhere, so I had to make a conscious decision to go Renegade or Paragon (afer much indecision I chose Paragon) and so instead of making choices as I went along, often found myself automatically selecting the obviously Paragon choice.

Err, life’s full of grey areas kids. I suppose it’s beyond our technology still, but I want a story that develops in response to my choices, not one that forces me to choose one of two options. Certainly there’s an illusion of freedom here, but it’s a shame to be penalised for not staying on a consistent path.

The gameplay in ME2 strikes a good balance between keeping the overall plot on track and giving you the freedom to explore. There was no rush to advance the storyline, and yet the occasional semi-mandatory mission kept me feeling that events were still proceeding without my involvement. You’ll even find yourself scanning planets for minerals so you can develop your technological options; it sounds boring (and sort of is), but occasionally it’s a nice relaxing change from killing things.

Most of the time you’ll be going on missions either to recruit members of your team, or personal missions on their behalf so you make them more loyal to you and make them more effective fighters. In general, missions usually come down to gunfights—running from cover to cover as you advance on the enemy’s position—but there’s plenty of variety and enough stories and situations to keep the game feeling fresh. The combat is excellent. I was more of a ‘stay in cover and pick off the enemy with my sniper gun’ kind of fighter, but you can develop whichever style suits you best.

I can’t summon up any criticism whatsoever of the graphics—they are uniformly stunning. The cut scenes, especially during the game’s climax, are beautifully shot and rendered; exciting, cinematic, and coupled with a pounding, memorable soundtrack, absolutely thrilling.

One of the unique things about ME 2 is your ability to customise the appearance of your character to an obsessive degree. It took me very little time to create a character that looked just like me, to the point where my girlfriend thought it was ‘weird’ everytime she walked through the room and saw me on the TV chatting to aliens (come to think of it, she thought the whole Miranda thing was a bit weird too). All games need now is a voice sampling synthesizer and the illusion will be complete!

One of the excellent things about ME 2 was the just-right level of difficulty. I threw the controller down in frustration a few times—but mercifully few times. I’m sure some of the combats would have been easier if I really took the time to explore the different power and team ability combinations, but even with my limited grasp of the options, I still managed to get through the game with very little frustration and just enough challenge. However a bit more information on how the various powers worked would have been helpful.

ME 2 is without doubt a stunning game and one of the best experiences I’ve had with the Xbox 360 so far. When I considered what to play next, I couldn’t think of anything I hadn’t played that was of the same caliber. I played for about 25 hours, but there are numerous other missions you can discover, and in fact the game was so good I’d even consider playing it again one day in ‘Renegade’ style. My only real criticism is that the Renegade/Paragon system forces you onto one of two paths, taking away the freedom to make choices ‘on the fly’. Otherwise, I’m really looking forward to the next installment in this series. Hopefully with my voice sampled this time!

Four and a half seductive conversation choices out of five.

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