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Playing Everway

Everway Fortune Cards

Last night I played the game Everway for the first time. It’s been a curiosity that’s sat on my shelf for years but never used beyond one character generation session with a friend many moons ago. So last night my gaming group at work played it. And… It was surprisingly great.

I’m actually rather shocked at how well the game proceeded. The scenario I’d planned for the evening had to be abandoned because not enough people showed up so I improvised something completely new. The game proved quick, snappy, and the players seem to really enjoy themselves. Afterwards I was wondering why it all went so well. I think there were a few reasons that it worked:

The first was the pace of play. Because the rules are minimal everything moves at a very fast pace and nothing gets bogged down. People aren’t looking for some stats hidden on an elephantine character sheet. This keeps the players more engaged. I truly think having to stop and look things up or figure parse a gain mechanic yanks most players right out of the game’s story.

The second thing advantage was the vagueness of the rules. This allowed for wild, creative, and downright fun interpretations of what the hell was going on. People didn’t stop to look up exactly what their powers did, they just used them. Much of this worked in this particular game setting and I’m not sure this would be such a good thing in all genres. Classic Dungeons & Dragons or pulp settings might long for more defined settings.

There were also things that didn’t go so well:

The most glaring flaw was that the binary nature of the card drawing that left no room for the scaling of abilities. Two characters attempting an identical difficult task, one with a high score and the other with a low both have a 50-50 percent chance of succeeding. That’s a problem. You can get around it somewhat by scaling the interpretation of the results to match the players abilities, but that still seems very imperfect and requires a lot of work on the GM’s part.

The second one is that game’s lack of character attrition. With no hit points, or charges, or number of spells per day . So I found it challenging to present the players but the real sense of dread or of wearing themselves down as the quest continued. None of them seem to notice it, but I was very aware of it.

Also, Lack of Crunchiness

Finally, there are a number of players that enjoy wonky games with lots of numbers. There’s something about generating characters that are statistically likely to succeed in a scenario that’s been statistically designed to challenge them. It feels, hmm, validating when they make it thru. That sort of crunching that just doesn’t exist in Everway. It wasn’t a problem at all in last night’s game but I can see it being a facet that would turn off a lot of certain types of players.

Jeffrey Koepper’s Konnektions

Jeffrey Koepper Konnektions

Last year Jeffrey Koepper put out a new album, Konnektions, and like all of his work, it’s excellent. Koepper specializes in all-analog ventures into Berlin School music. It’s a cocktail of sequencer-driven ostinato, eerie drones, and chill melodies all combining into an otherworldly, almost spiritual vibe. Best listen to with quality headphones and in a contemplative mood.

Exotic Primer

exotic-instrumentals lp

Lately my virtual turntable has been spinning many an album filled with vibes, marimbas, congos, and jungle noises. Exotica!

“Exoti-what” you ask?

Yes, exotica! It’s a lost music style that was popular in the 50s and early 60s. A kind of ersatz world music with jazz, classical, Hawaiian, and sometimes surf rock roots. I’ve been diving so deeply into it because it presents a lot of notions I’ve been wanting to include in my own music.

Some Background

Jungle Jazz

The 1950s saw large numbers of American soldiers returning from the South Pacific and Hawaii priming to become the 50th State (they joined in 1959). These vectors, plus a few other touchstone culture points (James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific”, the Kon-Tiki expedition), fueled an interest in Polynesia and other “exotic” lands. As American’s are wont to do, this interest was of the Hollywood variety. It focused on the myth, romance, and fantasy of these places rather than their authentic history and heritage. This nascent movement, called “tiki culture” or just “tiki”, which had been around since the mid-1930 suddenly boomed. Tiki themed restaurants, backyard luaus, and Hawaiian shirts all became a thing. And this thing needed a soundtrack. Enter Exotica.

The Music

Quiet Village LP

Exotica is generally mellow and often categorized as “easy listening” music. It rarely has vocals except as non-lyrical vocalizations (lots of female singers oohing and ahhing behind the band). Oh, and it’s commonly filled with bird calls, monkey sounds, and other jungle noises (yes, really).

Exotica pieces rarely stray far from predictable Western conventions but they’re played with unusual instruments to instill the proper vibe. According to Wikipedia the usual exotica arsenal included:

  • conga
  • bongos
  • vibes
  • Indonesian and Burmese gongs
  • boo bams (bamboo sticks)
  • Tahitian log
  • Chinese bell tree
  • Japanese kotos

Exotica can be broadly bifurcated into two main types: Jungle and Tiki.

Martin Denny

Jungle exotica is the big orchestra variety and plays like a hollywood soundtrack with more percussion and jungle noises. Les Baxter was the biggest name in this variety.

Tiki exotica, which I greatly prefer, utilized smaller groups more like a jazz ensemble. Martin Denny is the preeminent name here.

Recommended Listening

Here’s my 10-song exotica primer. Just for fun I’ve included three track at the end which are from the rock genere but have strong Exotica roots.

  • Africa – Gene Rains (apple Music) / Atlantis – Les Baxter (Spotify)
  • Tradewind – Eben Ahbez
  • Chant of the Moon – Robert Drasnin
  • Tune from Rangoon – Martin Denny
  • Taboo – the Surfmen
  • Quiet Village – Martin Denny
  • Myna Bird – Eben Ahbez
  • Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys
  • Blue Hawaii – Elvis Presley
  • Africa – Toto

Further Listening

As I’ve stated before, the Exotic Tiki Island podcast is a goldmine for this genre. Pandora will serve you up a good selection and there are many useful playlist on Spotify and Apple Music as well.

Enjoy!

Apple Music and iTunes Match Are Awful

apple-music-app-logo

I pretty much agree with everything in this post. I’ve tried time and time again to love the new Apple Music but it just awful. It has destroyed my iTunes library, scrambled my playlists, and stubbornly refused to play many of my songs. I’ve tried twice to rebuild and debug to little success. Thankfully I synced everything to an 120gig iPod before starting with Apple Music. My current plan is to somehow retrieve the songs and library off of that iPod, kill Apple Music and iTunes Match, and go back to using Spotify for streaming.

How a company like Apple could have botch this so badly I’ll never know. I do know the core things I’d recommend they tackle to fix the fiasco:

Fix the File Management

The #1 priority HAS to be fixing the crazed iTunes file issues. Many of us have been refining playlists for YEARS. DO NOT BREAK THESE!!! In fact, don’t break anything! I want all my music to be seamlessly shared across all my devices. Songs should never disappear for no reason, refuse to play, or be unavailable for download once purchased.

Simplify, simplify, SIMPLIFY

Channel the ghost of Steve Jobs and ruthlessly kill all the unnecessary bells and whistles. Start with the useless Connect and trim trim trim till there’s nothing but an insanely great interface. Yes this will limit choices and features. And yes, this is a good thing.

Separate Apple Music from the rest of iTunes

There should be one app for all Apple devices (phones, tablets, & desktops) called “Apple Music” and it should ONLY deal with music. It should not include with apps, TV shows, or anything else. I’d recommend creating a desktop app called “Apple Sync” that synchronizes devices to Apple Music, iBooks, podcasts, etc.