Jun 30

The Smartphone Wars: Rumors of demise

I’ve been chronicling RIM’s death spiral, and much more willing than most to call it as a straight-up suicide by bad planning and management, not just a “bad things happen to good companies” episode. Now comes an open letter from inside RIM describing the unforced errors in excruciating detail.

In other news, the trade press has been abuzz for the last week with stories of a dramatic turn in Apple’s smartphone fortunes – Android supposedly stalling out, with significant gains for Apple from the Verizon iPhone. This report now looks like a classic case study in how to (a) lie with statistics, and (b) get the trade press to inflate a non-story into a nine days’ wonder.

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Jun 27

Why the political class needs a Greek bailout

There’s been a lot of ink spilled lately on the likelihood that the nation of Greece will default on its public debt, and why it is utterly necessary for the European Union and the U.S. must ride the the rescue with some sort of fiddle involving a combination of (a) massive taxpayer-funded loans, (b) cramming changes in the terms of Greek government bonds down bondholders’ throats, and (c) stern finger-wagging at the Greeks.

Lost in the eye-glazing babble about maturity extensions, haircuts, and which acronymic organization is going to funnel the money into place is the real magnitude of the stakes here. It’s not just the Greeks’ opera-bouffé parody of the modern redistributionist state that is circling the structural-insolvency drain; what really terrifies our political class is the prospect that, very soon, the investors simply won’t buy government bonds anymore – and massive borrowing through bond issues is the only thing keeping the redistributionist state afloat.

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Jun 18

World Without Web

Technological change has a tendency to look inevitable in retrospect – “It steam-engines when it’s steam-engine time.” Likely this is true in many cases, but I often think we underestimate the alarming degree of contingency lurking behind ‘inevitable’ developments. To illustrate this point, I’m going to sketch an all-too-plausible alternate history in which the World Wide Web never happened.

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Jun 15

The Smartphone Wars: The invasion begins

For months I’ve been predicting that a flood of ultra-cheap SoC-based Androids is coming at us from China, motivated by the prospect of Third World and BRIC sales volume in the billions and beginning in 3Q2011. The iCube announcement was one harbinger; today we have some others. It’s worth another look at what this trend is going to do to associated markets.

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Jun 13

Z-Man games is on a roll: two boardgame reviews

Two important qualities in a good boardgame are an interesting theme and good mechanics. Theme is the narrative of the game – what it’s supposed to be about. Mechanics is the game considered as a pure logic puzzle – what goes in there, what comes out here.

A subtle but common failure in game design is for theme and mechanics to never really connect to each other, so that the theme is a mere superficial paint job or gloss on what might as well be a purely abstract game. One of my favorite examples is Lost Cities, a game by Reiner Knizia with simple mechanics, deep strategy, and excellent repeated-play value. Its one flaw is that the archaeological theme of the card and box art is completely disconnected from the lovely little jewel that is the game logic. Nothing that you might know about archeology helps you play better or enjoy the game more, nor is there any possibility that you will learn something about archaeology by playing. The result is that the game feels a bit cheesy and contrived even though the game engine is actually an excellent and elegant design.

Two recent releases from Z-Man Games remind us what it can be like when a designer integrates these aspects really well. They’re on a roll lately, seemingly trying to out-Fantasy-Flight Fantasy Flight games.

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Jun 07

The Smartphone Wars: The world turned upside down

It’s always a good day when you get to wield the Righteous Cluebat of Reality straight into the teeth of dogmatists and downshouters – and no, I’m not talking about being Andrew Breitbart, though I do like to think I’m at least as capable of upending smug certitudes as he is. Today’s cluebatting concerns two developments that, taken together, put paid to a lot of negative mythology around Android.

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Jun 06

A first game of Twilight Imperium

Twilight Imperium is advertised as “an epic boardgame of galactic conquest, politics, and trade”. The advertising doesn’t lie – the games in progress I’ve occasionally tripped over at SF conventions were sprawling affairs with huge fleets of starship models swirling about on a tile map representing the explored galaxy of a far future. Designed for six players, and play sessions commonly run seven or eight hours (!).

The coordination cost of setting up such a game is high, and though I’d wanted to try it for years I was never present at exactly the right time. Until this last weekend, when a bunch of the harder-core types from my Friday night gaming group got it together to play a game Saturday. It was quite an experience.

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