28 February 2011

Review: Seized

Seized: A Sea Captain’s Adventures Battling Soundrels and Pirates While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World’s Most Troubled Waters — with a subtitle like that, do I really need to say more?

This is in fact a first-person account of an honest captain’s dealings with the seamier side of the modern shipping business. In some ports around the world, people abuse local law and make fraudulent claims against ships. The crew (and owner) often have little recourse. Captain Max hated the idea of his ship being stolen by a bogus claim, and managed to get it out of port. He was later called on to do the same.

At other times in his career, he acts as a ship broker, again dealing with locals who may not have quite the same respect for law as he does. In fact, he even uses the law as a weapon in one case.

As a book, I found Seized well-written and interesting. As a gamer, I immediately wanted to make use of it in a game. Surely the players’s spaceship should dock at an outlaw port! And Captain Max might have made a Climb roll or two, but typically he solved problems with his wide array of contacts, his ability to judge people, and his broad knowledge of ships.

It’s the last one that makes me reconsider game scenarios based on Seized. While any reasonable game doesn’t require a player to have the same knowledge as his character, there’s a difference between not knowing what a MacGregor hatch cover is, and knowing that your character knows about their pros and cons of one, and how they may impact his actions. Without sea-going experience, I think it would just be too hard to have a game that revolved around the intricacies of JB Weld.

But again, that sort of thing works fine in a book. Hardberger always explains things so us landlubbers can understand. And the events in the book are always dramatic, because there is always a very real chance of failure (indeed, he recounts stories when things did not end up going well).

Another issue with game scenarios is that I’d been running a Diaspora game, where a spaceship visits a small number of ports. Many of the outlaw ports in Seized can get away with it because a ship may only visit once even if all goes well. In a smaller cluster, ports have a much greater interest in ships returning — there won’t always be another sucker.

A recommended read, and even if I can’t easily duplicate Captain Max’s adventures, there probably will be corrupt judges in one of my future games.

05 February 2011

Review: A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Since I enjoyed Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet, I picked up A History of the World in 6 Glasses. This covers the history of the six beverages that “chart the flow of world history:” beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola.

Most of the book was about the history of the drinks, and how they were regarded at the time (for example, Native Americans didn’t want to drink unless they could get drunk). The section I found most interesting was about how tea (and its monopolist, the British East India Company) was a major cause of American independence (the famous Boston Tea Party was the result of a law dictated by the company).

An interesting read, recommended.