Divide and Conquer: The Board Game is on Steam!

I am excited to announce the release of Divide & Conquer: The Board Game on Steam! It’s available now. Let me know if you try it out.

Divide and Conquer is an abstract strategy board game designed by Hans Scharler and developed by John Fluet of Dangerous Games. The PC game features challenging AI opponents, an intuitive point-and-click user interface, 3D graphics, and an original soundtrack by Luke Stark. To play, plan your movements, reinforce your positions, and be the first to achieve your objectives.

Red Player Wins Divide and Conquer

I started working on Divide and Conquer back in 2007 and brought the game to Gen Con 2008, the biggest board game convention in the United States. I made four polished prototypes of the game and held events at Gen Con to get the word out about the game.

Divide and Conquer at Gen Con 2008

I have great memories of my mom and I assembling and playtesting the early prototypes. The board had 100 squares and you quickly learn how much time it takes to indicate each spot. I adjusted the objective spots and the design so many times that it was best to have an easy way to reconfigure the game and not commit to a design. The final artwork was created by Ted Johnston of Johnston Creative Studios.

After about a decade of game conventions and build up a fanbase, John Fluet of Dangerous Games started the development of a PC-based game leveraging Unity. John’s expertise is in digital game design and AI opponent development. John was looking for an abstract strategy game with straightforward rules to build a game for Steam.

Divide & Conquer: The Board Game Steam Trailer

Divide & Conquer on Steam makes it easy to play the game. The PC game features AI opponents and a point-and-click interface to plot and execute the moves. The object of the game is to move starting troops to objective spots in the fewest turns possible. Players plot their moves at the same time and reveal their plans in player order. This causes conflict and some of your plans don’t work out as you planned.

Divide and Conquer Game Play Video

I am looking forward to everyone trying this out on Steam. The game is a bit of a brain burner and if you play with friends could cause some arguments (as reported in the past). The Steam version of Divide and Conquer makes it easy to jump in and experiment with different strategies without the game set up and tracking all of the moves.

CheerLights for Raspberry Pi Zero W and Blinkt!

Well, it’s that time of year… CheerLights time of year! I started CheerLights back in 2011 with one set of lights. Now there are lights synchronized all over the world and the project gets popular around the holidays. The idea behind CheerLights is to show how we are all connected. We are in this together. When someone changes the CheerLights color (via Twitter), all of the connected lights also change to that color.

For this season, I wanted to try out the Blinkt! kit from Pimoroni. I really what I am seeing from Pimoroni. Their starter kits and accessories for the Raspberry Pi are really well designed, colorful, and useful. If you are in the US, some of the Pimoroni kits are on Amazon.

Pimoroni Raspberry Pi Zero W Starter Kit

I do recommend the Pimoroni Raspberry Pi Zero W Starter Kit if you are using the Raspberry Pi Zero W for the first time. The main reason for using a starter kit is that the ports on the Raspberry Pi Zero W need some adapters. You need to get a mini to full-size HDMI adaptor and a Micro-USB adapter to be able to connect a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to the Raspberry Pi Zero W. The kit also includes a 16GB micro-SD card with an operating system pre-loaded.

Connect a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to the Raspberry Pi Zero W and connect the USB cable to a reliable 5V USB power supply and you are ready to start programming.

Raspberry Pi Zero W with Blinkt! LED Strip

I followed Pimoroni’s getting started tutorial to install the Blinkt! python library. The Blinkt! board is a strip of LEDs that sit on top of the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins. Blinkt! is a cool way to get started with controlling things with the Raspberry Pi. Consider turning on the LEDs for the first time using code as your “Hello World” program for physical computing.

After connecting your Raspberry Pi Zero W to your Wi-Fi network, open a terminal window and enter the following comment to install the Blinkt!~ libraries (type ‘y’ or ‘n’ when prompted).

curl https://get.pimoroni.com/blinkt | bash

Create a new file in your home directory called “cheerlights.py”. This file will contain the code that gets the latest CheerLights color on ThingSpeak and sets the color of the Blinkt! LEDs. Copy this code into the “cheerlights.py” file and save it.

python cheerlights.py

After a few seconds, you should see the latest CheerLights color on the Blinkt!

To keep the “cheerlights.py” running all of the time, you need to add the script to crontab. This will make the script stays running in case of an error or reboot of the device.

sudo crontab -e

Then, add this line to the end of the crontab file and save the file.

@reboot sleep 60 && sudo python /home/pi/cheerlights.py

A couple of years ago, I noticed that a maker space along with Qwirkshop created a desktop light kit for the Raspberry Pi Zero W and Blinkt! board. The kit was sold for a brief time on Etsy and I picked up a few kits. Well, I just found them in my storage closet! The kit is a bunch of laser cut pieces that you assemble together. It is an ingenious kit in that it was designed in layers and holds together with no glue. The results were beautiful.

Let me know if you build something to display the latest CheerLights color. I am always looking for new ideas for the CheerLights blog.

Let’s stay connected!

Adafruit Matrix Portal LED Display Diffused Acrylic Stand

I bought some parts over at Adafruit to build some ThingSpeak and CheerLights projects. If you know me, I am always attracted to multicolored lights and even more so around the holidays. Adafruit has simplified the way to work with LED matrix panels by offering a new device called the Adafruit Matrix Portal. The Matrix Portal connects to any HUB-75 compatible LED display and gives you Wi-Fi control, USB-C power, an accelerometer, and a processor to help you create animations and graphics. With all of these options, you can build anything from an On-Air sign to a kinetic sand toy.

LED panels are really bright without a diffuser. You can buy a diffuser to enhance the look of the display… if you remember to buy one. I found an 8×10 clear document frame stand at my house and remembered that I have Rust-Oleum Frosted Glass Spray Paint the I used for my arcade cabinet project. I sprayed on three coats of the frosted glass spray while allowing for each coat to dry for about 15 minutes.

Before and after applying the frosted glass spray

As an added bonus, the document frame also doubled as a stand for the Matric Portal display. The frosted glass enhancement turned out really well and greatly enhances the look of the LEDs.

Take a look at what Adafruit’s LED Sand demo looks like behind the diffused acrylic stand.

Adafruit Matrix Portal Sand Demo

How to sleeve the investigator cards in Arkham Horror: The Card Game

A.B.H. Always Be Hacking.

Sometimes you get an idea. Sometimes you figure something out on your own. In this case, I saw a comment on a Reddit thread on sleeving the Arkham Horror: The Card Game cards. Someone mentioned that the investigator’s card has the same height as the width of a regular card: 2.5″ (63.5mm).

My goal was to find a mini card sleeve for my investigator cards. Fantasy Flight Games provide sleeves for regular cards and mini cards. The regular-sized card sleeves have a myriad of styles and colors, while the mini sleeves come in one style: clear.

I like to use the solid color sleeves for my player cards and have the colors match the character classes:

  • Guardian: Blue
  • Seeker: Orange / Yellow
  • Rogue: Green
  • Mystic: Purple
  • Survivor: Red
  • Neutral: Gray

I have been creating a character and deck of cards for Jenny Barnes, a rogue class. The main class of cards have a green border, so I want to use green-backed card sleeves. I have never been able to find green-backed mini card sleeves, so I decided to make my own out of larger green sleeves.

Follow these steps to make your own investigator sleeves from full-sized card sleeves:

  • Get some full-sized sleeves. I like the consistency and quality of the sleeves from Fantasy Flight Games and BCW.
  • Insert the investigator card into the sleeve rotated 90 degrees
  • Trim the excess sleeve with a sliding paper cutter. I prefer the Cricuit or Fiskars paper trimmers.

I love the results. I hope this hack saves you some time or money. Well, maybe not that, but at least your investigator’s sleeve will match your player card sleeves!

Gen Con 2020 Online: Arkham Horror LCG Card Council

Hats off to the team at Fantasy Flight Games for their running of events at Gen Con 2020 Online. It’s a weird year for sure, but I love seeing how creative people have been trying to create real experiences online. Although I didn’t have to wait for inline for food, brave hoards of people, or walk (run) to an event at the convention hall from Lucas Oil in 7 minutes, I had a great time attending the events of Gen Con 2020.

To end the annual event, I attended the Arkham Horror LCG Card Council held live on Twitch to design a new card for Arkham Horror: The Card Game. I got to be a part of the in-person card council last at Arkham Nights 2019 held at the Fantasy Flight Headquarters in Minnesota. I helped design the card, “Shrine of the Moirai BETA”. Matt Newman mentioned during the live stream that this card is coming up in the next cycle!

The Fantasy Flight Team leveraged Twitch polls and chat to help design a new card based on Romana Kendelic’s artwork from Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game. The art is from Ian Hardaway’s Uncanny Presence card from The Sleeper Below series.

The new card will be for Arkham Horror: The Card Game and will be tagged with “BETA” until it is play-tested and released with an upcoming campaign. We spent over an hour debating the class, what makes this card playable, its name, its trait, and what the card does. The conversation + chat + and polls made the whole process enjoyable and productive.

Here’s what the “Exiled Council” came up with…

  • Name: Burn After Reading
  • Class: Survivor
  • Level: 1
  • Text: Discard or Exile a non-weakness card in your hand or play area. Discover clues equal to half that cards level rounded up. If you exile that card, remove one doom from the current agenda.
  • Cost: 2
  • Trait: Insight
  • Icons: Will & Intellect

Fantasy Flight Games announced on Twitter that they made a print-and-play version of the card and linked to a high-resolution PDF in the game’s support area. Some changes were made.

“Burn After Reading” BETA card created by the Council-in-Exile at Gen Con 2020

Thanks to Fantasy Flight and especially, Matt Newman, Jeremy Zwirn, and Evan Johnson for hosting a great event! Hopefully, we will get to see each other next year!

Arcade Cabinet Upgrade: Custom Acrylic Sign with RGB Backlight

As someone said, “always leave things better than you found them… especially people.” I have co-opted this motto in my life. I try to help others and upgrade things that I love on a daily basis. I can’t get a lot done each day, but I can do something. Every. Day. Over time, the changes really add up!

I recently was looking around my game room for some inspiration for a quick project. I have a custom arcade cabinet based on RetroPie running on a Raspberry Pi attached to a smart TV. It has been a lot of fun playing my video games from 30+ years ago. My project this time was to add a custom acrylic sign with an RGB backlight. I wanted the cabinet to look more like an actual arcade cabinet.

My go-to site for graphic printing is Signs.com. I have used it many times for upgrading Arkham Horror: The Card Game and for other projects around the house. I designed a sign using Adobe Illustrator and got it made out of acrylic. I cobbled together vector logos of many of my favorite systems plus the RetroPie logo and named the arcade cabinet, “The Scharcade”. See what I did there? Do you see it?

I used an RGB Led Strip with IR Remote Control as a backlight for the sign and to edge light the TV screen. The IR remote is handy to change the color of the lights. Just make sure that you expose the IR receiver on the power supply so you can change the color from the front of the cabinet.

My upgrade to the upgrade was to frost the arcade cabinet sign to make it look better. The original sign was completely transparent and you could see the lights shining through from each one of the LEDs. LEDs love diffusers. To fix this issue, I used Rust-Oleum Frosted Glass Spray Paint on the backside of the sign. I tested out the spray paint on a scrap piece of acrylic. I was really worried about ruining the custom sign. Once I was confident with the results, I went ahead and sprayed one even coat of the paint on the backside of the sign. It takes about 20-30 minutes in order for the paint to activate. I wanted in anticipation for 20 minutes and I gradually saw the clear acrylic turn frosted. I was really happy with the results. The 20 minutes felt light an eternity.

Dipping My Toe Into HI-FI Audio

Audiophiles exist in the world. You might have had a conversation with one of them. You can easily recognize an audiophile when they tell you how good music sounds on vinyl. I am not saying that I am an audiophile per se, but I see how someone gets there. This is my story.

Audiophile T-Shirt

With the stay-at-home order, I found myself looking for things to do around the house. I am doing my own yard work, starting a garden, and arranging things. I did notice stacks of CDs from my 90’s college days. Filter. Smashing Pumpkins. Nine Inch Nails. Tool. Christina Aguilera. For the past decade, I have been listening to music via MP3s or streaming services. Music has become background music in my life. Except for the Trolls soundtrack. I have heard the Trolls soundtrack on Amazon Echo for both movies probably 100 times. My son loves Daft Punk. We play the song One More Time, one more time frequently.

I wanted to listen to the CDs and I discovered that I have 3 devices in the house that play CDs: a CD drive in my PC, a disconnected Blu-ray player, and a Trolls themed CD player/radio. I got the “hug, sing, dance” player at the thrift store for my son which included the Frozen soundtrack disc in the player for $2.99.

The first CD that I listened to was Filter – Title of Record from 1999. I couldn’t believe how good it sounded coming out of my computer speakers. My ears have been listening to compressed, streaming audio for over 10 years. I started digging around the closet for a nice pair of headphones and tried my earbuds and a pair of AKG K240 Studio Monitors that I got as a gift. The earbuds were OK. The AKG headphones were worse. I expected a lot out of them, but they didn’t sound great. I turned to Google and search around for an hour and discovered that the AKG headphones have a high impedance of around 55 ohms and my computer doesn’t really support that. This finding led me to a number of high-fidelity audio forums. I learned about headphone amplifiers and digital-to-analog converters (DAC).

I decided to experiment and ease my boredom a bit. I bought a the SUCA Audio tube headphone amplifier that was recommended to me on one of the forums. I waited a couple of weeks to get it and built up the anticipation of plugging in my AKG headphones.

Wow. Wowzer. I could believe how good the music sounded. I enjoyed the warmth and overall tone. The SUCA Audio amp is arguably a low entry point into headphone amps. My research over a few days showed me how deep this rabbit hole goes. There is an endless supply of gadgets to elevate your audio experience.

Going next level. I kept reading mentions of other vacuum tubes to try. I learned about the RCA 6AK5 tubes to get even better sound. I found a pair of “new” tubes on eBay and tried those. eBay tip. “NOS” means New Old Stock. They don’t make vacuum tubes anymore so you have to find new, old tubes. You also want to find a matched pair. And, yes, I can hear a difference. Or, I am not admitting that I can’t hear a difference – that’s part of the audiophile’s code.

This is my first toe into the deep waters of HI-FI audio and the water feels great. I have been enjoying some old tunes and hearing things that I never heard before. Maybe one day, I will be the guy at the party telling you about my audio gear.

How a Bald Guy Handles Haircuts During the Stay-at-Home Order

I keep seeing people post on social media about their hair getting out of control after several months of staying at home due to the global pandemic. Also, I have discovered TikTok.

I have been bald for over 20 years, so my haircare options are quite limited. I do my own “haircuts” every 2-4 weeks. For my wedding, I did splurge and used a barbershop. I wanted the full pampering experience, although, the experience lasted about 20 minutes. Hair washing took the longest amount of time.

The stay-at-home order has not impacted my hair care lifestyle. I decided to use TikTok as my platform to share my experience during the COVID-19 lockdown. Maybe others can relate. The struggle is no struggle.

‘On Air’ Light for Microsoft Teams and Zoom Meetings

Back in the 90’s, the 1990’s, I used to be a late-night radio show host on Froggy. I was known as Jeremiah Bullfrog. When I left the radio business to start my own software company, Troy, the head engineer, gave me a parting gift – an ‘On Air’ light. Our company had remodeled and consolidated studios and lots of surplus gear had accumulated. I had the On Air light on my office shelf for over 20 years. With the recent events, I came up with a project to put the On Air light to use.

On Air Light

Along with the rest of the world, I have been working at home for the past couple of weeks. All of my meetings are now online/virtual ones and we use Microsoft Teams and Zoom. We also use video to better facilitate a connection and help us focus on the meeting. The camera that I have doesn’t have a light indicator showing whether it is in use. So, I put two and two together and come up with a remote controllable ‘On Air’ light for online meetings. It was the perfect project to entertain my three-year-old for a few hours. He was delighted every time the light turned on.

George helping me hack the ‘On Air’ light in my shop

George and I ripped apart a Sunbeam Touch Light that I got for $1 in a surplus sale. This light had a strip of LEDs, a controller, and a power supply. I just added an ESP8266 module and connected it to ThingSpeak using my tutorial that I published a few years ago. I wrote a little Visual Basic.NET script based on a project that I found on CodeGuru to detect whether or not the webcam was in use or not. If it’s in use, the script sends a signal to ThingSpeak to turn on the light.

Bill Gates Warned Us. We Didn’t Listen.

Stop. Watch Bill Gates give a TED Talk: The next outbreak? We’re not ready.

When YouTube recommended this video to me last night, I assumed that Bill Gates recently recorded his TED Talk and TED just released it. While I watched it, I couldn’t believe what he was saying. It was as if Bill Gates predicted the future and got it right. I was shocked to see this video was released on April 3, 2015. I admit that I probably watched this video before. I didn’t do anything to help. I ignored Bill’s call to action.

Polarization

In the United States, the COVID-19 epidemic has further divided us. Nothing pulls us together. This pandemic will be the worst thing that Americans face in recent memory. People’s lives will be impacted by sickness and death. The economic impacts will be felt for a long time. We should be working together. We are not. A virus is not political. How we handle the virus is. If you view all the information through a political lens, you only see what you want to see. Everything validates what you believe. We keep dividing.

Microbes and Misinformation

There are two epidemics happening at the same time. COVID-19 is being passed all around the world at an alarming rate, but misinformation is propagating faster.

“More people will buy toilet paper than will vote in the 2020 presidential election.”

Hans Scharler

Imagine a world where we mobilize for a common cause. People literally bought all of the toilet paper in a manner of days because of memes being shared on social media. This incited panic. Misinformation leverages the same mechanism. Ideas of all sorts of validity spread like wildfire across Facebook. People believe what they hear from their friends. Where did their friends get the information? Where did your friends of friends get their information? Information can be injected into the system and at some point hordes of people believe what they are reading since their friend from high school shared it.

I felt bad when I heard the innocent words of Bill Gates. He said that we have an advantage with the next outbreak since people can use their phones to tell central bodies where issues are and have them get information out to people. He said all of those words in 2015 before the presidential election in 2016. Bill didn’t realize how phones and communications channels were going to be used and how easily they are manipulated. The communications channels work well, but they are agnostic about the type of information.

$3 Trillion Impact on the Global Economy

Bill tried to estimate the budget needed to prepare for the next epidemic. He was concerned that the next virus would be spread through the air and have a long incubation period. A virus like the one he described would have a $3 trillion impact on the global economy. With a figure like that in mind, he estimated that the budget would be far less to get prepared for the next outbreak. The Fed has already injected $1.5 trillion in loans. Imagine if we would have spent some percentage of that on diagnostic systems, information channels, preparedness, germ games, and vaccine research.

Call To Action

What are the key pieces to deal with an epidemic? Where should we invest?

  1. Strengthen health systems
  2. Create a medical reserve corps
  3. Pair medical and military
  4. Run germ games and simulations
  5. Step up research and development with vaccines and diagnostics

“There’s no need to panic … but we need to get going.”

Bill Gates

Ebola and H1N1 should have served as a wake call. Now, it’s COVID-19. Will we wake up?

Thanks, Bill Gates. Keep predicting the future. It would be great if we didn’t have to keep proving you right by doing nothing. We should be trying to prove you wrong.