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As with the asteroid movie showdown last summer, the second one to open was the better of the two. It's a laugh riot. But at least in ANTZ, the ants had an extra set of arms between their arms and legs; Disney's ants are 4-appendaged mutants. What a cop-out!

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Laugh as Will Shaksper
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losing Juliet.

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Thursday, February 4,1999

What's New?

New Iceland cartoon

Well, the results are in, and Gina took Second Place in the Mane Attraction's Battle for Lady of the Year. (If she were playing Monopoly, she'd get to collect 10 dollars.) But now the site is featuring Gina and Lori as the Ladies of the Month! (Be sure to check it out on a browser that's running Java... they've got a pretty cool little slide show thing going, using five pictures I took last year of Gina and Lori together.)

We got a lot of mail about icehouse pieces this week, mostly because of last week's announcement regarding our search for a plastic manufacturer, and aside from jubilation at the prospect of real icehouse pieces after all these years, the prevailing question among these messages was, "Why hollow?"

Five years ago, when we were Icehouse Games, we spent a lot of time looking into the manufacture of injection molded Icehouse pieces, and at the time, we were dead set on solid pieces. Most places said they just couldn't do it, and although we did find a few who said they could do large solid pieces, the price for such pieces was more than triple that of hollow pieces, due both to the extra plastic used and the fact that they would need to run the press slowly in order to achieve high-quality solid pieces. And money is obviously a key constraint here.

However, we weren't convinced to go hollow until we discovered a game called Clever Endeavor, originally published in 1989. This game seems to have had a massive budget, because rather than use an off-the-shelf set of colored pawns, this game included a set of 8 custom-made plastic pyramids. (Their approach was apparently the exact opposite of the CheapAss Games philosophy.)

The Clever Endeavor pawns are of an even more elongated shape than Icehouse pieces, being slightly taller than a Drone but with a footprint a little smaller than a Pawn. And yes, these pyramids are hollow, with a wall thickness of just under an eighth of an inch. And when I was actually able to hold a little plastic pyramid, hollow but with thick walls, in my hand, I no longer believed that a hollow Icehouse piece would be too insubstantial. As long as the walls are thick enough, such a piece is plenty sturdy, and as for weight, I don't think they'll be any lighter than wood pieces (although since I don't own a fine grade scale, I haven't been able to make an accurate comparison).

Moreover, hollow pieces add a whole new dimension to the game set. Icehouse pyramids have already shown themselves to be wonderfully versatile game pieces... imagine the additional possibilities that present themselves if the pieces can also be nested as shown in the diagram! Although no one as yet has created a game that uses this new feature, I'm certain that one or more interesting new games will appear once my fellow game designers and I have sets we can use for playtesting. As Dan observed on the Icehouse mailing list, "the idea of stackable Icehouse pieces sent my mind racing for new game ideas."

The key trade-off then will be Wall Thickness vs. Backwards Compatibility. There is no question that the pieces can be made to nest as desired... the issue is simply how thin the walls would have to be in order to keep the pieces in their traditional sizes. It may be necessary to enlarge the Queen and Drone slightly in order to achieve optimal wall thickness. Which begs the question: which is more important?

Our opinion - which is reinforced by the concerns people have raised about hollowness - is that size doesn't matter. Obviously, the pieces need to be in the same basic size range as what we're used to, but it won't change the games if the piece sizes change a little. When people play Icehouse, they usually use a matched set of pieces, which makes compatibility a moot point, and as for sitting down at a mixed set table, there's already a tendency to encounter pieces that don't quite match the published standards, since there've been so many different types of sets manufactured over the years. Of course, the hollow end will improve piece handling slightly, allowing for a better grip when placing a difficult attack... but again, as long as everyone's using the same kind of pieces, this shouldn't really change anything.

Hollow pieces have other advantages. We can package them in a box that's just large enough to hold 20 Queens, which will improve the toss-in-your-backpack factor (as well as our inventory warehousing problems). Plus, think about the stash pad setup and information hiding options that hollowness will add!

But in the end, the most important issue is the cost. If given the choice between a $25 hollow game set and a $40 solid game set, we're going to go with the less expensive option. We can't afford to sacrifice the sales we'd lose with so much higher a price point, just for the added aesthetics of making the pieces solid.

But no one knows what the future will bring... by selling a lower cost plastic piece now, we're building the market for a deluxe set of solid pieces later. And as a matter of fact, that's just what we've been doing for the past year: selling a cheaper version of the game in order to build demand for a higher quality edition. With luck, the hollow icehouse piece will ultimately be a stepping stone on the path to solid icehouse pieces... but we can't make the luxury edition until after the standard edition is a success.

Some concerns have also been raised about the rounding of the tips. Our intention is to round the tips only enough to lower the puncture potential below the lawsuit level. The rounding will be akin to the edges and corners of dice, not safety scissors.

Those familiar with the details of the earliest chapters of Icehouse lore will recall that the 100 original signed and numbered game sets had dangerously sharp tips, but that the second run of pieces, also made using Number 12's casting system, had rounded tips. Those pieces proved to be adequately sharp for playing Icehouse with, and these will be, too.

While I'm on the subject, this week we're taking over the job of hosting the Icehouse internet mailing list. We've been meaning to do this ever since we first got our mailing list robot working, when Eeyore wrote to us and said "Much as I enjoy the rustic charm of fan-run mailing lists, being one of the fans in question is sometimes a bit of a pain. Dale and I both agree that if you guys wanted to take over the list, now that you have the resources to do so, that would be fine." So, we are. Kristin has set up the list and is working with Eeyore to move over the active list of members.

And while we were making new mailing lists, we decided to add a couple of others: one for fans of Fluxx (a place to discuss new goals, wacky ideas for rules, variations, etc) and another that is to be a general discussion list relating to as a whole. For want of a better name, we decided to call this list "Something" (Got something to say about the website? Post it here!)

So head on over to the mailing list page if any of these mailing lists sound interesting. We're just gonna start 'em out as open, unmoderated discussion lists and see how they go.

Peace & Love,

Thought Residue
There are times when what seems like a step backwards is actually a step forwards.
An early experience I vividly recall was the exhibit on cryogenic suspension at Expo '67 in Montreal. The image of bodies wrapped in aluminum foil is etched in one of the deepest lobes of my brain.
Someday, when I'm an eccentric oldster on my deathbed, I hope to have the money (and the opportunity) to be frozen a little early, in hopes of pursuing a Man-Made Afterlife in the distant future (when the revival process is perfected and there's a cure for whatever ails me).

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