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Posts Tagged ‘Magic: The Gathering’

As any reader of my blog knows, I like to play games. I’ve played a few recently.

The Player of Games

The Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition) campaign I’m in here in Cheonan reached a major milestone last night with the killing of a big evil dragon (although this happened in a cave rather than a dungeon). The campaign has been fun – surprisingly so given the large group of people taking part: seven players plus the gamemaster. My previous experience with such a large group is the session becomes noisy and unfocused, but no one in our group has an especially dominating personality, so everyone gets a chance to say and do what they want. Which isn’t to say, of course, that the group is relentlessly focused on the game – there’s a lot of joking and chat, too – which is an essential part of the fun.

The Fight with Ice and Fire Elementals

After a summer break, it looks like a couple of our players won’t be coming back to the game and our characters are all jumping up a few levels. Having already killed a dragon at quite a low level, I wonder what challenges lie ahead for the party.

In the last couple of months or so I’ve been working on a couple of games – one is a board game, one a card game. The card game has an urban fantasy setting and a range of characters including vampires, sorcerers, hackers, drug dealers, corporate lawyers and so on. It’s still a work in progress, though; the games I’ve played with it so far show that my intended win condition is not at all easy to achieve.

The board game is much more polished. I’ve called it Islands of the Azure Sea and it’s a fantasy piracy game where you move a ship around a sea filled with islands, gathering treasure and items, fighting other ships (including those of the other players), native islanders and monsters. I’ve put a fair amount of work into making the board, the ships, writing out all the cards and changing them several times to balance out the gameplay. I’m pretty proud of it.

Islands of the Azure Sea

I’ve played it a few times with friends and students and it’s always been quite fun, but the treasure maps – which are essential to the mechanics and flavour of the game – have generally proved difficult to come by. Introducing a few cards to facilitate treasure-finding seems to have help, though. I played the game on Saturday with some friends down in Daegu, and they really got into the game, making characters for themselves and concocting narratives. Peter, for instance, kept avoiding taking potentially dangerous Sea Cards and adopted the personality No Risk Pete. When he lost a crewman due to a madness card, he said the man had abandoned ship due to boredom; when he subsequently gained a crewman due to a castaway card, he said the man had changed his mind.

The game on Saturday was part of Peter’s Daegu Gamefest. A pretty modest event, really, but a good opportunity to meet a few new people and play lots of games. When I arrived at the café, Peter and a few others were already playing Munchkin. I joined in for a few turns and then we turned to Dungeon Crawl Classics, a simplified roleplaying game where we each had three very weak villager characters – many of whom died. After lunch, a few of us played Islands of the Azure Sea and the rest played Smallworld – which I’d played and really enjoyed the last time or two I was in Daegu. While the other were finishing that, three of us played Space Hulk: Death Angel. Then we all played Betrayal at House on the Hill – in which we were eaten by tentacles. Later in the evening, we played Dogs in the Vineyard, a game about Mormon gunslingers fighting the supernatural. The following day, Peter and I tested my card game.

It was a fun, action-packed weekend; I had to hurry from Daegu back to Cheonan in time for the climactic D&D session – and mini-party beforehand.

A few weeks earlier, Peter had joined me and a few others for my own gaming day in Cheonan. Peter and I played Magic: The Gathering. One of the guys from roleplaying and his wife came and we played Islands of the Azure Sea and Settlers of Catan. Peter left and was replaced by Eve from roleplaying and we played an interesting card game called Dominion. Slightly embarrassingly but undeniably pleasingly, I won all the games (although we decided to cut Islands short).

Blue-Red Versus Green-Red-Black

Dominion, Settlers of Catan and Smallworld are all games I would like to play more. The two roleplaying game systems we tried out both seemed interesting and worth trying again – but with RPGs, you really need a lot of time to get to know them.

As D&D in Cheonan is on hiatus until September, I think I’ll try to organise another gaming afternoon here – and probably in Seoul, too.

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The last couple of weekends have been pretty busy and fun.

The weekend before last, I came up to Seoul, my small backpack heavy with my box of Magic cards and a few bits of clothing and toiletries – and my computer, which I probably didn’t really need. I’ve recently joined a bunch of groups on Meetup and my first order of business was to attend my first event with one of them. It was a beginners’ life drawing class at a studio in Itaewon. The instructor had us practise a few different drawing techniques – initially with one of the attendees with whom he was evidently familiar because the model was late, and then with a model once she arrived.

Three Life-drawing Sketches

It was interesting work, quite challenging – especially having not had much practice at sketching for a long time, other than the occasional map for a game or story. I think I did reasonably well, though. The model was a white, North American woman – she resembled a blond Natalie Portman. Most of the attendees were women too; I chatted to a few on the way out and back to the subway station, but the atmosphere in the class was quiet so I felt pretty self-conscious about talking to anyone in there. The one woman I did talk to in the class seemed quite uncomfortable.

Afterwards, I met those sterling gentlemen, Matthew and Zach. We had dinner together and I dropped my things at Zach’s place (which is conveniently nextdoor to Matt’s place; I knocked on their doors simultaneously) where I stayed the night. Later in the evening, Zach and I went to Hongdae where he had a gig to play with Damnear David, a David Bowie cover singer. Also on the bill was a Queen cover band, Queen Machine – which I really quite enjoyed.

The following day, the three of us went to Wangsimni to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which we all agreed was very good, although it did have some silly bits like the hero not leaving home for the first hour of the film and Galadriel teleporting to avoid scuffing or tripping up over her long skirts.

We also played lots of Magic: The Gathering. Zach and I did, at any rate – Matthew had other duties that called him away.

During the week, I made a bunch of paper snowflakes with my students to decorate my class a little. There has been quite a bit of real snow of late and the weather has been very cold occasionally – making my classroom unpleasantly chilly; the single heater is not really up to the task of heating the whole room.

Paper Snowflakes

I also got my Alien Registration Card and set up a bank account with KEB – Korea Exchange Bank. Actually, I set up two accounts (no, I didn’t – the bank clerk did it for me); one is a regular current account, into which I’ll be paid, and the other automatically transfers any money put into it to my UK bank account. Once I got paid, I transferred some money into the second account; I’ve just checked and it has arrived in my British account. Now I can pay off the credit card debt I’ve built up in my first month back in Korea. Unfortunately, the advances on my salary that I’ve been given mean that I probably won’t have enough cash to see out this next month, so I’m going to have to withdraw more money on my credit card.

I had to go back to the hospital where I got my health check done. I went initially to an internal medicine clinic I’d noticed in order to get a week’s worth of my colitis medication. The doctor – a rather uninspiringly nervous and boyish middle-aged man – told me he couldn’t prescribe it but gave me a note to take to the hospital. Having seen one of the specialists at the hospital, I made my way down one of the staircases and passed this very pretty nurse who’d tested my sight and given me my sealed envelope with the results a couple of weeks afterwards. She had been very nice, trying to speak English and (kind of) remembering my name. She stopped to say hello and prove that she remembered my name again (with only a little prompting from me). I asked her hers.

I had to return once more to the hospital to get another copy of the health check statement – the last one had been for the Immigration Office; this one was for the police, with whom I was supposed to be registered. I was able to ask for Ji-yeong by name and she prepared another envelope for me.

There was a weird episode towards the end of the week when Julie, my boss, put it to me that she didn’t want to sign me up for the (legally required) national health insurance and pension schemes and instead wanted to get something private. Or maybe that wasn’t exactly what she was saying, but because of something the recruiter had told her she didn’t seem keen.

I’m very aware that Americans and Canadians can get the pension contributions back when they leave the country, but Britons can’t. This is because of differing reciprocal arrangements between governments; Koreans working in the UK also can’t get a refund of National Insurance contributions. Apparently, the recruiter had told her that she wouldn’t need to pay into the national system for a British employee and that had been a factor in her choosing me over someone else. After asking various people and reading about it, I told her I wanted to pay into the national systems – so that’s apparently what I’m now doing.

I say apparently because after getting confirmation that I was signed up from Julie, I went back to internal medicine clinic, the hospital and the pharmacy and got partial refunds on my payments because I was now retroactively covered. I’ve since been back to the hospital and pharmacy and my consultation and medication were a lot more expensive than I was expecting.

This past weekend was one of Magic and Burning Wheel gaming. Zach, Matthew and I played MTG on Saturday. That other sterling gentleman, Peter, met me on Sunday and we played more Magic, then Zach joined us and we got started on a roleplaying game run by Peter. I played a fisherman exiled from his village and Zach played a cleric with the character trait Overbearing Loony; we were united by a desire to stop colonists interfering with local culture – or at least with an old temple. It was a very promising game and seemed to go off on a tangent quite quickly – or maybe it was all planned. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue the story soon.

The first thing I did on Saturday was head up to Itaewon to see a man about a phone. I was expecting a North American, but it turned out to be an Indian or Pakistani guy. I started to feel a bit suspicious, but checked the instinct. The phone he offered me was white instead of the black one shown in the photo on Craigslist. I bought it anyway – I’m far too polite to have refused. I came to the conclusion later that the phone was almost certainly stolen. The man didn’t have any idea how to change a setting I e-mailed him about later; the phone is a little bit scuffed on the back, while this chap provided brand new recharging and data cables; he spoke near-perfect English, but he changed the phone from Korean to English right in front of me.

Anyway, it works and I’ve been to the SK Telecom centre to get a new USIM card for it – thus registering an account with SK as well as getting an actual phone number. The clerk opened it up and typed some numbers from inside the phone into her computer. I can only assume that if someone had reported it stolen, some alert would have come up at this point. Maybe it was second-hand after all.

The really disappointing thing about the phone was that it was white and not black. Nevertheless, I’ve got a pretty fancy 4G smart phone with a big screen and I’m starting to get used to how it works and alter things to my taste.

Monday was the last day of teaching for me this year. I had one class with a four-year-old boy, then the next class was an amalgam of many of the elementary school kids and we watched Brave on my laptop. A couple of hours later, the middle- and high- schoolers did the same, but I had to leave halfway through to take a class with one of the girls; then I had one more class with one of the older boys and I was done. The kids will be back on Wednesday, but I have my contractual five days of holiday.

Today, Tuesday, I spent doing not very much – washing clothes, walking around the city, blogging. I had pepperoni pizza for dinner with chocolates and beer and Misfits and the Simpsons.

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Yesterday, I returned to Seoul for a day with friends. I had been planning to get up early and arrive early; at seven o’clock, I reset my alarm to 8:30, having not slept well or long enough. I got the slow bus up to Shinsegae and bought a ticket from the nearby Intercity Bus Station (for ₩5,000).

With some free time, I looked around for somewhere to buy hodugwaja – a walnut cake snack thing for which Cheonan is famous – and found a little shop inside the Shinsegae building at the Express Bus Terminal. The extremely close proximity of these two bus stations is a bit confusing; I’ll have to try getting a bus to Seoul from the express terminal next time.

My bus from the intercity terminal left on time and arrived at the Express Bus Terminal in Seoul an hour and five minutes later. Through the magic of Facebook, while phoneless, I was able contact Jeff, the gaming host, from a café in Noksapyeong and got directions to his place.

There, with Jeff, his friend John, Matthew and Zach, I played Magic: The Gathering with the decks I’d brought. I beat Matthew – the only other person with Magic experience – in a demonstration game; then John, the gaming newbie, held on to the end of a four-handed multiplayer game, using an Izzet Guildmage to burn Matthew and Zach (I’d already fallen). Then we played Zach’s Munchkin with all five people; I almost won at one point, but was thwarted. I lost concentration towards the end because I was in danger of being late for my dinner date, but it was great to be back amongst friends and gaming again.

Matthew and I shared a taxi to Sinsa, where I met Gemma, my old colleague from my last job in Korea. We had Mexican food and later sake and later still coffee and/or hot chocolate. It was really nice to see her again and we talked about life and stuff and things.

I got a five to midnight bus back to Cheonan. When I arrived back, seemingly everyone else on the bus had headed to the main street to get a taxi – of which there were few around. I decided to walk some or all of the way home. There was a frozen drizzle falling and the ground was pretty slippery – I fell once. I got a taxi home from Cheonan Station, where there were several taxis waiting and few people around.

I slept late today. Did some laundry after breakfast and found that no water poured into the top-loader machine as usual. After examining the piping, I realised that the tap was frozen. I boiled a pan of water and poured it over said tap and the water eventually started flowing.

Ssangyong-sa

Later, I went for a walk up a mountain just to the north of where I live. I say ‘mountain’, but really it’s just a forested hilly area. With all the recent snow, it was a pleasant walk – the snow had prettified the landscape and the trees. Without it, it would have been a very easy trek, but the paths were covered in more or less compacted snow, so you had to take care. I fell on my arse at one point, just behind a pair of women – who exclaimed and looked around, but, of course, didn’t stop to help or ask if I was OK. No damage done, though.

Traditional Grave

So far, I’ve made contact with old friends in Seoul and Daegu, but have made no new friends (outside work) in Cheonan. I’m thinking about doing something about that.

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Coming home, I made a list of things I should do while I was back in the UK. It included things like learning to drive and getting a job. I’m not sure that I’ve done any of them – I haven’t even looked at the list since I returned. Blogging about my trip is at least complete – and getting up to date shouldn’t take too long because I haven’t really done that much. Selecting and uploading photos is another slow work in progress – at least it’s in progress. Driving lessons would have taken out my remaining savings in one fell swoop, so I knocked that idea on the head and I’ve been too comfortable to look for work.

My sister has been very kind to me, allowing me to stay here. It’s been good to be able to relax and have no responsibilities for a time. Hanging out with her kids has been great (I make them play Magic: The Gathering and other card games with me – they prefer Korean flower cards) and her youngest is at the cutest stage of life, so that’s a bonus, too.

I sent off for my police subject access request within a week or two of getting back; as soon as it came – a little earlier than I was expecting, given past experience – I made a copy of my degree certificate, got it certified as a true copy, sent the pair to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and received them back quite swiftly. Then I started looking for work. That hasn’t gone so well so far – I’ve spoken to a couple of recruiters; I’ve even been pretty much offered my previous job back, but they’re not going to spring for either a flight out or a proper E-2 visa. I may need to start broadening my search.

I had a dark moment a couple of nights ago when I started thinking that I would never get a job in Korea, that I would never get any worthwhile job again, that I wouldn’t get another girlfriend again, that I wouldn’t do anything with the rest of my life. I’m feeling better now, and today I sent off ten e-mails to recruiters asking after specific jobs or jobs in general. The jobs market is tighter now than in previous years, so getting a job could take a while, but if I don’t try then I certainly won’t get anything.

I’ve been focussing on kindergarten work, because that’s been my favourite work so far, but I have scope to broaden my search to the typical after-school type of hagwon, or even to public schools; and I could also look at other cities than Seoul and its satellites and Daegu, where my friend Peter lives. And then there’s China, if I’m really stuck, or other parts of Asia. I could even look for random where around Europe. But I find it difficult to imagine myself living and working in the UK.

At the same time as getting all the Korea visa documents, I applied for a new passport. I asked my retired friends from Runcorn, Liz and Roger – two of the most respectable people I know – to countersign my application. This was only necessary because my appearance has changed a lot in the past eight years – well, I no longer have long hair. Although I thought I may have screwed it up by not using black biro as specified, but a different kind of black pen, it turned out to be fine and I got a brand new, jumbo-sized passport back within two or three weeks. It feels a bit flimsier than the old one, and (apparently controversially) the identity page is at the front rather than the back; but the BBC-style weather symbols and British landscape on each page are a nice touch.

I’ve been staying in a lot. Went through a phase of playing video games – Halo Something-or-other, Fable 2 and Fable 3; within the last few days I completed Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. Also been helping my sister with housework and stuff – I put loft panels in the central part of her attic; recently we put shelves up in her dining room.

I went to Runcorn to retrieve stuff from my parents’ attic, go through it and stack it all neatly in my sister’s loft. Opening the boxes was kind of like getting a load of birthday presents – from my past self. There were clothes that I’ve happily taken to wearing again (and some I’ve given away to charity); my previous collection of coins and bank notes – that I’ve combined with the new; a few unread books – mostly editions of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I like having collections of things.

Runcorn really is a hive of scum and villainy. Not including when I visited with Habiba, it’s been a few years since I was there. The kids who live there can be little scumbags who hate anyone who doesn’t look like them. I assumed, with my no-longer-long hair (actually, I’d recently given myself a very short haircut with my sister’s clippers), that I wouldn’t attract any untoward attention. Walking along a street near my parents’ place, one of a group of three or four boys said to me, ‘Are you Polish?’ I said, ‘No. Are you?’ He asked his friend, ‘Am I Polish?’ I’ve repressed whatever he said to me next, but I ignored him. It wasn’t explicitly insulting or malicious, but it wasn’t exactly respectful.

Back at my sister’s, she dug out my collection of Magic: The Gathering cards. I’ve been making and remaking decks – I’ve even bought a handful of specific cards for this purpose – with a view to playing with them in Korea (not that I played with them much last time; I could never get Habiba to have a game with me).

I remember, last time I stayed with my sister, buying lots of CDs on the internet, I’ve tried to restrain myself this time, but I did get a handful of novelty dice – a nice pair of d7s, a somewhat disappointing set of 12 polydice including the unusual d3, d5, d14, d16 and d24, and a d100. The latter – a so-called Zocchihedron, after its inventor – was broken when it arrived (simply receiving the package cost me £12 in customs duty and Post Offices charges), but the company in the States is sending a free replacement (that arrived today). I also got a pack of 200 blank cards with a view to making a card game of my own.

Having sold my old massive suitcase back in Korea, I’ve bought a smaller one to use as a carry on bag, while my large backpack will serve as my check-in bag. For their first time in their lives, I washed both of my backpacks. Exciting times.

I spent a very pleasurable week in the south-west, staying alternately with my friends Lawrence (and one night at his girlfriends’) and Alex. Last time I saw them (with Habiba), while great, was only for a fleeting visit. We hung out a lot more this time. Lawrence, Yi-vei and I ate out at a couple of good restaurants; we played table tennis on a public table tennis table at St James Barton Roundabout.

Alex and I played Magic. A lot. We went to Forbidden Planet in Bristol and each bought a box of 285 card; Alex later bought specific cards on-line and updated his decks – finally removing his printed off, poxy proxies. We dipped into a couple of Xbox games (including the MtG one). We saw Dredd 3D, which I thought was pretty bloody brilliant (the Slo-Mo sequences were also pretty bloody and bloody pretty); Alex wasn’t so impressed, for some reason. Watched a DVD of a strange, French sf film called Eden Log.

After getting half-way through Salman Rushdie’s Grimus before returning home, I stopped reading it for a few weeks. More recently, I’ve been trying to crack on with my reading; I’m reading my biggest books first so I don’t have to take them with me to Korea. Which hopefully won’t be too far into the future. Better get a move on with The Art of War and The Hydrogen Sonata, then.

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