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How collecting mountain lion poop helps protect the big cats

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Mountain lions are elusive beasts, often traveling alone, undetected at night. Their very nature makes them difficult to count.

The scat they leave behind, though, that’s something an obsessive, tail-wagging dog can easily (and inexpensively) find with the right training. Collecting the poop found by those scat-sniffing dogs gives California officials another tool as they embark on a multi-year project to count cougars. 

California has traditionally relied on collaring to track animals, but as scat dogs have become more popular in conservation research, the state with the largest mountain lion habitat is now testing the method for itself.  Read more…

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What’s new in the world of tabletop gaming? (Early August Edition)

Here are some recent game releases of note and some of what I’ve been up to in hobby gaming over the past month or so.

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about my favorite gaming magazine, UK’s Tabletop Gaming. Another gaming mag I subscribe to and enjoy is Casual Game Insider. Where Tabletop Gaming covers all manner of tabletop, miniature, roleplaying, card, and board games, Casual Game Insider focuses on family games, party games, and palate cleansers, games to be played between longer games during a gaming night. In a word, casual games. CSI has something of a fanzine flavor (in a good way). It’s obviously a passion and labor of love for those who produce it. They crowdfund the effort and just successfully finished their 7th round of funding. CSI covers every aspect of gaming, from creating, funding, and producing them, to the psychology and sociology of gaming, to gaming history, gaming types, you name it. And they have plenty of reviews and features on currently popular games. A free digital edition of the current issue is available for download (PDF).

The Ricks Must Be Crazy
Cryptozoic Entertainment, $17, 2-4 Players, Ages: 17+
Cryptozoic has been killing it with their series of quick, fun, and suitably strange Rick and Morty games. They’ve released five games so far. Each game is based on an episode of the popular Adult Swim animated series. And each is done in a different style, mechanic, and look and feel, attempting to capture the flavor of the episode it’s based upon. In The Ricks Must Be Crazy, 2-4 players travel through four levels of the multiverse (the Rickverse, Microverse, Miniverse, and Teenyverse). To succeed in the game, you need to collect power and victory points and each ‘verse (one nested within the other) offers different advantages and disadvantages. Each character has special abilities and each player spends Build tokens to construct contraptions in each ‘verse which offer victory points and special abilities. The game proceeds in rounds until the first player reaches a set Victory Point total. One more round is then played and the player with the most VP at that time wins.

I love the themes of this game series. It’s fun to watch the episode before/after playing the game to see how they interpreted it in game terms. All of the artwork used in the game are stills from the episode and the production on everything is gorgeous and high-quality. The Ricks Must Be Crazy isn’t likely the most exciting or smoothest game you’ll ever play (doing all of the Power level addition and subtraction on the Power/Victory Point tracker is annoying), but it does a pretty admirable job of capturing the fractal craziness of the episode. Next up: The Pickle Rick Game, housed in a Rick pickle (and due out in early Sept).

Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Melee at Murdershroom Marsh
Cryptozoic Entertainment, $26, 2-6 Players, Ages: 15+
Epic Spell Wars is a series of wacky and weird psychedelic horror card games featuring dueling “battle wizards” trying to smite the toad stool out of each other. There are currently three games in the series (Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre, Rumble at Castle Tentakill, Melee at Murdershroom Marsh) and a 4th, Panic at the Pleasure Palace, coming later this year. The games are all about bringing the fun–talking cookie-monster/death metal smack to each other over a game of cleverly-stupid, eye-ball-melting spell-casting cards. In each round, players use the cards in their hand to construct a spell with a set syntax. Each spell can be comprised of a 3-part syntax: Source, Quality, and Delivery. These translate to the name of the wizard who first created the spell (Source), a spell descriptor (Quality), and what the spell actually does (Delivery). So, a spell a player might cast could read: Midnight Merlin’s Devilicious Power Vortex or King Tut-n-Putts’ Smelted LSD. The cards are also further grouped into magical types (e.g. Elemental, Illusion, Primal) and cards can be combined by these magical types to gain advantages. The game basically involves putting together your spell (drawn from the cards in your hand), casting the spell (out loud in a goofy death metal/monster truck rally announcer voice), and resolving the damage as indicated on the cards. Each wizard character, which have names like Zanzabart the Slag Genie and Krazztar the Blood o’ Mancer, has a character dashboard for tracking hit points/health. Wizards that die (and they died a lot) still get to draw from a Dead Wizard deck that offers actions the dead wizard can resolve now or that are used in the next round.

Mainly what each new game in the series offers is a new setting, a new cast of magical weirdos and dungeon degenerates, and more insanely psychedelic art by Nick Edwards and RS Bixby. You also get special rules or rules tweaks with each new release. Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Melee at Murdershroom Marsh finds the Battle Wizards under the influence of some mind-scouring hallucinogenic drug (the titular “murdershrooms”). They attempt to vaporize each other as usual, but while fighting off hallucinations and madness. New rules for Murdershroom Marsh create some additional card management and play mechanics. Half of the Delivery cards in the deck have two magical types listed, therefore allow you to perform two Power Rolls with that single card. The game also introduces Cantrips. Sources and Quality cards with the Cantrip glyph on them allow you to add cards to your spell (after an indicated number of discards from your hand). And finally, there is Bad Trip, another new glyph found on Source and Quality cards. After you resolve the card as normal, if you have 4 or more different magical glyph types in your spell, you can resolve the Bad Trip card a second time (flashbacks, dude!). As with all of the previous Epic Spell Wars games, you can use the Mudershroom Marsh spell cards and wizards with all of the previous Spell Wars games. In the forthcoming Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Panic at the Pleasure Palace, the Battle Wizards fight off each other (and MTDs: Magically Transmitted Diseases) in a monstrous whorehouse.

Conspiracy Theory: Freedom from Information
Steve Jackson Games, $30, 3+ Players, Ages: 13+
Conspiracy Theory is Steve Jackson’s paranoid answer to black and white card games (*cough* Cards Against Humanity *cough*). As with similar games, a rotating judge chooses a black card with a statement and 1 or 2 missing words on it and players use words from their white-card hand to try and cleverly, creatively, hysterically complete the phrase. The judge for that turn votes on who had the best response. Conspiracy adds a third deck to the mix, a red deck. The red deck, which the judge can pick from, has themes for the responses (funny, serious, insane, etc). Adding this wrinkle makes coming up with worthy responses more challenging. The rules sheet points out that the 500+ cards in this deck can be incorporated into similar games (don’t make me fake-cough again).

Tiki Topple
Gamewright, $14, 2-4 players, Ages: 10+
If you’ve noticed, this month has something of a theme: casual games. One of the companies that rules in the casual/party game space is Gamewright. They know how to make games that are easy to learn, exciting and fun to play, and they produce games that are beautifully illustrated and produced and cleverly marketed. The latest in this party game fare is Tiki Topple, a simple abstract strategy game with a Polynesian flare. 2-4 players try and “stack” (despite “topple” in the title, you build your tiki totem horizontally) their tiki idols in a sequence as it is indicated on a secret card that each player draws. Additional drawn cards indicate what moves players can make to try and arrange their tikis at the top of the totem in the sequence indicated on their secret card. Players do this while trying to avoid Tiki Topple (a card that sends their idol to the bottom) or Tiki Toast, a card that destroys your tiki outright. And that’s basically it. This is a great game to play with people who aren’t gamers and might be intimidated by a more complicated rule set or longer games. The little plastic tiki idols and all of the game’s components are lovely and add to the ambience. Mai Thais, Fog Cutters, and Navy Grog optional.

Frostgrave: Maze of Malcor
Osprey Games, $20, 2-8 players, Ages: 12+
Maze of Malcor is a substantial expansion to Frostgrave, the hit fantasy skirmish game of battling wizards and their warbands fighting over magical items and treasure amongst the thawing ruins of Felstad, a once-frozen city of magic. Maze of Malcor contains rules tweaks and clarifications, an adventure setting in the Collegium of Artistry/Maze of Malcor, a lauded magical school before the fall of the city, and 5 new magical schools, known as The Pentangle. You don’t actually play these schools, but your wizards can cast spells from them. As always, the supplement also includes new treasure and new additions to the growing Frostgrave bestiary. For those who got The Grimoire spell deck I wrote about in June, this book explains all of the spells included there that are from The Pentangle schools.

Frostgrave Mat
PWork Wargames, ~$40, 3′ x 3′
Play mats are all the rage in tabletop gaming. You can now buy neoprene gaming mats (think: giant mouse pads) with art on top simulating just about any gaming terrain you want to play on. PWork Wargames has partnered with Osprey Games to create a line of mats with the bricks, snow, and ruined fragments depicting everyone’s favorite frozen city. The mats are available in 3′ x 3′, 4′ x 6′, 4′ x 4′, and 3′ x 6′.

Snake-Men
North Star Military Figures, $32
I am a huge fan of North Star Military Figures Frostgrave miniatures line. Their boxed sets of multi-part miniatures are some of the coolest, most versatile minis I’ve ever modeled. Their latest boxed set includes parts to make up to 20 snake-men, a tribe of deadly adversaries found in Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago. Although created for this sister game of Frostgrave proper, the snake-men could easily be used in Frostgrave itself, D&D, or many other fantasy games.


Frostgrave Watch It Played series
The folks at the YouTube channel, Watch It Played, have put together a really excellent series of videos on learning how to play Frostgrave. If you want to get a feel for this fantasy skirmisher, check them out.

I kind of hate Instagram Stories. Most postings there seem like a complete waste of my time. But there are a few makers and miniature painters that I follow and enjoy the temporary videos they post. One of my favorite painters is Malev_Minis. Malev Da Shinobi is a young rapper from SLC, UT who is also a talented pro mini painter. He often does live Instagram painting sessions where he free-raps while he paints. I know, I know… trust me, it’s better than it sounds. He’s good at both. And his painting is jaw dropping. One night, I’d just put together a Frostgrave archer. I checked my phone and was shocked to see that he had assembled an almost identical model and was beginning to paint it. I watched, transfixed, as he, within an hour or so, painted that figure to a standard I have never achieved. In contrast, my bowmen probably took 5 times as long and only looks half as good.

Fantastic Maps
One of the first things that drew me to D&D in my youth was the opportunity to design dungeons and draw maps. I love maps and map-making. This website and YouTube channel offer an excellent series of tutorials on every aspect of map-making, dungeon design and rendering. I think it would be impossible to spend any time here and not dramatically up your cartographic rendering game as a result.

Both Cory and I have written about our attraction to Gaslands, the post-apocalyptic vehicular combat game you play with modified Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. This YouTube gamer just launched a series about Gaslands that looks very promising. This is the best Gaslands battle report I’ve seen to date.

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How to Tell These Social Anxiety Symptoms from Signs of Introversion 

The symptoms of social anxiety can be misinterpreted as introversion but they are very different. Social anxiety is self-induced while introversion is a personality trait. In terms of behaviors and reactions, the two are similar. But, there are also some very big key differences. A person with social anxiety may feel mentally drained in a […]

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Amazon halved its UK corporation tax bill despite tripling profits

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Amazon Services profits tripled in the UK last year. But, despite this, it has managed to halve its UK corporation tax bill. 

Per figures posted publicly on Companies House, Amazon’s corporation tax bill was £4.5m last year, down from £7.4m the previous year. Its profits, meanwhile, tripled from from £24m in 2016 to £72m in 2017. 

The company has paid £1.7m of its bill, but it has deferred paying the remaining £2.9m. An Amazon UK spokesperson declined to comment on why it was deferring. 

These figures come just days after Amazon announced record profits of $2.5bn (£1.9bn) in the second quarter of 2018.  Read more…

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