Skit that's been going in my head in the shower  for years, off and on:

A street festival. An identifiable American tourist is walking around gawking. Three very German men in lederhosen walk up to him.

One of the Germans says: "Hello. Vould you like some bier?"

In huge white glowing letters, the word "BIER" appears.

The American tourist looks down at the spelled-out word.  He smiles and answer, trying to match the accent:  "Heh heh.  Ja!  I *would* like some bier!"

Cut to:

Dusk. Atop of a cliff over the sea. The grim faces of the three Germans are lit by a roaring pyre, from which screams can be heard - "Aaaaaa!  Aaaaaaaaaa!  Aaaaaaa!"

The end message appears in glowing white letters:



Heh.  The previous entry.  I was reminded of Age of Empires III by my writer, who really liked a strategic idea I mentioned while I was editing a passage in his book.  I answered that I could claim I got it from reading books on military strategy, but really I just got it from playing Age of Empires.  (Mostly true.  I've read some military history, but mostly I've just read people who've read a lot of it.)

So I remembered that one game session, and then I played the game a few times, for the first time in years.  And I did piece together exactly what I had done in that one strange battle to pull off the miracle (I may add it in a comment under this), but mainly what I realized is that... I don't play in that way at all.

When I learned to really play, I learned in a different way.  I don't play with a focus on tactics. I play with a focus on strategy.  I almost try to be bored, the way I play.  I learned to play so that I would probably win no matter what happened, no matter how each individual fight went, no matter what surprises showed up.  I focus only on that.  A very slow-heart-rate kind of play.  I half-ignore the battles while I go on focusing on the grand plan.  When I win, it's typically a situation where I basically won a half hour ago. 

Which is totally different than the drama!  the terror! of when I began playing.  I could play like that, I suppose, deep in figuring out how to win each particular battle.  And I'd enjoy it - but really I'd only start doing it if I were in an Age of Empires III class where I had to do it for class exercises for a grade.  What I do naturally is more like Moltke's "brilliant and lazy" officer.  

But I like the exciting kind of play!  And I remember that one game session years later!

But that's not the way my mind naturally tends.

(Meanwhile I'm much surer that the lessons I'd learn from the exciting tactical kind of play would be... transferable. My strategic sense?  Honed against a really stupid, predictable AI.  After years of playing the computer, I figure if I ever tried to play a human being I'd just blink in confusion as I immediately got stabbed. For this reason I have absolutely no ego-pretensions about my strategy focus.)


When I finish editing this book I am going to try a flotation tank, I swear.  


A kind of cucumber I grew last year has disappeared! Or maybe we ordered our cucumber seeds too late.  Satsuki Midori.  Named after a Japanese actress.  Never caught on commercially in the U.S. in the '60s because of the unusual Asian style and a short shelf life, but absolutely delicious in the home garden.  And I just couldn't find the seeds.

I did find mentions that it was "very rare". Which makes  me nervous. Very rare strains can still blurp out of sight and be lost.  If I'd known it was very rare, I could have been growing it to save the seeds!

Dang.  Gotta try to find it next year.
A very long time ago, when I was playing Age of Empires III and it was new to me, I... well, I've rarely ever tried fancy things with the troops. I usually play on the level of a brutal numbers game, and I sort of clumsily get my little soldiers to where they need to be.
But this one time, I was trying to be more clever. I moved my cavalry and my light infantry and my heavy infantry separately. Different formations.
And this game was one where I was eventually crushed. This was before I learned the brutal-numbers-game tricks that mean I usually win against a really dumb computer enemy.
But there was a moment in that game...

My triumphant attack on the enemy township had just been obliterated. The most dramatic obliteration I've ever seen. (Was it only back then that such extraordinary things happened in that game, back in the youth of the world?)
I'd been about to bring down the hammer. Secure in the sense that I had just wiped out the enemy's army and left it, for the moment, poor in defenses, I was marching my main force up the grassy rise toward the unseen place where I knew the enemy city was.
And at the top of the hill - I saw cannons roll into place. The first cannons I'd seen in that contest... and more of them at once than I'd seen ever. And they rolled into place in a way I'd never seen - they weren't in train, they were in a long line, shoulder to shoulder, all along the crest. I think there were thirteen of them.
And, as I saw this, a ridiculous flood of cavalry poured down the hill past them... and ringed my forces. There was a big red-ring-around-blue bullseye on the mini-map.
My balance of forces was such that I could have defeated the cavalry in itself, regardless... in less than thirty seconds. Maybe less than twenty.
Except at this moment it meant that I couldn't get at that long line of cannons - every one of which was, at that moment, sighting in...
I was like a bug in pine sap.
And then - in the blink of an eye or nearly so - the big red ring was empty.

So the enemy had just wiped out my grand army with virtually no losses... which brings me to the happy load of reinforcements that I had just dispatched from my town to head over to the enemy town, which should have been merrily burning by then.
A body of mixed reinforcements - nothing like the army it was intended to support - that was wholly inadequate to fend off the massive cavalry charge that I knew was headed toward them.
And they were too far along to get back behind my city walls in time. (I still used walls, then. I was not far enough along in tower-line theory yet.) They were going to be caught in the open by the enemy cavalry.
I had just a few seconds to scroll to them, and take stock...
And then the enemy cavalry swept in.

This is where I would love to be able to insert an exact account of brilliant generalship, but, if that's what it really was, I virtually missed it. I was so busy that I have no idea what I did.
With the "rock, paper, scissors" of the different kinds of troops whirling in my head, somehow I did this insane dance that kept pulling one block of troops, then another block of troops, then another block of troops out of the jaws of hell. Somehow I juggled that gigantic flood of cavalry at arms length, with nothing to juggle them with, all the way back, until I got the last of my people inside the defenses, and I don't think I lost five units. It made perfect intent sense in my head while I was doing it, and I'd never be able to do it again.
And then...


And I've never been able to remember the exact wording; I was just so surprised. It amounted to "that was a really nice job!"
To my knowledge, the computerized enemy generals in Age of Empires III don't ever do that. They just either taunt you or say passive-aggressive sulky things. I've never heard anything like that again. Of course, the simplest explanation is that I've never played that well again, but I've never seen a reference to anyone else running into this either!
And how would the computer program know anyway?! The computer enemies in Age of Empires III play really crudely. At the hardest level they just start sending armies with more soldiers. They don't DO fancy-schmancy stuff. How would the program recognize fancy-schmancy stuff?
It makes me wonder. Were there originally more involved plans for the program? Did some programmer hide some extraordinary vestige in there, that spoke up?

To finish the story, after that point I never got the chance to leave my town in force again, beyond desperate "firefighting" sallies. I lost the game through a series of hurried rebuildings of my defenses after warding off cannon-heavy attacks, until the time I didn't quite make it and the enemy poured in. It was a classic early-Alex defeat.
But that compliment has stuck with me. It felt really good... and it was really strange.
I don't suppose I'll ever have an answer.



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