Building Andromeda: Galaxy ended up with stars orbiting at right angles thumbnail

Building Andromeda: Galaxy ended up with stars orbiting at right angles

Odd angles —

Our nearest big neighbor has a complicated history that’s hard to explain.


Image of a galaxy

The large galaxies present in the current Universe weren’t always so big. Evidence indicates that they were built up over time, largely by collisions with other galaxies. These collisions have left marks that we can still detect: streams of stars that were drawn in from the victims of the collisions, and faint dwarf galaxies that still orbit the larger object that devoured many of their stars. With enough data, it’s possible to become a galactic historian and reconstruct the events that brought the modern-day giants to their present form.

Uncovering some of that history was the goal of a large, multinational collaboration, spelled out clearly in its name: the Pan-Andromeda Archaeological Survey. In a paper published on Wednesday in Nature, the team describes uncovering some of our nearest galactic neighbor’s violent past. The paper shows that Andromeda was built in part by two major collisions that have left clusters of stars occupying two perpendicular orbits. In the process of writing their paper, the researchers also uncover a bit of a mystery about an unexpected alignment between some of these clusters and Andromeda’s satellite galaxies.

Thinking global

The new work focuses on what are called globular clusters, which are large groups of stars held together by gravity. Unlike other stars—which shift position relative to each other as they orbit a galaxy’s center—the stars of a globular cluster stick together and orbit as a group. As a result, these gravitationally bound clusters of stars can survive the collisions between galaxies. That means they can be used as markers to retrace those collisions.

That’s exactly what the researchers behind the Pan-Andromeda Archaeological Survey decided to do. First, they eliminated the clusters near the core of Andromeda, since those clusters will have had their orbits shaped by more frequent interactions with other bodies there. Then, the researchers identified 92 globular clusters in the halo of the galaxy, orbiting at least 25,000 parsecs from its core. These were imaged to determine their motion relative to Earth using the Doppler shift. That information could be converted to the clusters’ local motion relative to the rest of Andromeda.

The analysis indicated there were two distinct populations. One group of clusters was associated with previously identified structures within Andromeda during its orbits. A second group, orbiting in a plane that’s 90° off from this one, doesn’t appear to be associated with anything in the galaxy itself. Notably, neither of these planes matches that of Andromeda’s disk.

So what’s going on here? The structures within Andromeda provide a hint. With the exception of major features like spiral arms, structures like the ones here will average out into the background over time, as their component stars and other material are not gravitationally bound to each other. Thus, structures like the ones here have to be a product of a relatively recent event—an event like a galaxy merger. “These clearly represent debris from one or more accretions that must have occurred relatively recently,” the authors write, “in order for the underlying structures to be still coherent.”

This, they suggest, may be related to a merger with a relatively large galaxy that occurred about a billion years ago (“recent” means something different in astronomy).

Old and odd

This obviously implies that the second group is much older and came from the earlier mergers that built Andromeda. Since the mass of globular clusters tends to be a constant fraction of the total galactic mass, the authors were able to make an estimate of the mass of the galaxy that was swallowed by Andromeda. That analysis suggests that Andromeda swallowed a galaxy that was well over 10% of its own mass at a time when it was much smaller than it is at present.

But there was something weird about that particular result. The orbit of the older group of globular clusters roughly lined up with the orbits of many of Andromeda’s satellite galaxies. That makes sense if we assume these globular clusters were stripped from some of the satellites. But it makes less sense when you consider that the satellites shouldn’t stay in the same plane for long, as gravitational interactions among themselves and with Andromeda’s dark matter halo should skew them out of the plane they started in.

The authors are at a loss to explain this part of their results. It’s possible that there was a preferred merger orientation that persisted for billions of years during Andromeda’s history. Or it’s possible there’s some additional effect influencing the orbits of the satellite galaxies or the globular clusters. But, at the moment, there’s simply nothing obvious to explain this alignment.

Which goes to show that archeology turns up interesting mysteries even when you dig into the past of an entire galaxy.

Nature, 2019. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1597-1  (About DOIs).

Read More

Turning Old Toggle Switches Into Retro-Tech Showpieces thumbnail

Turning Old Toggle Switches Into Retro-Tech Showpieces

While those of us in the hacking community usually focus on making new things, there’s plenty to be said for restoring old stuff. Finding a piece of hardware and making it look and work like new can be immensely satisfying, and dozens of YouTube channels and blogs exist merely to feed the need for more restoration content.

The aptly named [Switch and Lever] has been riding the retro wave for a while, and his video on restoring and repairing vintage toggle switches shows that he has picked up a trick or two worth sharing. The switches are all flea market finds, chunky beasts that have all seen better days. But old parts were built to last, and they proved sturdy enough to withstand the first step in any restoration: disassembly. Most of the switches were easily pried open, but a couple needed rivets drilled out first. The ensuing cleaning and polishing steps were pretty basic, although we liked the tips about the micromesh abrasives and the polishing compound. Another great tip was using phenolic resin PCBs as repair material for broken Bakelite bodies; they’re chemically similar, and while they may not match the original exactly, they make for a great repair when teamed up with CA glue and baking soda as a filler.

3D-printed repairs would work too, but there’s something satisfying about keeping things historically consistent. Celebrating engineering history is really what restorations like these are all about, after all. And even if you’re building something new, you can make it look retro cool with these acid-etched brass plaques that [Switch and Lever] also makes.

Read More

Robot assemblers build structures out of identical modular pieces thumbnail

Robot assemblers build structures out of identical modular pieces

Pushing forward on the vision of “programmable matter,” MIT researchers demonstrated a new kind of assembly system based on robots that can collaboratively build complicated structures from small identical pieces. Professor Neil Gershenfeld, graduate student Benjamin Jenett, and their colleagues present their research in a scientific paper titled “Material–Robot System for Assembly of Discrete Cellular Structures.” From MIT News:

“What’s at the heart of this is a new kind of robotics, that we call relative robots,” Gershenfeld says. Historically, he explains, there have been two broad categories of robotics — ones made out of expensive custom components that are carefully optimized for particular applications such as factory assembly, and ones made from inexpensive mass-produced modules with much lower performance. The new robots, however, are an alternative to both. They’re much simpler than the former, while much more capable than the latter, and they have the potential to revolutionize the production of large-scale systems, from airplanes to bridges to entire buildings.

According to Gershenfeld, the key difference lies in the relationship between the robotic device and the materials that it is handling and manipulating. With these new kinds of robots, “you can’t separate the robot from the structure — they work together as a system,” he says. For example, while most mobile robots require highly precise navigation systems to keep track of their position, the new assembler robots only need to keep track of where they are in relation to the small subunits, called voxels, that they are currently working on. Every time the robot takes a step onto the next voxel, it readjusts its sense of position, always in relation to the specific components that it is standing on at the moment….

Ultimately, such systems could be used to construct entire buildings, especially in difficult environments such as in space, or on the moon or Mars, Gershenfeld says. This could eliminate the need to ship large preassembled structures all the way from Earth. Instead it could be possible to send large batches of the tiny subunits — or form them from local materials using systems that could crank out these subunits at their final destination point. “If you can make a jumbo jet, you can make a building,” Gershenfeld says.

Read More

This Dividend Stock Is Building for a New Future thumbnail

This Dividend Stock Is Building for a New Future

Valero Energy, with a nearly 4% yield, is doing something material that gets lost in the big picture. Here’s what it is.

Reuben Gregg Brewer

Valero Energy (NYSE:VLO) is one of the largest refiners in the United States. That ties the company directly to the energy industry, which isn’t a great place to be right now. That’s part of the reason why Valero’s dividend yield is a robust 4% or so, near the highest levels in its history. It can be hard to buy an “out of favor” stock, but there’s something going on at Valero to which Wall Street may not be paying enough attention. Here’s what you need to know about this high-yield refiner’s efforts to build for the future.

The core of the business

It’s impossible to argue that Valero isn’t a key player in the oil and natural gas sector. The 15 refineries it owns can process 3.1 million barrels of oil per day. That places it squarely in the downstream energy space. In addition to that, it also controls pipelines, storage, and port assets, which fall into the midstream energy sector. And it markets and sells its products, including to Valero-branded gas stations. This is, by far, the largest piece of the company, with the division’s revenue of nearly $115 billion in 2018 accounting for almost all of the top line. 

A man pumping gasoline into a car.

Image source: Getty Images.

That said, Valero is more than just an oil and gas refiner. For example, it is also a major producer of ethanol. Its 14 plants and related assets turn corn into this fuel additive. Although that still puts the company in the energy space, it’s arguably a business not tied directly to oil and natural gas. And ethanol can be considered renewable since it comes from plants. This segment, however, generated just $3.6 billion in revenue last year. Put simply, it’s not the driving factor for Valero.   

Together these two businesses account for almost all of Valero’s top line and most of the bottom line as well. But there’s one more segment that investors need to keep an eye on.

Looking to the future

Today Valero is very clearly an oil and gas company, with even its ethanol business taking only a supporting role in supplementing petroleum-based fuels. But it also has a tiny biodiesel business, which it didn’t even break out in 2018. Through the first half of 2019, biodiesel’s revenue was roughly a third that of the ethanol segment. So financially speaking, biodiesel is an afterthought. 

VLO Dividend Yield (TTM) Chart

VLO Dividend Yield (TTM) data by YCharts.

But before you dismiss this segment as meaningless, there are some facts to consider here. For example, Valero claims to be the world’s second-largest producer of biodiesel. It may be a small business for the refiner, but it is a big player in the biodiesel space. Like ethanol, biodiesel is meant to help reduce the world’s dependence on oil and natural gas and is created from renewable sources like recycled animal fats and cooking oils. It is, like ethanol, considered to be a green energy source. Valero is planning on more than doubling its biodiesel capacity by late 2021. 

The construction of that capacity, however, could be just the tip of the iceberg. Valero just announced that it is looking at another expansion effort that would increase its biodiesel production to roughly 1.1 billion gallons annually, or nearly four times what it produces today. The second expansion is a 50/50 joint venture with Darling Ingredients that will get a final yes/no decision in 2021 as Valero’s current biodiesel investment nears completion. Biodiesel is clearly a very serious effort for Valero and one that is diversifying this oil and gas refiner further into the clean energy space. And even while increasing its green credentials, the company is still sticking close to its core refining expertise. There’s a lot to like about this effort, including the fact that its core oil-tied operations are helping to fund the cost of its greener expansion efforts.   

A slow-and-steady shift

Valero is not going to go green overnight (or anytime soon), but it is making the initial efforts to adapt to the times and diversify its business. And that’s a worthwhile fact to consider here. Equally important is that the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that, under current policies, the world’s demand for oil will continue to grow through 2040. So Valero has plenty of time to shift its business around. In fact, even if world leaders get serious about carbon reduction, the IEA estimates “sustainable” policies would still result in oil providing a huge portion of the world’s energy demand.

With that in mind, investors will likely be paying keen attention to Valero’s oil refining business for years to come. But smart investors will also keep an eye on its renewable segments in ethanol and biodiesel. Those parts of the business are relatively small today, but they will be increasingly important for the future as Valero shifts its business along with the industries it serves. In fact, I’d even argue that Valero is a way to pick up a high-yield renewable energy company in the making.   


Reuben Gregg Brewer has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Darling Ingredients. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

“>

Read More

Sens Paraguay Building / ATV Arquitectos thumbnail

Sens Paraguay Building / ATV Arquitectos

Sens Paraguay Building / ATV Arquitectos








Sens Paraguay Building / ATV Arquitectos, © Albano García

© Albano García


© Albano García


© Albano García


© Albano García


© Albano García






+ 14




  • Architects
    Authors of this architecture project









    ATV Arquitectos


  • Area
    Area of this architecture project










  • Project Year
    Brands with products used in this architecture project


















    2017


  • Photographer
    Created with Sketch.


  • Lead Architects

    Federico Azubel, Ignacio Trabucchi, Walter Viggiano



More Specs


Less Specs


© Albano García

© Albano García

Text description provided by the architects. The project is placed in a quiet street of low traffic, in the middle of Palermo Hollywood, a trendy neighborhood in the city of Buenos Aires. This architectural work puts once again in practice an experimental way of thinking spaces developed by ATV Arquitectos, where the concrete structure is the main issue of the project. This piece not only defines the different spaces but also the relationships among them, and also works on the limit between interior and exterior.


© Albano García

© Albano García





© Albano García

© Albano García

Each item being part of this structure takes an expressive role in the project, showing their true characteristics, qualifying the contacts among pieces, making them unique. Being concrete the chosen material, the dimensions of the expansions are beyond the usual ones.


© Albano García

© Albano García


© Albano García

© Albano García

These spaces, and the way they are located resulting in a varying facade, which alternates expansions, empty spaces, and double heights; in the pursue of bringing the spirit of country houses and the relationships they present with the exterior space to the urban areas. Another important subject that the project pays attention to is the study of the different ways of living. The building presents two and three rooms units in the first six floors, with their own expansions and terraces, working on the relationships previously mentioned. The structural elements are clearly differenced from the ones of the enclosure. The spaces can be opened or closed depending on the user and its personal desires since sliding wood panels were used to divide the bedroom from the living room. The last floors of the building conform the ending of this and present two four-room units, both with their own pools, and terraces in different levels, taking to the máximum the subjects explored in the whole project.


© Albano García

© Albano García

Project gallery



See all


Show less

Project location

Address:

Palermo Hollywood, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address.

Cite: “Sens Paraguay Building / ATV Arquitectos” [Edificio sens Paraguay / ATV Arquitectos] 01 Oct 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed .

世界上最受欢迎的建筑网站现已推出你的母语版本!

想浏览ArchDaily中国吗?


Did you know?

You’ll now receive updates based on what you follow! Personalize your stream and start following your favorite authors, offices and users.

Read More

Your obsession with celebrities is helping scammers spread spam

Your obsession with celebrities is helping scammers spread spam

According to a recently released study by security firm McAfee, Gilmore Girls and Handmaid’s Tale star Alexis Bledel has been named Most Dangerous Celebrity 2019 as internet searches for her in these famous roles (as well as news of a Gilmore Girls reboot) have led more people to malware this year than those for any other celebrity.

“We rely on our WebAdvisor web reputation tool, which looks at some 16 billion websites,” Gary Davis, McAfee chief consumer security evangelist, told Engadget. This Windows OS browser plugin prevents users from mistyping URLs and blocks access to phishing and spam sites should the user accidentally click on a bad link, redirecting them towards safer URLs.

McAfee looks at a number of different categories in determining its most dangerous celebrity. “We take the celebrity name with a popular search term that could expose them to a malicious site, like torrents, pirate streaming sites, things like that,” Davis explained. “‘Free’ was a big one because, if you look at this year’s Top 10, a lot of these [celebrities appear] on paid services. Then we rank those results based on what we find in our web reputation tool outputs.”

More specifically, McAfee used the search terms: Torrent, Fix gamble, Free mp3, Nudes, Pirated download, Sledging, and Streaming. Combined with the celebrity’s name, the company then scoured the internet for matches using Google API Console to search for popular mobile, PC and platform games. McAfee’s WebAdviser tool then generated a score for each domain and URL based on its relative risk to visitors on a scale of -127 to 127 with higher scores indicating higher risk. Searches for Bledel scored a 10.6, higher than any other celebrity surveyed.

Indeed, Bledel beat out Late Late Show host James Corden, Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner, Pitch Perfect lead Anna Kendrick, and Lupita Nyong’o who starred in both Us and Little Monsters this year. All of those shows and films are currently available on one or more streaming services, like Hulu or HBO. But people are cheap. And given the prospect of scoring premium content for free, the potential dangers of viral infections on their home computer or mobile device can easily be rationalized away.

Of course, not every website is equally dangerous. If you go searching YouTube for Gilmore Girls clips, you’re generally in the clear. However if you start clicking links in the comment sections of those videos, the ones promising access to full episodes or nude images of the featured stars, then things can get dicey.

You “click on this link and it takes you someplace else, that’s where you start getting into the more nefarious sites,” Davis said. “But for YouTube alone your odds of encountering something bad are not very high.” The malware one encounters on these sites runs the gamut from run-of-the-mill keyloggers, rootkits, and backdoors to more dastardly bot programs which lie dormant in your system until they’re remotely activated for use with a distributed denial of service attack.

Thankfully these sorts of scams are rarely targeted at companies, large or small. “Just because, by nature of what you’re searching for, you’re probably not looking for nude pictures of celebrities from your workplace,” Davis continued. All modern society sincerely hopes you’re not doing that either.

While McAfee did not have a demographic breakdown of the sorts of people who go searching for this illicit material, Davis points out that children and teens are often taken by these schemes. That’s not necessarily because they were specifically looking for racy pics of famous people, but because they simply may not have access to the paid streaming service that the content is originally from and feel that torrenting it (at least, what they think is it) is their only recourse. Davis recommends that parents, guardians, and caretakers sit down with their young charges and explain the need for proper “online hygiene.”

But that’s just a start. Users should also make sure that both their desktop and mobile operating systems are patched with the latest updates. Activate your operating system’s built-in antivirus protection and firewall, ie Windows Defender. Or, if you feel you require a more robust online security solution, pony up for a subscription-based service like Norton 360. Keep a copy of Malwarebytes on hand as well. This on-demand malware removal tool could prove invaluable should you ever slip up and get your system infected.

You’d also do well to use a VPN service to obscure your internet traffic — never ever broadcast from an open Wi-Fi connection — and pick up a password manager like 1Password or LastPass so you’re not reusing the same login credentials on every site you visit because if that password is compromised, your entire online ecosystem becomes at risk. The easiest and free-est anti-malware method you can employ, however, is a little common sense.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Comment


Comments

Read More

Turning Old Toggle Switches Into Retro-Tech Showpieces

While those of us in the hacking community usually focus on making new things, there’s plenty to be said for restoring old stuff. Finding a piece of hardware and making it look and work like new can be immensely satisfying, and dozens of YouTube channels and blogs exist merely to feed the need for more restoration content.

The aptly named [Switch and Lever] has been riding the retro wave for a while, and his video on restoring and repairing vintage toggle switches shows that he has picked up a trick or two worth sharing. The switches are all flea market finds, chunky beasts that have all seen better days. But old parts were built to last, and they proved sturdy enough to withstand the first step in any restoration: disassembly. Most of the switches were easily pried open, but a couple needed rivets drilled out first. The ensuing cleaning and polishing steps were pretty basic, although we liked the tips about the micromesh abrasives and the polishing compound. Another great tip was using phenolic resin PCBs as repair material for broken Bakelite bodies; they’re chemically similar, and while they may not match the original exactly, they make for a great repair when teamed up with CA glue and baking soda as a filler.

3D-printed repairs would work too, but there’s something satisfying about keeping things historically consistent. Celebrating engineering history is really what restorations like these are all about, after all. And even if you’re building something new, you can make it look retro cool with these acid-etched brass plaques that [Switch and Lever] also makes.

Read More

Turning Old Toggle Switches Into Retro-Tech Showpieces

While those of us in the hacking community usually focus on making new things, there’s plenty to be said for restoring old stuff. Finding a piece of hardware and making it look and work like new can be immensely satisfying, and dozens of YouTube channels and blogs exist merely to feed the need for more restoration content.

The aptly named [Switch and Lever] has been riding the retro wave for a while, and his video on restoring and repairing vintage toggle switches shows that he has picked up a trick or two worth sharing. The switches are all flea market finds, chunky beasts that have all seen better days. But old parts were built to last, and they proved sturdy enough to withstand the first step in any restoration: disassembly. Most of the switches were easily pried open, but a couple needed rivets drilled out first. The ensuing cleaning and polishing steps were pretty basic, although we liked the tips about the micromesh abrasives and the polishing compound. Another great tip was using phenolic resin PCBs as repair material for broken Bakelite bodies; they’re chemically similar, and while they may not match the original exactly, they make for a great repair when teamed up with CA glue and baking soda as a filler.

3D-printed repairs would work too, but there’s something satisfying about keeping things historically consistent. Celebrating engineering history is really what restorations like these are all about, after all. And even if you’re building something new, you can make it look retro cool with these acid-etched brass plaques that [Switch and Lever] also makes.

Read More

Turning Old Toggle Switches Into Retro-Tech Showpieces

While those of us in the hacking community usually focus on making new things, there’s plenty to be said for restoring old stuff. Finding a piece of hardware and making it look and work like new can be immensely satisfying, and dozens of YouTube channels and blogs exist merely to feed the need for more restoration content.

The aptly named [Switch and Lever] has been riding the retro wave for a while, and his video on restoring and repairing vintage toggle switches shows that he has picked up a trick or two worth sharing. The switches are all flea market finds, chunky beasts that have all seen better days. But old parts were built to last, and they proved sturdy enough to withstand the first step in any restoration: disassembly. Most of the switches were easily pried open, but a couple needed rivets drilled out first. The ensuing cleaning and polishing steps were pretty basic, although we liked the tips about the micromesh abrasives and the polishing compound. Another great tip was using phenolic resin PCBs as repair material for broken Bakelite bodies; they’re chemically similar, and while they may not match the original exactly, they make for a great repair when teamed up with CA glue and baking soda as a filler.

3D-printed repairs would work too, but there’s something satisfying about keeping things historically consistent. Celebrating engineering history is really what restorations like these are all about, after all. And even if you’re building something new, you can make it look retro cool with these acid-etched brass plaques that [Switch and Lever] also makes.

Read More

Minecraft becomes a board game, and the results are faithful, fantastic thumbnail

Minecraft becomes a board game, and the results are faithful, fantastic

Solid foundation —

Builders & Biomes condenses series tropes into a surprisingly fresh game.


Minecraft becomes a board game, and the results are faithful, fantastic

Sam Machkovech

I’m not shocked that the first-ever Minecraft board game is cute and fun. But this new game, made as a collaboration between video game studio Mojang and board game producer Ravensburger, has no right to be this elegant.

Minecraft: Builders & Biomes is breezy. It’s quick. It’s kid-friendly. Yet it’s full of the tricky decisions, competitive countermeasures, and three-moves-ahead plotting that can ratchet a game to the top of a diehard tabletop community’s rankings.

Best of all, it has a goofy, tactile centerpiece that feeds into the gameplay loop while also looking exactly like what you’d expect from a “Minecraft board game.” Builders & Biomes, which is out now in Europe and launches in the US on November 15, has come out of nowhere to punch my licensed-game skepticism down like a blocky, in-game tree.

Minecraft meets Jenga?

A more accurate name might have been “Minecraft: Builders & Battlers.” The object is to rack up experience points before a game-over condition is triggered, and you can do this in one of two ways: build structures or kill monsters (“mobs”). Yes, that sounds generic, and I’ll get to how those objectives run in parallel.

But any conversation about M:B&B should begin with its clever twist on resource gathering: the “block base.”

  • Here’s the fancy, official photo of the block base.

  • Here’s how it looks in real life. The blocks do stay quite stable, even as players take the blocks off one at a time through the course of play.

  • You’ll eventually grab tiles off the primary board, but in order to do so, you have to cash in the blocks you’ve picked up. Notice the bottom-right icons on the bottom-right tile? These are the tile’s cost in blocks. The other icons refer to what type of biome, material, and building type each tile has, which counts toward the scoring phases.

The game includes 64 chunky wooden blocks split into five colors: yellow (sand), brown (wood), gray (iron), black (obsidian), and green (“wild”). Dump these blocks into a cardboard sleeve until they fit together evenly, then lift the sleeve up. Presto: You now have a block base, four tall by four wide by four deep, and you will spend each session picking it apart with your hands.

In Minecraft tradition, you need to “mine” these blocks to build anything, but you can’t take a block unless it has at least three sides exposed. At the outset, that means you can only grab blocks from the top layer, and only those on its outer edge. Eventually, as more blocks are pulled away from various angles, certain blocks wedged into the middle of the structure might have three sides exposed.

You’ll want to frequently spin the block base around via an included cardboard sheet in order to see which blocks might have inadvertently opened up. Plus, be careful about which blocks you take, because with each block you remove, another block—perhaps the exact one your opponent wants—could open up with your choice out of the way.

In one more cool twist, the game’s scoring phases revolve around the block base’s four layers. On your turn, you can grab blocks from whatever layer you want (so long as the “three sides exposed” rule applies). The instant the entire top layer has been removed, one of the game’s scoring moments is triggered. The same goes for when the second and third layers have been completely whittled down; the third layer’s completion is, in fact, the game-over condition. This sometimes creates a quandary: do you rush into removing a layer’s blocks even if you’re not ready to score points and even if those blocks are useless in your building plans, just to stop other players from racking up a higher score?

Pardon my gushing, but I cannot get over how lovely the block base works in action. Its mix of spatial examination and tactile resource gathering is not just cool as a board game mechanic, but also completely on brand for the Minecraft universe. Bravo to whoever put this board gaming masterstroke together.

A family-friendly game with tough tactical decisions

  • A sample three-player game. The tiles in the middle represent a shared gameplay board, on which players move their own hero figurines. The three other sheets are each player’s personal biome grid, on which they build and place new structures in order to rack up points in the game’s three scoring phases.


    Ravensburger

  • The shared tile board at a game’s outset. Players move between the tiles, not on top of them, and this lets them potentially access or take any of four pieces at a time, should they stand at an intersection.


    Sam Machkovech

  • As you move around the board, you’ll expose the tiles. Buy the building tiles with the wooden blocks you’ve accumulated. Battle the mobs with any weapons you’ve accumulated (including the chests on the board’s edges, which require more movement to reach and pick up).


    Sam Machkovech

  • The game includes three scoring phases. At each of these, if you have contiguous, matching tiles on your personal board that match these cards’ icons, you’ll score more points.


    Sam Machkovech

That clever system is the centerpiece to an otherwise familiar resource-gathering game, albeit one where players can only perform two actions on a given turn: take two blocks from the block base, move your hero piece up to two spaces, build, fight a mob, or collect a weapon card. And you cannot perform any of those actions twice in a turn (meaning that you can’t grab four blocks and end your turn), so there’s a tension to the choices you make and what you may leave available to opponents as they follow in clockwise order.

When you move your hero piece around the board, this also lets you flip over any board tiles adjacent to your hero. Tiles can either be buildings (which you can take off the board and “build” on your personal player board by spending whatever required blocks are listed on that tile) or mobs (which you can battle using the game’s combat system).

Every player gets a personal board covered in biomes by default. You'll spend resources to take buildings off the shared game board and place them on your personal biome grid, and you can replace any biome with another. For example, if you build a mansion on a snowy tile, you can put that tile on top of a different biome. To score a bunch of snow-related points, you may need to do just that.

Enlarge / Every player gets a personal board covered in biomes by default. You’ll spend resources to take buildings off the shared game board and place them on your personal biome grid, and you can replace any biome with another. For example, if you build a mansion on a snowy tile, you can put that tile on top of a different biome. To score a bunch of snow-related points, you may need to do just that.

It’s not as simple as collecting blocks, walking up to building tiles, and spending the required resources. You’re also trying to build a perfect grid on your player board with each scoring round in mind. Each building tile has three icons: one for its biome, one for its materials, and one for its building type. Each of those icons corresponds to one of the game’s scoring rounds. When the first scoring phase is triggered, you’ll want to have as many matching biome squares on your board as possible, and they only count as a combined scoring group if they’re all touching horizontally or vertically (not diagonally). You only get to score one type of biome, not two, so you’ll have to pick your highest-scoring option.

Each player board comes with a bunch of biomes by default, so you can conceivably build only one or two buildings to connect matching biomes (desert, forest, mountain, or snow). But certain biomes are worth more than others, and the more valuable ones require trickier build patterns. You’ll have to cover existing biomes with new ones to, say, chain together the snow biome in an all-squares-touching pattern. And, of course, opponents can keep an eye on what you’re plotting as they too move around the board, pick up the block base’s resources, and snap up limited tiles on the shared board.

After the first scoring phase ends, you’ll receive experience points. Then you have only so much time to lay down new tiles that fulfill the second and third scoring rounds’ conditions: matching materials (sand, wood, iron, etc.), and then matching building types (house, mob lair, bridge, etc.).

Win with mob mentality

  • Weapon cards are smaller than the rest of the tiles. But they’re just as important.

  • More weapon cards. However many you have, you’ll draw three per battle and hope that you draw more useful cards (swords, TNT) than worthless ones (poison potatoes). The tiny icons on those weapon cards indicate that you can use an additional weapon card or get other perks.

There’s also the matter of combat, which requires spending your limited actions per turn in a completely different manner. If your hero piece is next to a mob on the board of tiles, it can initiate combat. This works by having players shuffle a blind deck of weapons, then drawing three of its cards to reveal how much damage is done. Succeed, and you take the mob’s tile and reap the bonuses listed on the card. Fail, and you simply lose that action (and must wait until the next round to fight again). Sometimes, killing a mob just rewards you with experience points. Other times, you get an end-of-game experience point bonus based on how many tiles you have with certain biomes, materials, or building types. There’s even mob tiles that you can spend to perform one more action on a given turn, which you can either use immediately or save for later. In either case, these bonus moves let you repeat an action during one turn. Pretty handy.

Your default hand of combat cards is terrible, however, so you’ll have to move your hero piece to the very edges of the board to pick up additional combat cards if you want to get anywhere with combat. (Considering what some of those mob tiles give out as end-of-game bonuses, you’ll want to seriously consider doing so.) Some of these simply make you more powerful; others grant experience-point bonuses to your combat victories.

But doing this means spending your valuable, limited actions on things like movement and weapon pickups. And that’s tough because you keep seeing useful building tiles emerge a few steps away, and you also see your so-called “best friend” whittling down the block base to possibly trigger a scoring round before you’ve built a perfect grid on your player board. C’mon, Stacy. Don’t be a jerk.

So what do you do? Build? Fight? Take blocks? And how will each of those narrow choices hinder or help your opponents? Instead of taking blocks in a way that will give your M:B&B neighbor a neat path to a green-colored “wild” block, which can be used to fulfill any building tile’s requirement, you might be better off pivoting to combat. By restricting players to two actions per turn, and making its board just big enough to require three turns to run from one end to the other, Mojang and Ravensburger can serve up a lot of strategic anxiety with a simple, focused variety of choices.

The result is one of the best gateway board games I’ve ever seen, in terms of giving kids and board-gaming novices alike a mix of familiar characters and accessible options before setting them down wild paths of strategic possibility. That being said, M:B&B‘s strategic core hinges on the key decision of “do I build, or do I battle?” The game is elegantly built to make the most of this two-choice core, but I could see some gaming groups yawning at its current focus. But then, as soon as I think of that issue, I immediately imagine a future expansion adding a variable or two to the current, solid formula.

Thanks to the game’s tile-based board, its expansion possibilities seem pretty huge, and I’m hopeful that the game can eventually grow beyond its four-player limit as well. For now, at least, M:B&B is a no-brainer recommendation for any family in search of a good 3- or 4-player game to share, not to mention a solid, 45-minute addition to a grown-up board gaming group’s shelf.

Read More