I got back from Austin on Sunday.
For five days or so, I’d been there for the World Horror Convention. Now, before it starts to sound like I’m bitching about wasting my time, let me give you some perspective: First, I had fooled myself into thinking that there would be more movie-related and esoteric stuff there - things to look at, things to touch and listen to. Turns out, the convention was predominantly for horror writers. “Awesome, Will,” you say, ” Aren’t you trying to sell an agent or an editor on your horror novel?” Well, yeah. And that particular part of the following story is the happier part. But I really, really, really wanted to drink beer in Austin and watch horror movies all night. And maybe see some cool costumes. Now, I cannot fault the WHC for these omissions - it’s entirely my fault for not doing more research into what it’s all about - but even as I can’t fault them, I can’t help but be disappointed. Feh. I’ll know next time.
Second, I have come to mostly despise “writers’ conferences”. Except for the potential exposure to agents and editors, and the occasional appearance of a writer I absolutely love (in this case it was Peter Straub), I find most writers’ conferences to be an exercise in jockeying for attention and the repetition of a lot of stuff that I already know. (I may not act on this knowledge, sometimes to my detriment, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard 99% of it before. I don’t need another workshop on setting my scene or building my tension. Thanks.)
I need to note before I piss them off that the Aspen Summer Words Retreat last year proved to be an exception to this rule. I had a great time there, and I learned more than I have in a long time.
But again, I didn’t really want to go to yet another writers’ conference, even if it was for horror fiction specifically. Hell, for reasons I choose not to disclose in this public forum, I gotta say that the fact that it was a conference for horror fiction actually made it even less attractive.
So yeah, I felt like I was wasting a lot of time. It didn’t help that I’d just published a small short story collection on Kindle, and was trying to get it published on Nook and iPad as well, when all my efforts got interrupted. I didn’t have a laptop with me, so I left home unsure if the formatting on Kindle looked good, unable to finish getting the other HTML versions done, and incapable of adequately marketing and selling any of the versions. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should be doing in that regard, and mostly helpless to do it.
It also didn’t help that 6th and 7th Street in Austin were kind of far from the hotel. That’s where most of the bars and music venues are in the city, and they were a $20 cab ride away. So if I wanted to go downtown to hang out, I had to make a day trip of it. I did go down there - Thursday and Friday nights - but it would have been nice to be able to flit back and forth at my leisure. My best buddy Jay’s moving to Austin, so next time I’m there I’m staying at the Hilton, where he works.
Still, I was there for five days, and if you know me, then you know that I made the best of it. I always do. First, I got to see my old friend Deb Pagell. She moved to Austin about 4 or 5 years ago, and it was good to see her. While I was hanging with her and her cool, cool friends, I got to try a local IPA from Live Oak Brewing. It… was… awesome. I can imagine that it would become fairly average if it was bottled and shipped to Georgia. But in Austin, just around the corner from where it was brewed, it was so fresh and hoppy and delicious that I fell instantly in love.
I also got a chance to run over to Great Hall Games, a gaming store on North Lamar that made me miss the good old days in Atlanta when The Atlanta Game Factory and The War Room were open. Sure, I play games a lot despite not having a physical gaming store to visit, but there’s just something so enticing about playing in a place like that, surrounded by games. Great Hall Games also had an impressive array of loose bits - cubes, pawns, “meeples”, chips, cards - that you could buy to replace missing parts from your games. Or, if you’re like me and you fancy maybe designing a game or two, well, you can put together a nice set without having to “borrow” bits from your existing games. Loose bits = great idea. They sell them on their web site.
The hotel I stayed in, though too far away from downtown, was still great. The food and service was excellent, the room comfortable and big. The thing that really sold me though was that all the inner rooms had glass paneled double doors which opened onto a cloistered walkway, which in turn overlooked a spiffy courtyard and a swimming pool. The first night I was there, before the convention crowd actually arrived, I hung out on the walkway reading a book, drinking whiskey, smoking a good cigar, and feeling the spring breezes blow. What a great night - and then I got to go to sleep without an alarm clock to wake me up.
Finally, I did mention that there was some happiness involving my meetings with the editors and agents who attended the convention. I don’t want to get my hopes up or jinx myself, so I’m not going to go into great details here - just suffice it to say that those particular experiences made my day, and might make going to the World Horror Convention next year truly worthwhile.
I’ll keep you posted on that.
Just the other day as I was sending a fleet of spaceships to assault my opponent’s Home System, I thought about all those tiny little aliens that I was sending to their doom. Sure, I had weighed the balances, and knew I had overwhelming numbers and firepower. I knew that I would win the battle, and I knew that what I was doing would ultimately bring peace and prosperity to the universe. Still, for some reason I had a little niggle bothering me, because - win or not - lots of little imaginary space aliens were going to get blown to bits or killed in the vacuum of space.
Apparently my buddy Jason Snape has felt similarly.
For more of Jason’s work, go here.
You know, it’s been a while since I posted anything about the stuff I like. Except games. I suppose I HAVE posted a few things about the gaming phenomenon, but in those posts I really didn’t tell you anything about the games I’ve been enjoying of late. So let’s rectify that, shall we? Last week here in the United States we celebrated Thanksgiving, and during that slow and thank-filled day, I had time to reflect on some of the things I was enjoying. The things I am, in fact, thankful for. And now, whether you want to read all about it or not, I’m gonna share. Indeed, here are some of the things that Will Kenyon is digging these days- the things I’m drinking, watching, reading, playing, and listening to.
Beer and Booze
1) A few weeks ago, I was at Midway Pub in East Atlanta and got to hang out with some of the promotional reps of some of my favorite breweries, including Terrapin out of Athens, GA. That’s how I heard about the drop the next day of Terrapin’s So Fresh & So Green, Green. I really like fresh hop beers, so naturally I went to Green’s the next day and picked up a bottle. Holy shit. There are a lot of fresh hop beers running around on the market today, but the in-your face greenness of this beer’s aroma and flavor is the best I’ve ever had. If you want to know that the stuff you’re drinking truly comes from God’s green Earth, then this is your beer. Of course, it’s sold out across Atlanta, so that one bottle’s all I’m gonna get for a while.
2) I tweeted about this next one right after I had a bottle. And believe me, as good as it is, one bottle’s all you need of Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée Imperial Milk Stout. Hell, it’s like a dessert - you might not want more than a small glass. But you’ll want it, oh yes, you will. It’s in limited supply, and it’s probably gone by now, but if you see it anywhere, have some. Skip the tiramisu or the cake and have the crème brûlée instead. IT TASTES JUST LIKE THE ACTUAL DESSERT. And it’ll get you drunk, too, so that’s a bonus.
3) Eddie lives down the street. I’ve known Eddie for 10 years. Eddie and I have remained friends despite some trepidation and some serious falling outs. And now, Eddie has notched an enormous amount of respect from me, because Eddie is doing something I’ve only ever talked about. He’s opening his own store and selling something he has a passion for: beer. Eddie Holley is indeed one of the very few people I know who is more into beer than I am, and now, because of him, I have a new place to go for my beer adventures, and a new guide to show me the way. Ale Yeah! Craft Beer Market opens this week, folks. I’ll be among the first in line. If not the first. You should be the second.
Books and Literature
4) Last June I met Colum McCann at a writing festival. He had just won the National Book Award for Let The Great World Spin, and he turned out to be a cool cat, so when I got back home to Atlanta, I bought his book and put it on my bedside table. It sat there through the summer while I finished up a few books already in the queue. Then, about a month ago I picked it up and started reading. Ironically, you’d think something so beautiful and rich would be like candy to a baby - that I’d read the whole thing in a couple of days. But no. It’s taken me over a month. This bothered me at first, but then I realized why I’m taking such an inordinate amount of time with this particular book.
I don’t want it to end.
5) I haven’t started Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book yet (see above), but it’s next in the queue and I’m giddy for it. I’m so ready to start Gaiman’s latest children’s book (although I’ve been told that some of the concepts are WAY above children’s heads, and that some of it’s downright scary) that I may start reading it alongside McCann’s book. I’ve been know to simultaneous read like that before. This might be a time for it. I love Neil Gaiman. He doesn’t know this, probably doesn’t know who I am from Adam, but he’s a friend of mine.
6) Twenty-two people are reading MY book right now. Some of those people are agents and editors. Most of them are my friends. I’m excited to hear what each and every one of them have to say about The Talented Boys. Is it as over-the-top as I think it is? Is it as quirky as David Wong’s John Dies At The End? Is it a page-turner? Did I get the characters right? How was that sex scene? Did my changes at the end work? Was it scary? Gross? Funny? Pins and needles, people, pins and needles.
7 & 8 ) I have some friends who play a lot of different games. In truth, I don’t actually play that many, at least compared to them - although the average person not initiated into the world of gaming might say my 300 or so games is a lot. Still, when I find a game I like, I tend to be loyal to it, and while I’m always looking for something new and cool to try out, I never fear busting out an old standby and playing the shit out of it. Many of my games are worn thin - I’m currently wearing out my third copy of Twilight Imperium.
Two newish games have emerged in the past weeks as being top of the heap for me, though. I’ll move on to my favorite standby in a moment. For now, allow me to introduce you to Glory To Rome and Innovation - two CARD games that hit that sweet spot for me. In Glory To Rome you’re a Roman Senator trying to rebuild burned buildings, all for the glory of Rome (and since you win the game by having the most influnce, it’s also for the self-serving purpose of asserting your power over your constituents and fellow Senators). In Innovation - which has, appropriately enough, a fairly innovative mechanic - you’re a society trying to build your scientific and societal strengths. I’ve heard it said that it’s Civilization stripped down to just the tech tree, and that seems accurate enough of a summation.
9) My favorite standby at the moment is Railroad Tycoon. I took it down to my mom’s house for Thanksgiving in the hopes of playing it with my brother and sister-in-law and… my daughter Madeleine. It didn’t get played, and the hole that omission left in me was remarkable enough to, well, remark upon. I DID get to play it this weekend with my friends Jim and Ken, and now I just want to play it again and again. I am really anxious to play it with Mad.
And… crap. This post’s already exceeding the word count I like to maintain with my posts. So I suppose I’ll have to sign off for now and hold my choices in Movies, Music, and Television (numbers 10 through 15!) until next time. Which will be soon, I assure you. Maybe tomorrow, probably Tuesday. In the meantime, digest what I’ve said - consider these things my recommendations, and if you think I might have any modicum of taste, check ‘em out. Except the Terrapin, of course. It’s sold out, so we’re all out of luck there.
Hmm. Maybe Eddie can hook me up.
OK. So either I’m a hobby trendsetter, or I’m just getting homogenized - absorbed into common culture like some rock and roll sell-out or obscure cartoon from the 80s.
Either way, my hobby of choice - boardgaming - has made it to the shelves of Barnes & Nobles across our country, as evidenced by the photo you see above.
It’s my somewhat educated opinion that everybody needs a hobby. EVERYBODY, although I have observed that women can subsist a little while longer without one. Us guys, however - we NEED to be under a car, in a deer stand, in a stadium, in front of a video game, or rolling some dice at some point every week or so. Otherwise we turn to booze and drugs and wanton sexual partners (although admittedly, THOSE count as hobbies for some of us).
I’ve tried my hand at several hobbies over the years: I liked combustion engines… until I took apart my Dad’s lawnmower when I was a teenager - and forgot to put the new gaskets on it when I put it back together. Dad’s reaction to the sound of the lawnmower grinding to an explosive halt discouraged further mechanical pursuits.
I tried hunting. Fuck that. More power to you guys who park your asses in below-freezing weather for hours, waiting on the POSSIBILITY of a deer happening by, but it’s not for me. I like sleeping in. I like being warm. And I’m not awfully fond of venison anyway….
Ultimately, I settled on gaming - games of chance, games of strategy, games of negotiation, games of skill. I love all of it to some degree - everything from Chess to Blackjack, from Advanced Civilization to fucking Jenga.
Many of you who knew me way back when may remember how me and some of the other guys in school used to get together and hang out every weekend. There was Thomas, Greg, Jimmy, Ray, Eric, Brian, Robbie, Jason, Robert, Michael, Allen, Curtis, and Jim Tom. Occasionally we did stupid teenage things like convincing one kid (not a kid on that list, I’m pretty sure) to participate in a masturbation marathon - only he started and we didn’t…. And then there was the time Greg more or less set his ass on fire by farting into a space heater. But mostly, we sat around my Mom and Dad’s dining room table for hours and played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
What you probably DON’T know is that I kept playing role-playing games through college (with Jay, Kevin, Bugsy, Ray, Thomas, and a few others) and on into graduate school (with Joe, Scott, Jennifer, Kym, Dang, Z, and Mark). Then, sometime in grad school, I discovered collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and Vampire. I played THOSE for a few years, and then I switched almost exclusively to board games. I’d played board games here and there before - and not just stuff like Monopoly and Risk. I’d played Talisman, Magic Realm, Axis and Allies, Diplomacy, Civilization. Still, when I started AVIDLY playing board games about 10 years ago, I was a relative babe in the woods -and my new-found hobby was relatively small.
I don’t know exactly WHY board games are becoming more and more popular and “mainstream”, although I think it may have something to do with the huge success of Settlers of Catan. I CAN hazard a guess at why they’re catching on more solidly than role-playing games and collectible card games.
One - they’re finite in time and scope, even the long ones. You don’t need to prepare a strategy ahead of time; you don’t need to collect a bunch of cards; you don’t need to play act or read volumes of rule books and monster compendiums.
Two - there are themes that match almost every interest. Do you like sci fi or fantasy? Yes, there are games on those themes. (Duh.) Do you like history? There are historical games. Do you like fast cars and loose women? Indeed - there are games along those themes as well.
Three - the sheer number of mechanics, levels of difficulty, and session lengths means that there’s a game for just about everybody - from the complete idiot that lives down the street in his mom’s basement to the wizened old genius with the whispy head of hair and the liver spots to my eight-year-old daughter. No matter who you are, there’s very likely a game YOU WILL LIKE.
Whatever the case, this thing that I’ve been doing for several years is catching on. In cities across the world, there are gaming conventions and get-togethers every week. The attendance at such game-centric events as GenCon, Origins, Essen, and the World Boardgaming Championships is on the rise. In Atlanta itself, where I live, I’ve watched as the number of people I COULD game with on a DAILY basis has risen from maybe five to upwards of several hundred.
Yes. Several hundred. The diversity and enthusiasm of boardgamers in Atlanta is staggering.
And now, there’s this shelf in Barnes & Noble.
There’s been board game shelves there for years, but only on occasion would you see a game like those pictured above. Mostly, the shelves were dominated by the old stand-bys - Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, Chess, and Trivial Pursuit - and by party games like Pictionary and Scattergories. You can imagine my excitement to see these games available for purchase by the masses - the uninitiated, the “common man.”
These games, by the way, are what I’m referencing by this post’s title (that and the fact that I MIGHT be a trend-setting pioneer - a leader of the pack, as it were). The games you see pictured there are YOUR best bet for finding something enticing in this hobby of mine that might make you get together with friends on some weekend night, sit around the table with some beer or tequila or weed, throw some dice, flip some cards, shoot the shit, and have a grand old time.
My personal favorites from among those pictured:
In the top right, you will see a bunch of Munchkin variants. Munchkin is a silly, whimsical card game with very low strategy and funny art. It’s good to play with kids, although sometimes the games get a little long and tedious.
Dominating the shelves to the left are a bunch of Settlers of Catan variants and expansions. This is THE game to try if you just want to dabble. In case you missed the link above, here it is again - the popularity of Catan is quite possibly why shelves like this are popping up.
Next to Settlers is Dominion. Another card game, but one PACKED with strategy and variety of game play. This one hits our table so much there’s Dominion-shaped grooves in it.
At the bottom left is Cosmic Encounter, an old game that’s being reprinted and finding a brand new audience in the 21st century. The reason why is because the game is amazing in its variety and replayability. Just don’t take games of Cosmic seriously.
Finally, next to Cosmic Encounter is Arkham Horror, a cooperative strategy game designed by my friend “Tricky” Richard Launius, an Atlanta-based game designer with a couple of hits under his belt - including Arkham. The story-telling aspect of Arkham Horror is absolutely fascinating.
So. As of this writing, it’s Tuesday. The weekend’s coming. May I make a suggestion regarding what to do?
Well, the weekend certainly didn’t go the way I thought it would.
Ordinarily, when you hear a statement like that, you figure something went wrong. Terribly wrong. But in this case… I THOUGHT the weekend would be fun, tiring, and full. I had no idea it would be so great that it would make the days before seem like a red blur and the days after seem like a gray haze.
On Thursday, I got there with my children - Madeleine and Eli - in tow. The Con had not officially started yet, but all my friends were slowly converging on the downtown Atlanta hotels where everything would take place - the Hyatt, the Sheraton, the Marriott, and the Hilton. In the galleria of the Hilton (downstairs), I met up with my friends Tae and Charlie, and we set up some Heroscape terrain so that Madeleine and Tae’s son could wail on each other with painted plastic miniatures and some dice. That went on for a couple of hours, and then my wife Aida came and took the kids home. After that, the place started filling up, and soon I was drinking beer and playing games (specifically RuneWars) as planned. I left at about 1 in the morning, went home, and climbed into bed to charge up for day 2.
Friday consisted of a morning full of logistical movement. If I have any complaints about Dragon*Con and my status as a Dragon*Con volunteer, it’s that I have to do all this logistical movement. You see, I supply the Con with a number of games, and before I get to sit down and start playing, I have to haul all my games to the library, check them in, and make sure my checklist matches what’s on the shelves.
I’d complain, but when I hear horror stories of how long the lines are to get entry badges into the Con, I thank the powers that be and throw another game onto the cart.
The rest of Friday went the way I expected: I played a bunch of games, started making a dent in my cooler of beer, met some new people, had loads of fun with the people I already knew. Then I stumbled upstairs to the room I was going to share with my best bud Jay Elgin, and crashed.
Another part of what I do at Dragon*Con is run these outrageously huge games of Twilight Imperium. On Saturday and Sunday, that’s what I was scheduled to do. So at noon Saturday, I laid out the map of the game - you can see Seth Rogen playing it at the top of this post - and laid into 9 or 10 hours of galactic conquest and political negotiation. I’m not gonna bore you with a blow by blow of the game - it bores me a little to think about it in retrospect. In sum: the Muaat player played like a kid hitting a piñata, Seth Rogen played the Xxcha, Kevin didn’t win and I did. Oh, and Jay rolled dice like shit.
After the game, I started drinking more beer - THIS time in celebration, not of my victory but of my impending… birthday. That’s right, folks. On September 5th, 2010, while attending the largest science fiction and fantasy convention in the United States, I turned 40. And THAT is where the weekend diverged from my expectations.
I only told a handful of people - maybe 20 - that it was my birthday. But between word of mouth and people overhearing other people wishing me well, I couldn’t go anywhere in the Hilton without someone lauding my nativity. Now I kinda know how Jesus feels on Christmas. A lot of Saturday night/Sunday morning is a jumble, but I remember singing Silversun Pickups in the Rock Band room. I remember Mike Barnes’s entourage following me to the Rock Band room, only to get kicked out because they were drinking. I remember a longish conversation with my buddy Peter about how much we like Dogfish Head - although he likes Palo Santo and I don’t. I remember that Jennifer Sellman left her ID at Hooters, and I remember Eddie’s truck.
That’s about it. All else was a fantastic mish mash of Happy Birthdays, smiles, and costumed maniacs.
Then came Sunday. Again, I stumbled down to set up Twilight Imperium. But then something awesome happened: while I was setting up the game and collecting entry fees, up rolled a cart surrounded by a large group of people. And on top of that cart was a huge birthday cake, baked in the shape of a game of TI. The next thing I know, 60 or 70 people are singing the Happy Birthday song to me while several hundred more look on, all likely wondering what the hell was happening.
Was I A) surprised B) blown away C) touched so much that I had to fight back tears (crying in front of bunch of geeks would be BAD, BAD)?
The answer is D: all of the above.
My friends from Americus - Elizabeth, Ray, and Stephanie - made me the best birthday cake I’ve ever had, and with the help of Jay served it up to me and the Con in a flourish that would make Siegfried and Roy envious. I was and still am without adequate words to describe how I felt that moment, and how I still feel today, even though Dragon*Con is over (until next year!) and even though I’m a little bit sad and a lot sick (the cold Eli gave me is raging still). They say that your 40th birthday is often somehow very special. And I thought mine would be, since I’d be celebrating it during one of my favorite times of the year. But the outpouring of love and generosity and friendship that I received both humbled me greatly and filled me with immense pride. An irony I think you can understand without me going into detail.
So I won’t. Instead, I’ll end this post with a general thank you to everyone who wished me well on Sunday, and then a little shout out - kind of like the ones you see on the jackets of CD covers - for a few well-deserving, specific people.
To Elizabeth, Ray, Stephanie, and Jay: You made my day. You made my Con. You might have made my year.
To Chris: I know you wanted to sit down with me and enjoy some quiet conversation. I’m sorry it proved impossible, and I promise we’ll do it. And yes, you can buy.
To Phil and Omarr: Thanks for all the opportunities. I’ll see you guys next year.
To Tae and Charlie: Didn’t see you to say good-bye. So, good-bye and I’ll see you in January (at the latest).
To Kevin, Jay, Sean, Ray, Steve, Joshua, Garand, Alex, Travis, Jonathan, Allen, Vince, James, and Robert: The game is great, but it’s people like you that make me want to play it so much.
To Jerry and Jeff: You frakkin’ toasters!
To Peter: You owe me a beer. I think.
To Eddie: Next time, I’m gonna figure out a way to put it in neutral and let it roll backwards a few yards.
To Brian: You never gave me your keys back.
To Jennifer and her friend: Did you see the show? I bailed. Did you get your ID?
To Freitag: The offer is there. You pull an all-nighter, you get in free.
To Aida, Madeleine, and Eli: Someday you’ll really share this with me. I look forward to it.
To the Con organizers: Mail the damn badges already. So what if a few get counterfeited? You’re making boatloads of money, and one day you’re gonna have a fatality in those obscenely long lines. Will it be worth it?
To that fat girl who made the comment about gamers while we were waiting for the elevator: I’m a gamer, and I know why you can’t get laid at Con.
To the kid who just walked up and helped himself to a piece of cake: Sure, go ahead.
To anyone I’m forgetting: Thank you, bless you, may the Force be with you, nanoo nanoo, live long and prosper, go forth and multiply.
I was going to insert the Dragon*Con logo as the introductory image for this particular post, but when I did an image search for Dragon*Con, this popped up, and it wowed me so much I HAD to use it. Whoever this young lady is, she’s awesome. And I’m sure I saw her in passing at some point during my many years of attending Dragon*Con, but there’s sooo many people at the Con and sooo much to see, well… I probably saw her and didn’t think much of it. But this picture. Wow.
In a recent post I said I was “flailing around”, trying to figure out what to write about. And then a couple of days ago while I was in the shower, it dawned on me that Dragon*Con was right around the corner and that I could write about it!
I get a lot of ideas in the shower.
Anyway, Dragon*Con starts TODAY, and it is fully my intention to give you my immediate impressions through Tweets and Facebook posts. I’ll post pictures, too. Last year, I’d vowed to be diligent regarding my “journalistic” approach to the Con, and I failed utterly - I just got so distracted by how FUCKING FUN it is that I let the journalism slide. This year will be better, because I have better resources for keeping connected - laptop, smart phone, etc.
The immediacy of today’s technology astounds me. Perhaps even more than the picture of the vampire nurse does.
As an appetizer for my future broadcasts, let me start by saying that it is possible that Dragon*Con is my favorite five days out of every year. My friend Eddie says it’s his, hands down, but he doesn’t have kids at Christmas and stuff like that. Still, the more I think about it, the more I think he may be onto something. Kids at Christmas are fun. But not Dragon*Con FUN.
It also helps that this year, my birthday falls on the Sunday of the Con, and that this is one of those special birthdays for me.
So here we go. Introductory post. And yeah, I’m gonna be shameless: it’s my birthday party, folks. Buy me presents.
First day in Raleigh, North Carolina. Second day in Baltimore. Third day in upstate New York. Fourth day back in Baltimore. Last day… home.
I had a great time, but I’m not going to say much about it, because I’m ready to get back to the grind. I have a novel to edit, a game to design (yep), and two children to entertain.
Plus, I want to share a short story with you next post, and I owe you a podcast.
Many thanks to: Aaron and Cecelia Tubbs, Janet Smith, Michael Buccheri, Zev Schlasinger, and Steve Avery. You guys rock!!!
Yeah, I just got back from Aspen as well as from a few days at my parents’ house, and here I am again - gearing up, planning, and sort of packing for ANOTHER trip. I’m gonna give you guys a heads up here so that those of you among my readers who give a crap about my crazy gaming adventures will have something to look forward to.
This time around, my friend Steve “Holt” Avery and I are going on a gaming road trip up the East Coast, just stopping in on friends we have along the way to trounce them in the various games we love and misunderstand the rules to. I’m dragging my laptop along, AGAIN, and hopefully the WiFi in the various stops we make will be vastly superior to that which encountered in Aspen and at Mom’s. That way, I can maybe periodically Tweet or Facebook or even blog about our experiences.
Here’s the itinerary.
Friday, July 9th - Drive from Atlanta to Raleigh, NC and stay with our friends Cecelia and Aaron and their new baby. They just moved there, so I don’t know how settled they are in their house. And I don’t know if the baby’s sleeping through the night yet. It ought to be interesting. I estimate we’ll probably be relatively tame, since it’s our first day out and we’re probably gonna play some lighter, Euro-y games. And since there’s a baby….
Saturday, July 10th - To Baltimore to throw down with Michael “Malloc” Buccheri and his stud farm, which includes Peter Putnam, Rob Olsson, and fucking Ben Stephenson. Malloc has promised a fully stocked fridge, including a celebratory Dogfish Head 120 Minute for me, and we’re definitely playing Twilight Imperium. So I’ll probably get to the early morning hours from the wrong side.
Sunday, July 11th - STEVE will drive. I WILL not be driving, I don’t think, to Mahopac, NY, where dwells the illustrious gaming guru Zev Schlasinger, purveyor of the mighty Z-Man Games. Zev’s having lots of people over and we’re gonna play even MORE games - although I don’t know who’ll be able to stay up late considering that the next day’s a Monday. And I don’t know how I’ll be feeling….
Monday-Tuesday, July 12th & 13th - We will return home. Like hobbits who’ve just destroyed the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, we will come back victorious and wiser, but with scars and wounds that may never heal.
So look for my updates on Twitter and Facebook and here.
I’ll have another “literary” post up on Friday - either a podcast or a short story - but after that, this trip will take precedence.
This past weekend I had the opportunity – as I often do – to do two of my favorite things simultaneously: drink delicious American microbrew beers and play board games. This time around, though, was a little different, because I’m gonna blog about what I played and what I drank.
Read this, dear reader, and it’ll be like you were there.
One reason why I feel like blogging about last weekend was because of all the new things I was trying – new beers AND new games.
So… last Thursday I drove to Kennesaw, which is far, far away from where I actually live; I did this because in Kennesaw I can get my games at a discount. Two of the games I picked up were Thebes and Ad Astra, two “Euro” style games, one of which I like a lot and the other which I was curious about since I like the game designers. Those who know me know that neither of these games are typical of what I enjoy. But if you keep reading, you’ll understand why I bought these games which are so far afield of what I usually like.
While I was in Kennesaw, I decided to stop off at Total Wine and More and buy a 6-count variety pack of beer. Summer just ended, as you know, and autumn is my favorite time for beer, since a lot of good fall and winter beers get released, and its Octoberfest season. Plus, I’d been floundering around all summer trying to find something crisp and light and tasty (i.e. summery!), and realizing that I don’t really like crisp and light and tasty – I prefer dark and heady and tasty.
So I ended up buying a variety of stouts, porters, and pale ales, some of which I’ve had before, some of which I haven’t. I took these beers home, stuck them in the refrigerator, and started opening up my new games. By Saturday the beers were chilled, all the games punched and organized, and all the rules read.
Saturday I sat down with my friends Jay, Eddie, and Freitag and laid into both the games and the beer. We had a grand old time, but that’s beside the point – at least the point I want to make here. Instead, here’s a blow by blow rundown of several of the beers I drank as well as three of the games we played.
Beer #1 - Left Hand Imperial Stout: Imperial stouts are my drink of choice this year – I like the richness of them, the way the beer lingers in your mouth (beer aficionados would call this chewiness), the complexity of flavors available in a beer this rich. So by default, I like Left Hand’s entry into this genre. I will say, though, that this beer is actually lighter than many of its counterparts. So if you’re looking for a more full version of an imperial stout, this isn’t it. But for those who like lighter beers, this might be something you enjoy more than say, a Yeti or even a Rasputin.
Beer #2 - Great Divide St. Bridget’s Porter: Speaking of Yeti, this beer is from the fine purveyors of that most auspicious beverage ( my current favorite). But this one? Not so good for me. You have to understand, though, that THIS IS A MATTER OF TASTE. While I like richer beers, and I dig licorice hints, berry hints, chocolate hints, I don’t like charcoal. I can tolerate a certain level of charcoal-y flavor, but when it gets overbearing, I get turned off. Now, overbearing to me might not be the same as it is to you – for instance, I know that Eddie is much more tolerant of “charcoal” than I am. Keep that in mind. Try this beer and taste for yourself.
Game #1 - Chaos In The Old World: I actually didn’t buy this one – Eddie brought it over at our request. CITOW is a game based on the Warhammer universe – a place I’ve avoided by avoiding miniature gaming and the Warhammer card game. But the premise for this game – that you are one of the old powers of chaos vying for control over the ruination of the world – and the attractiveness of the game components, made me want to try it.
I’m glad I did. The game is pretty simple, and the strategies don’t run very deep, so the time it takes to play – an hour or two – works well. There’s decent variety/replayability in the fact that each “power” approaches his victory in a different manner. Also, it’s one of those games where you have to start wailing on people as soon as you’re out of the gate, so no “turtling” or inadvertent “cold wars.”
It’s fast-paced, it seems balanced, it’s highly interactive, and it’s fun. As games should be. I didn’t buy it last Thursday. But I will.
Beer #3 – Tommyknocker Pick Axe: It boasts on the label that it’s a pale ale, and I guess that’s what it is. But what an unusual pale ale. It has all the trappings of a typical ale of this variety – hoppiness barely offset by the malt, a full front and a kick to the finish. But lemme tell you about that finish: it’s fruity, which is way unusual. And in this case, really good. This was my favorite new beer of the evening – I like Mountain Dew, and with this beer, I got my lemon-lime on. Sort of.
Game #2 – Ad Astra: It’s made by Fantasy Flight, and the premise is that you’re a sub-race of human who’s out exploring space, since our sun is dying. But all similarities to the space-faring “Ameritrash” games that I enjoy ends there. This is a worker placement, resource management, and tile exploration game – a Euro in disguise. A Euro in space.
Fooled me. I bought it.
Still, I enjoyed it, as I typically enjoy most “European” games the first time I play them. At least it’s not scripted – there’s no set move you have to make in order to optimize your position. And one really cool thing is that the “worker placement” aspect, which is actually the placement of a series of cards, is done in secret – a la orders in Diplomacy and A Game of Thrones. So you can’t know what someone else is planning – you can only anticipate. That makes things interesting….
Ad Astra will get played, but I don’t think it has the replayability of more varied games.
Beer # 4 - Dogfish Head Midas Touch: Dogfish Head is a brewery that is constantly experimenting with recipes, and this is no exception.
This beer – which isn’t really a beer, but more of cross between a mead and wine – comes from “ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas.” The bottom line for me is that it’s really sweet, which makes it something I won’t drink too much of in a night. But BECAUSE it has such an unusual and full flavor, one or two Midas Touches make an excellent addition to an evening of drinking.
Game #3 – Thebes: When I tell people I like Thebes they say: “But it’s a Euro!”
Oops. You know, I guess I should post an explanation of what is meant by “Euro” and “Ameritrash”. So go here, read this thread started by my friend Matt Thrower, and I think you’ll get it.
Thebes is not a Euro by my definition. You’re not trying to build to the next level of civilization. You’re not placing workers or choosing roles to optimize your resources and constructs. You ARE gathering resources, but they aren’t bricks or hay or cow turds. They’re books and knowledge, which help you to eventually travel to one of 5 archaeological sites and dig in the dirt.
And here’s where the game varies from most other games I’ve seen – you have to maximize your “dig” potential – but regardless of how much digging you do, luck has to play a factor. You see, when you “dig”, you actually pull tiles out of a bag. Those tiles MIGHT have treasures on them. They MIGHT be empty. I’ve seen players go to the bag, draw 3 tiles, and score 14 points. And I’ve seen players go to the bag, draw 12! tiles, and all of them were dirt.
I love that shit.
Would it be too “punny” to say I dig it?
So there you have it: some beers I recommend for your drinking pleasure (and maybe one I don’t), and some games I think everybody who even remotely likes games ought to try.
These are a few of my favorite things….