I just got back from a trip I used to make more regularly - to New York City, home of one of my alma maters and the place I lived for a chunk of the 1990s.
This time I also went to Connecticut (I went to Connecticut last time I visited New York as well, back in November, but I didn’t write about it for some reason) to see some friends that I’ve made through gaming: the “Fantastic” family, Josh Look, Bernie Frick, Jeff Luce, Michael Fralish, Peter “Tootsie” Putnam, Al and Shellie Rose, and Zev “Z-man” Schlesinger.
A lot happened. Many games got played, many beers and bottles of liquor and cups of coffee got drunk, many good times were had. Josh Look killed six or seven banshees with his car. Strangely, though, as I sat down and decided what to write about regarding last week’s excursion, I came up with the following three things. These aren’t game session accounts, or tales of drunken bawdiness, or even shout outs to people I met and will only see when I head up north again. But these are the things I’ve been thinking about now that I’m home.
New York’s Lack of Color
Isn’t New York supposed to be one of the most fashionable cities in the world? If so, then what’s with the decades old INSISTENCE on wearing black from head to toe? Did I wear that much black when I lived there?
It’s been many, many years since I lived in New York City, and recently quite a length of time passed between visits. At the same time, I’ve added color to my wardrobe - specifically different shades of blue, gray, and green, which are colors that look good on me (as does black). When I got out of my cab near Times Square last Wednesday, wearing my subdued but definitely blue sweater, my blue jeans, and my light blue shirt, I must have stood out. Around me was a sea of black, punctuated only occasionally by people who dared wear something else. Sure, their cuts and fabrics and weaves were fashionable and modern. But everything was black. And unlike every other time I visited New York, and unlike the years I lived there, I noticed. In other towns across our great nation, they say again and again that X and Y are the “new black.” Apparently, no one told New York.
Now, I like New York as a city much more than I like Atlanta, but now I have to say that at least Atlanta has people dressed in all the colors of the rainbow. And I rather like the variety.
The Cigarette Generation
We were sitting on the couch in Matt Loter’s mom’s house on Thursday when Matt made an off-handed comment. I’ll paraphrase: “Man, the generation before us - everybody smoked. Now, even though people smoke, it’s NOTHING like they did before.” For some reason, that struck me.
He’s right, you know. When I think about how many people I know who smoked when I was a kid, it’s overwhelming. No one thought anything of it, even when it came out about how bad smoking was for you. People just shrugged and said, “Quitting smoking is more difficult than the crap I’m going to go through because I smoke, so fuck it.”
Really! That’s what they said! More or less.
I see my generation as the one that did the most quitting. I never smoked, but I had a lot of peers who did. MOST of them don’t any more, and the ones who still do really are saying “Fuck it.” But I’d be willing to lay hard money on the probability that if they have kids, they will ACTIVELY discourage their kids from taking up the habit. Way I see it, it’s only a matter of time before cigarette smoking becomes a novelty pastime. The rules are finally in place to control it, and even people who smoke admit that the drawbacks are steadily outweighing the benefits. (And what are the benefits, anyway? The euphoria? The perception of coolness?)
When you get a bunch of us together over alcohol and games, smack talk will occur. I am a proud talker of much smack, and that includes pointing out the foibles in someone’s gaming skill (ask my friend Jay Elgin about his math). This past week, much smack talk occurred, and we laughed good-naturedly at it. BUT, as Josh and I were tooling around post-gaming on both Friday and Saturday, we were laughing even more - without resorting to insulting anyone. What we were laughing at was just a silly bunch of non sequiturs and absurdist observations, but they had us giggling like little boys looking at their first girlie magazine.
Now, by insult, I mean latching onto something genuine about a person - something about the way he looks, or acts - and milking it for its humor. Insult humor can be funny, but I think it takes a special way of doing it to make it funny. Otherwise, it’s just… insulting.
There are people who are funny - they have comedic timing, a way of saying things, a certain something in their voice - which makes you smile when they tell you a story, or makes you laugh at yourself when they do even a shitty imitation of you. When those people make a joke, you laugh.
But let’s face it, there are also people who simply aren’t funny. When they tell you a “funny” story, you usually get bored after the second sentence. When they make a comment, you CAN help breaking into a smile. And when they employ insult humor, they really only succeed in insulting their subject.
I think it comes partially from the delivery, sure. But I think a big part of it comes from WHY the person is attempting humor in the first place. I’d be pulling your leg, or outright lying, if I told you there was not a narcissistic motive behind anybody who tries to make a joke. We ALL like it when people laugh at us (as long as we’re trying to make them laugh at us). But if you think belittling someone, and failing to respect that person at the same time, will lead to comedic success, well… you’re really no better than those kids who poked fun of the fat kid in fourth grade.
But if you actually like and respect the person you’re making fun of, it somehow comes across differently. You don’t come off as one-upping them. You don’t come off as a bully. The object of your ridicule may actually feel affection coming from you, and not derision. THAT’S when you know you’re doing it right.
Oh, and people laugh, too.
Even so, there are people - I could name THREE right now off the top of my head - who are WAY sensitive. As good-natured as your ribbing might be, they’re gonna take offense. Also, you have to be careful. If there’s a subject someone is sensitive about - her weight, his hairline, his height, the fact that she’s 40 and single - then it’s best to learn early what that subject is, and to avoid it. Find something else.
And if you come across an overly sensitive person, avoid THEM.
I don’t mean avoid making fun of them. I mean avoid them altogether.
Fuck those people.
So, yeah. That’s what I came away with. Insults, cigarettes, and the color black.
Next time I go up, I think maybe I’ll come back and write about chimneys, salt and pepper shakers, and whether or not farting in elevators makes a good occupation.
Early last year I wrote a piece titled “Why I’m Cool With the End of the World.” Back then I was ready - things were routine, I was treading water with everything in my life - basically, an apocalypse would have shaken things up and made things interesting again. Why the hell not.
The things I was cool with still hold true - except Obama DID win, and I am a little interested in how his second term rolls out, especially since he’s finally showing a little backbone against Boehnhead and the Republican House.
Truth is, though, in these final hours I’m not so sure about it all. You see, 2013 looks very promising for me, and it’d be a fucking shame if we blinked out of existence just as I was hitting my stride and getting off this Godforsaken plateau I’ve been on.
For your edification (and end of the world enjoyment) here’s a quick pictorial of some of the things I might miss out on if Planet Nibiru is for real:
These three stacks are novels. Over the last 12 years, I’ve written all three of them. The one on the left has moments of brilliance, but needs a major rewrite that I’m not sure I can give it. It was my first - call it an exercise in learning how to write a book. The middle one, The Survivor of San Guillermo, is going to get published in 2013. And the one on the right - The Talented Boys - is better than either of the other two.
Twelve years, I’m finally getting a book published. End of the world. Fuck.
This is an intricate, yet highly enjoyable and immersive board game I designed, which is based on a millions-dollar intellectual property that I can’t disclose until the property rights owner agrees to license it. If it gets licensed I’ll be ecstatic, because the IP is one I love, that my friends love, and that I believe is worthy of as much respect as Star Wars and Lord of The Rings. Even if we don’t get the license, I can adapt the game to a different IP and still have a great and highly publishable game.
Unless the world ends.
This is the back of my house. About five years ago, I added a new sun room to the back, with a little help from my dad. It was a project several years in the making, because I had to work on it in the nooks and crannies between doing all the other things I do. But it’s a great room - and it adds thousands of dollars of value to my home, as well as several hundred square feet. I’m almost finished with it, and then Aida (my wife) and I can start seriously looking into selling our house and upgrading to something even bigger. I’ll probably have it done by spring, weather permitting.
Finally, there’s these two little ones. As sure as I am that they’d get a free trip to Heaven should the apocalypse prove real, and thus avoid the horrors of teenage-dom and adulthood, it’d be a travesty of Earth-shattering proportions. I’ve invested most of my heart and a lot of effort in making certain these two are happy and wholesome. Having that job cut off before I finished it MIGHT piss me off more than all the other stuff combined.
So yeah. I take back what I said earlier this year. The end of the world can wait.
Yep. It’s that time of the year again, when tens of thousands of people descend on downtown Atlanta and indulge themselves in a celebration of things that most people looked down on when I was growing up: comic books, superheroes, science fiction, fantasy, RPGs, cosplay, and games. This is my element, folks, and I love it. Dragon*Con marks the beginning of my favorite time of year - the months of September through November - and I can’t think of a better way to ring it in.
Admittedly though, after last year I was a little bit ambivalent about Dragon*Con this year.
Until this morning when I sat down to write this little tribute to it….
You see, last year I had a little trouble with Dragon*Con - something that, unless they were blowing smoke up my ass, other people also had a problem with. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was simply the AMOUNT of people who are showing up to my favorite party. The number is nearing 100,000, and last year I could feel it. Every time I went to go find food or drink that was better than the foil-wrapped burgers and hot dogs the Hilton provided, the path was blocked by literally thousands of people. Many of them were the “face of Dragon*Con” - the costumed cavorters who spend the day giving photo ops, and spend the night drinking flavored vodka out of plastic cups.
I’m thankful for those people in a way, because they have contributed significantly to the pop culture legitimacy our particular subculture can now claim. But when I’m trying to go pee, the last thing I want is to have to push my way through a cadre of Starhip Troopers posing with styrofoam Poke-creatures. They need to get the fuck out of my way.
Also, there’s the noise. I am not an introvert by any stretch of the imagination, and I LOVE crowds. But days and days of shouting to be heard gets old. And I get hoarse. And I don’t like having to say HUH so much.
So yeah. Ambivalence.
But this weekend, as the number of hours until Dragon*Con begins (it begins for me the minute my best buddy Jay Elgin’s plane lands at the airport tomorrow night and only escalates from there) slipped into single digits, I started getting really, really, really, really excited. And I realized as I started writing this that the reason I’m excited is not because of all the gaming and partying and people-watching I’m about to engage in. It’s because of all the people I’m going to be seeing and hanging out with. For instance, I haven’t seen Jay in almost a year. And there’s others - I’m not gonna list any other than Jay because the list is looooong and I don’t want to leave out anyone - but they’re coming, and I’ll see them, and it’ll be like we just saw each other yesterday. (And yeah, Jeff and Ken, I know we did just see each other yesterday.)
If you’re coming to Dragon*Con, come see me. I’ll be the one with no costume other than a big, fat grin.
There’s an insipid country song about being country when country wasn’t cool. Well, despite my misgivings about country EVER being cool, I do feel the sentiment of that song can be universally applied to all sorts of “walks of life”. Take geekdom, for example. My geekdom and that of my friends has become “mainstream” in recent years - basically, marketing experts and people who sell stuff realized that we geeks have a bit of disposable income, so… now you can barely turn around without bumping into something out of our myriad imagined worlds.
How many of you are planning on going to see Avengers this weekend?
The following is a testimonial of geekness from a friend of mine. I can assure you that his tale is similar to many geeks’ and nerds’ tales out there (even mine), so as you read his story, think about the geeks and nerds you know. Was this how it was for them growing up? And you assumed they didn’t have a life. HA!
Apparently, the best revenge (of the nerds!) is living well.
And now, without further ado, Alan Huskey:
I was talking with some friends the other day about the state of gaming, and it got me to thinking. Here were four adult males, all over 30, discussing what used to be a kids’ hobby. How did we get here, and how did we get to where sci fi conventions are covered by major news outlets, and new game releases can achieve “event” status?
I started seriously gaming when I was in high school. More about that in a minute. My real entry to nerd/geekdom was in third grade. I wanted to check out Red Planet by Heinlein from the local bookmobile. (My school did’nt have much of a library, hence the bookmobile.) The librarian told me the book was beyond my level, and I should go get something more appropriate. I refused, and Mom backed me up. (This was the same school that spanked my left hand with a ruler every time I tried to write with it, and punished me when I tried to write in cursive while everyone else was doing rote block letter writing.) After I read it, I was hooked. Badly. In middle school, I discovered The Hobbit. Read that and the Lord of The Rings trilogy within a few weeks. The Silmarillion too. I was on my way.
While living in LA - I was in middle school at the time - I was taken to my first convention ever: SpaceCon 4. It was the Fourth LA Star Trek Convention. 1977. Star Trek actors, people in costumes, props, poster, memorabilia, models, and games, all for sale in a dealers’ room that has acquired mythical status over the years, and in reality was probably no more than 30 or 40 tables at most. I picked up a copy of a pocket game called Star Fleet Battles, by Task Force Games (now called ADB). Took it home and started learning to play with my brother, who was 3 years younger than me. Loved it. I was a HUGE Trek fan, and the starships and space battles were of great interest to me. I thought it was awesome. I still play it today, that is how much impact it had. So now the stage was set. I was an outcast at school, a “nerd”. I read science fiction and fantasy all the time, I played nerdy games, I even fell into the world of Dungeons and Dragons, amidst articles about how dangerous it was to youth, how it was a tool of Satan. (This, among other things, led to a severe dislike of religion, religious dogma, and fanatics who are religious.)
Editor’s Note: Alan probably still liked playing clerics once in a while, despite this dislike of religious trappings.
Finally, in high school, I made a friend who is still my friend to this day. Eric Henry. He introduced me to war games! We played old Avalon Hill and SPI games; he was even in a game of the month club with SPI, so he got regular copies of new games. ACW, ancient naval battles - we tried everything under the sun. Turns out my favorite was World War 2. This led to me purchasing from the local game shop in Highlands NC, a copy of Squad Leader and its gamettes.
I played Dungeons and Dragons up to the early 1990’s, and really stopped because the whole pen and paper role playing thing was not to my liking any more. (This would not change until I grudgingly tried Everquest.) I had discovered Games Workshop and Warhammer 40,000. More on miniature gaming later, if Will lets me repeat this exercise..
I remember the seriously home-grown looking stuff from those early days. A lot of self published game accessories, before the copyright craze of the 80’s. I remember everyone looking at me funny when I mentioned my hobby. I remember weekends of gaming with little to no sleep, playing Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. Advanced Civilization. The list goes on. Now, it’s all popular. Popular culture embraces geekiness and nerdiness. We have entire networks devoted to the stuff we love. Games are slick and well thought out to the last detail. The stuff we dreamed of, but couldn’t do with the tech of the time, is commonplace and easily done on any PC with a decent printer.
I just know one thing: Being a responsible adult, and having to choose between things I wanted to be popular my whole life, and making sure all of the monthly bills are paid, really sucks. I need to win the lottery, so that I can embrace, fully, my inner nerd.
I don’t play this version of Settlers of Catan anymore with my REAL GAMER FRIENDS. We only play what we call “vanilla” Settlers when we’re introducing newbies to the gaming hobby. Like Wil Wheaton was doing here. And so I wonder: Wil, do you play the Settlers Cities & Knights version? Because you should know that’s the only way to play this game. Really.
Anyway, here is my John Madden-ish rundown of last week’s episode of Tabletop (see my first post about this cool new internet show here), and this time around I think Wil pretty much summed up their game of Settlers of Catan in one profound sentence: “The Robber is a dick.”
The show gave us a statistic about halfway through the episode that I think anyone wanting to play the game should know: seven, the number that makes the Robber do his thing in Settlers, SHOULD only come up about 18% of the time. But these are dice, and dice are fickle, and in this game the Robber reared his ugly head about 29% of the time. Really, the Robber to me represents a negative play experience, but I see no other way to deal with the unfairness that “7″ spaces on the board would represent. So I deal.
But yeah, he’s a dick. And yeah, we’re assuming the Robber is male.
Besides the proliferation of sevens in this particular game of Settlers, three other things struck me about this episode.
First was Wil’s insistence on making the “wheat on” pun work. I’m not going to say anything else about it; it just stood out….
Next was that, after two episodes, Tabletop obviously has a formula: Wil sits down and plays with one white guy, one Asian guy, and one white woman. I personally look forward to when a black dude plays a game with him (although I’m gonna shake my head while simultaneously laughing if they play something like Betrayal at House on the Hill and the black dude bites it first).
Also, I think Wil ought to reach out to the real gaming community and have a couple of fat guys on the show.
Although what he REALLY needs to do is have someone on the show who will laugh at his jokes about having wood. He made the joke that pretty much every person in my gaming community has made at some point, and it fell flat on his audience of fellow gamers. C’mon. “I’ve got wood for sheep” is one of the funniest lines EVER in the world of gaming. It’s a lot funnier than “wheat on” puns… which I won’t mention.
Finally, I’m gonna disparage James Kyson’s game play. I have NO IDEA how intelligent Kyson is in real life, and maybe he was just acting for this episode, but holy shit he played poorly.
Example #1: Early on, Wil was offering him two bricks for one wheat. The camera aimed at Kyson’s hand and we saw that he had two woods, a brick, a wheat, and a sheep. We’d also just seen that Kyson was lacking roads and was getting cut off by Neil Grayston. Had he traded the wheat away for the two brick, he’d have been able to slap down TWO roads and get out of his corner, AND he’d have had three quarters of what he need to build a Settlement once he was out. You have to build roads early on in Settlers, folks, because you can’t spread out otherwise. Kyson neglected to do this and turned down Wil’s generous offer.
Example #2: He says at the end that Neil Grayston came out of nowhere with the win. “I didn’t see it coming,” he said. Well, the episode was truncated, and we the audience didn’t see everything, but even we saw Grayston get:
An additional Settlement for 1 point.
A City for 2 points.
The Largest Army for 2 points.
And the Longest Road for 2 points.
Seven points, James Kyson. You only need 10. You didn’t see that coming?
So… Neil Grayston, the “white guy who’s not Wil Wheaton” won. Which is obviously also part of the formula, because LAST episode Sean Plott, “the white guy who’s not Wil Wheaton” won.
I dunno, man.
I’d like to make one more point, which is effectively a final plug for the Cities & Knights variant of this game: A lot of times in games of vanilla Settlers, we found that once you became a clear front-runner the way Neil Grayston did, experienced players simply stopped trading with you. This gets frustrating to the front-runner, AND it pisses off people if you DO break down and trade with the front-runner AKA The Great Satan. Generally speaking, the person who’s in SECOND place has the better shot - he or she is within grasp of the win, and people are more willing to trade with him or her. There’s a lot of these “hang back a bit” games, and they get old after a while.
With Cities & Knights there are several paths to victory AND there are work-arounds for the front-runner, should the trading well dry up. It’s a more complicated game, for sure, but it’s far less tedious in the end game, and the wins are much more satisfying.
Especially if you manage to get your Wheat On.
Did I say that out loud?
Seems like every month brings my geekhood further and further into the mainstream - some of the best TV shows on right now are a geek’s wet dream: The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, etc. This year will see the release of movies like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and The motherfucking Hobbit - all geek fodder to the extreme.
Geek tech, geek culture, geek literature - all are moving more and more into the spotlight, out of the esoteric and into the fore. The only thing that pisses me off about it is that it waited until I was in my 30s to go in that direction. I wasn’t all that cool until I became an old man.
And now there’s an entire internet channel that gives itself totally to all things geek: YouTube and Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry.
In particular, I find myself drawn to the “TV show” called Tabletop - Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day’s brainchild, wherein Wil has a group of “celebrity” guest stars play him in a board game. The inaugural game for episode one of Tabletop was Small World, a Days of Wonder game and a perennial favorite of my gaming group, so naturally, I HAD to watch the show. And then, when it was done, I HAD to write this - an analysis of everybody’s gameplay, and a brief review of the game itself.
I personally see myself as sort of a geeky John Madden, giving post-game commentary. YOU might be saying, “Jeez - only some sort of geeky fanboy would do an analysis of a BOARD game, breaking it down blow by blow like that.”
Well, no shit. Look at the title of this post, why dontcha?
So anyway - Wil does a fine job of succinctly summing up the Small World rules. I fucking wish I had graphics and terminology bubbles floating around me whenever I tried to teach people how to play board games. Every person I’ve taught, with the exception of the Holley brothers, thinks I do a great job teaching games. But when I think of all the time and the strain on my voice that I could have saved had I had quality TV production backing me up….
Small World, by the way, is an excellent game - actually simple in its rules, but comparatively complex and immersive in its strategy and execution. If you’re into gaming and you haven’t tried it, or if you’re thinking about branching out beyond Monopoly and Scattergories, check it out. It’s great.
And now, here’s my blow by blow commentary on Tabletop, Episode One: Small World.
1) On the show, the first player up turned out to be Jenna Busch. Not to be confused with THE Jenna Bush, though at first I myself missed the extra c in her last name. THIS Jenna is a popular and prolific geekdom writer, and I would assume because of her proclivities that she’s really smart - smarter, in fact, than THE Jenna Bush. Judging by her opening move in Small World, though, I’m more hesitant to give her that credit.
First, she chose a combo called the Hill Sorcerors. And why did she choose the Hill Sorcerors? Was it because they’re a great combo that could potentially score her a bunch of points? No. She chose them because she played magic-users a lot in the role-playing games that she likes.
Now, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt with her choice. After all, this was supposedly her first time playing Small World, and she was going first, so she had to choose her opening combo SOMEHOW. I’m also willing to give her the benefit of the doubt on her opening play - she came in on the board on the side closest to her, something admittedly difficult for newbies to resist, but something you must resist if you’re going to play this game competitively.
You see, the key strategy to Small World is to maximize your limited number of unit tokens. Jenna started with nine. Not many. But there were a couple of places where she could have come onto the board and potentially gotten five points or more on her opening move. She didn’t do that. In fact, she conquered nary a hill, which were available, and would have given her extra points. She conquered two mountains instead.
Of course, maybe Wil failed to explain to Jenna the difference between a hill and a mountain.
2) Next up came Sean Plott, strategy commentator on a number of online games, known on the internets as Day(9). Sean’s funny - I hope Wil and Felicia have him back - but apparently he is also mildly retarded. He grabbed the Giants, a race that thrives on exploiting a position on mountain spaces, and he took exactly ZERO mountain spaces in his opening ploy.
And why at this point was everyone avoiding taking the cheapest available race/power combo - the Forest Halflings? They’re REALLY GOOD opening game.
3) Next up, Grant Imahara, of Mythbuster’s fame. Grant DID choose a great race and power combo, and with it he had a whopping NINE point opening turn. HOWEVER, the show failed to explain how much it costs to get races that are deep in the selection list. Grant’s Pillaging Orcs were five deep, so he technically only netted four points on his turn. Sean’s Giant’s were only one deep, and he scored eight points on his turn, so he netted seven. Better play. Even for a mildly retarded guy.
4) Wil Wheaton himself went next. Wil may know the game well, but the Forest Halflings would have given him potentially nine points at NO cost. His 12-point turn cost him two (net 10), and he only got seven dwarves to play with (just like Snow White, only without a prince to save him when the dwarves failed), and his “Wealthiness” (you gotta watch the episode to understand) was a one-time shot, so the lead he established with his opening move was tenuous.
5) Here’s an observation of something I found amusing: In between rounds, in those cutaway shots so popular in shows like this (and Ghosthunters and Mythbusters and American Pickers and Pawn Stars) Jenna said Wil was “very helpful to newbies like me.” Bullshit. If that were true, he would have told you how retarded your opening move was. And he would have explained to you the difference between a mountain and a hill.
6) Also in between rounds, Grant went on and on about how he beat up Sean the first round, and that he hoped it didn’t come back to haunt him later. Well, dude, of course it will. This is Small World. Revenge is NEVER cold - it’s always steaming hot, like fresh shit. Just you wait.
7) Fortunately, as time went by, the players seemed to be getting the hang of it - Jenna’s Dragon Master Tritons worked well. She played them well, and Wil even seemed ready to give her some good advice at one point - in a roundabout sort of way. Sean accidentally stumbled into a great situation with his Heroic Ghouls. And then Jenna uncovered at the very end the AMAZING combo of the Berserk Amazons. If only someone had access to that power combo before - it’s a game-winner.
Since the episode was edited, I’m left, of course, wondering how long that combo sat on the table like the Forest Halflings did, waiting for some retard to pick it.
8 ) I’m not gonna tell you who won. I want YOU to be as surprised as the people playing were, and if I told you, you’d be less inclined to go watch Tabletop next week - and I think it DESERVES to be watched. And commented on.
Instead, I’ll leave you with these three final observations.
9) People piled up on Grant at the end of the game. Imagine that.
10) The episode was only 30 minutes long. Be prepared. Small World, though relatively short compared to many board games, still has a play time of about an hour and a half. If you’re playing it and your game goes longer than the 30 minutes Wil’s did, you’ll now know why.
11) At the 21:07 mark, Wil called Grant the “barefoot Kenyan guy”, and I had to pause for a second to check whether I was wearing shoes. Because see, if I had been playing, I’d have annihilated them.
I would have been the barefoot KENYON guy.
They say that writing is a lonely profession, and “they” have a point. Although I wouldn’t say that I’m lonely per se when I’m writing - just that I’m alone. Even when I’m at my desk and I have children milling under my feet with their Matchbox cars and Legos. Even when I’m at a bar, esconced in a bar stool with pen and paper in hand. Wherever I am and whoever’s around, I’m typically alone in my head (and if I’m not then I can’t write, because of the distractions). But lonely? No.
Right now, alone, I have a number of projects working. I’ve started not one, not two, but three novels in the past months - and yes, two of them are coming along quite nicely. I also have a short story that I’ve been struggling with since October that’s almost done, and three longish poems that have seen a lot of false starts. I’m also editing a bunch of old stuff, I have my client work (although it’s becoming more and more scarce), and there’s this web site. A lot to keep me busy all by my lonesome.
I don’t think writing should exist in a vacuum, however. At least not my writing. To that end, I’m in the process of sending a bunch of my existing material off to various contests and publishers, all in the hopes that something I wrote will drift ashore someplace nice and be able to set up camp. It’s tough out there - there’s a lot of noise that you have to rise above, and there’s a certain level of resistance to outsiders, i.e. people who exist outside of academia and the “traditional” publishing industry. Sometimes I regret my decision to leave academia and New York. But I can’t go back, not really, not now.
To further get out of the vacuum of my own thoughts, I have you - my audience - and I have social media, which has transformed the world, for better or worse.
In recent months, I’ve also become a big fan of collaboration. Although I love writing - I need to write, kind of like I need to breathe - it’s something I have to do alone, and I don’t always want to be, or act, alone. So I’ve been working with others. As we speak, I have several collaborative irons in the fire.
1) I’ve handed over a bunch of my poetry to a musician friend of mine who’s going to use some of my work as lyrics for her songs.
2) I’ve begun working with a friend, Michael Collins, on a graphic novel - the idea for which I’ve had since 1992. Off and on, I’ve floundered around for an artist who could realize my story, and I think I’ve finally found my guy.
3) Michael’s also working on the graphics for a game I’ve designed. The game design itself is almost there, and to that end, it’s been a real pleasure playtesting it with a whole bunch of my friends: Jay, Jim, Mike, Kristoff, Pierre, Erekh, Brad, Rob, Jeff, Caleb, Eddie, Scott, Tony, Garand, Richard, Lyman, and especially Roberto Arguedas, who gave me a new direction to take the game when the old one was hitting a snag.
The trouble with this game is that it’s based on a popular property, so to make it the way I’d like to make it would require the acquisition of a specific license. I’m hoping to make the best game I can, and then to shop it to various gaming companies who might have the wherewithal to get that license. If that doesn’t happen, or if the game mechanic appeals to a smaller company who can’t afford the license, I suppose I’ll have to repurpose the game to an original story framework. I can do that. I have stories in my head.
4) I’m hitting the Con circuit - baby steps - doing panels with other writers on a variety of subjects. My first outing will be JordanCon here in Atlanta next month. Hopefully, I’ll score more such panels as the months go by.
5) I’m working with a friend who’s quietly trying to break into becoming a publisher. With the advent of ebooks and online marketing and distribution, his overhead is minimal, so he’s willing to take a chance on me. Already, he’s backing my collection of horror short stories, and he’s looking to add other “acts” to his repetoire.
6) With his help, and the help of my incredible editor, Beth, I’ll soon have a novel published in ebook format. I’m launching a web site in the next week or so to market the book, and I’m working with my wife, Aida, on the design and execution of that site.
7) I’ve engaged four artists to work with me on a portion of the novel’s site. What they’re going to do for me is a surprise. First, I’ll announce that the site is live, then I’ll tell you what they’re doing.
8) I’m still working with a whole cast of voice “talent” on my podcast novel, A War Between States, which you can experience/read by clicking on the navigation to it over there on the right.
9) Finally, and if I haven’t said it enough, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jason Snape, the artist and graphic designer who illustrated both of my short story collections. Jason, man, I have a brand, and it’s all thanks to you.
So you see, writing is an occupation that you have to do by yourself. Sometimes. But it’s never lonely.
Aha! If you come here often, you know that 12 days is a long time for me to go between posts. So why did I go that long?
Because I was at Atlanta Gamefest, playing the shit out of some games!
The list of games I managed to get under my belt between Thursday (the 5th) and Sunday (the 8th) is relatively short, because - as all of my gaming friends and acquaintances know and remind me incessantly - I prefer longer, deep strategic games. I would rather play one kick ass six-hour game than six one-hour ones. Besides, it seems to me that a lot of those shorter games are simply iterations of the same mechanics. So if you’re playing those, you’re playing the same game for six hours anyway. The way I do things, I don’t have to keep putting the game back into the box and then getting it out of another box.
So… here’s some of what I played: Sid Meier’s Civilization, Alien Frontiers, A Game of Thrones, Cash n’ Guns, Chaos In The Old World, 7 Wonders, Battlestar Galactica, Dominant Species, and Shogun. Not bad for four days of dice rolling, card counting, beer swilling, and smack talking.
All of those are excellent games, well worth trying if you want to play a board game besides Monopoly, Risk, Chess, or Sorry!, which is what sooo many people in America imagine when they hear the words board game. But what I’d like to focus on here are two of the “hot” games of the Fest, and how I feel about them.
First there’s Eclipse, the latest Euro-ized version of the epic ”space battle and exploration” game. Now, here’s the thing about Eclipse: I’ve heard many, many gamers saying in the past few weeks since Eclipse’s release (it was actually published in 2011) that FINALLY there’s a trimmed down version of Twilight Imperium, 3rd Edition - one that’s playable in three hours or less. Well, let me go on record as saying that Eclipse is, at its most distilled essence, NOTHING like Twilight Imperium. If you bought it hoping to get your TI:3 fix in half the time, you’re gonna be disappointed.
Sure, they both have hexagonal tile pieces for space systems, and plastic spaceships called Dreadnaughts and Cruisers. Sure, you have to explore and fight and advance your technology to better your society and naval capabilities. But as far as scope and mechanic, the games don’t compare at all.
Eclipse has a clever mechanic, and I REALLY like the modular way you can add on to your various starships to “beef them up”. I bought it and I played it and I like it enough to keep it, but it’s no Twilight Imperium. By sheer virtue of its streamlined mechanic, it simply lacks the variety and scope of TI:3. I imagine that after a few passionate plays, it’ll get shelved, and then only hit the table once every 3 months or so when me and my buddies get a hankering for that particular flavor of play.
The same thing happens with a lot of Euro games, as well as other games with slender but interesting “plots” - you play it, you figure out what works, you do that. And if you do anything else - anything outside of the “solid” strategies, you’ll probably lose, because the game’s dynamic can’t adequately support originality and diversity.
TI:3 and a lot of the games I play CAN support oddball strategies, and therefore they have high replayability factors. I’d play them every week if they weren’t so long (and like I said, length isn’t an issue for me, but it is for other people).
Gamers who know me associate me with Twilight Imperium, and if you haven’t guessed - it IS my favorite game. It may still be; I’m not sure, because it is exceedingly possible that Mage Knight might supplant it, if only for a while.
Here we go. Me on record again, saying that Vlaada Chvatil’s Mage Knight might possibly be the most brilliant fantasy adventure board game EVER. Practically every cool thing about the ancient game Magic Realm, without the overburdening minutiae. The conceptual ambition of Runebound and Talisman coupled with actual strategic depth. The variety of Magic: The Gathering without the need to always be buying new shit. And it scales well: you can play it by yourself - it’s that challenging and engaging. Or you can get a friend or three and take turns sweeping the countryside, killing orcs, leveling up, and bending the locals to your will. I can only imagine how HUGE this game will be once an expansion or two comes out.
It has only two problems as I see it. One is that if a player takes too long on his turns, the down time may seem exhorbitant. But you only get a few cards to play each turn, and I think once we all “get the hang of it” we’ll be zipping through turns like it’s second nature.
The other problem is length of play, which could run into 6 or 7 hours with certain scenarios. (Yeah - as if the game didn’t offer enough variety in its structure, there are about a dozen different SCENARIOS you can play.) For me, though, the time I spend playing isn’t really an issue. See what I said above.
Mage Knight was also published in 2011. Between it, Eclipse - which is solid even if it’s no TI:3 - and all the other awesome games published recently, 2011 was a great year for new titles.
Which I intend to play the shit out of in 2012.
I was at a gaming convention a few months ago (imagine that), and was playing one of “Will Kenyon’s Signature Games” with a bunch of my really good friends. We’d been playing the same game for a couple of hours, and I guess we were getting a little boisterous. It wasn’t a situation where someone asked us to settle down, though - people at game conventions are generally tolerant of a certain level of rowdiness.
Instead, a group of guys at a nearby table, who’d been sitting at THEIR game for a couple of hours as well, hunched over a bunch of cardboard bits and colored wooden squares, looked up at us, and one of them said,”Sounds like they’re having a better time than us.”
I think he was right. When me and my friends looked over at them, we saw nary a smile - only hunkered down, sweaty guys glowering at their game board. And the thing I immediately wanted to ask them was: Are you not having a good time? Because if you’re not, why are you playing that game? Or any game, for that matter. If it’s not making you happy, then what’s the point?
Playing board games is supposed to make you happy. Otherwise, why do it?