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.
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.
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.
Man, I have so many ideas kicking around in my head right now, it’s not funny. Not long after I finished the heretofore unpublished novel The Talented Boys back in March, I started ANOTHER novel, as well as a couple of short stories. The short stories have been slow to find a finish (although the finishes are solid and getting nearer), and the novel…. Well, it’s a novel - it’s supposed to take a long time.
Recently, though, right after the edits for all those short stories that got published in May and October wrapped up, I also started yet ANOTHER novel (without finishing the older one) AND a graphic novel script. And a poem - my first real poem in over a year.
But ask me if I’m working on any of that stuff right now. Go ahead. Ask.
(Hey, Will, are you working on any of that stuff right now?)
Instead, I’ve fallen into a sort of gig painting boat miniatures for a game called Dreadfleet. Some people seem to believe I have some level of acumen when it comes to rendering miniatures in vibrant, detailed color - enough so that perhaps I might make a few dollars painting the miniatures for a popular new game. Also, I LIKE painting game pieces - it’s relaxing and satisfying, and I enjoy the compliments I get when my minis hit the game table.
Thing is, I’m a slow painter. Apparently, painting minis is a cottage industry to some guys, and they can churn out whole armies of detailed monsters and vehicles and machines of war in a matter of days, or at the most, weeks.
Ten ships and some terrain bits has taken me almost two months - and that’s painting 10-20 hours a week. And I’m still not done, although my tentative deadline for finishing a set for sale is December 1st. I’m NOT gonna make it, and in the meantime, all that shit I’ve been kicking around, thinking about writing is not getting written.
But I’m not complaining. Like I said, I ENJOY painting. And I’m getting better and faster. And right now, I get to share a few of my finished pieces with you.
For those of you keeping track (and those of you who aren’t, too, I guess), I just arrived in sunny Lancaster, Pennsylvania, deep in the heart of Amish country. Long time followers of this blog may remember that I came here two years ago to play in the championships for my favorite board game, Twilight Imperium. Well, last year I had to skip it, but this year I’M BACK. I drove all day today through seven states with a trunk full of games and a back seat full of beer. I’m now about to sack out in my hotel room - I’m too tired to head over to the gaming area. I need to rest so I can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed tomorrow. Plus, I’ve wanted to get this post up and now I’m doing it….
I dunno how it’ll work out, but this year’s different from past years because I’ve advanced in my technological acumen and equipment. I have this laptop now, as well as my smart phone, so I can better give a blow by blow of all the games and beer I play and consume in the coming week. For those who are interested, I hope you come away satisfied. For those who aren’t so interested in gaming and beer (i.e. my wife), I promise to be as entertaining as possible. There may be an obscure reference or two, but hopefully everything will be relatively clear and engaging, and perhaps… funny. We’ll see.
Alright. Nighty-night for now.
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.
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….