Friday, June 14, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 43 (12-11)

#12 Forest Shuffle

In Forest Shuffle players are each building their own forest out of cards. Players draw from a huge deck of cards that contains trees and lots of other plant and animal life that can be found in a forest. Players start with six cards in their hand. Some of those will be trees and some will be those things that live in, on, or around the trees called collectively, "dwellers" whether animal or plant.

  
  

To start, you're going to want to play a tree. Trees are vital to your forest and to the game of Forest Shuffle. All other cards (the dwellers) are played attached to the trees that you have already played. All dweller cards show 2 different dwellers on them. These cards are divided either horizontally or vertically in half. Those cards that are divided horizontally in half will show dwellers on the top and bottom of the card. Those cards that are divided vertically in half will show dwellers on the left and right of the card.

To play a dweller card, you slide the half of the card showing the dweller that you are not using under a tree card that you have in play. In this way the dweller that you want to place into your forest is showing, and the other dweller on the card is hidden. If you don't have any trees in play, then you can't play dweller cards.

All cards that you play from your hand, dwellers and trees alike, have a cost. This cost is paid with other cards. Cards all have these little colored tree leaf symbols on them that sometimes matter when paying a card's cost. You can always pay for a card with any other card in your hand, but sometimes paying with the leaf symbols of a specific type will give you a bonus.

When you pay for a card, you discard the number of cards equal to the cost of the card that you want to play. These cards are discarded face up into an open supply called, "the clearing." Players can draw from the cards in the clearing on their turn. A lot of the decision space in Forest Shuffle is deciding what to keep in your hand, and what to discard to pay for the cards that you play.

Each turn players either play a card into their forest, or they draw two cards in any combination from the face up cards in the clearing or from the face down draw pile. Some care needs to be taken however, there are 3 "Winter" cards in the bottom third of the draw pile, and should the third Winter card be drawn, the game immediately ends and everyone's forest is scored.

Forests are scored based on card combos. Some dwellers like to be with other dwellers and score based on those combinations. Some dwellers score based on the kinds of trees that you have in the forest. Things like that. Trees also score based on different conditions. I have even managed to win a game using almost nothing but trees. 

If you ever need to play a dweller but don't have any trees in your hand, you can always play a card face down into your forest. The backs of the cards show a "tree" called a sapling. These don't score points, but can hold dwellers and are always available. There are plenty of "real" trees however, and I have never had to play a sapling into my forest.

All players also begin play with a card called the "cave" and some dwellers, like the bear, will put cards into your cave. These are worth points at the end of the game. Almost every card has some special way to give you points in Forest Shuffle. There is a ton of variety here, and it's that variety that makes this game so interesting, challenging and replayable.

Oh, and fun! Forest Shuffle is so much fun! In fact, it's my #12 favorite game of all time.

  

#11 Majesty: For the Realm

In Majesty: For the Realm, every player has a "realm" that they are building up. This is an engine building game played with cards. All players start with a sort of "empty" realm of 8 cards. These cards are numbered and arranged in order from 1-8. Arranged in this way, the cards create a pleasing panorama representing your realm and the 8 key locations within it.

  
  

There is a central display of people (cards) that you can move into your realm. In exactly the same way as is done with Century Spice Road, you can take the person furthest from the draw pile for free or place a token on it to skip it in order to take the next card. These tokens are meeples and all players have a "meeples card" capable of holding a maximum of five meeples, as well as five meeples to start the game.

The various people that you can move into your realm will only move into the specific location meant for them. When they do, they activate the location where they have moved. All of these locations do different things, but chiefly they are ways to get coins. Coins don't do anything in the game, there's nothing to buy. They represent the prosperity of your realm and are the victory points that will win you the game.

The more cards that you have placed at a location, the more powerful that location's ability becomes. Many locations also vary in power based on the cards at other locations. Building up the right locations in the right way at the right time is the key to success in Majesty: For the Realm.

I love the clean simplicity of Majesty: For the Realm. It's a great engine builder that's easy to teach but challenging to play. Oh, and all 8 locations have an advanced side that can be flipped over for an even more challenging game. The A&B sides of the location cards can also be mixed in various ways to create a lot of replayability.

Coming next week: my board game Top 10!

  

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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 42 (14-13)

#14 Abyss

In Abyss, players are competing to gain the favor of different underwater factions. The factions are cards, and Abyss is a set collection card game. In the "story" of the game, Abyss is a water world, a planet that is just one big ocean. All of the sentient life on the planet Abyss has evolved, lives, and breathes at the bottom of this huge ocean, under the sea.

  
  

Abyss is one of those games where the theme doesn't really mean anything. The theme was chosen to create an artistic direction for the game, and what an artistic direction it is! Abyss is gorgeous. The various merpeople that represent each faction are stunningly illustrated. In fact, the original print run of Abyss featured different box covers in order to showcase this art. (None of these covers marred the art by having the name or any other markings on the front of the box.) 

The awesome thing is that Abyss plays as good as it looks. On your turn, you choose one of three actions. All three actions are represented on the central game board. This makes learning Abyss pretty easy. Just learn the three regions of the board, and you know what to do.

The top region of the board lets you draw cards to gain resources. Resources in this game are just small mini sized cards which show art with a symbol representing the card's suit and a number from 1-5. These card values are weighted so that lower value cards are more plentiful than higher value cards. There are a lot of 1's in each suit, but only a few 5's.

Next to the resource draw pile there are 5 spots to place cards. The fifth and final spot has a picture of a pearl on it. Pearls are the game's currency and are represented in the game by little balls that look like real pearls. These are cool, but they roll around. So, the game includes little cups to keep them in.

When you gain resources, you must first flip the top card of the resource deck face up into the left most slot of the track at the top of the board. Your opponents can choose, if they want, to buy this resource from you, before it falls into your possession. They do this by giving you pearls that you can add to your supply. Each player can only do this once on your turn. 

The first time an opponent takes a card from you, it costs them 1 pearl. The second time an opponent takes a card from you, it will cost them 2 pearls. The cost continues to escalate, and yes, your opponents could end up taking the better cards from you, but you'll be getting that money, allowing you to do the same to them on their turn. 

If your opponent doesn't buy the card, then you can add it to your hand, or you can draw again to hopefully find a better card. The next card you draw is placed into the next available slot and again, your opponents have the option to buy this card from you, but if an opponent has already bought a card from you this turn, that same opponent can't buy a card from you again.

You can continue drawing until you find a card you like, or you fill the fifth slot – the one showing the pearl. If you flip a card into the fifth slot, you have to take it and no one can buy it from you. Also, because that fifth slot shows a pearl on it, you get to take a pearl from the bank and add it to your supply.

With your turn completed you need to clear any unclaimed resources, but these don't go into a discard pile. Instead they are organized by suit and placed face down into the stack matching their suit in the center of the board. This brings us to the second action that you can perform: Visiting the Council.

To Visit the Council, you simply select one of the face down stacks in the center of the board and add it directly to your hand. You can't look at the cards that are there before you choose. So, you may try to remember what was moved down from before, or you might just want to take a stack that has a lot of cards in it.

The bottom action is to Recruit an Ambassador. Here you spend cards of a specific suit or suits and values to take an Ambassador card and add it to a tableau in front of you. Ambassadors have different special powers that will benefit you during the game and will be a big source of victory points.

The Ambassador cards are also the major source of art in the game. These are all big tarot sized cards featuring all the gorgeous artwork that I was raving about before. One special feature on many of the Ambassador cards is the key symbol. Once you have collected three key symbols you must automatically gain a location.

Locations are special cards that sit on top of the Ambassador cards that summoned them, covering their special abilities. This is unfortunate, but necessary, as it's these location cards with different scoring conditions on them, that make you the victory points, that you will need to win the game. 

Abyss is fun, light, intuitive and beautiful. This is another one of those games that I feel is a must have for every board game collection. It's a great set collection card game that is my 14th favorite game of all time.

  

#13 Botanik

Botanik is a two player only tile laying game. Each player is laying tiles to create their own personal network of interconnecting pipes called their garden. Each tile contains a small section of pipe. There are five different shapes of pipe section: a straight across section, a "T" section, a bend, a crossroads, and a dead end. In addition, each pipe section is one of five different colors: black, yellow, red, green, or blue.

  
  

Thematically, Botanik is about "steampunk gardening". The pipe sections provide water and nourishment to various plants and flowers growing from the pipes. Both players start with an origin tile that represents their gardener. As they build their pipe network out from their gardener they need to keep in mind that if a pipe tile doesn't create a trail back to their gardener by the end of the game, it can't be scored.

Pipe sections are scored by color. Color groups of four or more that are connected together directly are worth 1 point per tile in that color group. If there are not at least four tiles of the same color together in a color group, those tiles don't score. You also score for flower and fruit features on a tile as long as the tile showing the feature is connected to at least one other pipe of the same color.

That's the scoring for the tile laying portion of the game, but the challenge of Botanik doesn't come from laying down the tiles into your garden. The challenge of Botanik comes from drafting the tiles. Tile drafting involves manipulating a central board that is the key to Botanik's game play.

Sitting between the players is a central board that contains three rows of five spaces each. There is a row immediately in front of each player, and a row that sits in the middle between the two players dividing them. At the start of the game, the five spaces in the middle row are populated randomly with 5 tiles.

Each round three tiles are placed randomly face up beside the board. This is the offer. Players take turns selecting tiles from the offer. When you select a tile, it doesn't go directly into your garden, it goes onto the central board. (The player who goes first will get to take 2 tiles during the round, but then the other player will go first in the next round.)

When you select a tile, you can place it into an empty space in the row in front of you, or you can place the tile on top of an existing tile in the middle row. The trick is that in order to fill an empty space in front of you, you must match either the pipe color or the pipe shape of the tile in the center row.

Once you place a tile in front of you, it's yours. But, you can't add it to your garden until it is "released." To release a tile one player (either you or your opponent) must play a tile to the central row that doesn't match the tile pipe shape or pipe color of the tile that you are trying to release. Once the center tile no longer matches the requirements for the tile that it's holding, that tile is released and added to the player's garden.

Releasing tiles can be tricky business. The central row is shared by both players. So, releasing a tile for you might also release a tile for your opponent. Optimally, you want to release your tiles without releasing your opponent's tiles at the same time. You also want to try to plan ahead, stacking the center row so that you will be able to capture the tiles that you want on a future turn.

Botanik is a fun, fast, thinky, two-player puzzle game. It's awesome! Julie and I love this game so much. It's my 13th favorite game of all time.

  

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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 41 (16-15)

#16 Sentinels of the Multiverse

In Sentinels of the Multiverse players are superheroes working together to battle the nefarious plans of a villainous big bad. The battle is played with cards. The heroes all have their own custom decks as do the villains. In addition to these, there are a variety of location decks.

 
 

Setup is simple and straightforward. All players choose a hero and take the deck of cards representing that hero. They choose a villain that they want to fight and grab that deck. (All heroes are fighting against one villain. Any minions that the villain has will be part of their deck.) Finally, pick a location and take the deck representing that location, and you're ready to play.

Pick your heroes… pick a villain… pick a location… shuffle some cards… Boom! You're off. The core set for Sentinels of the Multiverse contains several of all of these decks of cards. So, you will have lots of variability right out of the box. I own just about everything for the game, because it's awesome.

Each turn all three components of the game: Hero, Villain, Location get to do something. The Villain always goes first. You just flip the card from the top of the Villain deck and do what it says. Each villain also has a card that represents them and tells you how much life the villain has and any special rules for that villain that you need to know.

After the villain activates, all the heroes get to go. Now, it's each player taking it in turn to play a card from their hand and resolve its effect. Most of these cards are about doing damage to the villain, but there's lots more stuff than that. The heroes are all unique and all play differently.

Finally, the location card is flipped and resolved. These are events and extra complications that help give the battle a sense of place. Maybe some innocent bystanders are in danger from falling debris, or the heroes also have to deal with a runaway train on top of everything else. Fun stuff! 

Sentinels is probably the only example of a game designed for 3 or more players that Julie and I go ahead and play at two. Since it's cooperative, we just share the responsibility of the third hero and we haven't had any trouble with that at all. In fact, if one hero is defeated, the player can just switch focus to that third player and that works great.

Yeah, heroes can fall in Sentinels of the Multiverse, but even that isn't the end. A defeated hero has its hero card flipped over to its defeated side. On their turn, a defeated hero can affect the game in various ways. It's like the memory and inspiration of a fallen comrade drives the other heroes onward to greater feats of heroism.

It works well. The game and its challenges are really well balanced. By the time any hero has been defeated, the game is probably all but won (or lost) anyway. In our last game, my hero was defeated, but then the villain was beaten like two turns later. It was really exciting!

 

#15 Hadrian's Wall

In Hadrian's Wall players are building a defensive wall to protect their individual citystate. This is one of those "… and write" games. Players all have two score sheets just covered with different things to do. Each turn a card is flipped showing some resources. Building resources like wood, or different kinds of workers that can do different jobs.

 
 

Everyone takes the resources shown on the card that was flipped for the turn, and then decides where on their player sheets to spend those resources by marking them off with a pencil. The trick in Hadrian's Wall is that spending resources can often net other different resources. These resources can then be spent, and sometimes they will get you more resources to spend.

It's this cascading combo effect that makes Hadrian's Wall such a challenge and so much fun. You're building your wall, and your military, and your economy, and your agriculture, and your political influence, and finding ways to entertain your population with theater or gladiatorial games. There's so much to do, and everything that you do gives you more to do.

Hadrian's Wall is a thinky, challenging little puzzle. Every turn players are working simultaneously to do the best that they can with the materials that they have, and there is so much variety that no two players are going to approach the puzzle in the same way.

Game play is very heads down. I am working on my challenge while you work on yours. It's what is often referred to in board game circles as multiplayer solitaire. That's cool with me and Julie. We like focusing on our stuff, and then coming up for air to share our accomplishments before flipping the next card and diving into the next challenge.

The game is played over a number of rounds and each round players get a few unique-to-them resources in addition to those that come from the shared resource card. Because each resource has the potential to do so much, this tiny variance is enough to ensure that every round feels different for every player.

In the end, the player who handles their puzzle the best and evolves their citystate to be the strongest and the most successful will win the game.

 

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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 40 (18-17)

#18 Dorfromantik: The Board Game

This is the cooperative version of a game that I already had on my list at #74. Both games see players placing hex tiles to form a small village. In the competitive version each player creates their own little village, but in the cooperative version that I am writing about now, the village is a larger shared project.

 
  

All hex tiles have some feature element of a quaint country village on it. (Dorfromantik is a German word that refers to the feeling of nostalgia that a person gets when thinking about a peaceful life in a small country village.) There are cottages, and forests, and fields, and rivers, and railroad tracks.

Each of the five features appears on the various hex tiles. In fact, there are usually two such features on a tile or even three if you have a railroad track or river running between two other features for example. Aside from these elements, the tiles themselves come in two varieties. There's a basic tile, and there's a goal tile. 

The two types of tiles are very similar, but the goal tile will have a tiny picture of a little person on it and they will be saying something in a little speech bubble. The speech bubble contains a symbol. The symbol represents one of the five village features. When you place a goal tile, you draw a random goal token to put on top of it.

Goal tokens are little cardboard chits with the symbol for a feature on one side and a number from 4-6 on the other. At the start of the game, you turn all of the chits number side down, and mix them around. When you place a goal tile, you find one of the chits showing the matching symbol (from the speech bubble on the goal tile) and flip it over. You place the goal token, number side up, on top of the goal tile.

Now you have a feature and a number. This establishes your goal. You want to create a group of connecting tiles of the goal tile feature equal to the number on the goal token without going over (just like the Price is Right.) Once you do this, you collect the goal token and keep it to show that this goal is completed. Collected goal tokens contribute to your score at the end of the game.

To start the game, you place out three goal tiles one at a time. Then, you play with the basic tiles until one of the goals has been met. At this point you place a new goal tile. As long as there are goal tiles available, you must always have three active goals. 

The game ends when you run out of basic tiles to play. We have never run out of goal tiles. But, here's the thing … our first game, we were just learning. After our first game, based on our score, we got to unlock some new tiles. That's right: new tiles! More and different goals and things to do that gradually get added to the game as you play.

Unlocking new things is a big part of Dorfromantik. It kept Julie and I playing game after game. It was fun. Each game we played to try to get the highest score that we could to see what new things we unlocked. Dorfromantik doesn't have a winner or loser. You just play to try to get the best score that you can in order to unlock some new prezzies!

Your mileage may vary (one reviewer on the Dice Tower dissed Dorfromantik, calling it, "pointless") but Julie and I embraced the very relaxed nature of Dorfromantik, and loved playing to unlock new things. It was so much fun that I believe both Julie and I agree that Dorfromantik was our number one game of last year.

The two-player competitive duel version removes the unlockable stuff and instead has players play competitively against each other to earn the most points by completing the most objectives. The game play is still fun, but I liked the unlocking stuff and the larger sprawling shared village in the cooperative game a lot more.

Oh, and Dorfromantik is the 2023 Spiel des Jahres Winner. That's the German family board game of the year. It's the most prestigious honor that a board game can get! So, if anything that I have said about Dorfromantik: The Board Game sounds good to you, go check it out!

 

#17 Hadara

Hadara is a set collection tableau building game with a civilization building theme. In the game players draft cards to move up on four tracks: income, culture, military and food. There are five types of cards in the game. Four of the card types match one of the four tracks, and will advance you up that track a given amount. The fifth card type gives players special powers that can help them during the game, but it won't advance you on the tracks.

 
 

Each card type has its own deck of cards. These decks have a number of cards equal to two times the number of players. (Unused cards are returned to the box.) On your turn you draw two cards from one of the decks and pick one of them to keep, placing the other back on the board face up.

The five different card decks are shuffled and arranged in draw piles around the sides of a pentagon (5 sided) shaped board. Each of the five sides of the pentagon board has a designated spot to place one of the decks. In the center of this board is a sort of wheel that shows five different symbols on it. These symbols are also represented on five different player boards.

The first player turns the wheel in the center of the pentagon board so that the symbol on their player board is lined up with the side of the board containing the deck of cards that they want to draw from. They then draw two cards from this deck. At the same time, all other players draw cards from the deck on the side of the board where their player symbol has landed.

Each player chooses the card that they want to keep by paying its cost in coins and then places the other card face up in a discard pile next to the deck that they had drawn from. After all players have discarded a card, the wheel in the center of board is rotated one space clockwise and then all players draw again, this time from the new space that matches the symbol on their player board.

This continues until all players have drawn cards from all five deck positions on the pentagon board. Then there's a sort of interim scoring phase, and after this, players take turns drafting cards from the top of one of the face up discard piles. This time players are not restricted by the position of the wheel. They get to take cards from any place they want, choosing cards in turn order.

If a player ever finds themself with two cards that they can't afford, or they simply don't like the two cards on offer, they still choose one to keep and one to discard, but instead of adding the card that they chose to keep to their player board, they immediately cash it in for some extra coins.

Once all of the cards are gone from the pentagon board, the round ends. Another interim scoring phase occurs, and new card decks are placed out. Each of the card decks has a number on the back that matches the current round of the game, and the game lasts three rounds. Points are scored for sets of cards, for positions on tracks, and for certain milestones. The player with the most points is the winner.

Hadara is a really interesting card drafting game that features a couple of different ways to draft cards. The two phases of each round integrate seamlessly, and Hadara has a great momentum that moves the game pleasantly forward. It's one of those games that's over before you know it and is easy to set back up and play again. Also, it plays great at two players.

 

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Monday, June 10, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 39 (20-19)

#20 Ethnos

Players compete to have the most influence among the various kingdoms that make up the fictional fantasy continent of Ethnos. They do this by gathering the support of the various fantasy creatures who live on the continent (set collection) and then sending these creatures to the kingdoms of Ethnos to establish a presence there (area control.)



At its core, Ethnos is about set collection. The various fantasy creatures that populate the continent of Ethnos are represented by cards. These cards are each tied to a specific kingdom on the continent as well. So, every card has two qualities, much as other playing cards have a suit and a value. Here instead of suit and value, it's creature and kingdom.

It's hard not to think of the creature depicted on a card as its value and the kingdom named on the card as its suit, but it's more like every card has two suits and no value. As you collect these cards in hand, you are trying to match sets of either creature or kingdom. It's the number of cards in a collected set that gives the set its value.

If you collect a set of all one kingdom, then your set will be made up of a variety of different creatures, and you will have your choice of which specific creature to place on top of the set. If you collect a set of all one creature, then your set will be made up of a variety of different kingdoms, and you will have your choice of which kingdom to place on top of the set.

The card that you place on the top of a set is important because it tells you two things. One: it tells you which kingdom you can place an influence marker in. You must place your marker in the kingdom on the board that matches the top card of the set that you just played. Two: it tells you what special power your set gives you at this moment.

The creatures in Ethnos all have special powers. These powers all manipulate or change the rules in some special way. For example: mermaids move you up a special mermaid track that grants you bonus points at the end of the game, and when you reach certain milestones on the track, you can place a marker out on the board in any kingdom that you want regardless of what is already there.

Oh, yes. "What is already there," is important. You can only place a marker into a kingdom if the size of the set that you just played is greater than the number of markers that you already have in that kingdom. This means you have to build larger and larger sets as the game progresses.

Ethnos has a dozen different creatures and you only play with half of them in any given game. This provides a lot of different powers and a lot of variability. The different combinations of creatures in Ethnos creates new strategies and surprises in every game, but these creatures don't provide the only surprise twist to the game play in Ethnos.

I left out one important rule. When you play a set, all other cards that you have in your hand are discarded into a face up draw pile. This means that any other set that you have started is now laying out there for everyone else to draw from and that every time that you play a set, your hand is empty and you have to start over from scratch.

This creates a lot of tension in the game as you struggle to decide just how long you hold onto cards before you pull the trigger and play your set. If you wait too long, you'll be giving great opportunities to your opponents. This tension creates just the right kind of excitement in the game because your opponents are all struggling with the same tough choice.

So, to summarize: in Ethnos, players draw a card and add it to their hand from either a face up draw pile or the face down deck in order to create sets. Sets are played to add markers to the shared board and score points. Sound familiar? This is the exact game play of Ticket to Ride, but Ethnos is so much better.

The fact that you discard your hand every time that you play a set, and the fact that every set played has a special power, and that these powers change from game to game … all of this escalates Ethnos and makes it an awesome replacement for Ticket to Ride (that you won't find in my top 100.) 

Ethnos is a masterpiece. Normally, area control games like this don't appeal to me, but Ethnos has a few clever tricks up its sleeve that elevates it and lands it in my top 20. 

 

#19 Cartographers

In Cartographers players each have a score sheet made up of a square grid, basically a piece of graph paper. Players draw map symbols into the squares on their paper. The symbols are simple. You don't have to be an artist to play this game. That's not the point. The point is to arrange the symbols in specific groupings. These symbols represent specific map features.



These groupings and how they are scored is determined by public objective cards that change with every game. There are 16 objective cards, but you only use 4 with each game. You label these cards with letters from A-D and you score two objective cards every round, scoring each card twice (AB, BC, CD, DA) during the four rounds of the game.

Every turn a card is flipped showing either two polygon shapes and one map feature, or two map features and one polygon shape. Players choose what of the options on the card that they are going to draw, and then they draw them onto their personal maps, keeping the public objectives in mind.

In addition to the cards showing shapes and features, there are special cards called ambush cards. When one of these is drawn, the shape drawn represents monsters that are invading your land and are worth negative points unless you are able to surround them with other map features, isolating them. The twist here is that you hand your map to an opponent, and they get to draw the invader shape.

Cartographers falls under the category of roll-and-write or flip-and-write games, but it feels different. The "canvas" you are working with here is wide open, and the invaders add an element of interaction that is not found in other games of this type. It's a puzzly polyomino game that just works.

I started out by saying that you didn't need to be able to draw, but the drawing is fun here, whether you consider yourself good at it or not. In every game of Cartographers that we have played, we have pulled out the colored pencils and given our maps the royal treatment. It's fun! It's kind of "coloring book" the game.

Also, as with many games in the "... and write" category, you can play with any number of players without impacting the game play, provided you have enough pencils. We took Cartographers to a family gathering, and played 10 people, and everyone had a blast!


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Sunday, June 09, 2024

You Are Here

I would go to the Center for the Physically Limited during the day. Sally could drop me off there after she finished work. Then she could go home and sleep, and she didn't have to worry about keeping me entertained. I remember that I did have to have something from a doctor about my disability in order to become a member at the Center and that Bill Turley took me.

 
 

I remember in the waiting room, him staring up at this poster of the human circulatory system for what seemed like the longest time. Finally, I asked him about it. He said, "I'm just trying to figure out where we are on this map." Yeah, Bill was hilarious. 

As a member of the Center I got to buy a cheap hot lunch, and I had access to their computer lab (consisting of a few of those all-in-one style Macintosh mini computers) which was cool, because I liked to write even then, and I participated in a thing called an APA or Amatuer Press Alliance. (I'll post more about that later.)

Sometimes I hung out at the duplex and read comics (they didn't have a TV.) Other times, I went with Sally to work and hung out in a corner of the restaurant and drew in a sketch pad. My love of comics had transitioned to a love of drawing, and I always wanted to become a professional artist.

Speaking of "professions," I read through the job postings in the paper that Sally brought home every morning. Sally didn't tell me that mom and dad didn't want me back home. She just emphasized that my options for a future were much better in Tulsa than they were in Coulterville (true!)

I went to a few job interviews. Nothing was working out on that front, but I read an ad for Platt College and specifically their commercial art program. I really wanted to check out the art program at this school. So, Sally took me. The school recruiters knew a soft sell when they saw one, and before I knew it, I was signed up for classes.

"Good!" Sally exclaimed. Although, I was suddenly worried that I had done something very reckless. Sally was nonplussed and took us out to celebrate. "Now we know you're going to stay!"

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Chapter Two

Sally lived in a nice rented duplex of red brick in Tulsa with her roommate Alice. Alice was this earthy, holistic medicine, sense your aura, kinda person and she welcomed me into their home without hesitation. The early days of my "visit" to Tulsa were pretty low key. Sally was working as the night manager for a local restaurant chain called the Country Kettle in the evenings. During the day she would sleep, and we might do a little something together in the late afternoon or early evening. I was just happy to be somewhere new.

In the hopes that she might give me something to do, Alice introduced me to a friend of hers named, Bill Turley. Alice thought that Bill and I might get along because, like me, Bill had cerebral palsy. Let that sink in for a moment. Alice meant well, but in her short time of knowing me, she grabbed onto the one thing that she knew. I point this out, because it was and has been a fact of my life. For many people, even the kindest and most well intentioned, my cerebral palsy defines me. It is who I am to them, until I teach them something else.

It turns out, introducing me to Bill Turley was the best thing that Alice could have done. Bill was a great person and a good friend in those early days. He, like me, was able to get around and function in the "normal" able-bodied world. His speech was not as clear as mine (for those who have never met me, I am well spoken and my speech is flawless) but he spoke plainly and understandably enough. 

He also drove. He drove a standard, and I am not going to lie, as a person who has learned to be a good passenger and pretty much ignore everything that happens during the journey except polite conversation, riding with Bill was terrifying. Bill had a perfect driving record, it proves that good judgment overrides manual dexterity and reflexes. (Drive responsibly, people.) That's not a lesson that I ever learned, which is why I don't drive. (Perhaps, a story for another time.)

Bill and I went out. We had a meal. We talked. He told me about this theater troupe that he was a part of. He was going to be performing soon, and he asked me if I would like to come see the show. This sounded like fun to me. I really didn't have that much on my schedule. So, I said yes. The production company was called the Center Stage Players. They were a theater troupe for a recreation center called, The Center for the Physically Limited. 

 
 

I went to see Bill (he picked me up and drove me) in the Center Stage production of Chapter Two by Neil Simon. I don't remember much about the production, except that it featured disabled actors, blindly cast in traditional roles. Disability wasn't a factor. The actors were the characters. In this play those characters were mainly the male lead played by Bill and the female lead played by a young woman (who just happened to be in an electric wheelchair) Robin Davis.

The show was good. It was sharp, tight, well acted. (I have since seen my share of community theater, and in retrospect I can say with some authority, that this show was really good.) Bill and I went out and grabbed a bite after the show and we talked about the performance. I had a genuinely good time and I told him so.

I didn't know it at the time, but the Center Stage Players would become a changing influence in my life every bit as powerful as D&D.

Friday, June 07, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 38 (22-21)

#22 Cape May

In Cape May players are building cottages and shops in a seaside resort town. The main board represents the town of Cape May and is made up of paved streets and empty lots in four different regions. The region furthest from the sea is the gravel region in gray. Next is the grass region in green. Then there's the dirt region in brown, and finally the sand region in beige which is next to the sea at the bottom of the game board.



Regions are important because they affect how much it costs to build in those areas. Gravel that is furthest from the sea is the cheapest to build on, while the sand region next to the sea is the most expensive. Players start with some money and gain income as they add buildings in their color to the game board. Cottages provide a little income. Shops provide a bit more.

After all players have had a turn, the round marker (a lighthouse miniature) advances on the round track. The round track is a circular wheel divided into 12 spaces. Each space has a symbol on it for spring, summer, fall and winter. There are 3 spots for each season. Once the round tracker makes a full rotation, a year has passed, and the game ends.

Players only collect income three times during the game as the seasons change from spring to summer, from summer to fall, and from fall to winter. So, increasing income as much as possible is really important. Everything you'll want to do in the game costs money: building shops and cottages, upgrading shops to businesses and cottages to Victorians and Victorians to landmarks.

Upgrading buildings gets you more income and more points at the end of the game. Also, when you upgrade a shop you get to draw a special upgrade card as a reward that will give you some kind of mechanical benefit during the game. Maybe a way to improve your movement around the board or a way to build things more cheaply, for example.

Movement is done by playing cards and some movement cards actually require you to spend some of your hard earned money to play them. All players start with the same set of movement cards and you have to spend one of your three available actions on your turn to pick these back up to start again. This movement puzzle is a big part of the game because your player pawn must be standing on the street next to a building space in order for you to build there.

In addition to money, each player gets 2 activity cards each time they get income. These provide various benefits just like the shop upgrade cards. Also every time the round marker is advanced, an event card that affects all players is put into play. These can be good or bad events. Maybe everyone gets a discount on building cottages for the round, or maybe a section of Cape May catches on fire! (Events are exciting!)

At the end of the game players earn points for the buildings that they have upgraded as well as for having the majority of buildings in the different regions. The area majority scoring works the opposite from the scoring individual buildings. Buildings near the sea are worth the most as this represents the most valuable properties. However, majorities furthest from the sea score the most as this represents expansion and growth.

Cape May is a great little resource management, area control game. The theme is well realized by the mechanics and the game looks beautiful on the table. Cottage and shop upgrades are represented by 3D models on the table that look fantastic. Fun, challenging, beautiful, exciting! Cape May is awesome!


#21 Parade

In Parade players place a card each turn into a row or cards in the center of the table. This row or line represents the "parade." The people in the parade are characters from Alice In Wonderland. There's Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the Rabbit, the Dodo, and Humpty Dumpty. (Not the Queen because she would boss everyone around and ruin the parade.)



Each character is a card suit represented also by a card color. So, all Alice cards are blue and all Cheshire Cat cards are purple, but because each color is also a character, the suits are color blind friendly. There are 11 cards in each of the 6 suits numbered 0-10 for a total of 66 cards in the game.

You will have five cards in your hand at all times. On your turn you play one card adding it to the end of the parade and then draw a new card into your hand to replace it. If you ever can't draw a card, this is one of the game end triggers. At this point, play continues until every other player has had one more turn and all players have only four cards in hand. Then the game ends.

When you play a card to the end of the parade, you then count a number of cards back through the parade that are closest to the card you just played. These are your friends, the cards that are happy to see you. Count a number of cards equal to the value of the card you just played. That's how many friends you have. If you played a 6 for example, the next 6 cards in the parade are your friends and they will follow you in the parade no matter what. 

Beyond this point, the rest of the characters (cards) in the parade are not happy to see you, and some of them are going to leave. If any card is the same suit as the card you just played – so, the same character as you, they will immediately get disgusted and leave the parade. "Two Alices in the same parade? That's absurd!" (Unless they're your friend – see above.)

Of the disgruntled characters remaining that are not the same character as the one just joining the parade (the card just played) only those characters with a willpower strong enough to ignore you are going to stay. Basically, characters with a card value higher than that of the card just played are strong enough to stick it out. Cards with a value lower than or equal to the card just played are too intimidated to stay. These cards are leaving too, and they aren't happy about it.

So, what happens to all these upset Wonderlandians who have left the fun of the parade either upset, angry or heartbroken? Guess what? You made them leave. They are your responsibility. You have to invite them all over to your house and feed them chicken soup. Mechanically, this just means putting these cards in front of you organized by suit.

If you ever have all six different characters (suits) in your house eating chicken soup (sitting in front of you) at the end of your turn, this is the other end game trigger. Don't draw a card into your hand at the end of this turn. Every other player has one more turn and they also do not draw a new card into their hands at the end of their turn. (All players will have only four cards in hand after their last turn.) There is only one last thing to do. 

What are you going to do with all of these characters in your house eating chicken soup? Obviously, you are going to call their parents to come get them and take them home. 

Choose any two of the cards left in your hand to be "the parents" and set them aside without showing the other players. Place the remaining two cards in your hand face down in the middle of the table into a special end game discard pile. Now simultaneously, all players reveal the two cards that they saved and add them to all the other cards they have in front of them. (Go ahead and add these last 2 cards into the correct suits with the others of their same type.)

Time to take a final head count before the parents take all the kids home. You need to make sure that no one gets forgotten in the bathroom. (This step is also called scoring.)

First compare the number of characters of each type that you have in front of you with the numbers of that character in front of the other players. If you have more cards of a specific character than anyone else, flip that character's cards face down. If you have the same number or less, you don't get to flip over the cards. You have to have more.

For each card still face up, you get a number of points equal to the value of the card. Add all of these together. Now add one more point for each face down card. This gives you your final score, but remember these cards represent the unhappy characters that you made leave the parade. You don't want these points! The player with the fewest points is the winner.

Hint: Because face down cards will give you less points, if you find you have taken a really high valued card of a specific character, it may become important to make sure that you have the most of that character at the end of the game. (Flipping a 10, and a 9, and an 8 face down turns 27 points into 3 points.) This is important to keep in mind when you are choosing which two cards to keep (the parents) at the end of the game.

Julie and I love a Parade! This is a simple, accessible card game that feels and plays like a classic. Despite my narrative above, Parade really has no theme at all, but the Wonderland characters are beautifully illustrated and the game looks great at the table. Parade has gone over well with everyone we have ever played it with, and it belongs in every board game collection.


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Thursday, June 06, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 37 (24-23)

#24 Radlands

Radlands is a cool 1v1 card game. Each player has 3 base camps. These camps can each take two hits. The first time that a camp is hit, it is turned sideways. The second time a camp is hit, it is flipped face down to its destroyed side. If all three of a player's base camps are destroyed their opponent wins the game.

 
 

Your three camps have special abilities on them that you can use on your turn as long as that camp is not destroyed. These abilities vary in power and utility. To offset this, there is a little symbol with a number on each camp card. Camps with really good abilities might have a 0 in that little symbol. Camps with weaker powers might have a 1, 2 or 3 in that little symbol.

That little symbol represents how many cards that you have in your hand at the start of the game. You add the values of these symbols on all three camps to determine your starting hand size. At the start of the game, each player is dealt five camp cards and must choose three of them.

Choosing the right camps can greatly affect your game. Do you choose camps with really powerful abilities but begin play with only a few cards in hand, or do you choose weaker camps but start with a larger number of cards in hand? It's probably best to land somewhere in the middle, but you get the idea.

Once players have chosen their camps they are dealt cards. These cards come in two varieties: people and events. People are played in front of a camp. That camp is now protected. This means that your opponent must target the person in front before they can target your camp. That's okay, people are expendable. Your camp isn't.

You can play, at most, two people in front of a camp. If you play a person to a camp where you already have another person, you can choose to place this person in front of the one that was already there, or slide the existing person card forward to play the new person behind them. In this way your people cards can also protect each other. Your opponent must always target the card in front (closest to them.) That is, unless a card ability states otherwise.

Oh, yeah. Cards have all kinds of cool abilities and it's making the most of these that makes games like Radlands really fun. Just like with the camps, people card abilities vary in power and utility. This time that disparity is offset by the card's cost. Every card has a cost to play. This cost is paid in water. Radlands has a post-apocalyptic theme, and just like in Mad Max, water is power!

In addition to people cards, there are event cards. Event cards go into a sort of timing queue. This queue has three spaces starting back beside your bases and moving forward beside the first and second rows of people cards. Each turn an event card is moved one space forward. Once an event emerges past the top row of cards, it activates. 

Events are usually really powerful things that your opponent can't stop. All they can do is get ready to deal with the carnage as they watch the event march forward turn by turn. 

Event cards have a number on them that show where in the event queue they start. An event with a 3 starts by your bases. An event with a 2 starts by your first row of people (the one closest to your bases,) and an event with a 1 starts by your second row of people (the one closest to your opponent.)

Powerful events take longer to trigger, giving your opponent more time to prepare. There are even events that have a counter of 0. These trigger immediately, providing instant effects. (Exciting!)

Radlands is such an engaging battle card game. It's truly best of class. The post-apocalyptic theme is well realized through the stunning card art and the abilities on the cards. Turns are fast and game play is aggressive. It's just awesome!

 

#23 The Castles of Burgundy

In Castles of Burgundy players each have a personal hex map player board. This board has hexes grouped together into areas of different colors, and all hexes have a picture of a die face showing from 1 to 6 pips inside it. There is a large central board with different action spots. These also have die symbols on them.

 
 

Players roll 2 dice and use them to take actions. You can draft tiles from the central board from the section with the die that matches a die that you rolled. You can place a previously drafted hex tile onto your player board in a location with a color that matches the type of tile you are placing as long as the hex you are placing into matches a die that you rolled.

Placing different tiles also activates special actions when they are placed. All of this stuff gives you points, and the player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner. Julie and I have the super deluxified version of the Castles of Burgundy. It has beautiful ceramic tiles and multi-layered player boards and 3D building models.


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Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 36 (26-25)

#26 Century: Spice Road

Century: Spice Road has two kinds of cards: action cards and scoring cards. Players play action cards from their hand to gain cubes. Cubes are currency used to purchase scoring cards for victory points. If you don't have cards left in hand or don't want to play the cards that you have, you can skip your turn to pick up all your cards, placing all previously played cards back into your hand to play again.



Action cards are drafted from a market row that is shared by all players. On your turn you can take the first card in the row, but if you want a card that is further down the row, you must place a cube onto each card in the row that you skip over. If you take a card with cubes on it, you get to take the cubes too.

Action cards either provide cubes or they convert cubes into other cubes. This is important because purchasing scoring cards requires cubes of various different colors and you can only take a scoring card if you can match its cost exactly.

Unlike with deck building games, when you draft an action card from the market row in Century, you add it directly to your hand and can use it immediately. The idea here is to build the best conversion engine you can so that you can have the cubes that you need when you need them.

Century is a pure engine building game. Players draft action cards so that they can play action cards to get cubes to buy scoring cards. Like Splendor, Century is clean and puzzly and its simplicity makes it fun.


#25 Village

At the start of every round in Village, cubes of differing colors are pulled from a bag and seeded on action spaces on the board. The board represents the Village, but also has a section representing all the neighboring villages that a person can travel to in order to visit.



In Village players have a family of workers. At first all your workers have a number 1 on them. These are "first generation." When you place a worker on a space, you also take a cube from that space. Some spaces require you to spend the cubes that you have to take the action. This means that you will plan your turn to collect what you need by taking some actions before others.

You always have to take a cube, even when you may not want to. Why would you not want to take a cube? Black cubes are called plague cubes. When you take these, a little counter on your player board is advanced. Advance this enough and workers of the earliest available generation will pass away and have to go the the graveyard.

That's right, your workers can die. This is especially relevant because you also train your workers to teach them special skills. So, choosing who must die can be difficult. You can make new workers by taking an action to have a couple of workers get married and have a baby. New workers will then have a higher number on them, representing later generations.

This sense of progression in Village is unique to any of the games that Julie and I own, and we really like it. The earliest generations of villagers who pass away go into a special place on the game board called the village chronicle. Workers put to rest here are worth points. Once the chronicle is full however, future generations who pass away are put in unmarked graves in the graveyard (sad.)

Other worker spots in Village includes a church, places to raise cattle or build different goods, (These require the villager to be trained.) and a place to have your worker participate in local government. There's also a market spot where players can sell goods and that area to go traveling to visit other villages that I mentioned earlier.

Doing all of these things will get you points and there's a lot of interesting choices here. Village is a unique experience. You are a family living in a Village over many generations. Make the most of your life here to score the most points and win the game.


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Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 35 (28-27)

#28 Walking in Burano

Today, I have two pretty simple card games. First up is Walking In Burano. In Walking In Burano players draft cards from one of four possible columns of three cards. The columns are populated randomly from 3 different decks of cards.



The 3 cards in each column stack to create little houses. The top deck is made up of roof cards. All varieties of roofs in a range of bright vibrant colors make up this deck. The bottom deck is foundations. Here there are sidewalks and doorways and awnings and storefronts. These again are presented in every variety and a wide range of colors.

The middle row represents the second floor of all the houses. This one has windows with different features, shutters or curtains or window boxes, stuff like that. On these cards, sometimes windows are boarded up, and boarded up windows are worth negative points. So, even in Burano things are not always perfect.

Players draft the columns and add these cards to their hands. Playing cards from their hands to create buildings costs money. Players get money when drafting. If you take one card, you get 2 coins. If you draft 2 cards, you get 1 coin. If you take all the cards in a column, you get no money. So, you always draft three things every turn in a combination of cards and money.

When you create buildings, each individual building must be created from three cards of a matching color. (There is a special marking on the cards representing their color which makes this process color blind friendly.) Once you start a building, all other buildings must be adjacent to the left or right, and you can't have two buildings of the same color next to each other.

Players each create their own little streets in the city of Burano following the building rules until one player has completed five buildings, this signals the end of the game. Play continues so that all players have the same number of turns, and then buildings are scored.

Scoring cards come in the form of tourist and resident cards. These cards represent people who want different things. Each time a player completes a building they choose a scoring card. This card is placed beneath the building just completed. Tourist cards are the most common and look at only the building immediately above them. Resident cards consider all buildings, but there are fewer of them.

Points are scored for things like potted plants, lamps, chimneys, matching curtains, or even cats. Oh, yes. Burano is crawling with kitties. The first player marker is even a cat. The player who scores the most points is the player who has satisfied the most people in their neighborhood, and they win the game!


#27 Floriferous

In Floriferous players are walking through a beautiful flower garden collecting flowers. The garden is made up of rows and columns of cards. All cards but those in the bottom row show different flowers and other garden features. The bottom row is made up of scoring cards. Players have a pawn that represents them as they walk through the garden.



Some public objectives have players racing to collect certain things, but most of a player's score will come from their scoring cards. These cards will ask a player to collect specific kinds of colors of flowers or maybe the insects that appear on many of the flower cards like ladybugs or butterflies. 

Each round players pick one card in the leftmost column of flowers. Eventually moving from left to right through the garden until they reach the final column. Then the garden is repopulated with new cards and players move their pawns back through the garden, this time from right to left. Finally one more trip left to right through the garden is made. This ends the game.

Players act in order according to their pawn's position in the garden from top to bottom. Since the bottom row is always the scoring cards, if you took the scoring card on your turn, then you will go last on your next turn. 

As you move your pawn through the garden you will want to set yourself up to go first if you see something that you really want in the next column, but this sometimes means taking a flower that you don't really need on the turn before. This creates some interesting decisions as you play through the game.

Both Floriferous and Walking in Burano are beautiful vibrant card games with a stunning table presence. The flower cards in Floriferous are particularly gorgeous. I highly recommend both these games.


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Monday, June 03, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 34 (30-29)

#30 Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write

This is Jurassic Park the board game – in a roll-and-write. Players have two sheets. One keeps track of the dinosaurs in your park and has a place to draw your enclosures. One keeps track of the people and concessions that you add to your park.



Big chonky thematically amber colored dice are rolled each round and players draft these to collect dinosaur DNA and to perform actions. Do you put in a lot of carnivores which raise the thrill level of your park, or do you go with safer herbivores? After all, if too many of your guests get eaten, that can cut into your profits (victory points.) 

You can mitigate the danger of more deadly (and thrilling) dinos by increasing park security. Or you can go for broke and let your guests take their chances. This is a fun, thinky little roll-and-write. Often roll-and-write games are lighter affairs because they are so quick to set-up and play. While quick to set-up, Dinosaur Island: Rawr 'n Write is a full experience, and one of our favorites!

 

#29 Cosmic Run

Cosmic Run is another lighter dice game. This one has been a longtime favorite because it's so quick and easy to table. Players are racing to reach one of five different planets. To do this players roll dice looking for 2, 3, 4, or 5 of a kind, or one planet that just needs dice showing a single pip. Each time you roll, you must place at least one die and you can roll again.

 

Dice placed on a planet's track moves you one step closer to that planet. Any progress toward a planet is worth some points, but reaching a planet first grants a sizable bonus. There are also alien diplomat cards. Each type of alien provides you with a different way to manipulate your dice rolls. Placing combinations of dice onto these cards will allow you to bring them into your possession and provides you with another choice with what to do with your dice.

To add to the tension, dice results also produce unavoidable meteor strikes on random planets. If a planet is hit three times, it is eliminated and players are stuck with the scores at their position at the time that the planet is destroyed. Lower positions on the tracks are negative points. So, you need to hurry up and get some progress towards every planet as quickly as you can.

Play continues until all five planets have either been reached by one of the players or destroyed by meteors. Points are scored for progression toward the planets and for collecting sets of alien diplomats. There is also one type of alien diplomat that provides mining rights, allowing players to mine for ore. Ore collected converts directly into additional points and the player with the most points is the winner.


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Sunday, June 02, 2024

Welcome To Oklahoma

So, events in Coulterville brought my sister to Tulsa, and further events led to me visiting her there. At least, I assumed at the time that it would just be a visit. Tulsa would become my home for almost 30 years.



I don't remember much about Sally's visit to Coulterville. It was May, and Sally's birthday and Mother's Day are always close (sometimes they fall on the same day.) That was the reason that I was given for Sally's visit – Mother's Day and her birthday. (She only told me recently that mom had called her.) Sally invited me to come to Tulsa with her for a visit. I remember packing a single bag of clothes, and I remember that I took a little case of music cassette tapes with me.

I remember playing the tapes in the car during the trip. One of my friends from Coulterville, Peyton, was really into music (and still is.) I inherited some of that passion at the time and some of the same tastes. Growing up, Chuck listened exclusively to country music. This was old school country, Don Williams, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, the Oakridge Boys, Willie Nelson … all that lot. If you recognize those names, you know the kind of music I mean. It's the kind of music that still puts a knot in my stomach when I hear it today. (Except for Dolly Parton and John Denver. I love Dolly and John!)

Before Peyton had introduced me to new kinds of music, I think I thought that all music would make me feel the way that country music makes me feel. I think that Sally felt the same, (with the exception of gospel music) and I like to think that I opened her eyes to new kinds of music. She really seemed to enjoy the music that I played on our 9 hour car ride to Tulsa as I "DJ'd" from the passenger seat. I played the Beatles, and Eric Clapton, and Boston, and what I think was her favorite, Fleetwood Mac. I know that I played "Rumours" at least twice and that the second time was by request.

It's the music that I remember from that trip. I think music might be one of those memory triggers, like smell. I think of that car ride when I hear "I Don't Want To Know" or "Don't Stop." I also remember the weather. It had been cooler in Illinois and I had packed a few long sleeved shirts, but the trip up had been sweltering. It was 90 degrees when we reached Tulsa in the late afternoon / early evening. That night a cold front moved in, and the next morning it was snowing. I was shocked.

In response to my great surprise at the abrupt and extreme change in weather, Sally said simply, "Welcome to Oklahoma."

Saturday, June 01, 2024

Sexual Abuse Warning - Topic May be Triggering for Some

My sister Sally is less than 2 years younger than me. My sister Karla is less than 5 years younger than me. I have written one story about Karla and myself. You can read it here. (Go ahead. It's really good.) I have never written anything about Sally even though we were really close (much closer than me and Karla.) The story that I have to share isn't a happy one.

Sally was better at keeping a low profile than me or Karla. She was the "responsible" one, and she stayed out of trouble. But, where Coulterville was the best thing to ever happen to me, it was the worst thing to ever happen to Sally. I am about to talk about things that I "know" but only from my point of view. I called Sally to ask if I could write about this and she graciously gave me her blessings. Sally is a very private person, and very guarded about what she says about Coulterville. So, this is a huge deal, but I think this is an important story to tell. 

I can't say if this is a real memory or a dream, it was so long ago, and it is the kind of thing that my brain would try to block out, to hide from. This is what I remember. Sally came to me one night in my room. We lived in Coulterville in the "big white house." Fred was living with us and Mom was pregnant with Chris (my baby brother.) Sally told me that Fred had touched her in an inappropriate way. 

I need to pause here. This is real. My blog is about comics and RPGs and fun. When I decided to include a memoir … I could have avoided this. This may not be what you want to read right now, but it's really important that I acknowledge that this happened. Our world isn't safe. Young, vulnerable, innocent people are betrayed and hurt and preyed upon by those that they love and trust everyday. I decided not to shy away from that. 

If you are reading this and something similar has happened to you. Know that you are not alone. Know that you are not at fault. Know that there is nothing wrong in seeking help. Find help. Your world is supposed to be better. Our world is supposed to be better.

I don't remember, but I know that Sally probably tried to "lessen" to "understate" what happened to her (to protect me.) She was struggling with what to do. Should she tell mom? I was shocked, and afraid, and angry, and crestfallen all at the same time. "Yes." I finally advised her. "You have to tell." She didn't want to because Karla and I were … happy. It didn't matter. She needed to tell mom. She wasn't safe. Karla wasn't safe. 

I said above that I wasn't sure that this memory was real or a dream. Perhaps that's guilt. Guilt because I didn't do more. I didn't do anything. I didn't help her. I didn't confront mom. I didn't confront Fred. I just kept hiding in my fantasies. I had my friends, and so, I abandoned my sister. Surely, that was a dream. What I do know is that what happened to Sally was real.

I didn't hear about this again. Sally didn't tell mom. I had always assumed that she did. That maybe somehow it had all been a misunderstanding. It wasn't. Sally admitted to me recently that I was the only one she told. (At least, at that time.) That she was afraid that mom wouldn't believe her. So, in that way, intentionally or not, Sally protected my world. My world didn't change. Sally's did. 

I never talked to Sally about this directly again. (Until just a few days ago.) Why didn't I? I want to cry as I write this, even now, especially now. I didn't do anything to help her. I wrapped myself up in the safety blanket of my new life and I "forgot."

Sally threw herself into school and avoided being home as much as she could. She began going to church all the time. I have other scattered memories, of clues, of bits of conversations. Sally sought the council of the church, I assume, because I remember her spouting something about "honoring thy father and thy mother" more than once. What fucking terrible advice. Why didn't I see it? Why didn't I do anything?

I remember months before this happened. A girl in my class was spitting such poison at me, and I called her out. She admitted that it wasn't me, it was my "father." Her mother had dated, had lived with Fred. "Tell your sisters to be careful of him." She told me. That was all she told me. 

I didn't heed the warning. I defended him. "He isn't like that." I suppose that I was thinking of the kind of abuse that we had suffered with Chuck. 

"Well, maybe he has changed." She said, "I hope so." 

She was his victim too. That's real too. Why did everyone including me protect this predator by denying or ignoring or justifying his terrible criminal monstrous behavior?

Sally lied about her age and got a job at a diner. She worked to save her own money, to avoid home, and to make an escape. Her constant attendance at church and her seclusion into the safety of faith alienated Sally from her classmates. She persevered through school, but she no longer loved it. She didn't seem to truly love anything anymore, but she clung to church.

When school was out for the summer, Sally went to a summer church camp. This took her completely away from home for a few months. I believe it was here that she finally did some real healing. Then it was back to school, back to work, back to church and as little time at home as possible. I remember that I went with her that next summer to the summer church camp. I was there for a few weeks, they were welcoming and kind. It was nice.

I had forgotten about the terrible things that I had heard. Blocked them out completely. They defined my sister's very existence. She had reached out to me for help. I had forgotten. I'm so sorry.

Sally attended the church camp during the summer before her sophomore, junior and senior school years. During the last two years she served as a camp counselor. She met other counselors, most only a year or two older than she was. A large contingent of these counselors had come to the summer camp from a Bible school. This school was called Rhema Bible College and was located in Tulsa, OK. 

During her senior year, Sally lived with our Aunt Darla. She continued in school, worked in a local diner to help pay her rent, and was even more dedicated to the church. After she graduated high school, as the next school year approached, Sally moved to Tulsa to attend Rhema Bible College.

It was over a year later that Mom called Sally and asked her to come get me. Sally now had a life in Tulsa. I was about to.



Addendum: Before posting this, I spoke to both of my sisters. I found out that in leaving her alone, Karla became the next target. Something that I didn't know, but should have suspected. Karla did tell mom. At this point, Sally stepped up and collaborated Karla's story.

Mom asked Karla (Who was 14, the same age that I was when I threatened to leave if Mom didn't leave Chuck.) if she wanted her to leave Fred. She should have just done it. She should have left. (She should have called the police.) She put it on Karla. That was a huge burden to place on the shoulders of a child. (I'm sure mom was scared. She now had a child with Fred - a toddler, a boy. It's still no excuse.) Karla relented, telling mom that she didn't have to leave. For her part, mom promised to never leave Karla alone with Fred.

So, Karla, like Sally had done before her, continued to live under this threat, doing everything that she could to avoid home. With no other option, at least in her eyes, Karla became pregnant. (What was she supposed to do, go to the police? – Fred's best friend, whom I mentioned previously, was the local Sheriff.) 

Karla became pregnant so that her boyfriend's father would let them get married. She was 16. Karla moved into the family home of her new husband and lived there until they finished highschool and were able to get a place of their own. They are still together today. They have been happily married for almost 40 years.

Friday, May 31, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 33 (32-31)

#32 Super Motherload

This is a fantastic deck building game that I fear may have been hindered by its unfortunate name. Super Motherload sounds like a Nintendo themed porn parody. 



What it is, is a wonderful deck builder with a board element where players are playing cards to bore mining tunnels deeper and deeper into (hmm … the porn analogy continues) the surface of an alien planet (Mars?) to harvest its natural resources.

Players dig down through the layers of rock to mine gems and spend those to get better cards to add to their deck. The theme is pretty much Dig Dug (if you can remember that) the deck building game. Cards that you add to your deck improve your mining crew which enable you to go further and faster, hopefully beating your opponents to the most lucrative gains.

I really love Super Motherload. It sits in a similar spot as Quest for Eldorado but adds just the smallest level of complexity. Quest for Eldorado for example, is a race and ends when the first player reaches the finish line. Super Motherload has many of the same "feels" but sees players scoring points to achieve victory. Plus, I like the space theme.

An engaging, simple deck builder with a fun theme, great table presence and a terrible name, Super Motherload is my 32nd favorite game of all time.


#31 Wingspan

Ah, Wingspan. This one you have probably already heard about if you have any sort of interest in modern hobby board gaming. Wingspan took the gaming world by storm and with good reason.



In Wingspan players are filling a nature preserve with all forms of avian life. Your nature preserve is made up of three habitats: forests, fields, and wetlands. This creates three of the four rows of your player board. The fourth (really narrow) row at the top of your board allows you to place cards into the other three rows. (These rows are wide enough to hold the cards that you need to put there.)

The three wide rows hold cards. The top narrow row does not. In addition, all rows act as sort of worker placement spots to trigger actions. Players have action cubes that act as workers to activate these different action spots. The top narrow row allows players to place a cube there and then add a card to any one of the other three rows.

These cards are the birds that move into your nature preserve, and all of the cards are beautifully illustrated. Wingspan is gorgeous! Players collect bird cards and place them on their player board in the row that represents the proper habitat for the bird in question. 

Each row has seven columns. (The player board is a four by seven grid.) But, each of the three habitats holds a maximum of five birds. The first column is where you keep your action cubes after they are played, and the last column shows a powerful action that can only be unlocked once the entire row is filled with birds. This is a tiny narrow column just like the top row. 

The main active parts of your player board are the center second through sixth columns that hold your cards. This all might sound confusing, but the player board is actually really well laid out and clearly defined. It makes learning and playing Wingspan a breeze!

All the core actions are right there on the board. The forest row lets you collect food from the bird feeder. (Food is rolled on special food dice. The bird feeder is an awesome dice tray!) The field row lets your birds lay eggs. (Food and Eggs are both needed to play more cards onto your player board.) The wetlands row lets you draw more bird cards into your hand.

What you can do is all right there in front of you. But, wait! There's more! When you play a card into a row, you always play it into the left most available column. Then, when you choose a row in order to perform an action, you activate the action to the right of the last card in the row. So, the more birds that you have in a row, the more powerful that row's action becomes.

But wait! There's more! Most of your bird cards also have actions on them. You activate the core player action, then moving from right to left you go back across the row activating the action of each bird card in that row! That can give you a lot of awesome stuff to do in one turn! So, while you are set collecting birds, you are also building an engine!

After players play all of their action cubes, the round ends and a scoring phase is activated, where players compair how they did for the round on special end round objectives. Each player then places one of their action cubes on the scorecard. This means that players have one less action in the coming round. 

So, as your actions on your player board get better and better, this is offset by the fewer number of action cubes available. It is also always clear which round you're in and impossible to forget and lose track. (Which sometimes happens in other games.)

It's beautiful. It's intuitive. It's clever. It's thematic. (All the bird powers actually make sense based on the behavior of the birds in nature.) Wingspan is a masterpiece, worth all of its hype. It even answers the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" (You have to have birds first in Wingspan in order to lay eggs.)

Wingspan is so good. If you haven't played it, you should. Just thinking about it makes me wonder why Wingspan isn't higher in my top 100. For now though, Wingspan is my 31st favorite game of all time.

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