Saturday, May 18, 2024

Chuck

A few weeks ago I talked about playing D&D during the summer of 1981. I mentioned being disillusioned during the school year in the fall and failing my sophomore year of high school. In the summer of 1982, we moved. This for me, felt like the worst possible thing. 

I've talked about my struggles with school and with the young people that should have been, but weren't my peers, because I was a young disabled person in the public schools, but I haven't said much about my life at home. Prior to our life in Coulterville, we moved … a lot. My stepfather Chuck was a hard worker, but he had trouble keeping a job. He drank. 


Not "that" Chuck. 

My strongest memory from my childhood is the smell of beer. Chuck had a beer in hand from the time he got up in the morning until he went to bed at night. He was a rail thin man with bloodshot eyes who drank constantly but barely ate anything at all. He was rarely sober, but when he was, he was kind. Sadly, this was rare. 

We would move from place to place as Chuck moved from job to job. I believe that he loved us - his family, but I also believe that we were a terrible burden that he seemed to constantly fail. So, then too, were we a constant reminder of that failure. We brought resentment where there should have been joy, and this resentment manifested itself as mental and physical abuse focused on the source of that resentment. Oh, and of course, more and more drinking. 

My sister once told me whilst looking back on our childhood, how badly she felt for me. School, she told me, was a reprieve for her. She loved school because it was a safe place for her away from home, but it wasn't for me. I never had a safe place. I sought what solace I could in the pages of comic books. They were my escape. But, that was all in my head. Real life was always waiting just on the other side of my bedroom door. 

Having moved so much, never making friends, staying on the wrong side of everyone, even my teachers, meant that for the longest time, I didn't know that my world was wrong. I thought that what I was experiencing was the only thing available for me, but as I got older, I learned the truth about this world I was living in, and I decided to do something about it. 

I was 14. Chuck and mom were fighting. This wasn't unusual, but he hit her. I couldn't stand it and I charged into the room with the intention of putting myself between Chuck and my mom. I think she must have seen me coming because she reacted in a way that I didn't expect. She shoved Chuck backwards out the kitchen door and slammed it shut, quickly locking it, before running through the house to the front door and locking that one as well. I think she was trying to protect me, rather than herself. 

She told us (me and my sisters) not to worry, and to go to our rooms. I heard Chuck start the car and I thought for a moment that he might try to drive it into the house. He didn't. He drove off, almost certainly headed towards the closest bar. Once things had quieted down, mom started making excuses. "He's just drunk. He just needs to cool off." All the usual platitudes. 

I sat down with mom and told her that I wouldn't do this anymore. I told her that either she left Chuck, or I would walk out the door and she would never see me again. We left Chuck that night. We stayed with one of my mom's sisters (Aunt Janet or Aunt Darla … I can't remember) and within a few days we moved to Coulterville. 

I bring all of this up to emphasize how precious those few years in Coulterville were to me, and what a terrible step back suddenly moving again was. But, Mom had married again, and Fred (my new step dad) wanted to buy her a house… a new home. That new home was in a town called Cutler.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 23 (52-51)

#52 Wild Space

In Wild Space players draft cards to create the best spaceship crews. The crews are anthropomorphic animal aliens and robots. Points are scored for grouping species of crew members or other various kinds of sets based on scoring cards that you collect.



Players move space ship pawns to different planets. Each planet provides an action that the player can take. Each planet card is divided into two halves. The top half is "orbit" and you have to move your ships there first. Then you can "land" on the planet in a subsequent turn. 

The orbit and landing areas of the cards have different actions. Cards also can trigger actions when played, creating a cascading effect. This is desirable as getting the most actions out of each of your turns will help you to win.

Planet cards vary in power and the stronger cards require a larger crew compliment to reach. So, you work to build a strong enough crew to reach the furthest planets and take all of your actions. Once all ships have landed the game ends and scores are tallied.

Wild Space is a combo-rific card game. Its design is clean and the game play is streamlined but engaging as you try to get the most out of every turn. Also the cartoon animal aliens are super cute.


#51 Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

In Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu players work together to defeat cultists before they are able to summon the great old ones. This has all the usual Pandemic trappings, but the board represents gothic districtics described in the works of H. P. Lovecraft.



Enemies that pop-up aren't diseases but cultists. There are also monsters that can appear if too many cultists gather in an area, and instead of outbreaks - powerful old-ones will enter play changing the rules of the game for the worse! If the final old-one: Cthulhu is summoned, before the heroes are able to close all four summoning gates, the players lose.

This is my favorite version of Pandemic. I find its mechanics to be cleaner and easier to manage than any other version of the game that I have played. It's also dripping with atmosphere, the board, the cards, everything is just so gothic-pulpy good. 

Reign of Cthulhu even has proper miniatures to represent the cultists, the monsters, and the characters. Every character has a special power that matches the theme. Reign of Cthulhu feels more like an adventure game than a Pandemic game. I love that!

It's also the perfect game for Spooky Season!

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 22 (54-53)

It's a fun coincidence (IMO) that my 53rd and 54th favorite games are both by designer Rüdiger Dorn, and that they were released in consecutive years (2014 and 2015.) Both games have appeared in my top 10 in the past. Rüdiger Dorn is one of my favorite game designers.

 

#54 Istanbul

In Istanbul, players move a stack of merchants, representing a Master Merchant and their assistants, around a modular board, representing a vast marketplace. For each step your Master Merchant takes, you must leave one assistant behind. So, movement in Istanbul is very Mancala like. When you have run out of assistants, or at any point that you wish to back track, you can return to a location and pick an assistant up. Basically, when you move, an assistant must be involved either at the start (drop off) or the end (pick up) of the move. If no assistant is involved in the move, then you can't make that move. (The Master Merchant is helpless without their assistants.) This movement puzzle is a key aspect of the game play in Istanbul. If you can create an effective "loop" to travel this will help you greatly. There is also a fountain that players can stop at to call all of their assistants back to the Master Merchant.

 
 

All of this movement is done to activate the actions at the various locations. This is being done to enable players to collect gems. Collecting gems is the goal of the game. The first person to collect a certain number of these gems will be the winner. Gaining gems requires players to participate in various game actions. They can collect and sell goods to earn money to buy the gems directly. They can gamble for gems, achieve milestones, like upgrading their cart that carries their goods, and many other ways. No matter what you are doing to get your gems, after you utilize that method once, the next time you attempt the same method it will be more costly. This encourages players to diversify their strategies.

I love Istanbul. The theme is engaging. (You even have a shady relative who will perform a bonus action for you, if you bail them out of jail. LOL!) Game play is clean and puzzly, and the conditions for victory are clear. Istanbul even won the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres (German Hobby Game of the Year - very prestigious!)

 

#53 Karuba

In Karuba players lead an expedition of adventurers through the jungle to find lost temples and gather valuable treasures. Every player has a player board that is made up of a grid of spaces. Along the bottom and left of the board is beach. Along the top and right of the board is jungle. Everything else is unexplored wilderness. Everyone starts with the same orientation of temple pawns placed on jungle spaces, and adventurer pawns placed on beach spaces.

 
 

One player is the caller. Each turn the caller draws a random wilderness tile and announces its number to the other players. All players then locate that tile and place it anywhere they like in the wilderness grid of their player board. Wilderness tiles all show a path through the jungle. The path might form a straight line across the tile. It might form a t-section. It might display a 90 degree turn, or it might show a crossroads. If you place a tile next to another tile, you must line up the paths on all adjacent tiles. Tiles cannot be rotated. The tile number must always appear in the upper left corner of the tile. These are the only placement rules.

Adventurers can only move on paths. The goal is to create a path from each adventurer to the temple of their matching color. In order to move an adventurer, you have to discard a tile. The adventurer moves up to a number of spaces equal to the number of path exits on the tile discarded. So a single straight or 90 degree turn path will provide a movement of 2 since it has 2 exits. A t-section has 3 exits for a movement of 3, and a crossroads 4 exits for a movement of 4.

The combination of paths vs movement on the tiles is just enough to ensure that no two players' boards are the same, despite the fact that everyone is playing the exact same game. Some tiles also have either a jewel or a gold nugget pictured on them. If you stop an adventurer on one of these tiles, you can collect those treasures for additional points. This adds just a little more to your decision space without adding complexity to the game.

The first adventurer to reach a temple of their color collects the highest valued treasure in that temple. Adventurers who reach that same colored temple later get a lesser valued treasure. These treasures along with collected gems and gold all equate to victory points. Play continues until all tiles have been played or one player has managed to reach the temples corresponding to all four of their adventurers, and the player with the most valuable treasures (most victory points) wins.

Karuba is awesome. It's very much a game of multiplayer solitaire, but everyone that I have played it with has loved it. The BINGO style simultaneous play means the game is just as snappy at four players as it is at two, with no down time. (I have even considered buying a second copy of the game so that we can play up to eight players!) Karuba was nominated for the 2016 Spiel des Jahres (German Family Game of the Year - very very prestigious!) but sadly lost out to Codenames (a game that did not make my top 100.

 

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Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 21 (56-55)

#56 Splendor

In Splendor players gather chips in different colors and then spend them to buy cards. The cards each have a jewel at the top representing a permanent resource that matches the chip of the same color. 



The jewels on cards can be used like the chips when buying cards. Spent chips are returned to the supply, but cards used for purchases stay in front of you and are used over and over again. They represent permanent wealth. 

As players buy cards and collect more and more jewels they can afford more expensive cards. The cheapest cards grant only a jewel as a benefit, but the more expensive cards also provide victory points. 

The first player to 15 (or more) victory points triggers the end of the game. Play continues until all players have an equal number of turns and the player with the most points wins. 


#55 Subastral 

Players take turns drafting cards from a central board. The central board is divided into sections, each a place to put cards. The sections are numbered and the cards are numbered. On your turn, you place a card from your hand into the section that matches the number on the card that you have chosen to play. Then you can take cards from either one side or the other of the card that you placed, taking all the cards from a single section. 



Taking from one side puts the cards into your hand to play onto the player board later, taking from the other side places cards into your tableau for scoring. Scoring is based on suit and suit rarity. Card numbers don't impact scoring in any way. They are just used for the card drafting puzzle. Once cards are removed from a section, these are randomly seeded from the deck.

Players are ultimately collecting sets to score points. Each time that you collect a card, you must place it with its matching suit, or if the card is of a new suit, you must start a new column, placing such cards in front of you, moving from left to right. Suits collected later will therefore be located further to the right. This becomes important because the cards furthest to the right score the most points. This scoring puzzle makes for an interesting decision space as you collect cards. 

The card sets are divided by suit and each suit is a kind of climate or earthly environment, anything from arctic desert to tropical rainforest and everything in between. These are beautifully illustrated, and Subastral looks stunning on the table. Once the deck has been sufficiently depleted that a section of the player board cannot be restocked, the game ends and the player with the highest score is the winner.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 20 (58-57)

#58 Joan of Arc: Orléans Draw & Write

Joan of Arc is a great little game where players pull tokens from a bag and then mark areas on their score sheet. The bag of tokens is a carry over from Orléans on which Joan of Arc is based, but it could have been cards. I have never played Orléans, which is a "bag building" game. (Players collect tokens to add to a personal draw bag and work to control their chances of drawing what they want. Quacks of Quedlinburg is another example.) Joan of Arc has a bag, but it's just a random generator, players do not have agency to control its contents.



What players can control is how they fill out the options on their score sheets and the combos they are able to trigger. Players collect resources, construct buildings, travel and build trade routes. All on their own personal score sheet (2 of them each, actually.) Joan of Arc is combo-rific fun. It's my 58th favorite game of all time.


#57 The Grand Carnival

In Grand Carnival players build a carnival, sell tickets, and give tours of attractions. Each round is made up of 5 turns where each player performs an action of a power from 1-5. You can spend each strength of action from 1-5 once and then the round is over. 5 strength actions are much more powerful than 1 strength actions, but you have to use each power level every round. Choosing when and how to use these actions is a huge part of the game.



Attractions must be built on top of prepared foundations, which make this a game about planning more than other tile placement games that we have played. The puzzle of Grand Carnival is rich and challenging. Plan your park, build attractions, have enough action strength left over to tour people through your park, because an attraction that no one sees is worth nothing. It's awesome thematic fun, and my 57th favorite game of all time.

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Monday, May 13, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 19 (60-59)

#60 My Farm Shop 

Julie and I just played this one before leaving for vacation. It's a great little engine builder where players try to make the most profitable farm shop. You have a player board that represents your farm, and there's a central board that provides upgrades to your farm. 



On your turn, you roll 3 dice. One of these dice allows you to draft an upgrade from the central board equal to the die's value. You place this upgrade in one of 10 locations on your personal player board (your farm.) Each of these locations has a number over the top from 2-12. (Note: 2 and 12 share one location together. So there are 10 locations total.) 

After you have slotted your new upgrade into a location, you use the sum of the values of the other two dice to activate a location on your farm. You can even activate the new location that you just upgraded. There is an interesting push and pull as you decide between an upgrade that you really want versus a location that you really want to activate. 

In addition, your opponents also activate their farm locations on your turn as well. So, you may want to avoid activating a certain number that you know an opponent really needs. It creates just the right level of tension in what should otherwise be a reasonably simple decision space. This makes for a really good game. 

Activating locations accounts for everything that you can do in the game, from harvesting different products for your farm shop to selling those products and you also have to take care to get this balance right. It sucks when your opponent triggers your most powerful sales action but you don't have any goods in your shop to sell. 

My Farm Shop is easy to learn, but has a lot of depth. It presents a challenging puzzle that can trick players at first with it's apparent simplicity. It's a great game. In fact, it's the 60th greatest game of all time. 

#59 Adventure Land 

In Adventure Land players have a number of meeple adventurers. These are placed along the left-top edge and top-left side in starting positions on the game board. The board is a large fantasy world map. The wilderness is at the top. Civilization is at the bottom, and there is a river to cross in between. 



During setup the board is seeded with various things, treasures to collect or monsters to fight. The game rules include a number of different ways to play. The most basic game just involves getting your adventurers safely through the wilderness and into the cities. 

Along the way adventurers can gather treasures. They can find weapons to better battle monsters, healing herbs, or gold. All of these are worth points toward winning the game. Once one player has gotten all of their adventurers to the cities, the game end is triggered, and the player with the most points wins. 

The tension in Adventure Land comes from the movement puzzle. On your turn you can only move down or right. You can move a meeple as far as you like in one of these directions, but you can never go back. In addition to this, after every turn new goodies are added to the board. 

Do you rush ahead and grab the best stuff, or do you stay back hoping that something better might show up. It's a cool little game. It's a light family weight puzzle game that feels like an adventure game, and I love it. In fact, it's my 59th favorite game of all time. 

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Mother's Day

We had my whole family over to the AirB&B so that we could host Mother's Day. We kept things pretty low key and everyone visited and had a great time. Once everyone was gone, Julie and I took a nap. (We were pretty exhausted.) And then we watched the first of the new Doctor Who episodes: Space Babies. I am LOVING this new Doctor Who.



Speaking of love, I have to take a moment to say how awesome my wife Julie is. I know that when you marry that you marry your spouse's whole family, but Julie has really embraced mine. She selflessly took care of a houseful of her in-laws making sure everyone had the best time that they possibly could even though her own flesh and blood son couldn't be here with her on Mother's Day. I love her so much. Moore Everyday! 

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Vacation

Personal update. We spent two days driving on the road. Going from Michigan to Oklahoma to visit my family. Last couple of posts (and this one) written from the car with my phone.



Today, May 11th is my sister Sally's birthday, and tomorrow is Mother's Day. So, great time for a visit. Julie (my wife), Kaylee (my daughter), and I are sharing an AirB&B with my sister Karla. We had a nice visit over coffee this morning. 

We will be going to dinner tonight for Sally's birthday and then have everyone over to our AirB&B tomorrow for Mother's Day. Then, Monday morning I will be meeting some friends from Tulsa for a visit before we head to Missouri to visit Julie's family. 


Friday, May 10, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 18 (62-61)

 Another short one. Still writing from the car. 


#62 Three Sisters



Three Sisters is a combo-rific roll and write game where players plant beans and corn and pumpkins. You also can gather tools to gain certain advantages and raise bees for honey and harvest fruit trees and berries. Combos abound here and it's all about taking every opportunity to trigger those to score the most points. 


#61 Tricky Tides



This is a trick taking game where winning the trick allows you to move your ship first which is important because you are racing around these islands to gather and deliver goods. Higher cards will win you a trick but lower cards let you move around these sea monsters to help yourself or hinder your opponent. This creates a great push and pull where sometimes you'll want to win tricks and sometimes you won't. The cards and components are beautiful. I love trick taking, and I love Tricky Tides. 

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 17 (64-63)

#64 Flamme Rouge



Flamme Rouge is about a bicycle race. Players have 2 cyclists to move around a track. Cards determine how fast you can go, but you have to pace yourself because the cyclist in the lead gains fatigue. Fatigue goes into your deck and will hinder you with low value cards towards the end of the race. This is actually really thematic. You also have rules for drafting in the wake of cyclists in front of you and for going up and down hills. The mechanisms are simple, but complete making for an awesome racing game, and my 64th favorite game of all time. 

 


#63 Marvel United 

Players take the roles of their favorite characters from Marvel Comics and work together to defeat some of Marvel's most famous villains. I've written about Marvel United many times in the past. So, I'm not going to go into the game again here. (Plus, we are on our way west to visit family and friends for a vacation and I'm writing this post on my phone while riding in the car.) Suffice to say, that I love this game and I probably have any character that you can think of. Marvel United is my 63rd favorite game of all time. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 16 (66-65)

#66 Maglev Metro

Maglev Metro is a crunchy little route building pick up and deliver game. Players build routes in their color by placing these really cool transparent hexes with the colored routes printed on them. Because of the transparency, tiles can be stacked, and colored routes can run parallel or cross. This is exceptionally neat and the board quickly begins to look like one of those colored bus route maps.



Routes are meant to get you places to deliver passengers. Maglev Metro has a futuristic theme and your "buses" are monorail trains, and the bus drivers are robots. You have little silver, gold, and bronze robots that you can move on your player board to put to work. The robots drive the trains, build the rails, and make the trains run faster and better. 

As you pick up passengers you add them to your board. This unlocks more abilities and scoring opportunities. Different types of passengers unlock different areas of your board. Passengers might include commuting workers who need to go to the business district, or shoppers who want to go to the commercial areas, for example. These are represented by different colored passenger meeples. Picking up the right passengers and getting them where they need puts them on your player board, and doing this efficiently and in the most beneficial order is a big part of the game's puzzle.

Maglev Metro is a crunchy pick up and deliver game with cool pieces and cool mechanics. The puzzle of this game tickles my brain in all the right ways, and I love the theme and the aesthetics of the game. All of this and more makes Maglev Metro my 66th favorite game of all time.


#65 Hero Realms

Hero Realms is a two-player, head-to-head, card-battle game. It's a deck building game. Players start with ten cards. These cards represent coins for buying more cards, and weapons that can damage the other player. Players have 20 Life, and the first player to be depleted of all 20 of their Life loses the contest. 



Coins are used to purchase cards from a central market. These cards go into your discard pile and are soon shuffled back into your deck to give you new and better options. Cards available for purchase include powerful allies who stay on the board and do damage to your opponent every turn, unless your opponent does something to take them out. There are also more powerful attacks, special defensive characters, called guards, that your player must target before they are able to do more damage to you, and ways to boost your spending power. There are even explosive gems that give you spending power, but that you can "blow up" to damage your opponent when you don't need them anymore. 

On top of all of this, the cards that you buy from the market all belong to a specific faction and playing cards of the same faction together will give you additional benefits. So, there is incentive to build your deck with a faction based focus. All of this is wrapped inside a fairly generic fantasy theme, but that's cool. I like fairly generic fantasy themes. Hero Realms is an awesome, quick and engaging, deck building battler and it is my 65th favorite game of all time.

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Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 15 (68-67)

#68 The Crew: The Quest for Planet 9

The Crew is a trick taking cooperative card game. Trick taking is a style of card game where cards are put to the center of the table. The lead card establishes the suit of cards to be played and then the other players must play cards of that suit if they can. The highest card takes the "trick" gathering all cards. This is repeated until all cards are played and the player (or team of players) with the most tricks is the winner. Classic trick taking card games include: Bridge, Euchre, Spades, and Hearts.



The Crew is a game like that, only cooperative. It accomplishes this by setting very specific goals for the hand. Players may be assigned specific cards like the 7 of spades or the 3 of hearts, and then must win the tricks that contain the cards assigned to them. And just like in the competitive games, table talk is forbidden. Players can't discuss the cards in their hands, they must "read the table" and watch what has been played to try to figure out how to achieve their goals.

The Crew is challenging and fun. It's my 68th favorite game of all time.


#67 Knarr

Knarr is another card game, but this one isn't trick taking, it's card drafting and set collection, and it contains some board elements. Players have a hand of cards, and there is a central board with colored slots matching all of the colors of the various suits of cards. (I think there are 8 if I remember correctly.) The board is randomly seeded with cards, one in each of these slots. 



On a player's turn they play down a card and gain a resource benefit that is shown on the card. Then the player draws the card out of the colored slot matching the color of the card that they just played, and that empty slot is refilled by a different random card. This mechanism creates an interesting push and pull. 

Cards you place in front of you are grouped by colored suit and each time you play a card from your hand that matches other cards of the same suit, you collect all the benefits from every card in that set. When you play a card you have to balance the immediate benefit that you get from playing the card against which card you are going to be able to add to your hand based on the slot the card you are about to play will allow you to draw from. 

All of this is only one aspect of the game. The lion's share of the points that you will need to score in order to win the game come from exploration cards. You get these by cashing in sets of cards that you have collected. So, you may have a great little engine going in front of you, but you have to cash it in to take a different card to try to get you some points. These exploration cards can also be activated to create yet another engine for gaining resources or victory points. 

Knarr is a really interesting and tight little game of resource management, set collection, and engine building that's played mostly with cards. It's small and portable and it packs a lot of punch. It's my 67th favorite game of all time.

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Monday, May 06, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 14 (70-69)


#70 Can't Stop

Can't Stop is a classic push your luck dice game. This one never fails to entertain. Players roll 4 dice and then divide these into 2 pairs. You have 3 ghost pawns. Once you choose a pair of numbers, then you place a ghost pawn onto the track on the board that matches that number. 

Once all three ghost pawns have been placed, then you must manage to create a pair that matches one of the three tracks that a ghost pawn is currently on, or you will bust immediately ending your turn. If you don't bust and instead end your turn voluntarily, you swap the ghost pawns on the track with pawns of your player color, saving your progress. On your next turn, when you place a ghost pawn on a track where a pawn of your color already resides, you get to place your pawn on the next space higher up on the track, starting from there. 



Players are racing up the tracks. Tracks vary in length based on the probability of rolling particular numbers. The two and twelve tracks are the shortest, and the seven track is the longest. The first player to reach the top of three tracks wins the game. Can't Stop is great fun! 

Do you keep going and hope to make the numbers you want? Common numbers like the seven are easy to roll, right? Or do you try for the extreme numbers knowing that you only need to succeed at these a few times to reach the top? Can't Stop is my 70th favorite game of all time.



#69 Dice Forge

In Dice Forge players roll dice and gain resources to place workers around a central board to buy tiles. But these tiles aren't ordinary tiles. "Oh, no." These tiles are dice faces that are affixed to custom dice that you create yourself. That's right, in Dice Forge players are actually making (forging) dice. 

Some of the dice faces give you gems or gold to buy more tiles. There are dark gems and light gems that you can use to buy cards to gain special benefits or gold that you can use to buy new tiles for your dice. Some tiles give you victory points which you need to win the game, but you can't focus solely on these because you need the resources to improve your dice or you will fall behind and lose the game. 



Dice Forge is a really clever game with big chonky dice that you modify yourself … and the dice really work. Julie and I love dice games, and speaking for myself, Dice Forge is my 69th favorite game of all time.

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Sunday, May 05, 2024

How I Was Introduced To Dungeons & Dragons

I have spoken on this topic before, but I want to approach things a little differently this time. I was a 16 year old high school freshman (having been held back in both the first and eighth grades.) I was scrawny and immature, and despite being the target of some fairly constant ridicule, I wasn't introverted. I was quite the opposite to a probably obnoxious degree. All this to say, I fit right in, at least on an emotional development level with the 14 & 15 year old children who were my classmates.

Mr. Lock, my science teacher invited me to participate in an after school science club. This really excited me. At home, I spent a lot of time "hiding" in my room, either drawing or reading comic books. It was a habit that I developed from living with an abusive, alcoholic step-father, a man that my mother left just under 2 years before. It was a habit that I would continue to embrace for many years to come. I mention this because it shapes the lens through which I viewed the world.

I read comic books and had a very "comic book" view of right and wrong. I loved stories of the fantastic, and fantasy, and science fiction. I loved Star Trek and I still do, and because of this, I was "interested" in science (sadly the connection between science and math eluded me.) I paid attention in science class and I tried and succeeded in doing well. So, I was invited into the "Science Club."

This as it turned out was really code for, "playing D&D after school." Mr. Lock was a young teacher fresh out of college on his first teaching job at a tiny high school in the middle of nowhere. He grew up in the Chicago area and was terribly homesick. He had played D&D in college and was just looking for some way to live in the small town of Coulterville without going crazy. 



I was super excited about this whole thing. I had heard about D&D because of a full page ad in my comic books. That meant that whatever this was, it was going to be cool. And it was. Sadly, or perhaps fortuitously, the Science Club only had 3 meetings before the school shut it down. Playing D&D in school was not acceptable. (It was 1981, playing D&D was not acceptable, full stop.) 

I said, "fortuitously" above because we had a taste of this new game, and we wouldn't be stopped. We just moved from the school to our homes. This was great for me, because I was suddenly being invited over to another kid's house. For the first time in my life, I had friends. Mr. Lock DM'd for us at our parents homes at first, but was admonished for his inappropriate relationship with his students. He stopped playing D&D with us, and at the end of the school year, he quit and returned home to Chicago. I never saw or heard from him again. 

My friends from this period who stuck around were the few whose parents were cool enough not to make them quit D&D. My mom was one of these. She was thrilled that I had friends and encouraged our past time. The friends that stuck around were, Sam, Peyton, Mike and Jon. With me, that made five of us, but Mike was a senior and left that summer. 

It was the fall of 1981 when the Science Club started. It was the summer of 1982 when Mike left, but me, Peyton, Jon and Sam played D&D almost evey day that whole summer ... every day, in the sweltering heat in Peyton's garage which had a table made of 2 saw horses and a huge piece of plywood that formed a table big enough to facilitate our group. 

My Sophomore year, things got a bit more complicated for me. Mr. Lock was gone, and I got this weird idea in my head that because I had friends now, I would somehow become more welcomed in school. Sam was the only student in my class and he was the smartest kid in school. I on the other hand had never excelled in school and was relegated to the most remedial of classes. We never saw each other. School hadn't changed, but I had. My expectations had changed. What I wanted had changed, and I was never going to get it. 

I began cutting classes. I would leave home as though I was going to school, but I wouldn't go. I would wander through a nearby woods, or go hide in Peyton's garage alone. Anything but school. When I did go to school, I didn't engage. I failed all of my classes. I didn't care. I wasn't extroverted anymore. My D&D summer was over and it felt like the end of the only joy that I could remember having in my life. 

The friends that I made that summer are very dear to me. But, as I sit here feeling introspective and nostalgic, I think of my friend Jon who passed away last year. I think about how elated I was to see Sam at the funeral. Reunited after all these years, only to discover that Sam had grown into the worst kind of misogynistic, self entitled, white privileged prick. The conversation was so poisonous that Julie and I left the funeral reception early. 

Mike passed away a few years ago from heart failure. Peyton and I are the only ones left. (Sorry, but I'm writing Sam off.) I am friends with Peyton on Facebook and we played D&D twice over video, but that didn't work out. I don't know why I feel this need to hold on to that past the way that I do, but it's a thing, and I still hope that Peyton and I will be able to reconnect more substantially in the future. 

Writing about RPGs is another way that I connect to that past. It's another reason that this blog exists. I still play D&D. Since that summer, D&D or other RPGs are how I have connected to the world. Whether it was running Champions at a comic book store in Tulsa or running a D&D campaign at a game club in Muskegon, this hobby has given me the means to connect to my world.

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Saturday, May 04, 2024

Insecurity

Insecurity is an interesting thing. I think it's part of our ingrained biological survival instinct. Anything that makes us feel that we aren't good enough, or that "things" aren't good enough: unhappiness, imposter syndrome, these make us question ourselves and our place in the world. Isn't that put there, do you suppose, to make us want to change it? 



Why would we have such terrible baggage if we didn't need it? But if it's there because we need it, then it must be part of the mechanisms that help us to evolve and change. Not being happy with ourselves or sure of ourselves, may be part of a thing meant to motivate us to make changes, to spur forward evolution. Sadly, I think these mechanisms have broken down over time and for many they do more harm than good.

I was reading "There and Hack Again" again last night, (I really like this RPG.) and I was considering submitting my review to RPG.net. To that end, I read my review and realized how unprofessional it was. I talk about not liking D&D and place T&HA within that context. I spend a paragraph talking about how I think the game's name might keep it from appealing to what should be its target audience. Only about half of what I wrote is actually about the game. I will need to rewrite the review if I want to submit it to RPG.net. That is something I am considering, but it set my mind down a rather negative road. 

I'm not really a writer. I have made this vow to post something here on my blog every day in the hope that this may help me to hone my skills as a writer. Insecurity is that thing that has me asking "Is this a waste of time?" 

Does this mean I should be doing something different? Is this insecurity, an impetus to shift my course in a new more positive direction, or is it destructive, as I theorize above, an impulse that may have originally been something meant to help our species evolve but now mainly serves as something harmful?

I dropped out of highschool and obtained a GED. I tried attending community college and dropped out there too. I have a complicated relationship with public education. I have cerebral palsy. This affliction is restricted almost exclusively to my lower extremities. I have undergone a handful of surgical procedures to correct the worst of the effects so that I can walk. 

I am thankful that I can walk, but I do walk a bit "funny." This is something that others who see me notice. Less mature people, without proper filters tended to notice this loudly. In public schools it's these same loud people who get the most recognition. 

Herd mentality, our need to gather in groups and behave together is another one of those survival instincts that we are all born with. It's needed for the survival of our species. In my experience it meant that children who should have been my peers, fell in line behind that loudest voice to become my bullies. 

I hated school. I didn't try to do well academically. Why should I have? School was my enemy. My refusal to engage academically, also put me on the wrong side of many of my teachers. This in turn got me in trouble at home. At the worst of times "home" was an alcoholic step-father who could never be said to have been in a sympathetic mood.

I hated school, and I hated home. I only went to school because I had to. It's what was expected of me. It's where my free lunch was. If I wanted to eat before dinner, I needed to go to school. So, I went. Which ultimately proved to be a good thing. One teacher, my science teacher in my freshman year of high school, saw something others didn't. (Paul Lock, if you are still out there somewhere, thank you.) Mr. Lock invited me to join an after school science club. It changed the course of my life. I'll talk about that more tomorrow. 

Today, I explain my relationship to school to justify my lack of education. That's where the insecurity comes from. I'm sitting here writing as though I know what I'm doing. But, it's all just a disorganized uneducated stream of consciousness babble. That's what my insecurity tells me. Is that a self preservation instinct telling me to pivot, to find a pursuit that is better suited to my skill set? 

Life is good. I have a beautiful wife, and a daughter who just got home from college for the summer. I just got my haircut. I should feel great. I shouldn't be feeling insecure. Still, despite these feelings, I am still compelled to write, maybe that's the survival instinct pushing me forward to evolve.

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Friday, May 03, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 13 (72-71)

#72 Lost Cities: The Board Game

In Lost Cities: The Board Game, players are moving little adventurer pawns up different tracks towards differently colored ruins (Lost Cities). This is done by playing cards of different colors from your hand. 



Each time you play a card of a given color, you move toward the ruin of the same color. The trick is that you must play cards down in order. The first card that you play may be a high card or a low card. If you play a very high card first, then you will want to play a slightly lower card on top of that, ideally the very next card in the numerical order. If you play a very low card first, then you will need to play a higher card on top of that. Once you establish that the colored stack of cards you are playing on is being played in an ascending or a descending order, then you must follow that rule for the rest of the game round. 

When you can't play a card, you may discard in order to draw new cards, but discards are placed face-up and are available to your opponents. You will want to take care not to give an opponent the exact card that they need. 

There are 5 paths to 5 ruins, and each player has 5 adventurer pawns. The paths start out with negative points. So, take care that once you begin a journey, you are able to go far. The further along a path you can lead a pawn, the more points you get eventually turning those negative points into positive ones. 

Each player's set of adventuring pawns is made up of four junior pawns and one expedition leader pawn that is much bigger than the others. This pawn scores double the points (positive or negative.) So, you really want them to do well. Finally a long the path are additional scoring bonuses and other incentives that will make certain paths more appealing than others. These tokens are distributed randomly at the beginning of every round. The game is played over three rounds and the player with the most points at the end of the third round is the winner.

I really enjoy Lost Cities: The Board Game. I really get into the Indiana Jones / Allan Quatermain style pulp adventure theme, and the card play is engaging. In fact, I like Lost Cities: The Board Game so much that it's my 72nd favorite game of all time.

#71 Azul

In Azul players take turns drafting tiles from off the top of little coasters to place them on their player board. The coasters are arranged in a circle and four tiles are pulled randomly from a bag and placed on each one. In the center of this circle a single special tile is placed. This tile is the first player token, but it's also worth -1 point. 



On their turn a player takes all the tiles of a matching color from one of the coasters and then any remaining tiles get moved into the center. A player can also draft from the center as tiles accumulate there, taking all tiles of a single color and leaving the rest. The first player who does this, must also take the -1 token, but they will get to draft first in the next round.

On your player board you must fill a row with tiles of a single color. Once you commit a specific color to a row, you can't put any other color in that row until you finish building the row. Rows aren't built until the end of the round and each requires a different number of tiles to be placed within it in order for it to be built. The top row only needs 1 tile to be built but the bottom row needs 5. 

At the end of the round, if you can't build a row, the tiles that you have committed to that row stay as you go into the next round. If you ever can't add a tile to a row, it is placed at the bottom of your player board and counts as negative points at the end of the round. It is even a strategy to leave a large number of tiles of a color that you know your opponent can't place so that they will be forced to take those tiles at the end, racking up a large number of negative points.

Azul is an abstract puzzle type game. The tiles are chonky, colorful bakelite and they feel good in your hands. Azul is my 71st favorite game of all time.

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Thursday, May 02, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 12 (74-73)

#74 DorfRomantik: The Duel

Julie and I have had a wonderful time playing DorfRomantik. We played it a lot when we first got it, and it is probably my number one favorite game of last year. We have also had a great deal of fun playing DorfRomantik The Duel, which is a two-player only competitive version of DorfRomantik. 



Spoilers - DorfRomantik (the original cooperative game) appears much higher on my list and I will go more into the game play there. The Duel version sees players placing identical tiles in a personal tableau simultaneously as one player acts as "the caller" announcing which tile to place. This is very much Karuba style (another game much higher on my list.) 

I need to play the cooperative version of this game and the competitive version back to back. I feel like we don't need them both. I have placed the original much higher, because I think that it's the one that I like more, but I can't be sure. Until I am sure, DorfRomantik The Duel is my 74th favorite game of all time.

#73 Unmatched Adventures: Tales to Amaze

While DorfRomantik The Duel was the competitive version of the cooperative game, Unmatched Adventures Tales to Amaze is the cooperative version of the competitive game. (I didn't plan to have both of these in the same post, just coincidence.) Tales to Amaze is yet another game that I pushed down the list because Julie and I have only played it once. I do remember really liking it, and I am anxious to get this one back to the table.



In the competitive game, which is just called Unmatched, players battle head to head. It's a skirmish battle game with dozens of characters to choose from, like characters from literature (Sherlock Holmes) or even comic books (Spiderman.) I like it … okay. It's not in my top 100. I don't care for skirmish battle games, but I really like the "idea" of Unmatched, and the gameplay is excellent. The gameplay is card based and characters have a unique deck and all feel different and cool.

Tales to Amaze makes this skirmish battle game cooperative. This changes the feel of the game for me exponentially. I love this game. Now Julie and I can work together as any of the cool characters in the Unmatched library (that we own) against the threat of the Mothman or Alien Invaders. The game layers in a very pulp adventure feel which I think is perfect for mixing and matching all these characters from different settings.

Although it is officially considered an "expansion" to Unmatched, Tales to Amaze is its own stand alone game. If you have never tried Unmatched, I highly recommend this one. It comes with four new original characters and rules to play both the cooperative and competitive versions of the game. It is absolutely the best Unmatched set there is. 

As a side note, I have tried a few other games where expansions have tried to change the game from competitive to cooperative (Hero Realms & Dice Throne specifically) and these were huge misses for me. They added an unreasonable amount of complexity to the game that I just didn't want. Tales to Amaze (and also DorfRomantik The Duel) makes the change seamlessly without adding undue complexity. 

Tales to Amaze is accessible and playable, and for people who already know how to play the competitive version, they can be playing in minutes. All of this makes Unmatched Adventures Tales to Amaze my 73rd favorite game of all time.

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Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 11 (76-75)


#76 Cosmoctopus

Cosmoctopus is one of those games that was much higher on my list, but that I manually moved lower because Julie and I have only played this once. In Cosmoctopus players are playing cards from their hands and collecting cards from a central market all in the interest of gaining the favor of their cosmic deity the great Cosmoctopus. This favor is represented by these purple tentacle pawns. The first player to collect 8 tentacle pawns is the winner. 

Resources to buy cards are obtained through a worker movement board in the center of the table. This board is made up of a 4 by 4 grid of cards each showing some different benefits, key among these are gaining the resources to pay for cards, and the actions to buy the cards. Some cards have immediate benefits, while others create ongoing effects and stay in front of you to form a bit of an engine. 

Cosmoctopus doesn't do anything new, but it is a solid and entertaining entry in the worker placement, resource management, engine building genre of board games with a wacky theme that has tentacles. This makes Cosmoctopus my 76th favorite game of all time.



#75 Welcome To … Your Perfect Home

In Welcome To … Your Perfect Home cards are flipped representing numbers and actions. Each turn all players choose a number and action from the cards flipped and mark these on their personal score sheets. This is a roll-and-write variant known as a flip-and-write because instead of rolling dice and recording the results, you flip cards from a deck (or decks) instead.

Players all act at the same time. On your score sheet, you have these rows of streets and on each street are houses. Your goal is to give these houses each a number, but like any other street, the houses must be in ascending order. The actions on the cards make some houses more valuable or enable you to manipulate the numbers. There is also one area that you can mark if you just can't place a number.

At the end of the game, the player who has built their neighborhood the best (earns the most points) wins the game. Welcome To … Your Perfect Home is an easy game to grasp, but actually has quite a bit going on. It's a really engaging type of roll-and-write game. It is challenging multiplayer solitaire, and because everyone is playing at the same time, it can handle any number of players. Welcome To … Your Perfect Home is my 75th favorite game of all time.

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