Post-Con Recovery: Time to Introvert

Spent Memorial Day recovering from my weekend at Gamex. Gaming conventions are one of my favorite things, especially with friends. But after a few days of it, I need a day to myself to be anti-social and recharge my social batteries.
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I’d planned on blogging about the weekend’s activities as part of my decompressing process, but I just haven’t felt up to it. The day started off on a bad note when the next door neighbors decided to have friends and their kids over at 8am with little more than a fence between my bedroom window and them. So much for “I can drive back from L.A. late; tomorrow’s a holiday and I can sleep in as much as I need to!” I mean, I get it. The world doesn’t revolve around me and other people probably went to bed at a reasonable, responsible time for a Sunday night. I live in a responsible middle-class neighborhood now. But it does mean I was less rested this morning than I’d be hoping. I also stayed up an extra hour after getting home because I had lots of ideas for an RPG I’m brainstorming and needed to get them on paper. So there’s that.
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I’ll write a lengthier post tomorrow, but for now here’s some lists to whet your appetite.

Games played:
…and then, we held hands x4
Dice Heist x2
The Grizzled
Eclipse
Spaceteam
Quilt Show
The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven’s Hollow (RPG playtest)
Mysterium
Once Upon a Time
Legendary Encounters/Alien

Games learned/101s attended (but not played):
Food Chain Magnate
Inhabit the Earth
Kodama: the Tree Spirits
Twilight Struggle

Games acquired:
Kodama: the Tree Spirits
King’s Vineyard
Once Upon a Time
Tsuro of the Seas (for my housemate)

Games I kinda regret not playing:
Twilight Struggle
Disposable Adventurer Gaming System (indie RPG)
Community: the (fan-created) Board Game? playtest
Haunted (indie RPG)
Inhabit the Earth
Synthicide

Passing the Buck

“It’s very simple. The ship basically flies itself. Nothing could possibly go wrong. But in the very unlikely event that it does…” So begins every mission briefing for a game of Space Alert, one of the most stressful tabletop games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. We were all old hands at it, so after a brief review of the rules for the advanced game, we were off on our ten minute voyage that should have been a piece of cake….

 Space Alert

And three games later, we still hadn’t won.

Space Alert is a 2008 game by Vlaada Chvátil. You may have seen me post about his game Codenames in the past, which has been spreading through my social circles like a flu. Or a wildfire. Or something else that spreads rapidly. If you’re active on Board Game Geek and haven’t heard of this game, you’ve been living under a board game rock. Just yesterday a friend I introduced it to earlier this month told me he and his wife liked it so much they went out to Target and bought their own copy, then introduced it to another couple who liked it so much that they bought it online before they were even finished with their first game!

But Space Alert is a different sort of game. It’s a timed cooperative game where you and up to four friends try to coordinate your actions so that all the lasers fire when they’re supposed to, all the batteries are recharged in time to power the lasers and shields, all the battlebots are discharged to the proper rooms to fight off invaders, and oh yeah, someone needs to wiggle the mouse so the computer doesn’t go into sleep mode again and doom us all. It’s chaotic and frantic, and inevitably something will happen to put a wrench in your otherwise perfect planning. Like, someone hits the A button (which fires a laser) on turn four when they were supposed to hit C (which recharges a battery). Or two people try to go down the elevator in the red zone at the same time, jamming it and thus delaying one person’s remaining actions by a turn. It’s hilarious, and frustrating, and perfect with the right group of people who like that sort of stuff (and who don’t lose their cool when things don’t go according to plan).

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Each game is randomized and narrated using a downloadable mobile app, and adding to the chaos was the fact that the other half of our gaming group decided to simultaneously play Fuse, a game that is also timed using a mobile app. It meant that the first hour of games night was pretty loud as the two groups attempted to hear their respective apps without yelling over one another. The restaurant must really like us if they’re willing to put up with us each week!

When we were tired of losing at Space Alert, we moved on to an even sillier game R. brought with him called Aye, Dark Overlord. Imagine Once Upon a Time, but with inept minions. One person plays the Dark Overlord, who sets the scene by playing a series of card and using them to describe a mission he sent his minions on. The rest of the players are said minions, and spend the rest of the game giving excuses to the Dark Overlord for why it wasn’t their fault that they failed at said mission, and then shifting the blame to another player.

I’m not sure whether the rules are bad or the rules-explainer was bad, but none of us ever felt like we had a firm grasp on how the game was meant to be played. So by the end, we just gave up on using the official rules and played as we saw fit, using the cards to craft amusing stories about failure and blame-shifting. Plans to fetch bottles of Scotch were foiled by tornadoes and walls and sea monsters, plans to bring a magical sword to an assassin failed because the assassin was actually on a floating city, and plans to retrieve parchment from a frozen mummy princess went awry due to a lack of proper winter clothing.

Conclusion: the concept of this game is great. Would play it again with either a clearer understanding of how the rules are meant to work, or with modified house rules to keep it running smoothly. It was fortunate that everyone was in a silly, open-minded and flexible mood. This was not a moment for rules lawyering.
Dixit

Finally, we finished off the evening with a game of Dixit, which I actually won for a change. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless. And thus ended a nice light evening of gaming, which was a relief before a con weekend. I will probably not get another chance to post until Monday, so enjoy your weekend! Play some games!

Gearing up for a Weekend at Nerd Central

This weekend is Gamex, a Memorial Day weekend tabletop convention in Los Angeles. I’m heading down there Friday afternoon after work and staying through Sunday, so I’ve started setting aside games to bring with me.

I already know that I’ll spend a good part of the weekend demoing games in the event hall and borrowing games from the sizable game library. It’s a great opportunity to try out games I don’t normally have access to and catch up on some old classics that I’ve missed. I’m also hoping to check out an indie RPG or two. There are guys that bring plastic totes full of their own games and need to transport them using wagons, hand trucks, or extra suitcases. Me, I try to limit what I bring to a single reusable shopping bag and what I can tuck into the extra space in my suitcase.

So far, the contenders are:

1. …and then, we held hands.

I picked this up at the last convention (Orccon over President’s Day weekend) after a recommendation from my friend Mike over at Innroads Ministries. I’ve had the opportunity to play it on two occasions – once when I bought it, and again on an afternoon a friend and I dedicated entirely to playing the two-player games that we don’t get to break out often. This is a game that I think would lose something if you focused simply on its mechanics and ignored the theme, and since I don’t know a lot of gamers who care much about theme, I’ve been holding back on bringing it with me to game nights. I think the con might be a perfect opportunity to take it out and see if I can get some strangers to play with me.

2. Mysterium

Because those 86 more plays aren’t going to play themselves, and I haven’t had the pleasure of watching complete strangers work together to solve the riddle of ridiculously vague clues in a while.

3. Spyfall

Not sure about this one. It takes up more space than I’d like for the amount I expect it will get played, which is maybe none. But it is a nice, light social game and I like that it requires a different kind of strategizing than most other games I have access to.

4. Cribbage

Thinking of just bringing my tiny travel board, although I’d rather have a three-player board on hand. You never know when you’ll find fellow cribbage lovers, but on the other hand, there are probably games I’d rather play given the option. One of these times I should join the cribbage tournament just to see what it’s like.

5. Codenames

This is such a great game to break out if you have a group of six or more and everyone is being indecisive, lazy, or worn out. I’ll probably take it out of its box, though – it packs up pretty tiny when you need it to.

6. The Great Dalmuti

Another light filler game that’s good with a group and good for a few rounds at least. Shouldn’t have a problem tucking it into my bag. I’ve only gotten to play it on one occasion since it was given to me in March, though – no one seems interested. I need to learn how to sell it.

Edit: 7. Eldritch Horror

I don’t get to play this nearly as often as I’d like, and since I’m not bringing many larger games, maybe I can make room for this one just in case some people are up for it.

Other games I was considering but that I don’t think will make the cut:

Parade – This is beautiful but I’m not convinced it’s a great game. Need to get more plays in but in the meantime, not going to bother bringing it.
Dutch Blitz – will I really find people to play with me? Uncertain. Maybe I’ll bring it anyway.
Dixit – Too many more interesting games will be available in the games library.

Every Night is Game Night

After our brain-intensive game of Microscope on Friday evening, I was ready for some time to myself to decompress and for my brain to rest. So after spending some time blogging on Saturday morning, I headed downtown to hit up some thrift stores to see if I could score any good finds. I didn’t have much success – I found a new wooden puzzle for my housemates, and a copy of “The Movie Game”, which appears to be a cross between Monopoly and something even less strategic than Monopoly. I opted to get it anyway, though, because the box art is lovely, and the “Movie Game” and “Meeting” cards contain enough flavor text that it might be an entertaining look at the cares of a 1980’s movie agent.

I also bought a new mug on a whim. A few of the guys at Wednesday games have taken to calling me “Cookie”, after seeing a picture of me in all-blue cosplay and somehow relating that to Cookie Monster. I think they keep it up because I find it a particularly unflattering nickname. But then I found this, and decided that they could keep the nickname. It’s even one of my favorite colors!

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, so I took a scenic route past the harbor and down the coast to join the Saturday games day for a few hours.

When I arrived there were at least four intense games in progress including Stone Age and Russian Railroads. Eventually some games finished, new people arrived, and we started a game of Alhambra. Which I handily and gleefully won. Winning games is a relatively rare thing for me, so I made sure that I took a picture to remind myself that I’m not always a loser.

I had just enough time before I had to leave for a book club to either a) grab dinner or b) play another short game. I opted for (b), much to my stomach’s distress. There’s always time to eat later, but time with friends is precious! Then the trick was finding a short enough game that I also wanted to play. One of the women suggested Harbour. I was hesitant but allowed myself to be convinced.

I’m not sure why I’ve never wanted to play this game before, because it turned to be excellent for its size and length. I would happily add this to a collection of portable strategy games. I also liked that because of the constant changing nature of the market, there wasn’t much point in pre-planning moves, and I could zone out a little bit between my turns. My brain was still a little fried from Friday.

I like to think that I’m fairly openminded about what games I play, but lately I’ve been wrinkling my nose at a lot of games. I don’t think that having preferences is a bad thing, of course, but I do want to be intentional about playing what other people want to play and not just always pushing for my own gratification. At yesterday’s game day a couple of the guys grabbed Star Wars: Imperial Assault and said they were going to learn it. “It was nice knowing you all,” one of them joked (presumably about the length of time and focus they assumed it would take) and I had a sudden pang of envy when I realized that I used to be that person who was always up for grabbing a game she knew nothing about except that it was intense. So, something to work on. I’m not sure why I’ve stagnated and become so negative, but I don’t like it.

Today, a bunch of us gathered for lunch after our church gathering, and then a few of the women wanted to go thrift shopping at a few stores I missed yesterday. So I joined them, and along with some wine glasses and a new dress, I ended up finding two more games that will probably require pleading in order to get people to try them with me: Bumper to Bumper, a racing game (which comes with little toy cars!) and Solarquest (Apollo 13 edition), a game of “space real estate”, which one reviewer on BGG says is “more than just space Monopoly”. I figure that with all three of my scores this weekend, if I manage to get a few plays out of each of them I’ll have gotten my money’s worth, and then perhaps I can find them new homes with families who will love them.

At lunch, one of the girls asked me how many nights a week on average I play games. To which another of them responded, “You learn over time that with April-Lyn, every night is game night.” And now they think I need a t-shirt that says “Every night is game night.” It’s not a bad idea…

One more thing: a water-carrying whale that we found at the plant nursery. I mean technically it’s a whale for carrying plants, but it could ALSO carry water. Probably not in space, though.

How Humanity was Saved by Giant Space Whales

I want to say interesting things about last night’s game of Microscope RPG, but honestly what I *really* want to do is go hit some thrift stores before games day this afternoon and women’s book club tonight. I’m going to write up a narrative of the history we built when I have more time to devote to it, but for now here is the broad outline of the history we created. Hopefully this will leave you curious and wanting to know more!

The Fall of Galactic Civilization

Named characters/places:
Lem Empire
Mongol Empire
Jay Edwards, scientist
Mary Parks, scientist
Officer Jackson, campus security
Peter, Mary’s finance
Leslie, Mary’s colleague
Danny, a five year old child
Malak, mystic
Isabelle, revolutionary, descendant of Jay Edwards
Ogadeh
Dina, lives on Mongol Prime
Dr. Stalinov, research scientist
Pedro, badass lab assistant
Rosie the Gorilla
Servitas, a planet
Cervantes, revolutionary
Janet, pilot
Stefen, commander


Allowed:

Magic
Interspecies Genetic Engineering
Space Whales
Empire
Environmental Destruction
Secret Societies (of humanoids, not of space whales)


Disallowed:

Religion
Nuclear Weapons did not cause the fall
Mythological Creatures
Faster than light travel
Superheroes (ie one person cannot singlehandedly save/destroy civilization through superhuman means)

Period One (dark):

Civilization is on the verge of collapse

Event (dark): Humanity mines the last warp crystal

Scene (dictated, dark):
Q. What happens when a galactic cruiser (The Titanic) runs out of fuel?
A. A catastrophic implosion, known as the “Great Implosion”

Event (dark): Great Implosion consumes Earth’s sun (dark)
Event (dark): The Great Implosion causes water to become scarce

Period Two (dark):

Water is so scarce it becomes a highly limited and valuable commodity

Event (light):
A team of valiant explorers travels into the center of the Great Implosion

Scene: (light)
Q. What does Mary Parks see in the Great Implosion that she writes into her notebook?
Setting: An exploration vessel traveling into the Great Implosion.
Characters: Mary, Dr. Stalinov, Janet, Stefan
A: The secret to (creating) water.

Event (light): Jay Edwards investigates a water-purifying animal (light)

Scene (dark):
Q. Who betrayed Mary?
Setting: Leslie and Mary’s lab.
Characters: Peter, Leslie, Pedro, Time, Rosie the Gorillia
A. Leslie and Peter

Scene (dark):
Q. How did Jay Edwards manage to steal Mary Parks’ ideas?
Setting: Mary’s bedroom/house. Characters: Officer Jackson, Leslie, Peter, Jay
A. Jay Edwards takes Mary’s journal from her bedroom during a homecoming party.

Period Three (light):

Mankind grows, having become reliant on Edwards’ space-faring purifying class of humpback whales

Event (light): Jay Edwards is imprisoned for treason
Event (light): Jay Edwards pioneers/discovers Mind Travel/Communication (while in prison)

Scene (light):
Q: How does The Mind work?
Setting: Jay’s prison cell, Leslie’s office, The Mind, Mongol Prime.
Characters: Guard, Leslie, Doctor, Jay, Dinah
A: Can only be accessed while sleeping/meditating; requires focus to interact visually with others; can affect into physical reality while in The Mind, but requires training/practice/skill; physical space inside the mind is a gray, formless void, much like fog. Language barriers still exist.

Period Four (light):

An era of creative expression flourishes as Mongols and Humans share idea via The Mind

Event (light): A Mongol shares his technique for removing traumatic memories
Event (light): The Great Implosion, which sucked most of the water from the galaxy, is contacted by the multitude of the mind, creating a dwarf planet that houses the Cave of Power (…. huh? I guess it was pretty late at that point…)

Period Five (dark):
The First Galacitic Civil War

Event (light): The people of the planet Servitas isolate themselves via The Mind
Event (dark): An ancient secret society known as the Falling Star rebel against what they consider to be the tyranny of The Mind
Event (dark): The creation of the mental dagger used by Isabelle to kill the Great Khan

Period Six (dark):
Lem Empire scours dissenting planets

Event (dark): The Lem Empire (“Lempire”), via the Mind, diverts water whales from Servitas

Period Seven (dark):
The New Mongol Empire nearly reconquers the galaxy

Event (dark): Mongol Prime mysteriously vanishes and only one person remembers it ever existed

Scene (light):
Q: Why does a five year old (Danny) remember Mongol Prime , which disappeared when he was one year old?
Setting: In a cave of power in some indeterminate place. Characters: Time, Danny, Malak, Jay
A: Jay Edwards (who is trapped in the pool inside the Cave) can project memories into people’s minds

Event (light): Death of the Great Khan
Event (light): The Mongols elect Jay Edwards’ descendant as their new Queen

Scene (light):
Q. Why did the Mongols elect Jay Edwards’ descendant as their new queen?
Setting: In a mental/astral space.
Characters: Unnamed general, multitude of generals, Isabelle, Khan
A. Isabelle killed the Khan, then his highest ranking general, and showed supremacy over the horde

Period Eight (light):
Mankind returns to its primitive roots

Event (light): Cervantes, last member of the Falling Star and the last one to know of the mental dagger, uses it to kill himself.
Event (light): The Lem Empire is intentionally, methodically disbanded from inside
Event (dark): Primitive man discovers long lost notebook

Ghosts and Gamblers, Shortstops and Spies

My Wednesday board games night meets in one of the event rooms of a local restaurant. Sometimes the banquet hall next to us is in use too, and because the two rooms are only divided by some windows and a doorway, the other groups sometimes get annoyed by our noise. “Other groups” mostly meaning the bicycle club, which I also call the Bike Gang in derision (I’m not sure anyone else is amused by this but I’m okay with entertaining myself). One week we arrived to find that they had pushed all our tables as far back towards the opposite wall from their room as they could, and they once tried to prove to the waitstaff that they spend more money than we do and thus should get preferential treatment. I try to be a gracious person, but the Bike Gang are our rivals.

Anyway, this was apparently supposed to be the Wednesday the Bike Gang met, but our waitress informed us that it looked like they wouldn’t be showing up this time and we could be as loud as we wanted. Good news, too, because half of us started off the evening with a lot of loud dice rolling.

Half our group split off to play Baseball Highlights: 2045, and after some discussion about what the rest of us should play, I suggested Las Vegas. I’ve been curious about it since I saw it being played on International Tabletop Day, but usually it’s not the sort of game to show up on a Wednesday.

I quickly learned that this is one of those games that involves lots of groaning, cursing, and trying to convince people that they really want to screw over *that* guy instead. Not that it did any of us any good. One good round and Brett had it in the bag. I never had a chance.

You can see there’s some fierce competition for that $50,000 and also for the $80,000 near the top. Sadly, I didn’t get either. I think I managed to get a paltry $100,000. This is why I don’t gamble.

We ended up calling the game an hour and a half in because not everyone was
having fun, and two more people had arrived who were waiting to join in a game. I would have been happy to keep playing, though. I think Las Vegas is exactly the sort of game my family back home would enjoy, and I’ll be looking into purchasing a copy for them.

While we waited for Robot Baseball to finish up, we started up a game of Codenames. Brett headed up the red team, as he and two of the other guys were wearing red shirts, and I took charge of the blue team, since we were all wearing blue tops (one of them was dark grey, actually, but close enough). It was like we’d planned it that way! Actually I was the one who insisted that Brett and I switch places so the colors would match… he rolled his eyes at me but agreed to do it anyway.

For the first few rounds, there was no contest – my blue team was wiping the floor with those red spys. Then I started to get careless with my clues (“Oz, 1” when both ‘witch’ and ‘lion’ were on the table) and red caught up fast. In my defense, I had no idea that “scrimshaw” wasn’t a common word, and I was lucky that they remembered enough about it to guess ‘ivory’.

Sometimes playing board games with a bunch of men cracks me up, because I get to witness conversation gems like:

“The clue is: Horror, 2”
“Hmm, horror. Well, ‘witch’ is something you might find in horror, there’s ‘film’, oh, ‘date’! Dates are horrifying!”
*murmured agreement among the other men at the table*

“The clue is: Dungeon, 2”
“Could be ‘cross’, like the crucifixion.”
“That didn’t happen in a dungeon…”
“Hm… Oh, ‘pass’! You can totally make a pass at someone in a dungeon.”

I don’t even know.

In the end, despite my mistakes, our team emerged victorious. Mostly because the red team guessed one of our words, sparing me the trouble of finding a way to connect “cross” and “time” without resorting to obscure theological words no one else would know, like “eschatological”.

Then it was time for more “what game should we play next” game! “More Codenames”, “Dixit”, and “Mysterium” were all brought up as suggestions. Since I had brought Dixit for the express purpose of playing Dixit Mysterium, I suggested that, and it was met with approval. The rest of the gang broke off to play some Evolution and Fuse.

I’ve written about Dixit Mysterium, and the game of “vanilla” Mysterium that followed (“Let’s play again!” “Eh, I don’t know guys, I need to sleep…” “Come on, you’re never going to get in 100 plays if you don’t!”) on my 100 Play Challenge blog . But, in short: Dixit Mysterium kicked our butts, but it was a worthwhile challenge that I’m sure will be attempted again.

Mysterium #13 – Dixit Mysterium

Mysterium #14 – Return to Normal

Top 10 Favorite Games of My Childhood

Geekblogger Stuart Burnham posted some pictures from a book of old board games he came across at a “car boot sale” (silly Brits) this past weekend and while I don’t have anything nearly as exciting to share, it did make me think about some of my favorite board games growing up.

Gal’s Top 10 Tabletop Games of Her Youth (in no particular order):

1. Fraggle Rock (1984)

Fraggle Rock was one of my favorite shows ever, so of course a game where I got to play a Fraggle was going to appeal to me. I don’t have many memories of actually playing the game, but I know I played it a lot when I was very little. Just looking at that gameboard (which is beautifully illustrated, btw!) brings back happy fuzzy feelings. And also feelings of anxiety. I am completely shocked to realized that I was an anxious child. (JK! I’m not shocked at all.)

2. Uncle Wiggily (1916)

Another one I loved to play a lot of when I Was little, but I can’t for the life of me figure out which edition we had. All of the pictures on BGG look vaguely familiar but none of them feel quite right. I’m sure we owned this because it’s something my parents had growing up (and I’m also sure we didn’t have the copy they grew up with; it was probably something they found at a garage sale). I remember plastic pawns, maybe rabbit-shaped, and that’s about it.

3. HeroQuest (1989)

I freaking loved this game. In high school, I knew about D&D and other roleplaying games like Vampire: The Masquerade, and I desperately wanted to play them. But none of the friends I actually did things with had any interest in playing, and it didn’t occur to me to try to befriend any of the boys who did. So this was the closest I could get. Mostly I played with my mother and brother, or with my best friend J. When she and I played, she would play all four of the heroes and I would be the Dungeon Master. She would give personalities to all the characters: the warrior was dumb and would frequently attack walls; the elf and the wizard (which were named after her and her crush) were in a secret, passionate relationship and would make out behind the fireplace. I think the dwarf was also named after her, because she was short.

One night, my parents were out of town, and I decided it would be a great idea to play by candlelight. I put a spooky Halloween sound effects tape into the tape deck in the living room, and J. and I set up a card table in the kitchen. A strange choice of location, but I suppose so we’d have some sturdy surfaces to place candles nearby (like on the breakfast bar). Problem with the 90’s, of course, is that tapes didn’t automatically start over. You had to get up to turn them over. And occasionally the cassette got jammed in the old tape deck and the tape got tangled in the mechanism. As I was trying to fix it, J. bumped the table, knocking over one of the candles we had placed on the card table.

My parents, of course, chose that exact moment to come home, and found the two of us scraping candle wax off the linoleum with butter knives. I don’t remember if I got in trouble, but I do remember it being very stressful and a good lesson to never put burning candles on unsturdy surfaces like card tables.

A number of years ago, my mother found a copy at a yard sale and picked it up for me. I played a few sessions with other friends who had grown up with it, but it was never quite as much fun as when we were growing up. I even started painting the minis (and got distracted because man, that’s a lot of minis to paint when you have more hobbies than attention span!)

However, when I moved away to California, I gave my copy to one of said friends on indefinite loan, and he has been playing with his five year-old son. I have gotten reports that they’ve been enjoying it a lot, and the birthday card they sent me has a picture of an orc his son drew.

4. Electronic Mall Madness (1989)

(I’m not sure why all the images of this are in German…)

This one was fun because set up was a little more complicated than simply unfolding a game board. You had to actually build the second floor of the mall. Also you had plastic credit cards and a robotic lady voice who would say entertaining things like, “Uh oh Red, you left your lights on. Go To The Parking Lot.” Or, “There is a Sale in the. Chitchen. Shop.” I still maintain that this was a pretty good game. My adult gaming group in MA always intended to have a girly sleepover (the men included) where we played this, and Girl Talk (which we’d all always wanted to play) and maybe even Pretty Pretty Princess (another one I always wanted, but never got). Never happened, but one day!

5. Skip Bo (1967)

This wasn’t really a favorite so much as a game my mother made me play with her. My favorite memories of the game were when my aunt visited from Utah and we’d play with her and my grandmother (“Nannie”). This is probably a large part of how I learned to love gaming. Nannie loved to play games. I’m sure we played other games (Phase 10, probably Rook) but this is the only one I specifically remember, and I remember how happy it made everyone (except for me because I was terrible at it and hated losing). There were always many shrieks and shouts of dismay around the table.

6. Cribbage (1630)

For as long as I can remember, Cribbage and Backgammon are the two games that my parents would take out on camping trips and play as us kids were going to sleep. I never really fell in love with Backgammon, although I really wanted to like it – I loved the little folding suitcase-like box it came in with its cream and brown plastic disks and strange dice and dice cups. Every time I see a copy like that I’m tempted to buy it until I remember that I don’t actually like Backgammon. Cribbage, though, is a game that will always remind me of my father and I try to play with him whenever I visit home. But I’ll save all the things I like about Cribbage for another post.

7. Egyptian Ratscrew (1975)

In eighth grade, my math teacher suggested that I might enjoy joining the Math Team. I did, in fact. Very much. And this game was a math team favorite. That silly math team is probably the reason that I had any semblance of fun in high school at all, and this game (along with Asshole, which we called “scum” when the teacher was within earshot) was the primary way I bonded with my other teammates. I mean, what’s not to like about a card game where you’re never quite “out”, and violence is almost always the answer?

I still teach this every now and then as a game that’s relatively easy for non-gamers to pick up. I taught a group at my friend’s speakeasy-themed New Year’s Eve party this past year and the game ended when one of the women’s manicures drew (my) blood. I remembered to tell the women to take off their rings, but didn’t even give a thought to their claws….

(The game “Slamwich” is a version of this reinvented for children. The bread-shaped cards and lunchbox tin carrying case are cute, but I’d rather just stick with a regular deck of cards.)

8. Steal the Pack (on BGG as “Stealing Bundles”)

A game my mom grew up playing and taught it to us kids. Was never my favorite game to play, but I liked it because it was one that I never found in any books of games, and thus it felt like a bit of a family secret.

9. Taboo (1989)

Let’s be honest, this is a great game but the best part is being the person who gets to push the really annoying buzzer when the person next to you says a word on their card. I was dismayed to find out that new copies come with a squeaker instead. A squeaker?? You might as well never play this again because the buzzer is where it’s at.

10. Mouse Trap (1963)

Mouse Trap was my first experience with a Rube Goldberg machine. Who doesn’t love those things? It was always super frustrating when the mousetrap malfunctioned though.

There are a lot more games I could have added to this list: Clue, Connect Four (which I now hate), Battleship, Mastermind, Othello, Chutes and Ladders, Candyland. But I had to stop somewhere. What are your favorite gaming memories from your childhood?

Gaming Can Save Lives

This article from Ars Technica is a great personal narrative about one man’s struggle with deep depression and how the board gaming hobby has helped bring him out of the darkness.

I have suicidal depression—and board games saved my life

This is the part I found the most fascinating:

“Board games give me something that little else does. They give freedom within a constructed framework; players are given the social space to bounce off each other like carnival bumper cars, while remaining safe and bounded. Everyone jockeys to achieve something—whether to become king, to solve the puzzle, or to save the world. The objectives and rules form a kind of joyous arena in a 1990’s-style Gladiator gameshow where the players and walls are covered in brightly colored padding. In your game you might be trying to brutally murder another player’s character, but the game will always make sure that everyone is having fun, that everyone is safe. Every rule is a safety net, letting you walk the tightrope without fear. To someone terrified and unable to deal with social situations, this web of gameplay and rules can be an unbelievable gift.”

This resonated with me – one of the things I appreciate most about the board gaming Meetup group I’m part of is how our events are welcoming to newcomers. All of us are socially awkward weirdos of one shade or another, but once we get over the initial hurdle of welcoming a new person into our midst, and they get over the hurdle of taking that first step to show up to a new place as a stranger, it’s easy to involve them in a game and bring them into the fold. The rules and boundaries of board games make for a safe and structured social encounter. No small talk needed beyond “Hello” and “What kind of games do you like?”.

When I’m having a bad day, sometimes it’s a relief to know that no one will expect me to talk about my bad mood, my worries, or my stresses. Around the game table, none of that matters. My friends will accept me exactly where I’m at and then we’ll put aside everything to immerse ourselves in a game or two for a few hours.

On the other hand, though, sometimes I do want to talk about what’s going on, and that’s where I struggle. Game night can be so focused on the games that there’s not much room for depth of relationship. It’s almost a taboo to start conversations that take away from the game playing. Anything more than light banter is a distraction from the real reason we’re there, and I find myself longing for deeper connection with these people I spend up to 13 hours of each week with.

I’d love to hear from other people about their experiences with depression and board games, or depth of relationship in gaming groups/game nights.

The No-Good Children of Raven’s Hollow, Part 2

This is the continuing story of the children of Raven’s Hollow, who are terrible bullies and not very bright. A relatively faithful record of a game of The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven’s Hollow that I played with friends on 5/13/16. You can read Part 1 here.

The No-Good Children of Raven’s Hollow, Part 2

“Hey, Benny! Bennnnnny!”

“Oh, hey, it’s No-Butt Sally! How’s it feel, having no butt?”

Sally pouted. “I do too have a butt!” She was wearing a pink dress that had once been pretty, but now it was torn and bedraggled. Her blond hair was pulled up into two ratty pigtails, and behind her she dragged a ratty blond-haired doll by the hair. Her face was smeared with dirt.

“Uh uh,” retorted Benny, who was leaning against a rotting fence, chewing bubble gum and kicking at some stones by his feet. “The other kids told me you stick a pillow down your tights to just make it look like you have a butt.”

Sally wrinkled her nose, lifted up the skirt of her dress, and turned around, wiggling her behind at the boy, who looked away in disgust. “Ew, that’s gross!”

“See, told you I have a butt,” she said, turning back around. “Hey Benny, I”m bored. I have an idea.”

Benny eyed her suspiciously. “It had better be a good idea, or I’ll tell all the kids about how I seen your no-butt with my own eyes.”

Sally ignored his insult. “Oh, it’s a great idea. You know how old man Withers takes his medicine at the same time every day?”

“You mean old man Smithers’ twin brother, the pastor?”

“Yeah, that’s the one! So, you should sneak into his house when he isn’t looking and switch his pills with some of Mrs. Harkins’ horse pills. I hear that she uses those pills to turn herself into a horse at night. Can you imagine the look on the old man’s face when he turns into a horse?”

Benny looked dubious. “But how am I going to get the horse pills?”

Sally grinned and procured a handful of monstrous pills. (I have no idea where she was keeping them. Maybe in the same place she keeps the pillow to hide the fact that she has no butt.)

“Whoa, how did you get those??”

“She just keeps them lying around! Are you gonna do it or what?”

Benny looked down the street where Mr. Withers’ house loomed large and foreboding. “I don’t know….”

“Oh, come on. I’ll keep guard. He won’t even know you’re in there.”

Benny nodded. “Okay, I’ll do it. Better than kicking these dumb stones around.” He pushed himself away from the fence and they walked down the street to where they could see Mr. Withers watching TV through his open front door.

Sally hid in the bushes outside the bathroom window while Benny snuck in through the front door. A raven settled itself on the porch railing, cocking its head to one side as it watched Benny disappear around the corner into the hallway.

“Watch out!” hissed Sally from the bushes a few moments later. “Mr. Withers just got up from his chair. He’s headed your way!” She heard a loud crash come from the bathroom, and hid even further down in the bushes, groaning.

“What was that? Who’s there?” asked the old man as he waddled his way to the bathroom. At that moment, though, the raven let out a loud shriek, and Mr. Withers turned around. He stepped out onto the porch and waved his hands at the bird. “Shoo! Get away from here, you filthy beast!” While he was distracted, Benny ran out the front door and away from the house, Sally following him.

“That was a stupid idea, Sally. I should know better than to listen to any more of your dumb ideas, No Butt.” He ran off, leaving Sally to cry about her stupid nickname.

***

(This is about the point where I’m losing interest in making this an interesting story. So I’m just going to record the details without being particularly concerned about literary quality.)

Later that afternoon, Benny found Laurie outside Town Hall. He could hear adults yelling loudly at one another inside. Laurie was drawing in chalk on the large statue of a horse that stood in front of the building. The statue was very creepy, posed in an unnatural position and with teeth bared.

“Laurieeeeeee. Laurie! I have a fun idea. You should go draw on the rooster on the roof of the old windmill, instead! If you do, I’ll give you your shoes back!”

The door to the old windmill was pretty much hanging off its hinges, so Laurie had no difficulty entering the building. A raven settled itself on the sill of an upper window that had long ago had its glass smashed out. Laurie climbed the rotting wood stairs, and the raven flew away as she pulled herself out through the window, cutting her hands on some jagged glass in the process. She carefully made her way to the roof, stuck her tounge out at Benny on the ground below, and began coloring in the rooster’s eyes and giving it green chalk hair. Benny, true to character, ran off before she could retrieve her shoes from him.

Benny’s fun ruined once again by the other children having far too many dice for their own good, he found Sally sitting outside the town’s one-room schoolhouse, playing with her doll, Mini Sally. She was brushing the doll’s dirty hair out with her fingers and tying it up into pigtails with a few pieces of twine, then taking it out and trying again.

Benny’s dare for Sally involved climbing in to the crawlspace in the back of the schoolhouse (don’t ask me why there was a crawlspace there) and getting one of the rats for him that had recently nested there. “I’d do it myself but you know, I’m too big to fit, so you need to do it for me.”

Sally succeeded in retrieving a rat… a baby rat. Which she flung in his face and ran off. Stupid boys.

***

Next, Benny found Jack sitting in the town’s gigantic Gothic cathedral. Why is there a Gothic cathedral? Why not? Jack was sitting near the altar with a Bible open in front of him, praying.

“Hey Jack! Guess what I found? An empty barrel. And you know what we should do with it? We should put you in it and roll you down some stairs!”

“No, Benny. Mr. Smithers is really mad at me for using his ladder, so I’m mad at you for getting me in trouble.”

“Aw, come on, it’ll be fun.”

“No, Benny. I won’t do it.”

Benny was annoyed. None of the kids were any fun. He grabbed Jack’s Bible and threw it in the font of Holy Water before running off to find a new victim.

***

A: Benny b. Sally. Sally is relaxing in a sailboat in the middle of the pond, reading a comic book with Mini Sally beside her. Jack reels her in by tying one of Laurie’s shoes to a rope and throwing it into the sailboat. Don’t remember what dangerous thing he dares Sally to do, but she tucks her comic book into the back of her tights, scandalizing Benny. And succeeds at the thing. Poor Benny.

R: Jack b. Benny. Jack finds Benny on the roof of the grain silo behind Mr. Smither’s house. He has a pigeon trapped under a plastic bucket and is trying to feed it some grain he stole. Jack has decided he now hates Mr. Smithers because he gave him a beating for being disobedient, and dares Benny to kick out the leg of the grain silo to knock it onto Mr. Smither’s house. (“It’s secretly weak!” “I don’t know, it looks pretty sturdy to me.” “That’s why it’s a secret!”) Ravens cause a ruckus, prevent the boys from carrying out their dangerous plan.

Ca: Benny b. Laurie: ride one of Mrs. Smith’s horses bareback. She succeeds, and decides to just stay on the horse indefinitely.

A: Benny b. Sally: Sally is building a house with sticks in a muddy section on the side of the road. Benny tells her to climb down into the gorge. If she falls, it’ll be okay ’cause it’s full of brambles that’ll cushion her fall. They’ll hurt a little but only as much as a bee sting, and those don’t hurt so much. Then she should get some brambles to build her house with instead of stupid sticks. Sally does it, ripping a strip of tulle off the bottom of her dress to protect her hands as she pulls up some brambles. (“Whoa, is this a stripping game now?!”)

C: Benny b. Jack: Jack is playing with his sailboat upriver from the dam. His sailboat is called the HMS Awesome. Benny: I’ll lower you down over the dam with this rope so you can catch me a fish. They get caught by an adult before Benny and Jack can attempt to do the stupid thing.

R: Jack b. Benny. Start a stampede in Mr. McGregor’s cow pasture. They’ll trample the mean old man. It’ll be great. Ravens prevent them from doing the stupid thing.

Ca: Benny b. Laurie: Using Mrs. Smith’s horse to smash Mr. McGregor’s pumpkins is dumb. Jump the gorge to prove how cool you are. She does so, to Benny’s dismay.

A: Jack b. Sally. Jack finds Sally coloring with a single yellow crayon in a pirate coloring book. “Hey Sally, did you know there are adults who pretend to be your friend, but they’re actually just the devil in disguise?” “Nuh uh. You’re just a dumb… um.. devil foot!” “Am not, my foot is aweseome! …. I named it after my sailboat.” “Sure, THAT foot may be awesome, but what about the OTHER foot?” Jack tells Sally to push Mr. Smithers out the library attic window. (“Can you imagine how mad it’ll make him?”) Mr. Smithers turns around at just the wrong moment, catching Sally in the act.

Epilogue:

The adults are horrified that Sally would try to push an old man to his death, and decide to send her away to the Institute to get “help”.

Horrified at the growing darkness in his soul, Jack drowns himself in the river.

Benny wanders into the woods in search of more animals to torture, and is never heard from again.

The adults realize that something is seriously wrong with the children in their town. Jack’s body has washed up on the shore. Benny has disappeared. Sally is being treated in the Institute. And Laurie, the wild girl with no shoes, has stolen Mrs. Smith’s horse and smashed Farmer McGreggor’s pumpkins and squashes. The adults decide to confront her. She shoots one of the adults’ horses in the eye with her toy bow and arrow, spooking the horse. It throws its rider and then tramples the poor man to death. Laurie escapes victorious and rides off into the overcast evening.

***

Would totally play this game again, but the conflict resolution mechanic wasn’t really working. I don’t know if we were all just rolling extraordinarily well, but it was much too easy for children to accomplish their dangerous deeds. I suppose they were occasionally rescued by adults or ravens intervening, though. I was just expecting more grim deaths. And a lot less dumb name calling. It was pretty cathartic to spend an evening with my friends calling each other variations on “buttface”. I think my favorite was “Butt Ears. You have poop coming out of your ears. And when there’s a weird smell it’s because of the poop.”

Also apparently when you’re in love (like Benny accused Laurie of being with Jack. Ew! (Casey and Chris are married in real life)) you can see the outline of a heart beating through your shirt. Unless you’re not actually in love. Then it’s just the outline of a butt.

I’m looking forward to playing this at Gamex and seeing how the card-driven version is different.

The No-Good Children of Raven’s Hollow, Part 1

Last night was a busy night at Math Haus. My housemates had friends over to play Pathfinder in the living room, and while they did that, I had a few friends over to play The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven’s Hollow at the dining room table. The designer is running a session of the card-driven version (in development) at Gamex this coming Memorial Day weekend, but I found the original dice-based version on their website and it sounded like fun.

I now present to you….
The No-Good Children of Raven’s Hollow

A tale of mischief and bullying

Characters:
Benny, 6 1/2 years old, played by Ron
Laurie, undeterminate age, played by Casey
Jack, 8 years old, played by Chris
Sally, 7 years old, played by Me

Part 1

In Raven’s Hollow, the sun never shines.

Today was a day like any other. The adults of the town shuffled around, doing whatever boring things adults did. The sun did not shine, and the children entertained themselves as best as they could in the brown and gray world of ancient trees, mud puddles, tangled thickets, and decaying buildings.

Benny was in a foul mood, and was taking it out on a snake he’d found by the side of the creek. He wore a baseball cap (turned backwards, of course, like all the cool kids he saw on TV), and he was wearing a pair of dirty sneakers. They weren’t the cool sneakers he’d asked for, so instead he had drawn lightning bolts onto the sides with crayons. The shoes were stained strange colors from where he’d emptied the contents of a glow-stick onto them, trying to make the lightning bolts glow. (It hadn’t worked, hence the foul mood.) In his grubby hands Benny held a stick, which he was trying to poke in the snake’s mouth. The snake was having none of this, and kept snapping at the stick with sinister-looking fangs.

“Come on, snake. Just open a little wider, like that… no, hey! Not like that… Now, just stay still for a second…”

Just as Benny lunged forward with a decisive jab, a rustling in the brush surprised him, and he missed, stumbling forward. The snake made a sound that sounded suspiciously like a snicker.

“Hey Benny, what are you doing?” asked Laurie with a sneer as she emerged from the bushes.

“Oh, it’s just you.” Benny rolled his eyes. “Go away Laurie, I’m busy.”

Laurie was a tall, gangly girl with ratty ginger hair. She was wearing shiny patent leather shoes (still shiny because she’d been careful to avoid any mud puddles) and in one hand she was carrying a bright red balloon.

“I’m not doing anything,” she answered snottily. “What are YOU doing?”

“Trying to get this snake good,” Benny answered, scowling. “But it won’t stay still long enough.”

Laurie scoffed. “Only little kids poke at snakes with sticks. I dare you to poke the snake in the mouth with just your finger! You’re not scared, are you?”

Benny eyed the snake, which eyed him back. He looked at his finger, then looked back at the snake’s evil-looking fangs. He gulped, started to move toward the snake with one pointer finger extended, then thought better of it and shrugged.

“Nah,” he said. “That’s dumb. Who cares about a dumb old snake, anyway?”

Laurie snickered. “Oh yeah?” She took a few quick steps forward, grabbed the snake by its tail, and before Benny could do anything about it, she spun it in the air and flung it downstream into the creek. “I guess you won’t care if I do that, then.”

“HEY!” Benny shouted in protest. He scampered into the stream, but the snake was no where to be found. He turned back to Laurie, who was lost in laughter. “You’re just a dumb girl. Stupidface.”

“Whatever, Benny. You’re the stupidface.”

“Oh yeah? What kind of a stupidface carries a balloon, anyway? Balloons are more dumb than snakes.” He walked over to where Laurie was standing and narrowed his eyes at her, then reached forward and grabbed the balloon out of her hands before she had time to react. He released the string, thoroughly enjoying her shrieks of dismay as the balloon climbed up, up, up before getting tangled high in the limbs of an ancient, decaying tree.

“There. If you climb that tree and get your balloon, I might believe that you’re not just a stupid girl. And I won’t tell all the other kids how stupid you are. Stupidface.”

“Okay, I’ll do it,” said Laurie without a second thought. She carefully took her shoes off and placed them on a pile of dry leaves at the base of the tree. “I’m not going to get my shoes dirty, though.” She looked up at the tree, which was swaying in the breeze and making loud creaking noises. A large raven settled itself down on a branch not too far from her balloon. The branch seemed far too thin to support the weight of the massive bird, but Laurie thought that maybe it meant the tree was sturdier than it looked.

After another moment to gather her courage, ignoring the irritating taunts of Benny behind her, she squared her shoulders and started to make her way up the tree, carefully placing her hands and feet on the sturdiest-looking of the decaying branches. After a much shorter time than either child had expected, she was almost within reach of the balloon. The raven, still eyeing her, flew down a few branches and almost as though it was helping her, plucked at the balloon string with its beak, conveniently untangling it from the branches and dropping the end down to where Laurie could grab it. She tied it around her wrist and descended back to the ground.

“See?” she said, brushing the dust off her dress. “Easy.” She smiled smugly, reaching for her shoes. They were gone. She frowned.

“Are you looking for these?” Benny dangled them in front of her eyes, then snatched them away cruelly. “Finders keepers!” he said, and ran off into the forest, ignoring Laurie’s shouts behind him.

***

Jack was the largest of the children of Raven’s Hollow. Maybe not the oldest – it was possible that title went to Laurie, but none of them were entirely sure how old she was. No, Jack was simply the largest. Tall and wide. He would be intimidating except that he was a good, quiet child who preferred to spend his free time surrounded by books. Today he was working his shift at the library, pushing a rickety cart around and shelving books. In his back pocket was a copy of his favorite book, which he occasionally snuck out to read a few pages, tucking it away again quickly before the librarian, Mr. Smithers, caught him. Today, Mr. Smithers was no where to be found, so Jack was taking a longer than usual reading break. This is where Benny found him. Benny snatched the book out of the older boy’s hands.

“Hey, what the…?” Jack said, startled. He looked up, and sighed. “Benny! Give that back!”

But Benny was too quick for Jack, and tossed the book high onto the top of one of the bookshelves, laughing with glee.

“Who reads books, anyway? Why don’t you ever play outside, Jack boy? Books are for sissy girls.”

Jack decided to not point out the sissy girl shoes that Benny was wearing at the moment (Laurie’s shoes, in fact). Then he looked sadly at the top of the bookshelf. There was no way he could reach that high, despite being the tallest boy in his grade.

“Aw, Jacky boy lost his book! Hey Jack, I dare you to climb the rickety old ladder to get your book back.”

Jack hesitated. “But Mr. Smithers will be angry. I’m not supposed to use that ladder….”

“Are you… scared?”

“No!” Jack responded a little too quickly to be convincing. “But Mr. Smithers is my friend. I don’t want to make him mad.”

“Sounds like you’re scared to me. I’m gonna tell everyone else what a scaredy butt you were, can’t even climb a ladder without an adult…”

“Okay fine! I’ll do it!” Jack cried. He stormed off, and when he returned he was wheeling the old library ladder around from where the librarian kept it in a dusty corner. He placed it at the base of the shelves where he thought the book had landed. He grabbed the sides of the ladder, and climbed one rung, then another. The rungs creaked in protest, but they seemed to hold his weight safely. He successfully climbed to the top, retrieved his book, and on the way down, “accidentally” dropped a heavy hardcover book on Benny’s head.

“OW!” Benny shouted. He wrinkled his nose and stuck out his tounge. “You’re just a dumb butt face. Butt eyes! You have butts for eyes!” He ran off, rubbing his head and shouting insults behind him at poor Jack.

***

You can read Part 2 here!