Thursday, February 9, 2012

2011 Games: Nickels & Dimes

It's a little late, but I still think it's an interesting exercise for us board game geeks. I'm a little depressed by the actual numbers this year. A real reduction in my numbers of fives and dimes, although I'm sure my number of "unique games played" number went up (I still haven't figured out how to get that).


Ten games made it into this category this year, compared to 12 last year. Not a huge decline, but definitely some different games.

Black Vienna is a long out of print deduction game. I was able to use files uploaded to ArtsCow (a print-on-demand site) to reproduce my own copy, and I really like the game and the stylized artwork. The game uses cards with different letters on them. Three cards are removed from the deck (much like in Clue), and the rest are dealt to the players. Using other cards that have groups of three letters on them, players try to deduce the cards in other players' hands and ultimately which three cards are missing. It sounds complicated, but the play is simple. However, it definitely melts your brain. What bumped this up to six plays this year is the awesome online implementation that allowed me to take a turn a few times a day instead of sweating out under the pressure of a live game.

A Few Acres of Snow is another game that owes its inclusion on this list to online play. It's a fascinating combination of the deck-building mechanic with a wargame. Unfortunately, some players who approached it more from the deck-building angle were able to "break" it so that an unbeatable strategy developed. Fortunately, those of us who aren't number crunchers were able to enjoy it just fine, but also the designer tweaked the rules to eliminate this problem.

When I was first taught the game, the number of choices and avenues to explore were just overwhelming. I really had trouble wrapping my head around it. Fortunately, my friend Mark in California invited me to a few online games that really put those nerves at ease. I still have a lot to explore with this one, but it's a fun journey.

Another game that I would describe as a "light" wargame is Command & Colors: Ancients, which made it onto the list with six plays. I just love this game, and I can't completely explain why. It's a very tactical wargame that recreates the battles of Caesar, Alexander, Hannibal, and other famous (or infamous) military leaders of the ancient age. But aside from the historical aspects, it's also exciting and fun. Sometimes you just don't have the cards necessary to do what you want to do; sometimes the dice just don't roll in your favor. With each battle lasting from 30 to 60 minutes, it's easy to play several in a row. Alea iacta est.

Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers sort of came and went towards the beginning of the year. I introduced it to my wife, Karen, and she loved it. We played it at least once a week for about a month. Then, suddenly, almost as quickly, she was done with it. I have no idea why this happened. The game is a nice variation on the original Carcassonne, with a more straight-forward scoring method. I'm sure we'll play it some more, but maybe there was just a bit of burnout.

Jaipur, on the other hand, came in strongly at the very end of the year. With nine plays, it just missed getting on the dime list; not bad for a game I received in December from my Secret Santa! It's a two-player card game about trading goods in India that plays quite quickly, which encourages match play. I look forward to many more plays of this in the future.

Other nickels:
Backgammon (8), Scrabble (8), Biblios (8), Dominion (6), Telestrations (5).


Only one: Werewolf (12) That's kind of sad, for many reasons.

Just last year I acquired a newer edition of the game, Ultimate Werewolf, which has much clearer art design and a great instruction book. The vast majority of these plays (8-10) have me as the moderator. Some people might not count that as an actual play of the game, but I certainly do. I actually love moderating face-to-face, so I have plenty of fun. Of course, at my annual board game convention I don't think I've ever moderated, which is just fine with me.

The other reason it's sad is just the major reduction in gaming volume. Last year I had five different dimes for a total of 61 games; this year, one for 12!? I'm not sure why the reduction occurred. I suppose the most obvious reason would just be less opportunity. However, I have already indoctrinated a couple of new people into this fun little hobby, so I'm hoping 2012 will see a big upswing in numbers.

For comparison, here's last year's list.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Year-End Reflections

Today is my birthday. I was really looking forward to posting on the blog again. I had planned a whole week of "Year-End Recaps" covering my interests and hobbies. Most people do this around New Year's, but I've always preferred to do it on my birthday since that is a pretty self-reflective time. However, this year is different. My father passed away ten days ago.

This isn't intended be a maudlin post that plays upon your sympathies. I don't know how anyone can summarize a 78-year life in a eulogy, let alone something as trivial as a blog post. But since I've often spent my birthday in reflection, it's appropriate that I spend some time reflecting on my dad. These are just some general thoughts, and I'm not organizing, structuring, or editing (Hah! Like I ever do!).

The last two years had been very difficult for him and my mother. Early on, I posted about a lot of the health problems he went through. I fell out of that habit after the initial catharsis of getting it all out. He had his ups and downs, including a very frightening heart attack during dialysis this past November. All of us thought that was the end right there. He recovered phenomenally well, and in hindsight I believe he did it just to spend one last Christmas with us before letting go.

He was a shell of the man he used to be. I know he was miserable. I don't think he was in pain, but the indignity of having a catheter, the irritation of dialysis, and the exhaustion of being sick and weak for so long had taken their toll. He couldn't do any of the things he used to enjoy, and each day it seemed like he had even less energy.

But despite all of that, he did keep his spirits up. He was a fighter; unfortunately he seemed to fight the doctors and nurses more than the illnesses. His mind was sharp to the end. Sure, he had trouble remembering what day it was, but he certainly knew what channel Fox News was on and he could tell you to the second when it was time for his dialysis to end (and he would!). The Alzheimer's was the diagnosis I feared the most. I dreaded the thought of losing him gradually over the years while his body remained. As terrible as it may sound, in many ways I'm grateful that he went the way he did-- peacefully taking a nap on his couch at home.

The funeral service was very nice. He was buried in the Houston National Cemetery, with the three-man flag ceremony. It's amazing how quickly that lone bugle playing Taps can bring a tear to your eye. We had a lot of friends and family come to the service, which was very nice. My brother spoke, but I did not. I knew that I wouldn't be able to get through any words I wanted to say. Instead, I stood with my brother, ready to finish for him if necessary.

My dad was very fortunate to have a lifelong friend give his eulogy. My dad and Kent Akord had remained friends for 75 years. How astounding is that!? They met in the neighborhood, went to elementary school, high school, and even college together. The stories he told were fantastic. I'd known my dad all my life, but that's just over half as long as they knew each other.

When pulling pictures for the wonderful video my brother made, I loved seeing all the different aspects of my dad. He's always been my dad, and in my adult years he's also been my friend. At occasions like this, you get to see how others experienced him. What he was like as a brother, an uncle, a husband, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor. What kind of person was he at 10, 17, 25, 35, or 45 My experience of him was only a fraction of who he was.

When talking with the pastor in preparation for the service, he told us to celebrate his life. He asked us questions to remind us (and inform him) about what our dad was like. Memory is a funny thing. I could remember a lot from the last couple of years, and a lot from when I was a kid, but I had trouble remembering things from even five or ten years ago. I'd love to list all of those memories, but if I go down that rabbit hole I'll never return.

I'll end this with just two things, two recommendations for those who have read this far. Last year, I saw the movie Tree of Life. It was transcendent. It was a poem in movie form. It required you to pause, slow down, contemplate. It was about a child and his relationship with his father; it was also about man and his relationship with God. It was about life. Not everybody liked it, and that's okay. The father played by Brad Pitt was really nothing like my father, but in the metaphorical sense he is just like everyone's father. It is very moving. See this film.

The other thing I would say is to just take some time to appreciate the people around you. That's so cliche, I know, but I don't just mean it in the sense of telling them that you love them. Just appreciate that you have friends, that you have family. Acknowledge the good times while they're happening. Cherish the memories. Tell some of the stories that you haven't told in years.

Thank you, Dad, for all the obvious things and the trivial ones. Thanks for the peanut-butter-and-crackers, the water-skiing, the lectures, the Christmas lights, the home-made slime, caring for the cat you hated, and sending me to the college you loved. Thanks for everything, Dad.

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