Hurricane Irma brought a tropical storm to Atlanta, and we've missed two days of school. But at my house, that has just meant more books and board games!
I don't have any games that are explicitly about hurricanes, but these are close enough:
1. Robinson Crusoe
Even without weather disasters, Robinson Crusoe would be brutal. You have to cope with possible injuries, wild animals, limited food supply, and various other disasters. On top of everything else, you have to roll weather dice—and you'd better believe I've lost a palisade or two that way. At least I get to ride out hurricane Irma in my apartment!
2. Arctic Scavengers
OK, so maybe this deck building game would be more thematic during a snowstorm. But Arctic Scavengers is all about survival in a harsh environment. Since I'm sitting in here with my flashlights, radio, cases of water, and nonperishable food, I have survival on my mind. Since there is nowhere else to go at the moment, why not turn it into entertainment, too?
3. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
Rain and candles might signify that a disaster is happening outside, but they also put me in the mood to solve mysteries. This is the perfect time to make tea, read by candlelight, and catch a criminal. Or, if you'd like to freak yourself out, you can play Mythos Tales, which is basically Consulting Detective in the world of H.P. Lovecraft.
Another deck builder (my favorite mechanic). Turn the raging storm outside into an apocalyptic battle! Hurricane Irma might well have ripped a hole between this and another dimension, and Shadowrift allows you to do battle with monsters who come through those dimensional rifts. Protect your town from forces of nature and even from forces beyond nature!
Do you feel trapped during the storm? Are you getting the creeping feeling that you'll never escape? Gamify that feeling with Onirim, a solo card game about being a dreamer caught in an endless labyrinth. Will you find all of the doors and escape, or will the nightmares get you? It'll take your mind off of being stuck in your home for however long...
On a serious note, I hope you're all safe out there. Be well, fellow gamers.
I've been super busy lately with a move and with a new job, but life is slowly starting to settle down. Which is good, because I have a lot of board games that need my attention! Kickstarters like Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave and Triplock have finally arrived, and now I just need to sit down and bask in their glory. Aeon's End: War Eternal is also set to ship soon. My Kallax runneth over!
My gaming life at school is also going to continue. When club day rolled around, I was seriously happy to discover that my school already has a game club! In fact, students who heard I liked to play board games made sure that I met the sponsor. (Pretty much the first thing we did was compare shelfies—I think this is a match made in heaven.) This Friday after school, I will once again get to game with students and get to know them better over some cardboard. I also have a group of advisees who love to play UNO. I will eventually corrupt them...
I love sharing my hobby with my students. I want them to game now, game in college, and game as adults. If you love good challenges and good company, you won't find a better hobby.
I'm teaching at a new school this year, and I currently spend most of my time thinking about how to be better at my job. Culturally, it's a huge shift from my last school: I've gone from public to private, from economic disadvantage to economic privilege. The changes in student priorities that come with that are staggering.
Teenagers are teenagers—they are funny, curious, and engaging, no matter where you meet them. They also worry a lot about stuff, because that's what teenagers do as they find their places in the world. The main difference I have noticed so far, however, is that my new students worry a lot more about grades. I gave my first batch of quizzes today, and the anxiety levels were sky-high.
I'm not saying I don't get it. In fact, I was painfully anxious about grades myself when I was a kid. And let's be real—today's teenagers are forced into a competitive world where college admissions are brutal and where more and more is expected of young people. I overheard two students talking in the hallway yesterday, and one was telling the other that she was sad because they never managed to hang out on the weekends. They were too busy with school and with extracurricular activities. I wish I could have told that kid not to worry so much about work, and to go be a kid for once. But I'm not 100% sure that's an option if you want to grow up to go to Harvard. (That shouldn't necessarily be a priority, but I have a fancy education myself and I wouldn't trade it for anything.)
The worst part, though, is that all of this performance anxiety has a negative impact on learning. Anxious students do not learn as well as students who are relaxed but engaged. But how do you simultaneously grade students and teach them to relax and enjoy themselves? They would do better and have more fun if they worried less. But if you tell them not to worry, are you lying to them?
I've been getting more interested in teaching Latin through comprehensible input—a method that isn't as grammar-heavy as traditional Latin, and that focuses on lowering a student's "affective filter." (If students feel corrected/judged, they clam up.) Rather than teaching grammar and giving the students lists of vocabulary to learn, CI teachers provide them with lots and lots of input—both written and spoken—that is interesting and understandable. There is very little pressure on students to produce the language themselves at first, because they are allowed to do that at their own pace. I'm not yet sure how I want to implement CI or how I would grade student work in a less traditional Latin classroom, but I want the welcoming classroom culture that a commitment to CI seems to promote. Kids in CI classrooms have more fun. Kids who have fun ultimately learn more, get more out of class, and tell their friends—which conveniently leads to higher enrollment numbers.
This post isn't explicitly about board games, but I think talking about my work this way also gets at why I think games are so important. Play seems frivolous, but it's actually crucial. In the same way, schoolwork that doesn't feel like work can actually teach you the most. But if you are constantly focused on grades, data, and productivity, you miss all of that stuff. Why do we do that to ourselves? And how do we break the wheel?
I am a non-religious person with a Ph.D. in Ancient Christianity. This means that, while I lack actual religious faith, I love things that have to do with Christianity. I spend my free time reading the works of Church Fathers. If there is a tchotchke that has a saint on it, I want it. (This is probably why I own a Coptic monk puppet, a Virgin Mary bottle opener, and a small glow-in-the-dark baby Jesus.) Since I am also a board game enthusiast, I had to add A.D. 30 to my collection.
A.D. 30, published in 2012 by Victory Point Games, is a solitaire game in which you manipulate the movements of Jesus and his enemies—Caiaphas, Herod, Pilate, and Judas—to orchestrate Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem and to ensure that his betrayal and crucifixion come to pass. You work through a deck of event cards and take actions to ensure that Jesus does not fall into temptation, that he recruits all twelve apostles (if possible), and that his political opponents do not reach Jerusalem before he does.
For the record, A.D. 30 treats its subject matter with respect. Tom Decker, the game’s designer, states in his design notes that he wants to “demonstrate to the player the extraordinary set of circumstances that actually took place and were necessary to achieve the historical result and engender the birth of Christianity.” His game includes fourteen different possible outcomes of Jesus’ ministry, ranging from the story we know today to “Satan successfully lures Jesus into temptation and spreads Darkness over the world.”
I am more than willing to play a game in which Darkness takes over the world—after all, I face this outcome in H.P. Lovecraft games all the time. But the fact that this game is about Jesus makes this outcome especially uncomfortable for a lot of gamers.
Some reviewers keep their focus on whether a game is fun. Ricky Royal, a connoisseur of solitaire games, comments: “For me, a history buff, I’ll happily see it as a game design first, a history lesson second, and anything beyond that is not relevant to this forum.” Others, including Tom Vasel from The Dice Tower, are uncomfortable with several aspects of the game design. In his video review, Vasel objects to the idea of playing as Jesus and especially to the idea that Jesus was at risk of falling into temptation.
For me, the temptation cards were the most interesting aspect of the game. (The gameplay itself is just okay.) Within the context of A.D. 30, temptation cards ostensibly represent moments in Jesus' life that Decker viewed as moments of vulnerability for Jesus when he designed the game. When Jesus is located in the desert, he is automatically affected by temptation because that is where he encounters Satan in the Gospels. But there are also events in the Jesus story, as told by the game, that tempt him as you play. These include:
- Teaching in Capernaum (flavor text: "And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee").
- Driving the moneychangers from the temple in Jerusalem
- Jesus' meeting with the Pharisee Nicodemus
- Jesus' rejection in his hometown
- Jesus' rejection in the Samaritan village
- The Transfiguration (Elijah and Moses appear and talk to Jesus, Jesus becomes radiant, and a voice in the sky calls Jesus "son")
- Pharisees seek to stone Jesus (this event is mentioned in the context of the resurrection of Lazarus)
I don't know for sure what Tom Decker was trying to say with his game design choices about temptation. In fact, this is an issue he skirts around in his design notes by saying, “if managed properly, Satan and temptation should not be a serious threat.”
But I think that the temptation cards not only invite players to imagine Jesus as a man who experienced temptation, but also to contemplate how events in his life would have made him feel. Some of these events have to do with Jesus' fame or success, and thus possibly his ego. Teaching in Capernaum makes him famous, and his Transfiguration could perhaps be read as ego-inflating. Other events might make Jesus angry, such as his encounter with the moneychangers in the temple and the rejection he faces in his own hometown.
A.D. 30 also elegantly reminds us that a game is never just a game—it’s a representation of how we understand and interact with the world. If you believe that Jesus was fully divine and unable to succumb to temptation, this game not only contradicts your beliefs, but forces you to be an active participant in their subversion.
When designers create games, they offer an interpretation of the world whether they mean to or not. When you play a game, you at least partially accept the designer’s vision, whether you mean to or not. Because games require your participation instead of merely your attention, they communicate more viscerally than any other medium I can think of. It’s something you don’t think about much when you’re slaying zombies or building spaceships, but it’s there. It just takes a game like A.D. 30 to bring it into sharper relief.
Lately it seems like every board game forum I read has a post about sore losers, learning to lose, or hyper-competitiveness in games. That topic is always going to be relevant when talking about games, but everyone seems to feel like talking about it now. Some of us are openly competitive and love to win. Others lean back and profess that they are in it purely for the enjoyment of the game, regardless of outcome.
I feel like there's a lot of moral judgment that comes along with these conversations. If you're not competing, you're soft. On the other hand, why do people care so much about "just a game"? I've even seen fellow gamers suggest that a poster's defeat-hating fiancée get counseling!
There has to be middle ground here. First, let's all admit that we when we play a game, we want to win. The entire point of a game is to try to win, either over other opponents or, in the case of a co-op, against the game itself. If you "don't care" about the outcome of a game, why are you playing one in the first place? Obviously the challenge attracts you.
At the same time, it's not cool to want to win "too much." I admit I struggle with this—I love to win, and while individual losses don't bother me, I do get annoyed if I lose too many games in a row. I especially hate it if someone trash talks me when I am on a losing streak. Usually I am content just to play well, even if I don't pull off a win. But note that I want to feel competent—not like I am floundering around and destined to fail. No one wants to feel stupid in front of an audience, in any context. Even if it's "just a game."
Losing only hurts when other people are watching. I lose solo games all the time, and I never think anything of it. Of course, there are no witnesses. (None that survive...) I log both wins and losses in an app, which still doesn't carry the same sense of shame. But fear of looking stupid? That fear affects me so much that I hate struggling with a video game level while my boyfriend is watching. I don't know why I care—lord knows he isn't with me for my mad gaming skills—but there it is.
There is probably a perfectly good explanation for this. I have been a huge nerd all my life, and my identity is very much tied to my intellectual prowess. I like to feel clever. And in board gaming, a hobby full of nerds, I am sure I'm not the only one who is wired that way. Defeat itself is tolerable, if I feel like I was able to put up a good fight. Defeat AND intellectual dishonor? I can't stand it.
We made it! My fiancé, cats, and I have all made it to Atlanta. We have our stuff from the moving truck and all of the furniture we need except for rugs and décor. Most importantly, we both start work in about a week. Everything is still uncertain and more than a little scary, but we're here! It's time for a new chapter in our lives to begin.
Moving my board games actually went pretty well. I know some people have packed them in shelves, etc., but my solution was to use medium-sized moving boxes. As I packed, I numbered each box and kept a notebook where I recorded which games were in which boxes. That way, if something got lost in the move, I'd know exactly what I needed to replace. Fortunately, though, that didn't happen! All of my games made it, and nothing was damaged in the move.
Moving has left me broke, but I invested what money I had left into making this apartment the most pleasant living space I possibly could. After all, if you can't afford to go out, you had better enjoy staying in! Part of this process has been organizing my board game collection.
For me, the most important parts of making my apartment the perfect home were 1) having a nice office space for working at home and 2) giving myself good gaming areas. I am well on the way to achieving both. My office still needs to be organized a bit (a lot of random books and supplies are covering my desk, waiting to be put away). But my fiancé let me turn our sunroom into a gaming den, and I am very excited about it. He even helped me put together my first set of Kallax shelves! Assembly started out easy enough, but the last part was brutal. To finish the shelf, you have to add the side and top boards, which means matching up a lot of little holes with a lot of wooden dowels. But we did it, and now my games have a lovely home! We also got an expandable dining table where I can finally play larger games without feeling constrained.
My next mission is to find an FLGS or two. I love solo gaming, but that doesn't mean I am not social. When I lived in Durham, I loved going to Atomic Empire to play with my work buddies. Now, I'm in a new town where I don't know anyone. It's time to make some friends!
In my experience, it takes at least a few months to develop strong relationships in a new place. But board gamers are generally nice people, and I look forward to planting the seeds of new friendships. I'm nervous about putting myself out there—it's hard to do even if you're generally outgoing—but I also take comfort in the fact that I'm part of a welcoming hobby full of friendly people. Between an exciting new job and what looks like a lively gaming scene, I think I'll have a rich and satisfying life in my new city.
The time has come! The movers were here today and my board games are on a truck bound for Georgia. And now that I'll be starting fresh in a new apartment, I want to optimize my space in a way that will enable me to play more board games on more suitable surfaces. Although I don't have all the money in the world, I do have enough for an epic IKEA run, so here's my plan:
My current kitchen table is fairly small and round. I'm going to put it in our new sunroom so that we can drink lemonade and play light card games in there. Perfection.
The Dining Area
It's time to get a real dining table. I'm thinking the IKEA Bjursta. It seats four people normally, but it comes with leaves that allow you to expand it to an eight-person table. Honey, we're eating dinner in the sunroom tonight, because I'm leaving out my Mage Knight setup!
My office doubles as a guest room, so one of the things that has to go in there is a sleeper sofa. I'll also need a shelf for my printer and the professional books I keep at home (mostly nerdy dead language stuff). Aside from that, though... I am going to make my office into a gamer-friendly zone! I want a solo play area where I can also film YouTube videos. I plan to get two pieces of new furniture for my office: 1) A gateleg table that is expandable when I'm playing games and can be placed out of the way when I have guests. 2) The holy grail of board game shelves, the Kallax 5x5!
Do you ever want to have the experience of a tabletop RPG without doing any of the work behind the scenes? If so, you should seriously consider Expedition: The Roleplaying Card Game. It's a short, light RPG for 1–6 players, and it's good fun.
Expedition runs by using very simple cards in conjunction with a free app. Each player picks a character/class and creates an action deck based on the character they chose. Character options include your standard soldier, mage, and ranger, but you can also play as the "hungry chef" or the "alcoholic diplomat." Cards in your deck fall into the standard RPG categories of ranged, melee, magic, and music. Each card tells you what die roll is required for your action to succeed, as well as the consequences of a critical success or failure. While Expedition has no art to speak of, it does have cool iconography and very clear instructions. That's really all you need. An RPG is all about imagination, anyway.
Your adventure and combat sequences are run using the app, which I found to be very well integrated with the analog components. The printed rules for Expedition are super short because all of the most important information is introduced clearly and concisely within the app. Everything you need is explained right when you need to know it, and you don't have to do a ton of setup to start playing. The app also manages Expedition's unique combat system. You have a very limited amount of time to choose the ability you want to use on a given turn, and the app manages both your timing and the enemies' actions. This keeps the adventure going at a nice clip.
While the app is very good at what it does, it is also my biggest concern for the future of Expedition. While you could theoretically use the cards to create your own simplified pen-and-paper tabletop adventures, the app is what makes this game shine. The adventures published so far are relatively short and shallow, but also highly entertaining. The writing is good enough that you can enjoy the adventure either alone or with your friends, and the current scenarios offer some fun choices for players to make.
Unfortunately, however, there isn't that much "official" material readily available in the app. I've already blown through the starter scenarios, both alone and with friends. That leaves me with material written by the community. While allowing players to create and share their own adventures is a fantastic idea, there are also bound to be problems with quality control. As of this review, are only six homebrew scenarios available for solo play, and I noticed glaring typos in two of the descriptions. (More options are available for larger player counts, but the quest pool is still pretty limited.)
The other thing to keep in mind if you acquire a retail copy of Expedition (PnP available here) is that you really should sleeve the cards. While you play, you track stats by placing clips along the sides of some cards. Within moments, my cards were getting shredded. I have only ever sleeved Lord of the Rings LCG and Mage Knight cards before, but for this game it was crucial.
Expedition is a blast to play as long as you want the experience it offers you: A light, fun RPG without deep combat strategy or character development. I can see some good story-driven campaigns emerging from this game system, especially if more people get into writing content for it. I can also imagine some fun and easy dungeon crawls to try when you want to hang with your friends as much as you want to play a game. But Expedition is still running on potential. I am very much hoping to see it grow. (Hey, maybe I'll write up a campaign myself!)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Nintendo is evil. It is even worse when Nintendo joins forces with Hasbro. Recently, their demon lovechild hit the shelves at Gamestop, and I was powerless to resist.
That's right, I bought a copy of Monopoly this week. And I am not the only one. The BGG Facebook group has been blowing up with images of and posts about Monopoly Gamer, an updated version of Monopoly that features Super Mario characters, plastic coins, and boss battles.
Needless to say, the online board gaming community is collectively losing its mind over this. Supporters are out there defending their choice to purchase Monopoly Gamer because it's "not like regular Monopoly." Haters are unable to get past the fact that "real" gamers went out and bought any version of Monopoly.
I will tell you right now that I unabashedly bought Monopoly Gamer and also the ridiculous character packs. The game is good fun, and I'm not too proud to play any game as long as I'm having a good time. A "real gamer" is someone who plays games, period.
What I do dislike about Monopoly Gamer is that it represents everything I hate about video game culture, but in board game form. The game itself was hard to find, and Gamestop totally sold out of character packs almost immediately. (My local store only has Luigi left.) There are scalpers on eBay hawking "rare" Wario and Tanooki Mario pieces at a 400% markup. Even worse, when you open the base game box, there are empty spaces for those extra characters, as if to constantly remind you that you missed out on an exclusive item.
Nintendo is the worst offender when it comes to creating scarcity in order to boost demand for their products. I'm not even going to bother going for a Super NES Classic, because I already know it would be a herculean task to acquire one. The Amiibo craze left a very sour taste in my mouth. And while I am one of the lucky few who have a Nintendo Switch, I am painfully aware that it's still tough to buy one.
Selling a board game that doesn't come with all of its pieces, then producing those missing pieces in limited amounts, is not a business model I like to see. (As any gamer knows, it's rude to sell DLC on launch day.) I don't like Kickstarter exclusives, either, because it pains me to think about owning a game I can never fully experience. Monopoly Gamer is good fun, especially for a Nintendo-loving family like mine. But true to the spirit of Monopoly, it's also a cash grab—one that I hope against hope is a one-time thing.
I have adored South Park for years. During its early days of popularity, I wasn't allowed to watch it, but I admired the students whose Cartman t-shirts were banned from my middle school. (Many a young rebel was forced to turn his "I WANT CHEESY POOFS!" shirt inside out for the day.) in late high school/early college, I caught up on every episode of the series and watched it religiously for years.
When The Stick of Truth came out, I was delighted. The game was horrible in the best of ways: fart magic, abortion mini-games, an impossible version of Simon Says involving an alien probe... what wasn't to love? And when The Fractured But Whole, a new South Park RPG, became available for pre-order about a year ago, I pounced on it. I've been eagerly awaiting this game for months.
But then IGN released gameplay footage, and I had to back out. The new game is super gross—items I saw included "jizz" and a "soiled wet wipe." When you interact with a toilet, you have to let out a monster fart to end the interaction. And the gameplay sample took place in a strip club. None of this bothered me. Much to my boyfriend's embarrassment, I love fart jokes. I figured I was pretty much down for anything.
But then the lap dance mini-game happened. To get information about a missing cat, you have to infiltrate a local strip club and interrogate one of the dancers: a hilarious premise. But to get your information, you have to give lap dances to drunken adult men. You do get to fart in their faces while you do it... but honestly, I can't get past the child molestation aspect of this. A lap dance mini-game might be hilarious to me if my character were an adult, but South Park is a show where schoolchildren are front and center, and the "humor" went past funny and into "I'm embarrassed at the idea of playing this." Even worse, it felt like the scene would never end. No joke should drag on too long, but this is especially true when the joke is that little kids are giving lap dances at a strip club.
South Park is known for its gross humor and willingness to go unapologetically where very few others will go. I've always loved that about Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and I don't dispute their right to do and say whatever they want in their own game. But I need to reassess whether I really want to play The Fractured But Whole after more reviews and footage are out.
My name is Liz, and I play a lot of games. By day, I am a teacher. By night, I am an avid gamer.