I wasn't around for the first couple of weeks of Pokémon Go, because I was overseas and the data was turned off on my phone. I can tell you, however, that some of my friends who are not cheapskates were catching Squirtles in the baths of Neptune at Ostia!
I downloaded Pokémon Go after returning home, and I've quickly become hooked. It's partially that the game is nostalgic and I remember playing it with my brother when we were kids. But I'm slowly figuring out what really appeals to me: Pokémon offers many things to collect (obviously) and also an endless hill to climb, because you can catch, hatch, and evolve increasingly powerful monsters as you level up. It is like a real-world JRPG with opponents who are constantly grinding just like you are. If you know me, you know I have a tough time resisting games that offer collectibles and constant improvement. I have to be very careful when playing video games with collectibles.
Right now, Pokémon Go is offering me an addictive grind, but I worry that this same grind will eventually kill all of the fun of the game. Because I know that I will catch more powerful Pokémon as my level improves, I'm holding off on evolutions and hoarding candies for too long. I'm afraid I'll evolve that Eevee I just caught—my most powerful yet—and then find an even better one that will make me wish I had waited. And because others got a head start on the game, I'm having a hard time building a team of monsters that makes me feel like I have a real chance at one of the local Pokémon gyms. How long can the fun of a game last if all you do is grind? Will I ultimately feel that my efforts were worth it, or is this a phase that will eventually burn itself out?
There are a couple of things that I wish were different about Pokémon Go, and that I think would improve my experience.
1. Better ways to level up Pokémon that I already have. What was the point of starting out with a 12 CP Charmander that I might as well just trade in for the candy? It's hard to develop emotional attachments to your monsters when you know that you need to be out catching bigger and better ones.
2. Alternative ways to acquire breed-specific candy. Again, I picked a Charmander starter because I love Charmander. But I have yet to hatch one or see one in the wild. I won't be able to evolve any Charmander without catching a LOT more, and the odds of that aren't too good. It gets kind of depressing if you think about it too much.
3. Ways to communicate with local members of my faction (Go Team Mystic!). I'm part of a faction, but I don't really feel that bond with other players. It would be really cool for us to be able to find each other and work together in a more coordinated way, at least locally. I know there are other Team Mystic players nearby because they keep fighting with Team Instinct over the local gyms, but I still feel like a lone ranger over here.
4. Ways to train your monsters (or at least practice battling) without going to a gym. Gym battling is more involved than just flicking a few Poké Balls at a would-be new acquisition. I'd like a chance to practice with my friends, using monsters who might not be the 1000+ CP beasts guarding the nearest gym. It would be great to enter into one-on-one practice matches with friends (or strangers) nearby.
So here's where I'm at right now: I'm probably going to spend a couple of hours playing Pokémon Go today, but I'm not sure how much I truly love it. Will I always be chasing that elusive newer, better Pokémon? Or will I finally settle on a team that I can nurture and train, a team whose members I bother to nickname? The answer to these questions will determine how long Pokémon Go keeps my attention.
I haven't backed Kickstarter projects before this year, but I'm starting to get used to the idea. Although the first project I backed, Darkest Night, had some issues early on, it was successfully funded. I'm feeling extremely optimistic about it, too. Why? Because I just picked up a retail copy of Victory Point's previous Kickstarter project, Dawn of the Zeds (3rd ed.), and it's great!
The second game I backed on Kickstarter, Sovrano, was not successfully funded. It is, however, possible to order a copy of the game directly from Cambium Games. The father and son team behind Sovrano make all boards and components themselves, so it will take a couple of weeks for your game to arrive, but my copy is gorgeous and I'll be telling you more about it soon.
Now I've backed my third Kickstarter project, and I know this one is going to be a success: Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave. I already own Hostage Negotiator and have written a positive review of it on this blog. The original game was a successful Kickstarter project, and I have no doubts about the quality of Crime Wave, the standalone followup. Clearly nobody else does, either, because the project is about to be 300% funded! Sometime next March, I will be negotiating my way through a new set of harrowing crime scenarios. I can't wait. If you're into solo gaming, but haven't played Hostage Negotiator, I highly recommend that you take advantage of this Kickstarter. Not only can you get all of the new stuff, but you can pick up the original game and all of the abductor packs that have been released for it.
Hmm... maybe I need a rematch with Donna Scarborough, the teacher who loses it when she doesn't receive tenure. Might get me in the mood for a new school year! Check out the video below for a preview from my favorite YouTuber, Ricky Royal from Box of Delights.
Last night, a bunch of people from my program here in Rome got together to eat food and play Cards Against Humanity. I was responsible for creating the CAH set, and unfortunately the print shop I tried to go to was closed... which meant I had to create a game by hand. As a result, some of the cards changed along the way.
While I am not going to tell other people how to enjoy their games, there are a few cards in the original CAH set that I prefer not to play with—"a robust mongoloid" is not something I find funny. So I altered a few of the cards to incorporate references to ancient history, while also retaining the inappropriate fun of Cards Against Humanity.
Some of the additions were:
- hiding inside of a wooden cow and hoping that a bull has sex with you (go read about where the Minotaur comes from)
- penis windchimes (see photo above)
- vomiting up your dinner to make room for more food
- Hadrian's gay sex dungeon (research: Antinous)
- being kicked to death while pregnant (the rumored fate of Nero's second wife, Poppaea)
- Catullus 16 (NSFW!)
We got some fantastic combinations, which included a "haiku" that made me cry because I was laughing so hard. There is a famous scene from Roman literature called the "Dinner of Trimalchio," in which a former slave who is now a rich freedman throws an amazingly tacky dinner party. Our haiku artist accurately captured it:
Vomiting up your dinner to make room for more food
Domino's Oreo Dessert Pizza
Other good combos included "Recovering the Eagle from the Parthians + Erectile Dysfunction = The Res Gestae" and "Assless chaps + a winged penis sculpture = the rapture." We also got, "That's right, I killed masturbation. How did I do it? Eunuchs." Someone even combined having sex with a bull with "the big bang."
While Cards Against Humanity has its detractors, I've actually come to appreciate the game more after tinkering with it myself. Its cathartic properties are enhanced when you're poking fun at yourself and your own work. Plus, its flexibility can lead in a lot of fun directions if you're willing to put in some extra effort. I would love to see (or make) a version of this game that is 100% classically inspired—perfect for grad students who need to unwind or for Latin teachers who are hiding from their students at the state convention.
I admit that I love to buy new board games. There's nothing like opening up a fresh box full of tokens, counters, miniatures, cards, dice... We've all been there. But the Romans remind me that for a lot of games, you don't need more than your own two hands (or, in this case, one hand).
Micatio is a simple game of odds and evens, in which the two players throw up one to five fingers and guess either the total number they'll produce between them or whether that total will be odd or even. That's it. Romans, including poor Romans, were able to amuse themselves this way, and even used the game to make comments about a person's character. In De Officiis, a work about moral goodness, Cicero remarks that even peasants already know what makes a man good: "For among them was born the proverb, already worn out with age: When they praise someone's goodness and honesty, they say, "He is a man with whom you can play micatio in the dark" (De Officiis 3.77).
Could you play micatio in the dark with your gaming buddies? I'm mostly a solo player, and naturally I trust myself. But thankfully, I also trust my friends enough to get up from the table in the middle of a game. ;)
Just as many of us do today, the Romans loved to play with dice. This passion often began in childhood, when children "gambled" for nuts.. The poet Ovid even gives advice for playing with women in his Ars Amatoria, a scandalous poem about picking up the ladies. Propertius complains to his mistress, Cynthia, when she is out partying too late: "You drink, taking your time. Can't midnight break you? Isn't your hand tired from throwing the dice?" (2.33b).
This passion for gambling also extended to many of Rome's emperors. According to the (admittedly gossipy) historian Suetonius, Nero was so profligate that he would bet up to 400,000 sesterces on a single roll of the dice. (The value of sesterces compared with U.S. dollars varies and is difficult to estimate, but trust me, that's a ridiculous amount of money.) Augustus, on the other hand, is known to have openly loved gaming, and to have played all year, whether it was a holiday or not. (It was technically illegal for Romans to gamble outside of specific holidays and sporting events.) But Augustus allegedly "played for diversion only" and wrote about it fondly in his letters (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, DA 71). Caligula was known as a cheat (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Caligula 41). Emperor Claudius, typically thought of as a nerd among emperors, was allegedly so enthusiastic about dicing that he published a book about it, and even had a portable gaming table in his chariot (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Claudius 33).
For your enjoyment, I've included a clip from I, Claudius, in which Claudius distracts Caligula by giving him a set of loaded dice that had been given to him as a gift. He doesn't tell Caligula that they are loaded, and the gift has some unintended consequences...
What do you do when you can't play as many board games as you'd like? You read about them! (At least, that's what I've been doing.) Here is a roundup of a few books about gaming that I've enjoyed during my adventure in Rome.
1) The Immortal Game: A History of Chess by David Shenk
In this book, Shenk has created a mashup of family history, chess history, and his personal experiences as a new chess player trying to fall in love with the game. His final product is an exuberant and informative work that gave me tons of ideas for what to read next. (Did you know that medieval romances often include scenes where the lovers play each other at chess? Or that Napoleon played on a fancy chessboard while in exile, never knowing it contained a secret plan for his escape? OMG!) Although Shenk sometimes overstates the social influence and interpretation of chess—at least in the eyes of a skeptical historian like me—his book is an excellent pleasure read that helped rekindle my own interest in chess. I may break my dusty old board out when I get home.
2) The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon
I personally hate playing Monopoly. Fortunately, the history of the game is far more interesting than the game itself. Apparently the true inventor of the game didn't receive full credit for her brainchild until long after her death, and before Parker Brothers got ahold of the title, the game was popular among liberals and anti-Monopolists who never expected the game to become a game company's goldmine. This book taught me a lot about games as social messages, as well as about intellectual property and patent law in the United States. Definitely worth a read for both gamers and people who are interested in American social history.
3) Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It by David Ewalt
I hate to say it, but this book disappointed me. I am very interested in the history of D&D and in roleplaying games generally, but Of Dice and Men is bloated with the author's descriptions of his own campaigns, obsessions, and insecurities about being an avid D&D player. I often found myself skipping over his personal stories in search of the next history section, and I would then find the historical sections to be a little bit thin. I would have especially liked to see a more insightful analysis of D&D and the Satanic Panic, which I remember because my grandparents used to warn me never to play the game lest I make contact with actual demons. I'll definitely be on the lookout for a deeper meditation on what I consider to be one of the most important games ever made.
If you have any good suggestions for books about gaming, please feel free to leave me a comment!