Sometimes I avoid playing heavier games because of the long setup and takedown time, especially if the games have complicated rules that will require a refresher. (I'm looking at you, Mage Knight.) But I've been in the mood to play video games again lately, and when I put Dying Light into my PS4 to give it a try, I was in for a nasty surprise: The installation and updates were going to take hours before I could even start to play my game! And that was after another lengthy system update.
The experience provided me a serious reminder of why I don't play video games as much as I used to. If you're in the mood to play one, but haven't been indulging regularly, you will probably get slammed with a long waiting time before you can actually scratch that itch. Sometimes, if the updates are egregiously long or require me to go in and delete other stuff from my PS4 hard drive, I will just forget about it and go get out a board game or try something on my 3DS. (Nintendo, for all its flaws, is very good about making it possible to pick up and play video games.)
It can take a little while to set up a board game, especially if it's heavy or unfamiliar. But I'd rather be engaged with the setup process than helplessly watching the load bar and wishing I had the money for a better internet connection. I feel bad for all of the kids who will get a Playstation for Christmas this year, but their parents didn't know to set it up the night before!
As for my video game craving, I guess I'll always have my handheld consoles... and we teachers are almost halfway to summer.
Like many people this season, I am preparing to travel to see family for Christmas. But there is no way you're convincing me to leave my board games behind! Here is my holiday board game packing list this year:
One Player: Valley of the Kings
As you know, I like to play board games whether or not I have other people to play with. As my solo pick for holiday travel this year, I will be bringing Valley of the Kings (or one of its equally-tiny expansions, depending on my mood). The game is a deck builder with a fun twist: You don't score points based on the cards you have acquired for your deck, but for the cards that you have chosen to "entomb"—meaning that they are permanently yours for the afterlife, but you can no longer continue to benefit from their spending power and card effects. This tweak to the deck building mechanic makes for fun strategic decisions, and Valley of the Kings has a fun solo variant that will keep me playing throughout Winter Break. Plus, the box is tiny, and the game doesn't take up too much space on a table, either. It's a great choice for solo players on the go.
Two Player: Hive Pocket
Hive is a delightful two-player abstract in which you deploy different kinds of bugs in your hive with the goal of surrounding the enemy's queen bee. The game has a chess-like feel, with rules that are easy to learn but gameplay that is hard to master. For travel, Hive is even better than chess, given that its plastic hexagonal pieces are nearly indestructible and you don't need a board to play—only a flat surface. (Even an airplane tray table will do!) Plus, the pieces all fit into a drawstring bag that you can jam into any open space in your carry-on.
Multiplayer: Codenames and Splendor
In my experience, you can't go wrong introducing new gamers to Codenames or Splendor. The rules are very easy to teach, but you can wring a lot of great gameplay out of them. Codenames can expand to include almost any number of people, making it a great family game. Splendor only accommodates up to four players, but I've never introduced the game to a group of students and had it flop. I have every reason to think my family will like it! Both of these games are also great travel games, because their components are relatively few. You can easily leave the game boxes at home and pack all of the cards, chips, etc. into Ziploc bags. Although I admit I cheated a little bit this year—I already shipped a new copy of Codenames home as a gift for my word-nerd mother! I hope she loves it.
Geek and Sundry, Felicia Day's passion project and the source of fun shows like Wil Wheaton's TableTop and RPG-centered Critical Role, has been undergoing some major changes recently. Its shows used to be freely available on YouTube and other online platforms, but as many of you know, that is about to change. While TableTop used to be funded by other means, including crowdfunding, Geek and Sundry is now part of the Legendary Digital Network—and LDN is putting a lot of Geek and Sundry content behind a paywall. Now, if you would like to watch TableTop as the episodes come out, you will need to purchase a subscription to LDN's "Alpha" program and pay $4.99/month.
I understand that creating online content takes both time and money, and I understand that artists need to be compensated for their work. But I'm going to be real: I don't think an Alpha subscription is worth paying for. I just got the email asking me to officially sign up, and most of the stuff being advertised sounds like... well... a bunch of YouTube shows plus some chat rooms and forums. I am not already hooked into the Geek and Sundry network and I have only watched TableTop. The descriptions of other shows offered through Alpha sound pretty blah, which means I would only be subscribing to watch one or sometimes two shows.
Besides, if you are willing to be patient, TableTop will be available to everyone on YouTube at the end of January. I can wait. So really, I have no incentive to subscribe at all.
Legendary, then, may have made a mistake: If other relative outsiders are like me, they won't be attracted enough to their programming to subscribe. Even worse, Geek and Sundry subscribers on Twitch and integral members of the community pre-Legendary seem to feel extremely alienated. There has been a lot of commentary on Reddit about Geek and Sundry and the departure of many of its original team members. There was even an AMA about Alpha that looked pretty acrimonious to me. What is the point of alienating the community you have while also not doing all that much to attract outsiders who might grow your viewer base?
There is probably a way to make consistent money off of nerdy content. But I'm not sure Legendary Digital Network has quite figured it out yet. Wil Wheaton's own comments on the situation are telling:
"I'm not thrilled, and it's entirely out of my hands. I probably shouldn't say much more about it right now."
Another episode of Throat Punch Lunch has been uploaded, and my SoloThrash segment has been included once again. This time, I talked about Baseball Highlights: 2045!
You can find board games about a lot of things: zombies, pirates, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars... but there are a lot of board games about Cthulhu. H.P. Lovecraft's work is alive and well in geek culture, even if you almost never hear about it anywhere else. In fact, I own and have played many Cthulhu-themed board games: Eldritch Horror, Cards of Cthulhu, Mythos Tales, Elder Sign, and more. I even caved and pre-ordered Fantasy Flight's new Arkham Horror LCG.
My excitement about trying out the Arkham Horror LCG is actually what has me reflecting on Cthulhu's popularity. Fantasy Flight already had a Cthulhu LCG out—the Call of Cthulhu card game. Between LCGs, Arkham and Eldritch Horror, and Elder Sign, FFG is making a killing off of the Cthulhu mythos. And I've bought right in. But what do I really know about Cthulhu and Lovecraft? I read "At the Mountains of Madness" once as a teenager, and I don't even remember it.
So I have downloaded the complete fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and I've assigned myself a reading project. How will a deeper knowledge of the source material affect my engagement with Cthulhu-themed board games? Will I discover that some themes from the literature have been emphasized and others ignored? I already know I will be less than impressed with Lovecraft himself—I have only scratched the surface when it comes to learning about his life, and it's clear he was racist. How will knowing more about that affect the way I view board games drawn from his work?
I'll be reporting back!
In addition to playing board games, I also love to read books. A lot of books. I probably read over 100 books every year. But there are three books I'm pining for, books for which my watch has not ended.
1. The Winds of Winter
George R. R. Martin takes his time writing, and he has a lot on his plate right now. I respect that. But it doesn't stop me from wistfully looking at the Game of Thrones series at Barnes & Noble and wishing just one more book were there. I love the HBO Game of Thrones series, but nothing is as good as taking long leisurely hours with a book. Also, I can't wait to find out how the book differs from the show. Rumor has it that we could see The Winds of Winter in early 2017. I hope so. Valar morghulis, but I'd really prefer that to happen to me after I've had a chance to read this book.
2. The Doors of Stone
Patrick Rothfuss has much in common with George R. R. Martin—he takes his time with his writing, he has a lot of projects going on at one time, and he writes amazing fantasy novels that leave me waiting. And waiting. After The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear, I am dying to read the final installment in the Kingkiller Chronicles: The Doors of Stone. How will the story of Kvothe end? I don't know, but I'm starting to worry that I'll have to learn the true names of a few things myself before I find out! Rothfuss's work really is good enough to be worth the wait, though.
3. The Mirror and the Light
My reading tastes are not limited to fantasy. My most-anticipated book is actually Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light, the third installment in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. Both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were stunningly good books, probably two of the best books I have ever read in my life. But, like Rothfuss and Martin, Mantel is also caught up in creating TV shows and stage productions based on her books. Let's hope I don't go the way of several of Henry VIII's wives before she gets around to concluding her masterpiece.
Although sometimes it feels like all I do is sit around waiting for books, the fact is, I'm just going to have to keep waiting. All of these authors are excellent, and they should take the time they need to do excellent work, no matter how impatient I feel. One day, all of this waiting is going to feel worth it.
And if you haven't started these addictive, yet unfinished, series yet... do yourself a favor and start. Even if you finish soon and the waiting makes you as crazy as it's making me.