I am no intellectual slouch, but Race for the Galaxy has stymied me for years. Ricky Royal has taught me many a game on his YouTube channel, but even his patient and detailed videos about The Gathering Storm couldn't get through to me. For some reason, I would zone out partway through any explanation of this game. There are several different symbols to keep track of, as well as multiple cards with varying bonus powers. I think my brain just couldn't handle everything at once.
My experience of this game has changed thanks to the release of a Race for the Galaxy app. Since downloading it onto my iPad and going through the tutorial, I have been able to play and enjoy the game. In fact, I like it a bit better every time I play it. The genius part of this particular tutorial is that it is divided into three phases, adding complexity as you go along. This way of explaining Race for the Galaxy really worked for me, because it divided things that had overloaded me into smaller chunks that I could finally manage.
One of the toughest things about learning new games is that when a game has a lot going on, it can be tough to hold all of the relevant information in your head at one time. Things that feel intuitive a few plays in don't always click so easily for a complete novice. A great tutorial in a board game app can help so much with that.
Race for the Galaxy's app is great in part because it handles all of the bookkeeping while your brain is still processing how to play the game. It also allows you to zoom in on cards and view a full explanation of what the symbols on them mean—an invaluable help when you are still figuring out the iconography in Race for the Galaxy. I am grateful I bought this app not only because it's fun to play it on my iPad, but because my experience with the app has finally enabled me to fully appreciate the physical game.
I've backed a few Kickstarter projects this year, almost all of which were successful. Now that the projects are funded and going into production, I am sitting around and waiting for my new games to come! I pounced on a few projects that seem obvious for a solo gamer, including Gloomhaven and Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave. Here are a few of the others I'm excited about:
City of Kings
This cooperative fantasy game looks intense. It combines a several different game mechanics, allows for character upgrades and customization, and clearly has a ton of content. Plus it explicitly bills itself as a game for 1–4 players. Hopefully I'll have a great time sinking my teeth into this one in solo mode. I love games with storylines, so this one looks like it will be super enjoyable for me.
This small card game looks like a devilishly good time—as long as you don't mind losing a lot. I am particularly excited that the game will have a campaign mode, and that there will be several different characters whose abilities will spice up the game. Even better, there is an explicit solo mode. As someone who prefers to play alone, I appreciate it when game developers treat my playing preferences as more than a throwaway marketing thing. Even better, this one should be delivered in July or August, so I don't have that much longer to wait!
Grimslingers: The Northern Territory
I missed out on Grimslingers the first time around, so I'm more than happy to get on board now. I love card games, so it felt like a natural choice. I'm also loving the theme, which is basically wild west meets sci-fi/fantasy. The art for this game looks fantastic. Plus, it is going to be a versatile addition to my collection. There are solo and co-op modes for me to enjoy on my own, plus I can duel with my boyfriend when we have a gaming date night. Awesome.
They say that good things come to those who wait. I just wish the wait weren't so long! I foresee many happy hours of gaming in my future.
I don't have an answer to this question yet, but... how do you successfully and economically move a large collection of board games? I ask because in just a couple of months, I will be moving from North Carolina to Georgia. My boyfriend and I live in a two-bedroom apartment, and while we are generally modest people who have not overdone it in terms of worldly possessions...
I probably have a collection of about 100 board games. And I love them all. If it were practical, I would pile them up and luxuriate upon them like Smaug.
My first step should probably be to take inventory. I'm not 100% sure how to do this efficiently, but it would be wise to know exactly what I am dealing with. The bulk of my collection is in my office at home, but I also have a secondary collection at school. (Some of those might not make it out of my classroom alive—rambunctious high schoolers are rough on games.)
Once I have a complete understanding of the size of my board game collection, I might want to... you know... see if I can thin the herd a little. I have never sold off any of my board games, and the thought of parting with my precious cardboard treasures fills me with sadness. But if there is stuff in my collection that I don't truly want, it would be best to see that it goes to a loving home. I already know I will want to keep most of my games—I haven't counted them up, but I definitely know what I have, if that makes sense. And the games I have actively excite me still.
Next, I think I will slowly begin to start packing games up so I can get an early sense of what I'm dealing with. A lot of my smaller games will probably pack very easily, which will give me a sense of comfort as I am "nexting." (I've decided that "nexting" is the opposite of nesting. It's preparing to move on to a new place!) Then I will be able to turn my attention to packing larger games.
As I pack, I'm going to keep a notebook and log the contents of each box. That way, I will know which games are in "Office 1" when I unpack later. I'll also know how many boxes of various things I packed and whether everything is accounted for when we get to Atlanta. I feel like this information could be useful both for the move itself and for giving me a sense of how much stuff I have managed to accumulate.
Dear readers, do you have any tips for moving collections of board games? If so, please comment. I welcome your advice!
For my part, I plan to post a few more times about my experience of moving with board games, in case it helps somebody else out down the line.
I love International Tabletop Day, mainly because it provides me with an extra excuse to do stuff I was planning to do anyway. But this year, Atomic Empire celebrated one of my favorite days of the year by hosting an UnPub Mini event. So not only did I get to play board games, but I got to be a small part of the birth of several new board games!
UnPub Mini events are interesting because the prototype games are at very different stages of development. On Saturday, some people were displaying games with highly developed box art, while others had playing cards that consisted of printer paper stuffed into plastic sleeves. One developer had a Kickstarter campaign in the works, while others were in the process of talking to traditional publishers about their ideas. It was fun to see what local game designers were up to, and it had me wondering whether I'd walk into a game store one day and see a familiar looking title on the shelf...
The game that most caught my attention this weekend was called "Town Gate." It was an engine building game with a lot of interesting decisions to be made. The game wasn't particularly thematic—it was your basic medieval-type game—but I loved the tension caused by wanting to try so many things but only having limited actions to work with. I can see the game being very competitive among friends who understand the mechanics very well, and I love games that reward repeat plays. I would definitely be interested in trying "Town Gate" again.
I haven't been gaming too much recently because life hasn't been very accommodating. Between a crazy teaching year and a very active job search, I haven't had a lot of time to myself. Taking some time to enjoy myself on International Tabletop Day meant a lot to me because I got to feel like myself again for the first time in a while.
I haven't posted in a while, but it's for a good reason. I have accepted a new teaching position, and over the summer I will be moving from Durham, NC to Atlanta, GA. That will mean new classes, new students, new friends, and a new life. Right now, the future looks bright—especially because the cursory research I have done so far suggests that there are many board gamers in Atlanta!
My radio silence doesn't mean that I haven't continued to think and read about board games. Yesterday, Quantic Foundry posted an interesting piece that sums up data they have collected about why board gamers are motivated to play. Gamers reported their primary motivations for gaming, and the options included need to win, immersion, accessibility, social fun, discovery, etc. Nick Yee, the author, broke down these motivations by gender and by age, then presented seven overall takeaways from the data. They are pretty interesting.
What struck me the most is that the biggest differences in motivation are between people with different gender identifications: male, female, or non-binary. Although motivations were varied across the board (hee!), the data indicated that women more strongly prefer the social aspects of gaming. Only 6.3% of men listed "social fun" as their primary motivation for gaming, compared with a whopping 16.1% of women. Survey respondents who self-identified as non-binary had a strong interest in social fun (10.6%), but placed an even higher premium on immersion and the experience of "getting into" a game (14.7%).
Data is informative, but it's never clear to me what it really means. Self-reported motivations can only tell us so much. Men may seem to prioritize winning, but winning is also part of a social experience, even if they choose not to label it as such. Women were more overtly social as a group, but let it be noted that roughly the same percentages of women and men listed "need to win" as their primary motivation. Primary motivations are not sole motivations—there is a lot of complexity there.
One set of data can't do everything, but I would also have been very curious to see the motivations supplied by primarily solo gamers. It's easier to understand concepts like playing to win—and especially social fun—within the context of group play. Are avid solo gamers wired a bit differently? Or are our motivations roughly the same with or without people to play with?
Yesterday, my boyfriend and I went to the Oak City Comic Con in Raleigh, NC. I had never been to a Con before, and wasn't sure what to expect. Overall, I was impressed! The convention center was packed with artists, vendors, and cosplayers who were enthusiastic to show off their products and hobbies.
Although a lot of the booths were the expected "vintage comics for sale" setups, I got a big kick out of looking for items I might not find anywhere else. My personal ridiculous-yet-exciting purchase of the day was a handmade leather bag from A Steampunked Life, a shop in Surrey, VA.
The new bag was my only big purchase of the day, but there were tons of interesting vendors. One young woman made custom stuffed bunnies wearing superhero costumes. A pottery studio called "Klaystation" sold geeky, hand-painted mugs—and might be a future location for a date with my boyfriend so we can make our own!
Aside from the souvenirs, I found some interesting comic books to try. I just finished reading the first volume of Animosity from AfterShock Comics. I also picked up a volume called Black Eyed Kids, which I bought on impulse because the author was there with his kids and the kids were so enthusiastic about their dad's work. It was too cute to resist.
At the Action Lab Comics table, I decided to sample a series called Hero Cats (it's about cats!) and another called PrinceLess, which bills itself as "the story Disney should've been telling for the past twenty years." I loved the PrinceLess cover and would love to see more books like this out there, especially because I am a teacher and I'm always looking for good material to encourage my students to read.
Along similar lines, I went by a booth for a potentially interesting Kickstarter project called Sorghum & Spear, a new fantasy comic starring adolescent women and set in a fantasy world that draws heavily on African traditions. The project has even developed a partnership with craftswomen in Uganda. I'm definitely interested in seeing projects that focus more heavily on young women of color, so I will be keeping my eye on this one.
I also felt inspired when I went by a booth run by an English teacher who is clearly self-publishing a bunch of his fictional work and shopping it at Cons. It made me happy to see another teacher following a dream while educating kids.
My first Comic Con was awesome in part because it's fun to be in the same room with hundreds of other people who love the same things you do. But I think what impressed me the most was the array of small businesses and up-and-coming writers and artists who were sharing so much creative energy. The cosplayers had amazing costumes just for the fun of it, illustrators were showing off work they were passionate about, writers were looking for readers as curious and enthusiastic as they were.
My next goal, of course, will be to get myself to a board game conference. I love gaming, but I haven't ever made it to a big board gaming event. Oak City Comic Con had a few vendors who sold board games, and it was fun to see my biggest hobby integrated into an overall celebration geekiness. But I think I would really love a gathering where board gaming is the main event.
My life has been so hectic recently that it's been tough to find gaming time. (Hopefully that will change soon, because all work and no play never leads anywhere good.) At least I have the benefit of running a board game club at school, so I am never without at least some kind of board game fun every week.
I am, however, lacking variety in my gaming life.
When you game in groups, you have to do the polite thing and play games that everyone else will be interested in. Since I play with teenage students, many of whom are new gamers, this means that I play the same games over and over again. My students adore Ivanhoe, Splendor, Castle Panic, and Jaipur, and they will ask to play those games repeatedly. But I am getting burnt out. There is comfort in the familiar, and it's convenient to play games that are easy to set up and play on autopilot because I know the rules so well. Eventually, though, it's not fun to make the same types of strategic decisions over and over again.
I usually keep smiling and playing anyway, because today's Castle Panic could lead to all sorts of interesting places in an enthusiastic kid's gaming life. And the games my students are coming to love are awesome games—I am so proud that when they think of "board games" they are now thinking well beyond Monopoly and Connect Four. (Although they still love the classics, too.) A whole new world is opening up for them.
But.. I am so sick of playing Splendor. It's like my gaming life is a bag of potato chips that I can't stop eating, even though I'm not craving potato chips and I'm not even very hungry.
My gaming crisis is actually very fixable. It just requires that I set aside time to game on my own, even when I could be vegging on the couch or playing Breath of the Wild on my Nintendo Switch. (Addiction, thy name is Zelda.) One of the great joys of being a solo gamer is that you get to play what you want to play, when you want to play it—as long as you are prioritizing board games over other downtime activities. I think it's time for me to recommit to my hobby.
We went and got our Nintendo Switch first thing Friday morning—Gamestop held a midnight launch party. Other than the not-so-subtle scalper trying to buy up any remaining games and accessories, everyone was excited and friendly. The Nintendo love was strong. After the dullness of the Wii U years, it felt like the excitement was back. But was it justified?
Now that I've had my Switch for a few days, I can honestly say that I love it. Most of my gaming time has been spent getting lost in Hyrule in Breath of the Wild, but my boyfriend and I have sampled Super Bomberman R and we are planning to play Snipperclips soon. I have played the new Zelda game in both docked and handheld mode, with the Pro Controller and with the JoyCon controllers. The game runs wonderfully, and thankfully I haven't had any of the syncing issues that others are reporting. At least, not yet. The Switch is slick and intuitive, and it looks great both in handheld mode and on the TV. The controllers are easy to snap on and off of both the Switch itself and the various accessories (although you should watch out for the wrist straps). The battery life also seems pretty good. I had to go to the car dealership over the weekend and played for a good two hours while waiting for my car. I still had 50% battery left on the console when I got home.
I'll say more about Breath of the Wild once I've had some more time with it, but unlike any other game I have played in the past few years, it has a remarkable ability to inspire conversations. Because the game is so open and leaves so much room for innovation, everyone has learned something different on their Hyrule journeys. It's fun to swap word-of-mouth tips and tricks with other people who are exploring just like you are.
I have one serious complaint at this moment: The Switch has very weak wi-fi connection. When I'm downloading an update, the signal in my living room is so pathetic that I have to carry the tablet into my office and update it right by the router. No other device in my house—including the 3DS, Vita, PS3, and PS4—has this problem. Weak wi-fi gives me concerns about future online play once titles like Splatoon 2 start coming out.
I also have a minor complaint, although I think this one will naturally resolve itself. It's very clear that the Switch was released just a little bit early—it feels unfinished. This is particularly apparent in the eShop, which offers Switch games but no games from previous Nintendo generations. When will the shop be fully functional? The Switch's lack of an internet browser is also highly problematic given that it's a device that should be usable on the go. I don't see how I could connect to, say, Starbucks internet with my Switch given that I can't go into a browser window to accept the terms and conditions. Hopefully this is the sort of thing that can be easily fixed with an update.
Overall, I have great faith in the Switch, despite its issues. Nintendo has had its share of problems and continues to make weird marketing decisions. But Breath of the Wild is a remarkable game that has me looking forward to the next big Nintendo release, and the Switch itself is a pretty magical piece of hardware. Nintendo is so far delivering on the promise that keeps me a Nintendo fan through thick and thin: It has brought fun and joy to my gaming life, and thus to life in general.
A Google search for board games and literacy inevitably turns up information about overtly educational board games, specifically designed to teach reading skills to kids. I find this trend interesting, because my students never really like games when they are designed to be more educational than fun. Review games in class usually meet with a lukewarm reception, almost as if the material I'm trying to teach automatically taints the games with boringness. They are like little kids who know that mom is sneaking them extra veggies on pizza night.
That said, I can teach my students a lot—and learn quite a bit about them—by playing games. Students who are reluctant to read will try much harder when deciphering in-game text than they would on a standardized test. When we are playing games, students will ask more questions and take more risks. To them, there is no pressure because it's "just a game."
One of my favorite games to play with students when I want them to read is Sentinels of the Multiverse. The comic book theme attracts a lot of teenagers, plus the fact that it's a co-op game encourages good behavior. But in order to succeed, players must be able to read the text on a card, connect it with other cards in their deck or in the game at large, and find a way to effectively do battle against a common enemy. (Plus, if they like the game, I can direct them to the comics.) Other card games like Magic: The Gathering and even Dominion are interesting to play with students because their interpretations of card text tell you so much about what information they process and how they process it.
Although I haven't played old school RPGs or visual novels with my students, and will probably never have the time to, I suspect that these games naturally promote literacy because they are compelling. Several of my early vocabulary words were picked up from video games, and I can't be the only one. I believe that games, both analog and digital, have a lot of potential as tools for literacy... as long as that is not overtly what they are about.
This makes me wonder. I am a public high school teacher, and my lesson planning focuses on concrete objectives that my principal can immediately understand if he comes by for a walkthrough. I also teach at a Title 1, where there is extra pressure for teachers and students to "work bell-to-bell." But students only want to play games when they genuinely feel that they are getting to play, no strings attached. I'm still looking for that happy medium with games based on class material, where it truly feels like we are having fun.
I wanted to try a 10x10 in 2017 because I thought it would help me get to know some of my games more deeply and ultimately get more enjoyment out of them. We're now a month and a half into 2017, and I haven't made much progress.
Here is the original list of games I wanted to play this year (and I still want to!):
Runebound (3rd ed.)
Castles of Burgundy Card Game
Legendary: Alien Encounters
Race for the Galaxy
Valley of the Kings
Sentinels of the Multiverse
Terraforming Mars (still waiting on copies of that one to be available again)
Unfortunately, I've only managed about six plays of Castles of Burgundy, one of Sentinels, one of Valley of the Kings... and that's it. Because my students love it, I've probably played Splendor about eight times so far this year—more than any of the games I set aside because I wanted to play them for myself.
In all honesty, I haven't been playing as many games as I want to play at all recently—no board games, no video games. I'll have the occasional exuberant burst of playtime, then go weeks without playing much at all.
What concerns me most about this is that game time is me-time: When I'm not playing games a couple of times per week, that is a sure indicator that I'm not taking enough time out of my day for myself. I'm a teacher, so it's no great surprise that I'm slammed now that we have started a new semester with new classes. And my busy life extends beyond my school day. Still, how is it that I get home every night and it's all I can do to throw some dinner together and read in bed for maybe 30 min. before I crash?
I know I am not the only gamer who has this problem—it's probably more common than not. But it makes me sad. I need to figure out a way to step back a bit, rest up, and make time for fun again.
My name is Liz, and I play a lot of games. By day, I am a teacher. By night, I am an avid gamer.