It’s very cliche to look back on the last day of the year, but that’s what I’m going to do. Just as with everyone else on the planet, there were highs and lows in my life in 2016. I accomplished some things, like publishing my second book, but I missed the mark on many others, like leaving my watch-through of Star Trek The Animated Series undone. Unlike many people, I am compulsive about keeping track of some things in my life digitally, and I wanted to take a look at how I spent my time in 2016 as the calendar turns over to a new year.
First up is my board game playing. I’ve cataloged both my collection and the number of games I’ve played using boardgamegeek.com since January 1, 2011. That year, I logged 400 board game plays. In 2012 and 2013, my games played went down slightly, to 386 and 364, respectively. 2014 was a larger drop, with 268 games played, almost 100 less plays than the previous year. I played more or less the same amount in 2015, 260 total, including one month where I played a game every day, August.
Even before counting it up, I felt like 2016 would be another down year, and I was right. I only logged 212 board game plays this year. That doesn’t seem like too much of a drop on the surface, right? However, looking closer, I noticed I had exactly 100 plays of Magic: the Gathering logged in 2016. This is due to a game store opening up in my town, and my support of it. However, Magic is one of those games where you play many games each session. For many similar games, like Code Names or Coconuts, I just log one play no matter how many times I play a day. If I do that for Magic this year, I move down to 129 logged plays. That’s by far the lowest since I started keeping track, meaning I played roughly one third as many games in 2016 as I did in 2011!
In addition to board gaming, I also use Goodreads to keep track of the books I read each year. Last year, I started a reading challenge, and set a goal to read 20 books. I did that, with days to spare. This year, my goal was 22 books, and I fell far short. I only read 15 books in 2016. I was feeling bad about this, as I hate not meeting my goals, but then I looked at my reading totals for prior years. Since 2012, the first full year in which I kept track, this year ranks as #2 on the list. I hope to read some more compelling books this coming year; several I read this year weren’t very good and I was stuck reading them for more than a month.
Since I love data about how I spend my time so much, this year, I began tracking what movies I watched using IMDB. We watch movies more than we watch TV, and so I knew that my total would be a big number. I just didn’t realize how big. Counting the one movie I watched twice this year (Captain America: Civil War), I watched 123 movies in 2016. That’s… a lot. An awful lot. Admittedly, I often put a movie on while I’m doing something else, like a bit of spreadsheet work, or painting miniatures. Still, 123 movies watched seems very, very high. During my six weeks off in the summer, I was watching, on average, a movie every day, and more than one several times. Movies are something I enjoy, for sure, but I think perhaps they are taking up a bigger piece of my free time pie than they should be.
There’s another area of my life that I am concerned about wasting time, and that is something I will call “time eaters”. I’m mainly thinking about three things here. First, social media, primarily Facebook but sometimes Twitter as well. Often, I catch myself watching some stupid viral animal video, or someone cooking a burrito, or a so-called life hack or a dumb political post or any one of a thousand other things that aren’t worth my time. I’ve got to be more mindful about the time I spend on these sites. Another one is Reddit; I read Reddit daily, often multiple times. A few minutes is fine, but when I’m perusing items 500-525 and still looking for something interesting to read, I could have used my time better.
The last “time eater” I want to eliminate from my life going forward are mobile games. Not all of them, of course; many I use to keep in touch with friends (Lords of Waterdeep multiplayer, for example), and others are certainly worthy games on their own (Hearthstone is something I love to play every day). I’m talking mainly about free to play games that use a timer or some other limitation to motivate you to spend money. For me, the biggest offender was Transformers Earth Wars. I love Transformers, and the gameplay was pretty good compared to prior Transformers mobile games (Battle Tactics was terrible). However, you actually end up playing the game less and less often as you progress, which seems backwards, and the rewards in game are not worth the effort. I spent way too much time and (sadly) money for an experience that ended up being nothing but frustrating. I quit playing last Monday and it has been great to not have the tyranny of the cool down timers shaping my life. Mobile games can be good, but I need to be more considerate of what I will spend my time and energy on.
All things considered, I would give myself a B- this year. I didn’t play enough video games, nor did I read enough books. I watched too many movies, played too many dumb mobile games, and consumed too much social media. Next year, I need to be better. I have some goals for myself in 2017, some related to the areas in this post, some not. Next week, I’ll share them.
When my nephew Corbin was just a couple weeks old, he got very sick and had to be taken to Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. It was a very scary time for our family, but due to the efforts of the doctors, nurses, and staff at Children’s, Corbin had successful open-heart surgery and he has been in great health ever since.
For several years now, in honor of Corbin, I have participated in a gaming marathon called Extra Life. Extra Life is a fundraiser for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Millions of dollars have been raised by Extra Life since 2008.
This year, I am doing something a bit different for Extra Life: my Pioneers students will be joining me for 12 hours of gaming! On Thursday, November 3, starting at 9:00 AM, we will begin our gaming session. Our goal is to play board games, card games, and of course video games all throughout the day, even after school! The gaming will wrap up at 9:00 PM. We are planning to webcast the gaming session live, and my students will be doing commentary and that sort of thing. Our webstream will be posted at the Pioneers website located here.
I’ve set a fundraising goal of $1000 for us. You can donate by clicking the blue Extra Life logo above. All of the money goes straight to meeting the needs of sick kids, so any little bit helps! I’m looking forward to playing some games, but the best part is doing some good for others while we play!
It’s been a couple months since I’ve written about board games. I’ve been playing plenty, but not very many co-op games, which of course is the focus of my Tabletop Co-Op column. However, a few weeks ago, I had the chance to play one I’ve had my eye on for some time: Dead of Winter. It’s another zombie themed game (I know, I know, the genre is overstuffed) but despite the theme, it is one of the best co-op games out there right now. Here’s an excerpt from the review, which you can read over at Co-Optimus.
Choosing between the needs of the many and the needs of the few adds so much to the game, but the decision making goes further than that. In between rounds of play, you draw from the Crisis deck. This draw usually gives players a choice of two options. They can either meet the conditions of the card for a minor benefit, or ignore the card and take a consequence. An example might be to take in a group of starving kids and gain morale (a sort of sliding scale that cannot reach zero), or leave them to their own devices and lose morale. Of course, taking the kids in means more mouths to feed later, so the cost is not inconsequential. One that came up when I was collecting gas cans was a cold spell Crisis card that required us to burn gas to avoid losing lives. It was hard to pony up the last gas can in hand that round, for sure.
March came in like a lion and pretty much stayed that way. For one thing, Book 2 is almost done! I am hoping to have it available next week. But I’ve been busy with other stuff as well…
Over at Co-Optimus, I did a feature on the latest D&D Adventure Board Game. It’s called Temple of Elemental Evil, based on the classic dungeon of the same name from the TSR era. I love this game series, and ToEE is absolutely the best. Check out the feature here.
I’ve been a busy podcaster as well! I joined Christopher Tupa and Kevin Zerbe on the latest episode of the Tupacast, and also met up with the Zerbinator again for his recently rebooted 80-89 Podcast. We had a great time recording. If you’ve ever wanted to hear me sing some Olivia Newton John, now’s your chance!
Over our winter break, I picked up the hottest new board game on the market: Pandemic Legacy. Connor, Deana, and I finished the last month of the campaign over the weekend. We loved it, and I wrote an article about the game over at Co-Optimus. Here’s an excerpt:
Way, way back in the prehistory of the Tabletop Co-Op column, more than six years ago, we covered our very first cooperative board game here at Co-Optimus: Pandemic. In the time since that first article ran, Pandemic has become one of the most popular board games in the world, spawning a dice game, an upgraded reprint, and several expansions. Last fall, a campaign-based version of the game, Pandemic Legacy, was released, and it is one of the best cooperative gaming experiences I’ve ever had, tabletop, console, PC, or otherwise.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I have been busy with some projects unrelated to my second book.
One such project is the Tupacast! I guess I am a recurring guest on the show now, and most recently we took a look at the abominable 1982 made for TV movie “Mazes & Monsters” starring Tom Hanks. The movie is loosely based on a true story, was sensationalized in the media, and caused Dungeons & Dragons and the fantasy genre to be looked down on in American cultrure for years and years. I even suffered through reading the book the movie was based on because I love our podcast listeners! In my opinion, the show was our best yet, despite (or perhaps because of) all the horrible snake stories. Check out the podcast here.
I’ve also been busy writing my monthly board game column at Co-Optimus. Here are some excerpts:
If you ever wanted to sneak around and take out Chaos cultists before confronting a big bad evil guy determined to take out the entire Imperium, and do it all with two or three friends, Assassinorum Execution Force is just the game for you.
It’s clear that Ghostbusters: The Board Game is aiming for a more casual board gaming audience. Given the large fan base of the property, this simpler focus was probably a good decision. The game is very thematic, cooperative, and an enjoyable way to spend some time with friends.
I have always been a big fan of board and card games. I spent hours playing Parcheesi, Pick Up Sticks, and UNO at my grandparents’ house as a child. At home, we played Boggle, Clue Master Detective, and Casino Yahtzee. As I got a bit older, I moved from Risk and Stratego to Axis & Allies, Talisman and Cosmic Encounter.
In 2009, a friend of mine got married, and for his bachelor party we all went to see the Star Trek reboot and then grilled burgers and played board games. (Do we know how to party or what?) There, I was introduced to a new card game that quickly became a favorite: BANG! It was quite different than what I was used to, and I loved it. I wanted to play more games like BANG! and that led me to the BoardGameGeek website.
I devoured all the information about “designer” board games, stuff that had to be imported from other countries and could only be found in specialty stores. I registered an account at BoardGameGeek in January of 2010, and decided as a New Year’s Resolution in 2011 that I would begin tracking all my board game plays using the system at the ‘Geek (BGG for short). Since that time, I have recorded 1,631 total plays. Divided over the 1,705 days since I began recording, that puts me at 0.95659824046 board game plays per day. That’s roughly 19 games out of every 20 days.
You might think that this means I play a board or card game nearly every day, but this is not the case. Most of my plays come in spurts. Some games, like Magic: the Gathering or Warmachine or Warhammer, I play in tournament settings, where I play multiple games in one day. This is specially true of Magic, where one tournament can lead to over a dozen plays. I also meet friends regularly for game days or nights, and usually get two to three games in during these sessions. So the norm is that I might go a week or so without any plays, then have a bunch all at once. But that was not the case in August of 2015.
This past month, I played a board or card game every day. Not one day went by where I didn’t sit down at a table with a set of cards, dice, miniatures, or whatever and play a game with someone. I didn’t set out to do this from the first of the month at all; in fact, I didn’t even notice until a couple weeks had passed. By that point, I decided to keep the streak going, no matter what. It was often a stretch, and particularly toward the end, I was playing games more to keep the streak alive than to have fun, but whatever. Here’s a visual of all the games I played in August, in order from the most played to the least.
The biggest hit for the month was Epic, a game that isn’t even out yet! I backed the Kickstarter for the game, and have been playing a Print and Play copy of the game until it launches later this month. Epic hooked me as a mashup of two games I love: Magic: the Gathering and Star Realms. It takes the fantasy spell slinging feel of Magic, and eliminates the collectible aspect as well as the “mana screw” problem. The Star Realms DNA comes in Epic’s fast pace, swingy fights, and low price. I am really looking forward to the full version and expect this one will be hitting the table often for a long time to come.
Marvel Dice Masters was second on the list, mainly due to the fact that it plays quickly but is still quite fun. I love dice, I love super heroes, and I love the Magic-like combat system. The only complaint I have about the game is it takes a while to set up and then clean up. We ended up leaving it all out for a few days in a row and ate dinner at the other end of the table. Thank you to my ever-patient wife!
Magic: the Gathering and Monsterpocalypse tied at three plays each. I keep a collection of Magic Duel Decks around as it is my all-time favorite game, though I admit it isn’t perfect (see my comments above). Monsterpocalypse was new to my collection, as I picked up a lot from a friend when he wanted to get out of it. It is a miniatures game with giant robots, huge monsters, lots of dice, and cool miniature buildings to destroy. Think Destroy All Monsters the Minis Game. I adore it for the theme and super sweet minis alone, but the mechanics are also very modular and easy to learn a step at a time.
Zombie Dice is far from my favorite game. I keep it in my collection only because it has little value to sell, is small in the game bag, and is super easy and fast to play. We dug this one out twice, towards the end of the month, simply to keep the streak going in the quickest possible time frame. Let’s just say I am enjoying Fear the Walking Dead way more than Zombie Dice and leave it at that.
The rest of the games in the list were played once each. I will group the by who I played them with.
Connor is my most popular gaming partner. He rolls his eyes some here and there but he puts up with the old man’s demands, even though playing board games cuts into his texting and The Office rerun watching. Of this set, the best play was Mars Attacks the Miniatures Game. I have painted my copy and it looks great on the table, plus it came down to the last dice roll in a photo finish. Worst play on this list was probably Tiny Epic Defenders. I want to love it but it is brutally hard and was often frustrating due to cards coming up in the exact wrong order.
With Connor and Deana – Lords of Waterdeep, Sushi Go!, Wiz-War
Did I mention my wife was patient? All three of these plays were fun, but I have to give the nod to Lords of Waterdeep. It was our first time playing with the Corruption tokens in the expansion, and I abused them too much and ended up in third place behind both of them. Connor won, which he keeps reminding me of from time to time.
At Allie Family Game Day and Breakfast for Dinner Extravaganza – Hey That’s My Fish!, Logo Party, Martian Dice, Telestrations
Telestrations is always fun when a large group plays. It’s easily our favorite party game and we have had success playing it with all sorts of people. I played Logo Party only grudgingly because I love my nephews. Cranium is way better and I don’t even own that one anymore.
At Classic Rock Coffee Game Night – Camel Up, Concordia
Could we have found two more dissimilar games? Not likely. A light, fun game with adorable camel meeples contrasts strongly with a heavy economic hand management monstrosity. I love Camel Up for what it is, but found Concordia unengaging. I should probably give it a second chance, but then again I could just bet on camel races instead.
Everything else with friends here and there – One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Pathfinder Card Game, Say Anything, Welcome to the Dungeon
Really great stuff here. I had not played Say Anything, but it was a very good party game, particularly rewarding if you know the other players well. I would play the Pathfinder deckbuilding game at any given opportunity. It’s a masterpiece and I wish it hit the table more often.
So what is my biggest takeaway from playing a game every single day in August? The fact that a good boardgame collection needs plenty of short, filler type games. Our lives are very busy, and it can be difficult to fit in a long game in one evening, particularly on a school night. I love miniatures games like Warhammer and Warmachine, but they takes 15 to 30 minutes to set up, and between 90 to 180 minutes to play. This means we can typically only get a game like this in on a lazy Saturday. Even some of my favorite medium-length games, like Agricola and Defenders of the Realm, take well over an hour. But we can almost always squeeze in a hand of Magic, or Epic, or a quick session of Dice Masters, even on a busy evening between football practice, dinner, and homework time. Good filler games are worth their weight in gold.
I very much enjoyed the cornucopia of gaming delights I partook of in August. Playing such a variety of games with Connor, Deana, and our friends was a wonderful experience. While I don’t plan on making a similar commitment anytime soon, playing a game every day gave me something to look forward to and it was a great stress reliever. It made me reevaluate the games I have in my collection, as well. Board and card games are an amazing way to spend time with one another and I am thankful to have a family that loves to play games together.
Yesterday, I wrote an article over at Co-Optimus. The Beginner’s Guide to Tabletop Co-Op provides a list of the best board and card games to try for those who are taking their first steps in cooperative tabletop gaming. Here’s an excerpt:
We’ve compiled a list of great options for those of you who are new to modern board and card games. The games on this list were chosen with three important factors in mind. First of all, complexity. These games are simple to learn, but deep enough to promote repeated plays. Secondly, thematic appeal. The idea is to get a game that all sorts of people will want to play, not just hardcore fans of a particular genre. Lastly, and most importantly, cooperation. All five games on this list require all players to team up and make decisions in order to meet their shared goals, and do so in enjoyable ways.
Check out the article here!
I posted an editorial over at Co-Optimus for my monthly board gaming column. This time around, I took a look at a game that didn’t quite hit the mark for me, though I really, really, really wanted to like it. Here’s an excerpt from the review:
For this installment of Tabletop Co-Op, we travel to one of the most well-known locations in all of fantasy literature: Middle Earth. The setting is a rich one, and has inspired countless video games as well as card and board games. The idea of a group of men, elves, dwarves, and hobbits teaming up to take on the relentless invading forces of an evil sorcerer makes for great gameplay. The game under consideration today, Lord of the Rings Nazgul, turns this concept around, placing players in the roles of Sauron’s dreaded ring wraiths as they take on the good guys.
You can read the entire article here.
I just posted a Tabletop Co-Op feature for Xenoshyft Onslaught, a new deckbuilding game, over at Co-Optimus. Check out an excerpt below.
My favorite aspect of Xenoshyft Onslaught is how incredibly cooperative it is. Players can come to the assistance of their teammates in various ways. One of the easiest is using items and upgrades on one another’s troops. If a particularly nasty foe pops up on your buddy’s turn, you can play a grenade from your hand to take it out entirely. You can even play your troopers in other players’ lines, allowing them to fight (or die) alongside your teammates’ soldiers. These troopers will go into the new player’s deck, which makes Xenoshyft Onslaught a truly shared deckbuilding experience for everyone involved.
Read the full article here.