Monday, August 10, 2020

I’m not old. I’m just managing time :P

 There was a point in my life where, between D&D campaigns and board gaming groups, I was sometimes gaming four days a week. This was also when I was compulsively buying new games and trying out new games so fast that I ended up playing a lot of games only once before moving on.

In the mists of my memories, it seems like that period of my life went on a for a long time but, looking back with a more honest eye, it was actually only a few years. It was an education in games and gaming but I’d only game like that again if someone were paying me.

I play a lot fewer games than I did during that period of my life but I replay games a lot more. I’ve also shifted from thinking that two hours was a good time range for a game to finding forty-five minutes is really what I’m looking for. (To say nothing of a six or more hour D&D session, which was exhausting at the time, let alone now)

On the one hand, a lot of my sense of being a gamer came from that point of my life. On the other hand, I don’t miss it either. I have too many memories of gaming being an obligation instead of fun. The last few times I played a game that lasted several hours, I didn’t enjoy it.

Is this because I have grown older? Has my mind grown weaker? Or is this just what happens because everything changes and we have to change with it to stay healthy? Is this just part of adulthood I put off when I was younger?

<going back to this entry after a few days> After writing all that, I realize that what this is really about is time management. 

I have known only a one or two GMs that actually didn’t run over. Instead, in most of my role playing groups, running over by over an hour was the norm. And I also remember how many two-hour board games would often end up being three or more hours.

And that kind of thing doesn’t work when you’ve got other obligations, when you have to be somewhere at specific time. That actually takes most of the fun out of it. Gaming becomes stressful at that point. 

This ain’t about getting older. It’s about figuring out what makes you happy when life changes. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Will I ever actually _play_ Sword and Sail?

 I am really thinking of making a copy of Sword and Sail. For the third time. Even though I have yet to actually ever play the game :D

Sword and Sail is an old-school, old-world war game where you are trying to have a token  in every space of one of the eight different regions on the map. You use action cards to place tokens on empty spaces and you attack an opponent by moving two tokens onto one of their spaces (leaving only one of your tokens behind) 

It makes me think of what you might get if you tried to miniaturize and simplify one of Milton Bradley’s Game Master series.

I first started looking at the game many years before I started seriously looking at Print and Play. At the time, it was one of the prettiest Print and Play games I’d seen (and I’ve seen uglier professionally published games) I wondered at the time if, between the theme, attractive components and accessible rules, Sword and Sail was a ‘free’ game that I could get other people to play. 

I do understand that the game has some flaws, requiring some house rules. The original map had Germania in the corner with only four spaces so going for Germania was a degenerate strategy. There are also concerns with two-players of having perpetual stalemate moves. Sword and Sail may be limited in enough different ways to be actually be a good game.

Still, it’s an easy build and a pretty build. It might be good as our son is getting to the age where more complicated games might interest him. And it is an interesting artifact from the past. So, yeah, let’s try making it again.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Golux Ex Mechina!

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber is what happens when you just take the clever bits of a story and chuck the rest in the dust bin.

It’s hard to truly describe the book. The plot is a fairy tale plot of a prince having to win the hand of a princess by doing an impossible task. But that not only doesn’t do the book justice, it completely  fails to actually describe the book as well. Full of not just word play but rhythm play, the 13 Clocks doesn’t just play with the nature of fairy tales but language as well. The fairy tale is just the framework for Thurber’s wit and whimsy.

A friend of mine will tell Traveling Salesman jokes by skipping to the punch line since ‘you already know what happens up to that point’ Thurber relentlessly leaves out gobs of details about the setting and the characters because he knows we already understand them because we know how fairy tales work. And he does it so cleverly that he is letting us, the readers, behind the scenes with him.

I have to make special mention of the Golux (the only one in the world and not a mere device!) who serves as the device that resolves every problem in the book. He takes the role of a Puss in Boots magical problem solver but he is relentlessly eccentric and charming. And the villain of the story calls him out as a blatant Deus Ex Machina (Golux Ex Machina!)

I first heard of the book in Middle School or High School in an essay about Fantasy literature. And I put off reading it for literally decades in part because I didn’t think it could live up to the zany impression I had of it. And, you know, it turns out that it doesn’t. But it is still a very fun and amusing book. There’s not an ounce of cynicism in the book but a ton of whimsy.

I wouldn’t describe the 13 Clocks as a satire or a deconstruction of fairy tales. Instead, it is a playful celebration of the English language.

Monday, August 3, 2020

I didn’t do anything at virtual GenCon and why that’s okay

I registered for both GenCan’t and GenCon since, well, they were both free. And all I ended up doing with them was watch a couple of feeds and a little Mega Karuba through GenCan’t.

Now, this is not me whining. This is the last weekend before school starts remotely for our son and I will be darned if that isn’t a lot more important for me. For crying out loud, I play games remotely almost constantly. I look at game news all the time. Neither Gen Con 2020 or Gen Can’t 2020 were going to be major, once-in-a-lifetime experiences for me.

No, instead, I got to participate for nothing. I got to have some fun and be a part of the greater community and feel connected. And if you don’t think those things are meaningful, social media would be nothing more than an alternative to a phonebook if folks didn’t find some value in them. (I leave it up to you to decide what that value is)

But, this does drive home that one of the most powerful aspects of a convention in person is that it is an escape from the rest of the world. I close my eyes and I think about the carpet in the convention center in Indianapolis and I have a strong memory of being removed from so many responsibilities and distractions. (Which is not necessarily a healthy thing. It’s a good thing conventions don’t happen all the time!)

A friend of mine used to ask what the difference was between going to a convention and spending a weekend at a friends house playing games? The difference is that separation.

Which is not to say that the virtual cons are worthless. With school starting the first week of August, actually trying to go to a convention in person would be a nightmare at best. 

More than that, with so many of us in some level of lockdown and isolation, the value of a virtual convention is enormous. Honestly, this year, the power and importance of a virtual Gen Con May be greater than an in-person one on another year.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

My July PnP

Like too many months in 2020, July was a crazy one. Still, I managed to get some print and play crafting in. This is what I made last month:

Blankout (double-sides play sheets for convenience)
Word Chain (the extended version)

My two ‘big’ projects of the month were Word Chain and Corinth, since they both involved three sheets of materials each but neither one was much work at all. The two pages of tiles for 5x15 were a lot more work, further proving how arbitrary my definition of ‘big’ is. Still, I’ll stick to it since it gives me some kind of goal.

(I am planning on making more player boards and the fan expansion for Corinth at some time soon)

I actually spent more time prepping future projects than I did completing them. I do like to complete something each month and sometimes that’s the way to make sure it happens.

Friday, July 31, 2020

My first virtual convention of the year turns out to be for Pokémon Go :D

The one virtual convention that I have actually attended so far in 2020 wasn’t for either board games or role playing games but for a casual video game, Pokémon Go. Pokémon GoFest 2020. Mind you, part of the reason it worked for me was because it was a casual game that I didn’t need to set aside a designated time to participate. I could also do it with my wife, which was a big plus.

Lockdown parenthood doesn’t allow for extended downtime, which is why I have yet to play a game of Scythe online despite meaning to for months. (Plus trying time remember how to play and use the interface :P) But a casual video game that is designed to be played in tiny bursts, that’s a lot easier to do.

That said, it was really the fact that I could do it with my wife and it was a family activity that really made it work for us.

While we had fun finding shiny Pokémon and fighting Team Rocket as they flew around in balloons (Niantic has worked hard on making a game based on geo caching still work when you can’t go anywhere), the real highlight was using the invite function of remote raid passes so we could play with folks we haven’t seen in months.

The last message of the event was about playing under the same sky. Virtual conventions are a shadow of in-person conventions but they are all about community.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Why did nobody tell me about McAuslan?

How have I spent decades actively reading and only found out about the McAuslan stories a month or so ago? A famous series by George MacDonald Fraser, it apparently influenced later authors like Terry Pratchett. The stories consist of Fraser tweaking his experiences as an officer just after World War II just enough to make them fictional and funny. 

As I have often written, since 2020 has been such a stressful year (for everyone!) and I‘ve been on the lookout for decompressing reading. Which, curiously enough doesn’t necessarily mean fluff. I’ve been reading heaps of L. Sprague de Camp who certainly has a lot of joy in his writing but there’s meaning there too.

(Oddly enough, Wodehouse, one of my favorite authors and a master of frothy writing, has not worked for me. Maybe I’ve read so much of him that my tolerance is too high?)

Back to George McDonald Fraser. So I read The General Danced at Dawn, the first McAuslan collection. The stories are actually about the narrator, Lieutenant Dand MacNeill, who is in a Scottish Battalion that manages to live up to most of stereotypes of Scotland. McAuslan, the dirtiest soldier in the world, isn’t even featured in half the stories but, boy, is he memorable when he dies show up.

The stories are an undeniably biased view of the British army in the 1950s with each story being about another misadventure that have to be muddled though. And that might be why the stories worked so well for me right now. They are grounded in reality, in Fraser’s actual experiences. But things do work out and problems do get solved. It’s a view of an imperfect world but a hopeful one. It actually takes me back to stories I heard from veterans as a child.

From what I’ve read, Fraser had an old fashioned view of the world, particularly in regards to woman and minorities and some people of that bleeds through. I do keep that in mind as I read his works. It’s not flawless but he has a great voice and there’s some stuff to ponder.