Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trollbabe: Breaking apart the narrative

I had been hearing about Trollbabe by Ron Edwards for years, how it was an important and influential game and had a big impact on RPG design. But no one ever told me how or why. The theme, which can honestly be described as female Conans with horns, didn't interest me that much. It just sounded like playing Dungeons & Dragons with only one race and class.

Then, years after I actually picked up the game, I open up the PDF and started taking a look. And then, it all started making sense.

This is Trollbabe's claim to fame and why it is genuine important: it was one of the first games that really said that the game master shouldn't plan anything out and that the adventures should be created on the fly with the collaboration of the players. Trollbabe breaks apart who takes care of what in the story telling and reassigns it. It was one of the first games that formally took apart who was telling what part of the story.

This isn't an entirely new idea. I remember, back in the 80s, seeing charts for rooms and wandering monsters so that a dungeon master could make up a dungeon as they went along. But no one involved had any creative input at all. Doing something like that isn't a collaboration, it's running a computer program, only without a computer. And, to be perfectly fair, there are games before Trollbabe that used on the spot improvisation creation collaboration. Baron Munchausen came out four years earlier, for instance.

However, Trollbabe does not just tell you to do it, does not just give you a process to do it, it actively discusses how to do it. Trollbabe didn't just help break new ground, Trollbabe is a treatise on how to do it.

It is a denser read than I expected. But that is to its favor. Ron Edwards goes to great lengths to make sure you understand the process of collaborating on the spot to create an adventure, including the pitfalls.

Over the last few years, I have read a lot of RPGs and written a number of book reports on them. There have been some that have moved me or fascinated me more than Trollbabe. However, Trollbabe has given me more to consider about the nuts and bolts of RPGs, particularly narrative driven ones.

As Edwards himself points out, a lot of the meta ideas in Trollbabe aren't exactly new. (I'm going to spend some time looking over all the games he references) BUT it codified and explored them. Trollbabe casts a long shadow.

There are games that I'm interested in trying because I think they would be meaningful, like the Grey Ranks. Others, I'd like to try because I think they'd be fun, like Shooting the Moon. Trollbabe, I'd like to try just to see what would happen.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Monsters fight to the death via spreadsheets

Colossal Arena is a game that, every time I see it on my shelf, I think that I have not played it nearly enough.

On the one hand, it is a very good game. On the other hand, it is an odd duck of a game that has the theme of fantasy gladiators combined with gambling and spreadsheet management.

I am also going to go on record and say that this is not Knizia's best game about gladiators. I would give that title to his dramatically unloved Clash of the Gladiators. Seriously, that game was released with spiffy figures and maybe a fantasy theme, it would be a hit.

Keep in mind, I don't mean that Colossal Arena is the worse game. I just mean that it doesn't make as good a use of the gladiator theme.

Just to hammer home that point, the game was originally about horseracing. And none of the horses had special powers, by the way. Avalon Hill added those in the first version of what could become Colossal Arena, Titan the Arena. And there is also a space battle version of the game as well.

(As near as I can tell, and feel free to correct me, Knizia's role in all this was to create the first game about horses. Other designers have added all of the other stuff. In the case of Colossal Arena, probably for the significantly better.)

By the way, the entire game is made up of cards. But, you end up creating a fairly large tableau as you play the game so you still need some decent table space.

You deal out eight of the twelve monsters that the game comes with to find out who will be fighting this time. You then deal out cards to the players, consisting of the monsters who are fighting, as well as wildcards. These range from zero to ten.

On your turn, you play one of your cards, assigning a number to one of the monsters. And yes, you can play the card on top of one that has already been played, canceling it out. Each round ends when each monster has at least one card. The one with the lowest number it's eliminated and we move onto the next round. After five rounds, we have our survivors. Er, winners.

But, you get your points or go through betting. Throughout the game, you will be making bets on the different monsters, along with a secret bet which will be worth the most points. And each monster has a special power which can only be activated by whoever is backing it the most.

So Colossal Arena isn't really a game about monsters slugging it out. It's a game about managing your investments. I'm seriously shocked there isn't a stock market version of this game. (If there is, please tell me)

Colossal Arena really comes down to managing a spreadsheet while counting cards and there isn't even a mechanic for the monsters hitting each other. So why is the game any fun?

Because it really comes down to a tense and brutal fight over that spreadsheet where you are trying to bury your opponents. Forget the monsters. It's the other people at the table you are trying to beat into submission. Add to that the secret bet that adds bluffing and one more layer of uncertainty and you have a white knuckle game.

I honestly can't think of another game quite like Colossal Arena. The game makes sense but I can't think of another game with mechanics quite like it. It is a good game but it's not one I can teach by comparing it to other games. It's its own odd beast.

Unfortunately , I got Colossal Arena when I was really picking up speed buying games. It barely got played before I was moving onto the next game.

And yet, it was so much fun and so different that it never left my mind. It has stayed in my collection and, when I get another gaming group, I'm going to try and get it into play.

Sometimes, I haven't played a game enough

I have found that there is a difference between 'I want to play this game more' and 'I haven't played this game enough'.

I realized this when I was looking at my collection, which has had some heavy purges over the years. Most of the games are games that I want to play more, games that have proven themselves. Some are games that I haven't played yet but I don't want to get rid of until I've found out if I want to get rid of them. (Fewer of those than there use to be)

But there are games that I have played, enough to know I am interested in them, but I haven't played them enough to really grok them. I know they are fun but I don't have a fundamental understanding of them. (Which is completely different than being _good_ at a game or even a deeper understanding of them)

I'll be honest, a big part of this comes from back when I was buying games faster than I could play them. Play one game and move it onto the next. That did teach me a lot about learning rules and teaching games but it was terrible for replaying games.

The way that I look at games has changed a lot over the years. Being a member of the cult of the new was exhausting and inefficient. At least for me. Hey, it probably is great for some folks.

But I did learn a lot about games during that time. And, when I look at my shelf and see games like Colossal Arena or Memoir 44, I know that I picked up gems that I haven't even begun to appreciate properly.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

I stare bemused at Can't Stop Express

When I saw an ad for a Kickstarter for a game called Can't Stop Express, I had to look into it. Can't Stop has been a constant part of my gaming experiences since the start. One click later and I saw at a glance that it was Solitaire Dice from Gamut of Games with a Can't Stop brand slapped on it.

My first thought was 'Really?' My second thought was 'Well, it is a dice game by Sid Sackson.' Thought number three 'And it is a pretty decent game.' The last thought in that glance was 'but do I really need a published copy?'

The game has been kicking around since 1969 and has been published in a few different forms, like Choice and Extra. I first came across the game on BSW where you could open it in a separate window as a solitaire game that I played god knows how many times when people were slow to take a turn.

As far as playing in face to face,  some of my friends and I would sometimes play Solitaire Dice waiting for D&D games to start with the dice that were naturally lying around and scrap paper.

So, while it's been years since I last played, I have played Solitaire Dice a lot.

The game consists of five dice and what's basically a checklist for each player. Basically, you are tracking combinations of two six-sided dice. You also keep track of the fifth die you don't use each roll. And, the more unlikely the combination, the better the points. So, two and twelve are worth a lot more than seven.

The complications come in that you have to get five checks in a number before it's worth positive points (Kind of reminds me of Lost City) and the fifth dice serves as a timer. Eight checks after a number and that player's game ends.

Solitaire Dice is one of those games that is annoying to explain but once someone plays even a couple turns, it all clicks. 

At first, branding it with Can't Stop seemed very strange to me. But, it is a dice game that involves pairing dice that's designed by Sid Sackson. And it a push-your-luck game, albeit in more of luck management style. So, it's a fair call. 

I'm a bit torn about Can't Stop Express as a product. On the one hand, it's a game that I used to play a lot and I think is a really good use the bell curve of two dice. Not as good as Can't Stop but still solid. On the other hand, I've made my own scoresheets plenty of times and that was before I got into print-and-play. I don't feel the need to get what amounts to a pad of scoresheets.  

However, this is probably the biggest exposure Solitaire Dice has ever had in over forty years. With the successes of games like Qwix and Rolling Japan/America, I think Can't Stop Express can grab some market share. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Summing up Pack O Game... so far

I have now had a chance to play every game in the first series of the Pack O Game line. With the second series about to come out, I figured it was a good time for a personal survey of the games that are already out.

I had thought of trying to put them in some kind of best to worst order but I ended up with too many ties. The different games fit too many different niches for me to properly compare them. So, instead, I put them in their official order.

1 HUE - A simple tile laying game with the very effective design choice of having the last tile in your hand being the colors you score. Not my favorite game but it is my favorite one to introduce people to the line with. It feels like a micro game but it a very good one.

2 TKO - A boxing game built around rock-paper-scissors. TKO feels like the least innovative game in the line. This kind of ground has been covered in other games, like Pico 2. But it's saving grace is that we have fun playing it.

3 GEM - An auctions game where you collect gems for points with a tight economy of both money and gems. This is one of the best games in the series, not just a good micro game but a good game period.

4 FLY - A dexterity game about dropping a fly swatter card to collect flies. I admire that Chris Handy included a dexterity game in the series and it does have a nice scoring system. However, it is easily my least favorite game in the series. The low height doesn't make it very frenetic or exciting.

5 TAJ - A voting game where you manipulate the position of rugs, which also changes the value of colors on the rugs. This is probably the most ambitious and intricate game in the series. However, I found it too fiddly. Too much of the game was spent making sure we were following the process instead of strategy. I would be willing to try it again and see it that can be overcome.

6 LIE - It's Liars Dice with dice faces printed on the cards. Each card has two dice so you get to have some control over your pips. Here's the thing. While I think Liars Dice is better, that doesn't change that LIE is a fun, engaging game. It's a strong part of the series.

7 SHH - A cooperative word game that is played in silence. This surprised me by how tense and exciting it is. Simple rules leading to white knuckle play. So much better than unexpected. 

8 BUS - A pickup and delivery game made out of thirty skinny cards. I love that this even exists but it's also a solid game that takes such advantage of the form. The elements flow together well and it's in the running with GEM as my favorite.

The concept of Micro Games changed when Love Letter proved that there was a real market for Micro Games and that they could have depth and complexity. Pack O Game steps up to that challenge well. If you have an interest in travel games or short form games or games that have a very small footprint, this is a collection well worth having in your collection.

Really, HUE, GEM, LIE, SHH and BUS are games that would have made an impact if they had been solo releases. Heck, I wonder if some of them, like SHH, would have made a bigger impact as a solo release with regular size cards.

Pack O Game has the gimmick of every game being thirty skinny cards. But that gimmick does not define the games or control what they are. In the end, a Micro Game has to stand as a game, not as a small package. 

And, as is ridiculously clear, I think that most of the Pack O Game series succeeds. Five of the games are very strong. Even TKO and TAJ have their string points. Seven out of eight is a good score.

And if this was it, I'd still be impressed. But Chris Handy is adding ten more games to the series. I am really curious to see what they will be like.

Dabbling with Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom

We just got back from our three-year old's first trip to Disney World. Since it was his mommy and daddy's third trip, it's safe to say it won't be his last. While Disney World isn't really a lace for card or board games, we did get in one gaming experience.

Disney World's Magic Kingdom has an interactive card game called  the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom that Carrie called a cross between a Disney LARP and Magic the Gathering. 

Every day, you can pick up a booster pack of five cards per person near the front of the park that's included in the admission. (It's at the fire station and I have no idea if it had any function before then, other than looking pretty)

Each card is a spell, themed around a specific character. For instance, Snow White has a cleaning spell that apparently beats the heck out of bad guys with a broom. (And people have to ask why she is the least empowering princess ever?)

The story is that Hades from the Hercules movie is trying to take over, using different villains from the movies to help him. Merlin from the Sword in the Stone is trying to stop him. I'm sure James Woods willingness to voice Hades whenever asked had a lot to do with the plot.

Through out the park, there are video screens with cameras that you activate with your guest ID and hold cards up to the cameras to cast spells. At the most basic level, you are sent from site to site and flashing any card at the camera will do.

However, you can have the game set to a higher level. From what I can tell, you then get hit points, specific spells are more effective against specific villains and you can use card combos.

We just played a little at basic level but I saw one guy wandering around with a wizard hat with Mickey Ears and an elaborate leather binder of cards. So some folks take the game seriously. Frankly, that says to me that there's some heft to the game when you take it past the basic level.

And, like Magic, there is rarity to cards and you can buy booster packs. There aren't a lot of cards but most of the players do have very limited access to play. Having the game tied to the park isn't going to support a huge catalog of cards.

I doubt we will ever seriously pursue Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. I mean, you have to go to Disney World to play it and that's on the other side of country from us. However, I do think it's really neat that it exists.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Let's try a 10 x 10 challenge

I used to set myself a goal of learning a certain number of games a year. Which was fun and I ended up learning a lot about mechanics during those years. However, it also helped encourage me to binge buy games and to only play a game once because I had another game to get to.

What some folks do instead is trying to get in repetitions of games. You know, the 10 x 10 challenge where you try and play 10 different games 10 times each. There are a lot of variations in that, including trying to play 10 different games five times each with your kids.

Frankly, since our son just turned three, I'm not going to try the family version yet. There are games that he plays but we are still working on his patients and focus.

Instead, I've decided to try doing a 10 x 10 with my old stomping grounds, Yucatá. In some ways, this doesn't quite hold to one of the basic tenants of these challenges, getting more of your own games played. However, it is still a start.

When I decided to do this, I set down a few basic rules. First of all, it had to be games that I had already played enough to have a vague idea of how to play. I'm not interested in pledging to learn the game and then play ten times, only to find out I hate it after the first couple place. Second, they cannot be games that I would be playing ten times anyway. There are games that my regular group plays on a regular basis and there are games that I regularly have going on. Those don't count.

Hopefully, by the time I am done with this, I will have stretched my knowledge of these games and gotten better at them. Of course, I also might end up hating them anyway :P

These are my choices:

Captain W. Kidd
King of Siam
The Castles of Burgundy - the Card Game
The Voyages of Marco Polo

It will be interesting to see how this goes. The very nature of Yucatá affects this challenge. On the one hand, I will have multiple games going on at the same time, including multiples of the same game. On the other hand, each game will take days to get played. No trying to get in ten plays in one day in the middle of December.

Let's see how this goes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How Breaking the Ice led me to Shooting the Moon

Last year, I read and even got to play Emily Care Boss's Breaking the Ice, which was a revolutionary game designed for two players to play out the first three dates in a couple's relationship. I still think it is one of the best RPGs I've seen to discuss romance and relationships.

So, of course I had to read the second game in her romance trilogy, Shooting the Moon. While Breaking the Ice is about two people getting to know each other, Shooting the Moon is about that other classic romance formula, the love triangle.

From a mechanical angle, Shooting the Moon is definitely simpler than Breaking the Ice. Character creation is much simpler, which is a shame because I thought that the word association chain and the switch in Breaking the Ice are particularly brilliant.

Scenes in Shooting the Moon have a simple structure of call and response.  The active player sets the scene with the opposing player offering obstacles and complications. To be perfectly honest, it's a common structure in GM free games and it works very well.

But one of Shooting the Moon's greatest strengths, as well as something really sets it apart from Breaking the Ice, is the fact that it is structured around a love triangle. That creates a very strong dynamic of conflict and competition.

One of the great strengths and weaknesses and hurdles of Breaking the Ice is that in the end goal is rather nebulous. Is the relationship going to work? No can be a perfectly satisfying and valid answer. Exploring feelings can be complicated.

But, at the start of Shooting the Moon, you create specific and concrete goals for your characters. In a two player game, you are both competing for the same love interest. Even in the three player game, with someone playing the love interest, they have their own goal.

That makes for a simpler and, to be fair, probably more shallow story. To be frank, it is also more safe. I know a lot more people who would feel comfortable with the structure of Shooting the Moon than Breaking the Ice. Truth to tell, I know more people who I would be comfortable playing Shooting the Moon with.

Romance isn't a genre that I'm terribly interested in and a genre I wouldn't have thought could work as a RPG a few years ago. Emily Karen Boss, though, has done an amazing creating innovative games about romance. Shooting the Moon is a short form game that requires no game master, just a willingness to compete for love.

GEM is a 'gem' of a game :P

I have finally played GEM, the only game in the Pack O Games series I hadn't played yet. Since it's an auction game, I had wanted to wait until I could play it with at least three players. I had high hopes for GEM and it did not disappoint.

Like all the games in the series, GEM consists of thirty skinny cards in a box the size of a pack of gum. As I already mentioned, it's an auction game. You are bidding on gems that you then have to leverage for money and points. 

Each round starts out with setting out cards with gems on them, usually two gems per card. Everyone starts with three coin cards, worth one, two and three coins. Auctions are once around and you don't have to say which card you're going for.

Here's the thing. Each card has a red number and a green number on opposite ends. You get the gems with the red number, meaning they are invested. You have to pay that amount at the end of the round to turn the card to be green number, now they are leveraged. Then you can use the gems for bidding and only leveraged cards are worth points in the end. In the last round, you do get the card already leveraged. At the start of each round, you get your coins back but if you spent a gem card in a bid, it has to be leveraged again. 

Leveraged, by the way, apparently means borrowing money based on the value of a property. So, if I understand it right, you're actually going deeper and deeper into debt as the game goes on.

You get one point per gem, two points to you share a majority in a type of gem and three points if you have the sole majority in a type of gem. Most points wins.

When I heard other players swearing at the start of the last round, I knew the game was good.

What really makes GEM work is the scoring. The extra points for majorities is a big deal, a game determining deal. And there are few enough of each type that one stone can make or break a set. Which means that the auctions can turn into a real fight.

I have been concerned that it would be too easy for players to go bankrupt or fall behind. And the economy of the game is tight. But the way the coins reset themselves and the fact that you have to pay to leverage the gems makes it very hard for someone to just run away with the game.

In general, I believe that the Pack O Game series does a great job exploring and expanding the micro game. Over the last few years, designers have been pushing past the idea that a micro game has to be a simple filler and creating games that have more depth and weight. 

GEM might do the best job of this out of all the games in the first set of Pack O Game. It feels like a 'full-sized' game, one that would see regular rotation on a game night.

I went into GEM with high hopes but I was prepared to be disappointed. Instead, GEM was even better than I hoped.

Our Doodle's First Disney Adventure: Day Six

We had originally planned on spending the morning before we flew back to Arizona at Epcot. However, by now, it was clear that the Magic Kingdom was the bomb for toddlers. We had already canceled our reservations to eat at Epcot we were totally set to spend the morning at the Magic Kingdom.

We did what little packing we hadn't gotten done the night before. The resort could check our bags for us so we got our luggage to meet us in Arizona so we wouldn't have to worry about it.

At this point, we decided just hit what had proved to be tried and true favorites. Buzz Lightyear, where the doodle spun the car around so much we couldn't hit any of the targets. The Mad Tea Party, which had proved to be a surprise favorite. Dumbo twice with some time in the play area that is attached to the ride. (They give you a pager and your child can run crazy for a while instead of waiting in line)

We also played some more of the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom and used the last of our  snack credits for snacks for the plane ride before going back to the resort to have one last quick service meal and get on the shuttle that would take us to the airport.

The doodle handled the long journey home well. Which wasn't a surprise, seeing as how he has been a good traveler and good on planes. This time, he slept a good chunk of the way. But he didn't have any problems going to bed after we got home late that night.

We've been on a couple road trips in Arizona and several trips to see family in the Midwest. But this was our first big vacation with the doodle as well as his first trip to Disney. (Since this was our third, we're not fooling anyone. We will be back) it was a big deal for us. 

And, while he wasn't an angel all the time, he behaved pretty well and took on a lot of new experiences well. He was shy but not scared of the costumed characters. He was willing to go on a lot of different rides. And he cheerfully played with other kids. This was a great vacation for us and a great experience for him.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Our Doodle's First Disney Adventure: Day Five

This was the one day we used our Park Hopper pass, going to both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. This was because, while we had Epcot plans, we got breakfast reservations at Be Our Guest. Early enough that we actually got into the park early.

We did another round with the Mad The Party and Dumbo breakfast. This time, we sat in the East Room, which we had never been in before. It had a giant music box in the middle, lots of fun pictures and a warm pallet. Afterwards, the doodle said it was his favorite room. And the open face ham and greyre sandwich was amazing, one of the culinary highlights of the trip.

After playing a little more Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card game, we went to Epcot.

Now, we've really liked Epcot in the past. And we were looking forward to a lot of things there. The Frozen Ever After ride, since the doodle loves Elsa. The Elsa and Anna Meet and Greet, same reason. The February Festival of the Arts which had a lot of neat food for snack credits. And our long-awaited quest to get a crushed France penny, since we had ones from all the other countries. (The France machine had been broken last time)

And Epcot is an amazing park for adults. So many different foods. So many different shops. We aren't really into alcohol but it has the widest array of drinks of all the parks. But it is big and so little of it will interest a toddler. He ended up spending a lot of time being bored.

Oh, and the France penny machine was broken again.

We did go on the Three Caballeros ride, a boat ride in the Mexican pavilion that I have a fondness for. I saw the movie in grade school and it stuck with me, although Heaven knows what I'd think of it if I saw it now. I swear it may be the least advertised ride in all of Disney World. We practically stumbled over it on our second trip with no idea it existed.

And we did the wait for the doodle to get his pictures taken with Elsa and Anna, which practically overwhelmed him but we got through it.

He then fell asleep in his stroller, giving his parents a chance to eat some of the festival food, which really was quite amazing. He woke up in a cranky mood but we jollied him back enough to go on the Frozen Ever After ride.

I'll be honest. I think Maelstrom, which was refurbed into Frozen Ever After, was a stronger ride. And we knew it went backwards and had a drop so we were worried he'd get scared. Which he didn't. He loved it. Maybe we should have tried our luck and gone for Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and Thunder Mountain.

I will also say, comparing it to the Little Mermaid ride, ride technology has gone leaps and bounds forward. The special effects and animatronics were quite good.

This is where the day started to get rough. The doodle started to get cranky and fussy again. We were headed to Nemo when we passed a touch fountain. Which he had to play with. We told him not to get wet and he was good about that for a good ten, fifteen minutes. Then he got soaked. Well, we have been doing this parent thing for three years. We had a spare outfit and we hauled him to the baby care center to get him changed.

We'd visited Nemo and the aquarium the night we arrived but it was good to do it again with the doodle more rested. We love aquariums so we were glad he had a chance to see one. In particular, we were glad he got to see manatees since they are featured in one of his favorite television shows, Sarah and Duck.

Now, we had originally planned on using our last Table Service for breakfast at the Garden Grill in Epcot on our last day. But by now we knew the morning before we flew home would have to be at the Magic Kingdom and another buffet with costumed characters seemed overkill so we switched to reservations the Rain Forest Cafe at Disney Springs. Make our last supper the last big meal.

But as we were going to bus to Disney Springs, we found the doodle had emptied an entire water bottle on himself. Second outfit already on him. It was already starting to get colder. And we didn't have time to go back to the resort and get him a third outfit.

But Disney Springs has a lot of stores. So cuddling him to keep him warm, we frantically searched for a store that had toddler clothes. Turns out that's not a hot ticket item there. Finally, at Uniqlo, we found clothes in his size and for a better price than we'd been afraid of. In time to make dinner.

Which turned out to be a great choice over the breakfast buffet we had swapped it out for. The hour before had been frantic and frustrating but the Rain Forest Cafe made everything better.

We spent a little more time at Disney Springs (we had no idea we'd end up spending so much time there or liking it so much but we did) but got in relatively early for packing and a good night's sleep on our last night at the Pop Century Resort.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Our Doodle's First Disney Adventure: Day Four

The fourth day was our big Magic Kingdom Day. We went before and after but this was our serious day, as well as the one that convinced us that THIS was the park for toddlers.

First of all, it's almost a a fifth the size of the Animal Kingdom. There's just less walking to do. Second, it's full of frenetic stuff. Bored with one attraction? Walk fifteen feet. Third, it has easily most kiddy friendly rides.

We started with the Mad Tea Party, where you sit in giant tea cups and you can turn a wheel in the middle of the cup to make it spin like an old-school round about. It's one of the older rides and something of an icon. We, as grown ups, hadn't been on it before. But the doodle really liked it and it was fun for us too. 

That is a trick that the Magic Kingdom pulls off well, as we learned on this trip. Making rides for the little ones that the adults can have fun on too. 

After that, we had our second Dumbo ride, the first for the day. It's another one of those iconic ride that actually turns out to be fun and one we'd go back to a lot.

Since the doodle was in such a good mood and the line was short, we took one of the few real chances we took on his limits on the trip and got him to go on the Goofy Barnstormer, which was right next to the Dumbo ride, also part of the Story Book Circus, which was one of the corner stones of our Disney experience.

The Goofy Barnstormer is a little roller coaster but still a roller coaster. The doodle had made it clear he didn't want to ride any roller coasters. We had to convince him planes weren't roller coasters, even though he's flown close to twenty times in his three years. 

And, while it never gets very high, I have to say that the Goofy Barnstormer was actually a real roller coaster. But he was in such a good mood from Dumbo, we took the chance. And it worked. He had fun. He didn't want to ride it again after he calmed down but he wasn't scared and he had first roller coaster.

Our last ride before lunch was the Little Mermaid Ride, which is a gentle ride through an animator retelling of the movie. The doodle knows who Ariel is but he isn't his princess/queen (Hi, Elsa!) so he was simply amused.

Lunch was at the Beauty and Beast-themed Be Our Guest, which is probably the king of the quick services. Very thematic, higher-end food, and actually requires reservations. We managed to get a table in the West Room, which is dark with the magic rose and tastefully shredded pictures and tapestries.

Leaving Be Our Guest, we got one of our biggest surprises of the entire trip. We saw two of our favorite YouTube celebrities, George and Ken of Crafting by Two getting their pictures taken. After they were done, we had to go over and meet them.

They specialize in Cricut crafting. My wife does a lot more than I do but even I do paper craft with the Cricut. Those two have made a real difference in our Cricut lives. Meeting them and getting pictures of them was a legitimate big thrill.

After that, the doodle started asking about getting ears so we went to the hat shop near the front of the park. Remember how I mentioned his special princess/queen was Elsa? Can you guess what kind of ears he ended up demanding?

We then decided it was time to do the ride that you always have to do, even though I personally dread it because the low seats make my back ache. It's a Small World. Although I have to admit that learning the song started out as a plea for peace after the Cuban Missile Crisis is cool.

Fifteen minute wait in line. Not too bad. Doodle falls asleep in my arms in line and sleeps through the entire ride. Which was just as surreal as I remembered it. I can't imagine what it must be like for people who have full color vision.

After he woke up, we split a kitchen sink sundae three ways while watching the Flight of Fantasy parade again, this time with him awake. 

Our next Fast Pass was for the Winnie the Pooh ride. We were worried he would be scared by the times the car shakes or the nightmare sequence with the Huphalumps and the Woozles but he enjoyed it enough that he was disappointed we couldn't go on it again.

But we used a Fast Pass to go back on Buzz Lightyear where this time, the doodle realized he could make the car spin around with the lever in the middle. Let's just say that a little knowledge can go a long way.

In relatively rapid succession, we rode on the People Mover again, Dumbo again and Peter Pan again.

What made this day our _big_ day was we stayed late enough to watch the closing show. Which started with an animated movie projected onto Cinderella's Castle and ended with the fireworks show which is yet another icon of the Disney.

The doodle has seen fireworks before but never so close or so many. So this was yet another time we were holding our breath to see how he would react. Which was with glee, thankfully. 

We looked at the lines to get on the buses to the resorts and decided to go to Disney Springs again. This time, the Lego Store got a lot of attention and the doodle fell asleep waiting for the bus to the resort from Disney Springs and I carried him to our room and he never woke up.

Our Doodle's First Disney Adventure: Day Three

Our first trip to Disney World was for our honeymoon and we stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. So the Animal Kingdom, which is a cross between a theme-park and borderline free-range zoo, is a park we have a lot of happy associations with.

However, it also the biggest single park out of all of the Disney parks world-wide. It is sprawling, in no small part due to the need to give the animals a lot of space. Even with the stroller (never go on vacation without one), it was a haul. And it was also the single hottest, most humid day of our trip. Heat, we are used to that in Arizona. Humidity? That is brutal.

We started off with the Triceratops Spin, which is basically a dinosaur retheme of Dumbo, in the dinosaur part of the park. We also got our picture taken at the photo-booth in the dinosaur area.

For us, the highlight ride had been the Kilimanjaro Safaris. It is literally get in a truck and drive through large, cage-free animal habitats. You get to see a wide variety of animals and get to appreciate how big the park really is. Unfortunately, it is also a long ride. The doodle started out excited but got fidgety and bored. By the end of the truck ride, he was over it.

We then went on the Wild Africa Trek, to get him back in a better mood. It's a trail and zoo. He fell asleep in his stroller and it was really a nap stroll. Still, we got to see some gorillas and other wildlife.

Our last Fast Pass we reserved for the day was to have pictures taken with Safari-themed Mickey and Minnie at the Adventure Outpost, which exists just as a place to take pictures. The doodle handled that fairly well. Out of all the costumed characters, Minnie and Daisy were the best at drawing him out of his cute shy pose so Minnie helped for some good pictures.

One of the things the doodle's fascinations is fountains (and ceiling fans) and he insisted we stop when we past a touch fountain in Asia. He proceeded to get soaked but we made a point of carrying a spare of clothes for him at Disney.

With him now in dry clothes, we then had our second character meal, an African buffet at Tusker House where Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Daisy were featured. It wasn't bad but suffered in comparison to Chef Mickey due to having less food a three-year old would eat.

What ended up being the last thing we would do at the Animal Kingdom was visit Rafiki's Planet Watch. You take a train to the back of the park where there are some character meets, an animal hospital you can see in action from the other side of the glass (remember, operating theaters got their name from having seating for medical students to watch), more animal displays and a petting zoo where you could brush goats.

By far and away, the doodle's favorite part of this park was brushing goats. He had a _blast_.

After that, we went back to the Pop Century resort to relax before our diner reservations at the Animal Kingdom Lodge's buffet Boma. Which used to be one of our favorite restaurants at Disney World but two buffets in one day and having to take two buses to get to it (since there is no resort-to-resort bus service) made it meh.

To get back to our resort, with the parks closed, we had to take a bus to Disney Springs. Since almost the get go, Disney World has had basically a strip mall on the edge, with shops and restaurants and such. The last time we were there, it was called Downtown Disney and was nice, almost quaint. Since then, it had a big build out and is now called Disney Springs. 

We got off the bus and wanted to take a look around. Boy had it changed. It was walking into Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. It must have doubled in size and i had a lot more fancy restaurants, street performers and open air stages. It was amazing and all three of us had a blast just wandering around for a couple hours.

I have to make a special note about Pokémon Go, which my wife plays. Disney Springs was full of stops and people putting lures out. It was Pokémon heaven.

As much as I hate to say it, the Animal Kingdom is too big for a three-year old, even one that loves zoos. But Disney Springs is a party for all ages and it was the highlight of the day.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Our Doodle's First Disney Adventure: Day Two

Day two of our Disney Vacation was spent at the Magical Kingdom, which is the park that you think of when you think Disney. It's the one with the castle. If you're taking a small child to Disney World, you have to spend time at the Magic Kingdom. And our doodle has already come to associate Cinderella's Castle with Mickey Mouse. For him, it's real name is Mickey's Castle. This was Disney for him.

For those of you who aren't into Disney, they have a system called Fast Pass, which lets you make reservations for rides, helping you skip the long lines at least occasionally. And our first Fast Pass was for the Peter Pan's Flight, which is infamous for long lines due to low capacity.

You board a boat that has a track on top, so you fly over London and Never Never Land. The doodle continued to have fun on the rides, enjoying the experience of being on a flying boat in the darkness. We had fun looking at the ancient animatronics and wondering how much they'd look like a room in House on the Rock in bright lighting.

After we got off, the doodle saw the Cinderella-themed carousal. Now, that is a kind of ride that he has had experience with and likes so he wanted to go immediately. Fortunately, there was no line so we were able to get on almost immediately and he said later that was his favorite ride of the day.

Our next Fast Pass was for Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Despite this being our third trip, we had never been on that ride despite it being one of the icons of the park. So I was surprised by how nice it was, particularly the fountains at the base that I had no idea existed. It was a good balance of being slow enough for him and fun enough for us.

While our last scheduled Fast Pass was for the Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, we got on the People Mover before then, again since the doodle was interested. It's a slow elevated tram around that part of the park. It's not an exciting ride but it is nice to get off your feet and get a tour of Tomorrow Land.

Buzz Lightyear combines a dark ride of science fiction images with an infra-red shooting gallery. As usual, my wife got a much higher score than that and we still hadn't found a ride that scared our toddler.

Our big meal for the day was going to the Contemporary Resort for brunch at Chef Mickey. Since this is the first time we've taken a small child to Disney World, we'd never even considered Chef Mickey's before. Actually, I don't think I knew it existed.

So, here's what it is. It is a brunch buffet that has Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Minnie and Pluto periodically parade around in aprons and chef hats. It also the meal that made us switch to the meal plan (and add a bunch of table services)

The doodle has been kind of cranky by the time we got seated. Then Donald Duck banged out of the kitchen and his face lit up. After that, things went well. He was a little shy around the big headed costumes but he was cute shy, not scared shy. We got to take pictures of him with all the characters.

The food wasn't bad. I'd compare it to your average Vegas buffet. The only surprise item was caviare, which the doodle tried and liked. Without the dining plan, I'd consider it pricy but you're playing for a lot of costumed characters, not food.

We took the monorail back to the Magic Kingdom and the doodle started to crash. He took a nap in his stroller while his parents watched the Flights of Fantasy parade. Disney has regular parades and this is apparently the current big one. The best part, by far, was the Sleeping Beauty Float which was a fire-breathing dragon (yup, real fire) made of thorns and spinning wheels. It was cool looking and so thematic.

The last thing we did before a groggy doodle made us decide to make it an early day was start playing the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card game. My wife described it as a cross between a Disney LARP and Magic the Gathering. Each day you play, you can get cards showing Disney-themed spells that you can use at different locations throughout the Magic Kingdom, fighting the minions of Hades from the Hercules movie. Each location has a movie screen and cameras so the show can react appropriately to the cards.

We went back to our resort, where the doodle got his second wind. So I decided that I would take the doodle to the playground I knew was at the resort. Which was small and unlit so plan B was doing a walking tour of the Pop Century Resort.

Which was well worth doing. The resort has a lot of giant statues of either cultural icons like eight track cassettes or Disney properties like Lady and the Tramp or combinations of the two, like a giant Mickey Mouse phone.

There is also a bridge across a lake to the Art of Animation resort, which we went across just because it was there, only to find a Finding Nemo-themed playground that was far superior to the one we didn't bother with and the doodle spent a lot of time playing with other kids there.

At that point, we had a late dinner of pizza at the resort cafeteria and called it a day.

Our Doodle's First Disney Adventure: Day One

On a different subject than I usually blog about, I'm going to write about our family vacation. Mostly so we can go back and look at what we actually did and direct any family that wants more details to this blog. Still, if folks have fun reading this, go for it.

For the past several months, we have been planning a trip to Disney World. It is our third trip and the doodle's first trip. We thought about going to Disney Land but between things like the Magic Express and Value Resorts, Disney World ended up being more affordable. Plus, Disney World has things like the Animal Kingdom and Epcot. This trip, we were staying at the 70s area of the Pop Century Resort.

Traveling just about anywhere from Arizona makes for a long travel day. The doodle has been on nineteen different flights in his three years and, on a whole, he's a pretty good traveler. Still, we were all exhausted by the time we got to Orlando.

But when we reached the Magic Express at the airport, we started feeling more alive. The Magic Express meant we didn't have to worry about a car seat or even picking up our luggage from the airport. It showed up at our room a couple hours after we got there.

We had reservations at the Coral Reef restaurant at Epcot for supper on our first night. We had never eaten there before but we were excited to have the doodle eat at a place where one wall was a giant aquarium.

Of course, the first thing you see when you get to Epcot is the giant ball of Space Ship Earth. There was no line so we asked the doodle if he wanted to go into the giant ball. This was a big deal since this was his first Disney ride. So if he freaked out and didn't want to go on any more, that would have been annoying. 

Luckily, he had a great time and loved it. To be fair, it is a slow ride, taking you through dioramas of the world's history so it wasn't like taking him on a roller coaster. We then went on The Sea with Nemo and Friends, which he also enjoyed. That's also a slow ride, by the way.

After that, we went to Coral Reef, where the doodle finally ran out of steam. He fussed a little and fell asleep in my lap. We ended up enjoying a quiet meal that way. The Coral Reef is a very nice restaurant and we were both had very good meals. I was impressed by the quality of the food.

The doodle woke up as we left but he was done for the night so we went back to the resort.

Friday, February 3, 2017

How SHH surprised me

I have to admit that I went into SHH with very low expectations. It is part of Pack O Game, a series of micro games that I have been very impressed by. However, it is a cooperative game and a word game, both genres that I am relatively indifferent to. There are games in both categories that I love, like Pandemic, Hanabi, Scrabble or Buy Word. But I don't go out of my way for them.

However, the second series of Pack O Game is coming out and I want to be a completist and play all of the first set. So when we had an out-of-state visitor who really loves cooperative games, I figured that it was the perfect opportunity to play SHH.

(Spoiler: it was very good!)

Like every game in the series, SHH is made up of 30 cards that are at third the width of the normal playing cards. So you end up with the tidy little box the size of a pack of gum. Twenty six of the cards show the letters of the alphabet while the other four are pass cards.

I have to pause a note that these are the prettiest cards in the entire series. Each one, in addition to showing the letter, has a bright and colorful photograph of something that starts with that letter. They really are nice looking.

Gameplay is very simple. The object of the game is to make words, one letter at a time, scoring points for every letter you successfully
use in a word. But, during the entire game, no one is allowed to say anything.

You set aside the vowel cards. They are double-sided and you place the side that has plus one facedown. Then, you do you out all twenty-one consonants to the players. And everyone gets one pass card. Now you are ready to play.

On your turn, you can do one of three things. Add a letter from your hand or one of the vowels. Flip your pass card over and skip your turn. Score the current word and start a new word.

Score a word, you put your thumb up, since you aren't allowed to talk. If everyone else puts their thumb up too, you score the word. The reason why someone would give a thumb down is if they think it isn't a real word. That's when you get the dictionary. If the word is scored, all of the consonants are put to one side has points. The vowels are put back in their row and, if the word was at least five letters long, you flip them over so they are worth a point.

The game ends when either you run out of consonants, hopefully scoring the last word at the same time, or if a word can't be scored because it isn't. A real word.. You get one point for every constant successfully used and one point for every vowel they got flipped. Thus, the highest score you can possibly get is twenty six points.

As I already spoiled, I was surprised at how good SHH was. It doesn't take any time at all to play, particularly if you mess up and can't spell a word early. However, there is a lot of tension in the game. 

The silence is keyed to the game. If you could just talk, there wouldn't be a game. But since you have to be silent, there is a lot of desperation in the game and it is really exciting when you successfully make a word.

And SHH has a very tight economy of letters. There is only one of each letter in the game and you will only use each consonant once. That makes for a brutally tight game.

Don't get me wrong. I knew from just reading the words that SHH would work as a game, as long as people didn't cheat about words being real. What I didn't expect was how much excitement and fun the game will turn out to be.

Pack O Game continues to surprise me and prove to be one of the best purchases I've made in the last couple years. The last game I have to play from the original series is GEM and I have high expectations for that.