tl;dr: board games are great and have also connected me to amazing people that I love and I’m grateful for that!
Last week I was listening to the “romantic” episode of Tuesday Knight Games podcast, where my pal Stephanie chatted with hosts Alan and Sean about gaming and romantics, and Valentine’s. Lots of chatting about what games are good for dates, romantic things related to games and gaming and the like. I got a little wistful, because I recently split with my partner, Adam. We met when he was working at a board game cafe and I was a regular customer, and our love of games and vegan baked goods brought us together. And while I haven’t experienced any other romantic relationships originating out of board games, I have created a lot of fast friendships.
The TKG podcast crew and Stephanie chatted a bit about the social aspect of games, how it gets people together and can create or maintain social relationships. When I first got into modern board gaming, it was because I’d joined a tabletop gaming social group at my University, and it offered up some great opportunities for us to chill out and game as a break from study. D&D was my major social gaming outlet at the time, but as time progressed I became more and more about playing board games with friends. Especially after moving to Toronto, I spent a lot of time at the board game cafe here and met my then-partner, and a bevy of great folks I know to this day. Which is no small feat as someone in her 30s; it’s always been hard for me to make and keep friends and doubly so as I’ve gotten older.
On top of the local folks I’ve gotten to know over the years, there’s been a big slice of new folks come into my life via board game conventions and the board game corner of Twitter. A little like going to camp, cons are these things where you spend a few kinda intense days with folks and then become penpals (aka Facebook friends) and then catch up at next year’s con. Twitter, for me, was the big factor in me getting to know so many of the rad friends in my life right now, especially. People I talk to every day, who I rant to or celebrate with or just send GIFs back and forward to brighten each other’s day. They fill up my heart and I am so grateful to know them – because of the internet and board games! It’s almost unbelievable.
Best of all, recently I’ve been playing board games with friends at work – sometimes at a pub get together, or if we manage to have time to take a proper lunch break. We sit around and have a little fun, escape our to-do lists and relax. It’s a nice way to spend time with people I don’t see often during the day, and get to know them better.
All the connections that board games have made for me, I could never have in many years made on my own. I love board games – and not just playing them. They’ve brought me fun and friends and for that I think they deserve a nice box of chocolates and a bottle of wine. And I just wanted to tell you all how great board games have been to me ❤
Earlier this week during debate in the US Senate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was silenced during a speech in which she read a letter by Coretta Scott King (civil rights activist and Martin Luther King’s widow). After the incident, a comment was made: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” That last part really rang true for me and got me thinking about how I persist in my life – and quite often within board gaming. I speak out frequently regarding making board games an inclusive hobby, where everyone feels included and can play without feeling shut out. Warren’s example has inspired and motivated me to share – and keep sharing – my views on board games, safe spaces, and pushing for inclusivity without alienating the creators of content that we love so much, and fellow gamers.
Now, here’s the thing: there’s this hierarchy of privilege – and if you don’t see it, then you’re likely up near the top. I readily admit I’m up there as a white, middle class person. And when you’re up near the top it is tough to hear and believe criticism without it feeling like it’s being aimed at you personally. Believe me, I know what this feels like. And by golly do I ever try and be so diplomatic much of the time when I’m offering up criticism of board gaming. So recently I reached this brick wall moment where I realized, no – I have to persist. So I went off on a bit of a ramble on Twitter:
Of course it’s difficult to hear criticism of the hobby you love. But gosh, please understand we love it too. We want positive change.
If a woman says “It’s unfortunate how the women are portrayed in this game”, LISTEN TO HER. You can still hear that AND play the game.
It’s tough going on a ramble on a platform with a 140 character limit, but this succession of tweets got a lot of my point across. We are at a point in board games where media’s reached this sort of critical mass of overwhelmingly positive representation in reviews, etc, and it’s because so many of us are in it for the passion of it – we play the games we’re likely to love, and spend the time writing about/making videos and podcasts about the games we enjoyed. We want to spread the love. This isn’t our day job.
And then, people like me come along with the “hmm, doesn’t the representation of women in this game seem problematic to you?” or, “I understand the need for a resource in this game but it’s not “historical” so perhaps we could look at something other than slaves.” And then, as a man, or as a white person you automatically think “I’m not the bad one here!” I know you’re not. I’ve met a lot of people through board gaming and dog’s honest truth there are very very few deliberately malicious people. However, we’re a pretty homogeneous group of folks, so bringing up issues of race, gender and otherwise can put people on edge in their safe hobby space.
Did you know this hobby’s my safe space, too? The place that I go to have fun, enjoy a game and generally ignore the societal and political structure of the world? So when I see a game like – as an example – Conan.. Do you not think that it drags me back into the real world, where women are still treated as objects? Sexually vilified and seen as conquests? Where I’ve broken out of the having fun part to the “oh this is how the real world works too” part. You probably don’t think that. And you probably think, “Why can’t she just realize this is a game?” Therein lies the magical mutual inclusivity of being able to have fun playing a game but also being critical of it, as mentioned above. I will persist in mentioning these things until the people with privilege will start to notice them too. And maybe their purchasing habits will change, or they’ll start talking to other gamers about the content and portrayal of people in games. Or even giving publishers feedback!
Let’s not think that being critical is negative. Please let me make clear to you that when I see a publisher doing the inclusive thing by using neutral pronouns in their rules, or having a great balance of genders to play (bonus points for a non-binary selection), I will go out of my way to tell them. I want them to know that the choices they’re making mean something to me, a hobby gamer. I want to see me in games. I want to see the world I live in portrayed in games. I want to see everyone given a fair chance in games. And that’s at the table, too – be it as players, or designers.
Luckily, there’s a lot of industry folks who are actively encouraging women to get into game design. Groups such as the Game Artisans of Canada, UnPub and the like are willing and open and encouraging of all sorts of folks to get involved in the design process, and are there to support them with advice and help. Getting a diverse group of people involved in game design will be a slow burn, but I hope to see it have a positive impact on the industry overall.
I’m not here to ruin your fun. It’s my fun, too. But we all have to realize that things change. And that means our hobby, too. Listen to the people at the table with you when they have a criticism. Listen to your pals on Board Game Twitter when they mention something that bugs them about a game because of the portrayal of race or gender (and the like). Like I have said many times, and definitely in the above – that doesn’t mean we have to trash a game right there and then! Learn to take on those criticisms and think broadly about them – especially how they fit into the larger context of the world outside our hobby. We need thoughtful, honest and critical views of the hobby right now, before it becomes a homogeneous mass that can never be cracked and enjoyed by anyone who presents differently to the norm.
Let’s face it – we’re all likely to learn something from these experiences, while still being able to enjoy board games. Maybe you’ll learn more about the people of colour in medieval periods, or the role of women in Istanbul’s grand bazaar! Honestly, maybe you’ll just enjoy laying some tiles, placing some workers and rolling some dice – because we’re all here for that. But some of us want to be seen and heard, too.
In the first part of 2015, I read through the first 5 issues of the dystopian comic Bitch Planet, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by Valentine DeLandro. Each of the single issues was a stark story about a prison planet where women are sent for being “non-compliant” to the patriarchal standards of the dystopian society of the setting. Be thin, be beautiful, be feminine, be what men want – or be sent to Bitch Planet.
In the back of all these issues, past the fantastic faux vintage advertisements, there was always a short word from Kelly Sue, then a fantastic essay on feminism from a new writer each issue. Every issue, plus these essays, were like a giant feminist slap reminding me to stay aware, to fight inequality and strive to be intersectional. (If you haven’t figured it out by now, you should read this comic series.)
In addition to the essays, there were letters pages and a little section dedicated to showing the photographs people had Tweeted out of their NC tattoos. For the first time in my life, I saw a simple image that I would be proud to have on my body permanently, that would remind me every day that I am non-compliant just by being me, and that I won’t stop. So I got that tattoo, 3 months ago now.
Almost every day I see Kelly Sue on Twitter sharing someone else’s tattoo. Each one is its own little fuck you to the world. Even though there’s been some criticism (mostly from men) who think getting the tattoos isn’t wise, there’s still a tonne of us out there getting them. And Kelly Sue had this to say in her remarks at the end of issue #4:
I cannot say it any better than that. Kelly Sue and Valentine have created this incredible focal point for us all, and every morning I look at it in the mirror and try to hold my head high. I remind myself that it’s very okay to be non-compliant, and it’s the only way the world will change.
Because I don’t really want to get personal as far as a 2016 look-back, I’m going completely superficial with an entertainment/hobby year in review.
I’ve been keeping track of movies, books and board games for the last little while on various websites so I can take a look back at my pop culture consumption habits at year-end. My mind is useless, so I’d truly forget the finer details, which is why I like to record these things. The only things I haven’t really figured out how to track yet are TV (which i arguably consume more of than much of anything else except board games) and video games (those are far fewer in number than everything else so it’s a lot easier to have a think back about those experiences). Anyhow, here’s some cool stuff that I enjoyed in 2016 (even if it wasn’t from 2016)!
43 movies watched – top 5 are probably Rogue One, Hidden Figures, Spotlight, Arrival & Train to Busan. Honourable mentions to the Lobster and Don’t Breathe.
378 plays of board games (178 unique titles, plus unpublished prototypes) – Compared to my 600+ plays of last year.. oof. 2016 was a rough one, okay? My top games – Honshu, Isle of Skye, Grand Austria Hotel, Kanagawa & Roll Player.
And of notable mention for board-game related stuff, I loved writing for the Daily Worker Placement, starting up the Games on the Rocks stream with Suz, Steph & Mags, and also starting the Greatway Games podcast with Erin & Adrienne. Can’t wait to keep that up in 2017.
42 books and comics read – my faves were finishing up the Ancillary trilogy, and also reading A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet & A Closed & Common Orbit from Becky Chambers. Mmmm space. Honorable mentions to the Doomsday Book & Three Moments of an Explosion. Comics-wise, Paper Girls was definitely a fave, followed by Midas Flesh.
12-ish video games played? Of which I remember Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Chariot, Stardew Valley, Skyrim, Gone Home, Firewatch, Virginia, the Stanley Parable, Sorcery pts 1 & 2, The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Brown. And I have a Steam library full of goodies I haven’t gotten to, yet. But out of it all, I think Stardew Valley has been the one I’ve gotten the most time in on, and Gone Home & Firewatch made the most impact on me.
A bunch of television watched – among my favourites were Stranger Things, the new X-Files episodes, Black Mirror, Crazyhead, Westworld, Bojack Horseman and as always my faves Steven Universe, Adventure Time, and Brooklyn 99. ❤ Surprisingly disappointed overall with the new Gilmore Girls.
I’m going to up my reading challenge for 2017 (I smashed through my lowball 25 for 2016!) and I almost made it to 52 films watched in 2016, so I’ll try for that in 2017. Not gonna make any goals for the rest, as they just seem to happen 🙂
Anything you loved in particular from last year?
[This is quite after the fact, but it was about time I finished the few blurbs that needed doing and just get this off my plate!]
The big part of going to BGGcon is the games, obviously. BGG’s library is massive, they have a couple of dozen hot games tables on the go for the whole con, plus people bring games of their own for play. A veritable cornucopia of cardboard and chits. While I didn’t hit the pinnacle of personal achievement – aka trying all the games on my ‘want to play’ list – I did play a decent amount of games, about 78% of which were new to me. That’s pretty heckin’ great. I’d like to give a little blurb about each game, even those I’ve played before, because.. I wanna tell you about games! Here we go.
I’ve played The Game before, and I really love the cooperative and communicative way it plays. It’s not high strategy or anything, but it’s a nice bit of a puzzle to play. Plus, my new friend & fantastic board game artist Beth Sobel gifted me a deck of her beautiful textile reskin, and it’s so pretty to play! This one was perfect for some last game of the night action at the con.
A social bluffing and deduction game, Dead Last was interesting to me, but it’s one of those ones that depends on the group of people you have playing at the table with you. The idea is for all players to vote on a player to attack, and try to collude with other players about this without getting found out – a quick flash of a card, darting of a look, hinting at a player colour by lightly touching an item of clothing, etc. At a 7 player table, this got pretty hectic and clues were missed often – but when it worked, it worked well and was a fun time. I think I’d rather play One Night Ultimate Werewolf in the end, though. Way less to worry about!
- 6 Nimmt! (Take 6)
A classic light card game, this was a perfect one for the early morning registration line hangout, and a great game for a larger group. I don’t feel like there’s too much strategy or even tactics involved in this despite the ‘hand management’ aspect, because you can never really anticipate the cards others will play, or where yours will end up. But somehow I ended up winning. Magical.
Completely wacky dexterity game that is an enormous amount of fun. As penguin students in an icy high school (icecool GET IT?), you’re trying to flick your wobbly-bottomed player pieces around the halls to grab fish and avoid being caught by the hall monitor. It took a little while to get into the swing of this, and how best to flick my pieces, but it was super fun. I love how the nested box pulls out and is pieced together to form the play area. That everyone gets one chance as the hall monitor, then the rest of their turns are to zoom and fly around to grab fish, makes it super fun. Highly recommend this one for some silly fun at game day.
This new Feld was quite a melange of stuff – pick up & deliver, dice rolling/manipulation, some card powers / punishments. Overall, the idea is to finish your 12 goals before any other player does. Each player has a special power dealt out at the start of the game – mine was getting to toss a goal, which made it a little easier on me to finish up first. While there was a lot to juggle (hello, it’s a Feld!) it was enjoyable. My only complaints were to do with the physical game itself – the red and pink on the board look almost identical, and some of the pieces on the board share colours with player pieces which can be a little confusing at first. I’d love to give this one another try!
A new one from Oink Games, masters of the tiny box, big fun. This is sorta 20 Questions meets Spyfall. There’s a master (knowing what the thing/person etc is), the insider (who also knows what the thing/person etc is, but nobody knows who they are) and the rest of the players. Once the round starts, the players ask yes/no questions of the master – along with the insider, who is trying to guide the questioning to get the answer correct without getting caught. Gosh it is FUN. A really good late night con game, too. Between this and A Fake Artist Goes to New York, I don’t know I’ll need Spyfall again.
This is a mish mash of social deduction and clue giving, sort of like Clue meets Concept. Two players secretly have the roles of murderer and accomplice and know the selections of “key evidence” and “means of murder” cards in front of the murderer. One player is a “forensic scientist” who knows the solutions and tries to give clues by placing markers on scene tiles to attempt to guide the other players (investigators) to guess the correct cards. All the while, the murderer and accomplice are trying to secretly lead the investigators astray with bogus suggestions. This is SUPER FUN. We played with a large group, and the process of discussion about the forensic scientist’s clues were raucous. A fresh twist on a social deduction game.
Quick asymmetric card game – one player is Jack, trying to scale the beanstalk and grab treasures, while the other is the giant trying to thwart Jack and “fee fi fo fum” his way to victory. I got a demo of this at the Renegade Booth from designer Dan Cassar who explained things well and maybe also let me win.. 😀 Good fun, I’d pick this up as a 2p filler.
One of my favourite all-time games is Tokaido. Kanagawa has the same vibe to me – it’s pleasant to play, and looks gorgeous. There’s even a little overlap with the creation of landscapes in Tokaido – because in Kanagawa, you’re aiming to gain skills in the master’s studio and also create a print with various features to gain points and, of course, win the game. Each round consists of a card being dealt per player – and players can either pick a card or pass in turn order. Those who pass then get another card to each column to choose from, and can pick or pass. A delicate balance between settling and hoping for something great continues throughout the game as you try to create a great print and build knowledge in your studio to gain points – and also diplomas (generally for sets of things or certain achievements), giving you more points. I am delighted by this game and everything it offers – it’s going to have a space on my shelf now for sure!
I didn’t really enjoy this. Too much haphazard switcheroo and luck to really try and track what’s going on. It was kinda fun while playing, but I felt like I had little to no control over the gameplay.
Brilliant new quick card game that’s great for about 4+ people (maxes out at 8). From your hand of cards, play one – if anyone else on the table has played it too, then the face value is cumulative. E.g if I play a 2 when there’s another on the table from another player, they’re now each worth 4! And if you play a value higher than others at the table, you’ll flush their cards and they need to draw another into their hand. If you can get rid of all your cards (if your card played is still in front of you when it’s your turn again, you get to discard it and not draw!), you win. Ridiculous, super quick fun. Just don’t drop it on the stairs, the lid’s not super tight and.. yeah :O
One of my absolute fave push your luck/mild bluffing/hand management games! Had a lot of fun getting a few games of this in with friends on Day 0. Tough to get it to the table more, due to its exact player requirement of 3 people.
Another old favourite – a fantastic game for a large group to have some great bluffing card game fun. We had a full (well, overfull) group for this at the Plaid Hat Games HQ on the Friday of the con and it was a great laugh (even while at the height of my sickness!).
I’d had such high hopes for this game – the theme especially piqued my interest, and being a fan of games like Scotland Yard and Letters From Whitechapel, I was intrigued. 5 of us sat down to play the introductory scenario and it really fell flat for us. It wasn’t that the game itself played poorly (movement seems fine, the map is really cool, and the players have lots of neat special powers/moves) – but it almost felt like the intro was for people who’d never played a game before. In about 20 minutes we’d succeeded in beating the killer and all kinda went “oh, that’s it…?” – we’d expected a meatier, more thrilling first scenario. So, one day I’ll get back to this to try the follow-up scenarios – but it’s no longer on my to-buy list.
- Arc RPG
Unique storytelling RPG currently in development by Chris Rowlands of One Thousand XP games. This was a fantastic experience – we started by drafting characters and fleshing out their place in the village (iron age-ish setting) by drafting a relationship to another character, as well as a motivation and with a little roleplaying. The story then unfolded by working our way through “episodes” of the story through roleplay and the outcomes pushed us certain ways through the story branches (represented by keywords on a pyramid of cards). This wasn’t like any other RPG experience I’ve had, and it could be so interesting applied to a variety of settings! I hope Chris gets it out into the world soon.
I quite enjoy Broom Service as a board game, but feel like i’ll get the card game to the table more often. It’s boiled down to the fun, interactive aspect of pushing your luck to be the “brave” type of witch each round, which – if successful – wins you potions. You’re hoping to create sets of like potions for points, and also sets of various potions for the chance to win shared goals. So simple and fun, and great for a group.
All the fun of a city builder packed into a tidy little card game. Honshu is a simple game with great depth – a little bit of trick taking, and a lot of tile-laying tinkering to get you to your best 12-card city. I’ve enjoyed my plays of this, and cannot wait to try the modified 2 player game (which balances out the trick taking for the low player count), as well as starting to introduce some of the “advanced” elements to mix up scoring. Import only now, this will be coming from Renegade Games in February to the North American market and beyond. This is most likely my game of 2016! It’s so good, y’all.
Fiona and I were taking a look around one of the vendor halls and stumbled across the WizKids booth with Canadian-brewed Rock, Paper Wizard all set up for demo – and ended up playing through the whole game it was so fun. We were there maybe 15-20 minutes including learning and playing and chatting, so it’s definitely a family-friendly title. Essentially a fun variant of rock/paper/scissors, on the count of three all players reveal a hand gesture matching one of the shared spell cards on display. In player order these are resolved, and players win loot as well as possibly towards the treasure, or away towards the cave exit.
A friend of mine described Lotus as “a beautiful knife fight”. Don’t let the pleasant art fool you (as gorgeous as it is) – you’ll be in there sniping flowers from people and piling your insect guardians on left, right and centre. Your tactical petal placements to amass points are combined with some great supporting actions to make this game a delight to play over once you’ve got the taste for it. I thought I’d get this to the table more at BGGcon, but played just the once – I was able to teach it though, which is a great sign in a game for me 🙂 Simple, clear actions and once you’ve got the ball rolling it’s quite easy to know what you’re doing.
Oh my, what a wonderful little package of a game! Not only is the art gorgeous, but the gameplay is a delight – a melange of card drafting, hand management and controlling majorities with cards in your tableau. It’s so easy to pick up – there are just a few actions you can take, and only 4 card types with particular affects – yet every play will take you in a different direction, trying new tactics and hoping for the cards to go your way. I really really want this to come out in North America soon!
You know how awesome it is to create characters for RPGs? Putting together all the fun and interesting parts to create the whole? Roll Player is basically that. Starting with a character race and class, and an alignment, you roll a lotta dice, apply them to stats, and as you go through the game also assemble a stock of weapons and a laundry list of traits that can be quite a fun combination. I am so keen to get my hands on this once a reprint happens!
Ooh my old favourite, Spyfall Pictionary! A semi-cooperative drawing game where all but one player is in the know about what the drawing’s supposed to be, and the rest of the people are trying to figure out who that is (while the Fake Artist tries to hide, and figure out what everyone is supposed to be drawing!). So good.
I have never played any of the major CCGs, and barely dipped my toe in LCGs – so I don’t have a lot to compare this to! However, it didn’t take me long to get into the swing of things with this game. The starting deck I played was funny, it had some nice little tie-ins thematically with weapons, locations and helpers to my Warrior! I enjoyed that it takes the humour and pun-filled fun of Munchkin, ramps it up, and slaps it on a light game. Not sure it’s a game for me, but it was fun to try.
More tetris-y goodness from Uwe Rosenberg. This leans heavily toward the Patchwork type of gameplay, but it’s quite an interesting twist. There’s a grid of tiles available to take from, and there’s not a lot of crossover between where players take from (much less interaction in that way than Patchwork). You’re also trying to churn through as many garden plots as you can for points by game-end. Delightful, pleasant, and not a steep learning curve as far as a strategy game goes.
There’s not much to Strike – it’s a fun push-your-luck dice rolling game that’s great fun for a few rounds between other games. I had a good time with it 🙂
Not being much into bicycle racing I was not one with the hype on this one, but enough friends had tried and enjoyed it, so I got to try it with a group of folks and really dug it! Gameplay is straightforward – select a card for each of your two riders that designates the amount of spaces they’ll travel – if you end up just behind someone, the slipstream is in your favour. If you’re too behind – or ahead! – you are penalized with a filler card to mess with your deck (and you only look at a few each turn to make your choice). Similarly to Camel Up, I don’t anticipate the way these sorts of races will go (even if this is in some way trackable if you count cards like a savant) – despite that flailing around, I felt there was a good level of excitement and tension in the game that lent itself to an enthusiastic and close finish. I’d love to try this again.
Ohhhh how I wanted to like this game. But we learnt and played it (at 6 players) so late at night that it was impossible to remain engaged with the game. Definitely requires 100% of your attention and enthusiasm or the game feels like going through some strange motions. Comparisons to BSG are fair, but I feel like I connected more with BSG. Both are way too long for my liking, however. I’ll have to give this a go another time when I and more present, and invested.
So – when all compared to my original “I want to play these things at BGGcon!” list (see below), I didn’t do so well. But considering how unwell I was for a chunk of time, I’m happy with what I did get to play. And a lot of the games that were new to me are solid faves now (Kanagawa, Honshu, Roll Player for instance).
Mansions of Madness 2nd ed
Great Western Trail
La Granja: No Siesta
The Bloody Inn
New York Slice
Curse you, Robin Hood
Key to the City: London
One Deck Dungeon
Oracle of Delphi
Villages of Valeria
All the giant dexterity games!!!!
I know I wrote up my con experience for the Daily Worker Placement, but overall it wasn’t super casual, didn’t mention a lot of folks or my personal experiences, and definitely not all the games I played. I love this con, it’s got such a great sense of community and friends and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was pretty upset at getting sick and missing almost the entirety of Friday (and even then being fairly useless at the gatherings I attended that evening). One whole day of friends and games missed means a lot when it’s only really 4 full days of the con. I slept and dosed up on meds and tried to soldier through the rest of the weekend, but it definitely put a dent in my experience.
I had some lovely Day 0 experiences – I love getting in the day before the con to get settled, and ease into everything. There’s a little gaming here and there, and a lot of running into and meeting people! I was so happy to turn up with Fiona (I dragged her down for her first BGG!!) to find our roomies Maggi and Kimberly. Best roomies, babetown roomies. After that, my con brother Andrew (or Ace) had rounded up some plans for a (now traditional?) dinner out at the fantastic Spiral Diner! I love that place, and having a nice meal before the hectic con is such a great way to start the week – plus, look at these wonderful people ❤
After a grocery stock-up and a little late night The Game, I hit the hay. Because it was up bright and shiningly early on Wednesday for a registration line party! It’s not really necessary to get in line heckin’ early as the BGG Team Geek crew do a great job of getting everyone their badges and wristbands and shuffled off to pick up their free games. It’s nice to get first pick of the games, but it’s even nicer to be hanging out with a whole lotta other nerds playing games in groups as we wait for the con to officially kick off. I got to try Broom Service: the card game, which ended up being a fave of the con! Also, it was the first time I’d seen a lot of other friends, so it was a nice energizing morning.
And then it was con time! Despite the sickness, I played a bunch of games (including a lot from my “want to try” list!) and ultimately wasn’t disappointed – although I kinda wish I’d spent the time I spent playing New Angeles playing something else, it was an interesting experience. However, I’m going to leave more comments on games for a follow-up post. This is about my folks. My gaming fam. (Even though it was tough knowing I was missing out on seeing some great friends who weren’t able to make this year’s con.) A great deal of people that I saw were folks I met for the first time last BGGcon and it was almost like no time had passed – the terrific Plaid Hat folks, Chris, Niki & Donald from Board with Life, Ian, the Nikolas & Ai dream team, Ace & JR (part of the DFW Nerd Nighters), the Dukes of Dice lovelies, the Dog & Thimble goons (hey Hil, hey Chris!!), Hunter, Matt E, Paul, Michael & Erin (they are best) and lots of wonderful Twitter folks (Patrick, Travis, Rich, Bill, Rodney, Marty, Bebo, Zee and all y’all because there’s too many to list!). And then I get to see a lot of folks who also attend the Gathering in April, and it’s so wonderful to see them and know it’s not gonna be too long til we game again.
This year was an EXPLOSION of meeting excellent Twitter friends though!! Oh holy wow. SO MANY PEOPLE. It was kind of amazing 🙂 Like the folks listed above, I might not have had a chance to game with all of them, but I said hi and chatted, and it was so great to put faces to names (or voices, for those whose podcasts I listen to!) – there are so many of you to list, honestly it was great to pass like ships in the night, or push cubes with you. It was seriously great meeting some other gaming ladies I’ve been chatting with on Twitter such as Annette, Kathleen & Mandi, too. And speaking of more rad ladies – I was lucky enough to make connections with folks I didn’t know at all before and managed to meet some cool women like Elena, Cynthia, Beth, Milena, Lindsay, Jayme, Amber, Alycen & Phoebe. And speaking of amazing women, how about my Games on the Rocks ladies Mags, Steph & Suz? These friends of mine who I’m lucky to know, and keep in touch with all year – and then I get to see them at BGGcon for big ol’ squishy hugs, games and even making a little livestream from the hotel bar happen. One of my highlights for sure. (And yeah, we did get crashed by these loons. It was the best.)
After the long last night (gotta squeeze out those last gaming hours) and checking out of the hotel, there were quite a few of us still around for most of the last day on Sunday. Comparing notes, getting in last plays of things, and having a lot of (s o m a n y) goodbyes. Yeah, I got weepy saying goodbye to my closer friends. I mostly held it together, but still – through our hobbies we meet people who become close to us and important and I felt that while saying farewells. Fiona and I got some extended time with a few folks whose flight was pretty close time-wise to ours, and that was great too (who doesn’t love a little shuttle party and airport food dinner?) – and I gotta say, I love Fiona for coming and having a blast like I knew she would, and I’m glad all my folks know her now, too.
If I saw you at the con, know that I wish I’d played more, eaten more and drank more with you. Don’t be afraid to ask me, I might just be floating about and not spotting anyone. Next year I’m gonna be at 100% and fighting fit, and nothing’s going to stop me! Thank you to each one of you who took a moment alone with me too – Rob, Zee, Ace, Maggi, Fiona, especially – because I know those are few and far between.
Until next year! (Unless you’re here for the games, in which case – until next blog post sometime in the next couple of days!)
I grew up in the 80s, so my introduction to gaming was pretty lo-fi back then. Atari, Commodore 64 (oh my god the tapes, THE TAPES), and even some little handheld video games (like my prized Ms Pac-Man tabletop arcade game). I gamed a little on our home PC once we got that – some SimCity, Dune, Lemmings and the like, loading from 3.5 inch floppy drives and CDs, having to enter a code every time from the booklet to ensure you weren’t playing a pirated copy (those halcyon days). Eventually, I got myself a Sega Mega Drive (when I was still young enough that staying up all night to play Robocop vs Terminator only gave me weird dreams) and progressed onto various Playstation consoles. I’ve always loved video games, but it’s never been up there as my main hobby – and since board games came on the scene, even less so! I’ve slowly gotten back into it over the last 5 – 6 years with the WiiU, PS4 and a Nintendo 3DS living with me. What I hadn’t delved back into was the PC gaming I’d loved in the 90s, primarily due to my lack of a desktop in the last 10 years, and the cross-platform availability of a lot of games; but I figured, why not try out some of the lower scale games (as far as hardware requirements) available on Steam on my laptop?
I created a Steam account and started browsing around some of the indie games available, and also asked my friends on social media for recommendations – and the recommendations (plus Steam keys because people are wonderful) really rolled in! Hilariously, the game near the top of my wishlist was something my other half had downloaded for free on our PS4 a while ago and I hadn’t realized – the atmospheric Gone Home. (Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the Steam games in a bit!) I didn’t know anything about this game before going in, and was completely delighted from the 90’s PNW setting to the seemingly infinite amount of investigating and exploring the environment allows. The game gently guides you along with a journal-based narration as you discover more and more around the house – the rest is up to you and how in-depth you want to explore. There’s a sort of creepy feel to the game, as you’re essentially roaming around an abandoned home in a thunderstorm – and I was suitably spooked at times! – but it slowly starts to feel like more of a narrative about family, love and life choices, exploring someone’s life. I interacted and wandered as much as I could, finding little easter eggs like X-Files VHS tapes and posters and audio tapes of various 90s Riot Grrl musicians, feeling like this game was almost made just for me. It’s not high-action or necessarily fast paced – but that’s why it works. I’m so pleased to have played it through.
Not long after I had finished Gone Home, a friend recommended Virginia to me, which was due to release shortly. From reading some pre-release articles and watching the trailer, I was on board. Also set in 90s PNW (yeah, I know) and having a Twin Peaks/X-Files vibe to it grabbed me – in addition, it looked like there was a great diversity of characters including the player character, a freshly minted FBI agent who is not only a women, but also a POC. I was hoping it would be as open for exploration as Gone Home was, but it had much more of a guiding hand to progress you through the narrative of the game. What’s interesting are the jumps that the narrative takes back and forth through time, and how that starts to drop little clues as to what’s going on. Without dialogue, the game leaves quite a bit open to interpretation – and with the Twin-Peaksy vibe, that only adds to the mystery of it all. The experience was intriguing, even though it wasn’t quite as extensive as Gone Home was for ticking the exploration boxes. Metaphor and vibes drive the game rather than the action and urgency that the stories of other games have – and this is not a bad thing.. Virginia is one that will wash over you, and you’ll be puzzling about for a little while after finishing.
If these two games are any indication, it seems that – overwhelmingly – adventure and discovery are enriching rewards in games for me, and that’s the sort of thing that will keep me going back for more. Don’t get me wrong, I love lap after lap of Mario Kart 8 – but playing games like Gone Home and Virginia are reawakening my excitement for exploration in games. Increasingly I want to be able to take things at my own pace, ponder the meaning of a game’s progression and narrative, and puzzle out its story. I’ve definitely gotten this feeling, albeit on a much larger scale, with Skyrim – while there are structures and quests to that narrative, it has a lot of give as far as letting you roam the landscape. Although not as great as Skyrim, Witcher 3 has scratched that itch a little bit for me, but the storyline feels much narrower. Let me out there to collect flowers and talk to dragons and stare out into boundless, beautifully rendered landscapes!
Anyhow, yes.. back to the PC. I’ve started to work my way into the little library of games I’ve built up on Steam, with more adventuresome titles to begin with. Sorcery 1 & 2 were a simple yet enjoyable D&Dish romp which ended up being like a fun on-screen choose your own adventure; The Stanley Parable, a strange and surreal game that gets very meta and is really all about exploration and what could be real or not (do you follow the narrator’s prompts, or just go where you want to?); and a simple yet touching playthrough of The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne, an exploration of what it means to experience social anxiety (by its nature a small game with limited choices, but was eye-opening). I still have over a dozen games in my Steam library to get to. Next up on my list to explore are Undertale and Her Story – each an excursion into dark places in their own way, but with their own unique interface and way of storytelling. Although having just started Stardew Valley, I fear it’ll be tough to wrest myself out of that intriguing little world. Gotta plant some parsnips!