Adventures in video games

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.

Screenshot of the lobby of the house from Gone Home.

Gone Home

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.

Character from Virginia - hands holding an FBI badge over a sink


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!


Attempted Design – Update #2

Satin Bowerbird

Satin Bowerbird and nest [BBC]

After sharing my last update, I got great feedback and responses from friends. In particular, my friend Ace gave me thoughtful questions to ask myself as a designer creating a new game. So, figuring this will be the next great step in me thinking more about the game before starting to put it to paper/cardboard, here we go! And a note more to myself than anything else – this isn’t how the game will be forever. This is brainstorming and throwing stuff down to see what sticks. It’s always going to be changeable, malleable.

  • What would be the basic turn structure?

My basic idea would be for players to spend (x) time (on the track) foraging for food (sort of the currency of the game) until each player passes. Then, spending food values, players can bid on a selection of treasure (nest) tiles – once a player wins a bid to pick a tile, they pay and the auction round goes to the other players (or once one player is left they pay minimum bid of one food for the tile left).

  • What, if any, ways could a player interact or affect another player?

Bidding highest to get the first take of a tile, mostly. And making it to a public bonus goal first.

  • Why are the objectives secret if you’re fighting over the same mate?

Each player would have a unique mate hidden in their hand – possibly more, if it would work out like tickets in Ticket to Ride where you could possibly take more mates and score some of their points later in the game? But yeah, there’d be a chance to have different mates each time you play, anyhow.

  • How can you use the secret objectives to create tension?

This is a tough one. Tension in the auction, and the race to succeed at the public goals? (i.e. who makes X shape first, who hits 7×7 filled nest spots first, for example?)

  • What information is hidden?

The goals you’re aiming at for your mates to successfully lure them.

  • How does that hidden information inform game play?

Definitely directs what tiles you’re bidding for, and also the patterns/size of the nest you’re decorating.

  • Can you move tiles/remove tiles after being played?

Perhaps if I allowed during-game scoring of mates? But that doesn’t seem quite as thematic (that also leads to the thought of does having multiple mates to score mean it isn’t as thematic? But the male birds have many females come by to inspect their nests before one chooses, so…) So I’m guessing most likely no, once they’re played they stay.

  • Are/is the tile pool/s singular or player specific?

The tile pool (nest treasures) would be shared – drawn from a bag (perhaps each auction round would have player number +2 tiles as a range to bid on?).

  • Where, if any, would you incorporate randomness?

The bag draw for the nest treasure tiles for sure, and I suppose the allocation of the hidden mates (even if they’re drafted to start the game, and especially if more come out during the game). I know a game like Patchwork has everything visible to start the game, but I think that might be a bit much for this? Maybe to mitigate the randomness of the bag draw, the tiles would be visible during the food collection phase.

  • Where would you say the interesting decisions are?

This is the tough part as I don’t have the game quite fully realized. I want the public and hidden goals to be challenging, but not so random they’re not obtainable. I want players to take their goals and use those as their guide on how to bid, when to let other players win certain phases and the like in order to most efficiently gather together what you need.

  • What type of experience would you like this game to invoke?

A feeling of making the best puzzle, collecting sets to maximize points and having fun making something pretty!


Following on from this, I need to make a firm decision on the structure of the game, most importantly:

  • Will players draft mate cards?
  • Will there be opportunities to partially score mate cards throughout the game? (Or in drawing new ones, perhaps take 3, keep 1 for instance)
  • How the timing track/food collection will affect the phases/progress/length of the game, and if that makes a difference for player turn order
  • How many treasure tiles, what their shapes and types will be, as well as point values if that’s necessary (for public goals perhaps?)
  • Draft up some shared goals for shapes, sizes, and set collections for treasure types

I’m sure more will come up, but I believe this little brainstorm and following up on those particular points will help direct me further into this game and the process.

Attempted Design – Update #1

Most of you are aware that I’m super into board games. I love playing them, talking about them, and even writing about them sometimes. In the past few years I’ve gotten to try game prototypes at various stages of design, and it’s a fascinating process to gain insight into. I’ve become intrigued with ideas for games, myself – but I wouldn’t fancy myself a game designer. The first game I had an idea for was all about running a museum (and I still have ideas and notes for that, but it’s a really big idea that’s a bit much to tackle right now). One day at work I was randomly chatting with a colleague about a game jam coming up, and how it might be fun to make a natural history-themed game somehow and my brain started percolating.

My first idea was pretty simple, because I’d thought I might approach it at a game jam – it was basically to reskin the 2 player tile-placement game Patchwork as a game where you played a male Bowerbird, laying tiles down to decorate your nest. (I even went to the library at work to read a bit about Bowerbirds, folks!) As time went on, the idea was still there in the back of my head and on the drive home from a convention earlier this year I was chatting with friends about it. We threw ideas about left, right and centre; I tried to hold on to as much of that brainstorming as possible, and one evening while chatting with my other half, threw some more brainstorming notes down on paper. A little while ago I found them while looking through a notebook and figured I should start more work on this!

Oh god why didn't I make sense of this months ago when I wrote it. >.<

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on


I was able to decipher most of the notes, and as I typed things out I fleshed out ideas and organized things a little better. The idea has come a long way from just the blatant reskinning of another game – while I’d still be using a tile-laying element, the game itself has taken on a little more of a life of its own. What do I do now, though? I have a bunch of ideas that seem to go together, but little idea of how to start executing them physically to try them out. So, I’m going to try and take it a little at a time – parcel out little pieces of it to figure them out, and see how that goes. And I figured writing about it might motivate me to get my shit together, too! Haha.

So, you wanna see what I have so far for the summary? I think I need to work on how the rounds of the game might progress, and then think about developing a series of the secret goal (mate) cards first up!

You are a male Satin bowerbird (P. violaceus) living in the Eucalypt forests of eastern Australia. Nesting season is approaching, and you need to attract a mate to your bower. Your bower begins as a structure of stones and sticks – you will, over (x) rounds, collect (hopefully) beautiful blue objects to decorate your bower with. The more beautiful your bower is to female Satin bowerbirds, the better you will do!

How to get points

  • Sets of objects – either same or different
  • Size of nest (have penalties for empty spaces, or bonuses for certain sizes met?)
  • Optical illusion patterns (Bowerbirds lay out objects in patterns to make optical illusions to look extra amazing to potential mates)
  • Dancing bonus, sound bonus (these could come up as cards among food resources, perhaps?) – not sure where these would come in!
  • Leftover resources (food, objects etc.)

If you have met the (secret) conditions of what your mate is looking for, you perform a courtship dance and are successful in attracting your mate. Check the conditions of your mate cards, and any bonus goal points you may have attained – whoever has the most points has made the best bower and pleased their mate above all other birds.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – leave a comment, or ping me over on Twitter at @iheartmuseums

Spiel ’16 – games I’m looking forward to!

I don’t have preorders or anything right now, but here’s what I’ve got my eye on to play once they’re released after this year’s Spiel board game event in Essen, Germany! And if you don’t feel like reading, here’s my rambles in a video.

What’s on my hot list to try:

Key to the City: London – R&D Games: I love Keyflower, but I think the game could do with a better setting (a not so generic one) so I’m looking forward to seeing what this game does!
Cottage Garden – Spielwiese: Uwe Rosenberg’s riding the tile placement train and so far what I’ve tried of it has been great, so it’s no surprise I’m looking forward to this one. I wonder how it’ll compare to Patchwork, being 2 – 4 players!
Great Western Trail – Stronghold Games: To be honest, not super stoked on the theme of this one, but I love love LOVE the designer Alexander Pfister.
Terraforming Mars – Stronghold Games: I’ve heard many great things about this game, so it’s on my list to try for BGGcon (plus, someone posted a pic of a card that’s got a puppy, so I’m on board!)
Mystic Vale expansion – AEG: I loved Mystic Vale but, like many others, felt it needed more. Can’t wait to see what’s going on in this expansion.
Oh My Goods expansion – Mayfair/Lookout: An expansion for another Alexander Pfister gem. One of my fave releases from the last year, Oh My Goods is a great small Euro in a card game package. Excited to see what the expansion will do.
Clank! – Renegade Games: I always love trying fun dungeon raiding types of games (Welcome to the Dungeon, Dungeon Raiders, Claustrophobia to name a few) and I’ve  heard fun things about this, so now it’s on my list to seek out.
The Last Friday – Ares Games: I am still kicking myself for missing out on this at Gen Con! I have a preorder, and even if the disappointment I’ve heard about the game is warranted, I still can’t wait to see what it’s like!

Games i’m interested in but could wait: 

Dragon & Flagon – Stronghold Games: Heard many good things out of Gen Con and want to try it, but I am not sure about picking this one up
Pandemic Iberia – Z-Man Games: I haven’t even finished my Pandemic: Legacy campaign yet, so the other Pandemic flavours have to wait😦
La Granja the Dice Game – No Siesta! – Stronghold Games: Loved La Granja, but the time investment means it’s hard to get to the table. Intrigued by this, wonder if it could make it more accessible.
Jorvik! – Eggertspiele: I mostly want to see how the new theme’s been implemented over the Speicherstadt! Curious if it’d be a better play than I had of the original.
Inis – Matagot: Having tried Kemet & Cyclades, and hearing this is similar, it makes me a little hesitant (I like Kemet for sure but don’t like it enough to own it) – but it does sound interesting. Plus, the art looks really neat.
Pandemic the Cure: Experimental Meds – Z-Man Games: I got to try a prototype of this a while back, so I’m excited it’s finally coming out! MORE THE CURE! One of the best dice implementations of a board game ever ever ever.

Finally, what I’ve tried and recommend:

7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon – Repos Productions: 7 Wonders Duel is one of the best 2 player games out there, and this adds some cool unique player abilities in the form of God cards players can obtain. Very awesome addition.
Adrenaline – Czech Games Edition: A first person shooter Euro! Truly fantastic fun. Move around a board to attack your opponents, but also try to make the most of those attacks by taking up the most area on their damage tracker. Looking forward to grabbing this one.
Feast for Odin – Z-Man Games: This is a hefty game. The box is almost the size of my 15lb dog. It’s a great Euro worker placement/tile placement game that has so much complex strategy I haven’t scratched the surface in even a few plays. Love it so far though!
Colony – Bezier Games: A lovely twist on a city building game with tableau-building and the use of dice as resources! BONUS: post-apocalyptic setting. Woo!
Cry Havoc – Portal Games: If you hadn’t guessed from my Inis blurb above, i’m not too much of a fan of “dude on map” games, but this invasion/area control combat game has a really fresh approach with the ‘factions’ you play and the unique combat resolution. I actually had fun playing a combat game! Best.
Captain Sonar – Matagot Games: Real-time Battleship with dry-erase sheets. Get in.
Networks – Formal Ferret Games: I love this game – medium strategy card playing and a hell of a fun sense of humour. Make sure to preorder if you’re going to Essen!
Oceanos – Iello Games: Everything about this game is wonderful. It’s pretty, it’s light and fun, and you have a submarine. Just get it.
Vanuatu 2nd ed – Quined Games: We have an older version, and the game’s terrific (role selection, interesting decisions to kinda maximize for yourself and block other players). If they’ve updated the art, that’s great!

If you’re looking for a great tool to help make sense of and sort through all of the releases for Spiel, head to Tabletop Together’s “Spiel Together” tool. (Which couldn’t be useful at all without the amazing work that is put in over at BGG by W. Eric Martin on the BGG Spiel Preview!)

#BGGcon2015 – Nicole’s first BGGcon!

This past week was spent in Dallas, TX (well, kinda between Dallas & Fort Worth) at the Boardgame Geek (BGG) convention! For those who don’t know, BGG is the main resource online for board game information. Sure, there’s loads of review sites, podcasts & the like. But BGG is a massive database of information and a huge hub for the community to boot. I’ve got friends that have been going for a while and it sounded like an awesome way to get together with them, meet other gamers, and have an excellent time.

My wrap-up post contains a little bit of everything and everyone!❤

The con takes place in the Hyatt Regency DFW, which is a huge hotel/convention space. BGGcon takes over – with something like 2800 attendees – and the whole basement space, plus some other areas set aside on other levels of the hotel, is for the con.

I arrived Tuesday night, to get some extra hanging out in with folks, and then got up very early the next day to be lined up for registration! We gamed and napped and ate.

I don't know how I'm upright AND playing games? Morning!!

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

There’s now 2 vendor halls, packed full with game publishers, sellers, designers and more. I hit up Funagain Games, Meeple Source, the Broken Token as well as the BGG promo store for my goodies! I caught a glimpse of a lot of demos going on, but I was so overwhelmed by the browsing choices I never ended up actually sitting down for demos. I wish I had! I feel like I missed some of the buzz of the con by missing out on those demos.

Meanwhile, the other larger parts of the basement are the library, and the main gaming hall. There’s hundreds of games in that library. As well as the basic library, there’s a hot/new section with more recent releases.


This doesn’t do the library justice; maybe 2/3 of it are shown here!

The main hall also had a section dedicated with consistently set up ‘hot games’ which were always bustling. The rest of the main gaming hall is just tables set up for gamers to sit and play. It’s glorious. And unless you were there in the VERY wee hours of the night/morning, it was usually bustling like this –>


So, what games did I play? Not as much as I’d have liked, but I got a good few checked off my “want to play” list for sure. And the rest of the time was spent well, regardless.

  • Royal Goods (to be released as Oh My Goods! in North America) – a really interesting small card game that’s San Juan-ish in some ways, with a little worker placement action in the mix. Would definitely play again.
  • Firefly! Well, part of it. I underestimated how excited everyone would be to be seeing each other, hanging out, chatting. I thought it’d be a quiet night with few folks. No! So we played out the intro game to the first objective and then rolled around in friend enjoyment instead.
  • Dino Twist – Holy, this is fun! Cute little simple card game of trying to outbid other players to gain better value dinos for your little play area – ‘island’. I hope this gets an English release.
  • Can’t Stop – great for a 6am line up, this classic.
  • Loopin’ Chewie – once you realized what you’ve done getting up so early for registration and you’re delirious, go for this one!
  • Pandemic: The Cure – I love this version of Pandemic, and had fun playing with my pals who had never tried it before, even though we got MASHED.
  • Pharaoh’s Gulo Gulo – the re-implementation of the fantastic kids game Gulo Gulo. Love the changes they’ve made to create more of a game.
  • Nile DeLuxor – simple and fun hand management/resource speculation/drafting card game. I’d love to try this again.
  • Sushi Go – One of my all time faves, and a great con filler!
  • Bountytown – I was happy to get to try this, a game designed by my pals Kyle & Michael! The game is a Western-themed hunt for bounties in a grid of cards that make up a town. Moving around can get you cool things, and also the chance to throw down to try and take a bounty by combat with poker hands. Pretty damn neat!
  • Shadow Hunters – I know this is a good game, I just can’t wrap my brain around it. I love social deduction but I just get all “I have no idea who is whoooo!” and end up randomly guessing stuff. Haha.
  • Rattle Battle Grab the Loot – While I enjoyed aspects of this game, it was overall just too long for what it is, and there wasn’t enough enjoyment/ability in the building up of ships and special stuff quickly enough. But I did get to play with a couple of my friends from the Gathering, it was great to see them🙂
  • Deep Sea Adventure – Always a fave! I love this game so much.
  • Terra – So excited to try the final English printing of this! I had a great time with my pals giving this a whirl. Thanks to my big con bro ACE for this pic of us all🙂
  • Dead Man’s Draw – Super quick push your luck card game, fantastic filler.
  • Fake Artist Goes to New York – Finally tried this hella fun Oink game! So good. Pictionary but with a hidden ‘traitor’ of sorts😀
  • Detective: City of Angels – My pal Evan has designed this game, still in prototype stage. I loved it to bits. I described it as a sort of TIME Stories meets Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective in noir LA. So excited to see it published!
  • Prodigal’s Club – Woo! Not ‘Castaways Club’ like it was when I played at the Gathering. All polished up and great. I had to muddle through a teach of it, which was excruciating.. but the game was fab!
  • Mafia de Cuba – A fun new kind of social deduction game, with a cool prop aspect to it. I was terrible the first couple of times, but was getting the swing of it after a while. Great for huge groups!
  • Coconuts – What do you do when your pal’s learning the X-Files game? Play Coconuts!!
  • The X-Files– YESSSSS!! A licensed game that’s not rubbish! This is actually a terrific ‘one vs many’ gateway-weight game that we had a lot of fun with. And not just because I got to pretend to be Scully. I’ve got to grab this game.

    Mulder, it's me. #bggcon2015 #boardgames

    A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

  • Eggs of Ostrich – A really great bidding/push your luck game for 3 (and only 3!) players. So good. My pal from Halifax, Kyle, taught me!
  • Ka-woom – dropped in on a game of this (being brought to NA as ‘Ka-Boom’ by Blue Orange). SO FUN. One person is building towers to try and get points while the other players catapault dice their way. Muhahah.
  • Skyliners – Nifty, simple spatial game where you’re building up a city to try and gain points from your vantage point, versus the other players’!
  • Lift It! – Yes, trying to build structures by moving pieces with a hook attached to your head IS as ridiculous and fun as it sounds.
  • London (Victorian) Masterminds – Eric Lang & Antoine Bauza’s work in progress. So cool. Worker placement to take over the wooooorld!
  • Splash! – Draft your little pieces of wood at the beginning, and then try and build a structure bit by bit as you’re handed pieces of the player to the right’s choice. So hard and amazing fun! I need it.
  • Walk the Dogs – What do you play while waiting for a copy of probably the heaviest game you’ll play at the con? 2005’s Major Fun Award Winner: WALK THE DOGS. WITH LITTLE DOG FIGURES. I was (and still am) verklempt. Alan Moon, you need to get me a copy of this, stat. And not for playing with Paul Dean ever again. You should have seen what he did with those dogs.
  • The Gallerist – As I’m in the progress of developing a museum game, I wanted to see if this would overlap it in any way. Really this is more about wheeling and dealing in the art gallery world! It was complex and interesting and somehow I managed to win? Thanks for teaching, Maggi xo
  • Above and Below – Worker placement/resource management with a dash of storytelling thrown in, and gorgeous art? Right up my alley! Can’t wait to play this again. But I’ll be sad to not have Eric there with his dramatic reading.

    Eric's dramatic reading during Above and Below is great!

    A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

  • Dark Moon w/ prototype expansion – Because I have the best friends, they got up early on Sunday to play this with me! I love Dark Moon, and my pal Evan’s developing an expansion so we got to try it out. It was worth it, getting up after only a couple of hours of sleep🙂 Especially for the “aah we got beaten at the last minute” jumping around from Evan. Really looking forward to seeing this published.

Other than the loads of gaming going on, there were some cool events that I went to or took part in. One was a small little coffee exchange with some other coffee nerds – we each brought some beans roasted from our city and swapped! So fun.

At the #bggcon2015 coffee exchange, we drafted it out with Arboretum cards! Nerrrrrds.

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

I was part of the Spiel-a-thon, which is a little trivia/game show type of thing that is a fundraiser for the Spiel Foundation. Here’s the OG team, thanks to Rodney for the selfie! (My pal Maggi joined me and Kris in the 2nd round, where we eventually bowed out).


At the Spiel-a-thon! With Kris and Rodney! Wooooooo!

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

I also had a LOT of fun going to the screening of one of the new Board with Life episodes (3rd of season 2), with an intro from the cast and crew and a great Q&A afterward. Such a lovely group of folks who are really passionate about the fun and quality of the content they are making. I had the chance to chat and hang with a few of them, and it makes me happy to know there’s rad folks like that in my hobby! And wow, the new season looks so fantastic! Equipment makes a difference🙂 Really fun also to see Rich Sommer in his guest role of absolute hilariousness.

Q&A after the Board With Life episode 3 screening! #bggcon2015 @boardwithlife

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

And on the Saturday night was the big closing ceremony. A chance to thank the VIP guests, staff, and volunteers. There was also a huge prize draw in which somehow loads of my friends managed to win stuff, and I left empty-handed! It was worth hanging out to see the entertaining MC-ing from Rich Sommer, though.

Closing ceremony! #bggcon2015

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

While not strictly an event, I did head to the Plaid Hat office’s party, which was part anxiety (I hate parties, they’re full of people I don’t know but am supposed to interact with!) and part excellent (where I got over the interacting anxiety and met some really great new people). Best part was the sneak peek at some cool new Ashes/Dead of Winter stuff, and snagging this adorable Mice & Mystics Colin plushie which I then proceeded to wander around getting people to sign, because it’s a sweet memento.

Made a new friend at the Plaid Hat party!! #bggcon2015

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on


A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

So don't worry, this is rad.

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on


Last, but not least – what I ended up cramming into my suitcase to bring home. Hauuuuul!

Big shot of my #bggcon2015 haul of stuffs. I'll be writing up the con shortly!

A photo posted by Nicole (@iheartmuseums) on

My freebies for registration included the WWE Showdown game, Neuroshima Convoy, Dead Drop (plus expansion) and Yardmaster Express, plus a tiny little Reiner Knizia game (Dragon Master). Nice! I got Looney Quest in the DFW Nerd Night auction, which was fun. Dead Man’s Draw has been tough to find in stores here, so I got that direct from Mayday. My friend Chris gave me a copy of the Jenga-based RPG Dread, which I’m so excited about. I got a Suburbia insert and some meeple snowflakes from the Broken token. Cute skellie and dog meeples from Meeple Source (and some cute holiday gift tags!). Promos from the BGG store for Castles of Burgundy, La Granja, Cacao & Five Tribes, as well as little games Eggs of Ostrich and A Fake Artist Goes to New York! I also picked up …and then we held hands sight unseen based on all the hype (haven’t had a great time with it yet, but we’ll give it time).

My little Plaid Hat and my Colin are also pictured, as is my ribbony con badge and my pal Hunter’s Youtube channel promo sticker. And the big box there is a board game advent calendar, which I’m really looking forward to opening up next month! SO much fun in one picture, there. It reminds me of the excellent time I had. It really was a con where I couldn’t fit everything in if I wanted to, but I got to go and have some great vegan eats with people, hang out in hotel rooms chilling and chatting, and generally just have a blast with terrific friends.

It was so great to see Tiffany, and meet Steve! I got to hang with my good pals Maggi, Stephanie, Suz, Brittanie, Hunter, Kyle, Matt and Eric. I met new friends ACE and Chris! There were all sorts of wonderful Twitter people I got to see and meet even if briefly. I got some great playtesting in of wonderful games. I met really awesome people connected with Board with Life and Plaid Hat, along with DFW Nerd Night. It was happiness and it was overwhelming. I can’t name all of the folks, but it was a gift to have them all there with me.

BGGcon, I’ll see you next year. And I’ll be dragging people with me😀


Don’t bring gender into (board) gaming – or, why I’m sick of seeing dudes ask what games their wives might like.

On Boardgame Geek (in various forums), or even occasionally on Reddit or on Twitter, I’ll see requests from (usually) male boardgamers asking what games they should get to play with/buy for their wives/daughters/girlfriends. I want to look a little at this to see why it’s problematic to frame your questioning this way, and how it can only further drive the divide between the perceived binary of genders in gaming.

I want to state up front: I am not opposed to people seeking out recommendations for games to play with their significant others or children. I am all for bringing people to the hobby, regardless of if they stay a casual player or become very much a more frequent gamer. If the person you’re trying to encourage is willing to try out stuff, then great! If not, then you can’t magically make them enjoy games, no matter how great you think those games are (this is hard to swallow! I know!) and just asking for recommendations based solely on gender will certainly not help with that. I’ve had great success by playing accessible, casual games with people, leading to a great and enthusiastic response – rather than saying something akin to, “Oh hey! You’re a lady therefore you most likely sew, and therefore will enjoy this game Patchwork”, which is never a safe assumption (although that person may end up enjoying that fantastic 2p mostly abstract game with challenging decisions because it’s awesome).

So, let’s move on. The most important point here is gender. Within gender as the focal point here, the false assumption that gender identity is binary and the essentialism that goes along with that assumption. Essentialism is the concept that something (an object, an animal, a group of people, etc) is marked by an unchanging, assumed state of being, that something has an “ultimate reality” – for instance, that cultural practices are static and unchanging, or that the earth is definitely flat and that can never be different.

This gender essentialism – 2 options, unchanging, unmalleable – tends to plague a lot of questions about what games to recommend to a person (usually without meaning to, or realizing). Gender essentialism when asking these questions is, by its very nature, quite reductionist. That is, thinking that every man shares the same interests and wants to play certain games, and that women would have a different set of interests and therefore different needs out of game playing, means you have 2 narrow definitions of people. What this doesn’t take into account is the spectrum of gender that all of us exist on – no one woman is precisely performative of the ideal “feminine” concept of what a woman should be, nor is any man entirely representative of the “masculine” concept for men. On top of this all, the gendered questioning regarding game recommendations completely ignores those who are non-binary, gender fluid or trans*.

When I see a request for game recommendations for “my wife/girlfriend/daughter”, it very rarely comes with any qualifying factors such as “has this person played games before at all?” “has this person has enjoyed (x) type of game?” or “this person enjoys (y) type of theme or (z) type of gameplay”. What these sorts of gender-based queries assume is that women who aren’t gamers (or at least game infrequently) will all be interested in the same kinds of games. That’s a presumption that shouldn’t be made about anyone – even if they’ve not played board games before, or even if they have!

I understand, of course, that nouns such as wife/husband, daughter/son are useful in a way that defines the poster’s relationship to this person rather than saying something like “I’m looking for games Betty might like”, a less helpful pointer as to who the person is. Unfortunately, this use of nouns then lands us in the waters of murky gendered assumptions, where the “wife” must be understood in feminine terms as must the “son” or “daughter” in terms of what games they’d be interested in (where, with children, I believe age is a far more important category to use for game recommendations, on top of interests/games enjoyed previously).

Personally, I would hate to be stereotyped into a box of what “women” are, and should like as far as board games go. My interests are varied outside of board games, and that drives me to be interested in trying all sorts of games, especially when theme is involved. But it must also be realized that my interests don’t define me entirely. I’ve certainly never been interested in building an estate in medieval France, but heck if one of my favourite games isn’t Castles of Burgundy. I love the gameplay so much!

If you had a partner who had assumed on behalf of your gender presentation alone that a particular game might not be up your alley, you might never know what games you’re missing out on. Make the effort to consider someone as a whole person – their interests, the types of fun they like to have, what games they’ve liked before – and you will likely be far more successful in encouraging that person to game, and have fun while doing it. And – as a bonus – come back for more!

I’d like to leave you with an image that I keep going back to when I see all sorts of gendered marketing and gendered questions when it comes to finding toys/games etc. While it is pretty basic (it tends towards biological assumptions rather than gender identity) I still think it makes a great point. Don’t boil your decisions down to something you’re assuming one “type” of person is – in all areas of your life, it will be a great way to go forward.

Image by Kristen Myers. Click through for more info.

Algonquin Park Camping, summer 2015

The first time I went to Algonquin Park was back in 2007, when I went for a long day trip. I hugged a big tree, saw a moose and a chipmunk and was generally delighted with how lovely it was there. It’s astonishing I haven’t made it back until this year, so I got pretty excited at the prospect of a 4 day weekend of camping there!

Friends Dan & Kirsty had been camping in Algonquin Park before & are all set up with great gear & know-how so they were our bastions of excellence for the trip! We decided on a pet-friendly campground (Canisbay Lake) so we could bring our dogs, and got all set with plans. Pals Fiona & Dan were coming too, so we bundled into their car with Jake for the trip! Luckily Dan & Kirsty had a lot of what we needed, and we were able to borrow a tent from friends here in Toronto who camp often.

It was so nice to get away for a slightly extended long weekend (thanks, civic holiday!). While the weather wasn’t perfect (rain showers each day, and big rain overnight our last night there), we made the most of the non-rainy parts of the weekend. For starters, we went canoeing! I had never done this before and was slightly nervous about being out on a big lake in a small boat – but it was so fun. Once we got ourselves sorted out and paddling nicely, we had a couple of trips. One was to toodle around a small island in the lake not far from the main beach, and then the other was to follow a bit of the shoreline around in a loop. It’s a calming thing, having a nice paddle on a gorgeous lake.

We also went on a nice big hike on the Track and Tower trail – it was lovely to be properly out in the woods and see a couple more lakes, and go up to the lookout there. We weren’t exactly right in the wilderness with our campsite, so the hike was great to have a taste of that and get some exercise. The dogs loved it too! Jake really took to wandering up and down the trail with us, and investigating everything. We didn’t see any wildlife, but heard a bunch of birds and saw gorgeous flora and geology!

Apart from the great outdoor adventures, it was just super to hang out with two of my fave couples! We did some fun camp cooking (and Dan and Kirsty were the BEST about bringing delicious stuff for Adam and I to add to our tofu etc), and I had my first smore and made a fire cone! And when we weren’t eating (which, let’s face it, we were eating a lot), we played some games! We also had some fun with weird fire and sparklers on our last night before the rain hit.

It was a great weekend, and I felt so rejuvenated being out there in Algonquin, which is a stunning provincial park. Having a dip in the lake, sitting by the fire, cuddling Jake and Adam in the tent and waking up to the sounds of birds was just what I needed! Sure it was nice to come home to creature comforts, but I’m already thinking about the next time I can get away camping!

If you enjoyed the photos here, my full set is on Flickr.