Okay so yeah, it’s been a good long while, hasn’t it? At least I did sit down and play my last iteration of the game with real humans!! Wonderful ladies from the board game community here in Toronto. It was a heartwarming experience, and I got amazing feedback. Which I wrote down and sort of forgot about, then did a bit more at some point and now I’m sitting here tonight looking through scraps of notes, print outs of new things, and trying to sort myself out over the written stuff in notebooks versus the typed stuff I have saved online. Good work, self.
I think the two biggest things to come out of the playtest were: scrap the ‘timer track’ and just use the depletion of the food cubes used for bidding to pace the game – and have a game end condition based on # of public goals completed. That, and to have upcoming polyominoes available before you can bid on them, to plan ahead a bit – rather than fishing around in the bag to grab the polyominoes, I’ve made some cards with the shapes on them, and they’ll get flipped to determine which come out for bidding (Castles of Mad King Ludwig style). Otherwise I just needed to come up with more goals, which – by the looks of a Google Doc I just found haha – I have mostly!
I think streamlining the setup and turns has come a long way, I think just after looking at it so much. And I guess I took a step back and looked at the procedure of the game as a whole, because I’ve thought to add some round bonuses throughout, for people to rearrange their bowers slightly. This is how it’s going to roll:
- Deal out 3 public “optical illusion” goals, set the rest aside
- Deal 3 mates to each player – they keep 2, discard one.
- Distribute one set of food to each player (valued 1 through 5)
- Set up tiles for auction this round and upcoming – number of tiles is # of players +1.
- If you have one food token left, refresh your supply to full.
- Players simultaneously bid a value of food
- Winner of bid selects their tile, and the rest of the players select theirs by bid amount (ties resolved by player order); bids are spent. Tiles do not have to be placed adjacent to existing pieces.
- Check public goals for successes, and score. If someone has completed 3 public goals, the game ends.
- Start player passes
I suppose it’s time to get my goal cards and mate cards all together and put this in front of people, again. Honestly, my next biggest stumbling blocks are: do I hate this and think it’s not fun, and how can I overcome my impostor syndrome! We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, here I am trying to keep myself accountable. And also mildly panicked about taking part in a board game design panel later this week!
I’m going to.. handwave away the personal recap of 2017, because it’s just too much to think about/write/read. SO. Here’s STUFFS WHAT I LIKED, 2017 EDITION!!! And yeah, there’s a couple of days left in the year. But let’s be real. This is close enough.
I’ve seen 46 movies this year. I’d hoped to break 50. Being with Evan has meant a shift back to watching more movies (and really, just as much TV), which has been great – being in a long distance relationship sucks, but it’s great to be able to watch movies with each other over that distance. As far as new releases, we didn’t see a lot together, but there were some great movies out in cinemas this year. Highlights for me: The Big Sick, Get Out, The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnorak, Logan, The Shape of Water. I think I need to revisit Blade Runner: 2049, but it might be on that list, too. Recent stuff that’s come out that I want to see, but am waiting for streaming release? Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri are up there! I really did a lot more watching of 2016 and older stuff out of the batch of viewings this year. Best non-2017 one I saw? Probably Hush, or the Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
This was the year of new Twin Peaks, so that’s got to be my first mention out of the gate. Oh how I had waited – most of the time, not knowing it’d come. Some of the time itching to have it here. It was a strange ride, full of mystery and horror and humour and nostalgia and straight up weird shit. Can’t wait to go back and rewatch. PS. Thanks for being the reason I got to know Evan better.
Notable ongoing fave: Brooklyn 99. I binged because I couldn’t stop: The Good Place. I watched it all and I’m still not sure how I feel about: The Leftovers. My trashy watch: Riverdale. Oh no I need to catch up on: Mr Robot, Orphan Black. Started, and excited to watch more into the new year: Atlanta. Can’t wait for the new episodes of: Black Mirror, the X-Files!
I struggled to hit my goal of 40 books read this year. I just lost steam in the summertime, and it has been tough to get it back. I have tried to do a bit of reading to chat about with Evan – he encouraged me to read the Southern Reach trilogy (so far it’s just been Annihilation, but I’ll get there), plus we got to read Twin Peaks: the Final Dossier to talk about together! Overall, I think Annihilation was my favourite novel read, and as far as comics, Paper Girls was my new favourite read. Onto my backlog now, I guess! Which is full of great recommendations from Liz, whose Science Fiction Double Feature podcast has been a great source of nerding and great sounding books.
GAMEZ OF BOARD AND VID
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first, because I don’t play a lot of video games compared to board games! Much of my time has been all about Stardew Valley and the Sims 4, not to mention recently with Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. You may sense a theme.. Meanwhile, I really need to get back to the Witness for puzzly goodness. And with the new season of the X-Files looming, dive back into my investigation in Thimbleweed Park. I think if I can chip away at what’s in my Steam library after that, it’ll be a 2018 miracle! I was very good and did not bend to the Steam sales, pals.
As far as games go, well. Here’s a big ol’ article I wrote about this year in games. Bärenpark and Sagrada are my top picks if you don’t feel like clicking through, but there’s lots of stuff in there in many categories. I think my top 10 would be: Bärenpark, Sagrada, Castles of Burgundy Dice, Word Slam, Azul, Avenue/Kokoro, Favelas, NMBR 9, Fox in the Forest, Century Spice Road – Golem edition. What a great year of games. Meanwhile in pure lovely numbers (oh thank you Board Game Stats!):
- Games played, total: 546
- Games played, unique titles: 256
- Games played, new to me: 126
That’s pretty great for me! Plus I got to playtest a number of really great things, including legacy games which I’ve had enormous fun with.
Not to mention, conventions attended: Breakout Con, the Gathering of Friends, Origins Game Fair, Dice Tower Con, SHUX, Fan Expo, BGGcon, ummmm. Wow. That’s ridiculous. 2018 is going to be scaled back a BUNCH.. Actually, that’s a big fat lie. But at least a bunch of these are local or close to local? Flying to the US for cons is so hecking expensive, so that’s going to scale things back.
Because of Twin Peaks, I sought out a few related podcasts – ‘Diane‘ was one of the best. Articulate and intelligent, lots of amazing discussion and insights. Plus I love the ongoing series they’re doing now called the “Shadow Trap” all about monsters and whatnot. Good stuff. I have been super enjoying Tanis as always, for more spookies, and 99% Invisible plus Reply All remain general faves. I’ve also just begun listening to Ologies at the recommendation of my friend and co-host Erin, and it’s been a delight. Nerding out about sciences and disciplines is awesome, and the host is fun and has quirky asides and comes at it all with a fabulous attitude and humour. Also I love all of my own podcast’s network pals, so check ’em out: Inside Voices network.
The Shut Up And Sit Down Board Game Conglomerate (aka a bunch of nerds who make game reviews) had their first convention at the start of October, and I went! It was in Vancouver! YAY!! 3 days (over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend) and about 800 people, and a heckload of fun. WHAT DID I DO??
There were so many panels. Like, all day every day so many panels. I went to only a few, because I gamed so many games the rest of the time. (See below.) I went to the opening ceremony to see the crew & their guests, and that was nice. The calm before the storm, or at least the calm before the sleep deprivation. The other two I just attended were the Cardboard! with Rich Sommer podcast & Tuesday Knight Games podcast recordings. Both were good fun! Rich had Rodney Smith, Paul Dean & Phillipa Warr up as guests and chatted a bit then did audience Q&A. I can’t find a link, though. Alan from TKG had a quick run through of guests come up and join him, with some chatting about games and sharing spooky stories. So fun! You can listen here.
THEN. I got to take part in a panel/event thing! Designer Grant Rodiek asked some industry friends, which somehow included me, to help out/”judge” his design jam panel “Design With Your Hair on Fire”. It was without a doubt the most fun design event I’ve been a part of. It was a packed room – split into about 8 or so groups of varying sizes. Each group got a stack of cards with words, had to combine two to end up with a title for their game, grab a bag of random components and then had 60 minutes to make a game. YEAAAAHHH!! So great. The overwhelming majority of attendees were gamers with no former experience in game design. They all took to it like naturals. At the end of it there were playable games! Vampire Weekend, Bearistocracy, Volcano Garden, Speedo Oligarchy, Breakfast Treachery.. and more. I was so impressed with so many! And the range of stuff was great – there was a dexterity game, a social negotiation game, some things that veered more towards light strategy. It was fantastic to see the results of this jam. I kinda want to see this sort of thing run at every convention.
I felt like I played a lot more than this, but BGStats tells me 24 plays, 10 new to me. I suppose for 3 days that’s not too shabby. I played a mix of stuff people had with them, a few titles from the library and a couple of things I brought. Overwhelming fave was Castles of Burgundy Dice Game still, because I am enamoured. Had a lot of fun teaching Broom Service the Card Game to folks too! And getting a game of Capital Lux in at least once that weekend – plus having the artist, Kwanchai Moriya, sign it! YAY.
So, new to me:
- London – oh my gosh this is punishing but excellent. Hard decisions and timing in a game of building up London after the great fire.
- Bruxelles 1893 – possibly the silliest fun I had playing during SHUX, which is kinda ridiculous considering this is a heavy-ish Euro game. But yeah. I love having goofy fun with friends while playing good solid games!! I enjoyed this quite a bit, with the spatial aspect and the worker placement and art sales and the like. Good things.
- Wind the Film – Evan describes this as Bohnanza meets Lost Cities which seems apt. Hand management to create sets of shots for points. Delightfully good.
- Okanagan: Valley of the Lakes – Nice mix of tile laying and area control with a bit of resource/goal management. I like the setting, just not keen on the total absence of any mention of indigenous people in that area…?
- Tokyo Highway – omg this dexterity game is maddeningly hard but also very good??
- News @ 11 – Such a fun social/improv game! Cards with random prompts are handed out and you’re then directed to give a quick news segment by the lead anchor using those words. HILARITY ENSUES.
- A Dog’s Life – of course I was gonna try this one. Delightful art, cute stuff, fun light pick up & deliver game.
- Between Two Cities – somehow I’d never tried this?? It was really good!
- Deadline – ooooh hardboiled cooperative fun! The way this plays out is very Grizzled-y in its card play, but unfolds like a mystery, giving you new leads whenever you successfully investigate. This was awesome. Would play again A++
Oh, and I also played Twin Peaks the Murder Mystery Game for the first time, and we definitely modified the rules a BUNCH as we played cos, ya know, early 90s roll and move.
Oh my gosh I saw a lot of great people. I got to introduce Evan to pals of mine, and see good friends at the same time. Friends from other cons I go to, from Twitter, a couple of listeners of Greatway Games (yay JC and Kayla!!) some of the SUSD crew, a couple even from the SUSD forums! I did a rubbish job of the latter in general, considering I was the one that started an “introduce yourself” thread and then just failed at meeting people because i’m terrible at remembering faces, and the like. I did meet the lovely Lisa Pope, one half of the behind the scenes organizing team, plus Alex & Michele a couple of cool volunteers though. The amount of people at the con was great, but I think I still just went “aaaah people everywhere who are they” most of the time. OOPS. Also thanks to Ben for the coffee hookups, hell yes.
Thinky thoughts to end on
I had a great time, but I have regrets! I wish I’d demo’d more games, seen more panels, had more time etc etc etc. It was all over in a flash, and there were a LOT of people I saw but just never played games with, which is the saddest thing. Sometimes my brain is all “they’re busy!!!” and sometimes it’s like “omg you’re not in the cool club nobody likes you!” which always comes up in the post-con sads. Gonna try and aim for that not to happen for BGGcon. Also on top of that all, saying goodbye to your long-distance sweetie at the same time as the con ends and all that, oof. I don’t recommend. I can.. not avoid that for BGGcon though. Oops.
Anyhow, despite all of that, I look forward to another SHUX. Perhaps next time I’ll do my Calgary/Banff visit in addition to soaking up the Vancouver goodness.
Oh boy, it’s been a while! About 6 months. Things have percolated a bit in my brain, but I have only just finally tried to get some of it out onto paper. I needed just few things as a basic structure to tangibly poke stuff around on a table. So these are really basic ideas, which will very much need tinkering and fine tuning, but so far I think it’s a reasonable start. Whether or not after the start it keeps going or gets scrapped, who knows!
To start with, I have decided on some random public goals, as well as the “mate” cards which will be private – players will get 3 of those and choose two (scoring their choice at the end of the game, this is my attempt to offer a little flexibility). I have a Patchwork-esque time track right now, in which players will move to gain certain values of food (representing the bird’s time spent finding better food). Those food tokens will be used in an auction phase bidding on objects to place in your “bower”.
This is the “time track” – with the available objects for the auction round. I also have a few spots along the time track that are similar to the single tile patches in Patchwork – I think in this I’d like them to be bonuses for the last player to pass them over as a bit of a balance for not taking so many food tokens.
There’s my attempts at the public goals and mate cards. These are all really off the top of my head so they need a lot of work. But it’s just to get an idea of what I’d have players aiming for. A little set collection, a little puzzley stuff.
And here’s the “object” tiles! The idea is to have 3 types of objects which would be worth different values, but I haven’t exactly worked that into any of the cards yet (other than generically mentioning type). I’d like them to represent different things like, the garbagey blue things like plastic caps etc, and then the shinier nice things like glass etc. I know I had an idea earlier about birds being able to use one of their own feathers in their bower, but right now I’m not sure what function that could have. Still thinking!
I guess it’s time to show this to people? aaaahhhhhhh!
So, much of the content I’ve been creating of late is surrounding board games. Back in the day I used to write a lot more about music & movies, but I feel like those things aren’t hobbies now but just part of life. Board games are a hobby, a passion, and I love to share my thoughts on all aspects of them, even though it’s not my job to do so. I say “creative” output because none of it’s really creative but I don’t know how to describe it? Ha! My nerd sprinklings? Geeky missives? Anyhow, here they are!
I’ve written a few articles here on this blog, where I feel like I can be as divisive as I like and own the responsibility for that – “Why I’m Not Here To Ruin Your Fun” and “Don’t Bring Gender into Board Games“. But I like to have somewhere a little more appropriate for long-form personal stuff like “I Guess Board Games are my Valentine” and personal con write-ups. And let’s not forget the languishing design series, ha!
For the last few years I’ve been a contributor at the Daily Worker Placement blog (as well as running the Twitter and helping a bit with the Facebook account). My writing is a bit all over the place there – some stuff about conventions, a little on apps, and some stuff like the series of survey infographics I published after taking a big survey of gamers. I like the freedom I have there to write about what I really want to, and I really like that we’re having the reach we do.
A little under a year ago, Games on the Rocks started up – I’d been inspired by certain pub meetups (Vegan Drinks, and Drinking About Museums) to try something similar. But instead of in-person, I’d be doing it with my far-away pals Suz, Maggi & Steph via the internet! So each week we have a bit of a chat about what we’ve been playing, and a topic of some sort (game themes, conventions, and the like) – we even had a live play through of an app (Mysterium) on our last episode which was really cool. Every (other-ish) Friday we go live on the Meeples Included Twitch and there’s an archive of broadcasts on YouTube. We even managed to live-Periscope an episode of the show from BGGcon which was one of my highlights of the trip.
My most recent project is a podcast, Greatway Games. This is my “different” style of content regarding board gaming as a hobby, which is so refreshing! Along with pals Erin & Adrienne, we spend about an hour each episode (1 per month) on a topic that is broadly about the hobby rather than reviewing games & the like. For instance, conventions, teaching games or comfort games! We also approach recording a little differently than most, adding a personal touch with a mood check-in at the start of each episode, a Pet Corner where we update you on all our lil cutie pies, and a segment we definitely took straight out of Pop Culture Happy Hour – what’s making us happy! Recording these is one of the highlights of my month. We’ve also been doing mini episodes to come out mid-month for Patreon backers too, if you can’t get enough. Almost all include Jake barking in the background at some point *facepalm* OH! And I run the Twitter for us too 🙂
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.
- 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.