Monday, February 27, 2017

Goodbye My Friend

I'm pretty terrible at saying goodbye.

Moving to Canada was difficult, because my friends are incredibly important to me, but I knew I could always come home, I could text, Skype or Twitter. And I have done all those things and more. But eventually you have to face the reality that everyone has to say goodbye at some point. The forever goodbye.

Last year I lost a friend to cancer. I didn't know him nearly as long as I do many of my other friends, but he was amazing and funny and taught me that it's not over until it's over. Saying goodbye to him when I moved to Canada was especially tough as I knew it might be the last time we spoke. As it turned out, happily, it wasn't. We got to see each other when I was home in 2013, and, most especially, when I was home with Ada in 2015. I got to introduce my daughter to him, and the photo of the three of us together is still a treasured memory to me.

But leaving that time really did feel final.

When I got the news of his passing, I was so upset. I couldn't be home to say that final goodbye, or to be with my friends when we laughed about the amazing person he was. I never got the closure that funerals are for, the chance to see someone off on their last, great adventure to whatever. It hurt for a long time, and I wanted to post about him and what a great friend he was, but every time I thought about him I got upset again, which was not how I wanted my lasting memories of him to be.

I'm not particulary religious, so I don't pretend to believe that he's watching over us, but sometimes...

Sometimes, weird shit happens.

One night, a while after my friend died, months ago now, I had a dream. I know, I know. Just bear with me.

I was at my friends funeral, and all our friends were there. We were laughing and crying, telling each other stupid stories about how terrible he was at rolling dice when it really mattered, and how amazing he was at writing things that could make anyone laugh. We were sharing all these great tales, and among it all, I was there. But I was making everyone to promise not to mention to anyone that I was there, because I wasn't supposed to be. I clearly recall explaining to Mike that the other me was still in Canada, and that me didn't know that I had been able to come. Mike, for his part, didn't even seem to question that this was odd, and happily agreed to stay quiet. I had no explaination for how I was there, it was as if I wasn't dreaming, but instead had somehow travelled across time to be there.

It doesn't hurt that this is exactly the kind of weird story that would have made my friend laugh.

When I did wake up, I found myself profoundly at peace. I awoke with a smile on my face, and my heart beating just a touch faster than normal. I find it heartwarming to think that I still vividly remember this dream, dispite most dreams fading from memory within minutes of waking up, and certainly not lasting more than a few days. Ever since then, I've been able to think about my friend without tearing up. I remember those stories, those happier times.

I'll miss my friend, but I know that he'd rather I missed the fun times than the bad ones. So I will.

Goodbye Chris.


Still Shakin'

Long time readers know that I was diagnosed with Early Onset Parkinson's Disease in late 2012. When I first bogged about it in October 2013, my intent was to post about it at least once a year, on October 1st, the anniversary of my diagnosis. Clearly, that has not happened.

In fact, if I'm being honest, my PD is one of the reasons I haven't beeen blogging more. Or, more accurately, I'm using it as one of the reasons. I've regularly told myself that my tremor makes typing with my left hand too awkward, and while it is partially true; the tremor does make it more awkward than before I had it; it is, on the whole, bullshit.

The persistant tremor does not stop me from typing, and never has. Sure, I sometimes double type letters, miss a letter here or there, or transpose two adjacent letters in a word, usually from the left side of the keyboard, but I was never the fastest typist anyway, so it really hasn't affected my overall productivity. Using my PD as an excuse to not write more often is just that, an excuse, and a lame one at that.

Since my diagnosis, my condition has continued to progress very slowly indeed. I'm still not on medication, nor do I or my neurologist feel that I need to start any time soon. My left arm still has the noticable tremor, but without lose of strength, and my right arm doesn't show any signs of developing one as of yet. My left leg gets jittery when I get excited, but my walking and running isn't affected at all.

My neurologist has increased the frequency of our visits from 12 to 9 months apart, because, in his own words, it's going to get worse eventually, so we should watch out for it. Despite this, my last two visits lasted less than ten minutes each, and he was very happy with my progress. Or lack of progress, I guess.

So, all is good in the world of Denis and his stupid brain. Yay me.

The Flow

Oh. Hi. It's been a while.

In the last few months I've had lots of ideas for fresh blog posts, from board game or movie reviews, to random thoughts, to cataloging cool stuff I've done, but I've never made the time to sit down and write anytihng. I have had plenty of time to do that if I wanted, I just didn't, so, my bad.

I've heard it said that writing is like any exersice, if you don't keep at it, you start to lose the skill. Maybe not as fast as you might lose fitness by spending a few weeks sitting on a couch, but certainly after a few months without writing, you start to lose "the flow", the ability to just sit and write and be happy with what flows onto the page or screen. I can feel it even now, writing this.

But I'm going to make a fresh effort. Like I said, I've certainly had lots to write about this last year, so let's see what happens.

I've also been lax on my drawing and uploading photos to Flickr, but we'll take this one step at a time. At least I still post to Twitter... Hopefully some of you who read this thing are still around. Welcome back.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

To Prove Old England's Overthrow

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up King and Parliament.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

I really missed the ball on this one. I mean, technically it is still the fifth here in Canada, but still. It's a bit late.

Then again, it would be a shame to miss this entirely on the eve of the US elections, when their own parliament might be about to burn to the ground.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

International Tabletop Day 2016

Last year at this time I had my hands full with a newborn, so I missed out on Tabletop Day. In the past, we've hosted Tabletop Day in our own place, but with Ada, it's difficult for me to focus on a game, so, with Claire's permission, I headed out for a day of board games.

After spending the morning at Family Place with Ada, Claire picked us up from the park before dropping me over to Players Wanted Games on Victoria Drive, and then heading out for lunch with Ada and a friend. I had packed a few games I hoped to play, but nothing too crazy. I stuck to a few small, fast, fun card games, and box games chosen for their ease of teaching and speed of play, as well as repeated success for me in introducing them to new players in the past.

On arriving, I spent a short time browsing the shelves and bumped into a lovely couple who had just randomly wandered into the store while visiting the area. Although big board gamers themselves, George and Jenn hadn't known about the Tabletop Day event, and were just lucky enough to stop by. After bonding over a copy of Mysterium on the shelves, I offered to play a game or two before they had to leave, so, along with the Rubin, a local and regular, I started my Tabletop Day teaching Gravwell, the fantastic space race game of plotting, luck and hilarity.

After Gravwell, George and Jenn were short on time, but I managed to convince them to try one round of Rhino Hero. It was an easy sell, and turned out to be the most tense game of the day, filled with laugh-out-loud moments. Everyone played a stormer, and the apartment grew to an astonishing 14 floors! Rubin and Jenn were standing on chairs toward the end just to play their turn! I ended up playing Rhino Hero three times over the course of the day, with a bunch of different folks, and it was amazing every time, drawing plenty of attention from everyone in the room. Reaching 14 floors successfully might have been the day's highlight, but for sheer hilarity, I don't think I'll ever forget watching Rubin attempt to place a wall, dropping it twice and having to retrieve it before trying again, finally succeeding without knocking the tower! That man has steady hands!

After a quick break to stretch my legs, I was excited to finally get the chance to see and play Pandemic creator Matt Leacock's new game, Knit Wit. This is a fun game of word association, presented in an absolutely beautiful fashion. Everything from the components to the box itself is gorgeous, with tiny, loving details cropping up throughout. This was another game filed with laughter and more than a little head-scratching. We ended up playing two games of Knit Wit before packing it back into it's amazing box.

I'm delighted to have had the chance to teach a bunch of folks Council of Verona, one of my favourite little bluffing games around. It was a chaotic game that ended with just a single card scoring, and poor Romeo wasn't even in the game to have a chance of getting together with his Juliet.

A 6pm approached, I pulled out Quantum. Quantum is always an easy sell, with its beautiful bright dice, colourful planets and great player board, so it was a joy for me to be able to play not only a four-player game, but also a wonderful, fast two-player one right after. They both felt so different, the first full of deals and friendly advice to attack other players, the other a fast head-to-head of landing colonies and retaliation strikes.

Finally, sandwiched between those two games of Quantum were a few games of No Thanks, which got unusually competitive, but in an always friendly fashion.

And that was my International Tabletop Day at Players Wanted Games. Full of great games, lots of laughter and meeting new people. So how did I do? Well, anyone who reads my blog regularly might know that I have a terrible record of repeatedly loosing games I own and often winning games I'm playing for the first time. This started a bit differently, with, if I remember correctly, me winning Gravwell, before quickly returning to business as usual, as I lost Council of Verona and both games of Quantum, but won one of the games of Knit Wit with a maximum possible score.

Rubin won the second game of Rhino Hero by playing his last card, but I don't think we even checked who won the other two, as we were all having too much fun laughing at the tower falling. While Rhino Hero does have rules for deciding who wins when the tower falls, in my experience, people rarely bother to check. The game is fun enough that declaring a winner isn't always necessary.

Lastly, I just want to mention the venue. Players Wanted Games is one of the newer game stores in Vancouver. Before Ada arrived I dropped in a few times to game. The store has a small retail space, but is packed with a great selection of games in all shapes and sizes. They have a huge play space in the back, with plenty of room for a big number of people to game. Yesterday there was board gaming, HeroClix and Magic all going on, with video gaming joining in later in the day!

But what makes Players Wanted special is the staff and regulars. Like I said, I dropped in a few times before Ada arrived, but pretty much disappeared for the last year. Yet I turned up yesterday, was welcomed in like an old friend and I felt like one of the regulars right away, with everyone chatting and having fun. The atmosphere is bright and cheery, and people seems happy to strike up conversations about all sorts of games.

It's a great store, and I look forward to actually becoming one of the regulars over the next few months and beyond.

Related: Board Game Review Master List

Monday, April 25, 2016

I <3 2P

A good two player game pits you against an opponent in a battle of cunning and wits. A great two player game is one I can grasp in a few minutes, and feel competent at after a game or two. So that's chess right out then.

Starting out at the top, Quoridor is my all-time favourite two player game, and easily one of my top board games ever. I've played it with other hard core gamers, and six year olds, and it's great every time. That's not because there's a high element of randomness or something. In fact, it's pure strategy, with zero randomness. Instead, it's so simple to teach and learn, anyone can play. I find that older gamers will over think a series of turns, planning well ahead, while younger gamers just spot the weak link and destroy all those plans. At least, that's what happens to me.

Quoridor is played on a 9x9 grid. Players have to get from the their side of the board to the opponents, either moving one space, or placing one of their ten wall pieces anywhere on the board. You can never corner in your opponent, so the trick is to make their journey to your side longer than your journey to theirs. It's wonderfully simple, elegant and fun. I highly, highly recommended trying it. Gigamic publishes a beautiful wooden edition of the game that might seem a bit pricey, but based on play value, it's worth every cent.

There is a four player varient for Quoridor, which I didn't like for the longest time. But playing it with the school age kids I work with, I saw the value in it as well. It's a completely different strategy, and fun in it's own right, but I still mostly love this game for the one-on-one version.

I picked up RESISTOR_ from Cardboard Fortress through Kickstarter based entirely on the visual design. Luckily, it plays as wonderfully as it looks. RESISTOR_ is about two Cold War supercomputers battling each other, atempting to lull the opposition into a false sense of security, dropping its DEFCON level before launching a nuclear attack without the chance of retaliation. The game is played with cards lined up, each one looking like a big microchip. You have to connect to the opponents computer to drop its security level, which dealing with resistor chips that dramatically reduce the playing field. It's a crazy fast, fun, and funny game, that is easy to play and beautifully presented.

Kickstarter is a godsend for two player games, it seems. I guess big publishers are hesitant to finance games that are restricted to such a small number of players. I've been told that even games designed for four players see pressure to expand to six players for retail. But thanks to Kickstarter, I have two more two-player games coming to me, hopefully by the end of the year, if things go according to plan.

Santorini is a stunningly beautiful game that has been under development since 1986 by designer and mathematician Dr. Gordon Hamilton. This is merely the most recent edition, and looks stunning, adding in a whole bunch of new player powers and a few new elements thanks to the massive success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is a two player abstract strategy game, building the town of Santorini and trying to reach the top of a tower while blocking your opponent from doing the same.

I can't wait to get my hands on this game. The rules are all online, and it would be easy to replicate with Lego, blocks or other components, so hopefully I can play it before this beautiful edition arrives. It's still available to back on Kickstarter for a few more days if you're interested.

Also on Kickstarter right now, but with more time left on the clock at time of writing is Tak, a game from James Ernest and Cheapass Games, based on a game described in the fantasy novel series, The Kingkiller Chronicles, written by Patrick Rothfuss. In Tak, you place pieces on a square gridded board, attempting to build a continuous, straight road from one side of the board to the other. It looks lovely, with wooden components and the promise of a wooden board coming soon as part of a stretch goal add-on, which I will definitely be getting.

I haven't even mentioned Patchwork here, which I have but haven't gotten to play yet. Do you have any two player games you enjoy? I'd love to hear about them! Let me know in the comments to this post.

Early Bird Gets The Worm

I've backed a lot of Kickstarters in my day, though I haven't ran any, so take this post with a huge pinch of salt and with the understanding that this all comes from one point of view.

There are a lot of ways to get your product moving on Kickstarter. Interesting Stretch goals are the obvious main feature, slowly unlocking new features or improved components over the course of the campaign as more and more funding is achieved. I also like something that I saw Evil Hat Productions[1] do first, unlocking additional content based on number of Backers, rather than funding. This nicely encouraged people to share and promote the campaign to friends, spreading the footprint wider.

But some Kickstarters use Early Bird offers to encourage people to back their product early, and I have an issue with this. A Kickstarter is a marathon, not a sprint. They last four weeks, or more in some cases, Bu Early Bird offers rarely last past the first day, if not the first few minutes. The Game Canopy campaign had two Early Bird levels, a regular one and a Super Early Bird level. Both were gone within the first 10 seconds. I know. I was there.

Ultimately, Early Bird offers are supposed to reward supporters that have been following the creator since before the Kickstarter, but they're usually restricted to an extremely limited number, as they are often zero profit, or even loss-taking pledge levels. This results in a mad dash to grab them by a much larger number of Backers, resulting in a lottery system based on luck, connectivity, and even proximity to the Kickstarter servers. This incentive harms more supporters than it rewards, and leaves a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouth toward the campaign.

A way around this is to have a timed Early Bird offer, a cheaper than normal level only available for the first 24 hours, or something similar. This is better, but still leaves people who stumble on to your campaign at a later date cold, knowing they're paying more for the same product than those in-the-know. You could argue that this is to reward long-time supporters who will know about your camping before it starts, but the flip side is that Kickstarter is designed to bring in new supporters, to broaden your reach into new communities, and seeing a closed off early, cheap pledge level can turn away potential new Backers.

As a regular Kickstarter supporter, I'd advise any campaign to avoid any form of special discount that is only available to people who find your campaign early. Focus on unlockables that are available to all, either as automatically included upgrades or add-ons. Aim to spread knowledge of your campaign, treating Backers who find you in the last hour as just as valuable to your success as those who have been supporting you for years.

Because a lot of them will be there to support you the next time.

[1]- Evil Hat are currently running their own newest Kickstarter, The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game. Well worth checking out, it's a fast, fun game based in the universe of wizard Private Investigator Harry Dresden.