weekly roundup – January 22nd (game edition)

I didn’t get much reading done this week, but I have plenty of games to talk about, so this is going to be all about games. If you were hoping for more reading suggestions, check in next week!

I spent last weekend at a game convention at Bryce Canyon. It was great! We got there Friday evening and played games through Sunday evening. On Monday, we went on a sleigh ride to the edge of the canyon, and then we spent a couple hours exploring the national park. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a national park – some views were breathtaking. We need to go back and do some hiking and camping there (and at the other, what, five? national parks in Utah).

We played thirteen games over the course of forty-eight hours (a slower pace than some other cons, but more serious games than other cons too). Here they are in no particular order:

  • Codenames: The “spymaster” on each team tries to give a one-word clue to get his or her team to find the right words. We played in a Codenames tournament with a team of 3. We came in second in the end. And that was because the first clue I gave in the final (“sports 6”) was actually because I was mistaken about what color I was. Yeah, it was terrible. We still only lost by one spy though. It’s a fun game that involves creativity and cleverness, and I really enjoyed it.
  • Above and Below: This was a surprisingly good 4X game (see how much leverage I’m getting out of that term?). This had a choose-your-own-adventure aspect (or an RPG aspect, if you’d rather). If you go exploring, you choose which outcome you want and roll dice to see if you do it. Then you build structures and train people and harvest resources. This game was well-balanced between luck and strategy, and it was fun competing against others.
  • Renaissance Wars: The “time” on the box is really misleading. It says it’s a 40-60 minute game, but I’d say that that’s true per era. We played 1/4 of the game, and it took us about an hour and a half to learn and play the first era. I hear that it gets faster, but we wanted to play other games, so we stopped. Really good game though. We played with Luther (woohoo!) and some other luminaries (Shakespeare is in the game but didn’t get drawn), and I CRUSHED Carl. It’s kind of like hearts with a lot of extra events and cards.
  • Trekking the National Parks: This is another one I played in May, and this time, I got to play it with the creators! I didn’t learn anything new, but we played with the Postcards, which add another way to get points. It’s similar to Ticket to Ride, but it has claiming parks and getting stones as ways to get points. I came away from that game thinking that it was really fun, but that maybe it’s not different enough from Ticket to Ride to make it worth the cost. But it does have educational content, and it is the US map (rather than the Europe map that we have for Ticket to Ride), so it’s still on my list of games to get. And the creators were really nice.
  • Tiny Epic Kingdoms: I had played this last May and really enjoyed it then, but Carl hadn’t tried it. We played a 3-player game. It’s a “4X” game (explore new worlds, expand civilizations, exploit resources, exterminate others), and it plays pretty quickly. Carl didn’t really get into it, but I enjoyed it again. I played a peaceful race, which ended up making it a very peaceful game. It was fun, but not awesome. I think I enjoyed it more in context of the games last May (light, not complex games), where this one had a little more meat to it, but it’s still a light game.
  • Tiny Epic Galaxies: I had been wanting to play this game for months, and I finally got to! This was a GREAT game. We played it with 4 people, and one person didn’t really catch on, but I enjoyed this game immensely. It’s another 4X game, where you can spend one resource to follow another person’s action. You can do actions of different planets or try to colonize them. Enjoyed this most of the Tiny Epic games.
  • Tiny Epic Defenders: We made it a trilogy of the Tiny Epic games. This is a cooperative game where you’re trying to defend a realm against enemies, dire enemies, and an epic foe. We never really started enjoying the game. It was more of a race to keep things under control. We won just in the brink of time. We would have lost on the next card. It was okay, and I guess the co-op aspect was good, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the other games.
  • Nile: This is a fairly simple game where players try to plant crops and harvest them at each flood. I enjoyed it quite a bit for a light game. It’s very competitive, because you can only plant crops if no one else has or if you have more than the other person who has planted them. I had really good luck and won easily, but that’s not the only reason I enjoyed it. 🙂
  • Tsuro: Players place tiles and move their markers along the lines. If you go off the board or run into someone, you’re out. It’s a very straightforward game, and it’s quick, but it’s really fun. Carl won both times. I went off the board both times and sent the other player off once.
  • Dragonwood: I’ve heard someone call this very similar to Gin, but it adds the element of rolling dice based on how many cards you lay down. It’s a fun game where you capture creatures (including dragons!). I played this one in May as well. You get to strike, stomp, or scream at creatures to capture them. Pretty fun.
  • Nefarious: This was a cute game where you are a mad scientist engaging in invention and espionage. The espionage aspect almost felt like an afterthought, as a way to increase your cash flow, but I enjoyed the game all the same. It was pretty nerdy, and the names of the inventions were entertaining.
  • Naturally Disastrous: We play-tested this game that the creator developed in the last few months. It is a cooperative game with natural disasters, zombies, and some other NPCs. Each player has a special power, and you try to stay alive and take tokens to certain places. It needs more work, but it has potential. We played two games of it. The first was terrible, and the second was slightly better, though not tons, after we altered some of the rules. I’m interested in seeing where it goes.
  • Acre-Foot: We play-tested this game that’s been developed over the last few years. The premise is that water is a limited resource (an acre-foot is how much water it takes to cover an acre of land in a foot of water), and players compete for water, drill wells, implement conservation programs, and build dams. It was a surprisingly good game, and more intense than I expected it to be. Look for it soon. The creator is hoping to get it published soon, and I think it could go places.

Do you want more description of the games?

weekly roundup – January 15th

One of the best things I saw this week was Jerry Seinfeld and President Obama in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Both of these men are personable, and I enjoyed their conversation. Having Obama open up about what it means to have power is interesting, and his advice to the candidates about making sure they’re running for the right reasons (or rather, not running for the wrong reasons) made me think about the reasons behind the choices I’ve made in my own life.

In law school, we learned about arbitration, but there wasn’t a big emphasis on it. It was something that was relegated to consumer contracts, but even there, it wasn’t used by all of the companies. In the last few years, however, arbitration clauses have popped up all over the place, and the Supreme Court has upheld even the most extreme of them. This article does a good job of explaining the rise of arbitration clauses and the influence the Chief Justice had in creating the winning argument while he was practicing law. I’m not a proponent of arbitration. My arguments against it are nothing new, but I am particularly against it in employment contracts. Cerner gave its employees an ultimatum late last year: sign an arbitration contract or lose the ability to get merit raises. It prohibits class action suits, which can be effective to change corrupt or improper practices by companies. And it’s just unfair. The way that our country and justice system seem to be run by companies rather than people really gets to me.

A New York Times Magazine article addresses the Russian media trolls who put out pro-Russia articles and comments that disparage, well, anyone who criticizes Putin or Russia (or looks too hard at the trolls themselves). It’s an interesting bit of investigative journalism that culminates in the journalist himself being trolled.

Another article about the dark side of technology is this article about the Silk Road and its founder. It’s a long, two-part read, but it goes through the founding, running, and downfall of the Silk Road and the efforts law enforcement made to try and shut it down. In the end, it’s a pretty classic case of getting too big for one’s britches. Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind, became arrogant and a little careless, which was enough for law enforcement to get a toehold. There are so many examples of this extreme hubris, and the article was in part fascination with a dark world and part schadenfreude at seeing the end result.

I didn’t play any games this week, but I’m going to a board game convention this weekend, so I’ll have lots to report next week!

Personal thoughts: I’ve been applying for jobs, which is somewhat disheartening. I’m educated, curious, driven, and eager to work, but I think my JD scares off potential employers who think I’m going to expect a lawyer’s salary while not doing legal work or who think that I’m not right for a software job. It’s frustrating. But I’ve come to realize that majoring in math in addition to music was one of the best decisions I could have made in college. I wanted to graduate with more than a degree in music (I knew I didn’t want to do music professionally), and I enjoyed math and was pretty good at it. It turns out that a lot of software jobs require a technical degree or a math degree, so yay! Trying to figure out my future (career-wise) makes me feel so young and inexperienced again, but it’s essential.

weekly roundup – January 8th

I started my week by reading an article in Bloomberg about Disney’s princess business switching from Mattel to Hasbro. Mattel had a series of missteps with its treatment of Disney princess products, and Disney finally took its business elsewhere. Last year, two-thirds of the Mattel senior staff resigned or was fired (Mattel lost the Disney princesses in late 2014). Hasbro has reworked the princesses to be more true to their animated characters, including painting on faces, making the waistlines (very slightly) different, and taking the dresses back to what they were meant to be. A couple things stood out to me in this article. First, it’s very important to know your market. Disney didn’t understand that kids (and their parents) wanted princess stuff until an executive went to a Disney on Ice show and saw little girls in handmade princess dresses. Second, it’s important to pay attention to your client and make them feel heard and valued. The article is full of cringing moments where I found myself wishing that Mattel had done anything else. Excellent read.

Speaking of Disney and Hasbro, the #WheresRey debacle has been fascinating. Hasbro may be doing right by princesses, but their treatment of the female protagonist in Star Wars is just terrible, and their excuses feeble and hollow. This post discusses how Rey is a role model as much for boys as she is for girls.

Something else Disney is doing is building a Star Wars franchise to last the ages. Wired wrote about how the last Star Wars movie won’t come in our lifetime. Star Wars is following the comic book style of universe-building, with lots of options for side stories and having characters develop independently and together. (Also, I learned a new word – paracosm – so that’s exciting.) It’s the same thing that the big studios are doing with Marvel and DC, intertwining stories and building franchises to explore characters and ages and lands. It’s an exciting thing, but at the same time, I like being able to just ingest single stories or movies without needing to know a lot of external information. On a side note, I may get more into Star Wars. Carl certainly wants me to, and he has a list of books for me to read if I’m interested. So there’s that.

Getting away from Disney entirely, I also read about environmental activists that went after a ship that was egregiously and illegally fishing. The article was a fascinating look into a world of very determined people (on both sides). The environmentalists pursued the fishing boat for over 100 days and 10,000 nautical miles. I care about the environment, but their level of caring is so beyond what I can comprehend.

Games! This week, I played Bang the dice game, Aton, Roll for the Galaxy, and Five Tribes solo:

  • Bang (the dice game): I love Bang with cards, and I was skeptical about the dice, but it turned out to be surprisingly fun. Seeing what people chose to keep or not gave away stuff about their roll that might not be readily apparent in the card game. Good party game.
  • Aton: 2-player game, players place markers in temples to try to score points. Simple concept, easy to learn, and it’s a good mix of luck (drawing cards) and strategy.
  • Roll for the Galaxy: I played Race for the Galaxy a couple years ago with a friend, and I was excited to try the dice version. With my strategy, I ended up basically not needing to roll dice at all, which was kind of strange. The friend I played with said he thinks there’s actually less luck in the dice game than in the card game. I enjoyed the game and want to try it again.
  • Five Tribes (solo game): Days of Wonder released rules for a solo version of Five Tribes! It pits you against the sultan (controlled by a pair of dice). The sultan racks up a lot of tiles, and it ends up altering the game strategy. There are four levels of winning (and multiple ways to lose), and I won but didn’t excel. I enjoyed the game, though one of the reasons I play games is to play them with other people, so I’ll keep this for when I’m absolutely dying for a game and can’t convince Carl to oblige.

I’ll start posting these earlier in the day on Friday instead of after business hours. As it stands now, I’m sure they get lost among the weekend posts.

weekly roundup – first ever!

Welcome to my first weekly roundup, where I write about things I’ve read, games I’ve played, and things I’ve been thinking about that don’t merit their own blog posts.

I’ve read a few interesting articles this week. I discovered the Wait But Why site, and the archives are full of interesting things. I read a two-part post on AI and the timeline for the future of it, which was both really interesting and fairly terrifying. The idea that we could be so close to immortality or extinction left me reeling. It’s a very long read, but I highly recommend reading all of it. Another interesting post I read was about procrastination. I spend a lot of my time on unimportant things, and though I’m starting to get better about doing things that will move me forward, some days are better than others. The post really resonated with me, and it reframed things in a way that may put me in more control in the future.

I’ve read a couple of art-related articles this week as well, both ending rather negatively about their subjects. One was about Peter Lik, the photographer, the other about an art collector who patronizes young artists. The article about Peter Lik talks about his business plan (prices increase based on how many prints sell, and stores in high-traffic tourist areas), and about the criticism he has received from the art world (lack of shadows and darkness in his art, little resale value). We nearly bought a Peter Lik a few years ago, and I still like what he does. I’m not sure what that says about my taste in art (it probably means I’m not very sophisticated). I didn’t like the sales tactics they used, somewhat akin to car sales, but it nearly worked. The other article dealt with a man who patronizes artists as an investment strategy. It made me think more about what I’m doing with my business and how easily artists are taken advantage of.

This post about Hillary Clinton was eye-opening. I had to reconsider why I feel the way I do about her. It’s a defense of her in a way, pointing out that she’s in an impossible situation. I dislike her corporate connections, but at the same time, she’s doing what she needs to to survive, and she’s immensely strong. I cannot imagine anyone I know putting up with what she’s had to endure for the last twenty years.

Another site I’ve discovered is Inverse, which is full of articles that make my geeky heart sing. If you get excited about science or nerdy shows or movies, this is the place to poke around. I don’t want to point to any specific articles, because they’re all good.

On to games! Recently, I’ve played Morels, Smash Up, Stone Age, Eldritch Horror, Red Dragon Inn, and Exploding Kittens. It’s been a nice vacation. 🙂

  • Morels: I love this game, which is a sweet two-player game collecting mushrooms. I think every game collection needs good two-player games, and this is a staple of ours.
  • Smash Up: The fun part of it is that you combine two character types (I played wizards and cybernetic apes), hence the “smash up.” It’s a fun game, easy to learn, not very complicated.
  • Stone Age: It’s a worker placement game. Meeples farm, build tools, have babies, hunt, build huts, and collect resources. It’s a great game with a lot of different ways to win.
  • Eldritch Horror: We lost spectacularly when we played, but it’s a fun cooperative game with battling monsters and solving mysteries. It’s supposed to be less complex and more fun than Arkham Horror, but I haven’t played Arkham.
  • Red Dragon Inn: You’re heroes in a pub after a successful quest, and you try to weaken the other characters and get them drunk and take their gold. It has pretty simple mechanics, but it’s a fun game, and all the expansions mean you can play with many people (though the games get kind of long).
  • Exploding Kittens: It’s not a complicated game, and the most exciting part of it is the text on the cards. We played the NSFW version, so the cards were quite rude and amusing.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about my own attitude towards politics. The things politicians say and do make me so angry (so. angry.), and the apathy and voting against self-interest infuriates me. And I don’t know what to do about it. I campaigned for a race in Kansas in 2014, and though we worked really hard, my candidate lost and the party as a whole lost badly across the entire state. I’ve moved down the crazy scale by moving to Utah (not terribly far, but a little), but with the national races heating up, there’s stuff in the news all the time. As a Democrat in a red state, I’m frustrated. Instead of trying to make a national or even local difference, I’m going to try to make an individual difference. In a couple weeks, I have orientation for volunteering with refugees. I’m excited about the prospect of helping people who are new to the country.

That’s it for this week! Let me know your thoughts, and if you have recommendations of things to read, I’d love to hear them.