essential board games

I know I talk a lot about board games, but I’ve never talked about which ones are actually good starter games for anyone interested in building a modern board game collection. So what games do you need? In no particular order, here’s my list:

  • Ticket to Ride (Europe): Ticket to Ride is considered by many to be as dominant in modern gaming as Monopoly is in “classic” gaming. There’s a good reason for this. It is a great game, particularly to play with people who don’t game very much. It is a gentle strategy game that is easy to learn, and it is often a “gateway” game, leading people to explore more games. Players try to build railroads across a map by collecting cards (yeah, that’s pretty much it). I like the Europe edition because of the slight extra complexity given by ferries and tunnels.
  • Carcassonne: Carcassonne is one of the original modern board games. Players build the board by laying tiles that create cities, monasteries, roads, and farms. There are lots of expansions to this game, but the base game is great. It uses meeples (miniature people), which are rather iconic. Players have to make decisions about how to use their meeples, whether to farm and play the long game or go for quick points. It’s a good worker placement game, and another great intro to modern gaming.
  • Dominion: This is the classic deck-building game. You can get really into it and get a bunch of expansions, or you can stick with the base game, which is a fine addition to a collection. It’s a good intro to these kinds of games. On each turn, players take an action and buy a card. The cards give modifications to these two things, so players build their decks. And hence, it is a deck-building game. An excellent example of one.
  • Pandemic: This is a great cooperative game, in which players try to save the world from giving in to disease. Players use their turns to treat disease, share knowledge, and cure disease. I played this again recently, and I realized that it might not be the best game for introducing people to games. If some people are really experienced in gaming, they can dominate this one, using all the players’ actions without consulting those players too much. But it’s great if you’re all learning, or if you know how to play, and it’s become a standard.
  • Splendor: I think most people have bought this game after they’ve played it with us. And then people who play it with those people buy it too, so I should pretty much get pyramid-scheme rights to profits of this game. Players buy cards with gems on them, some of which have victory points, and all of which make it easier to buy further gems. It’s a straightforward game, very easy to learn, and fun to play.
  • Love Letter: Players have a hand of one card, and at the end of a round, the person with the highest card gets a love token. Each card has special abilities, whether it is looking at another player’s hand, forcing a player to discard their hand, or protecting your own card for a turn. Very easy to pick up, and there are so many themes out there that you can pretty much pick your fandom. I carry this around in my purse, but don’t play it too much when we’re out, which is a bummer. Great filler game, to play while you’re waiting for people to show up or as a palate cleanser after a heavier game.
  • Hive: This is an excellent two-player game, heavy on strategy, but with enough variation to make it fun. You try to surround your opponent’s queen bee with bugs, by either placing them or moving them. Get the pocket edition – there’s no need for the full-size one. Because this game is designed specifically for two players, you don’t feel like you’re missing anything when you don’t have multiple people around.
  • Tsuro (of the Seas): This plays up to 8 people, so it’s good for a larger group. With Tsuro of the Seas, you can play classic Tsuro, or you can add daikaiju (sea monsters). Players try to be the last one standing, by placing tiles on a board and moving their ship along a path. If you go off the edge of the board, you lose. Pretty straightforward, but plenty of strategy involved, and the daikaiju add a fun risk element to it.
  • Five Tribes: This game is kind of worker placement meets mancala. I haven’t encountered another game like it. Players take turns picking up meeples from the board and placing them down like mancala shells, and then taking actions allowed by the meeples and tiles they land on. It’s a fantastic game, one that I consider essential for a board game collection, though it is a little heavier than some of the others here.
  • Munchkin: Munchkin is pretty classic now. It’s a play on D&D, giving more structure and creating additional competition. Players try to defeat monsters, get treasure, and gain levels through experience. There are a lot of different themed Munchkin games. The play is similar from theme to theme, so choose your favorite fandom! We have Adventure Time Munchkin. It’s pretty great.
  • Patchwork: This is another great two-player game, with a little more luck than Hive. Players build a quilt out of pieces of different sizes. It’s got a bit of a tetris element, in that players need to have some spatial reasoning. It’s a fantastic game that is cute and balanced, and I’ve found that people enjoy it whether they are quilters or not. 🙂

You may be wondering where Catan and 7 Wonders are on this list. While they are excellent games, they seem superfluous to an essential collection. Most people have them, so if you’re late to the gaming hobby, you’re bound to have friends who have them. Then again, if everyone took my advice, no one would have them, so, you know, whatever.

A future post will talk about what games you need if you already love these games!

why I make music (and why I practice)

I’ve been making music since I was a small child. It started with singing, then included piano, flute, and double bass, and now I mostly just sing and play piano. Listening to music is a great pleasure, but making music is a deeper experience and emotion, joy and earnestness and connection. I’ve never considered myself a very creative person – my improvisation skills are worthless, and my compositions fall into a few standard categories with little innovation or depth. I gravitate towards the technical and enjoy concrete challenges. I’m not necessarily very good, but music is my lifeblood.

I make music because I must. In the same way little kids burst into fits of dancing, I must express myself with music. Song bursts out of me, at mostly appropriate times. It’s how my soul expresses itself. It facilitates my communication with the world and with God.

But I practice for other reasons. In part, I practice to improve, but in larger measure, I practice so I don’t distract. If you’re like me, you’ve heard performances that make you cringe or put you on edge, wondering if the next note will be in tune or out of control. Instead of hearing the music, you hear the technique. That’s just not a fun experience for anyone, the performer or the listener. And so I practice so that technique doesn’t get in the way of the music. Yes, I try to bring my own expression to the music, but people won’t notice that expression if they’re concerned about my technique.

This came up as I was practicing for a solo for Christmas Eve. It wasn’t a big thing – just the first verse of Of the Father’s Love Begotten – but it was sung unaccompanied and alone. I found that I kept going sharp, and the key meant that the first few notes ran right over my lower passagio, so I practiced. Worked on it in coaching and my lesson. Thought I was going to be okay. But in the moment, I realized I hadn’t practiced enough for it to be muscle memory, and so I went (a little) sharp and sounded awkward on a note. Missed the expression I had been working on putting into it. I was disappointed, and the few people I mentioned it to (my husband, the organist, and the choir director) all said they had noticed my slip-ups. Granted, they were the ones most likely to notice, but still, I felt like I let myself down and took away from the experience of others.

That kind of experience makes me want to practice, and practice more. It can become tedious, but the end result is usually worth it. I noticed a difference in the recitals from 2015. For the one in April, I practiced tons, and it went pretty well. For the one in October, I practiced less, and hearing the recording of it made me realize just how much practice improves everything. There’s something innocent about unpracticed song, but it is often tentative and not as expressive as it could be with study.

I guess to sum up, I make music for myself, and I practice for others.

Harry Potter cosplay at LeakyCon

I went to LeakyCon in October and had a FANTASTIC time. My friend Austin and I celebrated our way through the weekend. I cosplayed each day, some days with multiple costumes. The first day, I was Luna Lovegood, and once the wig became too annoying, just a Ravenclaw student. The second day, I was a Wizengamot witch for the morning, while I did my presentation. Then I changed to a stag patronus for the afternoon and evening. Saturday during the day, I was a Beauxbatons student, and for the ball, I was a phoenix. And on Sunday, I was a sleepy Ravenclaw student (Austin and I declared Sunday pajama day, and some others joined in). I’m sure you’ve been dying to see pictures from the weekend, so here they are!

My Luna Lovegood costume was the heaviest of all my costumes. Or at least it felt so because of the wig. With this, i made the wand, Carl made the necklace and earrings, I bought the wig, the tie, and the sweater (from the shop that made the sweaters for the films), and my friend Tyler Beal made the Quibbler purse, which was just amazing. I took my picture with Moaning Myrtle, of course.

Once the wig was too burdensome, I became a more relaxed Ravenclaw student with the earrings as a nod to Luna.

The Wizengamot wear plum robes with an elaborate silver W on the left front. I wore a simple black dress under it. My mother-in-law sewed the bag for me and cut out the W for me.

My stag patronus! This was entirely purchased. The mask is a work of art by Mythical Masks. I had Austin casting me multiple times in the halls. It was a great time.

This costume was the closest I got to being spot on. The hat was purchased from a store on Etsy. The dress was made by a much more talented seamstress than I am, Cherie Duggar, who was dead set on getting it right and did a pretty fantastic job. I painted the shoes. The bag has an embroidered Beauxbatons crest on it, done by my friend Tyler Beal.

My phoenix costume involved a LOT of glitter powder. I bought the dress. The mask is another incredible design by Mythical Masks, this one custom made. I got two colors of glitter powder – red and gold, and we put them layered on top of each other. Austin helped with the glitter, particularly on my back.

The last morning, Austin and I went as sleepy students. I had my deathly hallows shirt and my Ravenclaw pants (yay Hot Topic!), and Austin wore a 9 3/4 shirt and her Hogwarts pants. It was a great end to the week!

Harry Potter’s Birthday

For three years before this one, I celebrated July 31st with a friend who loves Harry Potter much like I do. After moving to Utah, I was sad about not celebrating with her, but I found friends here who love Harry Potter too. In previous years, I’ve made chocolate cake with fleur de sel caramel filling, but this year, I decided to try a snitch cake. I found a hemisphere cake pan, edible gold spray paint, and edible paper to make the wings.


I made chocolate frogs, butterbeer, and a beef stew worthy of Molly Weasley. Friends came over, some with wizarding accessories, and we read tea leaves, did trivia, and watched Half-Blood Prince. Everyone got into it, which made it fun.


Harry Potter cosplay

Thrilling Thursdays are where I will share things that get me excited. This could be music, knitting, or, as it is here, Harry Potter!

I’m going to Leaky Con in October with a friend, and I’ve decided to cosplay for all five days we’re there. I’ve started work on my costumes, ordering the bits I’m not going to make and getting ready to sew the stuff I will make. So here’s my plan:

  • stag patronus: I had the mask made last November for a themed Yule Ball we went to here in Salt Lake City. I’m making a dress using white fabric, and the godets for the skirt will have a sheer ice-blue overlay to create a little more diaphanous flowy-ness. I think I’m going to make a capelet out of the same sheer material. The idea is to be flowy and a little ethereal.
  • Fawkes the phoenix: No sewing for this one. My mask people are making the mask for it (and they seem really excited about it!), and I bought a red ball gown with gold feathers embroidered on it. I’ll do some red body glitter and put feathers in my hair. And wear my red Converse sneakers because why not.
  • Luna Lovegood: I have neither blonde hair nor blue eyes, but I do have the dirigible plum earrings and a cork necklace courtesy of my husband. I’m going as student Luna rather than extracurricular Luna, so I’ll have the Ravenclaw sweater and all that stuff.
  • Beauxbatons student: This is the costume that will take the most work, but I have a very skilled seamstress to help me out. We’re making the outfit that they wore when they first came to Hogwarts. I’ve ordered the hat, and I’m debating whether to order a pair of shoes that is super cute but not quite right, or to paint shoes that are closer in style but not as awesome.
  • Ministry witch: I was initially thinking Mafalda Hopkirk, but this is basically just an excuse to wear my cloak that I made in college. This will be the last costume I make, though I think I may make myself a badge or ID to wear. It will essentially be whatever outfit I want under my cloak.

What about my wand, you say? Carl is going to put a small magnet in my wand, and I’ll put magnets in gaff tape and sew them into the Ministry costume, the Beauxbatons costume, and Luna’s wig. My friend will carry my wand (or her wand) for my patronus costume and periodically summon me.

So that’s it. Lots to do before October! I’ll post updates on each costume as I make progress.