Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Terraforming Mars Review

I've been trying to find a way to tell you how good of a game Terraforming Mars is without getting all squealy and giddy. I'm starting to think that it is impossible. I have played this game once. Once. I don't want to play any other game right now except TM.

This game hits every high point for me that I love in a game.

  • Resource management          
  • Tile placement
  • Great art
  • Great theme
  • Messing with your friends strategy
  • Multiple options to earn victory points
  • Card drafting (in a way)
  • Creating long term goals
  • Engine building

Everything is executed so seamlessly, the theme is there at every corner of the game. Most games lose sight of the theme somewhere in the game. Be it mechanic, how things are acquired, interaction with the opponents, something always feels a little off with most games. Terraforming has everything tightly connected. At no point I felt like I wasn't a company racing to take hold of the planet. The resources are perfect. The O2 and temp track are perfect. The project names are perfect. Interaction with other players tiles are perfect. Let's face it, a lot of time went into the theme of this game. They nailed it in every way.

All of the resources are great also. They are crude but at the same time elegant and again very tied into the theme. Cubes right? We all have games with cubes. But these cubes are beautiful. They feel alien and rare. Something like you'd expect to find on Mars. Another aspect that I love about the resources in this game are "thresholds". It's great that I just created a plant, but when I have to have 8 of them to use them, that really makes you think long term in regards to this and subsequent actions.

The tiles for the game are simplistic as are the cards, but they are beautiful to look at all the same. The cards have great names as I mentioned before, lending more to the theme. They play off each other allowing you to create an engine to build up your resources. Some even play off of your opponents actions, always putting that little bit of doubt in your next move. I love when I have to think about not only how an action affects me, but others as well. The iconography can be a bit overwhelming when you first get started, but it all makes sense after you see a few cards. They are tied in very well to the types of cards and actions that they represent and are managed nicely by the action descriptions right on the cards. Again, lots of thinking went into this game. I mentioned a type of card drafting in the beginning. It's not really drafting, but it's not just drawing a new hand either. Being given four new options of projects to build each turn just wasn't enough. You have to make right up front the choice to purchase these project cards. Then if in a later turn you decide to build them you have to pay again. I LOVE this!!! Playing as corporations, this is like buying the plans for your new Aquifer, Then later you decide to actually fund the project. You may buy something early and hold it till the end, you may discard it later, it may just be taking up valuable space in your hand. All decisions made in this game reflect the level of success you achieve in the later rounds. There are so many options to choose from.

I love it. This game hits all my sweet spots. It's beautiful. It's theme is on point. The mechanics work beautifully. The board, bits, and cards are easy to understand. There is enough strategy and routes to victory that there is something here for every type of gamer. You can really tell that the designers spent the time to make this game the best it could be. You can tell they were excited about it because they put a lot of love into it. When my copy arrives I'm going to show it just as much love. This game may never leave my game table. -Rob

Monday, August 29, 2016

Garage Con 3

This weekend was a busy one, with a couple very special events going on. The first was the 17th anniversary of the game store that I work at, Crossroad Games. Crossroads has been our hangout for many, many years. It's the place where I've made friends with almost everyone I play games with, and has played host to our Chits & Bits Game Marathon. This anniversary was the first that I attended as an employee, which was a bit of a different perspective. I got to assist with the hosting end of making sure people sat down to play some of the games we were featuring and the events we had planned. I got to teach some games, learned to play Pokemon and also ran a short D&D game.

On Sunday, Rob and I attended Garage Con 3, which is a small exclusive "convention" held by our friends at Booze & Boardgames, a fellow gaming club. We basically get together for a day of food, cocktails, and most importantly playing some games. This year our hosts decided to make it a fundraiser for Extra Life, which was mighty nice of them. They held a raffle with some great prizes and ultimately raised over $260 for the children's hospital.

The theme of this year's Garage Con was a tropical theme, and we went all out for it. One of our greatest joys is messing with the host of Garage Con, Al. You might remember Al from his post on us here. Al is a pretty straight laced guy who is particularly sensitive to our shenanigans. So as a special surprise for him, Rob, our buddy Dave, and I secured some Hawaiian hulu girl outfits, and wore them to his place. We sprang from Rob's truck and Al (and everyone else) nearly died from laughter.

Rob as usual, doing everything he can to make me uncomfortable.
After all the silliness, we set out to do our favorite - play some games. We started with a massive custom arena style Battletech battle created by our friend Rob Marden. Battletech is a miniatures game featuring giant robots also called Mechs. It was a good way to start out the day, as everyone got to play together, and it was easy to learn.

Battletech Arena Battle
 After that, we ate some lunch, and moved onto a new game called Captain Sonar, which was an absolute blast. Captain Sonar pits two submarine crews against each other, with each member of the crew having a unique role- Captain, First Mate, Radio Operator and Engineer. Each sub is trying to find and sink the other sub before being sunk themselves. Think a giant more intricate game of Battleship. I can't wait to get this one back to the table.

Captain Sonar - each seat is a different station on the sub.
After Captain Sonar, I set up and taught a game of Scythe, which we've talked about in some of our earlier posts. It's a interesting game to teach, as the board setup looks incredibly imposing, with lots of different pieces and iconography. However, once everything is setup and explained, it's a very simple game to play. It generally clicks with people after a few turns, and I love to see that happen. They usually sit there for a second, looking at the game board, and then I can see the light appear above their head.

Scythe. Note the looks of confusion. It was early in the game
We finished up the day with a couple rounds of a really fun, light game called Camel Up. Camel Up is a camel racing game, with players betting on different camels to win or lose. Very easy to learn, quick to play, and a ton of fun. A good way to tie everything up at the end of the day. We had a great day, for a great cause. You really can't ask for more than that.


Camel Up! What other game can you stack camels?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

These are a few...

There are lists all over the interwebs about what the top 10 best board games are. The top 10 to have in your collection. The top 10 to introduce people to board gaming. The lists go on and on. Some of these lists seem very biased towards the recent hot game or a company that has proven time and time that their games are great. Some of these entrys are valid. Some just seem to show up no matter what the topic of the list is. The problem with these lists are the wide range of gamers, the wide range of games, and the wide range of who you play games with. You can have a list of the best games that you and your friends love to play. but what if my friends aren't like your friends? (and I bet they aren't). What if there are three of us and all your games are two player games? What if I don't like co-op games? It's hard to find a "top" anything list for board games that really are a consistent level of "top". I find a new list, usually to research into new games, and am quickly disappointed. Most of the time I've played 3-4 of the games. Some are usually what we call "gateway games". These are the games you use to get people into board games before you get them to play the heavier stuff.
(Some examples of gateway games)

Heavy games you ask? Not necessarily meaning a heavier box ,but sometimes. Heavy games are games where there is a lot to think about. Strategy, Resources, Workers, Cards, Tiles, the list can go on. Usually a heavier game is very thematical, takes longer to play, and can play more people. Not always though. These games can also vary just like any other. It's not always the size of the package that counts. 

(Here's the setup of one of our favorite "heavier games" Caverna)

So if there are heavy games, there must be light games too? Right! Light games usually encompass some of the gateway games. Games that are easy to teach with minimal rules. Often these games have no direct player interaction. Meaning you can't really screw with your opponents strategy. They are fun little games that don't take too long to play and  usually don't take up too much space. These games are often used as "filler games". Light games come in all shapes and sizes as well. Some fit in your jacket pocket, while others come in giant boxes.

Filler games are what I think make a successful game night. Filler games are usually played in between games or while waiting for someone to show up. These games keep the flow of the night going when someone needs to fire up the grill or run to the store. Often game nights start out with a filler game waiting for the last person to arrive, or when trying to decide what game to play next. Filler games kind of depend on your group. Everyone's games are different. Our filler games are fast, everyone in the group already knows the rules, and they are easily played at the game table or the kitchen island. That way we can keep the party going while mixing a new round of drinks or chopping up veggies for a salad. (who am I kidding, we don't eat salad). We also play these games when someone needs a break and wants to get up and stretch for a minute. The number of players don't usually affect a filler game.

(Dig Down Dwarf is one of our favorite filler games, actually one of our favorite games in general)

The sweet spot for our game group, are the medium games. The ones right in the middle. Well, leaning towards the medium-heavy side. These are the games you play once and immediately want to play again. They have direct interaction with your opponents, A bunch of pieces, take around an hour to play and seat 3-5 people. Often we play these games week after week before we give them a break. We use these games to introduce new players into our group. We easily get excited over these games. I often like to just watch people play these games. learning about peoples strategies and tendencies.    


Then there are tons of other types of games within these categories. Worker placement, hidden role, resource management, card drafting, co-op, press your luck, tile placement, set collection, it goes on and on and on. SO, how can anyone make a top 10 board game list? There are just too many variables to take into account. Too many unknowns in the audience. What I can do though is give you a list of some of my favorite games. Not the best, just my favorites Just some not all. In no particular order either (I'd hate to have jealous meeples in my games)

Terraforming Mars Hand Management, Tile Placement
Valeria Card Kingdoms  Card drafting, Dice Rolling
Bottom of the 9th  Dice Rolling, Press you Luck
Keyflower  Tile/worker placement, Auction/bidding
Above and Below  Card Drafting, Storytelling
-Robinson Crusoe  Co-op, Worker/tile Placement

These are just a few of the games I am currently in love with. In the next few weeks I have some new games incoming. I'm sure we will talk about those soon. -Rob

Tell us what some of your favorite games are. Maybe we can start a list.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Intro series - The Shaws

Here's the latest in our "views from the outside" Intro series. Today's post is courtesy of our friends Nick and Katie Shaw. We first met Nick through Crossroad Games, and after befriending him, we got to meet his better half, Katie, who must be a saint to put up with Nick (Just kidding, buddy, we love you too!). Here's what they had to say about us.
From Katie:Alright I hope this is okay.
I would say that Rob is sarcastic and can be dirty minded, but he is really friendly and a great dad. He's pretty dedicated to Extra Life and I'm glad we are friends. Rob yours was easy FYI and don't ask Nick to do this he has not nice things to say LOL
For Jamie I'd have to say he's probably the quieter of the two but no less sarcastic or friendly. I'm also kinda in awe of how dedicated he is to Extra Life and also glad we are friends. You both make life interesting and fun. I might have almost added you both have a soft spot for baked goods.
(editorial note: Katie makes awesome baked goods. She's right, we both have a soft spot for them!)

From Nick (who also writes a blog about comic books here)
How can you describe someone one in just a couple of sentences? I'm not entirely sure it's possible considering who these two are but I will do the best I can.
Jamison can only be described as a genuinely good person. He may not think so but he has proven it with how much care and dedication he puts into Extra Life and making sure sick kids and their families are helped. He is an all around good guy that loves to have fun and the world needs more people like him.
Rob, however is Rob, which is the best way to describe him. Is he a good guy? Absolutely. He does just as much for Extra Life as Jamison, but he also loves to screw with people. A quality I actually enjoy even though I am often on the receiving end. I think he may feed on the souls of those he makes fun of and without them would shrivel and die.
I consider them both to be great friends and I always love spending time with them. Even though I'm fairly certain they only invite me over so they have an excuse to hang out with my wife, who they claim they like better. I guess I can't disagree she certainly is better than me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mistakes were made

If you haven't figured out by now I enjoy the misery of others. Not just in life, but while playing games as well. My favorite styles are the ones where you get to backstab or directly interfere with an opponent's plans. I'm not a sore winner, or loser for that matter. I just enjoy the turmoil that ensues during the game. Last night I realized how much I enjoy when you screw yourself over as well. We have a common saying amongst our gaming friends, "mistakes were made". It always fun to proclaim it and we always laugh at the aftermath of our screw ups. Last night we played Scythe again. We introduced a new player to it. To protect the ignorant we won't name names. Let's call him..."Messer". We play games with Messer quite a bit. He's a great target for our daily hijinks. He gives it right back too. Scythe is a pretty straight forward game in my mind. Here are the victory conditions, here's how you achieve them, Go! Messer is no dub when it comes to following along with the rules and grasping concepts. But that first time he shook his head and said "well I messed that up" brought a smile to my face. I was that guy last week. Then it happened again and again. Mistakes were made. There are a bunch of different things to keep track of in Scythe. I understand how he got tied up in his mind, it's not hard to do, it doesn't always mean that you're gonna lose the game. Messer lost the game. Jamie and I didn't have to do a thing to disrupt his plans, it was all on him. He is eager for a second game (as was I after my first play) he knows what he's going to do different. Well, he thinks he does, I'm gonna mess with him so bad next time.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Extra Life and the CMN

Meaghan & Kate, our reps from BBCH. Also Cameron, an Extra Lifer.

As we've mentioned a few times Jamison and I do charity work through our Gaming to benefit The Barbara Bush Children's Hospital, our local Children's Miracle Network Hospital. It has been an amazing endovour that we have started. Thanks to our connection with Extra Life and BBCH we have been able to hear some amazing stories, help out at some great events, and most of all we have connected with so many other people that share our passion for gaming and helping sick kids. Two people in particular that we have become great friends with are our local hospital reps, Kate and Meaghan. Over the past few years we have been able to spend time with them prepping for our game marathon, working events, and sometimes enjoying an adult beverage. They have come to know us quite well too, I know they think we are a little weird, they in fact have said it to my face. But after all the cardboard dust settles from an intense game session they know that we are in it for the kids. We asked them to say a few things about us, I'm starting to think they might be a little weird too.

Jamison and Rob-

J: Joy to work with (and we’re not being sarcastic when we say that, Rob)
A: Always (ALWAYS and All Ways) looking for new ways to fundraise #ForTheKids. It all adds up!
M: Makes us Twitch. (not like creepy-twitch, like Twitch streaming… bear with us, we’re still learning the proper lingo).
I: Inspiring
S: Semi-finalist representing the BBCH at Extra Life United
O: On the Trail Gamer… #respect for attempting the Appalachian Trail #FTK
N: Needs to carry tissues, because the dude is always crying (he’s got a big heart, y ’all)

B: Better known as “Rob” (but we had to use “Butter” here because you know Rob would never let us hear the end of it if we only used 3 letters for him, compared to Jamison’s 7 letters…)
U: Undeniably #FTK
T: Took on the Guild Presidency when it became vacant… leading the Portland Guild to (ahem, no pressure) greatness
T: Totally Terrific Dad to the amazing Sawyer!
E: Excellent woodworker
R: Ridiculously fun to travel to Disney World with

Oh and an FYI, they call me Butter cause I'm smooth. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Then and now

Promotion image of Freaks & Geeks. Or my childhood.

Growing up a gamer isn't like it used to be. The generations after mine (I'm a Gen-Xer) have been indoctrinated in the the subculture of geek. Comic book movies, video games, & RPGs are all commonplace and they've grown up with them. It's part of their world in a way that is completely unlike my experience growing up.

When I was growing up, I was a social outcast. Not in a stuffed in the locker or beaten up every day kind of way. More of a staying on the periphery kind of way. I had plenty of friends, and they were great friends, but we definitely weren't the "cool kids". We did things like stay up all night playing D&D, riding our bikes to the comic book store, or having dart gun fights in K-mart. We watched anime. Video games were a central part of our existence. We played board games like Axis and Allies, Battle Masters and Dungeon. What we didn't do was party in the woods, get in fights, or get in trouble at school (well most of us). We were the nerds. People today wear that badge with pride.

I see the younger generations come into the store I work at. There are a wide variety of different social classes, and cliques but they sit across the table from each other and play Magic the Gathering or Warhammer 40k, or board games. And there are a growing number of female gamers, which is a great trend. We want the store to be an inclusive, safe environment for everyone. Traditionally, gaming has been a very male-dominated hobby, which is unfortunate. I've heard horror stories of the mistreatment of my female counterparts, and even witnessed first hand. It can be disheartening to watch someone dismiss a very knowledgeable co-worker, simply because she's a woman. Thankfully it doesn't happen often, and I hope that I'm consistent in pointing it out, to try to correct the behavior. Gaming is changing for the better- it's a slow battle but one that needs fighting.

If you're a member of the younger generations, take a moment and be thankful that gaming is now more accessible and popular than it ever has been. If you're one of those that grew up with the label of nerd, or even labelled others, think about that. Self professed geeks like Joss Whedon, Vin Diesel, and Wil Wheaton have not been ashamed to admit their passion for the things they love. Thousands and thousands of us talk about what we love to do every single day, and shrug off the judgement of the closed minded. It can be a cruel world, and you never know when your time is up. Don't waste your time hiding things. Let your geek flag fly. Live your life, more importantly, love your life.I'm pretty sure you only get one shot at it.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Yeah Books, Covers, and all that nonsense.

For your reading enjoyment today, we have another one of our peer reviews on who Rob and I are.  This comes from another member of the Booze & Boardgames Crew, Al Butler. Al is a consummate wordsmith. He's also a man with very strong views on the world- which he's not afraid to share. He never pulls punches, and Rob and I both have the utmost respect for him. We also like to make him uncomfortable as often as possible.
- Jamison 

I was approached by my friend Jamison to write a synopsis of how I perceive both himself and our other friend Rob. It is to be used as some sort of introduction to the world on their new blog so their readers have a better understanding of who they are etc. etc. etc. I found the request odd, for I am not a gentle being by any stretch of the imagination. In fact I'm not a very nice person at all. However as these two gentlemen are among the very small circle I consider friends I agreed to help, in my own way of course.

The old adage "One cannot judge a book by its cover" applies when it comes to Rob and Jamie, for with but a cursory glance they seem to be nothing special at all. Upon meeting Jamie the first time and listening to him speak I could not help but see him as a real life version of South Park's Sexual Harassment Panda. ( oh yeah did I mention that I hate Panda's ? ) His voice was so soft I had to strain to hear what he was trying to say and, of course, I took this as a lack of confidence on his part. I smelled fear and would have dismissed him out of hand yet I had made a promise to my friend Mike that I would hear him out and so was stuck standing there, half snarling, half smiling politely as Jamie talked about his charity work and the games he liked to play. But then, somewhere in the middle of his speech, I looked into his eyes and was surprised by what I saw.

Instead of the timidity, and weakness I was expecting there was a muted strength and confidence which contradicted everything standing before me. Jamie though quiet, emotional, (to the point of being annoying at times) and gentle, is above all things genuine. His strength, and determination to help others has manifested into something I don't think even he could see happening. Through his work with Extra Life and the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital he has inspired hundreds of people, myself included, to step outside of their comfort zones and look beyond themselves. Jamie may be something of a Hippie, but at least he is a decent human being, which is a rare thing to find these days.

Rob...... well he's a wee bit of a different story. 
Rob wears dark framed glasses which I always associate with a childhood memory. When I was a wee boy I watched Captain Kangaroo every morning. I disliked most of it but in each episode the Captain had to talk with Bunny Rabbit about some mischief the rabbit had gotten into. That bunny was always up to something and he made me laugh. He marched to his own drummer, and was constantly on the go. And yes that little white bunny wore dark framed glasses just like Rob. And true to form Rob is much like that bunny, full of life, mischief and laughter. Qualities I find agreeable on many levels.

But again, no man is one dimensional, and Rob definitely has levels and depths hidden beneath a veneer of laughter. And if one was to plumb those depths they would find that the Prankster's heart is full of compassion, care, and devotion not unlike Jamie, sans the tears. Rob has been a driving force in the Extra Life efforts as well as a consummate organizer. His boundless energy and sacrifice are amazing especially as he always manages to pull it off with panache, style and a laugh or two. Rob is someone worth knowing and listening to for there is more than meets the eye behind the eyes of this Rabbit. 
Both of these men, opposites in so many ways yet alike at the core, strong, compassionate and caring, are my friends. For which I am not only grateful for they have enriched my life, but also proud.

Allen R. Butler

Saturday, August 20, 2016

What I do

How I feel as a writer and Dungeon Master
I would imagine that you've gotten the idea by now that I enjoy writing. You're saying to yourself, "Duh, if you didn't like writing, you probably wouldn't be blogging." Kudos to you, you nailed it on the head. I've been in love with writing since I was old enough to read. It's always been a dream of mine to be a real writer. As if, there's this magical level of writing that makes it real. There really isn't, but having people read what you're writing and reacting to it is what makes it real to me. I started blogging last year when I decided to try my Appalachian Trail adventure.

It felt good to stretch those writing muscles. I've been writing off and on since high school, but never consistently. A lot of people followed the trials I went through on the trail, and that was satisfying. It also translated into a paid writing contract with FASA games on one of their lines, a role-playing game called Earthdawn. When I was on the trail, it wasn't easy to write, as I all I had to write with was my iPhone. Composition isn't ideal in that environment. But my days didn't feel complete without getting that post up, and sharing my thoughts. When I left the trail, I quickly realized how much I missed that part of it (not the utter, filthy misery of living in the woods for weeks). So here we are.

A fairly obvious statement about me is that I enjoy playing games. I got my start early, playing Dungeons & Dragons. I think I was probably 8 or 9 when I picked it up. I don't even remember from where, but I do remember it mesmerized me. I wanted to live in the stories I read in the rule books. As I read more and more of the fiction that was inspired by D&D and Lord of the Rings, all I wanted was more and more. I read voraciously - the Dragonlance Chronicles, Icewind Dale trilogy, anything and everything. Out of all this came the desire to be the teller of these epic tales. I wanted to create the stories that inspired others.

I have a new friend, who is completely new to the subculture of gaming and she's been asking me questions that I haven't reflected on for years. Some of these are about Dungeons & Dragons. Almost everyone I see regularly knows what I do as a hobby, so relating the experience of being a Dungeon Master is something I'd probably done years ago, or they play themselves so they already knew. I think that being a good DM (and I like to think that I'm at least a decent one) relates directly to my writing. Being a DM is to be the one guiding the story. It's like writing on the fly, reacting to what other people (the players) are saying and doing; crafting a response almost instantaneously. The DM plays all the parts of the game, except the players themselves. The innkeeper where the party is resting, the leader of the highwaymen that have set up a roadblock the players have to deal with; the fearsome dragon asleep on a hoard of treasure.

It's a great feeling to see immediate reaction to a story that I'm telling. I've evoked laughter, dread and loathing by painting a verbal picture. It's not an easy job, and it's usually thankless, but as any good DM will tell you, it's worth it. Some of my fondest memories of gaming are those times when things happened just how I wanted them to; the look of stunned amazement when a player figures out just how deep the plot I've been weaving for session upon session goes. I urge you, if you've never had the experience of playing an RPG, it should be something to try. It's not as hard as you think. With the right guide, you might find out that there are worlds out there that exist solely in the imagination, and they're pretty cool places to visit.


Friday, August 19, 2016

True friends

Jamie and I both had hesitation when we asked our friends to help introduce us. We know too many people that are the same as us. Cynical, evil, jokers who would go to the ends of the world to make fun of one another. But underlying amidst those crazy thoughts are how much you truly cherish those friendships.  Mike was a dark horse in my mind to write a review of us. He is the silent type sometimes when it comes to joking around. But when he unleashes, look out. After I read Mike's words it really hit home how he sees us. We have more reviews to share with you guys in the coming days. Jamison and I have read some of them already (we promise we are not editing them) and they all fill us with a very warm feeling. Jamie has even cried already, which you will learn is one of his signature moves.

One of the greatest feelings I have experienced in my "gaming life" is the satisfaction from the charity work that we do. A very close second to that are the feelings I get reading these peer reviews. I realize that all the joking and taunting aside that we have a very strong family of gamers surrounding us. They believe in us and us in them. We feed off the excitement that each other brings to the table on game night. We wouldn't be half as successful as we are for Extra Life if we didn't surround ourselves with these same friends.

We have been raising money for Children's Hospitals for four years now.  I equate our growth and success to the team that we have built. Jamie and I do get a lot of the credit for making our 24 Gaming Marathon a great event. But the true hero is teamwork. The key to building something as amazing as we have, is to be able to lean on others when you need help. We have run into many roadblocks in our planning and execution, but every time without fail, someone steps in to help. Having people around you that you can count on is a cornerstone to success. Ones that don't seek recognition and do it just because they see that you need a hand. Friends that will listen to your ideas and tell you that they are good or bad. Friends that stick around to help execute those ideas and make them better. People that will drop whatever they are doing to help someone else.

If you can somehow fill your life with these types of people, then you can set out and accomplish anything.  I feel like Jamie and I found that in each other, and we have then in turn found an entire family to do amazing things with.

Besides crying, Jamie also enjoys hugs.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

On Perspective

 As we've said before, we've been asking people who know us to give us a statement on how they see us. It's an exercise that is both terrifying and immensely satisfying. It's not often that you get to hear how other people view you. Sit back and ask yourself what you think your friends would say if they were asked to do the same.

I'm not going to pretend that every time one of these reviews come in, that I'm not terrified to read it. I know that these are my friends and that I shouldn't be scared to hear what they say about me. I have always struggled with self-doubt, so that feeling is a natural extension of those old demons. I don't know how Rob feels about these reviews, but I suspect he doesn't have the same issues that I do with them. Let me tell you how I got to where I'm at.

I've lived a fairly selfish lifestyle up until the past few years. Not that I was a bad person, I just didn't really think about the bigger world and my impact on it. I did my thing, and pretty much ignored people outside of my immediate view. It's a fairly common way to be I think. A lot of people get caught in the day to day grind. Hours slip into days into weeks and so on. I blinked and suddenly I was rushing towards forty with nothing to show for it. Divorced, no children, a job I didn't particularly care for. I was living alone in a tiny apartment in New Hampshire.You've heard about how involved I am in Extra Life- however, when things started out it was for a different charity called Child's Play. Child's Play was founded by the creators of Penny Arcade, the web comic. It fills a similar function as Extra Life, benefiting children's hospitals around the country. The guys from Penny Arcade used their influence to make the world better. Seeing the impact they had woke me up. It was then I decided to try to change myself.

Putting together a charity board game marathon was a huge hurdle to attempt, and I was sure it was going to fail. I had to overcome my introversion (which at that time was almost pathological) to even talk to people about it. But it happened, and what's more, it was a success that spawned excitement and involvement in a community that I was only on the fringe of at the time. Doing good things engages people. It gave me a reason to come out of my shell. Once I was out of it, I realized how much I missed by keeping my head down and ignoring the world.

Reading reviews of us from my friends reminds me of who I was before. I didn't like being that guy very much. Every moment of my life since then has been richer and more satisfying. I don't know that I would have been strong enough to get through the challenges of the past few years without the community that I have surrounding me. As you read these posts, I hope you'll reflect on how you impact the people around you. It's not hard to make an positive impact, and it doesn't need to be a big change. Sometimes it's just going out of your way to make someone else's day a little bit better. Small changes can add up to big things. And changes can lead you some great places.

Just one of the places Extra Life has lead me. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Jamison and Rob: Another Perspective

As part of our introduction to who we are and what we do, we asked friends to give us their perspective on- well, us. The first we have to offer is from Mike McKenney, a member of Booze and Boardgames- a fellow gaming club, whom we've become close friends with. Mike is also an integral part of the Chits & Bits Extra Life team, designing and maintaining our website. Let's hear what he has to say. Take it with a grain of salt (unless it's good- then it's gospel). -Jamison

When these guys asked me (Mike) about writing a post to introduce them, my first thought was “Here’s a chance to roast these guys! It’ll be funny and everyone will laugh.” But I began to have concerns that my jokes and sarcasm might not come across well. And they are truly doing some awesome work for kids at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital and I didn’t want that to get lost in my writing.

So here’s my attempt to pay these guys compliments they deserve, hopefully without getting too sentimental.

(On their positive spirits)
While we had some brief conversations prior, one of the first times I recall spending some time with Jamison and Rob was at a game convention. After working for many hours, they sat down and played the game Caverna, one which they’ve played a lot. Caverna is a giant game with a million little bits, all so dwarves can play house in a cave. One podcast used the term Misery Cave to describe it. I’ve played it once and fed my dwarf children sticks and stones for dinner.

If they can enjoy that, then nothing can keep them down!

(On their ability to inspire others)
I’m reminded of the famous decree “Knowing is half the battle!”. By that measure, Jamison and Rob are geniuses. They know how to inspire and recruit for charity. Myself and many others have been inspired to join them. Several people are training for a marathon!

Despite what science may say, this ability comes straight from their huge hearts, not their brains, as I’m sure many others will agree.

(On their ability to rise to the occasion)
When these guys traveled to Florida to attend the big Extra Life United event down there, it was a lot of fun to watch the streaming events live. They both had a chance to take home a lot of money for the children’s hospital. It seemed like for every event, there was one of them in the final round, trying as hard as they could to win for the kids. Love Letter finals: There was Jamison! Lair’s Dice finals: There was Jamison! Blokus Finals: There was Jamison! 

These guys are both just amazing under pressure!

(On caring for others)
My first time attending a game day at Jamison’s, I think I  brought the last two old beers I had in my fridge and a bag of Doritos. Rob showed up with a bunch of ingredients and proceeded to make stuffed jalapenos, wrapped in bacon, and covered in BBQ sauce. The whole process was a lot of work and took a long time. Rob struggled against tears and sweat while eating them, attempting to convince others they weren’t spicy. To some it might look like he was trying to ’trick’ reluctant people into eating one, but that level of effort comes from love. 

More importantly, Rob kindly followed up with me the next day to make sure my final experience with his creation was as pleasant as the first. What a friend!

(On their dedication)
When Jamison left home to hike for several months (to raise more money!), true tests of their friendship arose. Long distance relationships rarely work and so Rob smartly began advertising for a new best friend. (Great foresight!) Unfortunately, no single person could replace Jamison and a series of meaningless tabletop games left Rob a husk of his former self. It was disgusting and I felt both pity and shame (sorry to sound so negative in this otherwise glowing review. Rob is slowly recovering).

On the hike, Jamison did a great job raising money and challenging himself physically and mentally. He's disappointed it was cut short. But since getting back, he's doing even more fundraising work. I think he's crazy but I'm excited to announce for the first time right here... Jamison is going to join his friends and run that marathon too! Amazing! You've got my support buddy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Take a look at this.

I am a very visual gamer. I am drawn to games that I find visually pleasing. The art helps immerse you in the world in which you are playing. I have passed over games due to just the art alone. I almost pulled out of the Kickstarter for Exoplanets based solely on the creator changing the cover art last minute. Only reason I didn't, was the fact it was free #xmaspresentfrommom. I also have hope that I can find and old version of the game to get the original art.

Top Cover me likey -- Bottom, me no likey
The new art doesn't reflect the art in the box. It's like storing a game in the wrong box.

I classify the new art (bottom pic) as "generic" It is done in the same style as other games. It may be flashy and convey a more mature look, but it doesn't stand out on the shelf. I look at my games as works of art. When people see them I want them to ask, "hey, whats that game?" or "that looks great". 

I am also not attracted to unpainted miniatures. I would rather see a wooden cube or disc than a lump of gray plastic. I don't have the time to paint them myself, I barely have the time to play the game. Again I want it to really pop on the table and draw people in. 

By tending to stray away from even playing these sorts of games I know I've missed out on some great ones and I know that I also avoided some duds. The mechanics of the game don't even come into play when I go shopping. I gravitate to the "pretty games" and avoid the "generic art". I'd rather invest my time onto a game that I may want to invest my $ in.  Games that don't catch my eye will never make it on to my game shelf. 

Scythe was one of these games for me. Despite the amazing reviews, the immediate sell outs, and all the hype, I had no interest in playing the game based on the box art and components.
I didn't even notice the mechs in the background.

Even though he will tell you differently, Jamie didn't "make me" play it tonight. I am always open to trying a new game. I did know going in that I wouldn't buy it, and I wasn't gung ho about it. Things quickly started looking up though. 

When I play a game there are three colors of player tokens that I like, Orange, Nude and Black. I was given the latter. Then I find out that the black player is heavy on military. Okay I thought, I can work with this. Confrontational is my MO. Jamie set out explaining the rules. This is another hang up for me. If it takes longer to explain how to play than actually playing a game, I'm checking out mentally. Scythe was straight forward, easy to understand, and did a great job minimizing iconography. One turn around the table and it all made sense. Well except for a few mishaps later in the game. But those were on us not the game (and possibly caused me to lose). The game is very fluid, turns start to overlap, people have a set plan as to what they are doing. Then the real gems of the game start to shine. A few turns in you get an idea in your head as to how your going to win, there are many different tracks to victory. You can avoid confrontation for the most part or you can try to wreak havoc. You can try to capitalize on the weak or try to stay even keel. What ever the path you choose you may still not be the winner at game end. The game end trigger may or may not benefit the person electing to end the game. Having that hanging over your head as the game nears the end is quite the conundrum, should you go for more points, or end it now and hope you come out on top?

I didn't win the game tonight. I did have a blast playing it though. The replay-ability of the game is huge, having random factions and action boards keeps the game fresh. And an expansion with two new factions has already been announced. The rules are easy to pickup and the game moves quickly as the rounds go on. Multiple tracks to victory make the game accessible to different types of gamers. Overall the game is great. The board is easy to navigate. Cards and iconography are easy to read and understand. The mechanics are familiar with new twists, keeping it feeling fresh but not straining your brain to grasp new concepts. I highly recommend taking a look.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Thoughts on Scythe

What can I say about Scythe? Well, let’s start with the basics. If you’re into board games, and haven’t heard the hype on this one in the past few months, you must have been hiding under a rock. Scythe, by designer Jamey Stegmaier and released by Stonemaier Games, has been a hot subject leading up to Gen Con. Does it live up to the hype? Let me tell you what I think. 

First of all, let me caveat this whole post by telling you that I have only played through Scythe once so far. That will change though. Quickly. I already can’t wait to break it out again. The hallmark of a good game to me is when you finish it, you immediately want to set it up and play it again. That is how Scythe made me feel.

Scythe is a 4X game (the X’s being eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) set in a gorgeously rendered alternate version of 1920’s Europa. Seriously, the art in this game is beautiful. The setting and art was created by artist Jakob Rozalski. The look of the game inspires feelings of a bleak struggle to get by. Giant mechs grace the backdrop of farms, and agriculture. It has a dark, gritty feel, one which I immediately took to, as some of my favorite settings are dark future like Bladerunner. The components (especially if you got in on the Kickstarter) are well made, with wooden resources, and workers, and plastic minis for the mechs and characters.

Players control one of five factions of Europa all trying to assert control over the region surrounding the mysterious Factory, which has grown silent in the recent future. Each faction has unique abilities and mechs, as well as a leader. Combining these factions with an action board with slightly different costs and yields gives this game a ton of replayability. Stonemaier has even announced an expansion which will add a 6 and 7th faction. Every game is guaranteed to be different with randomized events and Factory cards.

Actions are declared and resolved in a fairly quick moving system, where the next player can be declaring as the previous finishes their turn. This leads to a good play time – we had 5 new players and finished a full game in just about 2 hours. There are tons of path to victory, and each faction’s unique abilities can help guide them to a strategy, although it isn’t necessary to utilize to win. Combat is resolved when two factions collide in the same square, and is handled by a secret bid including cards and a power wheel. It might seem like a game with giant mechs should be all about combat, but it is more about the threat of combat. Resources reside in the square they’re generated, so stealing a neighbor’s resources is a solid strategy.

As I said before, I really enjoyed the first play on this game. The actions are straightforward and once you learn the iconography very easy to follow. You learn to play just by jumping in and experiencing it. I quickly learned my way around and was able to form a cohesive strategy without too much difficulty. I had to keep on the board and watch what other people were doing, and see whether they threatened my resources, or controlled hexes. I particularly enjoyed the variances between the factions- I want to experience all of them, just to feel the differences. Combat occurred only a few times in the game, but the threat was a major factor. I feel that Scythe will appeal to a wide variety of players, as it has a lot of different mechanics and strategies. I would recommend it to just about anyone that enjoys a game with some meat and replay-ability. I'm going to make Rob play it soon. We'll see what he has to say. I'm pretty sure he'll hate it just on general principle.

PS When I tweeted out that I was playing Scythe for the first time Jamey Stegmaier was awesome enough to tweet back to offer help if we needed clarifications on rules. That says a lot about a designer!