Saturday, January 4, 2020

TableStop Thoughts: Faith and Gaming 2020

Happy New Year all!!

2019 was a blur! The last words I said about moving into 2019 was that I was going to push away my social anxieties and take the reins. I feel like I kept my word. For the full details and my feelings about 2018 I suggest reading this first: TableStop Thoughts - Faith

I feel alot of people, including myself, will often prefer to forget the past. Leave those mistakes and mis-steps out to dry. I have certainly learnt to look back and use the perspective to help guide me on my journey. If you can truly see where you have come from, you can turn forward and see where you are headed.

There are a few highlights I want to take from 2019, carry with me as I step forth on the adventures that 2020 will hold.

First and foremost this is the most important part of my life. If it weren't for my belief in my Lord and faith that He provides me with all I need, giving me opportunities to grow in love, grace and hope it wouldn't have led to my other moments of this past year. Christ died so that I can live. So that I can share. So that I can find my way back to God. It truly is a personal experience that I pray and hope for all to share at some point in their lives.

Part of my growing faith and pushing myself came from the church this year. I am now helping facilitate a new men's group at Life Church. This was me taking the reins for sure, getting outside my comfort zone. I see MoMENtum (catchy name eh?) as one way for me to share my faith, what I have learnt, accountability with others.

After many years of building a chasm in my relationship with my wife, Cindy, we have built many bridges and are closer now than we have even been. We still have our moments, but I believe we have built renewed trust and understanding in one another that will be hard to break in the years to come. We have shared the best year of our lives for a long time, if not ever.

Our kids are all at home, of this past year they have been our biggest worry. My son, our youngest, had his first girlfriend and all the worries that come along with that. But I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world. I see growth everyday in all my children and look to 2020 with hope in my heart for a blessed year for them.

Be it all the new friends we have at Church and all the new friends I have made through gaming this past year. I consider myself blessed every day with all the awesome people I now know and begin to know that little bit better each time I see them.

Tying the above with the below. Thanks to G3 and a wonderful 24 hour charity event, Cindy & I were blessed with a joining our church's mission trip to Rocky Point. It was a humbling experience to behold.

Really considered calling this the Clocktower Corner. Taking the reins again and getting past my social anxieties I made it a point to get to gaming conventions this year and run games. Mainly games of my new hotness Blood on the Clocktower. This game has led to meeting many of our newest friends.

I have stated before how I feel that board gaming can be used to create community and experiences like no other hobby I have had. It brings me great joy to teach new people games. To see the excitement on their faces when the game clicks with them. To see them ordering and purchasing their first hobby board game after playing.

I want to push myself in my this area a little more. Either through blogging or creating content to share. I want to stop procrastinating over it. Grab it. Spark joy!

May you all be blessed in this 2020 and enjoy all that you endeavor to do. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

G3 Marching on

Moments in time are strange things.

Taken out of context some could wonder what is going on.

A group of people collectively yelling "yyyaarrrghhh!" like time displaced pirates celebrating with the last pint of grog.

Two people fighting over Jacarandas, Cassias and Poplars while making terribly plant based puns.

A whole table deciding that one person is always evil rather than take him on his word.

Others are assigned roles to protect the earth from invading aliens, waiting for their orders from a glowing iPad screen.

One man standing pointing at those around him, one after another. Fascist! Fascist! Fascist!

Roles are assigned. Alliances are made. Points are awarded.

Raucous. Rowdy. Unruly. 

Yet all the while there are smiles, laughs, pats on backs and the occasional hand shake. Good game. Shared experiences that will hopefully bring those people back to the same place again.

Moments in time are strange things.

Remember all the ones you enjoy.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Winterborne Review: A Year in the Life of a Viking Clan

You will be amazed by the things you can achieve when you put your mind to it. 

At least that is how our vikings must think in Winterborne, designed by Brian Suhre and published by Talon Strikes Studios. We have just a year to bring the most honor to our competing clans. How do we achieve this?

At the start of the game you are given a deck of six cards representing your clan. You are handed your province tile on which your three main characters reside. The Warrior, who you will use the conquer and build. The Shaman, who will help you trade, tax and pray to the Gods. Finally, an Explorer, who quests to find you new cards and raids to bring back food. With these components you will use a mix of deck-building and action selection that is spun seamlessly around a roundel movement system. 

On your turn you draw four cards and play all you can to trigger actions. One card will activate the character you wish to use and a second card will give them movement. The character then sets off clockwise around your province, where they finish movement may affect certain actions concerning the colored region they finished in. 

It is in this that you will find the core of your decisions in Winterborne. If you are looking to trade, each different region will offer different choices, or if you wish to explore you may have different cards you would like to bring to your hand. There is a puzzle to the efficiency you need in your card play, as the game contains very little player interaction it becomes about how well you can play with what you have.

Also with this kind of card play, it almost always feels like you are making headway, a great feeling of momentum. Very rarely did I find myself without an option that wouldn't gain me anything. If you did end up that way it most likely came from your own poor choice in card purchasing earlier in the game. For example ending up heavy handed with explorers and no way to gain the goods needed to do any actually exploring.

It is through exploring that the games internal time clock is set, as you pick up cards to improve your deck you are also pushing the game toward the finale. Spring turns to Summer, turns to Autumn and before you know it you are in Winter. Once Winter hits you only have three turns before the end and you better have been prepared. This also marks the time a unique ability for each player gets activated and you can turn in your favor from the Gods to unleash it. Knowing your power from the beginning should play into how you planned out your game, so you can take the maximum advantage of it.

Having played Coldwater Crown I am not surprised that Suhre has put together another great game. It sits on the low end of medium for weight and I could see teaching this to someone who is wanting to get deeper into the hobby. There is plenty of the decision making that I enjoy in games, without breaking my brain completely.

Overall, this has the feel of an old school euro and I can see this becoming a mainstay in any collection.

*photos of art may not be final product

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Gaming Con Beyond the Pines

PineCon 2019

A trip to Flagstaff. 
An escape to the north. 
Leaving the metro expanse behind for the weekend. 
A chance to experience games with friends with no distractions.

Now you have to say that is all very tempting, so why not jump at the chance. Taking an extra day off from work we headed up Thursday night, with all these promises laid out in front of us. I can say that all of them delivered.

I could speak to all the games that I got to play, but you can read reviews of those games and understand what there is to love about them. Card playing, worker placement, action selection, decisions, calculations, failures and successes. But all the talk on how good a game is does not speak to the other's that enjoy that experience with you.

Our gracious host promised an awesome weekend and he delivered. He played his role dutifully scooting from table to table making sure we were enjoying ourselves all weekend. Major kudos to the man who can keep his energy going while all others around him are waning and then still managing to serve up an Italian feast to keep us going.

Yet, all this may have come crashing to the ground if it weren't for the bravado and camaraderie of the other 12 guests in attendance. Feeding off the joy that the host enabled in all of us we set upon the 72 hours before us with salivating passion for games. The pure abundance of cardboard delight that was before us was overwhelming. The united gaming cry of "Oh, I want to play that.." reverberated repeatedly through the house, a multi-tongued promise that will never be kept.

These empty words echoed around your head, and you realize that no matter what you play it is really about the who you are playing with. The table filled with chits, cards and plastic pieces just becomes the experience hub for shared conversation. Building relationships and finding common ground beyond the world we live in.

The essence of why we game.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

TableStop Thoughts: Faith

It's a new year people!

This blog felt like it wasn't going to happen, going round and round about what to write about in the first post of the new year. After plenty of thinking and pray I have decided to take a moment to get more personal with my thoughts and where I see 2019 going.

Over the course of 2018, the continual growth of my faith has impacted my thought processes and in turn has affected how I view my hobby in gaming.

I often find that current cultural awareness and my own social shortcomings make it hard for me to talk directly and openly about my beliefs. Looking at it objectively I find it funny that it is easier for me to nerd out over board games then it is for me to talk about how God has affected my life in the past couple years.

Life events and hard truths coming to the surface at the end of 2016 into early 2017 caused me to take a deeper look at my life. I fully believe that God created humans with a hole within them, then he set us upon the world with free will. We would choose how to fill that hole. We misdirect ourselves to the material to meet that need. Money, power, sex, hobbies. I look back at how heavy I was into my hobby, but without Jesus in my life that was my replacement for everything. It began to speak louder to how I had neglected my marriage and my wife.

I won't delve too deeply into details, needless to say, over time our marriage had become broken and disillusioned. We weren't talking through issues and were assuming a lot of one another without discussing it. I placed all my energies into my hobby, making that the love of my life instead.

Through a series of events in early 2017: 
An abortive attempt at counselling from my parent's pastor.
A mechanic detailing my marriage into a triangle with God at the peak. 
Being urged to undertake the 30 day challenge, in which you listen to christian music for a month.
A failed promotion attempt at work, impacted by my own emotional state. 
Through all this I was led to get myself back to church, and a friend who I had made through gaming also happened to be the son-in-law of a pastor at a local church. I went with an open heart and a mind to listen.

Now, it's not like I didn't already consider myself a christian. I had spent my late-teens in churches in the UK with my parents. I had been baptized in Phoenix, AZ in the late 90's after my brush with cancer. The wife & I had attended a few different churches in Arizona since arriving, but nothing would stick. My walk gradually moved apart from Jesus. I had checked him off my list, thinking I was good to go. Much like the reason I had a mechanic talking to me, I had failed to maintain my life. Not up keeping the spiritual oil had caused my life to corrode on the inside.

So there I was finally in a position to treat going to church seriously and I had a place picked out. Amazingly at this new church they also had a marriage school that was starting out. Over the rest of 2017 I began to take a good look back, looking at all these small details, these coincidences, pushing myself and my wife on a journey. A journey that is obscured to you until you take that step back and look at it from God's view. Seeing all the falling dominoes in our lives that had led us to that breaking point and what God had prepared for us to help mend the broken parts. Not coincidences anymore, just the path that led us to the right place.

Almost two years later now, and I am stepping up in marriage school. Offering to help lead teaching. Which is a huge step for me. Deep down it is definitely something I'm not fully comfortable with, but I honestly feel this is an opportunity to give back and share. Share the joy and hope I've felt through the process.

This is a culmination of my prayers in regards to the direction my life is to take. As to what is my place in God's plan. What is His purpose for me?

How does this cycle back to gaming? In the past I think I was using my hobbies as my escape. A selfish tool to forget my own problems. Now I want to concentrate on the outreach aspects of gaming, sharing this hobby and the relationships I have found through it.

The amazing church family I have found has a message. Live, Love and Share. Live like Jesus, Love like Jesus and Share his message everywhere you go. I want to be able to show the love He has shown me to others around me. I am feeling called into a form of leadership or even ministry, and my knowledge/love of gaming could allow me to use that as a tool.

Even in this, an area I am very comfortable in, I still have my own anxieties and fears. I find myself reminded that God has often used people who were themselves reluctant, nervous and broken. Even a great leader like Moses, as God asked him to go speak to the Pharaoh and demand the release of the Israelites. Moses asked who he was to be given such a task. God simply replied "I will be with you."

So as 2018 closes and I reflect. I see it as a year I began to find balance and comfort in my faith. I look into 2019 and have hopes that it will be a year I push away my social anxieties and take the reins.

Friday, December 28, 2018

TableStop Favorites: Lords of Xidit

This time of year I see so many videos and blogs filled with best of lists and favorites of all time, and I have been debating on how, or if, I should put mine together. Top 10. Top 50. Top 100? But whereas I can clearly see some of my favorite games it becomes tough to arbitrarily pick one game over another.

Is Great Western Trail a mechanically better game than The Gallerist? 

Do I have more fun playing 7 Wonders or Clank! In! Space!?

How good you think a game is can be directly linked back to the experiences you had playing it. Perhaps even who you played it with would have bearing on such an evaluation. I have been trying to create a list, but in process I stumble across a forgotten title or one that has that something I can't define that makes it stand out. So instead of pummeling you with a barrage of titles, I have instead chosen to go a different route. I'm just going to take my time and pick out games that have stood out to me. Be it due to unique experiences or an interesting mechanic that makes them special.

So let's roll straight into my first one...


Set against a fantasy world backdrop, Xidit is a kingdom under siege. Creatures across the land have come under a mysterious sickness that is causing them to attack the cities. The players take on the roles of the Idrakys, heirs to the Kingdom and the last hope to save it. Travelling the roads on the backs of their faithful beasts, going from city to city recruiting brave soldiers from the population and taking them onto fight the creatures. The goal is become the most legendary by building up your sorcerer's towers, leaving your bards behind to sing your praises and lining your pockets with coin.

Enough with the theme fluff, but I have to because even before delving into mechanics of this I have to lavish praise on the art and components and how that evokes the world it is set in. The board is colorful and includes spots to place coins and the forces you are recruiting in supplies to the side. The recruits themselves are nicely moldy representations of fighters, archers and mages, of which there is an abundant supply. This is certainly a game that stands out on the table.

Now, what of the experience at the table itself. Lords of Xidit at it's core is a pick up and deliver game run by a programming mechanic. Taking place over 12 years, or game rounds. Each player has chunky programming dials, at the start of a year six moves get selected, the dials are revealed and in turn order the moves are acted out on the board.

The selections are simple - moving on roads, recruiting fighters, attacking creatures or doing nothing. Yes you can stand wistfully by and watch the world around you if you so wish. Yet even that choice can be huge.

As you'd expect in a game where all your moves a pre-chosen each round there will be the occasional frustration. The creature you were aiming to defeat was killed a second before you arrived on the scene, the mage you had your eye on recruiting gets grabbed by another player. But seeing your well laid plans go down flames isn't game ending and is more forgiving than other games with a similar mechanic.

What you find is that the programming becomes about timing. You begin to be very aware of what your opponents are doing, and what they aren't. Personally I had moments where a well timed wait has gotten me that mage I needed to complete a battle in the same round.

There is another layer to this onion and that is in the final scoring itself. The three categories (coins, bard regions & Sorcerer's towers) are laid out variably at the start of the game, and when scoring happens the lowest scoring in the first is eliminated from winning regardless if they are killing it in the other two areas. So the scoring becomes about making sure you are just not the worst. There is hidden information about how well you may be doing which adds an air of tension to the end game. Never rule yourself out of the chance of winning until the last round.

I had discovered this game back in 2015 when I was just rolling into the hobby, played it a few times and moved onto newer games. We picked it up recently on sale, remembering that we had quite liked it. After a couple of renewed plays this game has shot up in my estimation. In a sea of games this one has juice to keep you on board. The puzzle of action selection as well as getting in opponent's heads to see what they may be planning as well can take this medium weight game that one notch up.

Would love to revisit Xidit with the heavier gamers in my group and see how there minds receive it.

A final thing that is worth noting is that this game is re-theme of a game called Himalaya from 2002. Essentially a 16 year old game that can sit happily among the other newer heavyweights on my list - more on those later...

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Tablestop Thoughts: 'Tis the Season!

This feels familiar, I need to stop being so self-aware anytime I sit down to write out a new blog. My last blog was way back in January and I was planning on completing a board gaming bucket list. I only squeaked about halfway through my list.

I have brought shame on my gaming household!!!

Seriously though, life's many twists and turns kept me rolling this year. Never really got settled in a rhythm with my work so I'd often come home and not feel upto gaming. The last quarter of the year has felt like a turn around, I got a promotion that moves work closer to home so beginning to feel a little more energetic toward my hobby. So lifting a glass toward 2019 in a hope that fortune favors the brave and I can get some games I missed to the table.


Having mentioned games I missed, other than reviewing my gaming bucket list, this year like the one before has brought so many new games into the world. It is a daunting task to keep up, and once you add in the quality games we already own or play, the idea of new stuff becomes almost ridiculous. 

Discussions with friends often turn to thoughts that many games we own could even be lifestyle games. You could certainly survive on just a few great titles for months.

If you think about it, families across the world break out Monopoly, Risk, Clue, over and over again - and I would say a quiet majority is quite happy with that status quo. This is especially prevalent during this festive time of year as we all get together with loved ones. Why learn rules for these new titles on our shelves when you already know how to collect $200 when you pass GO!

At the end of the day it is the experience that brings us together around our wooden alters. It doesn't matter what cardboard chits or paper monies lie between us. It's the laughs, smiles and occasional knives in the back that we remember. Just remember that when your brother rolls those doubles sixes and takes back Western Australia from you, that he does it from a place of love.

Merry Christmas!!!