My feeling is: why preamble, when I can just amble instead?
- Books, books, books. I finished up Kate Elliott’s The Crown of Stars series yesterday. It wasn’t transformative or anything, but for 4000+ pages of fantasy foo-fraw it actually had a distinct beginning, middle, and end, with interesting characters and a setting I ended up wanting to know more about, not less. What more can you ask for, really?
- I took a break between some of the later books in the series to read some other stuff, mainly because my brain needed a bit of a break from the setting. Election by Tom Perrotta (of The Leftovers fame) was a delightful morsel, a quick hour-and-a-half read that served as a nice palate cleanser. Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade was solid, if dark, sf. And Madeline Miller’s Circe was a fantastic follow-up to her The Song of Achilles.
- Really, it was so good that I wrote a bit of a weird piece earlier this week about those two books. As the title suggests, it was supposed to be more of a traditional musing/review, but it ended up as… something else, I suppose, but also that thing too. Anyway. I’m pretty proud of the way it turned out, weird though it may be.
- The time I didn’t spend reading was mostly spent finishing up my rewatch of Deadwood, which I accelerated to two episodes a day for season 3, then three episodes a day for the last two days, all so I could watch the movie. My thoughts? Said movie was an appropriate send-off for the series, or at least as much of an appropriate one as we’re ever going to get. To say much more would be spoiler-y, but I’ll note that–like real life–there are some happy endings, some unfortunate sad ones, and all the shades in between. It was all we could have asked for.
- How many games until my thousandth Dominion game, you might ask? Forty-seven, I might say.
- Digital gaming has mostly been board games (well, really just Dominion) recently. I played some Borderlands 2 on Thursday night, but something about the deeply insipid story and the fact that I just platinumed the first game made it fall very flat. I apparently don’t have it in me right now to go through another loot shooter. I dunno if I ever will.
- A sad call came to me Thursday evening; one of my cousins passed away back home. Her passing was surprising but not surprising, if you know what I mean.
- You’ll not be surprised to know, then, that I’ll be travelling back home sooner rather than later for a memorial service. I’ll know more about dates and such soon.
Today, though, I shall curl up once again with a book or two and, perhaps, make a bit of a dent on my backlog. Never fear though: there’s always more. Always more.
I got nothin’ witty, so I’m not even gonna try.
- I’m over halfway through the fourth Crown of Stars book. The pace has slowed down considerably for several reasons, but part of it is definitely series fatigue; I think this book is actually better than the third one, but at this point I’ve read something like 2000 pages in the setting over the course of a couple of weeks and it’s a bit much of a muchness. They’re library books, though, so I gotta keep crackin’.
- I took a very short break between the third and fourth books to read Stephen King’s On Writing, which was excellent, even if it didn’t really inspire me to… well… write. Still a strong recommendation, though. (I basically read it all in one sitting, so that was nice.)
- One of the things that distracted me from books this week: Bloodstained (the new “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with the serial numbers filed off” videogame) finally came out. I backed it on Kickstarter ages ago, and was definitely worried that it wouldn’t be any good, but… it’s fine? That said, I started playing it too soon. My save is irrevocably corrupted, apparently, thanks to them not launching the day-one patch soon enough. Ugh. I’m going to wait a couple of weeks for them to iron out some more bugs before I start over.
- Another thing: I bumped my Deadwood viewin’ to two episodes a day, because it’s Very Good and I want to watch the movie sooner rather than later. The second season is probably one of the three best seasons of television ever produced (along with the fourth season of The Wire and, I dunno, some other season of something I can’t think of right now), and I cried like a baby at Certain Events that occur near the end. I look forward to finishing it over the next week or so.
- A last thing: I had stopped watching BoardGameGeek’s GameNight! YouTube series, but I started back, and there are a lot of episodes to catch up on. It’s still by far the best “watch people play a board game” show on the Internet, and I can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re interested in seeing how a particular game plays.
- 930+ games of Dominion…
It’s late, but I haven’t even touched the book I’m reading yet today, so if you don’t mind I’m going to go and read at least fifty or so pages before I crash out. And if you do mind, well, I’m doing it anyhow.
Yeah, the calendar says Sunday, but I haven’t gone to bed yet. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just writing this very late on Saturday night. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
- I’m about a hundred pages from the end of the third book in Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series, a set of seven fantasy doorstops that were recommended in one of the many “ugh Game of Thrones” threads that inhabit the modern Internet. It’s fine. Nothing mind-blowing, but its take on a fantasy version of France in the Middle Ages is plenty enjoyable. Most importantly, the series is completely written and books four through seven sit right next to my chair, ready for me to pick them up.
- I finished up Chernobyl, which was excellent. I can’t recommend the official podcast strongly enough; it’s kind of amazing to hear the writer/producer of the whole thing point out the (intentional) factual flaws that make the show a better watch, not as some kind of back-pedaling “well I had to” sort of thing but as a frank admission that the story is fundamentally too complex in some aspects to be filmed coherently.
- A bit over halfway through the second season of Deadwood, I am constantly reminded of just how good a show it was, and how angry I’m going to be when I get to the end of the third season. I still think The Wire is better, but not by much, and together they’re the two best television shows that have ever been made. So, uh, modern HBO: what the hell happened?
- As last week, what little time I’ve spent with videogames has almost exclusively been with Everett Kaser’s puzzle titles. I created sixty-four maps/designs for his upcoming final game, partly because I wanted to put a small stamp on his last title and partly because there was a decided lack of bite-sized puzzle designs from the other folks cranking them out. I stopped there because 64 is a nice, round number, and I don’t have it in me to do another 64 to get to the next one.
- I did put about six hours into Dragon Quest IX for the DS today, though. It’s only because some intrepid Internet hacker set it up so that you can download all of the exclusive online-only quests again if you set your DS’ Wi-Fi up in a particular way, and I wanted to take advantage of that before it inevitably goes away. The game’s fine? It’s very much Dragon Quest, for good or ill.
- Yesterday marked my nine hundredth logged game of Dominion. I plan on writing a long-form expansion-by-expansion review once I hit a thousand. I suppose I like it somewhat. I also participated in an impromptu game night at Fercott on Tuesday, which was nice. Roll to the Top has become my favorite roll-and-write game, and I wish it were more easily available. It seems like the sort of game that should be in every Target and Barnes & Noble in America.
Given that it’s almost 4am, I, uh, should probably get some sleep… if only to let it become Sunday for real.
Readin’. Less so the writin’ and the ‘rithmatic.
- Yeah, lots of reading. After tearing through the Eternal Sky series, I read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It was fantastic, one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while. It’s a… re-telling, I guess, although without the modernization that usually implies, of Achilles’ rise and eventual fall, told from Patroclus’ point of view. A quick read-through of Wikipedia’s synopsis on the Iliad is helpful but not required. The book’s a romance, a tragedy, occasionally even a bit of a farce, but most of all just a damn fine read. Strong recommendation.
- I also read Light of Other Stars by Erika Swyler and String City by Graham Edwards. The former feels like a mashup of a modern literary novel and sf, not quite great as either, but I enjoyed it well enough. String City is one of those books that seems like I should have loved the heck out of it–multiple dimensions, weird sf/fantasy, noir mystery–but it felt like considerably less than the sum of its parts. I was thinking last night as to why it felt that way, and the answer I came up with is that the plot felt weightless; gods and major figures die in large numbers around the main characters, but no harm ever seems to really come their way, in manners which honestly beggar belief. That’s impressive for a book with a Greek Titan in a major supporting role.
- I’m still watching Deadwood an episode at a time; season one is nearly done. I’ve also been watching Chernobyl and listening to the official HBO podcast after each episode, with just the least one remaining now. Both are excellent, and I fully expect Chernobyl to do well in awards season this year.
- My videogaming has been very light over the past week, with the little time I’ve spent devoted to Everett Kaser’s puzzle games. After doing a stream a couple of weeks ago where I played a puzzle or two of each of his “Sherlock series” games, I decided to explore one of the two titles in that series I don’t particularly like, Baker Street. It’s still not my favorite, but I enjoy it quite a bit more than I did just a month ago. I’ve also been doing some beta-testing of the next game Mr. Kaser is working on, which also happens to be the last one, as he plans to retire after it’s released. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a solid culmination of his work, and while it’s not my favorite I look forward to giving him money one last time.
- Quite a bit of dominion.games, along with some actual in-person boardgaming on Tuesday. We played Transatlantic, which I now feel I can comfortably place in the “very good but not great” bucket, worth playing at most once or twice a year. I like the aggressive economic system, and it feels very different from Concordia (which is my favorite Eurogame of all time) despite sharing a non-trivial amount of that game’s DNA, but it has some design and production issues that make it harder to teach and harder to enjoy than its ancient-Rome counterpart. Still, I’m glad I played it again.
I have a seven-volume door-stopper fantasy series to read now. Wish me luck!
Insert metatextual reference about inserting a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure reference here here.
- Having finished off all of the core content in Borderlands last week, I set about getting the Platinum trophy, because I hate myself. Of course it has That One Trophy; in this case it’s actually not a hard one to get–you simply have to reach level 50–so much as it a tedious one. I had to play through about two-thirds of the game all over again on the second, more-challenging playthrough to get up to that level. Ugh. I was honestly quite surprised, looking at trophy counts, that it was far from the most rare trophy; I guess people like grinding through the same game multiple times? Anyway: done and dusted and trophies are still the worst.
- No more Borderlands most nights means my time has been spent elsewhere. I’ve been doing my best to transfer it to books, because I’m in danger of having another “bring a bunch of unread titles back to the library because I can’t catch up” moment, but the awful McDevitt books were slowing me down there for a while. Thankfully I powered through them and am now most of the way through Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts, a fantasy novel I bounced hard off once before but decided to give another shot. And I’m glad I did, because it’s actually quite excellent. I’ll be finishing that up today and moving on to the second and third books in the trilogy post-haste. The book I read in between, Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan, was also quite good.
- The ugh-factor of Starhawk and The Last Sunset prompted me to write a piece about long-running series earlier this week, which in retrospect comes off mostly as an “old man yells at cloud” bit. Not that I disagree with anything I said there, but, y’know, still.
- Quite a bit of dominion.games scattered throughout the week, along with Real Actual In-Person Gaming on Sunday night, thanks to Chris and Jenna inviting me over for dinner and tabletopping. (Shut up, Chrome spell-checker, that’s totally a word.) I’ve had BattleCON: War of Indines on my brain for weeks now; I honestly think it’s my favorite 2p game of all time, and wanted to show it off. Jenna seemed to enjoy it, even though it is quite overwhelming the first few times you play. We also really enjoyed a couple of games of Roll to the Top, a super-easy roll-and-write game with just enough strategic oomph to be worth playing. A game of Hanabi didn’t go great, Race for the Galaxy was interesting and challenging as always, and there was an absolutely bonkers game of Dominion where I almost cracked 100VP in a non-artificial setting and without Colonies and Platinum. Woof. Great game night all around: excellent food, company, and experiences.
- I finished watching Origin on YouTube Premium, which was solid but not amazing, and started rewatching Deadwood in anticipation of the movie this evening. I’m nowhere near done with that rewatch, but I’m also not in the biggest hurry either. My original watch was very binge-y, and sipping at it slowly over the next couple of weeks will–I hope–make the movie that much sweeter to watch.
- After being a GoodBoye on my diet for several weeks I fell off the wagon hard for a couple of days… but have managed to right myself and am back on track (and actually better off than before) already. I’m still not down to where I was immediately before those gall bladder attacks, but I should be getting there soonish. I hope.
It’s ugly wind and rain here today, which seems like a perfect excuse to curl back up with a book. And so I shall!
Even quieter than last week. Maybe next week I’ll just sleep for seven days.
- I’m most of the way through Origin, which continues to be a perfectly fine version of The Thing in space, but not a lot more. The only other television-y thing I’ve watched since last time was the series finale of Game of Thrones, which, uh, yeah. It prompted me to write a thing, at least?
- I finished Starhawk, which was dire, and made the mistake of continuing to another McDevitt novel, The Long Sunset. It’s not as bad but it’s still not great, and having it as my on-the-queue book has sapped my reading speed pretty dramatically. Ugh. On the plus side, a random suggestion in an AVClub thread about GoT led me to a (completed, thank goodness!) seven-book fantasy series. I put all of ’em on hold at the library–thanks, Cardinal system!–and they’re winging their way to the local branch as I type.
- Borderlands at night, Portal Knights on Thursday evenings. I also put a lot of time into Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone, which is both the best rhythm game I’ve played in many years and one of the most uncomfortably Japanese games I’ve ever played in my life. What a combo. I’ve beaten every song on Easy and Normal and am alternating between songs on Hard and boosting my completion percentages and perfects on the lower difficulties. One thing you can’t criticize the game for is lack of content; it has well over 200 tracks, which I’m pretty sure is the most I’ve ever seen in any single rhythm game ever.
- I’ve played quite a bit of Dominion on dominion.games this week after a bit of a hiatus. The person I play the most with is starting to get pretty good; it’s a hard row to hoe against me, with my nearly 900 plays, but they’ve gone from usually losing big to usually just losing, or even winning. In fact, they had their first “big win” night Wednesday, beating me in three of the four games we played.
- I did a bit of streaming this week. My biggest stream was playing through one or two puzzles each of Everett Kaser’s “Sherlock” series of logic puzzle games. It forced me to revisit some titles I hadn’t touched in a while, and two of them I’m not very fond of, Baker Street and Mrs. Hudson. I still don’t like the latter very much at all, but I’ve found myself doing quite a few Baker Street puzzles after grousing about them on stream. I still don’t love them, but I do like them quite a bit more than I did. See, people can change. (Also, Mycroft’s Map is still ridiculously overwhelming. I don’t see how people play that game.)
A surprisingly game-y week, even for me.
- I ended up at Fercott on both Tuesday and Wednesday evening for boardgames, which was quite nice. Tuesday we played New Frontiers, which is the “traditional board game” version of Race for the Galaxy, one of my favorite games of all time. It was fine, but felt… unnecessary? That could be my huge bias in favor of Race speaking, though. Or the fact that I lost. We also played some Hokm; it was nice to get some traditional card gaming in. Wednesday had us playing a couple of Lost Cities/Keltis-family games, plus Grifters Nexus (which seems more interesting than the original) and proper Race. That last game was a tie broken by cards in hand, a very rare outcome. I got to hear someone say that they finally felt they actually understood the game as well, which is definitely one of the biggest hurdles it has.
- Besides the real-world tabletop gaming, I’ve also continued to make fairly heavy use of dominion.games. If I were still gainfully employed I’d buy a subscription, but as-is I’m actually pretty okay with my base set + Renaissance set-up (thanks, rulebook!), to be perfectly honest.
- After finally finishing A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (which I wrote about earlier this week), I’ve moved onto State Tectonics by Malka Older. I’m enjoying it quite a bit, but I keep putting it down to do other stuff. It’s a fast read, it’s just not quite… engaging enough to make me sit in my chair and tear through it. I’ll be done soon anyway, though, given how zippy it is.
- I finally decided to start watching season 2 of Westworld, mainly because of how terrible the most recent episode of A Game of Thrones was. It’s been enjoyable, more coherent than the first season, and still gorgeous as all get-out. I’m about halfway through and curious to see where it’s going to end up with several of the plot threads, along with wondering just what a third season of the show will look like.
- On the videogame side, I went from playing Monster Hunter World heavily to becoming disenchanted with the game pretty abruptly. It started to feel way more mechanical than genuinely interesting, and I’ve put it aside for the time being. That still leaves Borderlands and Portal Knights, both of which are also pretty repetitive in their structure, but for whatever reason they don’t bother me as much.
- I’m back on keto for the most part. I treated myself to the amazing “molcajete” at the local Tex-Mex place last night, a skillet full of delicious sizzling meat, onions, and even cactus. I ate every bite. Plus some tortillas, I’m afraid, hence the “for the most part.”
If this next episode of A Game of Thrones is as bad as episode four was, I may have to break out my emergency TV rations and finally start watching Fargo season 2 or The Deuce. Here’s hoping I don’t.
In some ways, this week felt like more of a recovery period than last week, which makes no sense, but there you have it.
- Speaking of which, I’m basically completely recovered from the surgery, other than my sweet sweet new scars. (I’m only being slightly facetious; the scar in my belly button is actually kinda cool, and the others are small enough that, once they’re no longer raised due to being so recent, they’ll be pretty much unnoticeable.) I’ve been taking a lot of naps and otherwise feeling pretty lethargic, which could partly be due to the surgery… or just because I’ve been eating like crap.
- Also speaking of which, I’ve been eating like crap. I went back on keto for a couple of days and then pretty much immediately jumped back off of it. I’m giving myself until this Sunday to once again enjoy the delights of fatty starchy foods before trying to climb back on the wagon.
- Most of my spare time has been playing videogames, and for that matter co-op stuff with friends. I played a bit of Monster Hunter World over a year ago, but the group I’ve been playing EDF with has pivoted to it and we’ve been playing it a ton. So much so that I didn’t go to bed until after 5am this morning, putting in something like ten hours last night. I also played Portal Knights for the first time on Thursday with my other co-op group, which was a fine, inoffensive take on “Minecraft with classes and levels.” And there’s still Borderlands several nights a week. It’s been really nice, actually, playing games as a socialization thing on top of the joy of just, y’know, playing.
- There was a bit of Dominion Online this week as well, although not nearly as much as last week. That was the only boardgaming I managed to fit in.
- Along with poking at several Everett Kaser logic puzzle games off and on throughout the week, I continued chipping away at Picross 3D Round 2. One day…
- …and I finally made some headway in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. My plan is to read a bunch more of it today, after posting this, in hopes that I can mostly get through it and move onto the more interesting science fiction that’s hiding underneath it in my stack. If I find myself still stymied by the end of the day, I may move on anyhow, which feels a bit like defeat but more like acceptance that I’m just not that into the book.
- My car threw a Check Engine light up last weekend. That obviously scared me, but a quick visit to Auto Zone and its OBD reader informed me that there’s something up with the gas cap. I bought a replacement; no dice. Apparently the gas cap sensor is broken. Eh. As issues go, I can live with it.
- My new friend LisaLiisa just hit affiliate on Twitch. She was my one non-personal-friend subscriber, and she plays more regularly (and more interesting stuff) than I ever did. Check her out.
Prepare for the lack of excitement.
- I could say that I spent most of the week recovering from my surgery, and I suppose that’s technically true, but honestly it simply hasn’t been a very big deal. I went from downing ~6 ibuprofen a day to 2-3 on Monday and stopped taking it entirely on Wednesday, and I’m not completely convinced that it was ever actually doing… well… anything in the first place. There’s still a bit of a twinge of pain when I sit down and stand up, but it’s extremely minor. I have a pretty sweet enormous bruise under my belly button now too that didn’t show up until Monday. But I also ran the roads, ate what I wanted, and otherwise lived a pretty dang normal life for me. Recovering? Ehh.
- Speaking of which, I immediately proceeded to eat a bunch of things you’re not really supposed to eat whilst recovering from having your gall bladder removed, because I wanted to know sooner rather than later if diet was going to be an issue. Given that I’ve now had fried chicken, spicy tortilla chips, deep-dish pizza, and tons of ramen, I think I can conclusively state that there’s been no meaningful change to what my body can handle. Except, of course, I don’t have gall bladder attacks any more. Woo!
- I’m pretty sure my Twitch experiment is done for, at least the more-serious daytime streaming I did that led me to finishing Final Fantasy III and Destiny of an Emperor. The combination of low viewership (which, I know I know, grows over time) and my desire to be “engaging” made it feel much more like work than like something I was enjoying. I’ll probably still do evening PS4 streams, because those are decidedly low-effort on my part, but otherwise I suspect I’m done. A shame, too, because my emotes are pretty sweet. We’ll see how long Twitch keeps me as an affiliate despite not actually doing anything worth, y’know, being one…
- We had a board game night at Fercott on Tuesday, which surprised the woman who runs the place, given how close it was to my procedure. It was a chance to introduce someone new to more complex games, and I used Dominion for that introduction, as I think it’s in a sweet spot of “simple core, complex strategy” that can act as a killer gateway to bigger-box games. I wrote about my trepidation regarding teaching games earlier this week; given that I was teaching a game I’ve taught something like a hundred times, though, it went just fine.
- I also played a ton of Dominion online via the official site yesterday, an even dozen of games over several hours with quite a few different people. (All friends, though; I don’t play with random folk.) All of the games involved Renaissance, which I continue to enjoy a great deal.
- I watched two movies on Monday: Aquaman, which was Just Fine, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which may be the best superhero movie ever made. I don’t know that I can say anything about it that hasn’t already been said online, but: if you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s fantastic.
- I may finally be reaching the end of Picross 3D Round 2; the last couple of book completions (sets of puzzles in the game) haven’t made new ones appear yet. It’s been a long haul and, as much as I’ve enjoyed the game, I’m pleased that it will actually be ending. Maybe not soon–there are still a lot of puzzles to solve–but having an end in sight may motivate me to play it faster.
- Play of both Borderlands and Earth Defense Force 5 continues apace. I also started playing Live a Live, a SNES-era JRPG that was never brought to the States (but has a fan translation), as a follow-up to Destiny of an Emperor. I’m not streaming any more but will probably finish the game; it’s been quite interesting so far.
- I sure should be reading this stack of books I checked out from the library when I thought I was going to be a bit more convalescent than I actually am. Hm.
So far, a strong recommendation for removing failing organs from your body. A+ would remove gall bladder again.
This evening, I’ll be teaching a group of people how to play Dominion. This is something I have done many, many, many times before; I suspect that I have introduced the game to somewhere between fifty and a hundred people over the years. When it comes to that first game of deck crafting goodness, I have the patter down cold.
In general, though, I feel like I flounder a bit when it comes to showing people how to play new games. This may come as a surprise to some folks reading this, as I am pretty much always the Designated Teaching Authority™ if I have even the slightest passing knowledge of the game at hand. It’s not that I think I’m a bad teacher, really; it’s just that I think I could be a lot better.
Education is a hard problem in general, and teaching people how to play comes with its own set of additional complexities that can make it even more of a challenge. Let’s go over some of those in convenient bulleted form:
- People are being taught how to play a game because they want to play a game, and so every minute spent explaining is a minute spent not actually playing. This encourages glossing over important details, makes it easy to forget steps when you’re just trying to get to the end of the explanation, and brings in all of that “I have to keep their attention so they don’t decide to just bail” tension that makes teaching a new thing extra fun and exciting.
- Gearing a teaching session appropriately given a mixed group can feel impossible. This is obviously a problem all teachers face, but most educational milieus have a relatively captive audience: the kids are in a structured school system, or are paying for their education, and so have incentives to stick around during an explanation they already understand–or ask questions about ones they don’t–so that they can come out the other end with, well, an education. You can always just throw your hands up, say “it’s too much,” and walk away from a board game. And there’s almost nothing more distracting to a teacher than someone pulling out a phone and poking at it because they’re finding the explanation too simple… particularly when said person asks questions because they weren’t really paying attention. Not that I’m referring to specific instances. Cough.
- As a leisure activity, it’s not uncommon for some people at the table to not really care that they’re “doing it wrong.” Other people at the table can take this very, very poorly. Since the majority of board games are shared experiences, different levels of engagement in terms of absorbing how the game works can have a large impact on how other people experience the game session, so finding a way to teach “the right way” without ruffling feathers or sounding insulting is something that has to be navigated constantly even once the game has started.
Teaching something well requires a solid grasp on the subject, which means I often spend a non-trivial amount of time poring over rulebooks before first plays, but if it really is my first time playing then there’s a whole lot of guessing as to what bits need emphasis, what rules will turn out to be the most confusing or relevant, and so on. For a game like Dominion or Hanabi where I’ve played hundreds of times and seen all the common mistakes over and over again, those details are easy to incorporate, but for a big-box Eurogame I’ve only played once or twice it often feels like shots in the dark.
Still: I try. I watch facial expressions and try to gauge comprehension, I stop and ask if people have any questions, and I work on my explanations of situations both simple and complex in an attempt to make them both educational and engaging. I think I get a little bit better each time, although I can’t be sure; I try to see what parts went over peoples’ heads, what I didn’t explain well enough, and incorporate that into the next time. The proof, as always, is in the play, and I can only hope that I can keep playing to find out.