Saturday, June 13, 2009

Boardgame Ramblings

What's currently on my board-gaming radar?

BGG Census

If you haven't taken a look at it yet, surf on over to BoardGameGeek and take a look at the 2009 Census Poll created by LankyEngineer. It's pretty interesting. Anyone who has been gaming for a long time or visiting BGG for years won't be the least bit surprised by certain outcomes (such as 95% of the respondents being Male, over 90% of the folks liking Euro games, 75% of the gamers being college educated, and the most popular beverage consumed while gaming being Beer at 41%).

But there were some really interesting results, at least in my view. Did you know that the prime age range for boardgamers was 31 to 40? I was shocked to see how few people under the age of 25 responded to the census. I grew up on boardgames, playing a LOT of them in my teen and college years. Perhaps today's youngsters focus on video games and RPGs to the exclusion of boardgames, and then discover them once they're more established in life? Or perhaps young people don't like Euro games, which is undoubtedly a strong focus of people who frequent the BGG website?

I also found it interesting to see the precipitous drop-off of boardgamers once you hit age 46 (which I'll be hitting next year!), and especially once you reach age 51. Obviously, lack of free time is an issue for everyone as they get older, especially for mid-lifers who are often juggling the demands of wife, kids, job, and general home tasks. Some of us have too many other competing hobbies (such as fantasy baseball, miniature wargaming, and painting for me). But still, why should you stop having fun just because your hair is turning gray?

It was also eye-opening to see the number of people who shared the same profession that I do. Almost 25% of respondents listed Computer Science (IT) as their profession.

There's probably 3 major reasons for this. First, computer folks are THINKERS and ANALYZERS by nature. Most boardgames (especially medium/heavy Euros, wargames, and meatier Ameritrash games) are "thinker" oriented activities. Secondly, computer people spend so much time on the computer, it's refreshing to get away from their machines and play non-digital games. It's our chance to be touchy feely and grab tangible game pieces instead of just pushing bytes around with our minds. Third, computer folks often work in semi-isolation. Sure, there are design meetings to participate in and think-sessions, but activities like programming are pretty much a solitary pursuit. Playing boardgames enables you to interact socially with your friends and share in group-based fun. So I guess when all is said and done, boardgames fulfill some very human needs that our computers don't!

Another surprising tidbit in the 2009 Census was that half of the respondents don't go to any game conventions during the year. These are serious gamer geeks, and half of them don't travel to those heavenly meccas of Geekdom? Shocking! I must admit that I don't really go to conventions to PLAY games all that much. I go to BUY STUFF and to GET INSPIRED by seeing all the cool stuff in one centralized place. You also meet some nice people along the way, which is a major bonus. So if you're one of those folks who has never attended a game convention, I strongly encourage you to try it, at least once. Check out the National Gamers Guild for a list of major conventions across the USA.

Summer Boardgaming

The 1st Quarter of every year is usually a "dead period" for me with regards to boardgames. I'm always crazy-busy with preseason fantasy baseball stuff, working on updates to my Rhino Baseball software, and organizing league events and prepping for my HARL baseball draft. Plus, I generally spend more of my time involved in miniature wargaming than boardgaming, so any free time for tabletop gaming during the early part of the year is allotted to my tiny tin men. I usually take a trip down to Lancaster PA for Cold Wars in March to get my early-year miniatures fix and spend some birthday money that's been quietly sitting around since January.

Once summer rolls around, I try to get my gamer friends to play some boardgames with me. Finding mutually agreeable weekend gaming dates for a bunch of 40-somethings, many of them with small kids, is often akin to herding cats. But I try to do my best.

Recently, I've acquired a bunch of new boardgames to add to my over-large collection. Truthfully, buying more new games is NOT a practical thing for me. I've already got more games on my closet shelves than I can possibly play over the next 4 years. But there's such an addictive quality to getting new games. Every once and awhile, you need a fix!

To support "my habit", I got the following new games and expansions over the past 2 months:

  1. Fire and Axe

  2. Age of Conan

  3. Shadows Over Camelot: Merlin's Company (expansion)

  4. Cutthroat Caverns: Relics & Ruins (expansion)

  5. Dragon's Gold

  6. Cave Troll

  7. Dungeon Twister: Forces of Darkness (expansion)
Four of these are completely new games to me, while the others are expansions to some of my favorite games of all time. You can probably tell from this list that I absolutely LOVE fantasy, adventure, and war/combat themes in my games. The game styles run the gamut from co-op to negotiation to conquest to strategic-thinking to beer & pretzels madness. I tend to shy away from rules-complex and ultra-long games, because if I desire to go that particular route then I'd much rather play a miniatures wargame instead. Sorry BGG geeks!

Hopefully, I can get many of these games to the table this summer. Plus, I have a bunch of unplayed Euro gems I want to play as well (Big City, El Grande, Aladdin's Dragons, Wallenstein). Wish me luck!

Culling My Collection

Despite my recent game purchasing spree, I've resigned myself to whittling down my boardgame collection to 40 or 50 or so great games. This summer I'm hoping to sell off games that I simply don't forsee playing anytime soon or perhaps ever again. Can you say eBay?

When you have over 150 games, you start to get irrationally attached to them. I played countless games of Strat-O-Matic Hockey and Sports Illustrated Baseball when I was growing up, and I'm pretty sure I'll never play them again. But due to the fondness I have for those games, it's difficult to part with them. Sentimentality is often a hard thing to break.

I was enamored by the cool bits of Doom and Tide of Iron, and the good reviews many people had of them, but they remain in their shrink-wrap, unplayed. Sometimes, games just don't scratch enough of your personal itch. I'll usually always choose a fantasy game over a sci-fi title. Dragons, orcs, and wizards trump space marines and aliens for me. Thus, Doom has languished despite the fact that it was one of my top-3 favorite video games of all time and I loved the theme. Tide of Iron has remain unplayed because I'm more interested in ancient and medieval warfare provided by games such as Hammer of the Scots or Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage.

There are plenty of games in my collection like that; interesting, well-designed games, but games that haven't lit my personal passion enough to get them to the gaming-table ahead of other more enticing titles.

Game length is also a factor. I sold off Arkham Horror awhile ago after it languished on my shelf for 3 years. Sacrilege! Maybe. I was VERY enamored with the theme. Who doesn't enjoy running away from tentacled monstrosities and trying to avoid getting their brains turned into mint jelly? But getting that type of game (complex rules with 4+ hour playing time) to the table with my particular game group proved to be highly daunting.

So I'm going to have to make some tough decisions. Sticking with only 40 or 50 games seems like a prudent and practical idea. But can I really break my addiction? That will be the true test.

Shout Outs

Just a couple of quick shout-outs to some new gaming related blogs, podcasts, and news that I've come across recently...

For some informative video reviews of boardgames, including the weirdly captivating time-lapse game session videos, check out Josh Jenkins's blog called the Non-Stop Tabletop.

If you're a game addict but want to try and save money, check out A Year of Frugal Gaming blog. It's especially useful for miniatures enthusiasts. Some recent articles of keen interest were one on stripping paint off of plastic minis, and a nice article on scratch terrain building.

For those of you into JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth, bookmark this page which points to Fantasy Flight Games upcoming release of their massive Middle Earth Quest boardgame. It sounds pretty neat. I'm curious just how well a LOTR game that doesn't feature Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Gollum will really do. Removing the key characters that we all know and love from the world of Middle Earth would seem to suck a huge part of life out of that storybook world. We shall see...

I'm a huge podcast listener. I've got over 400 shows loaded into iTunes. For a long-time, my top-3 favorite game-related podcasts have been The Dice Tower (with Tom Vasel), The Spiel (with Stephen Conway & Dave Coleson), and Meeples & Miniatures (with Neil Schuck).
There are several other excellent podcasts, but none that have consistently measured up to the stellar quality of these 3 shows....until now.

One of my new favorites is the terrific podcast put out by Cody Jones and John Richard entitled Game On! with Cody and John. These guys bring a hefty enthusiasm to gaming, do some excellent in-depth reviews, aren't afraid to share their honest opinions, and are the type of gamers who don't take themselves too seriously (my kind of guys!). Plus, they love baseball! How friggin cool is that! Give them a listen today!

Another fantastic podcast is The D6 Generation (with Russ Wakelin, Craig Gallant, and Raef Granger). Perhaps the funniest podcast of the bunch and the most Ameritrash focused (as these guys truly love fantasy/sci-fi games, miniatures, and beer & pretzels boardgames). Nobody goes as in-depth on a single game as these guys do. If you can't make a decision on whether to buy or pass on a particular new game after hearing this trio talk about it, then you've probably had your brain eaten by zombies. The only negative about the show is that it's too damn long, often running over 3 hours. It's not something you can listen to in one, or even two sittings unless you have lots of free time on your hands. But hey, it's their show and they can do whatever they think is best! Still, it comes highly recommended.

And lastly... give the Noisemaker miniatures podcast a listen. Bert is the type of enthusiastic old-school minis gamer that gives the hobby a good name. This isn't a flashy show with high production values. Rather, it's just good, honest CONTENT with a focus on FUN. I find the podcast to be a source of inspiring ideas and useful opinions. Check it out.

Until next time.... SEVY out!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Brown Eyed Man and the Chocolatier

Once upon a time there lived a brown-eyed man. He was a creative soul who toiled in virtual obscurity, doing what he loved. But after many grueling years of being overworked and underpaid, the frustrated man sought out a new path in life. He shouted into the digital ether, hoping that some sentient being out there in the vast cosmos of 0's and 1's would hear his plea for guidance. He sat back, drank a raspberry margarita on Cinco De Mayo and waited.

The call came from the mystical chocolatier, Mr. Goodbar, who lived high upon a hill in his shining factory. The brown-eyed man sat down for a pow-wow with the chocolatier and they chatted about manufacturing candy bars, building software, and appeasing the Oracle. It was a good meeting.

Days passed. The brown-man spent the time watching the Steel Magnolias grow, and engaging his friends in mythical warfare with scores of tiny tin troops who battled across a killing field made of fake grass. He celebrated his wedding anniversary, taking the girl he loved to a land where tasty Italian dishes were served in countless numbers to patrons of all shapes and sizes.

He met with the chocolatier again. They seemed to hit it off. The brown-eyed man was intrigued. Perhaps his future was in the candy making business? Time would tell.

The brown-eyed man traveled to the far reaches of Virginia to contemplate his future. He walked the fields of Fredericksburg, consulting with the ghosts of long-dead Civil War soldiers. He chatted with Martha Washington at Mount Vernon, who told him there was no dishonor in working for a chocolatier. Even the men at the Game Parlor in the duchy of Woodbridge agreed, but then they would probably say anything nice just to ensure that the brown-eyed man paid for his $100+ boxes of board games and tin soldiers and went out the door wide-eyed and happy, not knowing what damage he just did to his now appreciably lighter wallet.

Upon his return, the brown-eyed man got a phone call. It was from a representative of the chocolatier. The candy-maker wanted him to come work for his company. Heath Bars, Peppermint Patties, and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups were calling. A few were even eaten in celebration, and there was much rejoicing.

And then it was JUNE...

Yes, it was a crazy month for me (the brown eyed man), one filled with lots of excitement and anticipation. I landed a new consulting job as an Application Design Analyst working at Hershey (the candy folks). I'm optimistic that it will work out well. But it's scary. After running my own small company for 14+ years, the thought of working for someone else is a very strange feeling to be sure. I hope I like it, and I hope they like me. Wish me luck!