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Finishing up the year

Finishing up the year

So it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve posted. It’s been busier than normal. I finished up my most recent job contract on the 13th and we moved yesterday, the 14th, from Oakland, CA, down to Woodland Hills, CA, which is North LA. Like I mentioned, it was a whirlwind of a couple weeks. We spent 4 of the 5 weekday evenings last week hanging out with friends that we had made in Oakland, and we were playing games on 2 of those days. The other day was spent packing up all of our stuff and getting ready for the 5-and-a-half-hour drive. All in all, it’s been a good week, although busy.

It’s also the season where all the board game media outlets, whether that be bloggers, youtubers, or podcasters, have been putting together their best of 2016 lists. I have probably casually read or listened to at least 10 best-of-‘16 lists, and that is without really searching them out. And that’s a little bit about what I want to talk about today.

Starting for the next few weeks (not entirely sure how many), I’m going to start doing weekly(hopefully), reviews of games that came out in 2016. I won’t be doing a big top ten list or a countdown, or anything like that. I’m just going to try to highlight some of the games that were really popular this year and that were swept up in the “hotness.” While traveling around, I don’t always get to play the new games that have all the buzz, but this year we’ve done a decent job of at least playing a lot of them, and buying some of them too. That’s the big reason I won’t do a top ten. I don’t feel that I’ve played enough games to base that on.

Some of the games that will be coming in the next little while are Cry Havoc, Inis, New Bedford, Great Western Trail, and many others. Like I mentioned above, the plan is to try to get one review out per week, and if I’m feeling really ambitious, maybe more. It’s going to be kind of a miniseries/retrospective on 2016 games.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts, and if there are any specific games that you think I should try to feature, feel free to let me know on facebook at the Great Lakes Gamer page or on twitter at @TheGLGamer!

Shopping Close to Home

Shopping Close to Home

As we near the end holidays, I’m sure most people have spent more time shopping during the last 6 weeks than they have in the 6 months prior. I’m not a big fan of shopping. I love to be out and about during the holiday season, and be out in the bustle of people running around and looking for those last second gifts. There’s just something fun about being in a shopping center around Christmas, especially when there isn’t anything you need to get. It’s one of my favorite things about this time of year.

Before you think I’ve gone down the rabbit hole, hold on. So far I’ve written a lot about shopping, and there’s a reason. That’s what I want to talk about today. As we near the holidays, I’m sure most people reading this have a laundry list of games on their Christmas lists. I know that I had a big list and I was given the go-ahead from my wonderful wife to put in a big order from Cool Stuff Inc. And when buying a whole pile of games, it’s so much more affordable to buy from one of the big online retailers that provide healthy discounts and quick shipping. Even Amazon, who doesn’t specialize in board games, will still have pretty nice discounts on gaming merchandise, if you keep an eye out. And like I mentioned, when buying in bulk, stacking those discounts can save a whole pile of cash.

This year’s Christmas haul

However, as you continue through the year and look ahead to future board game purchases, don’t forget about your FLGS (friendly local game store, for those who don’t know all the gaming lingo). Like any other business, the little guys take a hit with every purchase that’s made online. Now, I don’t want to get preachy. It you read this and you don’t have a game store that you regularly go to, then this may not apply to you as much. I like my money. I like things that allow me to keep my hands on it. That being said, think about what your game store provides for you. Most game stores have table/gaming space. That increases their overhead. I know that a majority of gaming events I go to are held in game stores. While we travel, we don’t always have access to tables that are big enough to play games. Game stores give us a place to enjoy our hobby while we run around the country. A lot of game stores have some form of game library. You may not always be able to check them out and take them home, but there are games available for you to play. That’s another cost that they eat, to provide a service to you. And I may be off base, because I haven’t been to every game store across the globe, but very few that I’ve seen have a cover charge to play. You can walk through the front door, sit down for a few hours in their building, play some games, and walk back out without spending a dime. Some will even offer some form of discount if you’re a regular attendee or game group member.

There are so many entertainment options in today’s society, and game stores provide a service without asking for anything other than your patronage. There needs to be value in that. I’m not saying that every time you buy a game, you need to buy it at a game store, but I really think they deserve some of your money. My wife and I always try to buy some form of soda or snack every time we go to a game store. It’s small, but it’s a way for us to show a little support frequently. We also try to make all game purchases under 15 dollars at game stores. Typical your online discounters aren’t going to give you more than 5 bucks off a $15 game. The last sort of “rule of thumb” we follow, is that we try to make a purchase of a large game in a FLGS at least once every 3-4 months. Sure, we may be able to buy it for $15-$30 cheaper online, but I think local stores are deserving of the money.

Don’t take this as rules that I think everyone should follow. These are just some decisions my wife and I have made. If they inspire you to spend a little more money at your local game store, then I’m glad you took the time to read this. We need to make sure our friendly local game stores feel appreciated. Most of us wouldn’t have the great friends we have if we didn’t have these open places to play games and meet new gamers.

Have an awesome holiday season and enjoy the last week of shopping!!

(Not) Home for the Holidays

(Not) Home for the Holidays

I know this is a board game blog. Primarily, that’s what I write about, but I started writing this week and this is what came out. Not really about board games, but I like it. That’s why I still posted it. And if you only want to read about the board game side of things, I’ll get back to that nearer the bottom.

While traveling around the country for work has its perks, it also has its downsides. One of the biggest bummers that my wife and I experience is when we are unable to celebrate holidays with family. We’ve been fortunate, up to this point, to be able to celebrate the major holidays with family and friends. This year changes that. We are currently living in Northern California and when we started looking at the cost of flights home around both Thanksgiving and Christmas, we realized that they don’t fit in the budget. Thanksgiving was the first major holiday that I haven’t spent with my family. This will be the first Christmas that I don’t spend in Michigan. It’s been pretty difficult so far. My wife and I both called home on Thanksgiving and got to talk to our families, and we’ll do the same for Christmas, but it doesn’t do the job.

Another aspect that makes it difficult is social media. A majority of posts and tweets on Thanksgiving Day were of families celebrating. Pictures of full tables of food, crowded living rooms and tables with board games being played. Commercials don’t help. Everyone on TV has been making it home for the holidays. It also seems that the Christmas radio stations have been teaming up on us. I think every third song we’ve heard has either been Home for the Holidays or I’ll be home for Christmas.

While it has been tough, it has been good for us. It makes us realize just how excited we are to someday settle down. And it helps us to empathize with those who don’t get to go home. We get to spend time with just the two of us thinking and dreaming about what those future holidays look like. For us, that will have to include lots of family and friends. We both love the times when the people we care most about are all brought together.

That’s why we love board games so much. It gives us an opportunity to gather a group of people together and enjoy being with one another. Whether that’s divided up into a huge game of Codenames with people dropping in and out, playing a simple and light trick taking game like Little Devils, or trying to figure out what my wife is trying to communicate to the rest of us as the ghost in Mysterium. It’s not just spending the time together, but interacting and creating memories that we get to carry with us. I can’t tell you how many family Christmases I had growing up where we didn’t have at least 2 or 3 groups of people playing cribbage and I always looked forward to that time after we got done eating and the cards would come out.

That’s the beauty of this hobby. It gives us the opportunity to interact in a world where interaction is slowly turning digital. We get to put down the devices and spend time face to face with those we care about. I can’t wait until we get to instill those values and memories into our own children.

I hope everyone had a great thanksgiving and that the rest of the holiday season is awesome as well!

Game on!

Story-based Campaigns

Story-based Campaigns

One of the things my wife and I are looking forward to diving into is storytelling/campaign games. I love immersive games. I want to feel like I’m a part of the world in the game. I want my decisions to feel like they have more of an effect than just moving a cube from here to there. I want characters that evolve and change over the course of the game. That is going to be one of our next steps for 2 player gaming. We’ll still play other games, but we are excited for campaigns. The two games that we are planning on playing are Mice and Mystics and Star Wars: Imperial Assault.

We’ve played through the entire base set of Mice and Mystics with some friends back in Michigan, and are really excited to give it another run through to rediscover the story and characters. In Mice and Mystics, you take on the role of a group of mice that were previously humans, as they progress through an epic story to try and take their castle and kingdom back. The great thing about Mice and Mystics is the story elements. As you play through the different chapters of the story book, you uncover new introductions and epilogues with pieces of story, as well as in game triggers that will further the narrative. This is a fully cooperative game where my wife and I will play together against minions and baddies as we advance the story.

The other game I mentioned is Star Wars: Imperial Assault. Imperial Assault (IA) takes place in the Star Wars universe between episodes 4 and 5. With IA, I’ll be playing the Imperials against my wife, who will play the part of the rebel forces. This game features much more strategic gameplay as we will be actively playing against each other. Between missions, each of us will be able to upgrade our forces as we unlock new weapons and abilities. This game still features the story aspects, but they are second fiddle to the actual gameplay. This game forces or allows (depending on your take) you to make your own story as you go. It gives you basic plot points, but rarely does it give you more than a few sentences of story.

What we love about campaign style storytelling games is that it’s a continuous experience. It isn’t a one and done type game. The decisions you make in one sitting will have an effect in future games. It almost gives you the feel of actually being inside a book or a movie. You control the characters and how they change and evolve. Additionally, I’ve mentioned before that I’m not an inherently creative person. I would never be able to write about or create a world, but I love that the frame work is already laid out for me, and I can fill in the blanks however I see fit.

I fully plan on doing full reviews of these games at some point, but I want to wait until I’ve gotten through their campaigns. I’ve played each of them a decent amount, but I want to be able to talk about them once I’ve rounded out their stories. What campaign style games do you play and why do you love them? I’d love to hear your recommendations for immersive storytelling games!

Riding in the Car

Riding in the Car

As a contract therapist, you drive a lot. Since December, my wife and I have put over 25,000 miles on our car. We have to drive across country to my new job location, plus when we get there we spend every weekend taking mini road trips to make sure we are able to see as many of the sights as we can. That adds up to lots of hours in the car. When we went on our honeymoon, we drove to Florida and talked basically the entire time. It was great. We drive so much right now, that even though we love each other dearly, sometimes it’s nice to not have to talk and just drive/ride.

That was the case until I realized that the time spent in the car doesn’t have to be wasted time. There are several different things that my wife and I like to do when we are in the car, that don’t always involve just talking about random topics, although we still do enjoy that. For the past 8 months, we have put a concerted effort into making sure our drive times aren’t just burnt hours, but that the time in the car is “accomplishing” something.

The biggest thing that my wife and I like to do is listen to podcasts. We listen to all sorts. I know I’m behind the curve on listening to podcasts, seeing as we’ve only been into it a short time, but there is so much good content out there. For gaming, I’m a big fan of listening to The Dice Tower Podcast. They cover interesting topics and it’s relatively easy listening. They keep the show moving with different segments that discuss several different aspects of the hobby and I get a lot of exposure to games that I’ve never heard of. I also like listening to the Plaid Hat Games Podcast. That show is more focused on their products, but they’re a fun bunch to listen to.

I’ve also gotten into serialized fiction podcasts, and I’d be remiss to not mention a few of my favorites. Disclaimer: The content on these podcasts is not family friendly, so listen without the kids around. My favorite has been a series called Limetown. It’s a fictional documentary style show about a town where 300 people went missing overnight. Very good quality and VERY creepy. I also really like The Black Tapes podcast which is the same style as Limetown, except about the paranormal. If you’re a Walking Dead fan then you should definitely check out We’re Alive. This is more of a radio theater show that takes place immediately following a zombie apocalypse.

Outside of podcasts, my wife and I do some of our best brainstorming while riding in the car. This website was actually conceived while we were taking a day trip. We make sure that we always had a pad of paper in the car in case a good idea strikes us. Along those lines, being a gamer yields itself to thoughts on possibly designing a game. We have pages of ideas on potential game designs and mechanics that might someday work in a game. We’ve even spent time developing games in their early stages that may someday even make it to the market.

Time spent in the car doesn’t need to be wasted. Even if it’s something as simple as listening to a podcast, we always feel better about that time than simply clicking through the radio stations.
What things do you do while spending time in the car to be productive?

The Great Gamers of Santa Fe

The Great Gamers of Santa Fe

So far, I’ve talked a lot about what we’ve done when we’ve found ourselves in a city or location that doesn’t have an active gaming population. You’ve read about the difficulties of not having a game group, and how to still get your fix when no one you know wants to game. Now for a better experience we’ve had.

When my wife and I travelled to Santa Fe, New Mexico for work, I was a little excited before we even left. Of course, I had gotten on meet up and googled game stores, and sure enough, a meetup game group existed. At first glance, it didn’t have a lot of people RSVP for events, but I wasn’t too worried about it. Those are rarely accurate. I also noticed that this group hosted a gaming meetup every Monday evening at a local comic book store. I figured that was a good thing that there was enough interest to have a weekly gathering. I was cautiously optimistic.

We arrived in Santa Fe at about 5:30 on a Monday evening, and as badly as I wanted to dump all of our stuff at our apartment and hurry to the game night, my wife(again the voice of reason) reiterated to me that it would be better to unpack our things and get organized instead of hurrying off to game night. I was disappointed, but one of the reasons I married her was because she’s typically smarter than me.

The next week we packed up a bag of board games and headed to the comic store. There’s always some nerves when you go to an event where you aren’t going to know anybody. Fortunately, those nerves were quickly settled. I don’t remember what game we played that first night, or even who we played with, but I will tell you that the group of gamers that they have out in Santa Fe are a pretty awesome bunch. We felt super welcomed and invited to be a part of the group, not just some participants. Every Monday thereafter, as well as every Wednesday at a different venue, my wife and I made sure to get together with our new gaming friends. The community out there did it right. If you were new, there was always someone to introduce themselves and play a game with you. Rarely did people attend an event, play a game or two, and leave without at least one or two people going out of their way to make newcomers feel welcomed.

When our time in Santa Fe had come to an end, we were very sad and disappointed to have to leave this new group that we had become a part of. I had made genuine friends that had extended beyond the surface level. We had gotten to know each other and develop relationships that normally wouldn’t have been created in such a short time. I look forward to the day when I’ll be able to get back to Santa Fe to see that gaming group again or hopefully cross paths with them at a convention or 2.

I really feel that that’s the power of gaming. The ability to take total strangers and put them in a setting where you can interact with one another while getting to know each other. It provides a medium for developing relationships.

Like I mentioned above, while South Carolina had been a difficult state to be in, New Mexico was the exact opposite. I’m sure I would have made friends and gotten to know people, but I don’t know how well that would have been without board games.

What great friendships have been created for you because of gaming?

Making Games Fit

Making Games Fit

When you travel around the country, there are certain limitations on your gaming that you need to impose upon yourself. One of the biggest struggles is what to do with your board game collection while you travel around. Let me start by saying that the thing that takes up the most space while we travel, are our board games. Sure, we take clothes and toiletries, but inch for inch, board games are a definite space hog. Every time my wife and I pack up to head to a new location, we have to decide which games stay and which games go. I don’t want to say it’s like picking between my children, but considering I don’t have kids yet, I’m going to count it. Between job placements, we go back to Michigan where our families are, along with the rest of our belongings.

Then the debate begins.

I’m usually on board with bringing every game we own, but in order to do that, we’d need to buy a much bigger vehicle than we currently have. Thank god for my wife. At that point, she becomes the voice of reason and cuts through my decisions like a hot knife through butter. We usually pair it down to 35-40 games, and then things get serious. This is where my wife goes on the offensive. She’ll take a game, like Dead of Winter for example, which is one of our favorite games, and start pitching why we shouldn’t bring it, saying things like “It will make us more excited to play it the next time,” or “It’s such a popular game that somebody will have to have it where we’re going.” Eventually we pair it down to around 25-30 games. At that point, our creativity has to kick in. We have very few games remaining that have their original insert in the box. We pull any insert that isn’t explicitly necessary. Next comes the reboxing. We packed Race for the Galaxy in the box with Roll for the Galaxy. We were able to not only fit all of Euphoria in its box, but also The Grizzled, Tiny Epic Galaxies, Welcome to the Dungeon, AND No Thanks. Some boxes end up with two large games, and that’s all they’ll fit. In the box for Spector Ops, we also have all the components for Steampunk Rally.

Reboxing Example

Here’s an example of our reboxing. In the box for Royals, we have all of the Royals components, plus Little Devils, Arcadia, and the Codenames box, which contains all the components for both Codenames and Codenames: Pictures (Sorry for the bag glare)

When it’s all said and done, we have a pretty decently sized collection that we’re able to conveniently transport. The games that don’t make the cut usually head to our friend’s houses. We have a few friends back at home that are very involved with our gaming group and we let the gaming group have access to them, while other friends have favorites that they specifically request to hold onto. While it’s difficult to leave games behind, it does give my wife and I something to look forward to when we get back home. We get to rediscover old favorites and there have even been occasions where we have forgotten we’ve even owned a game until we start going through our collection.

Overall, traveling with our own board games has been a lot of fun. We’re forced to decide which games are the ones we want to play and teach, which games we just want to have with us, and which games just aren’t good for traveling. Inevitably, we end up taking more games than we’ll probably play in a 3 month period, but it’s fun to dream. And we never know, but maybe we’ll get through everything we brought and then the next place we go we can take a whole new set. Either way, the important thing is that we get to take a piece of home with us and have fun doing it.

What games would you make sure got to travel along with you?

Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle

As I type this post, I’m currently riding in the car while my wife drives us through the flat land of Iowa. It has been a whirlwind of a fortnight. That makes me sound cooler than I am. It’s been a crazy 2 weeks. We have been busy basically nonstop and are now starting the long drive West to Oakland, California, where I start my next placement in the middle of next week. Due to this, I’ve been a little bit MIA. Let me give a quick recap.

From August 2nd to August 7th, my wife and I were in Indianapolis for Gencon. Gencon is the biggest board gaming convention in the United States, and I think I saw that the attendance was around 65,000 people this year. We were volunteering with our friend’s company, Underbite Games, helping demo and present their new digital project, Super Dungeon Tactics. I’ll do a complete post on that game in the future, when it goes live. Not-actually-a-spoiler-alert, but it’s awesome. While at Gencon I was able to connect with some great friends, play some awesome games, and meet some really cool people. I’ve got lots of new and interesting ideas for all new types of content that I’m really excited to share with you all, and that couldn’t have happened without the opportunity to go to Gencon.

We got back from Gencon and spent 2 days washing our clothes and repacking the car before we left for Northern Michigan where we camped from the 10th of August to the 14th. My wife’s father’s side of the family does a large reunion/campout once a year in early August. As they describe it, it’s a weekend of Polacks in the woods. It a fun weekend of camping, relaxing, and getting to catch up with family that is typically only seen once a year.

Both of these events were awesome, but we finished camping on the 14th, went to my parent’s house for a day, and then had 1 day to pack all of our belongings and hit the road.

Like I said. Crazy.

Now that we’re on our way to a little more normalcy, I can get back to things with a little more regularity. I’ll get back on the “1 new blog and 1 new review” per week schedule. I’ll also be spending some time trying to continue to work on the actual format of the website, so expect a few changes, but nothing drastic.

I’ve also got some other small projects coming down the pipeline and things are really getting exciting behind the scenes of the Great Lakes Gamer. I’m excited to continue to grow and develop these projects and share them all with you along the way. Thanks for reading and as always, feel free to comment and let me know what you think!!

D&B TTR Route

P.S. Some awesome friends of ours created this pic to show our route that we are taking to the Bay Area from Grand Rapids!!! It’s not quite exact but it’s as close as you can get, and we loved it!!

Finding Fellow Gamers

Finding Fellow Gamers

Whenever you move to a new area, you have to figure out where all of your new “go-to’s” will be. Where is the best pizza in town? Where will you buy your groceries? Which movie theater is best? As an avid gamer, you’ll need to find where your gaming venue will be. I’ve talked a little bit about this before, but I figured I could go a little more in depth as to how I find new places and people to game with.

My favorite way to find gamers is through Meetup.com. They have a search option that lets you search within a certain mile radius for groups with similar interests. One of the things that you can do on meetup that I’d recommend if there isn’t a specific board game group, is contact the organizers of similar groups. If there’s a chess players meetup or a D&D meetup, see if the organizers know anybody that would be interested in playing board games. Generally speaking, these people will know a lot of the participants and they may be able to point you in the right direction.

The second thing I do when looking for gaming, is to simply do a google search for game stores in the area we move to. While some areas might not have specific game groups, if they have a good game store, there’s most likely gaming held at that location. Most game stores will have a calendar on their website that outlines all the events at their store and open gaming may be listed. Again, always feel free to either call or email the stores to ask if there isn’t any information easily available. Even if they don’t have open gaming, you might be able to get at least the name or contact information of a “non-publicized” game group.

If neither of these strategies work, you may need to get a little creative. I always like to check out comic stores or “geek culture” stores. I’ve found a surprising availability of board games in videogame resale stores. Again, maybe I’ve just gotten lucky, but the employees at these locations can be incredibly helpful at finding fellow gamers.

With the board game hobby growing at the rate it currently is, more and more people are becoming familiar with gaming, and finding new groups is relatively easy. You may have to do a little digging, but the people are usually there. And who knows? Maybe you’ll go somewhere that doesn’t have gaming and you’ll be the person to introduce a new hobby for a brand new gathering of gamers.

What other strategies have you used to try to find new game groups?

Gaming with 2 Players

Gaming with 2 Players

Last time on the blog, I talked about how gaming/our local gaming group, including both the organized group and our friends, was a big part of my life. Not simply for the gaming, but also for the social aspect. I also briefly mentioned how we didn’t have a group in South Carolina and how it affected us.  I want to talk a little bit today about the gaming aspect and how we handled that.

First off, I want to start by saying that I’m not a solo gamer. I like video games, but I rarely like to play solo board games. Following that, I’ve never been much of a 2-player gamer. Most 2-player games seem to be formatted in a 1 vs. 1 combat system. I’m not a big war gamer or combat gamer in that I don’t typically prefer heavy interaction. I like strategy games that allow for player interaction, but I’m not usually a fan of “take-that” mechanics or attacking the other player(s). When my wife and I travel, we have to make decisions about what games to take with us. We didn’t know exactly how to do that when we traveled to SC, and got a little bit of a crash course. We realized that some of our favorite games don’t really work all that well with only 2 players. Some games aren’t scaled down to only play two, even though their boxes say that they will.

A great example of this was when we played Cyclades with just the two of us. This is a game about trying to take control of an Archipelago and earning ancient Greek gods’ favor. If you earn the favor of Zeus, you get a discount when performing certain actions, and these will continue to stack the more times you do it. If one player (this was me in this story) is able to earn Zeus’ favor several times, they have the fast track to run away with the game. I’ve never seen my wife get so mad during a game. As soon as the game finished, she stood up, walked to the bedroom, shut the door and went to bed.  I packed the game up by myself that night.

As rough of a gaming experience as that was, it taught us an important lesson. We need to make sure a game is going to be a good two player game before we 1.)Purchase the game, and 2.)Select it to travel with us. To be fair, we always take a handful of games that require more players, because the hope is that we will always be able to find a group. Games that have had more appeal to us lately have been games like Lost Cities and Kahuna, both games that are a part of Kosmos’ 2 player game line.

Like I mentioned above, we always hope to have access to game groups. That makes things much easier. However, in the event that we aren’t that lucky, we know better than to take primarily games that work best with high player counts. Unfortunately, we just had to learn that lesson the hard way.

What are your favorite two player games, or games with higher player counts that work well with 2 players?