Origins Game Fair Day 2 (2019)

Busy second day at Origins, which is why this is late.  We played or watched nine games, and re-played Deadly Doodles.  And visited with Mercedes Lackey, the Author GoH, once we eventually caught her at her table.

Catan: Cities & Knights (Catan Studios)

Almost identical to regular Catan, except that the robber works a bit differently.  Introduced invading barbarians and knights to protect against them.  The game also adds city walls and city improvements that grant development cards and other bonuses.  On the whole, I really enjoyed it and would definitely play it again.


Catan: Rise of the Inkas (Catan Studios)

We only watched this one, so I didn’t get as good a feel for it.  According to the guy running the demo, it’s about 75% normal Catan with a Small World (Days of Wonder) style “civilization in decline” element and the ability to take over other players’ territory.


Schrodinger’s Cats (9th Level)

We didn’t get to play this, only have a talk through from one of the booth workers.  Unfortunately, that didn’t really have much detail of game play and didn’t help.  My son decided that it was the game he wanted to get this year, though, so we’re muddling our way through it.  The concept is a basic bid and bluff or build style game.  Each player is a scientist trying to prove or disprove Schrodinger’s famous experiment—alive, dead, empty, or Heisenberg Uncertainty (e.g. wild card).  Each scientist has a special power that can be used once per game and a feline parody name like Albert Felinestein, Sally Prride or Neil deGrasse Tabby.  The concept is amusing, but the rules are not written clearly.  We’ll need to check some YouTube play throughs to really figure out how to properly play the game.

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Blob Lobber (SJGames)

Not my favorite of the day, by far, despite my love of SJGames.  Basically, the play area is populated by a blob and four blob queens.  Cards are dropped from at least 12” above the play area and must flip over at least once.  If they land of blobs that are not your color, you get points.  If they land of friendly blobs (your color), you lose points.  If they land blob-side up, there are more blob targets available.


Bunny Kingdom in the Sky (Iello)

Expansion of Bunny Kingdom that builds onto the board.  Nothing majorly interesting or notably different about game play, except for a few cards that drastically change resource availability and, therefore, scoring.  Honestly, if I were to get Bunny Kingdom, I wouldn’t bother with the expansion.

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Tsuro: Phoenix Rising (Calliope)

Unfortunately, this is not available until September.  But, once it is, it is definitely on our purchase list.  A variation on basic Tsuro, except that the players are lantern hunting (to get stars) phoenixes.  As phoenixes, they also get extra lives (one each), so going off the board can be a strategic move as the player can “die” and return anywhere along the board.  Tiles (double sided, both sides can be played) also allow for movement across corners, which changes strategies considerably and the board begins mostly populated with tiles.  As the demo guy (Chris Leder) said, you really have to unlearn everything you know about Tsuro in order to play Phoenix Rising.  But, it was a lot of fun.


Kanagawa (Iello)

Interesting, if somewhat complex, game of “painting”.  A lot of resource management (paint, mostly) and figuring out what, exactly, you need to get the diplomas that carry points.  It was interesting, but I don’t think we were playing exactly 100% by the rules after the first couple rounds, once the demo guy left to help some other people with a different game.

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Legendary Forests (Iello)

Fun and simple little game in which the players are dryads building the best forest floor.  One player randomly draws tiles (full stack – 5, so not all tiles are used).  Every player uses the exactly same tiles, but orients them differently and gets different forests by the end game.  Some tiles have a different color number, which causes every player to draw trees to grow in their forest.  The trees are what give players points, since every contiguous group of a color of forest floor that has one tree in it scores points at the end.


Spymaster (Calliope)

Unfortunately, not available until September.  Fun game of strategy, resource moving/building, and deception.  Every player is the head of a spy agency, with three field agents (whom only the player can move).  There are also a dozen or more “neutral agents” (whom anyone can move).  The game revolves around collecting intelligence (which allows players to move agents and “pay” for missions) and moving agents.  Each face up mission (6, one per inhabited continent) has a cost in agents (agency, neutral, or both) and intelligence.  Movement can be used to get your pieces in position, or move the pieces another player needs out of position, or to feint and try to get other players to think you’re going after one mission instead of your actual target.  Looking forward to the full release on this one.

Origins Game Fair Day 1 (2019)

A good six hour day was had from demoing eight games to a brief chat with Mercedes Lackey to watching the kid flail his way through the boffer arena.

Deadly Doodles (SJGames)

Steve Jackson Games’ newest offering, technically it’s not being released until GenCon but they are demoing it and have some copies available for sale at Origins.  Over all, it’s a fun game.  In some ways, it has a Tsuro feel in that it is a path building game.  However, all four players are building their own paths on their own (dry erase) map, though all the maps are identical.  Players get points for getting weapons, monsters, and treasures.  They lose points for getting monsters without the associated weapons or for running through traps placed by other players.  Fun dungeon delving path builder.


Ship Shape (Calliope)

Essentially a board covering, resource gathering game with penalties for being too greedy.  The “story” is that players are smugglers trying to build cannons to protect their ship, gold, and contraband.  But, the player with the fewest cannons loses points (can’t protect their ship) and the player with the most contraband loses points (gets raided by the Crown).  We only got the short version demo, versus a full play, so my understanding of the game is probably incomplete at the moment.


Bunny Kingdom (Iello)

Fun, slightly complex, game technically intended for ages 14+ due to the math involved (but my 8 year old loved it).  Each player draws 10 or 12 cards depending on how many players (2, 3, 4).  Rounds proceed by each player plays two cards, places their pieces or does card actions, then passes their remaining cards clockwise.  Then they play two cards, place pieces, and pass the remaining cards.  This continues until all the cards are played.  Then scoring commences by counting up the number of town/castle towers multiplied by the variety of connected resources (ex. carrots, fish).  Some cards give full game goals for bonus points as well (ex. control 9 cities).


King of New York (Iello)

Expansion and variation on King of Tokyo, monsters destroy NYC.  Dice rolls determine energy, health, damage, etc.   But, the city fights back by mobilizing troops as you destroy buildings.  Not one of my favorites, but it does seem to be popular with a significant number of people.


Catan: Legend of the Sea Robbers (Catan Studios)

Very fun, if rather complex, variant on basic Catan.  Typical Catan set up, except with three starting settlements, two roads, and a ship.  Ships are needed to cross the waters and get ore (which cannot be rolled).  Good news, though, the robber cannot rob anyone who has less than 4 victory points.  The goal is to reach 11 points by building the usual things (settlements, cities, roads, development cards), with the addition of ships.  Ships get castaways who can be sent out each turn for ore (for a price), but there are also some bonus gifts along the way and some helpers who have special abilities.


Farmini (Iello)

Cute farm building game, kid wasn’t too impressed but it was kinda fun for a once or twice off.  Basically, every player is trying to build a fenced area to protect their farm animals.  And drawing farm animals occasionally to score points (which also come from fencing in corn fields).  What are they protecting the animals from?  The wolf cards.  Each wolf card targets a specific animal (pig, chicken, goat) and any of said animal that is not fenced in is lost if the wolf comes up.  Players score points for every animal they have and enclosed corn fields.


Zombie Kids (Iello)

Nice, simple, fast area denial survival game.  Up to four players are kids trying to protect their cul-de-sac from a zombie apocalypse.  Each player’s turn starts by rolling a spawn point for a zombie (five areas plus a “no spawn”), then they move.  When they enter a space, they can remove two zombies.  If there are 3+ zombies in a space, the players can no longer enter it (area denial).  The goal is to lock all four gates (requires two players at the gate space) before all the zombies are placed on the board (if you run out of zombies to play, they win).  Initially, it seems rather easy, but quickly becomes quite difficult.


Rivals for Catan (Catan Studios)

Good, fairly fast, two-player version of Catan.  In some ways it’s simplified, in that players aren’t competing for space or resources.  In other ways, it’s more complex, in that there are other factors (strength, skill, trade power) that come into play and both players begin with six resource points that expand by the end of the game (I ended the game with 8 or 10 resource points to watch, as well as maybe 8 buildings that each gave different abilities).  It can be a little tough to keep track of all your resource sources and building abilities as the game progresses.

Ashford Grows & Looking Ahead

For the last couple months, I have been expanding both most of the Ashford vignettes and the world itself.  In the process, I’ve written several additional vignettes set in the broader world.  These aren’t typed yet.

Next week (the week of the 3rd), I plan to begin posting those vignettes on, probably, Fridays.  They’ll interweave with the Ashford ones.  I’ll still tag them Ashford, even though they don’t take place at that specific site.

Also, we’re less than 2 weeks from the Origins Game Fair–June 12th-16th.  I plan on spending two days there with my son and a half day alone, with accompanying photos and write-ups of the games we demo (probably a lot from Iello, Calliope, and SJGames, though I also want to his Asmodee N.A. and a few others).  Plus, Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon are the author Guests of Honor this year.

Imposter Syndrome

Looking at my life, I am: an Eagle Scout, a PhD, a published author, and a 2nd kyu aikidoka (who has helped many who have bypassed me in rank, up to nidan). I have completed three “50 Miler” trips in Scouting—two in canoes, one on foot. I have traveled to four countries on three continents. I have presented papers to some praise at more than a few conferences.

Still, I feel like I have no clue what I am doing in teaching, writing, tutoring, and aikido (and life in general). Even when I say, or more commonly write, “I’m damn good at my job”, it feels like bravado in some ways. Secretly hollow. Like someday, someone will figure out I have no idea what I’m doing and all the above accomplishments will be empty.

It is always a strange feeling when someone “likes” something I’ve written. Or cites something I published. Or says I have been a great tutor-instructor-mentor.

I always wonder if they mean it, or if they just don’t know I’m winging it.

I’ve never done well with praise, usually deflecting or minimizing it. I was praised a reasonable amount by family, mentors, and grad school advisors, but not overly so, I think. I don’t think it’s overpraise or under-praise.

So, I’ve wondered off and on for years about Imposter Syndrome and its causes.

My first thought is that it may be an introvert-dominant thing. I say “introvert-dominant” because I don’t think anyone is 100% intro-/extrovert, rather that we’re all a mix of both. Most, if not all, of the imposter syndrome sufferers I know are introvert-dominant. But, that could also be an effect of my population sample (mostly English PhDs/MAs, with a couple in other fields, but all with advanced degrees in arts, humanities, and social sciences).

The degree thing could be an element too, I think. At the Masters level and above, I’ve found people become acutely aware of how little they actually know. The more we learn, the more we realize how much more there is to learn out there. Yet, in grad school we’re taught (directly & indirectly) to project confidence, particularly those of us who taught or presented at conferences. Maybe knowing that confidence is a facade, an act, contributes to the sense of being an imposter.

The knowledge and learning side, I think, enhance a nagging feeling that we could be doing things better. There’s that constant, conscious or subconscious, knowledge that there is always room for improvement. There’s always more to learn, more to know.

For myself, there is also knowing that even as I exceeded quantitative measures at work (ex. library shelving quantity & accuracy, inventory control objectives, also quantity & accuracy), I have always held back. Even holding back and not being my most efficient and effective, I have always exceeded the expectations and metrics set by supervisors. That may also factor into a bit of my own imposter syndrome.

I’m not sure if any of this helps me deal with the issue myself. But, writing always helps get thoughts out of my head and organized. So, there’s that at least.

Power of Literature

In this era of austerity pushed by (predominantly conservative) politicians, education is generally the first target. This short term thinking, of course, fails to account for the long term benefits of an educated populace. Or, to be cynical, perhaps it does account for those benefits, but sees them as drawbacks (“I love uneducated voters”, as a current Republican stated while campaigning). Of all the academic fields, the arts & humanities are the primary targets. And, often, when someone decides to go into my field (English Literature), they get grilled by family members because of it.

First, people tend to mistake English for grammarians. That is, I think obviously, not all we do. In fact, we rarely do grammar as students in the field, though many of us teach it as grad students & adjuncts, because we have to.

Second, people generally don’t understand why we bother studying literature. It’s all just reading, after all. Or they think that we all focus solely on “Great Books” and ignore popular works.

To break this, I want to look at a piece of literature, briefly, to discuss the power of literature. In this case, a piece of popular writing: Richard III, by William Shakespeare.

People tend to forget that Shakespeare was the J.K. Rowling of the late-16th and early-17th centuries. He was popular. He wrote pop culture plays. He wrote for money (through his part ownership of the acting company).

But, on to Richard.

Our popular image of Richard III is that of a conniving, treasonous, hunchback who ran from his battle at Bosworth against Henry VII.

This is the image that Shakespeare presents and it has been part of pop culture and history books for at least the last century.

However . . .

Shakespeare used Thomas More’s history as his major source for the play. This is of great importance.

More was part of the court of Henry VIII and wrote under him. That Henry was, of course, the youngest son of Henry VII, who deposed Richard III by force. Likewise, Shakespeare was writing under Elizabeth I, granddaughter of Henry VII.

To keep things brief, both More and Shakespeare were writing propaganda pieces to enhance the reputations of the ruling family and cement their claim to the throne (by deposing a bad, murderous, hunchback king).

Shakespeare’s literary account was bought by generations of historians and sold in classrooms for even more generations.

Eventually, enough historians, and others, looked at other primary sources, ones contemporary with Richard. They looked at portraits, legal documents, and other records. They found that Richard was fairly popular, first as a noble and later as a king. Because of this work, historians have, by and large, changed their view of Richard, but it’s still filtering down.

All because of a work of literature.

This is part of why we study literature.

“What should we learn? Literature. [. . .] If literature is kept alive, then the dao, the moral way, is kept alive; and if the dao is kept alive, then teachings of the sages and worthies are kept alive. Thus we have much to gain from studying literature. Moreover, its influence can be more inspiring [than being in the presence of a great man] because it calls upon us to articulate our ideas and beckons us to draw analogies. Thus what literature offers us is more than something to rely on: it takes us by the hand and bolsters us up; it holds us by the arm to get us on our way.”
– Cheng Yaotian (18th c. Chinese scholar); from Analects, Confucius (2014 Penguin edition)

Wearing Many Hats

In A Slip of the Keyboard, Terry Pratchett discusses his hats in one short piece. He talks about his, almost, trademark Louisiana hat and its many cousins that were part of his collection.

This got me thinking about my own hats, both literal and figurative, those I’ve owned/worn and those I’ve considered and rejected.

On the literal level, unlike Pratchett, I have been partial to ball caps for most of my life. My current rotation are a comfortable Hogwarts cap with the school crest on the front and a worn and faded Origins Game Fair cap that’s more than a few years old. The last one is a bit sentimental in that I got it in the last year that Origins sold them.

Before those two was the worn, khaki International Snow Leopard Trust hat that I once wore daily and now keep for sweaty yard work. And the, now battered, Trinity College hat from our last trip to Ireland, years ago. Before that, the black COW hat, which I hold for sentimental reasons, as it came from my undergrad alma mater (the College of Wooster, or COW). The maroon Union Street hat is still around to remind me of our year in Pennsylvania, and the time I worked food service at Penn State University. It’s a good reminder never to go back.

In various boxes or closets, I find others. The decrepit Cubs hat with the broken strap that went canoeing in Canada and hiking in Virginia with me, over 50 miles each on three trips, back in my Scouting days. The red beret from high school marching band, and all the memories of friends, teenage crushes, and halftime shows it brings to mind. The black Ren faire beret that I wore at our wedding, which calls to mind my best man’s hat that was passed around the dance floor during the wedding party & families dance. And the big feather hat that replaced the beret for faire trips.

Then there are the figurative hats. At work, the teacher, tutor, and mentor hats come out. Difficult hats, those. They need a balance of approachability and professionalism, openness and distance. Most of all, they require adaptability.

I find those three more interesting in comparison to my “play” hats: as a student and mentor in aikido. I hope that my role as student in that venue influences my work hats at least to some degree. Under those, adaptability is still an important key.

That adaptability rears its head under the parent and spouse hats, even if there is a lot of similarity to the days in both cases. Still, things happen, as the unexpected always does and personalities do their thing.

Then there are the hats that I often feel are imaginary, or pretend: writer and author. It’s always strange to realize that people read things I write, whether here on this blog or in published articles and book. It’s even stranger when they quote things I wrote. Somehow it doesn’t entirely feel right, no, wrong word. It feels odd.

The hat that I’ve had the least experience with is brother. I’ve had that one for 31 years now. But, due to age gaps, I moved out of the house when my siblings were 7 and 8. And we’ve lived in different cities for 30 of the intervening years. So, it’s a figurative hat that doesn’t quite fit right, always feels a little off.

Anyway, if anyone read through all of thus, I’m sorry but you brought that on yourself. You had the chance to stop a couple hundred words back. Please try not to make any other bad decisions today. 😁