Monday, September 17, 2018

Buckeye Game Fest 2018

Check out this weirdo!

Buckeye Game Fest 2018

I’m a big fan of downtown Columbus, OH. Many readers may have been to the Hyatt Regency Hotel, attached to the south end of the Columbus Convention Center, from trips to Origins Game Fair. This year, Buckeye Game Fest, a regional board gaming convention, was moved to downtown to that Hyatt. This convention is run by the Columbus Board Gaming Society (CABS), who has a significant game library -- the same library that they provide for Origins. Being a “local” and smaller con, this a is also a convention my wife has attended with me in the past, and thought she would again this year.

To my surprise, I was contacted and asked to be a special guest, and was offered passes for the weekend in return for a bio. That seemed like a fair trade since I was going anyway. My wife and I had made plans to go up Saturday and spend the night at the Hyatt.


Shuffling with Cassadi

I decided to go up for part of Friday on my own. The convention had a great pre-paid parking option at the south parking garage, so you could guarantee a spot. It’s a good thing I used this, because shortly after I arrived I heard it was full -- not that there aren’t plenty of other lots, this one is super convenient. I arrived right about 9am when the registration was due to open. After a few hiccups with finding WiFi and educating the day’s volunteer, I got my badge. I was pleasantly surprised that as a special guest I still got one of the random give away games. I won Power Grid: Factory Manager, which I seem to remember playing in the past, although I can’t remember if I liked it. I also picked up my wife’s badge, and she won a copy of Hermagor.

As I was checking in, my pal Cassadi Thomas from The Shuffle showed up. We decided to try Echidna Shuffle from the ‘Play to Win’ area. I had heard of ‘Play to Win’ games before -- games that every time you play you get your name in a raffle to win. Then we checked out El Grande from the library, so I could teach it to her. We pulled out one of the “players wanted” traffic cones and put it on the table with the box top on it looking for players. In the meantime, I taught Cassadi the new Button Shy microgame Sprawlopolis, one of the few games from my bag, since I knew they’d have such a good library. Some of Cassadi’s friends joined us for El Grande and we had a good time with it.

We ended about noon and I met up with Jason Hall. We discussed grabbing lunch and decided to head out to the infamous North Market. We swung by my car in it’s primo spot and dropped of my new 
Illusion with Jason 
games and Janon’s bag and headed to the market. I hit my favorites -- Herbert’s Polish and Jeni’s Ice Cream. Jason and I returned and played a few smaller games waiting on the others. Illusion, which I liked a lot, and Circle the Wagons, another microgame from Button Shy. Then Cassai joined us and we played a game of Broom Service. A hot Alexander Pfister game from a few years ago that neither Cassadi or I had played yet. I liked it quite a bit. With about an hour left to spare, I suggested Arboretum to end the day.

I grabbed a coffee from the great local coffee shop in the lobby and started my drive home.


Century Spice Road

Cindi and I arrived and started off with my new game Gizmos. While we were figuring things out, Cassadi showed up and joined us. Gizmos is a solid engine builder with a marble-dropping mechanism similar to Potion Explosion, but the marble pulling is not as major a part of the game. Cindi wanted to play something she knew, so we checked out Century: Spice Road from the library. They had the player mat, which we don’t, and I pulled out my “Dinger brand” card holders, and we had a premium game of Century going.

Dr. Jim and my old friend Anson joined us. We then took a quick lunch at the food court. I tried something new a the noodle shop -- not too bad. On the way back from lunch, I swung through the consignment store. This is a pretty great part of the convention, folks can add whatever they want to the table for sale. The sale has three time periods -- opening time, then a reduced cost about 45 minutes later, then a final cost 45 minutes after that. I didn’t find anything I couldn’t live without. Anson was selling stuff and seemed to do okay with it.

I returned Century and perused the library for a four-player game, choosing Yspahan. I’ve only played a few times, and experimented with sending my own cubes to the caravan track. I came in close second. Switching back to known games, Cindi suggested Arboretum. After that we had a little bit of time until the math trade, and we pulled out Five Crowns. While reviewing the rules, we realized we had been playing it wrong all this time and didn’t have time to finish. We packed up and got checked into the Hyatt and I grabbed my games for the trade. This was my first math trade. About six of us met in the lobby and traded our games pretty quickly. I was pretty happy with the trades I made. Maybe they were not perfect value trades, but still were things I had on my unplayed shelf I was able to trade for things I wanted to try - see my results in the picture.
math trade results

Cindi and I went out for a nice dinner. She had done enough gaming and retired to the room. I returned to the game room to find my pals had started a game of Through the Ages without me. It looked like it would be ages... until I’d have a game with them. I looked around and didn’t see anyone with cones looking for games, so I set up my own at the next table and watched them for a bit. Lori joined me and asked if I was looking for someone to play with, she also was too late to join her friends. I started by teaching her Akrotiri -- one of my favorite two-player games. I had hoped to find Jaipur in the library, but they didn’t have it so I grabbed NMBR 9. Then Lori grabbed Azul. I was pretty tired at this point and called it a night, passing the usual Werewolf crowds in the lobby.


Cindi and I woke up a little later. After, we fueled up and made it to a less-crowded game room. There was a guy looking for players for Terraforming Mars but we were not up that long of a game. Cindi grabbed Azul. Then I checked the library list for two-player games and came up with Gipf, which I’ve heard about a lot. We decided to call it a day after that and explore some more of Columbus, but that may be for another blog.
Overall game space

Things I didn’t do - that may interest you:

  • Artemis Bridge Simulator Room - I didn’t think this was something Cindi would like.
  • Scheduled Events -- I just didn’t have time in advance, and with my wife with me I wasn’t sure what to schedule.
  • Game Raffle - just didn’t take the time to look at it. Also, in the past the reading of the tickets was a hassle. They resolved it this year by only announcing the big winners and posting the smaller prizes on board.
  • Retail Area -- since I was getting a cart of new-to-me games I wasn’t really out to buy a bunch of new stuff, plus the major retailer is my FLGS, and I can get all of that stuff at home anyway.


  • Location -- Having stayed at the Hyatt for Origins, I way happy with it as the new location and game spaces.
  • Library -- They had a printout sorted by time, player count, etc. so you could find a game to play.
  • Space -- Clean, bright, plenty of water, and tables with table cloths


  • Attendance - appeared down, from my own observation and discussion with others. This could the due to the change in venues, the increased hotel cost, or maybe it being the same weekend as Grand Con, a similar sized con not too far away.
  • Hard to find open games. Most of the attendees are regular CABS members who know each other. Even with the “looking for player” cone system, there were not that games available or people looking when I had cones out.
  • Online library was not accurate
Next year is already scheduled at the same location and I am looking to return.

thanks as always to my editor Eric 

Monday, September 10, 2018


This weekend was a scheduled play of the revered 1979 game Dune from the same design team as the better known Cosmic Encounter. This well-loved game was recently reworked as Rex, but I’d not played either. No, I’ve not read the books -- my only experience with Dune was the 1948 movie, which I had at least seen a few times. My buddy “Dr. Jim” loves this game and plays it several times a year at the World Boardgaming Championships. He scheduled this event with six of us at his home and acted as a non-playing teacher to help us all learn the game. His adult son and his partner had played before but were in no way experts. We started at 2pm, knowing we’d be in for a long haul. I warned my wife I’d not be home for dinner and packed some snacks.

In the rules or not, Jim is a fan of random role selection so I ended up with Atreides. I was familiar with them because Paul from House Atreides was the star of the movie. I started with a decent force of troops on the planet and a cache of spice (aka money). Rick played the Empire and was flush with money as we needed to pay him to buy treachery cards. Russ played the Bene Gesserit and didn’t have any idea what he was doing. Ben was the Fremen, the locals to the planet who seemed to have a few guys all over the planet but were dirt poor. Elizabeth was the Harkonnen and was next to me, well established, in the adjacent stronghold (city). Matt was the space-faring guild and was paid for our ability to add troops to the planet. 

An interesting twist in the game is that it specifically says in the rules that you are not allowed to take notes, except the Atreides, who are allowed to because of their premonitions. I tried to take some notes but there was enough randomness that it didn’t help that much. Every time the Harkonnens got a card I knew -- they got a free one off the deck so I knew about half of what they had. The other players had a free card so I knew part of what they had.

The goal of the game is to have control of three of the five strongholds by the end of a turn to win, or certain conditions after 15 rounds. You could also ally with players and raise the goal to four strongholds between the two of you. 

Game play involved a circular map of the world Arrakis with zones of desert where spice would appear, strongholds, and storm-safe mountainous zones. The map was divided into wedges marking of storm zones marking the path of a storm that would move 1-6 spaces around the board every turn. The storm would kill anyone or anything in the desert areas caught in its path. Much of game play was getting in and getting spice and getting out quickly. The giant sandworms would also occasionally appear at spice locations and attack.

As seen in the movie, and I assume in the books, there were traitors in the various houses. At the start of the game your house discs are shuffled and distributed and you select a character from someone’s house to be a traitor for you. The Harkonnens, being particularly evil, get four. During combat, these traitors can be revealed by your enemy, making it likely you will lose the combat. Through play, you may obtain traitor cards, which provide weapons and the corresponding defenses to add to the combat value, as well as paying spice to beef up your soldier tokens in the area. Combat was a bit overly complicated and I ended up losing, intentionally at first to trigger my special ability, the later because I didn’t understand it very well.

We struggled at first to understand the cost of things, how to do combat, and even the basics of moving. Each turn has several sub steps and we took about 90 minutes to do the first turn with teaching. We eventually got it down to about an hour a turn. The alliances can only be made and broken when the worm cards appear and we really had no idea how or own characters worked, let alone the value of an alliance with someone else, so we passed the first time this came around.

I found myself cash strapped most of the game. It costs money to make troops, to have them to move in and out, to get spice, which is money. They often end up dying while out on the board because someone is fighting you for the spice, or the storm kills them, or a worm, so I ended up without money and the troops and needed more money to make more… rinse and repeat. Later, I learned you could fight battles and get spice for winning, but certain cards that players could play negated my spice win, so again I successfully won a battle but lost the outcome I wanted. I was generally confused as to what I should be doing most of the time.

We almost thought the game was over on turn two when the Harkonnen/Guild alliance made an aggressive attack, but we fought them off and they were decimated after the loss. We moved on for a few rounds and then someone played a treachery card that blew up the shield wall. This suddenly made the strongholds adjacent to it no longer storm resistant. One was mine, one belonged to the revived Harkonnens. Ben, the Fremen, played his weather control card which allowed him to move the storm ten spaces instead of the random 1-6 spaces. This wiped out of everyone except the Fremen. Russ even pointed out if he moved it a few more segments he could wipe out some of his own pieces. Suddenly it felt like we were starting over except for Ben. He had troops in two cities and four cities, because the shield wall becomes a city now, were wide open for conquest. All of us, desperate to keep Ben from winning, poured troops onto the planet to keep the Fremen from expanding, pouring money into the Guild’s coffers. I was pondering moving into the open city near the now collapsed shield wall, but the storm was approaching it and I feared my new troops would be wiped out on the next turn. After a longer than normal deliberation, and feeling like I was annoying the other players, I finally played to the safe center polar cap thinking I could move in the next turn after the storm moved past. Matt, the Guild, turned to me and verified I was done with my turn. He said -- I’m dropping troops into here, this is my third city -- I think I win. He did. It was amazingly anticlimactic.

So would I play it again? If it weren’t for the company, no, but I love a day-long game day with my good friends so... yeah if they did it again I’d go along. There was some chatter between friends after the game and that Rex has streamlined it and Rising Sun is similar and easier to get on the table.

Also, I’m really happy that when Feyd was revealed as a Harkonnen traitor I was able to say “I bet that Stings….”

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Mourning and Grieving

Mourning and Grieving

Part One

I grieve in my own way. Today I cried for a second as I looked down at the coffee mug my mother got me for my birthday last year. A friend recently had a loss and posted “I’m a private griever” -- a statement I could relate to. When I’m sick I want nothing more than to be alone, where when my wife is sick she wants me to bring her soup and make her feel better. I appreciate the dozens of messages of “If there is anything we can do…” but for me that is -- leave me alone. Which is totally contrary to my usual extroverted nature. That isn’t to say I wasn’t thankful for messages, notes, cards from my old fashioned friends, and even a telephone call from my even more old fashioned friend Eric, they really did make me feel good. My preference is to take them in on my own time and process them when I can. My friend Joe suggested I wear a shirt that says “I’m fine”

I’ve also started joking on twitter again and creating content, but not to the same level as I had before. It’s not that I’m insensitive, but this is my nature. This also helps keep my mind busy - so I can’t focus on negative thoughts.

Part Two

It has been a few weeks. I sort of moved on with my life and got busy with work again. Made it out to a game day and had a good time. As we approached the funeral, Gen Con was happening so I started participating in in the GenCant events online. I had a short work trip to Florida a few days before we left for “home” and started with some GenCant pictures from there and then continued with more on our drive through Michigan. It was fun and kept my mind off what was ahead. The first stop was my parents’ former home. I wasn’t sure who’d even be there. It was just one of my sisters. She told us the schedule for the morning which I already sort of knew. Then she picks up this can and says “here is mom”, suddenly it was real, and I felt quiver a little bit. I feel like I’m holding back a damn of emotion that is going to burst at some point or wondering I’m am I just all cried out?

Part Three

Today, the funeral, was a bit harder. I welled up a lot as dozens of long known family friends and relatives arrived at the church to say their condolences. I went through a dozen or so tissues. I sat quietly through the service, hummed along with the hymns and enjoyed the speakers. It wasn't until the very end -- when they piped through Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, I lost it. I sat and cried hard for about a minute, but this was supposed to be the family exit song. I stood up and arranged myself and saw my wife was consoling our son so I escorted my Aunt out of the sanctuary. At that point I think I was done crying for the day.

Part Four

On the drive home I saw some Green Packers Stuff at a store and I kinda sunk. I later described the event as “it took the wind out of my sails”. This is where I’m at. I just get a sinking feeling when I think to call my mom, or think mom would have liked that. Not horrible sadness. I don’t burst out into tears. Just a weight for a moment.


In retrospect a great deal of this is the time and place I grew up, with attitudes that men were strong and didn't cry kinda bullshit. I don't believe it but is still something sort of hard to shake. My first purpose for writing these posts during this process have been to work through my thoughts and emotions. My reason for posting is maybe others will realize that others grieve differently than they do, and that should be ok.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Mom's spare bedroom

Many years ago, when the boy was still sleeping in an inflatable travel crib age, we decided to go on a trip to Charlotte, NC. There was an American Institute of Architects (AIA) national convention going on, and Cindi’s grandmother lived in a nearby suburb, so we could visit her as well. My mother was happy to come along and help take care of the boy, allowing my wife and I to attend some architecture events together.

For those of you that have attended Gen Con, the AIA conference hotel situation can be similar. We had to go thru a central booking system and request our rooms. I had requested two connected rooms, or so I thought…

When we arrived, we had one bed in a relatively small room because it had most of the space taken up by the giant handicap restroom. As an architect, I am of course aware of the reasons for these special needs rooms with the oversized wheelchair accessible restrooms. I feel guilty getting them when I don’t need the special features they provide, but hey, an empty room makes them no money, so they have to fill them at some point.

After finding out there were no other options, they offered us a roll away. We rearranged things the best we could, but couldn't make it fit in the room, and the final solution was to put it in the bathroom. There was plenty of space in there! This actually made my Mom happy, because she was a horribly loud snorer and felt she wouldn't bother us in there. The only real issue was if, after getting cleaned up and ready for bed, we needed to use the bathroom, rather than bothering Mom, we had to put on our shoes and went down to the bathroom in the hotel lobby.

I just checked in to hotel on a business trip, and got the giant bathroom. It gave me a little smile after a long day of traveling remembering this fun time.

Thanks always to my editor Eric Buscemi

Friday, July 27, 2018

Cracker Jack

When I was a kid, I always enjoyed Cracker Jack, the caramel coated popcorn that came in boxes, and it sometimes came with cool prizes. Those prizes included plastic cases with steel balls inside that you had to roll around and get into holes, magnifying glasses, and temporary tattoos. The Center of Science and Industry museum in Columbus, Ohio even has a section devoted to the various toys from boxes of Cracker Jack. You can check that out here.

Cracker Jack, as I knew it, also came in a waxy paper covered cardboard box, usually in sets of three. More on that later.

My father often joked that he found my mother’s engagement ring in a box of Cracker Jack in his usual teasing manner -- implying it wasn’t worth much. As I considered getting engaged, I remembered this story. My wife and I had looked at rings and a ring she liked the most she saw in my hometown several hundred miles away. I arranged for my sister, who had experience working as a jeweler, to work with them to buy it, get it sized, and have it shipped to me. I’d never paid so much for something and had it shipped -- it made for a nervous couple of days. So how to actually propose? I picked up some Cracker Jack and used some of my architecture model-making tools to carefully cut open the wax paper, then the box, and then the paper prize, and slip the ring inside. Then I had to reseal all the parts and make it look like it had never been opened. I wasn’t actually an architect yet, just an intern. I was getting ready to take the big architecture licencing test which was offered once a year, for a week long in a town about two hours drive from my home. We decided it made sense for me to stay at a hotel that week. We thought it would be nice to take a weekend to scope out the town and find a hotel for me and explore the town. I said we could have a picnic and packed a basket complete with Cracker Jack for dessert. Unfortunately, it rained like cats and dogs on our trip, so we skipped the picnic. We returned home and I suggested we have the picnic with a fire in our living room. So after the picnic, during dessert when she opened her dessert and the prize she found the ring and I formally proposed. She of course accepted. Having heard the same stories from my dad she wasn’t really all that surprised to find the ring, and after all she was kind of expecting it having helped pick out the ring.

I still love Cracker Jack -- though the prizes have been reduced a sticker, or worse yet a code that works with a phone app.

They are the highlight of going to a baseball game and as we just attended one, sharing some Cracker Jack, brought back fond memories of a picnic over 20 years ago.

Special thanks to my editor Eric Buscemi

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Real Life

For those who know me -- I'm a board gaming convention junkie. As the 2018 "con season" approached real life happened…

Early in the spring my mother's cancer -- which she had successfully fought off for a few years -- returned, this time in her brain. This time it was bad. The outlook was grim, and she chose not to fight it. As she was the primary caregiver for my father, who has his own health issues, my siblings and I had to make the difficult decision to put them both in a nursing home. It is a veteran based nursing home, so my father needed to get in first, and then my mother could follow and guarantee care.  

I live about a thirteen-hour drive from my parents, with two other siblings living in town and two others able to make extended visits. Unable to help, unable to communicate, and uncertain of the future, I decided to cancel my personal plans and concentrate on this new real life issue.

The first step was to cancel my plans for visiting Geekway to the West. Not just another board gaming convention, Geekway would have been a chance to see a town I'd never visited, a needed vacation, and visit with non-gaming friends who moved out west. Mother's Day was about the same time, and we drove up and took a week visiting with the family. All of my family was there, and we were able the get some family photos and have some meals in together. Overall it was a good trip. We took some final things from my parent's home, thinking this may be the last time we ever saw it. Said some goodbyes wondering if we'd ever see either of them alive again.  

Life went on. I did my best to maintain my jokester face on social media and didn't talk much publicly about what has been going on.

I also decided to give away my Gen Con lottery hotel. With no idea of the future. I'd rather have those vacation days available for another trip.  
Origins approached and I decided to attend. Work had been terribly stressful. My parents’ health, while poor, had seemed to level off, and I needed a break. I attended, but it wasn't the same in that I really didn't feel like attending as media or schmoozing. I mainly focused on  seeing my friends, getting some hugs, and playing some games -- which I did and felt great about it. There were some close friends I was able to talk to about my pressures, and to be an ear to hear their own pains. Unfortunately there were too many.
My brother and I spoke and things were getting rough with mom again. I decided to make another trip. This one is particularly hard as the stress is putting everyone on edge. Mom has a changed a lot from the last visit. Essentially in bed, unable to communicate, and having to be fed. I spent time talking to her with what felt like no response but I was able to feed her. Based on discussion with Hospice she is beyond where everyone expected her to be living with how invasive her cancer was. As part of my family discussion, they said they felt Mom was waiting my return and it was my turn to say goodbye and let her know I/we’d be OK without her. I was already feeling guilty for being so far away -- now this. I did my duty, after spending a while feeding her and talking to her, I asked my brother to take my Dad for a stroll in wheelchair so I could be alone with her. I did talk to my mom. Although I didn’t feel like she had acknowledged my presence once this trip, it looked like she had a tear. Maybe she did hear me.

Before we met, my wife went through all of this with her own mother. She is now having to do it again with my mother, who I feel loves her as much as anyone. She’s been amazingly supportive of me during all of this while dealing with it on her own. We’ve been married 22 years -- that is a long time to get to know my mother. I know it has been tough on her too.

Gen Con is now approaching -- I may make it up over for a day.  I just really don't even care. Sure, there are some folks I'd like to get over and see, but that's about it.

The most recent update we got was a call that my mother had several seizures shortly after I left. I can’t help but pause and think -- was something I said or did while there the cause?  Part of me selfishly, as well as for her own good, wishes this were also the end. Now she is not eating and on continuous pain meds, the end is very close.

Although my father's health has improved, his dementia is bad. He lives in his own world. I sat in on his mental health check up with his doctor and he is oblivious to what is going on, why he is there, and what is happening to his wife.  We met with the doctor and she was ready to immediately declare him incompetent.

This is real life.  This is what is important to me right now.

I was ready to publish this and fly home and they called us in and let us know she had signs of 'end of life'. One Hospice worker suggested 24-48 hours. We canceled our flights and spent the day in her room. At 2:15 am on July 18 my entire family watched my mother move on, as she would have like it.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

House of Danger - Spoiler Free Initial Thoughts

In 1979 Edward Packard wrote The Cave of Time and 10 year old Patrick read and was thrilled by the idea of creating his own story.  You would read a chapter and a the end you would choose to turn to page 87 or 95 depending on the current action.

This is a spoiler free initial reivew of The House of Danger - A Choose Your Own Adventure game by Z-man Games.  It is described as being co-operative.  I supposed you could take turns reading the cards or choosing as a group how to proceed, but really it is a solo game.

To turn it into a game they added a player board with two scales.  The reverse is a psychic image, think Mysterium card, that comes into play during the story.  You have  psychic scale you are trying to raise.  There is a danger scale, as you try to overcome obsticles in the adventure you are required to roll higher than or equal to the current danger level.  You start with some items that give you a bonus to your die rolls in certain challenges.

The game is organized into 5 chaper decks with matching clue decks orgaized in a servicable insert in a slightly too large box that sort of looks like a book.

The story cards have a parchment tone to them and are have the look of an original choose your own adventure book in the overall art style, type set used, etc.  You read a card, perhaps front and back and are given a choice simialr to the books on what card to move to.  Some give challenges to overcome through a dice roll that may result in raising or lowering your danger meter or psychic scale.

Each chapter has a specific goal card you are trying to 'reach' and and a specifc end card.

Unlike, say Time Stories or even the original books, when you reach a dead end - you do not need to start over and redo the whole adventure.  You were smart enough to keep a finger in that last page and go back to it, you just lose a point on the psychic scale.

The story is text heavy but not terribly complicated and probably would do well for the 10+ age listed on the box.  The game play is fairly simple but the choices were not obvious so as an adult gamer I found it enjoyable too.

My only negative is at the end of the chapter it offers an opportunity to go back and visit the card you missed.  I guess I don't mind this as an option, but maybe a secret option so that you could play through the chapter again.  There were definitely some paths I'd like to have taken just to see where they had lead.

The first chapter took me about 20 minutes and all the stacks are about the same size so I'm guessing I'll be done with this in about 90 minutes - and it will really be a one time use game. It is, so far, been non destructive so could pass it along to someone else to play.