Gaming Doldrums

I’ve noticed a pattern for me the past couple of years. I tend to have a period of a month or two where I don’t play many board games. Sometimes it’s because I’m playing video games (Like Spider-Man in February this year, or likely September when Borderlands 3 comes out.), sometimes it’s just life (Like March the past couple years.).

I’m a father first. That’s often a lot of my time. My 17 yr old both works and is very active in theater, so we are often driving her places. My 20 yr old also doesn’t have his drivers license, so we need to drive him too (He’s working on it.). We only have one of our 2 cars running right now too, so that means our single vehicle is in use all the time. And my wife had chronic pain, so I try to drive as much as I can

I have a lot of other hobbies. As I’ve said before, I read, play video games, and play disc golf. I tend to read year round, video games when the mood strikes me, and disc golf as much as my body will let me in spring-fall. I’m also a bit of a football and baseball junkie, so I watch them when I’m in the mood. And of course TV shows and movies take a lot of my time too.

But I can binge on games too. I played over 100 games in one month last year. We have a beer & boards occasionally, and I tend to go to Extra Life events locally.

But tonight and the past couple weeks are a really good example of not gaming. I have been wanting to play games for a while now, but haven’t since our Beer & Boards almost 3 weeks ago. My wife had surgery a couple weeks ago, so we haven’t played anything. Last Friday we went to the First Friday Artwalk in Topeka, Saturday my 17 yr old had prom, Sunday we had pictures of the 5 yr old and the 17 yr old worked. Monday night we caught up on Last Week Tonight, Veep, and Barry and took the boy to D&D. Tuesday the 17 yr old worked. Tonight, I don’t know. I had a post to write, and I intended to write that review of Palm Island I’ve been promising, or play something with anyone in the house who’d play a game, yet I did neither. I watched the Twins, and wrote this. Too often we don’t have a clean space to play, often due to the 5 yr old doing crafts on the table.

I know I can usually get someone to play a game with me, but for the time being I have more desire to play than actual will to play. I haven’t played anything with the 5 yr old in about a month. I really wish I knew why…

Anyway, I think I’m going to play a quick game of something tonight still while I have time. Hopefully something to help with one of my challenges or two. But who knows, maybe I’ll drink another beer or have some ice cream and check on my fantasy baseball team. Or go try to finish my Sword & Laser book club book for April.

What about you? Do you go into a gaming funk at times? Any suggestions on how to get out of one? Let me know in the comments.

# x # Challenges: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Forcing Myself to Play Games

I wrote earlier this year about how I had set up a 15 x 5 challenge this year, as the 10 x 10 I tried to play last year didn’t go well.

Well, spoiler alert: The 15 x 5 isn’t going well either.

This is my usual thought process:

Hey, I want to play a game!

Let’s look and see what games I need to play for my challenge.

All of those are okay, but I want to play something else.

I should really play one of my challenges though.

Play what you want.

What’s the point of having a challenge if you aren’t going to play those games?


Anyway, at this point I usually shut the door to my game room/office and go play a video game.
I get the appeal of challenges, especially for people who are in groups like I am that tend to not replay games a ton.  But when my wife made me a deck of “what should we play” cards for Christmas this past year, I specifically requested that she not include specific games.  “What if I don’t feel like playing the game that week? Shouldn’t we play things that we want to?”

I don’t know why I felt compelled to keep up with a yearly challenge, especially when I’ve acknowledged the mindset of playing what I want being more important.

So, I’m going to be pulling down my Challenges page.  In it’s place will go a “Bucket List” page where I list games I want to play at least once.  There will be a list for owned games and a list for not owned games. I think this will help me focus on games that actually need a dedicated day where everyone is on the same page to play, because I had actually been keeping up with my 5 x 1 challenges throughout the year.  So I’m going to lean in to that. As I play games on the lists, I’ll strike them through so I can keep track of what has been completed on my bucket list.

What about you? Do you do any challenges in gaming?  Do you stick with them? Let us know in the comments!

How I Prepare to Teach Games

Hey all, Andrew here: I figured I would write about something a little different this week.

I was preparing to teach my wife Fortress: America and so I started about my normal way of relearning games and preparing to teach.  For whatever reason, I tend to teach most of the games in our game group (I think it’s probably because I’m pushy and want them to play my stuff first, so I have to know the rules) but I realized that this process is the same for me, whether it’s playing something light like Kodama or the latest entry in the SCS catalog.  I figured I would give you all insight into how I do this in the hopes that it might help someone out there.

A word of note:  this may seem like I’m overprepared.  I am. I have pretty bad social anxiety and board games alleviate that.  However, if I feel like I’ve screwed up in front of people (especially friends and family) I start to feel super embarrassed and anxious, which tends to lead to me shutting down a bit.  By (over) preparing in this manner, I’m ready to teach the game in a way that’s comfortable to me, and hopefully more enjoyable to those I play with. This is also why I get frustrated if I get interrupted during a rules explanation; it takes me out of the zone so to speak.

First, I normally see if there is a rules teach video or playthrough on YouTube.  My two go to channels are HeavyCardboard and Watch it Played, and if they don’t have a video for the game I’m about to teach, I’ll usually check out the video section of BoardGameGeek for the game in question.

I watch videos for a few different reasons.  I don’t like to reinvent the wheel if I don’t have to, so seeing how masters of game teaching (IMO) structure their teach really helps me get a basic outline in my head and may bring up points that I want to be sure to highlight. Additionally, if I’ve never played the game watching people play it or at least an explanation gives me a better idea of what to expect.

Once the video has been watched and I can wrap my head around the gameplay and the mechanics, I read the rulebook.  Now, this isn’t a detailed readthrough of every single bullet point, parenthetical, and subcase. Instead I get the major ideas, how the rulebook is organized, and use that to further my mental outline.

This outline then gets put down to paper.  It is at this point that I comb through the rulebook, summarizing each major and minor point in an outline format that makes sense for the game and the way gameplay is structured.  This forms the core of my teaching notes and is what I refer to when I actually explain the game I will usually print them out, but sometimes I don’t. This is also my favorite part in the process.  Something about me internalizing then repeating (on paper) what I just read is really when the rules to the game ‘click’ for me.

From here, I will generally call my process complete.  I have a better idea of how I want to approach teaching.  I do try to anticipate questions that players will have, and I make sure that I take frequent breaks to allow players to ask questions, move pieces around to set up situations that might be better explained visually.  And then, we play!

That’s a look into how I find it helpful to learn games so that I can teach them.  Do you have any steps you take when you are planning on teaching a game? I’d love to hear them.  Leave a comment below!

Guest Post: X-ing the Xpansions

Eric Carter is back with another guest post this week. He writes about a struggle we all have as gamers: Expansions!

The Book of Meeple Chapter 23, Verse 5, states: “My box runneth over.”

This entry was inspired by a recent trip to a game store where I saw an expansion for Sagrada on display. Even though I’ve only played Sagrada a few times I had a strong urge to buy this, because…

… I have a problem. If I like a game I tend to become a completionist about it. The first game I owned that sparked this obsession was the second edition of Talisman, back when I was in college. There was one comic/game store an hour away that carried Games Workshop stuff and when I had a spare $30 I would gas up the car and make the trek. Over a couple of years and hundreds of miles I had every retail expansion for the game. But the setup became too much, the game lasted too long, and the fun was sucked out of it. It never got played again.

Twenty-plus years later I have the same problem with Dominion. And Carcassonne. And Race for the Galaxy, Eminent Domain, Last Night on Earth, and several more. I will over-expand a game to the point that I don’t even want to get it out anymore.

When I buy an expansion for a game I enjoy, I’m doing so just to add more of what I like. Maybe it’s simply more cards, like most of the Dominion expansions. Maybe I just want more heroes and scenarios for Last Night on Earth, or more tiles for Carcassonne.

The first Race for the Galaxy expansion – The Gathering Storm – was relatively simple. It gave you more cards and a starting hand for a fifth player, plus solo rules. This is what I would consider as the perfect expansion. But along comes the second expansion, Rebel vs. Imperium, which added a Takeover mechanism that just looked so convoluted I never bothered to learn it, and it added more direct conflict to the game, which would turn it into something I didn’t want. I just wanted to add cool new cards, like the previous expansion did. I did buy the third expansion, but I gave up trying to get RftG played in my game group. I did NOT want to try to add more explanations to this already difficult-to-teach game.

Dominion has suffered the same fate. I still love the game, but it’s now so hefty I have to warm up first before lifting it or I’ll throw my shoulder out. I still haven’t bought Nocturne or Renaissance, the latest available expansion of us this writing, even though I have a couple pieces of art in one of them. I hate to admit it, but I haven’t even tried playing Eminent Domain with the expansions yet.

Our game group does not stay with one game very long, which has its advantages and disadvantages. I love the fact that all of us are keeping an eye out for new and interesting games, but since there is a new and interesting game coming out every 6.2 seconds, we hardly ever play one more than once or twice. On game days there are enough new games to choose from that we often have difficulty even settling on one to break out. Again, our cups runneth over.

So from now on I must give up on expanding any multiplayer games. Solo-capable games, however, are still fine. I just received the Xia: Missions and Powers deck. I’m looking forward to the two player expansions coming out for Star Trek: Ascendancy. I’ll still get pretty much anything for Aeon’s End.. These games don’t have to compete with the new releases we all want to try. All it takes for them to get to my table is a few hours of free time, and if I decide something from an expansion is taking away from my experience instead of adding to it, I can easily leave it in the box.

But I like to think I’ve learned my lesson. If there’s another expansion released for Rebellion it’ll have to go unbought until my base game (plus the expansion I bought with it, of course) finally gets played. Cards Against Humanity and many of its additions will have to stay cramped in The Bigger, Blacker Box until it sees the light of day (and the darkness of our souls) again. I’m glad I got rid of my copy of Firefly because the urge to get everything for that would’ve been overwhelming, and it would’ve found itself in my gaming graveyard next to RftG.

Part of me wants to get new copies of Last Night on Earth, Race for the Galaxy, Memoir 44, and so many others, and just keep them in their original, lean condition. All of them got played before they packed on the pounds. And isn’t playing them the whole point of having these games in the first place?

Do you, dear reader, have any games you’ve overfed? Comment below and tell us your story.

Grow the Sport

Among board gaming, another one of my hobbies is Disc Golfing. One of the many mantras of disc golfers is “Grow the Sport” which can be used in many different ways: as reminders to people to extoll the virtues of disc golfing to others, as ways for people to stay active in local leagues to drum up interest, or even as a reminder to people to be kind, friendly and welcoming to new disc golfers, in an effort to ensure that the sport will flourish. But, despite the mantra and best efforts, there are still jerks out there who exclude newcomers, who chide them for asking questions or for making comparisons that may seem way out of the norm, or who generally make disc golf courses terrible places for new individuals looking to share in the experience.

Boardgaming isn’t all that different. How many times have we heard stories of someone playing a game that piques the interest of a passerby. Polite conversation is had up until the new individual mentions Monopoly, Risk, or some other mass produced game. It can be met with a snort, a scoff, an unkind “oh, we don’t play that” or any other reaction. But in any of these cases, it can make the onlooker feel unwelcome and excluded. I should know. I have been both the scoffer and the scoffee (In fact, when I founded the Board Game Society at my undergraduate university, I included a clause in the bylaws that Monopoly would not be played. It was meant as tongue in cheek, but boy did it provide a rude awakening when I presented it to the Student Senate for approval).

To most boardgamers, those mass market games are no fun to play at all. And that is perfectly fine! But instead of meeting this potential player with derision, why not engage in further conversation? Why shut them out? Why not describe why the game you are playing is similar or different? Why not try to explain about the game you are playing? Why not try to introduce the world of gaming to someone, especially someone who shows at least a little bit of interest?

The only thing I care about when I am playing a game is if the person is fun to be around while gaming. That can vary on the game. I know there are some games that I would never play with specific people, including my wife. And that is okay! But to exclude individuals because they may not meet any preconceived notions of how much of a gamer they are is ridiculous. We all started gaming somewhere. Not everyone started playing Twilight Imperium, 1822 or Bios: Megafauna.

Not everyone started playing Twilight Imperium, 1822 or Bios: Megafauna.

My gaming resolution this year is to step out of my comfort zone and be more inviting to those who are just learning the hobby. Greet them with a smile and an open seat at the table. We hear over and over how gamers don’t like cell phones at the table because they like the social aspect; I’m going to put this into practice. I’m going to be more social and ensure I highlight the social aspect of the hobby.

In the coming weeks, Ryan and I are going to write about some tips for “growing the sport” of boardgaming. We’ll talk about some of our favorite introductory games to non-gamers, some tips for individuals who are just starting to game, and some tips for us gamers who have been doing it for a while but want to do better about including others, especially newbies.

I’m going to help grow the sport this year. And I hope you will as well.

To New Beginnings

Hello everyone!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. It’s been a little quiet around here lately.

Ryan and I are looking forward to jump starting Sword, Board and Pen back up in 2019. With that being said, I wanted to provide an update with our posting schedule/expectation moving forward.

You can expect a new post every Thursday. It’s going to be a mixture of reviews, session reports, essays, top 10 lists, who knows? The last Thursday of each month we will be continuing our d20 lists.

We also just launched our “2019 Challenge” pages. Check them out here:

Drew’s Challenges

Ryan’s Challenges

We are going to try to take more pictures of what we are playing too, so keep an eye on our instagram (@swordboardpen).

Extra Life: Andrew

I wrote a few weeks ago about some posts we’d be writing that explain why we got involved with Extra Life.  It’s my turn to post.

A few years ago, my sister called me and told me that she had some news.  My niece had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  I was in shock, because we hadn’t known that there was any sort of problem, and to be honest, neither did my sister.

I felt pretty hopeless as we heard about her treatments and surgeries.  I felt like I couldn’t do a thing to help.  Then I found out about Extra Life.

Simply put, Extra Life is a gaming marathon that was founded to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.  I found out about it through a friend who sets up our event every year.  When I was doing more research, I found out the very hospital system my niece was treated at was one of the hospitals that benefits from Extra Life donations, and so, I signed up to raise money.  This is my 5th year participating!

Many people play video games and stream for 24 hours straight, but we play board games.  It’s always fun to see all the different types of games people play.  There are the new, hot games, classic favorites, usually a game of DnD going on as well as many others.  The few people that make up my core group of gaming have made it a sort of tradition to learn a medium to heavy weight game at 2 or 3 in the morning.  We usually mess up a ton of rules and make many, many mistakes, but it’s always fun and sort of re-energizes us to make it until morning.

We also do a raffle. Some people donate games to a grab bag table, while others (and local businesses) donate to a “Big Prize” table.  We do hourly drawings where you get to pick up any of the grab bag games of your choice, and then the larger games are spread out through the day.  I happened to win a copy of Race for the Galaxy from the grab bag table, as well as a nice copy of Santorini from the Big Prize table last year.

All in all, Extra Life is a great time full of games and friends, but we do also to talk a little bit about why we are there for 24 hours.  If you are interested in finding out more about Extra Life, visit their website at https://www.extra-life.org/.  If you feel so inclined, you can find my personal donation page here.

Guest Post: “So, What Kind of Games Do You Play?”

Hey all:

Real life has been real crazy in the past couple weeks, so I’m going to turn the blog over to recurring guest author Eric J. Carter.  He writes about getting asked the question “What kinds of games do you play?”

Recently I was at a dinner party when the subject of hobbies came up. I mentioned that I like to collect and play board games, which prompted the response “What kind of games do you play?”

I hesitated. I couldn’t decide how to answer that. Being a colossal introvert, I rarely get asked that question. So many things went through my mind… I wanted to present my hobby in a good light, I wanted to blurt out everything I love about Star Trek:Ascendancy, I wanted to talk about deck builders, and I wanted to say that I definitely didn’t play Monoply.

But my fellow guest was not looking for any of that. He was making polite conversation and just wanted a simple one-sentence answer instead of the fumbling, incoherent babble I came up with that now I can’t even recall.

So I decided to put some thought into it, so when asked again I’ll have an answer at the ready.

Most likely the person asking has played some type of board game in their youth. Checkers, Chess, Candyland, Chutes and Ladder (The 4 Cs), and of course they’re familiar with Monopoly. No matter what your opinion of Monopoly is, to the world at large, ‘board games’ equals Monopoly. It will take a long, long time before ‘board games’ equals Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Dominion, Carcassonne and other titles you’ve got on your shelves.

So when asked “What kind of games do you play,” how can you answer them? How do you let them know that you play games for the social interaction, for the chance to really get your brain burning or to just give it a rest? How do you avoid the cliched “So like Monopoly?” response?

Do you say “I roleplay. I conquer. I amass great wealth. I settle worlds. I connect cities. I discover where the rebels are hiding. I blow up Death Stars. I slay dragons. I beat everyone to the finish line.” Or do you hit them with the big whammy – “I trade resources for goods and then sell them for points.”

Therein lies the problem. The games we play are legion. There are hundreds of genres of games and there are many different types of games inside each of those genres. In fact, the question of what kinds of games we play can be as distinct as what kind of music we like, what kind of books we read or movies we watch. And therein also lies the solution.

The sports fan does not watch all sports. The music lover does not listen to every style. Movie lovers do not watch every flick ever made. If you ask any of these people about their hobbies, they are not going to answer “I watch sports”, “I listen to music”, “I like to read.” Well, maybe that last one… No, they’ll tell you which sport, what type of music, or the kinds of books they enjoy.

The simple answer for the question “What kind of games do you play” is unique for each of us. Maybe your answer is “I enjoy train-themed economic games” or “I like deck-building style card games” or “I like many types of games, but right now I’m concentrating on sci-fi themed wargames.”

This treats our hobby with the respect we wish it had. We’re communicating to others that we have a multifaceted hobby, something so expansive that we have distinct choices within it, just as they may be a Chiefs fan, or they’ve been to every Foo Fighters show, or like to curl up with a great mystery novel.

There is no one-sentence, generic answer to “What kind of games do you play?” Thank goodness for that, right? If there were, the hobby would not be exploding like it is. Each of us has to figure out that answer for ourselves, and we have to figure out how to keep it brief enough to not bore or overwhelm the other person, or worse, make ourselves look like colossal introverts who don’t know how to answer simple questions.

But who knows, perhaps your answer will connect with them somehow? Maybe your love of Age of Steam will connect you with a model railroader. Maybe your love of social-deduction games will connect you with a mystery novel enthusiast, and perhaps mentioning miniature war-gaming will bring up fond memories of when your fellow guest played Risk back in the day.

Turns out that your hobby has more than one way to help you make new friends.

Extra Life!

I’m taking this opportunity to take a break from reviews and lists to talk about a cause that is pretty close to my heart.

In November, I and other gamers will be taking a full day, that is 24 hours, to play board games.  Now this may not seem like anything special to write about, but in the lead up, we’ll be raising money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.  We take part in Extra Life.

I took this blurb from their website:

Extra Life unites thousands of gamers around the world to play games in support of their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. Since its inception in 2008, Extra Life has raised more than $40 million for sick and injured kids.

Instead of video games, we get together to play board games for 24 hours.  There are always some standards, like party games later in the night and I tend to wrangle 3 or 4 people to learn something heavier at 3 in the morning (I know for sure one year it was Clash of Cultures, but I don’t remember the specifics of others).  We also do other things such as a donated game raffle and have some local sponsors who tend to donate some awesome stuff as well.

I’ve been taking part in Extra Life for quite a few years now, and it’s an amazing experience.  I’m not going to write about it in depth here, but I wanted to at least introduce the concept for those who weren’t familiar.  We’ll be taking some time in later weeks to write about why we choose to participate and what we are looking forward to doing.  I might also try to get a few guest authors to write about what Extra Life means to them.

So keep an eye out for those posts in coming weeks, and if you are planning on participating, let us know in the comments!

My Half Year in Review

I am writing this and realizing the year is half over, which means that by now I should have played about 25 games from our “What should we play deck” as well as be about halfway done with my 10 x 10 and 5 x 1 Challenges.

The What Should We Play Deck has been a lot of fun.  We have been able to play some new games (and find some new gems) but also revisit games that we haven’t played in a while, for whatever reason.  I always seem to be looking for the new hot thing without realizing how many great games I have sitting on the shelf; case in point, I got out D-Day at Omaha Beach and played a few turns, and I forgot how tense and enjoyable this game is.  I know that this feeling isn’t unique to me, as many gamers probably feel this way, but having this deck guiding what we play instead of me staring at my collection and picking something I’ve played a lot has been really enjoyable.  My wife and I sort of picked “togetherness” as our word for the year, something to strive for, and this has definitely helped with that.  We don’t sit in front of the TV near as much or on our computers; we get our daughter to bed then play a game at least once a week.  I’m excited to keep this going for the rest of the year (and beyond).

I attended BGG.Spring this year and it was tons of fun as well.  I realized I never did a write up, but I played tons of classic games (or at least classic to me) that I don’t own or don’t get the chance to play very often.  I even went out of my comfort zone to ask complete strangers if I could join them in a game.  I want to try to attend a convention a year (or every 2) but I also want to try out a wargame convention as well.  It’s a different clientele than the BGG.cons (at times) so I think it would be another step out of my comfort zone.

My biggest surprise game to me this half year was: Space Base.  This is a dice rolling game that, to me, Is a better Machi Koro.  I haven’t played it a ton, but once I was introduced to it I had to get a copy.

My biggest disappointment game to me this half year was: The Mind.  I know it was up for one of the Spiel awards, but to me, this isn’t a game so much as an activity.  I don’t know.  I liked it more than I thought I would once I finally played it, but don’t want to play it again.

My biggest deep cut (game that I’ve had forever and finally played again) this half year was D-Day Dice.  I had not played it much due to the Kickstarter drama surrounding it, but I finally got over that and once we played it I forgot how much I really enjoy it.

My biggest Finally game (that game that’s sat on my shelf forever and I finally got to play) is a tie between The Colonists and Star Wars Rebellion.  Two very different games (Heavy, thinky Euro and Ameritrash goodness) but these hit just about everything I want in those respective categories, so I’m glad I’ve played them both, and hopefully will play them more frequently.

Most Memorable Gaming Moment So Far: Playing the six map version of Memoir ’44  D-Day landings at BGG.con.  I was really nervous about getting this together, but we ended up having a great time and it’s something I would consider doing every year.  It was organized chaos, and I definitely learned some lessons for if we do it again.

2018 has been a great year for gaming so far, and I’m really excited to see what I get played in the coming months.