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There Still Be Dragons (A Second Annum’s Reflection)

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Origins KoT

Honestly, I never set out to pen annual reminiscences of my blogging misadventures, so this will mercifully be the last.  But some recent thoughts on my past year with iSlaytheDragon seemed interesting and pertinent…at least to me.  Some of this year’s musings will follow last year’s post wading through my reflections on an annum of dragon-slaying.  So I’ll start with a look back at my 2013-14 “goals.”

▪ Production – Last year, I set before me a task to write 50 reviews.  Alas, I only wrote 37 and haven’t yet earned Board Game Geek’s Golden Thumb, though I’m oh-so-close.  Fame and fortune must wait for the next set of twelve months, it seems.  No worries, I’ll still keep up the tepid, if consistent, pace.  I enjoy writing reviews and have solidified my opinion on their purpose, worth, style, format, and etc.  More on that later.

▪ iSlaytheDragon Meet-Up – That didn’t happen.  I did meet, work, and game with fellow dragon-slayer, Andrew (@UpliftAndrew), during our Origins trip to staff the Asmodee booth.  That was a total blast.  I still must get to the western suburbs of the Windy City to meet-up with our resolute founder Wolfie, as well as retired dragon-slayer FarmerLenny.  Of course, there’s a new wrinkle to this goal in that our two new writers this past year, Meghan and Jen, hail from Calgary and North Carolina – and I’m not even sure which is more remoter to me for all practical purposes here in Central Illinois!

▪ Conventional Gaming – As noted, I attended Origins for a working, convention-going experience.  So it was from a different lens and for a different purpose than I expected.  But it was an amazing experience, nonetheless.  As for other conventions, like Geekway to the West, I’m going to have to know someone before I go.  Because flying solo into a new environment is just really not my style.

▪ Let’s Make a Deal – Personally, I had set a goal before me to trade some games from my collection.  This plan was one part noble: ‘tis better to find a loving home for a title that will only gather dust upon my shelves.  And one part protecting my own skin: ‘tis better to quench my wife’s ireful glare when gazing upon said cluttered shelves.  (Now, to do something about all those multiple games spread out on the dining room table in various statuses of play.)  I traded a few games straight up and a few games in math trades.  All of those were through BGG and all of them good experiences.

▪ Gamers of the Round Table – I continue to game mostly with my kids, but I wanted to expand my gaming horizons with peers, or nearly so, as well.  I did make some forays toward this end, attending a local gaming group at an FLGS a few times.  I’ve not given up on it, but for some reason, it just didn’t “click.”  Plus I still have tremendous schedule constraints that prevent me from attending their weekly meet-ups consistently.  A couple of other options may be possible, too, so I’ll continue to explore those as time allows.

To bring things back around to the ‘Dragon – I’m still having fun.  Though I’m not yet a household name, it is rewarding to contribute a little piece to the greater community which comprises our hobby.  Of course, that meager impact will soon change.  Now that I’ve ousted #2 man FarmerLenny into “early retirement,” the second stage of my coup shall see fruition as I take over the site completely…and then set my crosshairs on the internet, itself!  Of course, first I have to learn the simple things like how not to confuse Twitter accounts – you know, like posting personal tweets on the ‘Dragon’s official page, and things like that.  Hey, some of us learn slower than others…

Whoa, you’re saying I’m in charge of the social media? Can I still yell, “Get off my lawn!”?

I do believe that iSlaytheDragon provides not just consistent content, but is also useful and entertaining.  Yet I do admit wondering, every now and then, just how loud a voice our site really makes amidst the noise and din of the vastness that is the Internet?  Even within our niche hobby, the community’s web presence is gigantic.  There are so many gaming web sites, blogs, podcasts, video shows, and other social media outlets that the average player can’t possibly follow more than but a mere fraction of them.  Do we really reach a significant number of gamers in meaningful and helpful ways?  Does our hard work pay dividends – for our readers as a valuable resource?  Or to publishers as a credible partnership?  Not only that, but is our traditional, web magazine style even relevant anymore when stacked up against all of those sexier and extremely talented podcasts and video shows out there?  I mean, who has the time to actually read stuff these days, right?

However, success is measured by different standards, and I’ve already said I think we’re productive, helpful, and entertaining.  After all, when you google “board game reviews,” iSlaytheDragon pops up as the 13th link!  So that’s pretty respectable.  And not that we’re stuck or staying within the “traditional” blogging format.  In order to expand our reach and connections, we just launched this year our own video web series, Under the Table – quick, episodic, and mildly-irreverent, tongue-in-cheek snap-shots of the board gaming world.  Indeed, while you’re here, check out and subscribe to our iSlaytheDragon YouTube channel.  You just might get a chuckle out of it.

But, deep down, I’m “old school,” and don’t dabble in the technical side of the site, too much.  I wrote one script for Under the Table in its first season.  Otherwise, Wolfie’s expert skills in video and editing pull all of that together, along with his friend and talented on-screen personality, Blake Aleksiak.  We’ve partnered with iheartprintandplay to produce a SMART Dominion randomizer.  We teamed up with boardgamesforme to create a useful board games search tool.  I’ve had nothing to do with those.  I’ve enough trouble maintaining, and not mixing up, our Twitter, Google+, and Facebook pages (click those neat little icons thingies at the top right of this page to visit our various social media pages).

So we do a lot of different things and we do them well and we do them frequently.  That keeps the site fresh, while offering plenty of variety and catering to a range of gamer personalities.  It all boils down to what our readers and viewers want.  While it’d be nice to rival the Dice Tower Network and have Fantasy Flight hand-deliver games to us, that is not who we are.  Not to mention, that comes with problems of its own.  I hope, instead, visitors to iSlaytheDragon will appreciate our lower-key, fun, and honest coverage of the hobby.

Speaking for myself, while I like to inject plenty of humor into my reviews, previews, articles, and interviews, I also take the task seriously.  Especially with reviews.  I’m humbled that publishers entrust us with their games to be fair and thorough.  That humility has only been reinforced this year with writing paid previews of new and Kickstarted designs.  With that in mind, I firmly believe that reviews should be written through the lens in which the game was meant to be played, or from its target audience’s perspective.  Whether it’s not for me, blandly unoriginal, or outright flawed, I don’t feel that trashing a game is productive for anyone.  Scathing reviews, in my opinion, are not practical for readers interested in researching whether particular games are right for them or not.  We all have different tastes and game with unique groups under particular circumstances.  Respectful analysis summarizing the rules and expanding upon what the games does well and what it falls short in, are the most helpful tomes.  Few readers can reasonably see past a haughty critic’s “shock value” shtick.

Another thing to keep in mind is that we here at iSlaytheDragon also do our own research before acquiring any review copies, either by purchase, request, or invitation.  So if you see lots of favorable 6, 7, 8, and 9 ratings – which you will – remember it’s because we generally review games that we know we’re already likely to gravitate to.  And with such a diverse team of writers, we can cover many bases.  That way, Andrew can keep the titles that put you to sleep, like Splendor; while I got his back for the really trashy ones, like World of Tanks!

Finally, I’ll leave you again as I did last year with some personal reflection in regards to the bulk of my dragon slaying participation. Of my own reviews for iSlaytheDragon, here are my favorites (by rank), the one most surprising to me, and the one I felt was the most innovative.

Steam Park purple rides and meeples
Steam Park is beautiful!

FAVORITES:

Cuba: The Splendid Little War (9.0) I said this is not just for armchair generals, but incorporates military, political, social, and economic abstracts to really bring the theme to life.  It has tons of historical detail, but doesn’t bog down the game in simulated minutia.  Engrossing, replayable, and with a good mix of strategy and luck, this is a nice two-hour journey for the grognard and the not-so-hardcore war gamer alike.

Steam Park (9.0) I said this is a fun and frantic dice game, with a little more meat on the bones than is typical in the style.  With plenty of ways to manipulate dice, an innovative speed element, and various ways to score points, this will be a hit for any family with members of all ages.

World of Tanks: Rush (9.0) I said this is an action-packed, quick, tight, and streamlined deck-building game.  It has similar concepts to other titles in the genre, but with enough unique elements for its own distinctive flavor.  With a fun, though pasted-on, theme and mechanics that encourage interaction, this is a new kind of deck-builder.

MOST SURPRISING:

Forbidden Desert (8.5) I really figured this one wouldn’t be all that dissimilar to its predecessor, Forbidden Island.  Boy was I wrong!  With a familiar pulp fiction vibe that will tickle fans of the first design, this one is nonetheless its own creation.  It has a really cool mechanic to discover the various airship parts.  And with its fun and unique sandstorm system, it is eminently more challenging!

MOST INNOVATIVE:

Nature of the Beast: Polar vs. Prairie (8.0) I said this small, indie design is unique in both theme and mechanics.  With biome-specific animals protecting their home turf, this CCG-style combat game combines all of the variety, deck-building, and card combos of that genre with the spatial area control of a game board that is critical to victory.  As a small publication, it was overlooked, but well worth the effort if you can track it down.

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity…relatively speaking.

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