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The Year of the Dragon (Reflections Upon My Anniversary)

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One year ago today, I posted my first review on iSlaytheDragon.  What a busy year it’s been!  As I take stock over the last 365 days, I’m amazed at how much I’ve grown in this hobby…or maybe, rather that should be how much it has sucked me in!

Like many other profiles I come across, my story begins with playing a lot of board games in high school and college.  Then I grew up, which most people universally agree sucks.  My buddies and I went on in life (real life…not that cheesy board game) to first jobs, new cities, and bills.  I looked around and suddenly realized – I have no friends!  Well, none who were in to board games, anyway.  I got married, had kids, and eventually forgot all about board games.

Then, during a visit back home to my folks’ almost four years ago, I discovered my old copy of Axis & Allies while rummaging through the basement.  The ceiling above opened up, bathing the dark and musty concrete room with a heavenly light to the sound of a sweet, angel choir!  Well, okay, maybe not.  Actually I said, “Hey, I remember this game.  I wonder if my boys would like it?”

They were both 7 at the time and in the first grade.  I collected them and the game and eagerly opened the box.  Everything was as I remembered, including that Russian bomber with the broken wing.  No matter.  The Russians only ever buy infantry, anyway!  The boys were excited, too, as we set up all of the miniature army pieces.  Then we dove in…and summarily got bogged down worse than a Panzer in a Ukrainian winter.

It seems I was a bit too ambitious.  So what?  Then I remembered my dad had an old copy of Risk.  We tried that to much more success and grew from there.  That was my boys’ initiation into the hobby and my own re-introduction.  Then I decided to jump online and see if anything new happened to have developed in the last fifteen years, or so.  Oh, boy!  That led me to Board Game Geek and an entirely new world!

Suffice it to say, I drowned in a sea of mirth.  We (okay, I) bought our first “Euro” game, Citadels.  We soon made our first bulk, online order – you know, the ones where you spend enough money to get free shipping.  I began gaming online at Yucata.de.  We visited our first Friendly Local Gaming Store, unfortunately not actually local, as there is none with a quality board game selection.  We attended a convention.  We even started a blog.

The blog was something that the kids and I liked to experiment with.  At first, they actively participated.  They took pictures, wrote up their own insights into games, and dabbled into session reports – budding Tom Vasels, each and every one.  For me it was a way to explore the hobby deeper, while contributing and participating in the larger online community associated with it.  Plus, I focused almost exclusively on how gaming relates to children, an approach I thought was completely novel until after about a week of searching other websites. Indeed there really is nothing new under the sun! Alas, the blogging novelty soon wore off for my kids. They still want to play games – they’re just not so interested in the extra, philosophical expository, it turns out.

Then about a year after starting the blog, two foster girls (ages 10 and 11) in our care left to return home.  This changed our gaming dynamics considerably. Instead of five people who could play hobby games reasonably well, we were now down to three – still just my boys and me. (Yes, unfortunately I have one of those wives…) Interestingly, the disparity was more profound than I realized at first.  Most of our games were geared toward five players and, while still playable with only three, nonetheless played quite differently.  Others just aren’t that good with the lesser complement. Now I could pull the trigger on more four-player titles and not worry about leaving one of us out.  (However, designers, please consider creating games that accommodate more than four players!) Also, we could veer into more two-player-only games, since opportunities for those situations became more common.

With the two girls leaving and my boys’ interest in the blog waning, I debated whether to continue, stop, or do something else. I didn’t necessarily want to drop it completely. I enjoy writing, exploring games, and connecting with the larger gaming community. But I also didn’t want to it alone.

It was then I noted an open offer from @Futurewolfie and @FarmerLenny to join the team here at iSlaytheDragon. This blog is way more professional – quite understandable without any kids to pick up after. They were looking to expand, and I was searching for something fresh and new. No doubt the stars were aligned for a grand amalgamation of gloriously gaming goodness!  Okay, so fine, we won’t go that far.  But with the ability to create such dramatic gravitas and alliteration, I just had to keep writing.

The boys at the Dragon were actually crazy enough to give me the keys to the Porsche, and the rest is history. Since that fateful day, we’ve added yet another writer, Andrew, who broke our all-Illini cast, but at least we’re keeping it Midwest. And there have been other milestones to recount. Allow me to enumerate some that have been particularly and personally poignant.

▪ By the Numbers – I’ve written (33) of our insightful, Pulitzer-quality game reviews, (8) of our insanely influential “Guides to Gaming,” (4) ground-breaking interviews, a handful of miscellaneous pieces, and then, well, this article – for whatever it’s worth!

I enjoy expounding on games.  My review philosophy has always been to analyze a game for what it’s meant to be from the perspective of its intended audience.  I rarely compare designs to other titles, and then only for purpose of reference. I will note whether a particular game has some fresh and innovative ideas or is merely rehashing familiar mechanics in offering nothing new.  But as much as possible, I review it from its own lens.

The Guides to Gaming have been rewarding to write, as well.  I’ve only been in the hobby for a few years, mostly play with my own family, and don’t have a large gaming budget. So researching and learning about the variety and styles that the hobby has to offer and how those have developed over the years has been fascinating. Hopefully our guides have proven as helpful to you as they have to us!

▪ All the Little Birdies – Joining the team finally nudged me to get on Twitter (@spielemitkinder, if you’d like to follow). It was something I had considered doing but never got around to. This finally gave me a good reason. It’s been fun interacting with various people, all in 140 characters or less – some even famous!  And it makes this old man look like he’s “with the times.”

▪ Swell People – I’ve gotten to meet, over the Internet, lots of cool folks. Twitter has helped, but I’ve talked with designers, other bloggers/reviewers, and readers of iSlaytheDragon. It’s been cool to see those with similar tastes as my own and in similar gaming circles – as well as other people of different interests, backgrounds, and circumstances. So as not to risk making anyone jealous, I’ll just tell you what I tell my kids. “You’re all my favorite.”

▪ Broader Horizons – In both knowledge and physical collection, my stake in the hobby has broadened.  I began with “Ameritrash” titles dripping with theme and narrative. The more dice and chaos, the better.  However, I’ve gradually grown into more games from the “Euro” camp. I’ve come to appreciate their clean elegance and reasoned sophistication. I still prefer a good thematic patina on those, but I do enjoy more than just conquest and dice. And that taste for variety is rubbing off a bit on my boys, too.

▪ Swag – One of the perks to joining iSlaytheDragon is getting review copies. So there’s that. It is both exciting and humbling at the same time to get a free game in the mail that a publisher trusts me to treat fairly and honestly. So I strive for objectivity, and am never mean when pointing out parts that may not work in my opinion.

Reviewing games is a lot harder than it looks!

Now, I’m not one to rest on my laurels merely to retire in the accolades of fame and fortune already garnered. No, I have even more ambitious goals for the next 365 days! Thanks to support from my teammates here and the connections the website can open, I hope to expand my horizons even further.

▪ Production – I want to keep the reviews coming at feverish pace! So I’m setting a goal of 50 reviews in the next year. We’ll see!  And since I cross-post them to Board Game Geek (spielemitkinder, if you’d like a new geek buddy), that’ll put me over 100 reviews to earn the coveted Golden Reviewer thumb microbadge! Then I can start charging for autograph requests! Right?

▪ iSlaytheDragon Meet-Up – Well, nothing probably too formal. However, I must meet face-to-face and game with these guys. Even with a passel of kids at home booking most of my schedule, hopefully this will be the easiest goal to reach. Certain plans are already in the mix and we’ll see if they pan out – otherwise a trip to the Windy City’s Western suburbs may be in order.

▪ Conventional Gaming – I’ve noted already attending a couple of smaller gaming cons. I’d like to get to a larger one this next year. While GenCon is certainly attractive, it is also expensive and maybe too massive for me. Something like Geekway to the West in St. Louis may prove more beneficial and attainable. It’s closer, cheaper, casual, and not overwhelming.

▪ Let’s Make a Deal – Trading intrigues me. When it comes to game collections, more does not equal better.  Refining a collection through trade is economical and sensible.  Not only that, but you’re giving back to the hobby by adding to another’s shelves that which would only gather dust on yours.  I hope to take advantage of this idea by participating in a math trade, or simply finding some means to trade straight-up individually with another.

▪ Gamers of the Round Table – Hopefully you can tell that I love playing games with my kids.  But I would also like to expand my experience in the hobby by joining a peer gaming group.  I have a few titles that I enjoy, but that my boys do not.  Before I let go of them in a trade, it would be nice to confirm that I really will not have further opportunities to get those titles to the table.  This will probably be one of the harder goals to accomplish because I’m slightly introverted, my family keeps me extremely busy, and there is only one regular group I’ve discovered in town, so far. But maybe this will be the year I reach out and make that connection with a group of dedicated gamers.

Finally, I thought I would leave you 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.

FAVORITES:

Jambo (My Rating: 9.5) I said this is my favorite 2-player, go-to title.  It feels like a CCG and has a great mixture of interaction, strategy, and luck with just the right amount of variety in card types.  The action point mechanic and trading system mesh well in this accessible card game.

Red November (My Rating: 9) I said this is a zany romp with lots of action and an interesting, funny theme.  The time track mechanic is a little hard to grok, but this cooperative design has some nice puzzle features and lots of chaotic laughs.

MOST SURPRISING:

Vampire Empire (My Rating: 9) I said this is one of the best 2-player only games of the last few years.  Its asymmetrical nature and delicious interaction force players to approach the game very differently depending on which side you take – bluffing for the vampires and deduction for the humans.  It also has a unique hand management mechanic that sets its strategy apart from other card games.

MOST INNOVATIVE:

Skagway (My Rating: 8.5) I said this little-known Euro worker placement game infuses a lot of Ameritrash elements – namely a strong Western theme and direct player interaction.  Plus, it takes traditional worker placement formulas and twists it by giving the workers “personalities!”  The individual worker traits respond differently to the board as players develop the town through their decisions, often leading to workers taking extra actions.  End game scoring is also dependent on how the town develops.  These two aspects create tons of replayability and strategy.

Check them out, if you haven’t already.  Or keep your eyes towards the future as our site develops to serve you better.  That’s just as cool, too.  Take it from me – you’ll like what we have in store for you.  And most of all, I’m looking forward to another year of slaying dragons!

Jason

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

Discussion4 Comments

  1. Very cool, Jason. I’m only about a year into my “age of exploration”, and a bit younger than you when I started, but it’s been a fun ride and I’m looking forward to the future.

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