Nerds of a Certain Age – Welcome to My Thoughts

Let’s call it wisdomry! Instead of wizardry. As one ages geekily, wisdom may seem tasty. I’m seeking it.

It’s out there. So this will be writing about life with emphasis on RPGS, board games, running, fitness and whatever interests me. I give you the increasing perspective of age with a love of magic. And a crapton of nerdy, dorky, geeky thoughts.

Thanks to my friend of a decade Doug Nordwall (aka Raleel) and a journey of 1746 or more miles for the idea for this blog. For the rest of the world reading – all seven of you someday? – this distance is about 2810 kilometers. I’ll tell you more next entry. (It has to do with Gen Con.) The idea – “Nerds of a Certain Age” – just flowed right out of the conversation. So I’m running with it.

Sometimes I have to go outside my usual zone to rebuild and to find new ideas. Here’s one new idea for me that I shall try to sustain. Hopefully as a weekly thing. I’m already stockpiling columns. I will post a second one today, however here’s the official “get it started” obligatory rigamarole word vomit. Thanks for dropping by!


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A New Board Game You Say?

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The Quest for El Dorado, by Reiner Knizia

Thanks to my oldest whose Christmas gift sent me to Barnes & Noble, I acquired this Hack ‘n Splash board game.* Okay I nicknamed it “hack ‘n splash” based on the combination of common actions in the game – using a machete followed by paddle – but it’s not quite right for a monicker. This can be better termed a deck building game with an interesting blocking element – the meeple movements on the board. All this takes place while you race to find El Dorado, the fabled City of Gold.

Do I like it? Yes. I’ll get into that.
Would I play it again? Definitely.
Who would I recommend it for? Families, those who want to introduce friends to games, and hard-boiled board gamers like myself who enjoy a fast, easy game with a little strategy to play in between the big complex games.

So what is it? It’s a game played across hexagonal boards where you – in the personae of an Indiana Jones-like explorer – build an expedition and hack, paddle, wheedle or otherwise travel through a jungle. Your goal? Find the fabled city El Dorado. (The name in Spanish by the way means “The Golden”. So you’re trying to find the City of The Golden. Can you imagine finding it but it’s actually the City of the Golden Girls? That would be weird.)

The game has you construct the jungle on tiles. You can race through multiple different jungles ranging from easy to complicated. You buy tools and expedition members to help you move. This forms your deck. In that sense it’s a little like – and a lot easier to learn – than Dominion. The resemblance ends there. Dominion doesn’t have a board. This game does. The “tie” mechanic is one of the most unique I’ve seen in a while – little tile divider strips go to the first explorer to reach them.

Now what about movement? Ah here’s where it is also fun. Generally you want to keep moving forward. However, you won’t be able to cross certain spaces without having more powerful cards. You get those by building your deck up. The Captain, for example, let’s you paddle for three instead of one. That might be crucial. There are some long lakes. So if you don’t have the moves, you stall. Or buy a better card. However, where you stop can also determine whether someone else can move past you based on geography. (Mountains for example are impassible.)  This can be quite funny or frustrating. Blocking your rival expeditions is useful. I still think trying to get ahead of everyone with a lean deck is the most effective.

The experience is a little like constructing your own movie set a century or more ago before the world got explored.

It plays fast. Everyone enjoyed it. We’ll play it again.

*Yes I play other games besides Ingress. Why do you ask?

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Ice Damnit; No Ice Dams

We interrupt the usual – er okay unusual, and very infrequently updated – bloggery to bring you this photo. Of ice in the river in town yesterday. There was a substantial melt over the weekend. The river ice shattered and flowed and dashed up onto the banks, piling over each other in some sort of frozen pig pile competition. Here you see some of the results. The winner? The color blue. Despite the sky being leaden and the water dark, the ice has a blue tint.

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A Were-What? Gaming Tidbits

So I like games. Especially role-playing games, board games and lately iPad games and cell phone games. I got the chance to try three completely new board games over the New Year’s weekend. All different. All with their niches. I also actually won on the Power Grid: Spain/Portugal board – first time playing on it. That was awesome. If you’d like to know more, please read on. At the bottom I’ll tell you about a most improbable Druid character…

What were the new games? Great question. It’s not obvious. The new games are (alphabetically):

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate (pictured)

Scythe

The Captain is Dead

Let me take them in reverse order, for you readers who might like to partake:

The Captain is Dead

Do you like Pandemic? Well this is a could-be worthy sequel set in a Star Trek-like universe. You’re on a ship. You’re a person – or at least a character because one crewman is a hologram. Aliens attack. Ship systems start crumbling, disintegrating, gawdamnitall not working. You have a skill or two. Maybe a special power. Now you and your fellow players have to team up to fix the ship. To leap to safety!! Cooperative gaming at it’s finest?

We all died together.

Like soldiers in a war we had to fight.

I liked the concept. A lot. The game is well executed with a solid board. And yet we lost. Twice. People played five games over the weekend. The game purchaser claimed to have won. Once. Out of five. My personal gamer jury is still out on this game. I’ll commit to trying it a couple more times.

Scythe

This amazingly illustrated game of worker management set in another world after it’s Great War (World War I) was my most anticipated game to try. Steampunk mechs. Monuments to power and victory. Fleeing workers! And stars of success. I played one game. I need to play more. The Crimean farm tractors repurposed into death machine miniatures cried out for skilled painting. As did all the other tiny figures of the game. It had excellently executed executive-quality meeples.

Many tanks (and thanks!) to my friend John for bringing this one to the gathering. It doesn’t hurt that I won my first game. Is it cheating to watch instructional videos?

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate

This decent sequel to the unparalleled Betrayal At House On The Hill has D&D clothes. Yes. It’s a horror game in a box. Sold to RPG gamers. It uses the same solid mechanics. If only the editor had played it once or twice? Ah well. The review:

I liked this one the best for sheer fun. We played it three times. Each moment a different ending. The terror was high when the Machine of Lum the Mad rampaged. Somehow we knew that we were lost.

The last game was the best. Who would imagine being a halfling Druid wild shaped into a mouse who was also a lycanthrope?

Specifically a wererat.

A lycanthropic wild-shaped mouse Druid carrying a magical skull.

That was me.

No wait. Something dropped out of the rafters!

A clawed hand! Urrk.

A wererat wild-shaped mouse Druid with a clawed hand clutching her neck that carries a magical skull.

How’s that for laughs?

But that wasn’t all of why I liked it. Mild Spoilers: The other reason is that my friend Robin became the Dungeon Master as a result of one of the scenarios. She’s politely declined to DM for over a decade. We had a good laugh that this game finally got her doing it.

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate does have some weaknesses from the conversion. Attacks are not clear – it implies that you can deal damage to Monsters is one place, but then in a different place you can only Stun them. Which is potentially problematic. There were other little unclarities and corners of the rules that could use a clearer terminology or fixes. Don’t let that stop you from playing. Apply common sense and if need be go to the Forums at BoardGameGeek (an awesome site).

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Ingress Day 537: Trekker Progressions

Big fields* anchored to the south of me. I have the afternoon off due to retrieving the daughter – long story didn’t ultimately need to leave for a while so the diversion opportunity was nice. Oh hey! Time to go hiking – and work on that Trekker badge. Yes, this is Ingress, the world beyond the scanner where you still might slip on snow and ice on a trail. Because the augmented reality is an overlay. Your phone can’t help you with your footing!

It turned out to be a beautiful day, lovely view, and a much shorter hike than anticipated. Tougher than some, easier than vertical rocky pitches, and higher challenge rating due to icy bits and snow packed down by someone snowshoeing. I definitely used my walking stick. And it’s worth repeating one of the cardinal rules of hiking: “Don’t hike alone, or if you do make sure someone knows where you are and when you’re due back.” (I told people I was going out.)

So, Trekker. This is a badge that you earn for miles walked. I got the platinum Trekker stepping out of my office at lunch to kill the other team’s fields for about 9 months. Then I changed jobs. Progress slowed down. Here was a chance to add a little. Or so I thought. I might have gained 400 meters up and down on this hike. Ha! The valley side was pleasant and tree covered from up there, shaded in the afternoon by the hill overhead. I slid only once – I appreciate the oak that was in the right spot. It felt adventuresome. That’s what the game doesn’t give you – the crunch of snow underfoot, the thunk of your stick onto the ground, the cool air flowing over you. You give that to yourself. Being outdoors rocks!

I like the exploring part of Ingress the best. Here’s a view of what part of the trail looked like. This spring or fall I think I’d like to hike the whole thing.

Someone’s going to ask about now:

“What’s a 51 year old guy doing out solo hiking in snow and ice?”

Answer:

“I’m doing it because I can.”

*In Ingress, you make triangles between portals called ‘fields’. These are how your team scores. In the unending competition for portals. And, in theory, for MU (Mind Units).

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Falling Outside the Scanner

C604BAD1-3064-4979-9678-16DC996EC98C.jpegJuly 30, 2017

One lovely warm summer day. One unique portal ahead. One new hiking trail up a mountain to get there.

Two little boys on the side of the road frantically waving their hands.

WTF?

Three seconds later I stop, roll down the window, and they talk rapidfire at me. One almost crying. The older one perhaps 10, the younger one 8.

“Oh thank you for stopping!”

“You’re the first car. A dozen went by.”

So lads, tell me what happened? Ah, yes, took the wrong turn on a path, got ahead of your parents, ran down a mountain and were having fun. Thankfully I _can_ help. This is “easy” – when you’ve been to parent school. They are lost. A rite of passage for youth. And they need help.

There’s a new twist though. A cell phone. They’re in communication with parents elsewhere in the state park. (They’re not playing Pokémon or Ingress though.) It’s just not easy to find your way up when you’ve gone down and you aren’t familiar with the place. And your Mom tells you to stay put while she tries to figure out how to get to you. And you’re scared. And cars keep going by.

This isn’t Ingress, the world inside the scanner where invisible triangles amp up the opposition at 2 AM. This is reality, where a cell phone game brings you to a state park and you can help. That you have to help.

“Okay boys, hop in.”

This being 2017, I take a precaution. I ask the boy with the phone to call his mother, give my full name and cell phone number, and call me so that I can verify that I really am there to help. I give her my license plate. (This is reassurance for the parent now.) Shortly after that, we’ve sorted out that they’re up on the main road near the top, I’m down at the entrance, and yes I can give these two a ride. Done. Easily accomplished. Along the way I get four different versions of the story, with the lads getting braver by the retelling. And arguing with each other.

Ah, youth. I smile a secret smile.

I also break the law because I have children under the required age and weight for the State of Connecticut out of car seats. A calculated risk. I don’t care. There’s low traffic on the road, pulloffs, and I’m going 15 mph. No harm done. The parents are happy to see the kids again. (I’m sure they would have eventually figured it out anyway.) It’s disappointing to hear that a lot of people didn’t stop though. It’s not like the boys were hiding. Heck they were yelling and waving right at the entrance.

Who doesn’t stop to help kids?

And that’s what makes you wonder about the world. Even if they were exaggerating and only one or two cars went boy.

It was a really good hike after that too. You never knew where a game will take you.

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Sojourner: Day 202

There’s an Ingress badge called Sojourner. It’s the sole badge entirely within the player’s control, which requires a specific, constant action. Others happen as a result of play, though there’s a walking badge (Trekker) that is somewhat a choice of action. What you do for Sojourner is to hack a portal (e.g. play the game) once a day. Every day. Until you hit your milestones. It has five levels: 15 days, 30 days, 60 days, 180 and 360 days. About now you’re thinking about that Day 202 clue/title and going “hmmm he’s going for the last one.” Yes, this is Ingress, the world inside the scanner where only your phone and your agent statistics know if you hacked daily.* It’s a secret right? In reality, would anyone know if you went and stared at a historical site and registered an action in your phone?

Maybe.

Maybe if you took a photo. And a screen shot of your stats in your phone.

Or maybe the aliens who are coming want you to think this? If you follow the game mythology.

So Day 202 – Thursday February 8, 2017 – is my big challenge for this badge. I thought getting to Day 180 would be hard? Nope. It felt like a slide almost, and the relief of “halfway there going for bonus rounds” was awesome. Platinum is quite an achievement for anyone. I am not thinking too hard that there’s still 158 more days to go. Well maybe a little but I could give it up anytime. Anytime.

But this morning, I have the flu or the pseudo-flu: headache, chills, cough, cold, runny nose, sore throat, body aches, etc. I “recovered” enough the night before to go out and try to take out some fields built the Other Team. Mistake. I then stayed out too late. Way too late. The other side comes out apparently when Agent Varianor is on the move. Eh well, I should have gone home instead of going for one more round. I didn’t.

So I sleep in with a “fuckitall who cares about a badge” attitude.

And then the snow starts.

Yep, the plan had been to get out early at 7 AM before the roads got bad and go home and sleep till noon. Before I stayed out too late.

Time for a revision Bill. Because once I’m awake…hell yeah I’m going for it.

Silently I curse my optimism at 9:30 AM when I wake up to look out at a beautiful white snowscape. Elegant crystals of feather light powder snow waft down. For a moment I’d rather be skiing. For a long moment. Anyway, roads are quite bad. Not taking my Vibe on those.

So Plan B?

 

Plan B.

 

That means walking.

 

After a hot cup of coffee, a banana, and some DayQuil.

So anyone should ask themself at this point: “What’s a 50 year old guy doing getting on all this thick winter clothing to go walk a mile and a half to town in a blizzard to play a game when he should be home resting because he’s damn sick?”

I ask myself that a lot on the way down.

The fresh air feels nice. Really nice. My sniffles are okay. I wave at neighbors and chat briefly about – you guessed it – the weather. I remember hiking in the dark in a similar snowstorm with friends up the bluffs in Sunderland, Mass, when I went to college. On the road to the village, I also remember to get out of the way of oncoming plows and the handful of vehicles out.

It is beautiful, peaceful and quiet.

On the way down I start composing a poem in my head. I find the closest portal. Take it back. Get the hack in. Feel suddenly tired but happy. On the way back I do more composing in my head. And think.

Why am I out?

And yeah, I love wool socks.

Maybe because I love being outdoors. Maybe because I love the walk to the village, in any season. (Yes I have some albums on G+ featuring Collinsville.) Maybe because the air helps more than any medicine for me. Maybe because this game helps me focus? Maybe because I love being on my own feet more than anything, and I miss running when it snows?

Maybe it’s because despite being horribly sick, I know I have to go home and turn on the work portal and do things for my job. Because I have responsibilities that don’t stop and nobody does my work for me. A little rebellion?

Or maybe because this is a feat of endurance and accomplishment. And I’ve got something to prove to myself still. So there’s that, and I’m going to chew on it.

Have you ever done things you can’t quite figure out?

Please tell me about it. I’m curious. Would love to read your thoughts.

*Agent statistics are private or public, depending on the player’s choice. Most people hide theirs until they get their Guardian. And for an overly long take on that, I refer you to my prior post here.img_4025

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A Good Take on Ingress

I have a guest post for your entertainment. Dan’s words highlight my favorite parts of the game: exploring and exercise. You can do both in this game with a run or a hike or even a walk across Hartford. Yes, this is Ingress, the world inside the scanner that takes you to heights you’ve never seen and strange buildings in the middle of the night.

This post was originally written by Agent OneMaleHuman. He’s found many positives in the game. Maybe you’ll take a look? It’s a bit of a ramble across the countryside of his life, like any good walk or hike. (I want to do letterboxing too except, well, I’m probably busy blowing up an Enlightened portal somewhere.) Thanks Dan for letting me steal repost and slightly edit your words! And yeah, that’s not a bad point about readying for aliens. 😉img_4666

Pro Safety Tip: If you hike alone, especially in dangerous conditions, make sure someone knows where you’re hiking and when.

Dan’s Rant:

I discovered letterboxing in 2007ish. Letterboxing is a scavenger hunt on a hiking trail. The destinations are found on the Internet: a stamp book and stamp buried along any hike. You stamp the hike’s mark in your personal book as a souvenir, then you stamp your personal stamp in the buried book to say “I was here.” I thought it was such a cool idea and imagined installing vending machines in the woods as a way to monetize it and get gamers going outdoors. Imagined a leveling program too.

Late 2015 I heard a friend of a friend talking about Ingress. Instantly knew it was what I imagined, but better obviously. Joined that person’s side, The Resistance, and never saw them again. Lots of days Ingress is the only reason I leave bed. Sojourner badge alone made me leave my house for 360 consecutive days. That is incredible therapy for a depressed or obese person, but really good for anyone.

I took 2 short hikes and 1 real hike this Friday [a couple weeks ago – Editor]. Then again 2 short hikes and 1 real hike Saturday. It makes me laugh to do a real hike in snow or ice, even though I think it is slightly dangerous. The trail markers are hard to see in new snow, but often I follow GPS and go off trail. Mt Tom has a terribly icy trail, it was easier to walk through the woods for a bit. I learned it’s easier to walk through woods in winter, because summer it’s essentially walking through thick brush and spider webs.

This weekend I actually used my footprints in the snow to find my way back to my car. All of this is hilarious in my head. On my drive up to northwestern CT for a hike, I passed a bear crossing sign. Lol! Then I hiked alone in the snow!

The social aspect of Ingress is impressive. It’s practically church in the sense that it forces us to meet our neighbors. Even work together with them. Great for an introvert. Also if we are going to partake in a violent revolt or defend humanity against zombies or aliens, we will need similar apps and strategies. Ingress ❤ ❤ <3.

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