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!



New Blood For Old Grognards

TL; DR – I brought 6 new games to a board gaming weekend, and we tried 5. Everyone liked all 5. I’m going to blog about 3 of them now because I liked them. Read on for the titles!

Grognards Defined

Grognard, n. an old soldier; someone who enjoys older board games and/or roleplaying games

What’s winning the gaming weekend? When you bring six new-to-you-and-your-group games to your grognard friends and you try 5. (You would have tried the sixth but you forgot it in your car.) And all 5 are well liked!


Pseudo-Grognards or Some Other Related Species?

My gaming friends and I are not really grognards. We enjoy new games as much, sometimes more, than old ones. We tend to fall back a fair amount on old favorites like Ticket to Ride and Puerto Rico and Eclipse, even though Terraforming Mars and Viticulture Essential Edition (with the coins) have been consistent hits since we acquired them. New games appear maybe once or twice a year. This year I decided to get us out of the rut.

See, my friends and I are fortunate enough to get together a few long weekends a year to play board games. It’s a grand framework for socializing. And we get to play a lot of games. So I set about researching new games to bring to a recent holiday weekend. I did my homework by reading reviews, thinking about our play styles, what had worked in the past and what hadn’t. We started a “Games to Try” list for when we visit board game cafes, so I stole a bit from that. Tossed out were heavy “take that” games, and ones with highly random elements. Definitely in were ones that filled a niche – supports up to 7 players for example – or that was in a favorite category like worker placement. They all had how to play videos, which I now deem crucial to introducing new games (so much easier than just plodding through new rulesets). None of them were rated poorly in both overall ratings and in written reviews on (BGG).

Getting There

I acquired one game, and watched it hungrily sitting on a shelf for three months. I acquired another game. A kickstarter came in. And I kept acquiring them. Six in all by the time I packed up. One I had owned for over a year; it counts because it was still new to the group.


When we unboxed, and played, the games went well. They kept getting requested, over and over again. Two of the new board games are still held hostage, uhh are still on loan, at my friends house. One we played as a learning game, and did not actually attempt to finish it (Through the Ages), however we definitely will play again.

Here’s the list. I’m going to write individual posts about some of these. Stay tuned! For the rest of today, read down for short reviews of three of them.

Between Two Cities – 3 to 7 players; a tile laying game

Century: Spice Road – 2 to 5 players; a resource drafting and management game

Copenhagen – 2 to 4 players; a window tile drafting game

Kahuna – 2 players; area control game

Cryptid – 2 to 5 players; deduction game

Through The Ages – 2 to 4 players; strategy resource acquisition and management

Mini Reviews

Between Two Cities – A very fun “coopetition” game! This fit the “shorter game to fill gaps in between long strategy games” criteria*. It also had an “unusual winning condition” (you have to build two cities working with players to your left and right) and the very important “up to 7 players”. The unique city tokens you use are great, although a couple of them had pieces break off. As much as I love unique pieces, I think a new edition would benefit from one slightly different city piece. (The Sydney Opera House could replace the Sydney bridge, IMO, or something like that.) We did have fun guessing at all the cities represented. It played rapidly and scored easily once we got the hang of it. This was an affordable and pleasant addition to the group collection.

*The cycles between games on a long weekend with a house full of people have interesting gaming rhythms.

Kahuna – A deep strategy game for all that it’s 2 players. I got this on sale! It’s small and portable with a reasonable number of pieces and cards. (I had actually introduced this in advance of the weekend out of eagerness but only one person got to try it beforehand.) I saw furrowed concentration as everyone learned it and tried to suss out strategy. Props to the creators for having good visual aids for color blind/sight challenged folks – the cards you play with orient to the archipelago and highlight the island. It has a slight tendency to telegraph the winner, we found. The more we play it, I wonder if that will go away? Contrast with Odin’s Ravens (not blogged about yet), where the winner doesn’t seem obvious until right toward the end. I have yet to figure out the Kahuna strategy enough to win definitively, however I picked up a lot from my friend Dave who seemed to grasp it inherently. (He went on to win every game he played.) There are definitely multiple levels to this game. It’s a keeper.

Through The Ages – In the words of the BGG crowd, this is a “weighty” game. Not only is the box a bit heavy, but there are a *lot* of high quality components. It is packed with rules, which are excellent and clear even though there’s a lot. As a visual and spiritual child of the original Civilization, there are many strategies tied directly into the growth and expansion of technology, society and civilization. You can choose a heavy military path, or you can choose a heavy Science development path. There are probably a lot more choices too. We played the Learner Mode with four people in a starter game. That game lasted hours – because we were trying to go carefully through the rules – and we didn’t finish. We did however feel quite satisfied with the learning experience, with the game, and agreed to try it again sooon. 


Mountains of Madness Board Game: Crazy Fun?

First Impressions: Mountains of Madness

from Rob Daviau

TL; DR: a real blast of a cooperative “exploration” game that messes with your mind. It might generate a lot of belly laughs. Or freak people out.

Theme: Explore an ancient city behind impassable mountains. Try to escape with your minds (somewhat) intact.

A Few Neat Things:

*good game concept that plays pretty quickly without lots of corner case rules

*high quality components including a little prop plane miniature

*clear rules with examples

*twisted little bits of the game design reinforcing the theme

*an excellent board game homage to Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” 



Why Did I Buy It?

Friends were eyeing this for a while. It got good reviews. Someone almost bought it for a prior board gaming get together. But they didn’t. Due to a sudden and unfortunate last minute cancellation of both SeaFall and Charterstone, I picked it up on a whim on Saturday 10/20. We immediately played it twice. It’s a good game. As with all things vaguely Lovecraftian, things went terribly, terribly wrong. And funny.

Okay Lovecraft isn’t funny but using humor to deal with things traumatic is.


This is a board game of exploration, facing challenges, gathering relics and escaping the Mountains of Madness. All while players act out and role play insane characters trying to reach a decision to overcome challenges to get what they need to conclude the expedition. Fortunately, the insanity “discussion” is timed so it only lasts roughly 30 seconds. Unless the leader extends it.

Which sometimes you need. Especially after you start to play you think:

“Wow what an intense 30 seconds!”

“But we need more time!”

And the madness? The madness that *every* member of the expedition faces? Hilarious! Sometimes crippling, sometimes amusing, and often changing.

This is the genius part of the game. In true Lovecraftian fashion, you go insane and your madness increases. It’s woven into the rules. You can even get a higher level madness!

It may be wrong that sometimes this is desirable. It’s also funny.

The interactions were where it really got good. I wish I could share. You just had to be there -oops you couldn’t be – I’m sorry let me say it was delightful. The memories will still echo in our minds for years to be trotted out at opportune, if not embarrassing moments (for some).

Geeky Stuff

Mechanically, you move across a board holding Challenge tiles that you have to overcome to advance or just explore with. Players have hands of Equipment cards that you have to use to overcome the Challenges. You do so by trying to coordinate resources when you reveal the Challenge. You only have 30 seconds to hold the discussion though! While that timer sand runs, everyone acts out their assigned Level 1, 2 or 3 Madness. (I can’t even describe how zany this got.)

There’s an interesting Leader mechanic that provides tokens to allow you to suppress, extend, avoid or ameliorate certain parts of the game. The Leader changes every round too. I liked this part. It made you think as a group how to try to beat the game. It also put everyone in charge. Briefly.

The goal is to return with enough Relics that your Expedition is a success. But if you have too many accumulated Injuries(an otherwise useless card added into your Equipment deck) once you escape, it’s not a success. Your characters might be denied tenure or worse. Figuring out how to beat the Challenges and escape was, well, challenging. There’s also a slight twist* in the components – an evil twist – that added to the difficulty. Also, we got the Challenge rules slightly wrong, which led to an unfortunate feeling that the game was too hard after we played it twice. Yet for all that, everyone had a lot of laughs, and most of us agreed we’d play it again.

The Rule We Missed:

Since this was an impulse buy, there really wasn’t time to watch a playthrough. Which, amusingly enough, was not really available to our gaming group for, say 35-40 years of board gaming.

My friends and I have been playing board games for about 42 years apiece. (We all started around ages 8-12.) Six of us played the game that evening with some slight rotation of players. Our designated reader (Lisa) went through the document carefully. We’re good, thorough game players who read all the rules out loud at the table before we started. We make sure/made sure as a group that we understood each section and the components as we went. So we thought.

Of course, actual play is where you find out how the game really works. Usually there’s one rule you don’t get quite right until you play the game repeatedly. This one rule was a little bigger than most.

We missed it. Someone (Kevin) who was waffling about playing again admitted that he’d now consider trying another session after Allen found the error.

What was it?

Resolution Phase > Overcoming a Challenge > Success

“If you successfully overcome at least one of the Challenges on the Encounter tile, you gain the reward shown on the bottom right corner of the tile.”

We didn’t get those rewards the first two times playing through because we interpreted it to mean that you had to win both challenges. In fact, we only fully succeeded on both Challenges with three Challenge tiles in two game sessions. So we lost big time with that error.

With the real rule in play though, it will make a difference. It felt harder to beat Mountains of Madness than Pandemic on hard mode. Now it should be accomplishable – we think.

The Fun

Rules aside, the best part of the game was the Madness. For me. Okay the expression of madness. It’s too funny when there are simultaneous interpretations of insanity that so throw off a player that it’s disturbing. I don’t want to spoil this part of the game too much. Let’s just say that there are cards that distribute certain traits that you roleplay when you’re coordinating resources. Two of them collided in one moment. After the game ended, we couldn’t stop laughing while recapping the crazy things that happened. That’s a hallmark of a really good game in my book.

The Odd Side Note

And here’s another amusing part. There were blank Madness cards meant for you to be able to write your own. (We’re going to!) However, they weren’t well explained in the rules. When two of us got dealt them in the first game, we interpreted them! We didn’t just think “huh what does this mean?” We didn’t go back to the rules since we’d already read them.

No no.

My friends and I? We’re creative. We invented what that Madness was. Confirmed it with our independent monitor and second round player Viola. I chose snow blindness. My character thought he was snowblind and couldn’t see anything – so of course I couldn’t see which Equipment cards I was handing over. Andrew – a literalist – interpreted the lack of text to mean a moment where an insane person thought they were sane. Brilliant!


Worth a play or several. Definitely better, as my friend Andrew noted, toward the end of a gaming day when everyone is punchy and not up for games with too many crunchy rules anyway. Nevertheless, no matter what you do, that way lies madness. Of a good natured, belly laugh sort.

Try it!

And please report back even if you’re in Bedlam.



There is a part of the game that’s evil. Evil as in “gawdamnit you fooled me!” It also will be difficult, possibly frustrating for anyone with bad vision, color blindness, nystagmus, etc. If you have a concern about a vision issue, read on please.

Challenge tiles for different board sections have two (later three) different Challenges printed on them consisting of a number and a visual symbol. The symbols are a gun (in green), books (blue), tools (yellow) and crates (red). The higher up the Mountain you go, the more difficult the Challenges. Makes sense right? Except, apparently to increase the difficulty along with perceptions of increasing insanity, the higher tiles change the color of all the symbols. So books are, for example, no longer blue. Then there are three Escape tiles that are played after the plane “launches” to escape the continent. Those have three Challenges printed. The colors are gone – it’s just an outline – of the symbol, and it’s distorted…

Talk about insanity. That way lies madness, and not of a roleplay type.


Run An Empire Take Two

TL; DR: I like my new running app! It’s gotten my now-less-toned ass out of bed to run twice this week, which is good! Here’s some stuff that ran through my brain about it below if you want to read more…


Questions Questions Questions

Using it the second time I had more questions than answers. Some things did answer themselves like “How do I pick up a gem?” Answer: enter the hex.

Can I run one day then switch to walk mode? Is that a permanent choice? I need to fiddle with the controls.

What happens if someone comes into my territory?? This is a big one. Nobody is playing yet. I can’t see any other empires out there.

Can I play elsewhere? What happens then? Can I switch from run mode to walk mode?

Playing The Game

I set out yesterday morning to do a second run with the app. I turned it on and noticed that you get bonus coins for running in a loop. Why is that? I don’t know. Runners typically run loops because they’re more interesting and you can follow familiar streets. However, in New England, we have a lot of rail trails too. If you run down one side of the trail and back up the other, technically that’s a loop!

Anyway I modified my run into a loop. No problem. Saw some neighborhoods that I had never seen. Cool. A deer stood right in the middle of the road at one point before I got too close. Love early morning runs.

I think the issue here is that the app maps my new budding Imperial lands onto hexes. When you run through a hex, you find things. And you get the fun playback at the end of the run where the hexes all jump up and down. Oddly, you only have to go through the smallest portion of the hex to get a treasure in it.

See the landscape is just littered with gems. Okay not littered but it had several that morning. I’ll report back on this later. You can get things with them. Maybe.

After my run I earned coins and spent them. I got to improve my empire! It’s kinda neat to be able to add new buildings. There were things I couldn’t buy yet. Have to enter the next age. Technically I’m in the Stone Age! 

This left me with all sorts of questions about the controls and what I have to do to advance. My best guess on that is “keep running”. Heh. Seems obvious?

More Questions

At the end of the run I got a little notification about hearts. You have 3 it seems. You use one up when you walk or run. However it regenerates within 4 hours. Okay. Does this mean that there’s combat coming?? It also said you can buy them, but I didn’t see them in the store. Do I have to unlock the ability to buy them? Build a building to let me grow them? Kill other runners and take their heart? Well maybe just take their phone. Oh wait no! That’s theft. Don’t want murder or theft with assault and battery – since I’m guessing to get someone’s phone that violence would be involved. The last act of violence – killing spiders aside – that I committed was a punch I threw when I was ten. I far prefer the peace and joy of running with no such things happening. So I’ll shelve this question for a bit.

I also want to know things about my territory. I think the darker greens areas are now “mine”. I’ve added stuff to them. But are they really? Can others invade and take them away?? I see a fort on the map. I’m definitely going to run there next time to see if I can conquer it. Who owns it? I’m looking forward to finding out more.

Physical Results

The app tracked my splits. This is neat. I was really happy to see my times improving at the end of my run. Part of this was going down a hill – let’s be real here – but part of it is that my muscles warmed up and I got into it.

I also ran longer than I intended! That was good. Very good. I enjoy long runs where my brain works. I compose poems, imagine D&D games, and let the workings go to all sorts of interesting places. Getting out and moving and running longer is great.

Okay Where’s The Strategy Part?

This is a great question. I’d love to be able to discuss it with others. Has anyone seen forums yet? I sent feedback to the company suggesting that they need a place to discuss. It’s just come out in America. Lots of us will try it and master it. Sharing information improves that. It seems odd that a gaming company didn’t get a free or mostly free forum site yet.

Back to strategy: Yeah I’m thinking it’s in how you explore, conquer and manage your empire, but I haven’t figured that out yet. I’ll noodle on that. Maybe it’s part of holding your territory. The blog on the app’s site mentioned that you have to keep running through your territory to hold your hexes. Otherwise they slowly degrade away from your influence. Hm.

I also earned coins while I was away! Lots by my (new) standards. See the screen shot. But note that I’m still in the Stone Age! I can’t wait to spend my wealth. If I can figure out how to switch modes. Otherwise my next run is Monday.

Hm. This could get me running every day again.


I’m sticking with the app. I need to learn more. Since I’m stuck in the Stone Age maybe my caveman brain must evolve before I get this sorted. 😉



Run An Empire App – 1st Impressions

It’s a floor wax and a desert topping! “Try new Shimmer.” Oh wait. Old Saturday Night references are good but not quite on point. Let me try again:

TL; DR: Run An Empire– It’s a good running (or walking) phone app and a strategy game in one! Get healthy with strategy. Or so I hope.

Cool right? For those of you with extensive time on your hands, please read on!


The Getting It & Getting It Started Details

You can download this from the Apple Store if you’re an iPhone user. (For all of the nice rest of you, wherever the droid/rogue people get their apps from just plug the name in.)

I first heard about this app two years ago. It was available in Australia. I asked friends there how it goes. They said, pretty good! Then I got my sad face. It wasn’t available in America.

This year the beta test for America came along! Yay!

I didn’t sign up right away.


Too much Real Life going on.


But I did finally and got an invite. And that sat for a bit. Then I got the news it’s coming out of beta. Today! [Editor: yesterday technically.]

So I could keep beta tester status for new features by downloading yesterday. [Which was Monday. Your now more irritated editor.]

One much needed -kick in the pants- call to action later, I had the app on my phone last night. I determined to run right away.

So I did.

The Run?

I’ll keep this brief. You’re maybe not a runner if you’re a gamer and reading this? Maybe you are! That said, if you ever wanted to do get in better shape while playing a game, this is a good way to go! There are also other apps that serve the same purpose yet do it differently (like Zombies, Run!). To my knowledge this is the only one that has a strategy element.

No Really, the Run

Oh gawd the damn alarm went off. I have to get up. Have to. New shiny app calling!



Okay okay I’m up!



So I set out this morning at the ridiculous hour of 7:15 AM, into a light mist.


Sneakers on, running clothes on, iPhone in a plastic sandwich bag.




My 6S is too large for my old shoulder hoster. Funny. I’m too cheap to buy a new one. You gotta protect your phone. Especially one running a game app…

My feet hit the pavement, the breath whooshes out of my lungs – rhythmically okay? – and the dumb parts of life fade away.

Done Run

Approximately 30 minutes later, breathing a little harder than I would have liked, I had 5K under my belt, 7700 coins earned in the app, and I had explored 8 hexes around my apartment.

A good run.

Editor: he’s an old Schlub folks. Ten minutes a mile.

Neat Features

Let me be honest. I have no idea what this will be like in the coming weeks. But as a guy who’s played a few phone games, this one has something. There are several features that I liked at first blush:

  • The tutorial guy is funny. And is kinda helpful. Will the “your greatness” thing get old?
  • Graphics are cute in an updated 60s way. It’s a welcome change from the harshly scintillating SF world of Ingress.
  • The post-movement summary is fun! It shows that you did something. [Editor. He ran a ducking 5K. That’s not nothing. Sigh.]
  • Talk about maps that get it right – this app showed me a whole new back way out of my apartment complex! And I’ve been here for five months.
  • The reminders aren’t naggy. They encourage.
  • Rewards were showered upon me for my efforts. And yeah, the big arrows pointing to things I should do were like “D’oh!” Er. “Cool!”


There’s a new running gaming phone app that I tried once. I like it. I’ll try it more.

Are you going to try it? Will you let me know how it goes for you please? They say they’re adding a buddy feature someday.



SeaFall: The Experience

Warning: Contains mild spoilers for a specific boardgame.

TL; DR: An enjoyable Age of Sail-style adventure campaign turned into a board game. There were many twists and turns right up to the final reveal. Play it when you have a group of friends and you make the time.

In Depth Review:

Playing the first “built from the ground up” legacy game was a great experience. So much so that my friends and I are playing a second campaign!


Read on please…

Continue reading


Bon Voyage Mr. Hawking

Stephen Hawking left the globe today, gifting us with a legacy of thought and mathematics and physics. I first heard the news this morning and closed my eyes for a moment to thank him for all his work and to (again) ponder the afterlife. After work I made my way home and pulled out Terraforming Mars to play a solo game. I won! I hereby dedicate my win to Professor Hawking. It would also be seemly to draw attention to a few stories about Mars and space featuring Stephen Hawking.

I think anyone who learns about the universe and dreams wants to visit our nearest planetary neighbor, Mars. And be able to return to Earth, if possible, although colonists will likely understand that the first few generations may be a one way trip. The work of astronomers, physicists (like Hawking), engineers, scientists and so many other professions will someday make this possible.

And on that day, I hope that the new Martians raise a toast to Hawking, Heinlein, H.G. Wells and all the other thinkers, dreamers, visionaries and storytellers who have dared to dream about life outside Earth’s warm embrace.