Tonight I had a minor brush with fame, when I went to a book signing with Patrick Rothfuss. For those who aren’t as cool as me, he’s the author of The Kingkiller Chronicles, one of my favorite fantasy series. I found out on Monday that he would be at a local bookstore in Overland Park, so I blew off game night and hightailed it over there to hear him give a reading and a little Q&A.
Some of you may be familiar with Rab Florence, who writes a column called Cardboard Children over at Rock Paper Shotgun. Rab is a gifted writer who used to produce a delightful bunch of video reviews in a series called Downtime Town. Anyway, yesterday he posted an article called Change or Die, in which he covered a lot of ground, but mainly wondered about how we promote games to other people, and if we’re really very good at explaining why games are worth caring about in the first place. One section in particular stuck out to me:
On Sunday night, as thunder rattled our windows, I waxed emotional about my own memories of tornado watches and thunderstorms as a child. But the events of yesterday afternoon in Moore, OK, rendered everything I wrote pretty much meaningless. While I was waiting for comments and views on what I thought was a decent little piece, an actual real tornado was destroying an actual real town, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Periodically I look at my game shelf to see if there’s anything I feel I could part with, either in a sale or in trade. It’s a way for me to ensure that games I don’t play don’t sit gathering dust. Whenever I do this, I’m a little surprised to see that yes, I still own Tobago. It’s not that Tobago is a bad game. Actually it’s pretty great, creative and accessible. But it sometimes feels like it was released, enjoyed for a while, and then largely abandoned. Once or twice I’ve toyed with moving it off of my shelf and on to someone else, but then I play it again and remember why I own it in the first place.
I was born and raised in central Michigan, where the summers can get nice and humid. Turns out to be pretty good tornado weather in fact. I have many childhood memories of big thunderstorms coming in, and watching TV when a tornado watch would be announced. I’m not sure we ever did have a proper warning, but I lived in mortal fear that there would one day be a funnel cloud that would drop down in the middle of New Lothrop, suck me up, and carry me off to somewhere far away, like Owosso. I have strong childhood memories of ominous dark skies while we drove in the car. My head knew that there was nothing to worry about, but the rest of me (my bowels, for example) wasn’t quite so sure.
Some new parents are surprised when I tell them that it’s much easier to adjust to a second child than it is to adjust to the first once. It’s hard to underestimate how much of that new-parent panic is a result of sheer inexperience. But once you’ve had a kid for a couple of years, going back to baby care is surprisingly easy. You have to be a parent to a two-year-old, which means you have to teach them manners, discipline them, get them to eat their dinner, and explain why they shouldn’t headbutt people. With an infant, you mostly just need to feed them and clean up their rear ends.
At the beginning of 2013, I made a kinda-sorta game resolution to get into some different styles of game beyond what I’ve always done. To that end, I have tried to branch out a little in the games I’ve learned. I already reviewed Last King of Scotland, a light hex-and-counter wargame from VPG, and their Moonbase Alpha is in the hopper for the next couple of weeks as well. I intend to try my hand at roleplaying at some point this year, though when is still pretty fuzzy. Then of course there’s the Star Wars LCG, which has proven to be a reliable customizable game experience for me. But what kind of game player would I be if I never bothered to check out the granddaddy of all collectible games, the venerable Magic: The Gathering? Believe it our not, I’ve gone six years in this hobby without ever playing one of the most influential games ever designed.
What can I say? The arrival of Magic completely passed me by. It has a not-unfair reputation for being an enormous money-sink, and you really need some of your friends to buy in to make it worth your trouble. But a very generous reader offered to loan me a box of his cards, along with some extensive advice on how best to play Magic with my wife, who is in a sense the ultimate skeptic for this kind of game. This involved sending me enough cards to approximate some “Limited” gameplay. We’ve played a few times, using some very basic deckbuilding stuff. We did something of a sealed format, which for the uninitiated is breaking open six booster packs and building a deck with what you have. I think this is clearly the way to play for those who don’t want to hassle with buying single cards and paying insane prices for rares.
What do I think of it? I’ll probably write a full-on column at some point on the experience, but my very limited initial impressions are pretty positive. I don’t have much patience for deck-building on a card-by-card basis, so limiting the pool of possible cards is a good way to make that aspect of it more enjoyable. My wife, however, doesn’t really have much use for that part. A lot of people get a charge out of tinkering endlessly with decks. I think we both find it a little exhausting, though I don’t mind in the setting we tried.
But I was very impressed at how straightforward the actual gameplay was. It’s just not very complicated, easily the easiest CCG I’ve ever even touched on. This was definitely the most pleasant surprise. I didn’t feel boggled whenever I looked at my hand, which surprised me. If I were independently wealthy, I could totally see doing some sealed tourneys and drafts now and then. I’ll actually have the chance to try out some cube drafts later this year, which should be fun. So it’s another game experience marked off the list, but definitely a positive one.