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The 2015 Make-Yer-Own-Oscar-Pool Page

The 2015 Make-Yer-Own Oscars Pool Page is live. Per tradition there has been exactly zero user testing, so let me know if you encounter bugs, typos, or miscellaneous weirdness.

The 2014 Good Gift Game Guide

The 2014 Good Gift Games guide appears in The Morning News today. Here are the ten games featured:

Game Rules Purchase
Splendor PDF AmazonFunagain
Machi Koro PDF AmazonFunagain
Concept PDF AmazonFunagain
Marrying Mr. Darcy How to play AmazonFunagain
Tokaido PDF AmazonFunagain
Star Realms How to play AmazonFunagain
Terror in Meeple City (FKA “Rampage”) PDF AmazonFunagain
Camel Up PDF Amazon, Funagain
Mascarade PDF Amazon, Funagain
Quantum PDF Amazon, Funagain

It’s often difficult to whittle the selections down to 10, but this year was especially tough. Here are five more that were on the list at one time or another, but eventually pushed below the fold.

  • Thunder Alley (GMT Games, 2-7 players, 90 minutes): I name-checked this one in the main list, as a possible alternative to Camel Up. Stock car racing games are often uninspired — roll a die, move your piece — but Thunder Alley has players managing a team of cars rather than a single vehicle, trying to maximize a score rather than simply cross the finish line first. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
  • King of New York (IELLO, 2-6 players, 45 minutes): King of Tokyo is a perennial suggestion as a Good Gift Game (see “A Decade of Good Gift Games”, below), and King of New York improves upon it in nearly every way: it accommodates more players, it introduces buildings to destroy, and you can even gain an ally in the form of an animated Statue of Liberty. I still recommend Tokyo to non-gamers for its accessibility, but for everyone else, this is the one. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
  • Istanbul (AEG, 2-5 players, 50 minutes): Where most pick-up-and-deliver games have players transporting freight across a nation in a train or across the galaxy in a starship, Istabul is confined to a marketplace, where you shuttle goods using your trusty wheelbarrow. The core mechanics are simple but there are a plethora of special spaces and actions available, making it unsuitable for the game Good Gift Games list due to its complexity, but also one of the best strategy games of the year. [Amazon | Funagain]
  • Tiny Epic Kingdoms (Gamelyn Games, 2-5 players, 30 minutes): TEK packs a lot of game into a tiny package, although perhaps not as much as it boasts: it claims to be a 4X game when, truth be told, it is more of a hybrid between an action selection and an area control game. Classifications aside, Tiny Epic Kingdom offers a pretty amazing gameplay-to-footprint ratio. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon]
  • Eldritch Horror (Fantasy Flight Games, 1-8players, 180 minutes): I spent more hours playing Eldritch Horror in 2014 than on any other game. I’ll write a full review shortly but, suffice it to say, I will likely never play Arkham Horror again so long as EH is in my collection. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
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A Decade of Good Gift Games

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Good Gift Game Guide’s publication in The Morning News. Not all of the selections over the last decade have withstood the test of time, but here are 20 that hold up (and are still available) today.

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Other Opinions

Don’t trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other “2014 best game of the year” lists. German Game of the Year:

Deutscher Spiele Preis (the “other” German Game of the Year award):

  • First PlaceRussian Railroads (I haven’t yet played, but my strategy game group loves this one)

International Gamers Awards:

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Where to Buy

I dunno about your hometown, but board game stores have recently been cropping up in Seattle like toadstools after a rain. Plug “games” into Google Maps and see what you get. As for online, Amazon now carries just about everything I recommend. Funagain Games is one of the oldest board game retailers and remains one of the best. Others that I’d recommend include:

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Need additional info, or want a more specific recommendation? Don’t hesitate to drop me a line.


Board Games via Skype

Hmm, that’s an interesting challenge. I’m sure I could search Google and find some board games that are routinely played via Skype, but let me ruminate on the problem a bit first.

How could this be done? I’ll think this through using Monopoly as an example.  One party (A) would set up the board and position the camera such that the other party (B) could see it; Party A would also be in charge of moving the pieces and placing houses/hotels onto the board.  Party B would roll their own dice, take deeds from their own set when purchasing property, and use their own bank.  When money was transferred from a player in one party to a player in the other, the debtor would return the sum to their bank and the creditor would take an equivalent amount from theirs.  When a player in Party B landed on a Chance or Community Chest space, a player in Party A would draw the card on his behalf and read it aloud.

As near as I can tell, Monopoly would work without requiring any modification to the game rules.  So would Carcassonne, if someone in Party A revealed tiles on behalf of the players in Party B and placed them (along with the associated meeples) in accordance with the wishes of the active players.  Viewing the board might be a pain for players in Party B, but it’s doable.

Here are a few others that use a central board, and would require parties to coordinate their moves/components, but could hypothetically be played via Skype:

The common denominator in the games above is the lack of hidden information. The problem comes when players draw items (such as cards) from a common pool (such as a deck), and these items are meant to be kept secret. Hence the exclusion of Settlers of Catan from the list above (development cards), and the main version of Agricola (Occupation and Minor Improvement cards).

To see why this is an issue let’s examine Scrabble, where each player has their own set of hidden tiles. Here again Party A could be in charge of the board, placing tiles onto the spaces dictated to them by the players in Party B.  But from where does a player in Party B draw to refill his hand?  If each party the tiles in their copy of the game, it messes up the distribution: you have twice as many Z’s etc., and you’ll have to play twice as long before you run out of tiles. If you only use one pool, and there are at least two players in each party, I can’t think of an easy way for a player in Party A to draw tiles on behalf of someone in Party B and communicate that information to them whilst keeping in secret from himself and others.

(If Party B was composed of only one person this could be done, though. Party A sets up a rack right in front of and facing the camera; replacement tiles are placed onto the rack without the drawing player looking at them. When the player on Party B plays, he indicates which tiles he’s using and where they should be placed, e.g. “the second, third, fifth, and sixth tiles from the left to spell ‘carbine’, intersecting ‘trundle’ at the ‘n’.”)

Given all this, the ideal game for playing over Skype would seem to be one without a central board, or common pool from which hidden items are taken. Dice games leap to mind, such as Roll Through the AgesDungeon Roll, and King of Tokyo (the superfluous board of which could be replaced by simply putting the in-Tokyo monsters in front of the camera).

Another category would be games in which each person plays from his own deck of cards. Dominion almost works (but when a player in one party bought a card, the other party would have to trash an identical card), as does Sentinels of the Multiverse (although the Villain and Environment decks are a “central board” of sorts).

Sentinels is also cooperative, which simplifies some aspects of playing over Skype. Other co-ops that should work well include Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, and Elder Sign.

What am I forgetting?

P.s. After posting I allowed myself to Google this topic, and there are fewer suggestions out there than I had anticipated. Most recommend playing via V.A.S.S.E.L. or similar service that mediates the game, with Skype there to facilitate the social aspect.

Upcoming Gamenight / Tweetup

Based on the success of the first one, the Seattle Gamenight / Tweetup has officially become A Thing, and will henceforth be held on the last Friday of each month.

For the next, February 28, I have reserved a room at Cafe Mox, Seattle’s premiere game parlour. The space only holds 10, so please RSVP via Twitter or email if you intend to join; if we get > 10, we will relocate.

On March 28 we are back at The Elysian, for a gamenight featuring Special Guest Star @ansate. Yay!

And a week later, Saturday April 5th, it is International Tabletop Day. I have no plans as of yet, but will cook up something in observation of the event. Stay tuned.

Google Calendar addresses:    :


The 2014 Make-Yer-Own Oscars Pool

The 2014 Make-Yer-Own Oscars Pool Page is live. Per tradition there has been exactly zero user testing, so let me know if you encounter bugs, typos, or miscellaneous weirdness.

Seattle Gamenight / Tweetup

Come join me, royalbacon, hellbox and more on Thursday, January 30th at the Elysian on Capitol Hill for an impromptu gamenight / tweetup. The festivities will begin around 6 PM, and I will come armed with:

Plus: The Resistance, Love Letter, King of Tokyo, and your requests.

Come to play, or just say hello.

The 2013 Good Gift Games Guide

The 2013 Good Gift Games guide appears in The Morning News today. Kind of a strange list this year, populated almost exclusively with card games. The only games with traditional boards are VivaJava and Eight-Minute Empire (albeit one the size of a large index card). There also no games exclusively for two-players. I was originally going to include Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (see below), but ultimately omitted it from the main list for the crime of Excessive Dryness.

Here are the ten games featured:

Game Rules Purchase
Sushi Go! PDF AmazonFunagain
Rise of Augustus PDF AmazonFunagain
Hanabi PDF AmazonFunagain
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game PDF AmazonFunagain
Dungeon Roll Download page AmazonFunagain
Coup Can’t find AmazonFunagain
Forbidden Desert Download page AmazonFunagain
VivaJava PDF Amazon
The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet PDF Amazon
Eight-Minute Empire PDF Appears to be out of stock everywhere, but the sequel, Eight-Minute Empire: Legends, will be released on 12/09 according to Amazon and Funagain.

See also: the Good Gift Games Greatest Hits (although I need to update it with King of TokyoCards Against HumanityLove Letter, and Lords of Waterdeep).

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My Other Favorite Games of the Year

The Good Gift Games guide focuses on games that are “easy to learn and teach, fun and engrossing to play, and that can be completed in 90 minutes or less”. I like games that meet these criteria of course, but also enjoy the meatier stuff. Here are five of my favorite mid- to advanced-strategy games of last year or so.

  • Android: Netrunner (Fantasy Flight Games, 2 players, 45 minutes): I’m late to the party on this one (it was released in 2012, and is based on a game from the 90s), but holy smokes, Android: Netrunner presses all of my buttons.  I’m a sucker for the setting — hackers vs. corporations in a dystopian cyberpunk future — and every element of the game reinforces the theme, from the mechanics to the art to the terminology (the corporation’s draw deck is called “R&D”, for instance). It’s a “living card game”, which means that there are endless expansions to buy, but there is plenty of game in the base set alone. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
Android: Netrunner
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse (Greater Than Games, 3-5, 45 minutes): As long as I am confessing to late-adopterism, I should also point out that, after years of being urged to play Sentinels of the Multiverse, I finally did so a few months ago. And yes, everyone was right: it’s right up my alley.  Each player has their own, custom deck in this cooperative superhero card game, which pits players against a supervillain and his minions. What elevates the game beyond the basic “play a card, do what it says” filler is the fascinating way in which the good guys, bad guys, environments, and assorted powers interact, providing lots of emergent gameplay to explore. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
  • Terra Mystica (Z-Man Games, 2-5 players, 120 minutes)Terra Mystica is very much a euro despite its fantasy theme, a worker placement game that emphasizes resource management and long-term strategy.  I’ve had my fill of “point salad” games, but the various races in Mystica set it apart from its brethren: in my three games I’ve played the halflings, the giants, and the nomads, and each has required a completely different approach.  There’s a steep learning curve on this one, and you’ll be perpetually checking the rulebook for clarifications, but so far it’s paid hefty dividends on the investment.  [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
  • Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar (Rio Grande Games, 2-4  players, 90 minutes hours): My other favorite euro of the year, Tzolk’in has one of the best board game gimmicks in recent memory: a set of interlocking gears that completely regulate the gameplay.  You can read my full review at Playtest.  [Boardgame Geek | Amazon Funagain]
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar 
  • Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (Z-Man games, 2 players, 30 minutes):  Agricola is a huge, sprawling, complex game, in which 2-5 players have to manage seven types of resources while trying to eke out an existence on a 17th century farm; Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, on the other hand, is its adorable little nephew, allowing two players to just focus on the fun part of farming: chilling with the livestock. To that end the players take turns building fences, constructing stables, and raising sheep, pigs, cows, and horses. And what happens if you have two animals of the same kind at the end of the round? Yay, babies! [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
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Other Opinions

Don’t trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other “2013 best game of the year” lists. German Game of the Year:

Deutscher Spiele Preis (the “other” German Game of the Year award):

International Gamers Awards:

GAMES Magazine Awards:

  • Abstract Strategy GameKulami
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Where to Buy

I dunno about your hometown, but board game stores have recently been cropping up in Seattle like toadstools after a rain. Plug “games” into Google Maps and see what you get. As for online, Amazon now carries just about everything I recommend. Funagain Games is one of the oldest board game retailers and remains one of the best. Others that I’d recommend include:

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Need additional info, or want a more specific recommendation? Don’t hesitate to drop me a line.


My son doesn’t really understand holidays, but he enjoys their trappings, Christmas carols and Easter egg hunts. Halloween is his favorite, with its pumpkins, candy, and monsters especially.

When my son was younger we read him books about poky little puppies, and very shy kittens, and donkeys with magic pebbles. But his favorites were those about monsters. We went through two copies of The Story of GrowlMy Monster Mama Loves Me So was in heavy rotation for a while, and, like most children, he is an enthusiast of The Monster at the End of This Book.

And his fandom transcends the literary. His “monster blanket” — a quilt with a mosaic of smiling creatures — is one of his few material possessions to which he has a strong attachment. He enjoys playing Go Away Monster! He has monsters on his posters and on his backpack. One year for Halloween we even dressed him as Max from Where The Wild Things Are, a role he was seemingly born to play.


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The roles that monsters and clowns play in childhood seem to have transposed in recent decades (since the advent of Elmo and Stephen King’s It, I reckon). Even so, my son’s affinity for former seems greater than most. He certainly shows no fear of them.

In fact, he is overtly frightened of little. He was so fearless about heights when younger that we wondered if he truly understood the danger that they posed, and I was reluctant to let him ascend to the top of the huge climbing structure in our local playground. One day I relented, though, and allowed him to climb to the top while I flitted about directly below, ready to break his fall should he slip. In the end it became clear that he is as attuned to the perils of heights as any other kid, and that my fear had been unnecessary.

He is also bereft of social fear, for want of a better phrase. He doesn’t worry about fitting in, or if he has too few friends, or if he lacks the cool new status symbol. He seems unconcerned with how others view him, or how they might treat him. I don’t know if he understands the concept of the future, but, if so, it does not weigh on his mind.

But here again my wife and I scurry around, fearing on his behalf. We arrange play dates with his classmates so that he has friends. We fret about teasing and bullying. We worry that, if someone were to hurt him, he wouldn’t think (or know how) to tell someone.

In this respect we are no different that the parents of neurotypical children, concerned as they are with these very same things. But when it comes to the future, we have a fear that is specific to a special needs child: we don’t know what will happen to him when we are gone.

Despite the early intervention and intensive therapy, it seems unlikely to me that he will ever be able to live independently, nor will he have a partner of any sort. (But, again, I no longer make predictions.) Where then will he live? And who will serve as his caregiver?

Fortunately, we are not the only parents thinking about this. It sometimes seems like the autism community is laying tracks down in front of us, just at the moment we need them. Shortly after my son was diagnosed services for children with autism expanded enormously (which isn’t to say that it wasn’t a struggle to find and secure them), and I was able to find a job that had recently started providing medical coverage for those treatments. We managed to get him into a newly founded special needs elementary school, which became a K-12 a few years later. Now, as we turn our attention to his long-term well-being, we learn of others who are doing likewise for their own children. From a recent article in The New York Times, entitled The Architecture of Autism:

The life expectancy of people with autism is more or less average. Here is another truth, then, about children with autism: they can’t stay at home forever.

This realization — as obvious as it is worrying — has recently stirred the beginnings of a response from researchers, architects and, not least, parents. In 2009, a pair of academics, Kim Steele and Sherry Ahrentzen, collaborated on “Advancing Full Spectrum Housing,” a comprehensive design guideline for housing adults with autism….

Knowing that there are others out there who struggle with these issues, and who are working to build an infrastructure to address them, brings me great comfort. But I am not without some sleepless nights.

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Putting a costume on my son and taking him Trick or Treating is a bit risky, but he usually takes it in stride. This year we got him a simple bat costume, and to our surprise he was amenable to putting it on. (We had to compromise on the hat with ears, though: he would wear it, but we couldn’t tie the strings below his chin.)

When the door to the first home opened I prompted him with “what do you say?”, and he replied with a hearty “thank you!” He was handed a Milky Way, which he promptly unwrapped and ate, returning the wrapper to the bowl of the homeowner.

He got the hang of things after a few houses, although “thank you!” remained his go-to line. We visited our immediate neighbors, all of whom have become familiar with our son since the elopement, and assumed that would be sufficient. But when I asked if he was done, he said “more Trick or Treating”, and we continued around the block. A banner year, to be sure.

His first words, when we returned to the house, were “bat off,” a fairly sophisticated utterance in that it implied awareness of his costume’s motif. We stripped him down to his PJs and let him partake in some Skittles before putting him to bed. When I checked on him several hours later he remained wide awake, still excited about the evening’s activities.

* * *

I occasionally worry about the future, but spend most of my time enjoying the present. Raising my son is a little like Halloween: sometimes scary, but a whole lot of fun.


Block & Chip

My son and I, both at the age of nine.

Autism and the Media

“When I tell people that my kid has autism, they immediately think of Rain Man.”

This was a common lament at the time my son was first diagnosed. The idea that autism was a spectrum had not yet entered the mainstream and, for most, Raymond Babbitt was the only media portrayal of a person with autism to which they had been exposed. Thus, after revealing the autism in conversation, the parent of a child with Asperger’s or PDD-NOS would hastily clarify the scope and severity of their child’s impairment.

In the eight years since then the particulars of ASD have become widely known; if you state that your child has “Asperger’s”, for instance, most folks know what you mean without requiring further details. (PDD-NOS, however, remains a mystery to most). Indeed, these days if you describe your child as autistic, many listeners first think of the many contemporary characters in media that are on the spectrum.

In 2009 I wrote Autistic Trekdom, arguing that the character of Spock in the new films, coupled with Star Trek’s underlying message of inclusion, was a veritable celebration of neurodiversity out there. Shortly thereafter I was a guest on my local NPR station, where I spoke of the raft of new portrayals of people with autism, including Abed from Community, one of the children on Parenthood, and Max Jerry Horowitz in Mary and Max.

To that list we can now add Gary Bell from the television show Alphas. While a rather generic superhero ensemble show, Alphas treats Gary with a lot of respect, and the character is actually one of the most complex and well-rounded on the program. All of the protagonists have struggles— with anger management, alcoholism, intimacy, and so forth — and those of Gary are not depicted as any more or less debilitating or noble. Better still, his colleagues often find him irritating and exasperating, just as they do each other. He is viewed as a unique member of the team, but also as just another co-worker.

Given all this, people no longer instinctively hearken back to Rain Manwhen told that a child has autism. But for those of us with children on the lower-end of the spectrum, the pendulum has swung the other way. Now, if you simply describe your kid as having ASD, people are less likely to think of Raymond Babbitt than of Sheldon Lee Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. As one friend confessed to me, he has now come to equate ASD with “quirky”.

This is why, as you may have noticed, I usually bill my son as having “classic autism” rather than ASD, and am quick to add that he’s non-verbal. Even then a lot of my friends and acquaintances don’t really grasp the degree to which he is impacted, unless they meet him in person. I love the numerous and nuanced portrayals of people with autism in the media these days, but sometimes think that describing my son’s disorder would be easier if Rain Man were still the starting point for the discussion.

Even as these contemporary characters with autism have become increasingly well-known, one element of Rain Man still lingers in the mind of many: savantism.  For the record, savant syndrome is rare, even among those with autism (1 in 10 is the estimate of this study). My son takes piano lessons, but has no special skill in music; he uses fingers and a calculator to help in math; and if he’s able to calculate the day of the week of any given date, that’s news to us. His favorite thing to do with the Go set I bought when he was about four was to drop the stones down the heating vent and listen to them ping their way down the duct.

Someday autism may be so well represented in the media that no particular character leaps to mind when it is mentioned, just as no one instinctively thinks of Blossom when someone mentions having a neurotypical daughter. Until then, Rain Man and Gary Bell will have to do.