Did WordPress Update?

I get the impression that WordPress must have updated the software recently.  Things are basicaly the same, but they look a little different.  And there are a few annoying little errors that are cropping up here or there.  Things like, WordPress used to fill in the “shortlink” automatically into my Publicize message (where I broadcast a link to Twitter and Facebook back to the latest blog post), and now I have to go get a shortlink manually to paste into it.  Obviously not the end of the world, but it used to be easy before, but for the past couple days it’s been annoying…  Or automatically checking the “Uncategorized” category… it used to not automatically check anything, and now it takes an extra click because I have to  uncheck that first before checking the correct category.

Can I have some of those little things back, guys?

Semester Complete

So, as of today, Spring Semester of 2010 is finally over.

I wanted to write something deeper and more interesting than this, but work started gearing up pretty heavy for the beginning of the old monthly cycle again, and so I’ve been swamped… I’ve had to work through lunch rather than getting a bit of freedom, so that’s been a little rough on my “blog-writing” time.  My apologies, folks.

I’d been planning to do another “Genre Critiques” essay sometime in the near future… (I hadn’t done one in quite a while) but I couldn’t decide on a topic worthy of a full-fledged essay (nor a topic which I would have sufficient time to do a little research before today).  So, do you guys have topic suggestions, and maybe I’ll get to one next week?  I was considering researching and critiquing either the “Unobtanium/Adamantium” trope or the “Orphaned Boy” cliché, but I wasn’t sure the first had enough meat for a full essay and I didn’t have enough time to devote sufficient thought to the second. Ah, well.

Other than that, I want only to say that if I drop off and miss a day here or there over the coming weeks, you have my deepest apologies, but it’s only because it’s unavoidable.  I’ve managed to keep up with a daily posting schedule for the last several months, and though I would hate to miss a day at this point, after examining my time and what’s going on in life, I only felt comfortable recommitting to a two official post-update days, with 250 words on each of those days (I updated my About page to reflect the change in my “official” post schedule to the expanded amount a few weeks ago).  Anyway, though the semester is over, there’s still work, and the new “mini-internship” project to work on, and things have a way of catching up with you sometimes.

Hopefully, later today I’ll have an update to my Magical Lexicon.  There may only be a very small handful of definitions added, but at least it will be something…

100 Books Meme 1 Year Later

Or rather, a year and some change later.

In February and March of last year, a meme was going around the internet – possibly started on Facebook – that the BBC had compiled a list of 100 great books.  The meme was that your average British citizen had read only 6 of the books on the list.  I did a little fact-checking before writing up this post (I wanted to link to the original list, if it existed), and it appears the meme was mostly fictional (i.e. there was never a list of 100 great books that most people hadn’t read; instead there was a list of 100 most popular books in Britain, which implies rather that these are books that have been read by quite a good many people).

By the time the list made it to Dear Wife and I, it had undergone several changes, rather like a game of Telephone.  The idea was to see how many of the books you had read (and whether you had read more than the supposed average of 6 books).

Over the weekend, Dear Wife uncovered the e-mail we had sent back-and-forth on the subject; she thought it would make an amusing post, and I concurred.  Here is the list as we received it, with books I have read in blue, books Dear Wife has read in crimson, and books we both have read in purple, with my commentary on the side.:

  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien – Tolkien intended it to be a single book, so it still counts as one book, in my book
  3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling – The makers of the list must realize of course, that this is 7 books, total 
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  6. The Bible – I’ve actually read two different translations in their entirety
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte – This is on Dear Wife’s list
  8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
  9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman – But we did listen to the first third on Audio Book… just never got around to finishing it
  10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens – I had great expectations for this book… nyuk nyuk nyuk; but seriously, it was a pretty enoyable read
  11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
  12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  14. Complete Works of Shakespeare – Has anyone read the complete works of Shakespeare?  I don’t know, but I’ve read several of his plays…
  15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
  16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien – This and Lord of the Rings are both on my top-ten list… so there you go.
  17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
  18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
  19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
  23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
  24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
  25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
  26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
  27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Seriously, Dear Wife says she read this…
  28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame – I was thinking of it at the time, but this could easily have fit on my top-ten list, or at least earned an honorable mention…
  31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
  33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis – There like 7 of these, too, you know…
  34. Emma – Jane Austen
  35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
  36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis – Is this somehow not covered in “The Chronicles of Narnia”?  Still, Dear Wife has read this, but not the others in the series…
  37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini – No, but I did read his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns
  38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
  39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
  40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
  41. Animal Farm – George Orwell – Yeah, I actually made it through High School without having to read this, I think because of the move mid-school.  My sisters did have to read it.
  42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
  43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
  45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
  47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  50. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
  52. Dune – Frank Herbert
  53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
  55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens And yet I don’t recall most of it; it was not as memorable as others of Dickens’ books
  58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
  60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  63. The Secret History – Donna Tart
  64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
  65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas – No, but the movie was fantastic, in my opinion
  66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
  67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
  68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
  69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
  71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
  72. Dracula – Bram Stoker
  73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
  75. Ulysses – James Joyce
  76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
  78. Germinal – Emile Zola
  79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  80. Possession – AS Byatt
  81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens – Perhaps the finest morality tale ever penned.
  82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
  85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  87. Charlotte’s Web – EB White – But I’ve seen the old animated movie so many times the story is still etched into my childhood.
  88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
  89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Which adventure of Sherlock Holmes?  I’ve read several, though I don’t recall which ones specifically.
  90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
  91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint Exupery – For my part, in the native French, specifically, a feat I don’t think I could repeat today, since my French reading and speaking skills have atrophied from disuse.
  93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
  94. Watership Down – Richard Adams
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
  96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
  98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare – Because goodness knows you never include Hamlet in a list of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
  100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo – Oh, but I tried, I really did – I read the first third of the book, but it was just so densely written, I eventually gave up. 

So… There’s your regular dose of internet necromancy.  LIVE AGAIN, o meme of the 100 books, LIVE!

Or not…

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Weekend Assignment: Thief of Time

This week’s Weekend Assignment asked the question: what activities do you have to do that take up your time and prevent you from doing other important things that you’d rather be doing?

My gut, instinctual answer, of course, is: well yeah, my day job!  That’s not really fair, though.  It’s no secret that my current field is not the field I want to pursue for a long-term career, and I don’t mean that because I’d rather be able to write for a living.  Writing for a living is a great gig, if you can get it, but I have a realistic, pragmatic point-of-view on the matter.  Sure, I’d love to write for a living.  And I’m good at it, even if I can’t say that I’m great at it.  Written communication, in general, is one of my strongest skills – both in interpreting written communication and in crafting written communication.  (As evidence of this, I could point to my GMAT scores; I took the GMAT twice, because my GMAT math scores were not stellar and I knew I could do better.  But the first time I took the GMAT my verbal percentile score was already well into the high 90s.  I didn’t see much improvement on the retake, simply because when you’re already in the 99th percentile, there’s really no “up” left.  My written essay scores were similarly high both times.)

But being good at writing and making a career of it are two very, very different things.  Could I be successful at it?  That remains to be seen.  But in the mean time, I have a family to provide for.  And I take pride in my work, whatever it is that I put my effort into.  I take pride in adding value to the company I work for.  So for me, the problem is that more and more I find that Finance is not a field that is really “value-added” for most companies (unless it’s a Financial Firm, which is another story entirely), and that leaves me feeling dissatisfied when, at the end of the day, I can’t say I’ve done something that is truly meaningful or valuable for the firm.  If you’re not doing something that’s really useful to somebody, it starts to drag on you mentally.  That’s partly why I’m working on my MBA, and partly why I anticipate shifting careers in the future out of Finance and in a more marketing or stategically-oriented direction.  Those are skills and fields within a company where I can mentally trace a direct line between the tasks they perform and the value added to the firm.

So, that’s quite the aside, vis-a-vis the topic of the writing prompt.

So, a perfectly fair answer to the question is commuting.  Except for NPR, I hate my commute.  (And since I usually finish listening to Morning Edition at work, anyway, on my mp3 player, I really can’t say that’s a good part either.)  It’s an hour each way, so that’s 10 hours a week basically wasted that I could be doing something productive.  In fact, I’ve turned down a job offer for a job that was farther away, even though they paid more, in part because of the longer commute issue.  Giving up another 15 minutes each way every day is too great a price to pay when I’ve already paid so much.

What would I do with the extra time, if I had it?  Ideally, two things.  Of course, I’d want to spend time writing.  As it is, I don’t have much time for that at all.  If I could pencil in an hour a day each week, that would really boost my story-writing productivity.  The second thing is also an easy one.  Spending time with my family, especially to be more helpful around the house.  There so much around the house that needs to get done, and I never feel like I have enough time to do it all.  There’s the yard and garden, where neglect has caused weeds and things to run wild.  There’s the broken door jamb on the kitchen door.  There’s all these little things, and I feel like a slacker husband that I haven’t already done these things.

Here’s hoping you can find the time.  Happy writing.

Last Round with the Final Project Reaper

Today I play the last round of this game I’ve been playing with the Final Project Reaper.  And oh, that Reaper, he will rue the day he met me, for I will show him how this game is played!  Well, that, and of course the rest of my team, too.  Together, we are stronger!

After this, there’s just the take-home Final Exam in one class, and the secondary, off-the-books project that I’m doing as a sort of mini-internship.  And then there’s that other project… the one that involves my assumption of a CEO role: as Dear Wife tells it, I will be CEO of Waste Management.  In other words, I’ll be in charge of the poopy diapers. 

So, wish me luck, and stick around for tomorrow when I post my answer to the latest Weekend Assignment prompt!

Writing Quote: When to Plan

The author of today’s writing quote needs no introduction.  She wrote nearly a hundred books in her lifetime and has sold more books than any other author in contemporary times, with a large number of those featuring the famed literary detective Hercule Poirot.  I speak, of course, of Agatha Christie.  So now, I’ll turn it over to Agatha to reveal the secret of when to work on planning that novel you’re working on:

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.

~Agatha Christie

I find this to be an interesting quote, especially at a time when I’ve been bogged down with so much busy work, trying to finish up projects, work on final exams, and be supportive of my Dear Wife – all while doing the old day job thing.  It’s pretty busy.

And, as I’ve mentioned, I have several novel project ideas dancing around in the back of my head.  There’s that long-gestating novel, plus several other novel ideas ready to be planted.  I’d really like to start fleshing one of those other ideas out into something that looks more like a book.  But when will I ever have time for that?

Well… whenever!  If I’m busy doing something else that is occupying my hands but not my mind, that’s the time to engage my mind on coming up with interesting characters, fantastic worlds, and engaging plots.

Ideally, to get writing done, you need to follow the BICHOK rule: “Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard”.  In other words, you need to spend some time in a place where you can write.  But we don’t always have that luxury.  That’s when Agatha’s advice comes into play.

Happy Writing.

Reckoning with the Final Project Reaper

By the time you read this, I will have done one final project presentation for this semester (the presentation will have been yesterday). The next one comes up on Monday, and the final write-ups for these projects will be due sometime during the week.  Also, I’ll have  a take-home final exam I’ll be working on over the week as well.

Because of these things you, dear reader, suffer, because this little post is all I have time to write, at the moment.  But when the Final Project Reaper comes around, it’s time to pay his due.  That means you have to give him your time and finish those projects or else he’ll eat your soul.

In other project news, I did get selected to work on that side project I mentioned in my last short post about projects coming out my ears.  I’m excited about that, and I’ll be doing some preliminary planning work for that project this weekend as well.

As for the rest of the weekend, y0u’ve got a Writing Quote coming tomorrow, so we’ll see you then!

More of the Games We Play

Yesterday, I began talking about board games.  Although I had friends who were avid players of “Settlers of Catan” prior to meeting the future Dear Wife, and although I had the desire to give the game a try, I never actually played until Dear Wife-to-be came along.  Dear Wife was then and is now a very skilled player of Settlers.  I’ve kept stats in the past; she beats me at it roughly 3 times out of 4.  (This roughly corresponds to her win-rate at other, non-Settlers games as well, considered collectively.  There are some we have which I quite literally never win, and some where I actually have the advantage, but as a rule she wins most of our games.  I am slowly coming to peace with this.) 

A fancy version of Settlers

A fancy version of Settlers with a 3-D miniature board set up with the Cities & Knights expansion.

Settlers, for the uninitiated, is a game where you attempt to exploit the natural resources of a small island in order to build towns and cities.  You gain points for each town or city built.  The rules are fairly complex, but once you get the hang of it, the handy reference card that comes with the game is all you’ll need to stay refreshed on what it costs to build this or that.  The game board is a series of hexagonal tiles laid out at random in the shape of an island.  Each tile represents a different kind of terrain, which generates a different resource.  Chips placed on each tile indicate which die roll, on a roll of two six-sided dice, will cause that tile to produce a resource.  Statistically, numbers closer to seven will come up on a “2d6” roll more frequently, so tiles with these numbers are considered more valuable (but the actual value of seven is reserved for a different effect, so that when a player rolls 7, no tiles produce a resource).  Each turn, the active player rolls 2d6, and every player that has a city or town adjacent to a terrain tile that produces a resource on that turn collects some of the resource produced.  Cities and towns are placed at the vertices of the the hexagonal tiles, so each city or town borders on three different terrain tiles.  After collecting resources, the active player can build cities, town, roads, and other things, or trade resources with other players or the bank. 

Because the game board is laid out randomly with each game (the number of tiles doesn’t change, but their placement in relation to each other, and which tiles are associated with which die rolls does), the strategic complexity varies with each play.  The strategy that is most effective in one game may not generate the same results in the next game, because of the dramatic differences brought about by the board layout.  This gives Settlers a lot of replayability.  As the gateway drug for strategic board games, Settlers also introduced many of us to the idea of “expansions” for board games.  In the image above, for instance, the game is set up with the “Cities & Knights” expansion, which adds Viking raiders, knights for defense, and a secondary group of resources called “Commodities”.  There are several other types of expansions, including expansions for number of players (increasing the base game designed for 3 to 4 players to a larger board that can have 5 or 6 players), and multiple other variant rule-changes. 

For Dear Wife, Settlers was only the first of several new games she learned in the years before we met, and she owned copies of several of these games, games like Carcasonne, Ticket to Ride, Fluxx and Guillotine.  (Of those, besides Settlers, Ticket to Ride has been our next favorite.)  Since meeting, however, we’ve added to our game collection, and now I’m pretty proud of the number of games we own!  One of the first additions to our game collection was a simple card game called “Take the Train” and the high-speed Scrabble-like game “Bananagrams“, and “Bohnanza“.  All are fun enough, but the really cool additions have been “Qwirkle“, “Colosseum“, “Shadows Over Camelot“, and our most recent addition, “Smallworld“. 

In “Ticket to Ride” players are attempting to build a railway network connecting the cities on a map.  Each player has a list of routes they are attempting to complete, and must collect different-colored train cards that correspond to the colored routes on the game board.  “Bananagrams” is basically Scrabble without turns or points: the winner is the first person to build a crossword and go out once all the tiles have been drawn.    “Bohnanza” is a fun card game where you are trying to make money by harvesting “beans” (Bohn is apparently German for “Bean”).  Each of the cards is a whimsical type of bean (“Soy Beans” are dressed like yuppies, “Chili Beans” are fiery southwestern types, “Green Beans” look sick to their stomachs).  You try to collect matching beans, because the more of the same type of bean you plant in your field, the more you make when you harvest.  The trick: you have to plant in the same order that you draw the cards, you only have  couple of fields, and you can only plant one type of bean in a field at a time.  “Qwirkle” is a tile game that’s a bit like Scrabble, but with shapes and colors.   You score as you make rows and columns of tiles where the colors and shapes each either all match or are all different. 

A game of Colosseum set up to play

A game of Colosseum set up to play

“Colosseum” is another game that, like Settlers, is pretty complex.  There are a lot of different little bits and pieces to the game, and there’s a lot going on.  But at it’s core, it’s pretty simple.  You’re putting on exhibitional and gladiatorial shows at the Colosseum.  You need certain resources to put on these shows – like actors, gladiators, lions, chariots, and set-pieces – which the players bid on.  Then you try to put on a show using the resources you have: bigger more extravagant shows draw bigger crowds and earn more money, which you can use to buy more resources and other things to help draw bigger crowds, attract the attention of the Emperor, Consuls, or Senators and put on bigger shows.  After a set number of turns, the player who’s put on the single greatest spectacle wins.  

A game of Shadows Over Camelot in progress

A game of Shadows Over Camelot in progress

“Shadows over Camelot” has become another favorite.  Of the list here, it’s the only one that’s a non-competitive game.  In other words, it’s cooperative.  In this game, the players are each one of the mythical Knights of the Round Table, each is endowed with a special power, and all are trying to stave off the dark forces intent on destroying Camelot.  In the game, there are several “Quests” to which the Knights can lend their effort, such as the “Quest for the Grail” or the “Quest for Excalibur” or staving off one of the various barbarian bands laying seige to Camelot.  Each quest has a risk of failure, because at the start of each turn, players have to draw and play a card that causes an evil effect before the player can do anything to try to advance one of the quests by playing good cards.  And even though the players are cooperating, they can’t share information about what they have in their hand.  The game can become really intense (especially if you use the advanced rule that allows for one player to be a “traitor” secretly working for the enemies of Camelot) as the forces of evil progress closer and closer to victory, and the final fate of Camelot comes to hinge on the outcome of a single action. 

Smallworld out of the box!

Smallworld out of the box!

Last, but not least, we recently had a chance to play (and add to our collection) the game “Smallworld”.  Smallworld is an irreverent strategy game of world domination fought between stereotyped fantasy races, like Elves, Dwarves, Wizards, and Zombies.  In this game, players represent one of any number of archetypal fantasy races and attempts to control the map of the small world in which the game takes place.  Eventually, the player’s race will become overextended and will go into decline, and the player will abandon that race to champion a new race.  Players accumulate points by holding more territory and earning gold from their possessions.  After a pre-determined number of turns, the game ends, and the player having earned the most gold wins.  Again, it’s a game with a lot of moving parts (there are around a dozen fantasy races, and even more combinations of special powers, and several more bits and pieces), but the game play is fundamentally simple and yet ingeniously complex in execution.  One neat feature of this game is that a player may have to change strides in mid-game and adjust his strategy when he abandons his old race to start over with a new one.  Each race and power combination will play a little differently. 

When possible, Dear Wife and I don’t like to let too many weeks go by without playing a game or two.  We don’t get cable TV, and we don’t go out to the movies much, so this is one of the most important forms of entertainment in our home.  While the purchase of a single board game may cost us more than a night at the movies, we know it’s an investment in hours of fun that we’ll return to time and again. 

And it doesn’t stop there.  Both of us have a bit of a creative side (I suppose that goes without saying, in my case, since I fancy myself a writer), and some time ago we started batting around ideas for a board game of our own design.  That’s a hobby that’s been on the back burner since my school ramped up in intensity, but it’s one we’re sure to return to in the future.  If and when we do, you can be sure I’ll blog about it, here! 

Happy gaming!

The Games We Play

I’m surprised to realize I haven’t really talked about this before, in any depth, considering how important of a topic this is in my life.You see, Dear Wife and I, we love games.

I don’t mean that in the way that most people like to sit down and play a little Monopoly or Yahtzee or something.  Nothing wrong with those games, per se, but they definitely aren’t on the top of the stack of games we pull out when we want to play a game together.  I mean serious games – strategy games and board games, and other games you’ve never heard of.

I’d say Dear Wife and I sit down to play a game on average about 1.5 times per week – either just us together, with another couple or group of friends, or at a local, organized game night.  Some weeks we go without any games (especially weeks that are busy at school).  Others we might play several games.

A Game of Risk in progress

A Game of Risk in progress

 Myself, I’ve always loved games, I think.  Growing up I’d occasionally play Risk with my dad.  That ended during a particularly contentious match that Dad was losing pretty badly.  I grew weary of his complaining about the bad die rolls, so I threw the game.  (And by “threw” the game, I mean I intentionally lost; I stopped attacking my dad’s territories, which is the only real strategy in Risk.  I didn’t pick up the board and physically throw it, as animated as that might seem.)

A Game of D&D in progress

A Game of D&D in progress

 Around that same time in my life, I discovered “Dungeons & Dragons” and, shortly after, the card game “Magic: the Gathering“.  Those are a couple of games that have earned a really bad rap, undeservedly so.  Dungeons & Dragons (abbreviated as D&D by players and fans), often cited as the first and original fantasy role-playing game, is really a game about the imagination.  It’s a game that takes its cues from fantasy literature – the original edition of D&D listed a hefty group of fantasy novels and mythological source material that served as part of the inspiration for the D&D game, and it included everything from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to Vance’s Dying Earth to works by Poul Anderson and Michael Moorcock.  The promise of D&D has always been the opportunity for players to play out the adventures of their favorite fantasy stories, and to give them control over the narrative.  What I’ve always loved about D&D is the cooperative nature of the game.  There aren’t “winners” and “losers” in a game of D&D.  Instead, the players work together to overcome some obstacle or reach some goal (which usually would include defeating some powerful monster in combat).  Some people, it is true, play the game in an adversarial way, but that method of play has never appealed to me.  I think it’s this cooperative nature of the game, and the story-telling potential, that drew me to it.

 Magic: the Gathering (M:tG) is similar, but plays out in cards.  Unlike D&D, it is a competitive game, but it’s also very strategic, as players attempt to outwit their opponent by playing combinations of cards that describe fanciful and powerful magical effects that slowly eat away at the opponent’s pool of game points.  The conceit of M:tG is that the game plays out as a duel between two powerful wizards who are casting spells and summoning fantasy-inspired armies to do battle against each other until either one or the other has exhausted himself and falls in battle.  Again, it’s a game of imagination.

The bad rap these two games have gotten is due largely to the obsessive way in which its adherents play the game.  In my first year of High School out in California, where Magic was big, I remember large groups of people filling one of the quads at school with their M:tG decks pulled out and engaged in one-on-one or multi-party duels for supremacy in the imaginary landscape of the game.  And there are many people who remember the scares in the 1970s that inspired the movie “Mazes and Monsters” the events of which, it turns out, had nothing actually to do with the D&D game.  But it’s true that players of D&D and even Magic will often willingly give up whole afternoons and nights at a time to play the game.  But it’s for more than just the game… for many of its players, opportunities to play these games are also important social events and opportunities to excercise their creative faculties in safe and meaningful ways.

I haven’t played Dungeons & Dragons nor Magic in a good four years: not since I moved to the city.  It’s not for lack of desire to play, but for lack of time and for lack of having a group of friends in the area that I know play these games.  It’s a curious thing: there’s such a stigma on playing games like these that even in the company of other fantasy and science fiction nerds it’s still taboo to mention D&D.  And yet, it’s precisely in this population where I’m most likely to find fellow players.  Still, D&D done properly is a significant investment of time (the stories told in each game typically unfold over multiple gaming sessions), and that’s not time I have to give to it, these days.  Someday, perhaps I will again. 

A Game of Settlers of Catan set up and ready to play

A Game of Settlers of Catan set up and ready to play

For me, I’ve managed to fill the void with some games that scratch a few similar itches.  When I moved to the city, I learned about the first of these that I would eventually play: “The Settlers of Catan“.   Settlers, as players typically call it, is called by some the “gateway board game”.  It’s often one of the first unusual strategy games (you know, a game published not by Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, or Hasbro, who collectively own the mainstream board game market in the U.S.).  If someone tries Settlers and enjoys the experience, there are decent odds that he or she will eventually move on to try other even more unusual board games.  I had several friends in the city who were avid players of Settlers, and though I wanted to give it a try (thinking it might be a suitable replacement for D&D), I never quite got around to it. 

Not, that is, until Dear Wife came along (in the days before she was Dear Wife).  But that’s a story for another day. 

By which I mean: tomorrow. 

Happy Gaming!