Thursday
    Jan202011

    World's Most Delicious Board Game

    Many people have been asking me about how to get into designer board games, so I'm planning some blog posts about it soon.  In the meantime, check out this edible version of one of the best, Settlers of Catan.  You can find the recipe here.

    I love all the details, even down to the dice.

    Monday
    Jan102011

    Thank you, Toronto!

    It is a little late, but I want to thank everyone who came out to the meetup in Toronto.  I was overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up, and loved getting to meet so many rad folks.  Whether you just stopped off quickly to say hi, stayed for a while to drink and chat, or were just there in spirit, thank you all.  You truly make what I do so rewarding.

    Here is a taste of the fun we had:

     

    Sunday
    Jan022011

    Top 10 for 2010 - Everything else!

    2011 has begun, but that doesn't mean my look back at 2010 is quite over.  Today I've got my favorite list of them all - everything else that I loved about the year that doesn't fit into the categories I usually review on the Totally Rad Show.  These are ten items or activities that enriched my year, that I'd like to recommend.

    1. Travel

    I love to travel, but don't remember a year in which I've had more opportunities to go more places, or it has meant more to my life.  I was fortunate to be able to take a trip to Hawaii with my family, a wonderful rendezvous in Paris with my girlfriend, a hiking adventure in Bryce Canyon, Utah with @amtrekker and friends, several trips to Canada for work and pleasure, our annual trek to San Diego for Comic Con, and a few jaunts up to the San Francisco Bay Area, all in 2010.  It can be expensive and stressful at times, but I am a firm believer that nothing is more interesting, educational, or fun than venturing away from home.  Near or far, travel added more to my year than anything else.

    2. WTF Podcast with Marc Maron

    I make my living creating content for the web, and have hosted or participated in many of the top podcasts on the Internet.  I can safely say that WTF with Marc Maron is the best use of the medium I have ever experienced.  I LOVE THIS SHOW.  As my friends can attest, I reference it constantly.  I have learned so much about art and artists, the creative process, comedy, life... I could go on and on.  On the surface, it is a standard interview show focusing on stand-up comedy (with a who's-who list of guests), but the secret is Maron's relentless honesty.  He is so unflinchingly truthful about his own insecurities, opinions, and flaws, his guests can't help but join in.  The result is a conversation so revealing and honest it never fails to be the most thought-provoking, inspiring way to spend my time.  Plus, it is damn funny, and has opened me up to a ton of comedians I never knew I loved.  Proof that truth is always the most engaging thing in art.

    3. Volunteering at Comfort Zone Camp

    Thanks to Totally Rad Show editor extraordinaire Mike Gaines for introducing me to this life-changing experience.  I'll let our episode of TRS about it do most of the talking, but just add that volunteering and having a positive impact is incredibly rewarding.  I know as well as anyone that finding the time and motivation to sign up to do something in your community can be daunting, but it really does feel great - even better than watching a great movie or downing an epic boss in WoW.  

    4. iPad

    A few of my early-adopter friends have soured a bit on the iPad, but not I.  I continue to use it every day, all day long, and it remains my favorite tech purchase of 2010.  It is my preferred web surfing experience, even without flash, and I consider it the best airplane device ever invented - everything I could want on a flight is right there: books, videos, and games.  Take my laptop, take my phone, but please don't take my iPad.

    5. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

    Though it was released long before 2010 began, The Name of the Wind is the best book I read this year.  I am a huge fantasy novel fan (The Song of Ice and Fire books ranked highly on my list last year), but few are as entertaining or well-written as Ruthfuss' first.  Plus, it is about an actor and lover of words who becomes a badass.  How could I not love it?

    6. The Dice Tower podcast (Honorable Mention: Little Metal Dog Show)

    My top 5 of everything else last year featured my newfound discovery of designer boardgames.  Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, Cutthroat Caverns and more helped build a love for the hobby in 2009.  That love grew in 2010 (and got intense and expensive, as a forthcoming blog post will surely attest), fueled by the excellent boardgaming podcast, The Dice Tower.  Tom Vasel and Eric Summerer make for affable hosts who know their stuff, and the wealth of informed, interesting contributors create a wonderful variety show.   As an honorable mention, I'll throw in The Little Metal Dog Show - another fantastic board game podcast, looking at the hobby from the British perspective.  As a one-two punch, those two shows have given me many hours of entertainment away from my gaming table this year.

    7. Taking the physical challenge

    2010 was a banner year for me in terms of having a go at things I'd always wanted to try.  On TRS, we got a chance to do two big physical activities I'd always dreamed about.  Our segment on professional wrestling training taught me that that particular form of entertainment is MUCH more difficult (and painful) than I ever imagined, while our attempt at Cirque du Soleil circus training made that seem much more doable.  In all, I learned that there is somewhere nearby where I can try just about anything, and there is no excuse not to live out your dreams, even for just a day.

    8. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

    Another product that was already out when 2010 began, but new to me this year, Sigh No More quickly became my most listened-to album of the year.   What a phenomenal record.  Each and every track is evocative, melodic, and so soulful.  I dig the blend of Irish folk instruments and poetic, modern lyrics.  Great rock and roll with powerful themes.

    9. Irredeemable

    I don't know why I didn't start reading Mark Waid's new comic for BOOM! Studios until this year, but I'm sure glad got around to it.  It is dark, post-modern superhero fiction at its best.  The premise is delicious.  What if Superman turned evil?  Could the combined powers of the Justice League stop him?  Here Superman is a guy named Plutonian and the other characters are analogues as well, but the ruthlessness and commitment to which Waid maintains the premise is awesome.  Irredeemable is the definition of page-turner, and the best comic series I read in 2010.

    10. Avatar: Extended Collector's Edition blu-ray

    Since I started reviewing blu-rays for Reviews on the Run this year (and watched well over 200 movies and their special features in the process), I thought I should mention my favorite blu-ray of 2010.  There were numerous excellent packages released this year, including the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest re-release, the A Man With no Name trilogy box set, and the Anchorman: Rich Mahogany Edition, but the pinnacle was undoubtedly the Collector's Edition release of Avatar.  This might seem like a no-brainer, since Avatar was my favorite film of 2009, but let me tell you the movie is the least of the awesome crammed into this 3 disc package.  Copious amounts of behind the scenes footage and making-of featurettes, wonderful interviews, rehearsal video, alternate scenes - everything in high-quality HD - simply the deepest, most rewarding blu-ray release I've ever seen.

    So that sums up 2010.  Thanks for counting down my favs over the past few posts.  I plan to take this blog to new and better places in 2011, so be sure to check back often. :)  Happy new year.

    Thursday
    Dec302010

    Top 10 for 2010 - TV

    Doing a top 10 list of TV shows for the year can be a little tricky.  Unlike Movies or Video Games, the same series continue year after year without much change, so these lists can feature a lot of the same shows.  I could have filled the list with perennial favorites like The Daily Show or 30 Rock, but decided to limit my selections to things that are new, or significantly different in 2010.  Plus, I can be pretty finicky with television (and I don't have enough time to watch everything I'd like to), so my list will undoubtedly be missing a few things, simply because I haven't watched them yet.  For example, I just - just - started watching the first season of Breaking Bad (look for a TRS review in the new year), so I didn't consider it in my list.  I also haven't gotten around to watching Sons of Anarchy yet, and somehow never found time to watch the latest season of Mad Men.  I know, I know.  So please take my list below as what I loved watching in 2010.   

    1. Louie

    No show filled me with more joy, anticipation, or drop-everything-and-watch-this-now urgency when it appeared on my DVR than Louie.  The show is not like anything else on TV - so brutally honest and truthful, so achingly funny and insightful.  It tackles taboo subjects boldly and unflinchingly, but never fails to be entertaining.  I think it is a work of genius.  

    2. Justified

    Across all my top 10 lists this year - from True Grit in movies and Red Dead Redemption in video games - Westerns have been very prominent.  Justified continues the trend, as a fantastic modern Western on television.  Wonderful, quirky characters, whip-smart dialog, and an awesome over-arching seasonal plot made it a can't-miss new show.  Plus, it has Waltin Goggins.  'Nuff said.

    3. Community

    Yes, it made my top 5 list last year as well, but I think Community deserves recognition in its second season because, as funny and smart as it was last year, it felt like this was the year in which it really found its voice.  Almost every episode turns into a spot-on genre parody of some kind, from the geek-awesome Zombie episode, to the brilliant Space Camp send-up, and the cast has really found their groove.  It is self-aware pop-culture comedy at its best. 

    4. Sherlock

    The BBC's new Sherlock Holmes series consisted of only three episodes, but what incredible television they were!  I would never have guessed an updated, modern day take on the Holmes/Watson relationship would work, but in the hands of Steven Moffat, it has become my preferred interpretation of the characters.  Great performances, perplexing whodunnits, and a fantastic way into the head of the smartest guy in the room, it is brilliant on every level.  I cannot wait for more.

    5. Terriers

    I am saddened to hear that this series will not return, because the Shield (best show ever) creator, Shawn Ryan, delivered another excellent hour-long drama.  After several "dynamic duo" references in the show, I began to realize it is, in fact, a skewed version of Batman and Robin.  They work in questionable ways outside the law, have their own Commissioner Gordon and Batmobile, and relate to each other much like the caped crusaders.  I loved hanging out with the two main characters, and their week-to-week shenanigans were always interesting and fun.  Well worth picking up on DVD when it is released.

    6. Walking Dead

    I love the audacity of putting a no holds barred zombie show on television, but I wish I liked the casting choices just a little bit more.  This could really have been my favorite show of the year if I felt affinity for the characters.  As a fan of the comic, I just didn't think a few of the actors worked as well as I hoped.  But from an action standpoint, it conveyed the Zombie Apocalypse that we are all preparing for in the coolest, most visceral way.

    7. Damages

    Damages had one of the best first seasons of television, but I didn't feel the second was nearly as strong.  This year - its third - returned to the high level, with a timely, relevant take on the Bernie Madeoff scandal as its central theme.  One of the coolest things about this show is the use of comedic actors and personalities in dramatic roles.  The addition of Martin Short and Lily Tomlin to the cast this year continued that very interesting trend, but the biggest stand-out was Campbell Scott.  Another tight, season-long mystery with thrilling twists and turns.  Great TV.

    8. Cougar Town

    I avoided this show, as many of you probably have, because of its title, so it was new to me this year.  I'm so glad I was introduced to it!  Very, very funny writing, a playful wit, and characters that I wish I knew in real life.  No show has more fun than this.  It is a constant good time - like hanging out with the funniest people at a hip party.  The cynicism and irony of most great post-modern sitcoms is enjoyable, but the unabashed positivity here is so refreshing.  I promise you the show is not representative of its title.  Give it a shot.

    9. Boardwalk Empire

    While Boardwalk Empire never reached the heights of the Sopranos for me, it was like watching part of a Scorsese movie every week.  Finely-crafted, fascinating, and violent, it made for riveting television.

    10. Archer

    There are many continuing comedies I love more than this - It's Always Sunny, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, just to name a few - but as a new show in 2010, I thought Archer was an underappreciated gem.  Yes it is darkly cynical and in-your-face, but damn is it ever funny.  I really like the style of animation, top-notch VO talent, and the constant barrage of jokes.  Good watchin'.

    Ok, there you have it.  My 10 favorites from 2010.  Let me know your thoughts!

    I've got one more list coming to round out the year... a list of the top 10 of everything else.  See you then.

    Tuesday
    Dec282010

    Top 10 for 2010 - Video Games

    My week of top 10 lists continues today with video games.  One caveat, of course, is that I didn't play everything that was released this year.  In fact, some very notable games never crossed my controller, including Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Medal of Honor, and Gran Turismo 5.  But here are my favorite 10 of what I played in 2010.

    Oh, and one other thing.  I didn't consider Cataclysm as a viable candidate for this list.  As an expansion that requires multiple other purchases to work, I didn't think it qualified - plus, it exists in some nebulous other realm - a lifestyle rather than a game.  It is a different beast entirely and unfair to compare it to everything else.  So it has a giant asterisk and hovers above the entire list, looking down on it with disdain.

    1. Civilization V

    If I were only allowed one game to play for the entirety of 2011, I would not hesitate to choose Civ 5.  It provides the deepest, most engrossing experience of any game this year, and I find myself dreaming about finding opportunities to play "just one more turn."  The refinements made to the series, including a gorgeous graphics engine, new one-unit-per-tile military strategies, a slick, easy to understand UI, and a host of other new features make even previous Civ games obsolete.  It is on my short list for favorite game ever.

    2. Red Dead Redemption

    Yep, it is as good as everyone says.  One of the most beautiful, believable game worlds every created, an ambitious, well-written story, and so many different kinds of things to do make it a triumph of the open-world genre.  Add one of the best all-time video game endings, and RDR goes down as one of the most memorable video game experiences I've ever had.  I just wish Rockstar could fix some of the annoying, persistent control issues in their games.  Still, minor gripe for a game this good.

    3. Starcraft 2

    This game oozes quality on every level.  Of course the multiplayer is top-notch.  But I was struck by how ambitious Blizzard was in pushing forward the single-player aspects of the game.  Missions are far more interesting and varied than they ever were in Starcraft or Brood War, and the Terran-only storyline turned out to be absolutely meaty enough to sustain its own release.  Great looking, sublime to play, it manages to outshine its predecessor - a game I've always considered the closest thing to a perfectly designed video game.

    4. Limbo

    Some might object to a short, downloadable game ranking this high on my list, but I felt a grander sense of wonder and discovery in Limbo than I did in many larger, more expensive games this year.  Simple, intuitive, with an elegantly communicated story, I believe it is a must-play game.  And talk about fantastic endings!  It was certainly one of the most rewarding game experiences of the year.

    5. Heavy Rain

    Heavy Rain is a game I find myself constantly referencing.  It is the type of bold, innovative interactive experience that I wish more game designers were attempting.  I loved the clever ways the different movements of the controller conveyed feelings analogous to what the onscreen characters were experiencing, and the automatic save system connected me to my story - the story I was crafting - in a profound way.  I think Heavy Rain did more for video gaming as a medium than anything else released this year.

    6. Alan Wake

    I was sad not to be able to fit this game into my top 5 and sadder still that it did not sell better.  Alan Wake was an awesome experience that deserved more attention.  Fun, visceral combat, an engaging storyline, memorable characters, and a marvelously realized game world - plus, the kind of tight, effective controls I wish Rockstar could master.  If you have not played Alan Wake, you missed one of the best games of this or any year.

    7. Mass Effect 2

    Bioware managed to fix nearly every problem of the first game in the series, but created a few more.  Still, Mass Effect 2 is crackling good fun.  What a difference great combat makes!  The gorgeous graphics and excellent dialog system are still intact, and the story is still good pulp sci-fi.  Hours and hours of great interactive entertainment.

    8. Halo Reach

    We get to number 8 before any FPS titles make the list, but exciting, unpredictable firefights, great level design, and the best storytelling of any Halo title to date, makes Halo Reach an undeniable winner.  Add in multiplayer for any kind of gamer, from co-op to competitive matchmaking and team play, Halo Reach is a phenomenal package - and another game with a great, memorable ending. 

    9. Darksiders

    Darksiders is my dark horse for 2010, my favorite underappreciated game of the year.  Is it derivative of Zelda?  Sure... but what a wonderful game to be derivative of!  Spot-on, tried-and-true gameplay, that awesome feeling of being over-powered with each new power-up, great controls, and all in beautiful HD!  If Nintendo refuses to give me my HD Zelda, I am happy to enjoy this darker, equally thrilling cousin.  Bring on the sequel!

    10. Kirby's Epic Yarn

    Perhaps Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the more robust, inventive platformer, more deserving of a spot on the top 10, but I just can't deny the joy, wonder, and unabashed whimsy on display in Kirby's Epic Yarn.  It is a visual work of art, and the game's mechanics are solid, and never fail to surprise and entertain with each new challenge.  I adored my experience playing it and am so glad it exists.

     

    There you have it, my favorites of the year.  A great year for video games, no doubt, but 2011 looks like it could be even stronger.  Let me know what you thought of the list and don't forget to check out our official Totally Rad Show game of the year episode, too.

    Tomorrow, we take a look at TV.