Wednesday
    Feb022011

    Five Board Games Every Adult Should Play


    Any regular viewer of any of my shows (or reader of this blog) will know that my current geek obsession is designer board games.  Only in the last 2 years have I discovered how vibrant and full of awesome the hobby is, but I wish I had known earlier!  So I'm trying to spread the word.  I truly believe there is a board game perfect for everyone, and I've made it my mission to get more people playing great board games!

    If you've only ever played Trivial Pursuit, Clue, Scrabble, or Monopoly, this post is for you.  Here are five games that will open your mind to what designer board games have become.  There are a lot more out there, and I'll be highlighting a lot of my favorites over the coming weeks and months, but if these whet your appetite you can always check out boardgamegeek.com, the ultimate source of everything board game.

    1. Settlers of Catan    

    This is the one that did it for me.  In the board gaming community a lot of people talk about "gateway games", which are used to get non-gamers to see what designer board games are all about and hook them on the hobby.  This might be the king of them all.  A classic "Euro" game, in that the theme is mostly about commerce and set in a historical period, it can admittedly look a little dry at first.  But when you start to play and realize that every single turn involves every single player, and notice how the multiple paths to victory allow for numerous different strategies, you start to understand how modern board games have evolved.  This is no longer top among my favorite games, but it is the one that turned me on to the hobby, and it can for you, too.  Grab 3 friends and give it a try.  Easy to find and not too expensive, this is a great first game.

     

    2. Dominion

    This is a relatively new kind of game, known as "deck building", but it is simple, elegant, and extremely fun.  It works a little like a collectible card game (think Magic: The Gathering), except every player starts with exactly the same cards as every other, so you don't have to spend a lot of money collecting cards and everyone is on an equal footing at the start.  You build your deck as you play, by using cards in your hand to get new cards into your deck, which, in turn, allows you to acquire even more, and progress to victory.  There is so much variety in the box, almost every play will involve different cards and strategies, and it plays quick and is easy to teach.  Once you grasp the key concepts I promise you'll have a blast and want to play again, immediately.  

     

     

    3. Pandemic

    Competition is great in board games, but working together can be even more fun.  One of the most popular genres of board games lately is the co-op game, and Pandemic is one of the best.  In this game, every player is working together to try to stop diseases from spreading all over the world.  You are all actually playing against the game itself.  It is a brilliant mechanic that works with people who might not like to lose to their friends.  Here, everyone wins or everyone loses, and it is exhilarating trying to manage everyone's strengths to curb the outbreak all over the globe.  

    I could also recommend Forbidden Island in this category, especially if you have younger players to play with.  Same designer, similar concept, less medicine.

     

     

    4. Agricola

    Okay, so now you've played a few of these excellent gateway games and you're ready to sink your teeth into something a bit heavier.  May I present to you... Agricola.  Yes, it has a funny name.  Yes, it is about farming.  It also happens to be my very favorite game at the moment.  Just superbly designed, with tons of options and different strategies, Agricola is as close to pure board game perfection as I have experienced.  It is much more on the heavy side in terms of learning curve - you will need patience to wrap your head around all of the rules (I recommend starting with the "family" rules and watching this informative, if cheesy, overview by Scott Nicholson) - but well worth the investment.  It is a worker placement game (of which there are many excellent varieties), which means that each player claims places on the board with their "workers", so if one person gets to do something, the others don't.  You are constantly changing your strategy to compensate for other players' actions, which makes things unpredictable and extremely fun.  I believe it isn't too tough to learn, even for newbies, and it will open you up to an entire world of heavier strategy games - the games I love most.

     

    5. Wits & Wagers

    Then again, if all else fails... try Wits & Wagers.  Maybe strategy and Euro games aren't your thing.  You gave Settlers of Catan a go and you couldn't get into it.  You lost a couple of times at Pandemic and didn't have any fun.  "Jeff," you're saying, "you're crazy.  These games aren't any better than the ones I grew up with."  Okay, if that's the case this would be my last hail mary try.  A sure-fire, no-way-it-can-lose, 100% fun guarantee.  Get as many people together as you possibly can and play Wits & Wagers.  It is a trivia game - "Ugh, like Trivial Pursuit?  That sounds boring!"  Ah, then you haven't tried Wits & Wagers!  The brilliant design of this game manages to sidestep mere factoid knowledge to create a fun, communal experience that makes not knowing something just as fun as knowing it.  Best with teams, and wildly fun, I'll bet you can't just play it once.

     So there you have it.  A starter kit.  Let me know what you think - especially if you're new to designer board games - down in the comments section.  I'll be back periodically with the newest games I'm playing, and hopefully, together, we can get people sitting down to board games just as often as they reach for a controller.

    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.