Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Emotional Algebra of Images: Three Pictures > 30,000 Words

I can sum up the emotional circumference of the past week with three photographs. They are not completely comprehensive, as they do not address the stumbles and triumphs of the workplace, the impact of a friend's sad revelation, or the simple joy of reuniting with him and your other friends on a Saturday night. These three pictures circumscribe the highs and lows encountered in the course of navigating 1/52nd of a year.

The most whimsical is the oil painting of Batman that now hangs on the accent wall of the downstairs bathroom, colloquially known as 'The Batcan'. A friend tipped me to a Paint Night at a St. Albert bistro using my favourite superhero as its subject, and although it would mean going by myself, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and bought a ticket.

The stencil did most of the heavy lifting, but over the course of three hours, I slowly brushed black, white and indigo oils into the cloudscape that makes up the bulk of the picture, adding the other elements as directed by the instructor, Tyler. I bolshed up one of the bats something fierce, and it took me four separate attempts to get the reflection in the water to where I wanted it.

In the end, white paint tidied up my mangled chiropteran a bit, while black paint provided me the ability to make multiple attempts at the reflection. In the end, I am left with a painting I don't mind looking at, and which improves in quality the further I stand back from it. The picture of Gotham's Dark Knight reminds me what I can accomplish if I overcome my own inertia, set aside my social anxiety and venture out of my comfort zone a little bit.

The saddest image of the week are these two prints I bought in an unconventional fashion; the artist brought them to my door.

It was a summer day, perhaps five years ago; Audrey called me to the front door and I found a smiling young man waiting there, probably indigenous, wearing a backpack and carrying some art prints in a folder under his arm. He introduced himself and said as an artist, he was taking it upon himself to get his work out there by taking it the streets in the most literal sense possible, and was selling them door to door.

I was intrigued, and asked what the response had been like to this approach. He said that he was getting lots of good wishes, and just enough sales that he wasn't willing to quit just yet.

The young man opened his folder and showed me some of his prints, telling the inspiration for each title and the significance behind the aboriginal art style he was using. Now, I'm no artist or art critic, but I have been reading comic strips and comic books since I was 5 years old, and I have come to appreciate the fluidity and strength of a well done line, and these prints had those qualities in spades. There was a grace and elegance, a naturality that exuded from the art board he had drawn and painted them on.

We talked a bit about how he had made them, a combination of artist's pens and acrylic paint on artboard, and I commented on both the smoothness of this line and the precision of the circles. I don't remember how much he was selling them for, but it was peanuts less than $20 a piece for certain. Knowing how much Audrey enjoyed that style of art, I told him I was happy to buy two, on the condition he signed them, as he had not, up to that point. Apparently there are those who prefer the prints without the signature, and he was reluctant to compromise the possibility of a sale, but only too happy to sign mine.

He shrugged off his backpack, pulled one of his technical pens from the pocket and carefully printed his name at the bottom of each piece: Sterling Gauthier.

My memory is primarily visual, and I see those prints every morning as I get dressed, and that is the reason I recognized his name when the morning radio reported his death after collapsing on a bus last week.

Sterling was well known as both an artist and a stand-up fellow amongst those who work with Edmonton's homeless. Turns out he wasn't as young as I had supposed; passing as he did at 36 means he was probably 30 when I met him, but his positivity and exuberance gave him the mien of a younger man, and I remembered thinking of him as someone who might be in college.

I gather he struggled with drinking, and I don't know if he was living rough at that time or not, but he came across as articulate, passionate, determined and friendly, qualities the world needs more of now than ever, but he is gone.

The news report of his passing left me gutted, and I appreciate the two prints, "Free Spirit" and "Sky's the Limit", more than ever now. They are a reminder to appreciate the strangers that life throws into your path; you don't know their full story, and you may never get another chance to hear it.

The most uplifting picture for the week that was is that one of Glory at the Western Canada Winter Championships last week.

I still can't claim to understand the complex methods of progression in competitive Irish Dance, which make the initiation rites of the Shaolin 36 Chambers look like a weekend symposium. I do know you can't progress without taking first place in what is called a Trophy Dance, and you need to win at some lower levels just be allowed to compete there in the first place.

More importantly, I know Glory works harder at this than anything in her life to this point. I know she is at the studio 4 nights a week, (2 hours on Wednesdays), and has to log 2 hours of exercise, practice, or intense stretching at home on the weekend in order to be permitted to attend the execution classes run by some of the more experienced dancers.

I know she was limping when I picked her up from practice two weeks ago, and the thought of an injury preventing her from competing in a feis only  days away brought her nearly to tears. I know she has had several visits to a sports doctor and chiropractor since then, and that taking a couple of prescribed nights off to recover caused her pain in a way that no injury ever could.

I know one of the worst qualities she gets from her old man is an matchless ability to worry, and I know she didn't sleep well the night before her trophy dance, but she pushed through it and got first place for the first time ever.

She needs one more first-place win, in a different dance, in order to progress to the next level, but I know she's already done enough to make me as proud of her as I have ever been.

And best of all, I know she knows it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Big Day of Tiny Battles

On Saturday, I played my first one-on-one game of Warhammer 40,000 in perhaps 8 years.

40K, as it is sometimes known, has been a part of Gaming & Guinness up through G&G IX, in Ottawa, but these are group games, usually involving 4 or more players. I played a smaller scale game with my friend Jeff and his son Connor some years back, but I just checked the date on my blog, and that is going back 5 years this March. Half a decade, already? Surely not.

I spent almost 12 years working for Games Workshop, the manufacturers of the game, playing it at least a couple of times a month while I did. But I played it before I worked there too, and afterwards as well. What the hell happened?

In preparing for this week's match-up, I may have found my answer.

Scott's wife called back in November and said that instead of getting him more models or paints or rules for Christmas (as he already has plenty; most of us adult hobbyists do!), she was arranging play-dates for him with friends that she knew had armies.

I thought this was a fantastic idea, and agreed, staking out the 21st, knowing that Glory and Audrey would be out of town at a feis. This week has been a frenzy of re-learned rules, uncrating of various armies and models, and no small amount of repair and touch-ups. Even digging up my old army lists and determining what to field took me a couple of hours.  

We had initially planned on a massive, all-day, 5,000 point Apocalypse-sized game, but layering those massive rules on top of a system I was already a couple of years rusty on seemed a bad idea. Thankfully Scott found the idea of 2 x 1500 point games just as agreeable.

Dusting off the wargames scenery, unpacking old models, selecting my forces; it all felt pretty good, but it underscored the primary reason that I don't play as much. This was probably 3-4 hours work spent just preparing for the game, outside of the hours spent buying, building and painting the models themselves.  And while multi-player games are possible, and even enjoyable, most miniature wargames are designed as a head-to-head, one-on-one pastime, so all that effort is spent on entertaining just two people, in the end.

Comparatively, I might spend the same amount of time preparing for a game of Spirit of 77, and that falls on me as the gamemaster. I have to pay a lot more attention while we play as well, since I have to direct the narrative (to some degree, at least). But that same amount of effort goes into entertaining a half-dozen people, including myself.

As I prepare to turn the page on my first half-century later this year, I have to wonder how much of a factor that this effectiveness plays in my gaming choices. Even if more of my friends played 40K, we are lucky to get together once or twice a month, and almost never in December. Spending gaming time with a single other person feels kind of like...splurging?

But let me tell you, there is a tremendously positive feeling to be had in splurging, so Saturday ended up being a hoot!

Scott brought his Orks over and we were ready to start gaming by mid-morning. His first opponents were my Tyranids: a ravenous alien swarm, ready to pit selectively bred troops and bio-engineered weapons against whatever the 41st millennium could throw at them.

The backbone of Scott's Ork army is an incredibly tough unit that I don't believe I have ever bested: 30 Ork Boyz, kitted out for close combat, led by a character called Mad Doc Grotsnik. Now, that many Orks running across the table at you is already a terrifying prospect, since you would need to kill 8 of them just to force a panic test, which they will automatically pass until their numbers dip below 10. When Grotsnik joins them though, he shoots 'em up full of fightin' juice which a) makes them fearless and b) makes them feel no pain, giving them the ability to ignore almost any wound on a dice roll of 4+. That's right: Orks on steroids.

My hardest battle when facing this particular mob is overcoming an ever-growing sense of futility.

But knowing they were coming, I could build my Tyranid list appropriately, stripping out the weaker, more numerous elements and making a list composed almost entirely of Genestealers (arguably the best hand-to-hand troop choice in the game) and Carnifexes (lumbering monsters that work like living tanks, able to shoot and melee). Against any other force I might have felt a little dirty, but as soon as the Doc hit the table, a feeling of justification settled over me like a cozy blanket.

We rolled a scenario that required us to designate an objective in our starting table quarter, and defend it while simultaneously trying to conquer that of our opponent. I placed a nest-looking piece next to the power station scenery we were using (a la sub-level 3 in Aliens), while Scott placed an Orky icon on the ground behind a hill he had covered with his shootiest Orks. 

After he deployed, I put a squad of Genestealers in the station itself, another by the nest, and Old One-Eye, a legendary Carnifex, behind the station to help guard it.

One lesson I have finally begun to apply to my wargaming is this notion of timing. Too many times have I run a unit out of cover, eager to get them into the fight, worried they might be left out, anxious at having paid precious points for something not providing an immediate return on investment, only to have them annihilated in due course. 

For this game, I not only deployed my best unit of Genestealers behind the crest of a hill, I actually held them back and left them there for the first turn, a degree of subtlety and nuance in my play that I found almost off-putting in its unfamiliarity.

Rather then waste time making his way toward the bridge or the ford in the river, Scott charged Grotsnik and his boys directly into it, losing a couple to the current, but saving himself at least two turns in getting to his objective.  It took me a turn or two to get my Hive Tyrant (the boss bug) and two of the shootier Carnifexes to the crest of the hill, but the mob was so big, I was actually able to shoot at it as I went, for all the good it did.

Meanwhile, Scott's Dethkoptas flew in from the flank and shot at my hidden 'Stealers, but the dice conspired against him, and he only managed to kill a couple of them. Furious at this failure, and well aware that the 'Stealers were holding up the rest of his army on that flank, he charged them into hand to hand to finish me off.

Well, given his target's specialization in this area, the assault phase didn't go that well for him. After dispatching the rest of the 'Koptas, the Broodlord and remaining Genestealers were able to dash across the river, engage his bike squad the following turn, and see them off as well.

On the opposite flank, another group of Genestealers made their way across the bridge, hoping to destroy or delay the light armour Scott was marching around in the form of three Killer Kans, miniature dreadnoughts. And although they all eventually perished, it took long enough that the two remaining Kans were effectively out of the fight.

No, the heart of the battle was at the heart of the table, where Grotsnik's PED-enhanced hooligans were frantically swimming through a raging torrent under heavy fire from the largest models in my army, relentlessly pushing forward.

As soon as I was able to, I charged my three monstrosities into the fray, thinking I could carve my way to the Doc and eliminate that Feel No Pain rule, and failing that, at least whittle them down to a more manageable number. Either Grotsnik would die, or nearly a third of my totals points value would!

Grotsnik wouldn't die.

I couldn't believe it! His Cybork body saved him from my Hive Tyrant's bonesword, and his frenzied Orks dragged my larger, tougher models down with their superior numbers and tireless choppers. True, there weren't nearly as many as there were before by the end of it, but he was still in a position to get to my nest and claim that objective.

As the Broodlord and his crew were joined by Old One Eye around the Ork objective, I threw my largest remaining Carnifex at the mob, and the Genestealers surged out of the power station to support him. But in my zeal, I ran the Chatterbug forward instead of shooting, which meant he was unable to assault! He was subsequently charged by the Orks, and Grotsnik's power claw demolished 192 points worth of bio-warmachine. 

My Genestealers whittled him down some more, but the Mad Doc and his now tiny retinue powered on towards the nest, and to victory if my sole remaining Genestealer squd couldn't stop him.

Grotsnik died within sight of the objective, pulled down by Genestealers, in a frenzied final clash I expected to find more satisfying, but I was too busy feeling relieved. A rare victory over the Mad Doc's boyz!

Then in our second game, he took my Valhallans to the 41st millennium's equivalent of the woodshed and tied a gawdawful whuppin' on 'em.

This, despite having the same deployment setup, despite having a river to impede movement and a diagonal axis along which to pour prodigious amounts of artillery fire. 

He walloped my Imperial Guard force something fierce, with a final score something like 10-3. 

Three of his points came courtesy of my doggedly committing subsequent waves of Conscripts to the fight in a futile effort to slow his advance by using Commander Chenkov's special rule,"send in the next wave". But he slaughtered them upon their appearance for three consecutive turns.

"Forward, you dogs!"
There were a couple of bright moments: I finally got to use my Chimera APCs often forgotten amphibious ability, and my Bom Squad Veterans piled out and took Scott's Ork Kommandos out in close combat! The same squad, aded by Konfessor Grigori, a Ministorum priest with an unremarkable profile but a double-handed chainsword to make up for it, almost managed to killed the Ork Warboss as well! 


But his gobliny Grots wrecked my Leman Russ tank and his Dethkoptas blew up my Basilisk, and by the end of the game, not a single human was left alive, and the future truly was green. Well, whatever; my army still looks better. ; )

Still, one win each was a pretty good way to spend a Saturday, and a great return to full-scale battle games after a long absence! Long enough for us to notice how much sorer our feet and backs were afterwards, sadly...

Best of all though, Fenya had asked earlier in the week if she could have a game with me, since everything was already unpacked, and I was only too happy (ecstatic, really) to accommodate her!

I dusted off my Space Marines army, picked 1,000 points for her and a Tyranid force for me, and we started this afternoon, finishing up after supper. Some of those Dark Angels models have seen better days, and I bet it has been 7-8 years since I have played with any of them as well, having three other armies I use more often.

It took a while for her to wrap her head around it, and I had to make an effort to tell her where to find all the numbers I was referencing, in contrast to years of shorthand and memorized statistics and tables. She was diligent about wanting to know, to her credit.

Breaking for supper really seemed to help, and before too long she was moving through the sequence quite comfortably, needed only the barest prompting from me, and managed to have all my Tyranids off the table by the end of turn 5.

As we packed up the models and dice afterwards, I asked her what had made her want to play. She said she had always found the models and background intriguing, but mostly, it was because she wanted to see what had been such a big part of my life, both personally and professionally, for so long. 

I found this gratifying and a little ironic, since I had clearly taken it for granted and very nearly made it into something that I used to do.

She had a great time, and surprised me a little when she said she would like to get another game in at some point.  It appears that our basement may not have seen the last of Warhammer 40,000's grim, dark future. And that's no bad thing, I figure.

Monday, January 16, 2017

It's Good to be Got

It was Blue Monday today (allegedly), which also meant you could see a movie at Cineplex for half the Scene points it would normally take, so Fenya and I went to see La La Land.

It's a great movie in general; well composed, brilliantly shot, and great performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It's sweet without being cloying, not entirely predictable, they don't harp on the angsty notes for too long, and the humour is genuinely well done. It may be the most approachable and genuine musical I've ever seen, despite being an homage, but it wasn't my favourite part of the evening.

Before the movie, they played the trailer to The Shack, an adaptation of a religious novel (which is actually quite good) that centers around a man questioning not only his faith but his Maker after his daughter is abducted and killed; heavy stuff, especially for squishy parents like myself.

Immediately afterwards they played the animated Cineplex promo where the dad buys his kid some sort of a movie-balloon, which deflates before they can watch it. As he picks it up off the floor he finds a box under his son's bed labelled "Me and Dad", filled with similarly shriveled balloons.

I'd already been having a tiring and somewhat melancholy day. I was thinking about my dad a lot, and I couldn't tell you precisely why. I don't miss him any less today than when he passed five years ago, but he showed up in my  thoughts several times; randomly, unbidden, saddening but strangely welcome at the same time.

Dad liked movies in a different way than I do; he couldn't tell you the names of writers or directors, but there were scenes he would reference throughout his life that clearly resonated with him. Somehow a writer and a director and an actor (and a cinematographer and a composer and a light rigger) had captured on a piece of celluloid that depicted, in his eyes at least, The Way Things Oughtta Be.

Usually it would be John Wayne, whether putting the reins in his teeth and telling Robert Duvall to fill his hands in True Grit, or nodding solemnly after Ron Howard throws his pistol away at the end of The Shootist.

Coming home from work the airport late one night just before going to university, I came across him watching an old heist movie, where the mastermind had gathered a handful of disparate individuals together because each of them had the requisite tools or skills to ambush an armored car on its way to L.A. from Vegas: an elephant gun to shoot out the bulletproof tire, a torch to cut it open, a place to hide it under the desert sands. It's a ludicrous little film, but I stayed up with him until three a.m. to see how it played out, watching the tensions and suspicions grow until greed turned all the collaborators against each other.  Turning off the tv before heading off to bed, Dad nodded solemnly and pronounced that, "'Honor amongst thieves' is still the biggest con ever played, I figure."

Maybe that's why I look for a lesson in every movie, even the bad ones. We learn how to do things from our parents, it stands to reason this would extend even to watching movies, wouldn't it?

Watching La La Land with my eldest daughter, already awash in memory and sentiment, put me in a strange frame of mind. I wondered how much of what we were seeing was the same and how much was different. The "Filmed in Cinemascope" card that opens the film wouldn't have a lot of significance for her, nor the Technicolor look they gave all the primary colours; she's not old enough to have that sort of nostalgia.

Later in the film, after referencing Rebel Without a Cause, Gosling and Stone end up at Griffiths Park Observatory. I wondered if Fenya remembered it from the climactic scene in Bowfinger, another ludicrous little movie, but one I love, and which I had shown to her and Glory just last year.

I leaned over to point out the location to her, but before I could say a word, she whispered Eddie Murphy's key line from the scene: "Gotcha suckas!"

Flabbergasted and delighted, I leaned back in my seat, laughing softly. I don't know that I had ever experienced such a moment of crystal clear sympatico, a referential "Jinx!" of such tenuous provenance. I took off my glasses to brush away tears, mostly from laughing.

I shook my head to clear it and refocused on Gosling and Stone, but an hour later, the feeling remains, a bittersweet but satisfying sensation of connection that delights me in the presence of my offspring while lamenting the absence of my father.

It's good to be got.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Seafall: Full Sail or Sea Fail?

Since having Risk Legacy recommended to me a couple of years ago, I have become a big fan of legacy gaming. Legacy games are built around the premise that, instead of starting afresh every game, some characteristics of previous games are carried over. (I suppose this sort of continuity is kind of like the difference between original Star Trek and Babylon 5, if you stop to think about it.)

In the case of Risk Legacy, every game sees some permanent change made to the board, in the form of a sticker denoting the presence of a bunker or ammo shortage which will forever affect that region, or the addition of cities and even the renaming of the continents themselves. After playing even a few times, your legacy board will be entirely unique.

Other forays into legacy gaming include Pandemic Legacy, but just last year a new entry arrived which is not built onto the chassis of an existing game, but designed as a persistent boardgaming campaign from the ground up: Rob Daviau's Seafall.

I read a review of Seafall on Ars Technica, and was intrigued by the premise, as well as the promised narrative. When I relayed it to my family, they were excited enough to agree to my proposal that we all pitch in and make it a family gift to ourselves. We've played three games thus far of the fifteen or so estimated to make the entirety of the campaign, and can finally write a little bit about the experience. Spoiler-free of course, which feels like a weird thing to type in a boardgame review...

Seafall is set on the western shore of a make believe continent with a roughly 17th century level of technology. Each player takes the role of a leader of one of the five provinces depicted there, each with its own sigil. Each province has a brief description of their past and culture, but neither the land nor the leader begin with a name; the player needs to supply both. You even select a portrait card depicting your leader, writing their name on it, and noting the space left for the addition of an eventual appellation like "The Wise" or "The Daring".

You don't get to choose your title though, as those are randomly handed out and help determine the turn order. They shift at the end of every game based on how well you did, too.

Each province begins the game with two ships, similarly unnamed, and their stats are shown on a provincial miniboard that also shows the lands you control. They also provide areas to put the advisors, treasures and gold you will accumulate over the course of the game.

Now, some Seafall players are going to want to get straight into the buying, selling, exploring and raiding that make up the game itself, but everyone is this household is quite fond of not just naming things, but for those names to have significance to them. So gameplay took a back seat while mobile devices came out and research into history and languages began.

Some players are going to being content to call their land "This Land", led by their leader Bob or some such, and that's fine, but be aware going in that some players are going to give the narrative just as much significance as the gameplay. In out case, there was no friction, but we all acknowledge that our games, particularly that first one, will take a little longer as a result.

For my part, having an icon that seems to depict a grey-coloured phoenix, and a history that included some sort of oppression at the hands of other provinces, I went with Pyravian as my province name, and named my ships the Blackbyrd and the Princess Lillandra in hopes of kicking off an X-Men theme. Istoria, Kennis and Roséus make up the other provinces.

The prologue game gives you a chance to learn the game mechanics without impacting the overall campaign too much, although you will end up naming the four nearby islands before you are done. The idea is that the provinces are only now returning to the sea and exploration after a long absence. Some of the islands have sites where goods may be bought (or plundered!), but most of them are unexplored.

Exploration is handled in an interesting fashion. Picking a site with a target number, you build a pool of custom dice, beginning with the number your flagship has as an Explore value, then adding more dice for any advisors you may have acquired (and who are also named by the players), a supporting ship, or any upgrades your ship may have. After rolling the dice, you count the number of successes you have, and if you meet the target number, you've succeeded. For any success you're short, your flagship takes some damage, and the third point of damage sinks it, sending it back to port to be relaunched later,

Successfully exploring a site leads to The Captain's Booke, a collection of numbered text entries. A map at the front helps you determine which entry to read, and then typically presents you with a choice in a 'choose your own adventure' format. For instance, perhaps the site produces wood, but the natives hold the grove as sacred. They implore you to leave it as is for now, but you can go against their wishes if you like. Your decision determines what entry you read next, and what the results are for you and your crew.

The game doesn't require it, but we have made wearing the captain's hat while reading The Captain's Booke mandatory.

One doesn't have to explore: you can sail about, buying goods and selling them, using the proceeds to buy treasures and gain Glory for yourself, which is how you win the game. However, since you also earn Glory every time you successfully explore an unknown site (or raid a known one to plunder its goods instead of buying them), the merchant path is not the fastest course to victory by any means.

There are also milestones provided, granted if you are the first player to raid a site with a defence value of 6, or be the first to have treasures worth 3+ Glory. These not only provide bonus Glory to help you win the game, but also give you the opportunity to gain other rewards like an appellation for your leader, which is why the leader of Pyravian is currently known as Prince Xavier deGries The Vengeful.

On rare occasions, milestones will also give a player the opportunity to open one of the 8 sealed treasure chests in the game, tiny boxes stuffed with cards, counters and rules which significantly expand the game!

In the prologue game, you are forbidden from attacking each other's provinces, and you won't be given the rules for attacking ships until a later games. You also cannot sail past the fourth island, but eventually a vast ocean will yours to explore, discovering new islands and unravelling a mysterious story only hinted at in the excerpts from The Captain's Booke.

At the end of the game, every player has the chance to upgrade one of their ships and select an advisor to being the game with next time around. The winner can select from a number of bonuses in addition to this.

Three games in, we've been having a great time, exploring, naming, and trading, so this felt like a good time to talk about the pros and cons of Seafall, starting with the cons.

The biggest shortcoming of the game is that when it is not your turn, there is nothing for you to do. Even if your province is attacked, your participation is minimal. It pays to watch the board so you can plan your voyages and have an idea what goods will be on a given island when it is your turn, but impatient types may find the delay between turns interminable.

Games like Risk 2210 have acclimatized many boardgamers to having surprises in store for would-be attackers, so strategists will lament the lack of options for defending against the depredations of other players. As a result, I recommend being the first player to do so if you can, although this is why Baroness Lillian of Roséus now feels tremendous animosity toward Xavier the Vengeful, although Glory herself assures me we are still cool.

Honestly, that's about it for shortcomings, for my part. In terms of elements I appreciate outside of the excellent legacy aspects, foremost would have to be the way they handle aggression by use of something called Enmity tokens.

If you attack a site on the board, you place one of your 8 Enmity tokens on that site, signifying that no other players can raid it until after the next winter, which comes every 6 rounds. After that, the token moves off that site, but remains on the island, and not only makes them more resistant to future raids, but increases the cost of any and all goods purchased from there.

Attacking other players means you have to give them an Enmity token as well, which not only limits the number of times you can attack anyone in a game, but they can also use Enmity tokens to gain a bonus when they attack you later on that game!

During the wrap up, you may have a chance to roll some dice for the opportunity to take back some Enmity, but if you don't, you will add a permanent Enmity sticker to that province or island for all future games!

All in all, Seafall feels a bit more random and bit less strategic than you would expect from a hex-based game with such efforts at balancing included in it, and the final assessment as to whether or not this game is for you rests on a number of non-qualitative factors.

Seafall is probably NOT for you if:
  • Winning matters more to you than playing
  • You are an analytical player who needs a rationale for every loss
  • You have too short an attention span (YMMV)
  • You dislike surprises or unexpected turns of events
  • You need to know all the rules before you start playing
  • It is difficult to get the entire group together regularly
Seafall may well be your cup of tea if:
  • You like naming ships, islands, advisors, et al
  • You appreciate a game with a built in narrative
  • Having your exploring decisions sometimes turn out counter-intuitively is not upsetting
  • Your co-players are all swell folks curious to see how things turn out
  • 2+ hrs of gameplay is not a daunting prospect
In the end, Seafall is unlike any other gaming experience I've ever had; a heady combination of strategy, trading, exploring, and even a bit of role-play. While the game's ruleset is by no means perfect, it is a fascinating and entertaining step along the way in the evolution of legacy gaming.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Merry Gracemas

This was an especially hectic Christmas season.

It came on the heels of a particularly busy time at work, with me staying until 8:00 or later pretty much one night a week for the past couple months in an effort to keep our project on schedule. In previous years, things slowed down int he office as the end of the year approached, but in 2016, we were hard at it right up until Friday the 23rd.

Then it was off to Rocky Mountain House for a chance to visit with Audrey's sister and her family. Then back the next day for the Christmas Eve service at church, in which Audrey was singing with the choir and I was responsible for arranging the communion elements.

The next morning it was off to Leduc, to spend Christmas Day with my sister and her family, and, for only the second time in over ten years, my Mum!

We overnighted there and then returned home on Boxing Day, having the 27th to ourselves before packing up again and heading down to High River. Audrey's Mum had turned 80, and her brother had set up a big party that ended up becoming a combination open house and family reunion.

After that, we headed back to Edmonton, but brought Audrey's other sister from Ontario with us for a visit. It was wonderful to have her, especially for the two nieces she always wants to see more of, and she headed back today.

So, yes, a bit of an Xmas whirlwind, complicated by the fact that I started out virtually exhausted, and didn't just become that way over time. As a result, none of us are particularly keen on returning to our normal routines at work and school.

I had been extremely apprehensive in the days leading up to Christmas, but an offhand comment at the grocery store on the 22nd helped me to keep things in perspective.

When I picked up the bread for communion that Thursday night on my way home from work, I discovered that we were short on the juice we use in place of wine. My own fault, really, and I have subsequently begun labeling the bottles "COMMUNION". (Should that fail to have the desired effect, I believe I still have some biohazard decals lurking about.) Still, it meant yet another stop on my way home after a tiresome day, at busy supermarket full of increasingly frantic shoppers finishing their holiday preparations.

I couldn't even find the juice I wanted, and grabbed what I hoped would be an acceptable substitute, then headed to the cashier with the shortest lineup. As the cashier rang up my purchase, she asked me if I was finished my own preparations for Christmas.

"I suppose so," I said. "We're frightfully busy this year, travelling to three different towns in six days over Christmas, but on the plus side, we don't have to host this year." In truth, this was the first time that aspect had occurred to me, and it felt encouraging.

My clerk nodded in agreement and completed our transaction. She handed me my receipt, saying cheerily, "That's good, you deserve to be pampered."

I thanked her and began walking out to the parking lot, considering her words as I trudged towards the Flex. I was a bit consternated, in truth. How the hell does a stranger know what I deserve? I thought bitterly. I certainly hope I didn't earn this hectic Christmas schedule for something I did or didn't do! 

I opened the door and swung the grocery bags into the back seat. What does deserve have to do with anything anyways? How can you tell someone what they deserve when you know nothing about their situation? I started the engine and threw the Flex into gear; I could feel myself getting upset, which was ridiculous.

Calm down, I told myself. You're right, she doesn't know you; that's the kind of comment she probably says to dozens of people a day. Who's to say who actually deserves it...

...unless everyone does.

The thought leapt unbidden to my mind and settled there, like the raven on the bust of Pallas in Poe's poem.

Maybe it's true because everyone deserves to be pampered every once in a while, whether or not they've been a polite gentleman or a surly bastard, or maybe even sometimes because of it.

Maybe every single individual not only deserves it from time to time, but needs to be reminded of that fact, as I had just been.

It was an astonishing and seasonally appropriate reminder of the power of grace; this notion that good things can come into our life even though we mightn't feel we earned them.

Whether you attribute their origins to the divine, or kismet, or simply blind chance, I think it still behooves us to remember them with a sense of gratitude, and most importantly of all, to pass them on wherever we can.

Reflecting on it in that snowy parking lot, that simple statement from an anonymous cashier in a busy grocery store did as much to ensure I had a Merry Christmas as any other single event or thing. I would hate to forget it, so I am committing it to writing here.

To remind me to always be aware of grace in my life, and to be grateful.