Sunday, July 14, 2024

Smeaton Can’t Be Beaten

Today was the road trip.

To get to Churchill by train, you want to go to Thompson. 

To get to Thompson by car, you want to drive to Flin Flon to spend the night.

To get to Flin Flon in a single day is by no means insurmountable, but not for the weak-hearted either. I grew up doing long road trips across Saskatchewan to visit Dad’s family in southern Manitoba, sometimes in a single haul, so 10-11 hrs in a car doesn’t intimidate me, and Audrey is an experienced highwaywoman herself

We both awoke a little after 5 am and could not get back to sleep, we staggered out of bed and packed the cooler with drinks and trainwiches and hit the road at about 20 to 8. Gassing up in Shellbrook, we realized that gave us more than enough range to bypass Prince Albert and head up to Hansen Lakes Road, the preferred route to Flin Flon, as the road from Nipawin to the Pas feels like it would be right at home in Sarajevo in the early 90s. Hansen Lakes Road is more remote, with very limited cell service, but is generally in better condition and paved for much of its length.


As you leave Prince Albert behind, Google Maps may alert you to a shorter route, shaving perhaps 10 minutes off your time!

Do not be fooled.

This beguiling shortcut will lead you onto. A dusty gravel board, washboard at best, rutted and drifty at worst. The rest stops are few and far between, and you are swarmed by enormous horseflies (called bulldogs by many locals) the moment you leave your car.

Audrey had chosen to drive this leg and was not only very tense about the gravel but also very terse. We’d had to turn off the audio drama we’d been listening to (Batman Unburied with Winston Duke) and I watched her white-knuckle the wheel until we needed to pull over onto a weedy sideroad for an unscheduled rest stop.

I took the wheel afterwards and said, “we’ve actually driven that road before, but we will take the other road on the way back, all right?” Audrey nodded in agreement.

“And from now on, the way we will remember,” I continued while pointing at the more desirable turn on the map, “is that ‘Smeaton can’t be beaten’!”

Mostly she rolled her eyes, but there was maybe a little grin there too? I’ll take it.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Yet Another Ring Story - Das Rheingold

Back at the end of May, Audrey took me to a Wagnerian opera for my birthday.

Apparently I have stayed on the mailing list for the Edmonton Opera Company ever since Fenya sang in The Magic Flute with them back in 2015. We also saw Carmen that same year and enjoyed it as well, but when I stumbled across the announcement that, for their 60th season, they would begin an annual adaptation of Richard Wagner's famous (and infamously difficult to stage) Ring cycle: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Gotterdämmerung, I was tremendously excited I hadn't missed an opportunity to this legendary opera in my own city.

I have been a fan of this music since before I knew it was even from an opera, encountering Ride of the Valkyries in the movie Apocalypse Now (and also The Blues Brothers), Siegfried's Funeral March in Excalibur and much of the rest in What's Opera Doc? featuring Bugs Bunny.

During my university years, a co-worker at the airport named David mentioned this when I complained about there not being a soundtrack to the film Excalibur. He patiently explained how much of the music was in the public domain, such as the haunting O Fortuna from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana and the dramatic Wagnerian music when Excalibur is returned to the lake, Siegfried's Funeral March. 

Before David moved to B.C. for school, he generously suggested a trade of two replica samurai swords and all 4 Ring operas on cassette, with librettos, in exchange for my 12 (first printing but definitely not mint) issues of The Watchmen

I loved reading the epic story of mystical gold being made into a magical ring whose story runs through 15 hours of operas before climaxing [SPOILER ALERT I guess] with a grieving magical Viking shieldmaiden riding her horse into a bonfire and exploding while Wotan's castle Valhalla collapses in the background. Watching the Metropolitan Opera stage this scene on PBS years ago, I was thoroughly disappointed in the scale of pyrotechnics and lack of equestrian drama, but appreciating that it is kind of, you know, a lot.

But David's collection was a lot of tapes to go through, and I really began to appreciate Wagner when I purchased Telarc's amazing CD, The Ring Without Words during university - a symphonic presentation of the scores for all four operas woven together as a seamless tapestry and fitting them all together on a single disc as a single 69 minutes performance.

I can't tell you how many bootlegs I made of this disc onto cassette for classmates who heard me listening to it, and it was in regular rotation for me for many, many years. The Amazon reviews suggest many, many experiences similar to mine too.

Knowing all this, Audrey was only too happy to buy the tickets for this scaled-down 'chamber' version of Das Rheingold - running only about 100 minutes compared to the usual two-and-a-half hours and with an 18 piece opera instead of the usual 85.

I was slightly disappointed to learn of these changes but excited at seeing the story unfold in the intimate environs of the Maclab Theatre, where the performers have an audience on three of their four sides and in much closer proximity than usual. There is also no orchestra pit, with the musicians all situated above and behind the tiny stage.

I have to say though, in that space, the orchestral prelude sounded just as rich and full as anything Telarc ever offered. I was thrilled to hear the familiar openings and other musical cues, like all the dwarfs smithying away in their underground mines. And the close quarters made all the singing and drama that much more fulsome as well. 

In this stage design, a 1930s hotel replaced Odin's hall, with Wotan the tormented, one-eyed boss who is yet as much larger than life as the Teutonic deity he represents. I mean, watching Donner the thunder god pull back his suit jacket and pull out a literal hammer made me wonder why they didn't sub in a nickel plated .45 automatic (which even has a hammer so the wording still works when he threatens the giants with it later ("Fasolt and Fafner, know ye the weight of my hammer's heavy blow?"), but that feels nitpicky.

An absolutely tremendous experience that made me incredibly reflective about my childhood, my youth, my family, Robert Duvall, Bugs Bunny, Thor comics, King Arthur and a great many other things, making it the perfect outing for my birthday - thank you Audrey!

I already have tickets for next June's production of Die Walküre on my wishlist...

Monday, July 1, 2024

Found It!

Norm pushed his hat back on his head and leaned his metal detector against the apple tree in the backyard. "Well, Stephen," he said, "I wish I could tell you where your ring is, but I can tell you where it isn't, and that's in your back yard."

I had found Norm through The Ringfinders website, calling him Monday morning and arranging for him to come by that afternoon. He was fully kitted out with three different metal detectors in a variety of sizes, and casually displayed a deep pool of knowledge and experience. When I told him how I had lost my wedding band while cleaning eavestroughs and thought it might be on the lawn or in the garden, he glanced down and shook his head.

"It's not on your lawn," he stated, pulling his own ring from his finger and tossing it haphazardly onto the grass. "Look," he pointed. Sure enough, his ring was plainly visible from over five feet away. He similarly discounted the idea that it might have washed away down the spout, believing the rain we'd had was nowhere near heavy enough to move even a small ring that far.

Norm interrogated me thoroughly, asking how long I had been outside (3-4 hours), what hand I wore my ring on (left), precisely where I had been working and where I stowed my ladder. He dropped his ring on the garage pad and demonstrated how loud a ping it made, as well as how far it might roll. He also suggested that if the ring came off in the glove it might well have been catapulted several feet from me. 

90 minutes later, he was so confident that the ring was not outside, I took heart that the ring must be in the house as he suggested.  After paying him his entirely reasonable fee, I checked a handful of possibilities in the house. 

I had rushed in to grab some insecticides after Audrey discovered an incredibly gnarly ant's nest in the trunk of our mountain ash, and might have taken my gloves off in front of that closet or right by the back door, but nothing turned up there. Norm had also suggested that the ring might fallen from the glove into the pocket of my cargo shorts, so maybe it fell out while I was stretching my back in the recliner, but upending that chair revealed nothing.

Norm suggested giving it a day or two before trying to retrace my steps, but I still checked the bedroom, the kitchen and the garage before heeding his advice. The week night schedule was fairly full, but I figured Audrey and I could make a proper attempt sometime on the long weekend.

I got up early on Saturday to smoke a brisket for the lads coming over that evening to continue our Call of Cthulhu campaign, the first time in 2024 with all five players in attendance. It was the first warm weekend day of the summer, so we enjoyed an hour or two of patio time before dinner, drinking beers and catching up, and they commiserated with me over the loss of my ring, which I suggested we were likely to find when we finally move out.

After supper, the lads moved the gaming table away from the basement bookshelves while I stowed the leftover brisket. With everyone at the table, but before we began gaming, I read aloud the brilliant "Call of Cthulhu for Beginning Readers", a Seussian version of the macabre Lovecraft tale that Glory had given me for Christmas.

Midway through the tale, at about five after seven, Jeff, seated at the end of the table by the shelves said, "hey Steve, what's the reward for your ring again?"

I looked up from my book and saw him holding it aloft with a grin my dad might have described as coprophagous. I was completely gobsmacked, but luckily Earl had the presence of mind to snap a picture capturing Jeff's obvious joy at ending my misery.

He had just seen it lying on the carpet near where he was sitting, which suggested it must have been flung or rolled from the foot of the stairs, but beyond that I have no idea how or when it arrived at that space. I thanked Jeff profusely, throwing in a shot of exquisite reposado and two Cthulhu coins with my gratitude.

I toyed with the idea of waiting to see how long before Audrey noticed the ring had returned to my finger, but when Jeff had to leave early I came clean so she could thank him as well (and save me from a range of torments at her hands).

The next day I texted Norm to let him know that the ring had been found:

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Lost It

I was having such a good day too; a picnic at church to celebrate its 70th anniversary, made some pork belly burnt ends for a barbecue on Tuesday, got the eavestroughs cleaned out, and the nephew even stopped by for dinner. Afterwards, my cousin Parker called for a chat, and while he was on the line, Glory video chatted Audrey from Churchill with Fenya and Bobby in the room.

I jumped on after my call was done and we were having a nice catch-up when I looked at my hand and noticed my wedding band was missing.

I immediately tried to think about where I might have taken it off, but it is very, very rare I do that. Both my wedding ring and my claddagh on the other hand have been too snug for me to bother with taking them off unless I am doing something very messy, like mixing a meatloaf or something.

But I have lost a few pounds over the last year, and the rings have been looser...and my gloved hand got snagged on a piece of metal on the eavestrough this afternoon, prompting a momentary, monkey-trap panic reaction, but I don't think my glove ever came off at that point.

They were going on and coming off all afternoon though, and with any removal my ring might have gone with it.

I excused myself from the call, checked the gloves with no luck, put on my rainjacket and got the stepladder from the garage. Propping it up underneath the eavestrough, I imagined a scenario where, while furiously trying to extricate my hand from the metal snag, perhaps I did my glove off for a moment to check for bleeding - and if I did, the ring could be just sitting there in the silt at the bottom of the trough.

But it wasn't.

That had been a forlorn hope from the get-go though; the rain after supper could've washed it away and down the spout, depositing it either in the rain barrel (not very likely) or the pipe going to the weeping tile (far more probable).

And that is if it even came off while I was up the ladder.

I swept the front yard with my worklamp, and the garden under the eavestrough. Then the rest of the lawn and the area around the rain barrel. When the lamp ran out of juice and I dropped it in the house, Audrey suggested it could have ended up in the bucket of detritus from the eaves, which would necessitate a search of the green food scraps bucket that all of our yard waste goes into.

After throwing on my chemical gloves and pawing through the topmost layers of the bin, I saw no sign of it, but recognized the possibility it could have sank to the bottom. We will have to throw the contents onto a tarp and sift over them a bit. I suppoe there is always a chance, but at this point I am treating the ring as lost, and any potential recovery as an undeserved miracle.

I am tremendously upset with myself - not so much for the ring coming off, but for the fact that it was missing for hours before I noticed its absence. Just one more sign of the ADHD symptomology I discuss with Fenya from time to time.

At the end of the day, I know the ring is a thing, and I should be a little embarassed for telling Audrey that I would rather have lost the finger than the ring that was on it.

But it is also a symbol, and represents the best thing my wife ever gave me besides our daughters. I haven't misplaced it for more than a minute in our three decades of married life, and to have lost it so quickly is not just frustrtating, it is maddening and disappointing in ways I cannot even articulate.

So I am afraid I am going to go on being upset about this for a while.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Randomized Nation, or Of Dice & Men

As detailed previously, I got a set of Dice of Disappointment at G&G XVIII - basically a bag of odd or misprinted polyhedral dice - factory seconds, if you will. A couple of them appear to be legtimately pretty dice, and I may throw a die with a blank face into the mix for my own amusement at some point, but they are mostly a novelty item...except for the one nostalgic entry.

You see, one of  the proferred dice is a jet black 10-sider (or "d10" in the vernacular of my people), with barely discernible numbers etched on the sides - some sort of inking failure I suppose. But back in the day, this was how most polyhedral dice came. If you were lucky, they included a crayon so you could grind some coloured wax into the faces to make them legible.

And as off-putting as this might seem now, it was a vast improvement over the first boxed edition of D&D I ever got, which contained a crappy set of laminated chits (meant to be drawn from cups) instead of any dice! (And this was apparently not due to a dice shortage as is commonly reported, but because of TSR's poor transition from ordering dice to manufacturing them, according to James Ward!)

Regardless, I am currently indulging nostalgia at a higher-than-normal rate, including drinking paralyzers while the Oilers are still in the playoffs, so this afternoon I took it upon myself to see if I could salvage this d10.

Luckily I have not one but two large sets of Crayola crayons I have received as gifts (one coming from the factory store in Minneaoplis!), and in the tin of the older one, I have somehow procured another dozen or so as well? And with one of these duplicates being the white I was looking for, I set to work.

It took my fingers some time to remember the methodology of getting the wax into the engraved numbers and filigree - a firm grip on both die and crayon, high pressure in a variety of directions and switching from circular to linear motion as necessary.

The faces look pretty sloppy after all this, full of smears and the occasional wax crumb. The next step therefore is to wipe off the excess wax, leaving only the deposits in the engraved recesses. I started doing this with my bare thumb, but eventually wised up and started using a nearby paper towel, whose increased frictional coefficients made for much more thorough removal of the errant waxy pigment.

When I was done, however, there was a more notable discomfort in my hand than I recall from doing this when I was 13...but at any rate, it didn't take too long to get a new ten-sided polyhedral randomizer into my Crown Royal dice bag.  

And this exercise was nostalgic in exactly the right way: it reminded me of a simpler time, while simultaneously making me grateful to live in the time I do, with pre-inked dice available in countless shades and permutations.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Pride Sunday 2024

The St. Albert support and advocacy group OutLoud was forced to close its doors a while back, which means it is very likely that there will be no Pride in the Park Festival late in June as there has been in previous years.

Our church has always put up a table at the event, so I wrote an email to the other members of my church's Affirming Ministry Team, confirming the sad news and also mentioning a recent poll describing flagging support for 2SLGBTQIA+ people (despite the same poll stating that 12 % of Canadians identify as a sexual minority in Canada, and 22% of those younger than 35.

Our minister asked if I could perhaps speak to this as part of our Pride Sunday observances this morning, and I said I would be happy to. Well, not happy, precisely, but certainly willing to draw attention to it!

Pride today is intended primarily as a celebration, but we must never forget its origins in protest.

As we heard, June is Pride month in North America in part because of commemoration of the riots that took place in June of 1969 following police raids at a gay bar in NYC. Police raided the bar, called the Stonewall Inn, ostensibly for serving liquor without a license, but the crowd on hand pushed back and eventually trapped the officers inside the bar for a time.

Almost everything in Stonewall was broken and the windows boarded up the night of the riot. By the next day, graffiti supportive of the LGBTQ community appeared on the boards, and a demonstration arose there later in the day. Hundreds of protestors, both gay and straight, protested there off and on until the fifth of July.

Since then, Pride has become a global movement, celebrated in some areas with joy, sombrely observed with activism in others. Urban legend has it that the first Pride parade in Edmonton was a number of gay men running down Jasper or Whyte Avenue with paper bags on their heads, as being gay had not yet been decriminalized, but a proper Pride movement was born in response to the Pisces Spa raids in 1981

But we probably won’t have a Pride in the Park event in St. Albert this year, because OutLoud, the support and activism group that organized it, was forced to close its doors just a few weeks ago.

Edmonton moved its Pride events to August but hasn’t had a parade since 2018. And I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, I really appreciated the opportunity for a public show of support for sexual minorities, reflected in both delighted parade watchers, but also people marching in support of gay rights and equality, like our own United Church.

But on the other hand, with hate crimes on the rise, and bigots seemingly feeling more emboldened every day, part of me is glad I won’t have to worry about marchers being jeered, or assaulted, or driven into, or worse.

It feels weird to see all this opposition to what feels like a simple proposition: that love is love. That adults should be allowed to love other adults of the same gender. Or of a changed gender. Or of no gender at all.

And yet we see it. We see it all the time.

You hear it too, right? People at the grocery store, or the water cooler at work.

“I don’t know why those people need a special day.”

“More of this woke BS…”

“I mean, I’m fine with it, I just don’t want to know about it.”

“There is no place for those discussions in schools.”

And I know there are people who wanted to be here today who can’t make it, but I am also confident that some people chose not to be here because they don’t want to listen to people like go on about stuff they don’t care about. And that’s fine. It saddens me, but it's fine.

We became an Affirming Ministry nearly a decade ago, and to me, it just felt like a natural progression; we had undergone some significant soul searching and deliberative dialogue, and as my daughter is fond of reminding me, when you know better, you do better. We decided to take the big step from being implicitly welcoming of everyone to explicitly welcoming a group that had experienced tremendous persecution from people of our faith.

The backsliding since then has been staggering. And I don’t just mean the eyrolling when someone notices your preferred pronouns in your email signature.
  • The vandalism of rainbow crosswalks. 
  • The petition against Pride recognition by the municipal government in Westlock.
  • Prominent hockey players refusing to wear Pride jerseys.
  • The opposition to teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity or SOGI in schools.
  • Right wing trolls labelling those who defend sexual minorities as “groomers” by trolls, both online and in-person.
  • Cranks disrupting council meetings with fearmongering about “the gay agenda”
  • The increase in hate crimes against sexual minorities.

A recent Global News headline stated “Poll finds declining Canadian support for LGBTQ2 rights and visibilityPoll finds declining Canadian support for LGBTQ2 rights and visibility”, a drop the man from Ipsos described as “precipitous”.

According to this poll this poll, in just three years, the number of Canadians supporting LGBTQ+ individuals being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity with everyone has dropped from 61 to 49 per cent.

Support for gender-affirming care for adolescents with parental support has gone from 59 to 48 per cent.

Another poll last September showed Albertans as the least likely to speak up in defence of homophobic or transphobic comments online.

So, to be clear - treating our brothers and sisters and others who are gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or trans, or queer, or intersex or asexual or two-spirited doesn’t just make some people uncomfortable - it makes them angry.

There are a lot of what I call ‘Talibertans’ in this province, who would gleefully recriminalize same-sex relationships if they thought they could get away with it.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around it, honestly. How am I impacted if two women get married? How does having two grooms in a wedding party make my lifetime commitment to my own partner any less worthy or honoured?

And these folks are too quick by half at quoting the Old Testament to defend their _____ - if they did even a minute’s research they would realize pretty quickly that the Hebrew Scriptures are not talking about two consenting adults moving in together. And even if they were, I don’t see you stoning people for working on the sabbath or wearing two different fabrics at the same time or not trimming your beard corners or whatever.

The fact that so much of this animosity comes from people who claim the same faith identity as I do, but who conveniently forget critical lessons like “judge not, lest ye be judged” or “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” or even “love one another, as I have loved you”, makes my eyes spin, when they aren’t actively weeping.

I think a lot of us here believe that love is love - without conditions, without exceptions, without limitations.

And that, my friends, is why I believe we are here.

To continue telling these people who are hated by some, that they are loved by many, they are loved by God, and, I hope, that they are loved by us.

To continue to speak up in advocacy for those trying to make a more tolerant world for themselves and others.

To make a place for those who are often shunned by their own families.

To speak up in the face of willful mis- and disinformation, prejudice, bigotry and hatred.

And to do all this, even in the face of ignorance and opposition, with love.

Because in a world that feels like it is growing angrier and less tolerant with every passing day, love may be the greatest protest of all!


Sunday, June 2, 2024

G&G XVIII: To Games and Togas!

I was in a weird headspace last Wednesday afternoon when I finally began making my way to the southside for the 18th iteration of Gaming & Guinness, our little group's annual event focusing on concentrated game-playing, eating and drinking, not always in that order.

Being unprepared was nothing new, and I had been painting scenery for the Star Fleet Battles game that very morning while roasting a pork loin on the Traeger for supper, but there was an apprehension that being rushed alone did not cover. 

As the fellow who ends up making a fair share of the decisions as to which games are played, I tend to agonize over whether or not the participants will have a good time even before we get together. And realizing I had left some medication at home after I had picked up a big pot of Pete's renowned chili verde and had to reverse course to my house and delay my arrival even longer (like, 4 hours later than anticipated)  did nothing to aid my disposition.

True to form though, once I was finally ensconced in Belongamick, where Totty was hosting for an astonishing eleventh time (!), and a majority of us were onsite playing games and hoisting pints, my spirits improved considerably.

Wednesday night is generally spent playing smaller scale pick-up or party games, and one of these was Totty's Kickstarted trivia game "Everyone Else Thinks This Game is Awesome", which not only allows you to make guesses on trivia questions but then get points by wagering on whether or not your opponents have the right answer. The questions themselves range from the moderate to insanely obscure or counter-intuitive, but are generally entertaining, and there is even a space to bet on whether all the players or none of them have the correct answer.

And as a result of this, the phrase "tiny stilts" will never be forgotten by the five of us who played the game a second time late Friday night...

My modest dinner of roast pork, peas and instant mash was very well received on opening night, and made for quite a few leftover sandwiches over the event too.

Thursday afternoon, before getting things fully underway, Earl and Jeff handed out this year's magnificent commemorative items, starting with personalized whiskey glasses with the Tolkien's "One Ring" inscription on the bottom.

And if that wasn't enough, personalized stainless steel mugs!

Rounding things out were a fun set of "Dice of Disappointment" and a fridge magnet.

we tackled the Aliens boardgame, Another Glorious Day in the Corps, a co-operative game that saws us trying to usher some of our favourite movie characters through a mob of xenomorphs and onto a waiting armoured personnel carrier.

I really, really want to like this game, but in three attempts to play larger games (with fairly experienced gamers, I am sure you'll agree), we have never fared too well. And I don't just mean not winning, but not seeing any path to victory whatsoever from where we ended up. 

There is a chance we are putting too much focus on fighting and not enough on running, and a general agreement that the time spent gathering weapons was rewarded with half the squad being bottled up by bugs on the same board they started on. Scott took the game home to play with his son though; hopefully they can unlock some strategies!

Jeff made us his renowned and adored Maui Ribs for supper, with Island Mike (having arrived only that morning) accompanying him on the roasted potatoes. 

Role-playing games have only showed up at G&G once before, but this year we tried something very unusual; a horror-RPG called Dread which, instead of using dice to resolve outcomes, uses a set of stacking blocks like Jenga. If the block tower collapses, not only does your character fail in whatever they were attempting, but they are now out of the game, perhaps having died, or possibly gone mad, gotten arrested, become catatonic, or simply called in for a double shift.

(Photo courtesy of Earl J. Woods)

The scenario involved a spaceship crew investigating a derelict vessel, with the tension rising and falling periodically, and players becoming more and more reluctant to pull blocks. One player made the ultimate sacrifice, purposely pushing the tower over to ensure the ship's reactor could be set to overload, enabling the other characters to survive.

I wouldn't be in a hurry to play Dread again - it is fairly challenging to run and requires a certain mood that a group of analytical, middle-aged nerds don't take to altogether naturally. Having said that though, everyone agreed that as an experiment, it ended up being a pretty cool experience; Jenga with a story attached!

Friday kicked off with a G&G mainstay: Circvs Maximvs. In anticipation of this, I had suggested ordering sheets for making togas so we could have a memorable group picture, to which my boon companions gamely agreed.

I straight-up love these guys.

It can sometimes be a challenge finding a balance between racing and fighting in this vintage Roman charioteering game, and this year featured a couple of wrecks and two fatalities courtesy of five-time winner Jeff, who switched things up with an incredibly intimidating heavy chariot. 

This is the first time the deadly scythed wheels have showed up in our CM games  in years, but I not only managed to evade Jeff's gaze but injured a couple of other horses with my own medium rig, slowing them down significantly. And I ended up winning to boot!

(Rob is not actually grumpy, but LARPing a disappointed racer)

The awesomeness continued through the dinner hour with a Big Yellow Box from Dickey's BBQ, the first period of game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, and setup for a big Battletech game! Jeff's love of Battletech battled with his devotion for his beloved Oilers, but he remained focused on the game he had set up. He provided us with two lances of medium battlemechs and a 4 x 8 table laden with marvelous 3D printed scenery, including a massive Leopard-class dropship.

I had helped him come up with a scenario, suggesting the team that grabs a mobile objective in the center of the table be required to take it off the opposite side instead of the more usual friendly side, resulting in something that felt quite a bit like football. In the end, my opponents in House Steiner were victorious, but we caused a reactor explosion crit on one of their mechs, which gave us 12th Vegan Rangers something to cheer about as well.

The beginning of the final day saw the return of our Wits & Wagers game, another trivia game that you can win without ever getting a questions right, simply betting on the answer you believe is closest to the correct number without going over, Price is Right style.  

It is not a particularly photogenic game, but three players make up their own questions every year which keeps it interesting. Saucy talk also generated one of the best wheezes of the weekend as Jeff was incapacitated by the giggles for over a minute at one point.

After this, Earl and I set up our biannual Star Fleet Battles game (using the miniatures-friendly Call to Arms rules). This game is too fiddly by far, and some of the scenarios really lack balance, but dag is it a lot of fun to push models of 60s-era starships around a table and blow them up with dice. And it looks tremendous, making it totally worth transporting the world's most fragile models away from our homes.

The scenario was a pretty complicated one as well, involving a shuttle, lost in an asteroid field, next to a deadly star that pulls everything closer to it each turn. We tweaked the rules as we went, and while the Federation was first to find the objective, my command battlecruiser and its escorts managed to take out the rescuers before they could leave the field and claim victory, in true Klingon fashion.

Another tough balancing act: so many games, so little time, but playing the same games in repeated years make it much simpler to pick up again...

After a dinner of Pete's legendarily tasty chili verde, we got down to our final game: an Arena: The Contest game pitting two dragons and three heroes against each other. 

It is a surprisingly chess-y way to play this dungeon-crawler, and made for a tantalizingly close game; both dragons start with 280 hit points, and when our white dragon finally died, the opposing red dragon had less than 50.

And that was about it, honestly. We got in a final game of Neanderthal Poetry, a first time for some players, and everyone enjoys the opportunity to bonk their friends with an inflatable club, right?

And a handful of us got in some crokinole games, but alas, the tournament bracket will need to be competed at G&G XIX instead.

There is a lot I don't capture, because I try to be in the moment as much as I can, and a lot of my favourite things don't translate well into photos or video anyways. 

But I am confident that if my head had a dashcam, I could pull out some stellar moments of not just incredible luck, great strategy or wonderful production values or painting skills, but also beautiful displays of friendship, wry laughter and deep appreciation. A group of friends this good, who will turn a forgiving (but not blind!) eye to my foibles and tolerate that my patience is not what it used to be, getting together to celebrate nonsense almost every year since 2006, is to be rightly treasured.

And while the games are awesome and a necessary focus amongst a group as diverse and distractable as ours, it is the fellowship that keeps us coming back.

(Scott, a teetotaler, has just poured me an exquisite Crown Float that I requested after he failed a coin check)