Dave’s 2016: Board games

“I love board games” is inaccurate because “love” isn’t strong enough a word.

For the past few years, I’ve been getting together with friends every Monday and Thursday night to play tabletop games. Monday is “RPG Night” and Thursday is “Game Night,” where we pull something off the shelves and have at it. It’s my main hobby and I love it.

There’s something about sitting around, laughing, having a couple of beers and playing a game that I truly love. It’s a fantastic way to spend time with friends, make new ones and create lasting stories, especially on RPG night. Like that time with the bear trap, or the grenade in the jail cell. Or the silver letter opener. Trust me, those stories are hilarious.

In 2016 I played a lot of games, and these were some of the standouts.



A great party game that’s always good for a few laughs. One person knows a secret word or phrase that he must make there others say. This is done by identifying icons on a board that somehow relate to the target word or saying. You’ve got to get creative and I’ve seen some very clever clue-giving. I’ve witnessed a lot of train wrecks too, and that’s part of the fun.

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar


This a worker placement /asset management game that I love to play. It’s got a Mayan calendar theme, so you’ve only got four “seasons” to gather resources, please the gods and earn the most points. Trust me, it’s more fun than it sounds. In fact, this is one game I’m happy to play anytime, over and over. Incidentally, it doesn’t look this nice out of the box. My friend Dave painted this copy, and it’s gorgeous.

A Study in Emerald


Do you like Neil Gaiman ? Do you like Lovecraftian Elder Gods ? This is the game for you. Close portals and save Earth from insanity-inducing ancient ones. Here’s a little background for you .

Wombat Rescue


Wombats poop cubes . In this game, you must find the optimal journey between Point A and Point B for your little wombat. How will he find his way back? By pooping, of course. Lay down and follow a clever trial of cube poops.

Ten Candles


Probably my favorite indie game of 2016, Ten Candles is a nihilist RPG in which all of the characters will die. It’s guaranteed, you won’t survive, don’t try. You will, however, make up a compelling and dark story with your comrades. The mechanic of actually blowing out 10 real candles adds a lot to the tense, somber mood of this very fun game.

There were many, many more of course. These are just highlights. Perhaps I’ll feature RPGs or indie game or something in the future. Until then, pick up anyone of these titles and you’ll have a great time.


When you aren’t watching Star Wars read this post


Holy flip, I’m tired.

It’s been a busy week. Some highlights.

I turned 45. This means I’m the oldest person at work and man, I really feel like the oldest person at work. Our meetings are held in rooms with huge, floor-to-ceiling windows that offer reflections at all kinds of unflattering angles. This week I caught sight of my bald, overweight self among a sea of people who are fit and healthy. I looked like the “before” in a room full of “afters.”

Speaking of work, there’s a lot of it. It’s a great gig to be sure. Very challenging and demanding. This is the first I’ve every had an office desk job which is crazy to think about. I went from college to teaching to IT to writing from home. Now I have a cubicle with photos of my kids and a construction paper pen cup festooned with macaroni, buttons and “I’m as lucky as can be for the world’s best dad belongs to me” in six-year-old handwriting. I’m sure I’m doing a good job but I worry that I’m doing a good job. You know?

In other slovenly news I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time playing Fallout 4 on our new X-Box. See paragraph three for there result of this behavior.

Finally, this tweet made me tear up a little. I miss you guys, too.


TUAW supplemental: Circles for iPhone


Earlier this week, I reviewed Circles for iPhone, a snazzy new memory game from Snowman 1. It’s fun and very challenging. I tend to do well at it, and it’s because of my training in music. Here’s how I’ve been winning at Circles.

Pardon me while I go all “music theory.” One of the main conventions of music is the time signature. It determines how many beats are in a measure of music, and which note value gets one beat. In 4/4 time, or “common time,” one measure gets four beats, and a quarter note is worth one beat. Here’s an example of 4/4 time:

You can see how the video counts beats one, two, three and four. After four, the next measure begins on beat number one. That’s what I do when I play Circles.

The first four tones are the first “measure.” Once I’ve learned the first measure, I’ve got it. Then I learn the second measure one “note” at a time. Eventually I “play back” the first and second measure. Then the first, second, and third, and so on. Since each section of Circles features 15 levels, you only need to memorize about four measures of “music.” You can do that, right?

  1. “Snowman” in this context always makes me think of Oryx and Crake.

Wii outsellilng Wii U


The Wii U is proving to be a disaster for Nintendo. The company shipped just 390,000 units in the  last quarter, and estimates suggest the original Wii has outsold the Wii U.

A part of the reason is price, of course. The Wii is much less expensive. My problem with the Wii U is, what is the gamepad for? When my son and I were at PAX East last March, we demo’d a few Wii U games and he barely used it (you can see it sitting idle on the table above). Perhaps we didn’t play games that take advantage of it, but it seems like this big bulky thing with no purpose.

The gamepad was helpful for typing in Scribblenauts, but he can already do that just as easily on the iPad.

Why toys and apps have failed

The Wall Street Journal, on why apps and toys are yet to succeed with kids (subscription required):

“Last year, trying to show how the toy industry could remain relevant in the tablet age, Hasbro Inc. HAS +1.44% unveiled an iPad-enhanced version of its classic Game of Life. Instead of spinning a wheel in the center of the board game to take a turn, players spun a wheel on the iPad.

The idea bombed.

And it wasn’t alone. More than 90% of the so-called app toys that were trotted out last year sold poorly, estimates Jim Silver, editor in chief of timetoplaymag.com, a consumer and trade website. Among the other flops, Mattel Inc. MAT +0.40% outfitted Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars with special conductors to control games on a tablet.”

Two years ago we bought the Disney AppMATes Cars toy for my kids. It’s an iPad app the presents the world of Pixar’s Cars, which players explore by “driving” plastic, conductive cars across the iPad’s screen. My kids discovered almost immediately that the game works with their fingers and stopped using the car pieces entirely. Now it’s just another iPad game.

It felt tacked-on and even a 7-year-old could sense that. If this is going to work (and I’m not convinced it has to), game designers must think of something completely new. Read the full Times article here.

Minecraft developer get citizens involved in urban planning


This is too cool. Minecraft developer Mojang has announced the Block by Block program, which will “upgrade” 300 real public spaces by 2016. It’s a collaboration with UN-Habitat’s Sustainable Urban Development Network that encourages people to build and demonstrate their plans for urban neighborhoods with Minecraft. The results will be reviewed by real urban planners and policy makers, and considered for construction/upgrade. A pilot program in Kibera, one of Nairobi’s slums, is already being translated from Minecraft (above). Brilliant.

[Via Von Glitschka]

Draw Something is losing 5 million users per month following Zynga buyout (Update)


“A new report shows that in the past month, Draw Something has lost nearly 5M Daily Active Users (DAUs), bringing the total down to 10M from 15M when Zynga first made the purchase…Zynga’s problem is that they didn’t bother to make sure Draw Something had staying power, something you would think would be required to shell out $200M for a company. Speaking as one of those 5M who can  no longer be bothered with the game, it just got to be more work than fun once the novelty of iPhone Pictionary wore off. “

Zynga struck while the iron was hot, and who could blame it? Draw Something was immensely popular. Unfortunately, it cooled as quickly as it heated up, for the very reason that Forbes addresses. Once you had a handful of games going, keeping up felt like work. Users began to feel guilty for letting games languish, and avoided launching it all together. That killed the fun and the game. I don’t know who could have predicted that would happen.

Update: The Hollywood Reporter confirms that a TV show based on the game is in the works. Win, Lose or Draw Something, I guess.

Dr. Skinner, your birds are angry

Rovio has announced that Angry Birds Space was downloaded 10 million times in less than three days. In fact, the game has been downloaded half a billion times since it was released three years ago. It’s amazing that the Angry Birds phenomenon is still so powerful, but not surprising when viewed through the lens of behavioral psychology.

Shortly after the original Angry Birds iPhone game was released in December, 2009, IGN posted a review:

“It’s a very simple formula, but thanks to precise controls (you drag your bird back in the slingshot to determine power and throw angle), great puzzle designs, and excellent atmosphere, Angry Birds is outrageously addictive. (Really, I am sleepy today because I played this until three in the morning.)”

The thing that kept reviewer Levi Buchanan awake until 3:00 wasn’t flying birds, but an intermittent, unpredictable schedule of positive reinforcement.

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