Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Baby Driver: A Review

Baby Driver poster.jpg
Baby Driver is the story of a young getaway car driver who is caught in a web of capers and heists and who is trying to get out. It is the newest effort from one of my favourite directors, Edgar Wright, whose previous movies - Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and The World's End - all rank among my personal favourites of the past as homages to their respective genres while also being innovative, hilarious, and often just plain fun - a characteristic that seems harder and harder to find in the ever-increasing world of franchise tentpoles and self-serious sequels. (I do still wish we could have seen his version of Ant-Man, though, even though I'm certain some of the feel of that heist movie ended up here.)

I will admit that I was likely predisposed to enjoy this movie based on my affection for all of director Edgar Wright's efforts, though I will simultaneously admit that my existing affinity for his previous nerdy films was also reason to wonder whether his antics would work within the construct of a more conventional Hollywood movie, cast, and narrative. And I will now gladly admit that I loved Baby Driver for what it was: a tightly wound sonic and visual feast of a heist movie with the right balance of action, charisma, comedy, and the killer tracks to make it work.

There are so many ways this movie could have gone wrong but didn't, starting with casting. There was every possibility that Ansel Elgort might have not been able to carry the sympathetically stoically cool character, but he does in a way that establishes him as a bona fide real actor; his look is (likely deliberately) evocative of Tom Cruise in Risky Business, and although I'm not projecting him as the next coming of the Tom, it's not as much of a stretch as I would have thought to mention them in the same thought.

The supporting cast is fantastic. Lily James is very believable as the waitress/love interest, and she holds her own in a few scenes against some heavyweights. Spacey, Foxx, and Hamm are all established leading men, but they all use their charm and presence to bring unexpected life to what otherwise may have been somewhat flat stereotypes. They each manage to be captivating without chewing their way through their scenes; these are three men who know how to do what they are being asked to do, and they do it incredibly well in character while still being magnetic in their roles.

I do understand the criticisms that some people had of the cast, characters, and the story, and I can see why some people would be more cynical of the movie and what it did. It did at times feel like it was on the edge of cliche, but I think that it never really traversed into that space without winkingly knowing what it was doing and embracing it as homage, rather than merely perpetuating tired tropes; perhaps nowhere was this more evident than when Wright used what is arguably the most truly cliched driving song - Radar Love - and still managed to make it feel fresh and interesting.

I know some critics will find the movie derivative and unoriginal, but I think that Wright strikes the balance between deference and discovery well. This is a great drive heist movie as part of a long tradition, but there are enough new elements and pieces here to make this entry memorable and meaningful to both generations past and present (and, I would imagine, future). Many will also point to 2011's Drive as the reinvention of the genre and deride this movie for being more "mainstream" than that one was, but I think both movies can - and should - coexist as different entries in the same tradition (which reminds me that I still need to watch Walter Hill's The Driver).

I have heard some criticisms about the setting of the movie - Atlanta- feeling kind of generic, but I think it works both for the style and the substance of the movie, and that some of the metaphorical resonance of the movie (which I think is there and that I'm not just trying to impose a "deeper meaning" on what is mostly just an action movie) comes from that setting; exactly what that is I'm not sure, but I do think that it functions as more than a convenient tax break for the filmmakers.

This is a sumptuous visual spectacle, with all of the tricks Wright has used in the past and more, but it's the aural element of the film that really sets it apart. Wright has used music to great effect in his past efforts, but he hits a new level with the soundtrack here. Not only does the soundtrack have stylistic significance, but it also manages to convey character and have emotional resonance within the context of the movie's action - plus, any movie that features Queen in a key scene is usually good with me.

Sure, there are other nitpicks to find with the movie, but it was just so much fun as an action movie with great set pieces and comedic interludes and such a treat to find something original and self-contained that I did not find myself questioning the internal logic or structure of the movie. It's a great thrill, and I will definitely let Baby Driver take me for a ride again.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Turner Games Q2 Update

I am a little late in posting this summary, but such is life in the summertime. It has been a busy month of resting, traveling, and playing new games, but I still wanted to make sure I posted this overview for future reference.

Game Design

I made some significant progress on one of my designs in the second quarter, as I generated a playable prototype of my Canadian electoral game, First Past the Post, by the end of May. After a couple of playtests, I have not worked on it further, but at least it's something. I also did some idea work on my next design, so that's also quite exciting.

What was more significant was that we finally launched the site for our local game design group, Regina Game Forge. I have been doing some writing about game design and board gaming there, so less of it has been and will be appearing here, so make sure to check it out if you like this kind of nerdery.

Writing about Board Games

I did find the time to write a couple of posts on board games on this blog, but I think more of my writing will be diverted to Regina Game Forge in the future. I only wrote two posts, but I really enjoyed composing both of them, including the hours of research I had to put in for each.

Deck Building Games: A Mostly Comprehensive Introduction was my next attempt in synthesizing my experience in a particular mechanic and genre. I like the way this is going, so I hope to write more of these kinds of posts in the future.

A Deep Dive into my Board Game H-Index was a deeply, deeply nerdy investigative dive into my playing habits over the past six-plus years as seen through the lens of my H-index. I am particularly proud of this post because it's just so deeply nerdily awesome.

Ongoing GeekLists on BGG

Goals for 2017

1. 400 plays during the year, including 30 plays in each month. I had to work to make it in June, but I just barely made it on the last day of the month. I'm still well on my way to meeting this goal with 215 plays in the first half of the year.

2. Play 100 new games during the year. I am well on my way to meeting this goal, with forty-nine new games played in addition to eight new expansions.

3. Play 20 of my Top 25 to Play. I have played 11 of the 25, with another 7 seeming likely, so I am well on my way to accomplishing this goal.

4. Play 10 out of my 20 leftover Top to Play games. I am still stuck at two, so I will need to do some serious work to get through this list.

5. Play 20 out of my Top 25 to Replay. I am also stuck at two on this list, so it's seeming increasingly unlikely that I will reach this goal.

6. Increase my h-index to 22. I hit an h-index of 20 on June 30 with a play of Citadels, so I'm still on track to hit 22 with the right games played over the next six months.

7. Attend a convention. This is still in the works for the fall.

8. Publish Pot O' Gold. It's still in the works.

9. Finish the prototype of First Past the Post. I finished the prototype and started playtesting at the end of May! Of course, after two playtests, I will have to spend more time redesigning the prototype and reworking a number of aspects of the game, but this goal is accomplished!

10. Start a game design / review website. went live on May 5, so this is accomplished!

Games Played

Games played this quarter from my Top 25 to play: Bear Valley; Oh My Goods!; The Oracle of Delphi; Terraforming Mars (4)

Games played this quarter from previous "Top to Play" lists: N/A

Other new games played this quarter: Babel; The Bird Told Me To Do It; Clank!; Colosseum; Control; Dragon Slayer; Fairy Tale; El Gaucho; Honshu; Keltis Mini; Kingdomino; Onitama; Sagrada; Star Trek: Five Year Mission; Tak; Tetris Link; Valley of the Kings: Last Rites; Villagers and Villains; Yokohama (19)

New expansions played this quarter: 7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon; The Grizzled: At Your Orders!; Istanbul: Letters and Seals (3)

New party/social games played this quarter: N/A

New filler games played this quarter: Control; Dragon Slayer; Keltis Mini; Tak; Tetris Link (5)

New light strategy games played this quarter: Babel; Bear Valley; The Bird Told Me To Do It; Fairy Tale; Honshu; Oh My Goods!; Onitama; Valley of the Kings: Last Rites (8)

New family games played this quarter: Clank!; Kingdomino; Sagrada; Star Trek: Five Year Mission; Villagers and Villains (5)

New family strategy games played this quarter: El Gaucho (1)

New complex games played this quarter: Colosseum; The Oracle of Delphi; Terraforming Mars; Yokohama (4)

New mega-complex games played this quarter: N/A

Favourite new games played this quarter: Honshu; Kingdomino; Oh My Goods!; Onitama; The Oracle of Delphi; Sagrada; Terraforming Mars

Most-played games this quarter: Carcassonne / Ingenious / Jaipur / Monkey / Pot O' Gold / Splendor (3 plays each)

New games played repeatedly this quarter: Babel; Bear Valley; The Bird Told Me To Do It; Oh My Goods!; Villagers and Villains (5)

Other games played more than once this quarter: The Grizzled; Pandemic; Pandemic: The Cure; Paperback; Viticulture (6)

Games replayed from my Top 25 to Replay List this quarter: Mombasa (1)

Other games replayed (for a second time) this quarter: Akrotiri; Monkey; Quests of Valeria; Qwirkle; Shadows Over Camelot (5)

Expansions replayed (for a second time) this quarter: Village: Inn (1)

New games to reach three plays this quarter: Monkey; Nerdy Inventions; Paperback; Quests of Valeria; Thief's Market (5)

New nickels (five total plays) this quarter: Elysium; The Grizzled; Ingenious; Pandemic: The Cure; Villages of Valeria (5)

New dimes (ten total plays) this quarter: N/A

New quarters (25 total plays) this quarter: N/A

Most plays this year:
1. Carcassonne / Istanbul / Jaipur (6)
4. Pot O' Gold / SeaFall / Splendor / Villages of Valeria (5)
8. Rook / Viticulture (4)
9. Fleet / Ingenious / Monkey / Nerdy Inventions / Pandemic: The Cure / Quests of Valeria (3)

All-time most plays as of the end of this quarter:
1. 7 Wonders (68)
2. Pandemic (44)
3. Race for the Galaxy (40)
4. King of Tokyo (35)
5. Splendor (31)
6. Carcassonne (29)
7. Dominion (26)
8. Agricola (25)
9. Hanabi (24)
10. The Castles of Burgundy / Flash Point: Fire Rescue (23)
12. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (22)
13. Pot O' Gold (21)
14. Battle Line / Citadels / Fleet / Glory to Rome / Innovation / Kingdom Builder / Lords of Waterdeep (20)
21. Jaipur (19)
22. At the Gates of Loyang (18)
23. Istanbul / The Resistance (17)
25. Eminent Domain / San Juan (16)
27. Alhambra / Galaxy Trucker / Saint Petersburg (15)
30. Orléans / T.I.M.E Stories (14)

Want to play

Games added this quarter: Alien Artifacts; Barenpark; Century: Spice Road; Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done; El Dorado; Ex Libris; Heaven and Ale; Herbaceous; Magic Maze; Near and Far; Okey Dokey; The Palace of Mad King Ludwig; Pandemic: Iberia; Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu; Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time; Pyramids; Sentient; Spires; Valletta; Ulm; Yamatai (21)

Party/social games added this quarter: N/A

Filler/light games added this quarter: Herbaceous; Magic Maze; Okey Dokey (3)

Light strategy games added this quarter: Century: Spice Road; Pyramids; Spires (3)

Family games added this quarter: Barenpark; El Dorado; Pandemic: Iberia; Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu; Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time (5)

Family strategy games added this quarter: Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done; Ex Libris; Heaven and Ale; Near and Far; The Palace of Mad King Ludwig; Sentient; Ulm; Valletta; Yamatai (9)

Complex games added this quarter: Alien Artifacts (1)

Expansions added this quarter: N/A

Games and expansions removed from my Want to Play list this quarter: N/A

Changes to my collection

Games acquired this quarter: Acquire; Bear Valley; The Bird Told Me To Do It; Blokus 3D; Crokinole; Finca; FlowerFall; For Sale; Incan Gold; Mega Man Pixel Tactics: Blue; Oh My Goods!; Pandemic: The Cure; Qwirkle; Scrabble (1976 edition); Telestrations; Time Pirates; Waterworks; Wits and Wagers; Wits and Wagers Party (19)

Large expansions acquired this quarter: Istanbul: Letters and Seals; Race for the Galaxy: Xeno Invasion; Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black (3)

Promo (mini/small) expansions acquired this quarter: Codenames: Pictures - The Broken Token Promo; Dixit: Spielbox 03/15 Promo; Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black - Drones (3)

Games and expansions liquidated from my collection this quarter: Concept; Keyflower: Emporium and Monument (2)

Kickstarters that arrived this quarter: The Bird Told Me To Do It; Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black (2)

Kickstarters ordered this quarter (with target arrival date): Alien Frontiers: Outer Belt (with 10 promo expansions) (August); Hardback and Paperback expansion (Oct); Ladder 29 (Oct)

Kickstarters still on order from previous quarters (with expected arrival date): Alien Frontiers: Factions and 2017 Promo Pack (August); Innovation Deluxe (Q3 2017); Tiny Epic Quest (August)

Here's the updated shelfie for posterity:

Wish List

Games added to my wish list this quarter: Akrotiri; Arboretum; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Caylus; Codenames Duet; Flip City: Wilderness; La Granja: No Siesta!; Pandemic Legacy: Season 2; Terraforming Mars (9)

Games acquired from my wish list this quarter: For Sale; Pandemic: The Cure; Wits and Wagers (3)

Games removed from my wish list this quarter: N/A

Expansions added to my wish list this quarter: Between Two Cities: Capitals; Concordia: Gallica / Corsica; Fields of Arle: Tea and Trade; King of Tokyo: Cthulhu; Lanterns: The Emperor's Gifts; Star Realms: Scenarios; Troyes: Ladies of Troyes; Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium (8)

Expansions acquired from my wish list this quarter: Istanbul: Letters and Seals; Race for the Galaxy: Xeno Invasion (2)

Small (mini/promo) expansions added to my "Want in Trade" list this quarter: 7 Wonders: Duel - Stonehenge; Caylus - The Jeweler; Codenames: Board Games; Core Worlds: Champion of Ra; Core Worlds: Pre-Game Draft Cards; Finca: El Razul; Fleet: Captain "Peg Leg" Louder; Fleet: Captain Mouse; Harbour: Klaus; Imperial Settlers: Aztecs - Commons; Imperial Settlers: Man vs. Animals; Isle of Skye: Themenplattchen; Istanbul: Caravan Leader; King of Tokyo: Fish Market (14)

Small (mini/promo) expansions acquired from my "Want in Trade" list this quarter: Core Worlds: The Stronghold; Dixit: Spielbox 03/15 Promo (2)

Small (mini/promo) removed from my "Want in Trade" list this quarter: Carcassonne: The Watchtower; Keyflower x5 (Beekeeper; Keymelequin; Pig Shelter; Storyteller; Trader) (6)

Looking forward to Quarter 3

The summer tends to be a bit of a lazier time for gaming, what with all the nice weather and all, but there are still a few things I'm looking forward to over the next three months in addition to my regular game design work.

Century: Spice Road - This light strategy game has been described as "Splendor Plus" and a "Splendor killer"; since Splendor has been one of my favourite games of its type over the past few years, I am understandably excited to play this, since it seems like it has the potential to become a fast favourite of mine.

GenCon - The Indianapolis game convention has become one of the premier events in gaming, and many companies aim to release their new games at the Con. It runs from Thursday, August 17 to Sunday, August 20, during which time there will be a lot of exciting news about new releases coming over the rest of the year.

Innovation Deluxe - The long-overdue Kickstarter of one of my favourite games has finally arrived, so I will get to finally experience the final two expansions!

Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 - Season 1 was one of my favourite gaming experiences ever, and although Season 2 looks like it will be very different in content and narrative, I am anticipating some great gameplay.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Q2 Pop Culture Update

These last few months were an intense time in terms of my intake of culture, especially on the small screen, as there were at least a half-dozen shows that aired over this past quarter that were squarely in my wheelhouse. I knew that I would not be able to keep up with all of the new shows, and I didn't - at least until I got sick in the last week of June and caught up on the two most pressing releases (the third seasons of Better Call Saul and Fargo).

There was a relative dearth of interesting movies that were released, which helped offset the onslaught of worthwhile television, but by far the most significant experience I had was in playing through The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I spent a hundred hours in the game, and I still have not even finished it yet because I just do not want it to end.

Here's a snapshot of what I experienced, what I missed, what I skipped, what's still in the queue, and what's coming up in the next few months of my ongoing journey through pop culture.

What I experienced

The BadChristian podcast - I started listening to this podcast in mid-March, but I wanted to see if it would stick, so I left it off my Q1 Update. Well, it has stuck around for me, and I really enjoy the conversation for the most part. There are times at which I think that they are a little sophomoric, but that's part of their thing; there are also some times when I think they are really contributing to the dialogue in a positive way and really generating some interesting points to consider, so it more or less evens out. I'll stick with it for now at least.

Rob Bell - What is the Bible? - I included my review of Bell's latest book in a recent post, and yeah, I am a fan.

Better Call Saul (Season 3, AMC) - I am not sure that there is a more meticulously crafted show on television right now than Better Call Saul. The web continued to expand to include Gus Fring and others, and Jimmy McGill continued his inexorable path toward transformation into Saul Goodman as the show continues to find fascinating ways to build into the world established in Breaking Bad. Michael McKean as Chuck was easily the highlight of the season, though, and I would not be surprised if he won the Emmy for his performance this year.

Fargo (Season 3, FX) - The limited anthology series returned with its strangest and most unresolved story yet, replete with symbolism, Jewish mythology, Biblical imagery, thematic resonance about reality and fiction, and what seemed to be more than a few possible red herrings along the way. It did not exceed the heights of Season 2 - not that I was expecting that it could - but I do think it was better than the mostly straight-forward first season. I also found it interesting that this season seemed to evoke The Big Lebowski and A Serious Man (in addition to the one episode that pulled heavily from Barton Fink) more than any other Coen movies. There's a lot to digest, and the show raises more questions than it gives answers, but it continues to be one of the more engaging properties on the small screen.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Here's the tl;dr from my review and thoughts: I really enjoyed this movie (sometimes in spite of itself), and Guardians is easily my favourite superhero film franchise right now (and it's not even close).

Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. - As I have written before, I am not a huge hip-hop/rap guy; even though I feel like a bit of a tourist when I am listening to something new in the genre, I do feel the need to keep up with some of the highlights, and Kendrick is definitely one of the biggest out there right now. DAMN. is a fascinating contrast to To Pimp A Butterfly - which I think will stand as one of this generation's defining albums - in its much more minimalist musical manner and lyrical introspection. I do not really understand or identify with his journey, but I can definitely appreciate the artistry involved in its construction and presentation; plus, the song "XXX" features U2, and it's really interesting as a part of their canon - a continuation of the legacy of "Bullet the Blue Sky", perhaps.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U) - I cannot think of any gaming experience I have had that is like Wild, save for perhaps my first times playing The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time almost two decades ago. I was almost ninety hours into Wild before I even thought of playing anything else, and even then, I still decided to keep playing it. I still have not finished the final boss because I am still enjoying exploring new areas and I am nowhere near done with the game - and that's without factoring in the DLC that was just released.

Survivor: Game Changers - Mamanuca Islands (Season 34, CBS) - I wrote most of my thoughts on the latest season of Survivor here, but suffice to say that I enjoyed this season in spite of itself.

Veep (Season 6, HBO) - I was not sure what they would do with Selina and crew post-presidency, but any concerns I may have had were allayed with the brilliance of the circumstances in which she tries to establish her legacy. The quality was a slight drop-off from the sustained crescendo of the electoral shenanigans the last season and a half, but that was to be expected, given that seasons 3 to 5 rank among the best seasons of comedy in television, ever. I will add, however, that there were a few more even more cringeworthy moments than here had been in the past

Wonder Woman - I finally watched the movie that everyone has been talking about, and I found myself mostly underwhelmed by what it did as a (superhero) movie aside from the fact that it featured a woman; then again, I'm not sure it's really possible to put that fact aside, since it's arguably as big a deal as almost anything that has happened in pop culture in the past several years. I found myself not really drawn in by the movie, but I think I can completely understand why it has been embraced so strongly and forcefully. Still,

Also: Rob Bell - What We Talk About When We Talk About God; Nadia Bolz-Weber - Accidental SaintsBrooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 4, Fox); Fleet Foxes - Crack-UpKubo and the Two Strings; Lorde - Melodrama; Moana

What I missed

Bruxy Cavey - (Re)union - The Canadian author of The End of Religion, one of my favourite books on faith from the last decade, finally published a new book, and I'm very excited to finally read it.

Doctor Who (Series 10, BBC) - Peter Capaldi might be my favourite Doctor, which is really saying something, so I'm looking forward to watching through his final season this summer.

GLOW (Season 1, Netflix) - Alison Brie stars as a lady wrestler in the '80s. Seems like it should be fun.

Great News (Season 1, NBC) - This sitcom comes from people who were involved with 30 Rock. I'm looking forward to checking it out.

The Handmaid's Tale (Season 1, Hulu) - After rereading Margaret Atwood's classic dystopian novel over the course of a day in preparation for the series, I just did not get around to watching the series. I think I might binge it at this point

Chuck Klosterman - X - Chuck is one of my favourite cultural essayists, so I'm looking forward to reading this latest collection of thoughts from the pre-eminent pop cultural philosopher of our times.

Master of None (Season 2, Netflix) - Everything I have heard about Aziz Ansari's second season is that it is even better than the first, which I started but stopped after only a couple of episodes. This might be worthy of a binge this summer.

U2 - The Joshua Tree Tour - Well, I did not see it live, but I did spend a fair bit of time on YouTube watching clips of the opening show in Vancouver. I was particularly fascinated by the first performance of "Red Hill Mining Town", as well as the the new song "The Little Things That Give You Away"

Also on my radar but missed: The Big SickCars 3; Coldplay - Kaleidoscope EP; Dan Auerbach - Waiting on a SongDespicable Me 3; Feist - Pleasure; Trial and Error (Season 1, NBC)

What I skipped

I used to feature "What I missed" and "What I skipped" as the same section in my quarterly recaps, but it seems to me that the things that I deliberately skipped are worthy of their own section. For the record, I tend to include pieces here that I made a decision to skip, even though they might otherwise have been in my wheelhouse - hence why you will not see mention of, say, Transformers: The Last Knight.

Alien: Covenant - I promised myself I would never give more money to the Alien franchise after Prometheus. It turns out that Ridley Scott made that promise even easier than I had imagined.

American Gods (Season 1, Starz) - One of the two pillars of the new wave of "weird TV" that initially piqued my interest, until I started reading about the show. I think I'm good for now with Legion and Mr. Robot in terms of my weirdness quotient.

The Americans (Season 5, FX) - I think there's a good chance that The Americans will earn a spot on my list of "shows I feel like I should have watched but did not get around to at the time and now probably will not end up watching but that will stay on a list to watch for a lot longer than it should due to the pop culture guilt I feel about not having watched it", along with Mad Men, the last three seasons of Friday Night Lights, and The West Wing (among others).

The Circle - I was initially very intrigued by this adaptation of the Dave Eggers Silicon Valley novel due to the really catchy trailers, but my enthusiasm soon waned upon reading the tepid reviews of the movie. Oh well - maybe Eggers just can't translate well to the screen. (Of course, there are those who would say he doesn't translate well on the page either, but that's just a bit harsh, innit?)

The Get Down (Part 2) (Season 1, Netflix) - Although I am still nominally interested in this series about the birth of hip-hop in 1970s New York, its recent cancellation has taken away some of my desire to get into the show. Then again, it's guaranteed to be a short watch now, so maybe I'll get around to it. Or not.

The Leftovers (Season 3, HBO) - See my thoughts on The Americans, but notch it just outside the top ten of that list (and yes, it's an easy ten).

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales - I was foolhardy enough to see the fourth Pirates movie back in 2011. I'm older and wiser now.

Twin Peaks (Season 3, Showtime) - As much as I thought I might be more interested in what happened after a quarter-century, I did not end up getting into this return; then again, I never watched the original, so that should not come as a surprise.

In the Queue

This is only the second time I have included this section as part of this feature, so I'm still figuring out how it works. For now, I'm including things that I have mentioned in recent memory as having missed, including from this past quarter. I will probably have to tweak the lists down at some point (especially in the already extended and elongated television lists, which now include almost twenty shows between the three of them), but for now, I will leave them as is.

An asterisk (*) indicates a new addition to the list.

Movies: Get Out*; Logan*; Manchester by the SeaMoonlightO.J.: Made in America; Split*

Television top five: Doctor Who (Series 10)*; The Handmaid's Tale (Season 1)*; Master of None (Season 1-2)*; Sherlock (Season 4); Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 3)*

Television backlog: Black Mirror (Season 1-3); Broadchurch (Season 2)*; The Hour (Season 1-2); Morton and HayesTop of the Lake (Season 1)*

Television to investigate: BoJack Horseman (Season 1-3); Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (Season 1); GLOW (Season 1)*; Great News (Season 1)*; Powerless (Season 1); Superstore (Season 1-2);  Trial and Error (Season 1)*

Video Games: Chrono Trigger (DS)*;  Earthbound (SNES)*; The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D (3DS); Pikmin 3 (Wii U)*

Non-Fiction Books: Brené Brown - Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection; Bruxy Cavey - (Re)Union*; Chuck Klosterman - X*; Ann Voskamp - The Broken Way and One Thousand Gifts*

Fiction Books: Kim Stanley Robinson - Mars trilogy*

Looking forward to Quarter 3

Summer is always an interesting time for pop culture, as it often features a mix of overhyped IP and surprises that come out of nowhere (especially by the time August rolls around). There are a number of interesting pieces being released over the next few months, but most of them come from relatively underestablished pieces of IP, which means that there could be some interesting things that emerge from the next few months.

Aside from catching up with all of the culture I missed over the past few months, there are a few things that might grab my attention from now until the end of September.

Baby Driver (June 28) - Edgar Wright's heist/getaway movie is already getting great early reviews, and he has not let me down yet as a director, so I'm in, baby.

The Dark Tower (August 4) - After a long time in development hell, the Stephen King sci-fi classic is getting an adaptation with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Expect a lot of profile shots.

Dunkirk (July 21) - Christopher Nolan is going for all of the Oscars in his WWII epic. I can't wait.

New summer TV shows - There are always a few new interesting shows that networks drop over the summer to see if they will work. There's a decent track record in recent years, with shows like Mr. Robot and Stranger Things taking over the cultural conversation for much of July and August in the past couple of years.
  • Get Shorty (Season 1, Epix, August 13) - I did not see the film adaptation, but Justified taught me that Elmore Leonard's work can translate very well to TV; also, Chris O'Dowd!
  • Ozark (Season 1, Netflix, July 21) - Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, and drug problems in the Ozarks; could be interesting.
  • Snowfall (Season 1, FX, July 5) - This new series is set in the crack cocaine epidemic in 1983, and from the description, it sounds like Traffic meets The Wire meets The Shield. It might be really intense, but FX has a strong enough track record in recent history that it's worth looking into.
  • Will (Season 1, TNT, July 10) - Okay, so it's a show about the life of young William Shakespeare, which seems like it's a tired trope even though it has really only been done once or twice. But the creator is Craig Pearce, who has worked with Baz Luhrmann for two decades, so there's a possibility that this could be a really great summer watch - or it could be terrible.
Revisionist History (Season 2) - Malcolm Gladwell's podcast returned a couple of weeks ago, but I have been saving up the episodes for the summer.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7) - I know, I know - but I just can't help myself, and besides, it looks like Marvel will do Spidey right, judging by Civil War.

Star Trek: Discovery (Season 1, CBS All-Access, September 24) - Seriously, just watch the trailer and tell me this doesn't look amazing.

The Tick (Season 1, Amazon, August 25) - Peter Serafinowicz brings back the titular blue hero in another live-action adaptation. SPOOOOOOOOOOOONNNN!

Wind River (August 4) - Writer Taylor Sheridan adds to the already formidable reputation he has built with neo-westerns Sicario and Hell or High Water with his thriller directorial debut. Having Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen as stars doesn't hurt, either.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21) - The most expensive French production of all time is a crazy sci-fi from the director of The Fifth Element, which has a permanent spot on my list of "guilty pleasure" movies. And, like Element, this looks like it might be absolutely cuckoo-bananas - in a good way.

Also intrigued by: Broadchurch (Season 3, BBC, June 28); Marvel's The Defenders (Season 1, Netflix, August 18); Splatoon 2 (Nintendo Switch, July 21); Top of the Lake: China Girl (Season 2, Sundance, September); War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14)

And, just for reference, here are some of the things that I'm looking forward to (or at least mildly intrigued by) in Quarter 4: Blade Runner 2049 (October 6); Coco (November 22); Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 9, HBO, TBD); Darkest Hour (November 24); The Deuce (Season 1, HBO, TBD); Downsizing (December 22); John Green - Turtles All The Way Down (October 10); The Killing of a Sacred Deer (November 3); Mary Magdalene (November 24); Mr. Robot (Season 3, USA, TBD); Phantom Thread (December 25); Pitch Perfect 3 (December 22); The Shape of Water (December 9); Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch, October 27); Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dec. 15); Stranger Things (Season 2, Netflix, October 31); Suburbicon (November 3); Thor: Ragnarok (November 3); U2 - Songs of Experience (TBD)

Friday, June 30, 2017

A deep dive into my board game H-index

Every so often, I like to take a deep dive into the weird and wonderful world of overanalyzing my board game habits. It's fun to take a hard turn toward the nerdy and to spend way too much time on figuring out some obscure statistics and lists that really only matter to me and perhaps a handful of other tabletop acolytes who also enjoy such arcane pursuits in their own corner of the hobby.

In addition to the regular quarterly and yearly updates I post, I have taken a few other opportunities to delve into an analysis of my growth in the hobby on a qualitative and/or quantitative basis, even though I have not done much of that recently. I did write my "Board Game Biography" last January, and just before that, I wrote a post in which I analyzed the first thousand plays I logged on BoardGameGeek, but I have not had much opportunity to engage in another such post - until now.

You see, today, I am feeling accomplished as I reached an H-index of 20. You may find yourself asking a number of questions as a result of that piece of information: Why does that matter? What have you learned in your journey? And, perhaps most pertinent, what is an H-index? Well, if you can endure some intense nerding out, you will get your answers - and more. Much much much more.

What is an H-index?

"H-index" is a measure that originated in the world of scientific academia as a way to validate the scholarship of an author by assigning a number based on the number of articles published and the number of citations published about those articles. It's a more useful measure than just the number of published articles or the number of citations, since it includes a measurement not only of how prolific a researcher is, but also how well-regarded their articles are by others, which is an equally - if not more - significant marker of a scholar's success.

In board gaming, an H-index is used to indicate a gamer's breadth and depth in the hobby in a similar way to how it is used in academia. A player's H-index is determined by the intersection of the total number of games played and the total number of times those games have been played at least that many times. Therefore, a player with an H-index of five will have played at least five games five times each. Players with a higher H-index will have played a higher number of games a higher number of times, indicating (at least in theory) that they are more accomplished and dedicated as a gamer.

I really only started tracking my H-index in the past couple of years, but it has been a fun measure to see as it has shaped and been shaped by my efforts as a gamer. A few months ago, I posted a Geeklist on BGG about my H-index, but I recently realized that even that list did not tell the whole story. I decided, then, that what I needed to do was to go back through my logged plays since December 2010 and see how the narrative of my H-index played out over the past six and a half years.

So that's what I did - I spent around eight hours going through my play history on BGG in order to determine when I achieved each new level of my H-index, which games marked those historic plays, and to see if I could learn more about myself as a gamer and my history - and  I did. I went through and recorded the dates for each play for the games that comprise my H-index, and as I saw the chart filling out, I made some qualitative observations about my journey that I will share later on. But first, the data.

Turner's H-index - the facts

Here's the facts of how my H-index grew and changed from my first play to today. Each entry includes the H-index level (the number), the date it was achieved, and the number of days that it took to achieve that level from the previous level. There is also a list of the games that were included at that H-index level, including games that were new to that H-index (in italics), the game that triggered the new level for that next H-index (in bold), and any additions or subtractions from the list of games (in square brackets). [If you're more interested in the end observations, just skip this section - this is basically just a list of games.]

1. December 21, 2010 - Citadels 

2. January 15, 2011 (25 days) - Citadels, Puerto Rico [+ Puerto Rico]

3. April 9, 2011 (74 days) - Citadels, Puerto Rico, Agricola [+ Agricola]

4. December 9, 2011 (244 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Dominion, Innovation [+Dominion, + Innovation, - Puerto Rico]

5. January 13, 2012 (35 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Carcassonne, Dominion, Innovation [+ Carcassonne]

6. February 24, 2012 (42 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Carcassonne, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders

7. June 19, 2012 (106 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Dominion, Innovation, Carcassonne, 7 Wonders, Pandemic [+ Pandemic]

8. November 10, 2012 (144 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Pandemic, Glory to Rome, Battle Line [ + Glory to Rome, + Battle Line, - Carcassonne]

9. March 23, 2013 (134 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Carcassonne, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Pandemic, Glory to Rome, Battle Line [+ Carcassonne]

10. August 27, 2013 (157 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Carcassonne, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Glory to Rome, Battle Line [+ Race for the Galaxy]

11. April 5, 2014 (221 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Glory to Rome, Saint Petersburg [+ Ticket to Ride: Europe, + Saint Petersburg, - Battle Line]

12. June 28, 2014 (83 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Carcassonne, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Glory to Rome, Lords of Waterdeep, At the Gates of Loyang, King of Tokyo [+ Lords of Waterdeep, + At the Gates of Loyang, + King of Tokyo, - TTR: Europe, - Saint Petersburg]

13. April 13, 2015 (285 days) - Agricola, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Glory to Rome, The Resistance, Battle Line, Lords of Waterdeep, At the Gates of Loyang, King of Tokyo, Hanabi [+ The Resistance, + Battle Line, + Hanabi, - Citadels, - Carcassonne]

14. August 14, 2015 (123 days) - Agricola, San Juan, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Glory to Rome, The Resistance, Lords of Waterdeep, At the Gates of Loyang, King of Tokyo, Hanabi, Splendor [+ San Juan, - Battle Line, + Splendor]

15. February 19, 2016 (189 days) - Agricola, Carcassonne, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Glory to Rome, The Resistance, Lords of Waterdeep, At the Gates of Loyang, King of Tokyo, Castles of Burgundy, Hanabi, Splendor [+ Carcassonne, - San Juan, + Castles of Burgundy]

16. June 18, 2016 (120 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Carcassonne, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Glory to Rome, The Resistance, Lords of Waterdeep, King of Tokyo, Castles of Burgundy, Hanabi, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Splendor [+ Citadels, - At the Gates of Loyang, + Flash Point: Fire Rescue]

17. August 30, 2016 (73 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Carcassonne, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Kingdom Builder, Glory to Rome, The Resistance, Lords of Waterdeep, King of Tokyo, Castles of Burgundy, Hanabi, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Splendor [+ Kingdom Builder]

18. November 27, 2016 (89 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Carcassonne, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Kingdom Builder, Glory to Rome, Battle Line, Lords of Waterdeep, King of Tokyo, Castles of Burgundy, Hanabi, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Splendor, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 [- The Resistance, + Battle Line, + Pandemic Legacy: Season 1]

19. March 11, 2017 (105 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Carcassonne, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Kingdom Builder, Glory to Rome, Battle Line, Fleet, Lords of Waterdeep, King of Tokyo, Castles of Burgundy, Hanabi, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Splendor, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1) [+ Fleet]

20. June 30, 2017 (111 days) - Citadels, Agricola, Carcassonne, Dominion, Innovation, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Kingdom Builder, Glory to Rome, Battle Line, Fleet, Lords of Waterdeep, King of Tokyo, Castles of Burgundy, Hanabi, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Splendor, Pot O' Gold, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 [+ Pot O' Gold]

The progression of my H-index

Here's a visual representation of the number of days that it took to achieve each level of my H-index. As you can see, it varied from around a month to almost a year, but the times have gotten much shorter after that longest stretch of 285 days (of course, that was the year in which I gamed the least in the past four years, as I moved across the country and started a new job, so that might have something to do with it).

The average number of days it has taken me to reach a new H-index level is just over 124.2, though that number has decreased to 99.6 days for each new H-index level since I reached an H-index of 15 in February 2016. It was at that point that I started to be more cognizant of my H-index, in part because the app on my phone started to help me track it.

Since then, I have been much more deliberate about attempting to make progress on my H-index each quarter by playing each game on my H-index at least once to help advance the level accordingly, and I continue to pursue that progression as a goal in each quarter of the year. Here are a couple of other superlatives in my progression over the past few years.

Shortest time elapsed from first play to joining the list after my H-index reached double digits: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 - 301 days (Jan. 30, 2016 to November 27, 2016)

Longest time elapsed from first play to finally joining H-index: Fleet - 1955 days (November 4, 2012 to March 11, 2017); Runner-up - Kingdom Builder - 1671 days (February 2, 2012 to August 30, 2016)

Observations on my H-index

There are a few very interesting observations that I can make from these lists about the kinds of games that I tend to play the most. The games that have appeared on my H-index are typically light-to-mid-weight family games with a play time of around 45 minutes to an hour. They are games that are relatively easy to teach and to learn and to play, and many of them would be considered to be "gateway" games; this makes sense because I am often teaching games to non-gamers and different groups of people. There are, of course, a couple of exceptions from that categorization in terms of play time, but even the exceptions still fall well within those guidelines of being more family-style entry-point games.

Most of the games on my list are highly strategic, though they are not necessarily "complex", per se; three of the more complex card games on my H-index - Glory to Rome, Race for the Galaxy, Innovation - are mostly considered such because each card is unique, rather than the complexity of the gameplay itself. I was quite surprised, however, to see that there were a couple of genres and styles of games that were almost entirely absent. There were no "party" games on the list other than The Resistance; perhaps that is because I tend to vary the party games I play, or perhaps that I do not tend to play as many of those types of games.

There were also fewer "filler" games - games that can be played in half an hour or so - than I had expected, particularly of the "lighter" variety; that designation is somewhat subjective, of course, but it's interesting to note nevertheless. The only "true" filler games on my list were Hanabi and Battle Line, though Dominion, Splendor, and King of Tokyo could also easily be included in that category. (Some might also include 7 Wonders or Race for the Galaxy as much more complex "fillers", and while I might agree, I tend to consider them as a separate category because their complexity often adds a significant amount of time to teaching and playing, particularly for new players.)

In addition to the general type and categorization of games, there are other interesting ways to evaluate my H-index, including two provided by information from BoardGameGeek by which I can evaluate my H-index: the game's general ranking, as well as its weight. My taste in games is strong, at least according to the metric of rankings on BoardGameGeek; there are, of course, some serious issues with how the rankings are compiled in regard to recency bias, but nevertheless, I was heartened to see that I have good taste as far as general consensus is concerned.

Many of the games on my list ranked much higher than their current ranking at one point (several have fallen at least one hundred spots), but even their current rankings are indicative that I tend to favour games that are well-loved and widely appreciated. The twenty-five published games that have appeared on my H-index - my own design, Pot O' Gold is the only exclusion - are all very well regarded, with none with a ranking lower than 615; in fact, there are only two games that fall outside of the top three hundred - the top 0.003% - of all entries on BGG. Of those twenty-three that fall in that top three hundred, four fall in the top fifteen, another seven in the top hundred, another seven between 101 and 200, and then another five between 201 and 280. (For reference, there are over 91,000 items logged on the site.) And in an odd coincidence, there are also three instances in which currently consecutively ranked games appear on my list.

[The rankings, if you are interested are, in descending order: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (1); The Castles of Burgundy (11); Puerto Rico (12); Agricola (14); 7 Wonders (37); Race for the Galaxy (46); Lords of Waterdeep (48); Dominion (55); Pandemic (61); Ticket to Ride: Europe (85); Splendor (97); Glory to Rome (128); Carcassonne (129); The Resistance (137); Battle Line (157); King of Tokyo (188); Saint Petersburg (198); San Juan (199); At the Gates of Loyang (209); Flash Point: Fire Rescue (231); Hanabi (237); Innovation (249); Citadels (284); Kingdom Builder (416); and Fleet (615).]

The other interesting measure on BGG is the "weight" of the game, which determines how complex it is according to the average as determined by users who rank its weight on BGG. Like a game's BGG ranking, the measure of weight is somewhat problematic for a couple of reasons: it is the average of a large group, and the actual values are vague and undefined, so they can be misleading and at times even incorrect - I, for one, would rank King of Tokyo as heavier than The Resistance - but it's still interesting to note

Of the 25 games on my H-index with weight rankings on BGG, seven are weighted between 1.5 and 2.0; ten between 2.0 and 2.5; four between 2.5 and 3.0; and three between 3.0 and 3.5; and one above 3.5 (Agricola). The mean weight of games that have appeared on my H-index is 2.4, which is also close to the median (2.31). The real complexity of many of the games on my H-index would be higher, since those weights do not include expansions with which I often play that add complexity, but it's still an interesting measure to observe nevertheless.

[Those BGG weight rankings, if you are interested, are, in increasing order from easiest to most difficult: King of Tokyo (1.51); The Resistance (1.64); Hanabi (1.70); Splendor (1.84); Battle Line (1.91); Carcassonne (1.94); Ticket to Ride: Europe (1.96); Citadels (2.06); Kingdom Builder (2.07); Flash Point: Fire Rescue (2.21); Fleet (2.24); San Juan (2.29); 7 Wonders (2.34); Dominion (2.37); Pandemic (2.43); Saint Petersburg (2.47); Lords of Waterdeep (2.50); Innovation (2.71); Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (2.81); Glory to Rome (2.92); Race for the Galaxy (2.97); The Castles of Burgundy (3.04); At the Gates of Loyang (3.15); Puerto Rico (3.29); and Agricola (3.63).]

Other interesting facts and thoughts about my H-index

There are so many other interesting ways that I could analyze and measure my H-index, but I chose just a few. Here are a few other interesting lists and observations about my H-index and the games that appear on the list.

Total number of games that have appeared on my H-index: 26

Games that have appeared on my H-index that I do not currently own: Dominion; Puerto Rico

Games that dropped off my H-index but that re-entered later (with the levels at which they dropped off and later re-entered): Carcassonne (8-9; 13-15); Battle Line (11-13;14-18); Citadels (13-16)

Games that dropped off my H-index and did not re-enter later (with the level at which they dropped off): Puerto Rico (4); Saint Petersburg (12); Ticket to Ride: Europe (12); San Juan (15); At the Gates of Loyang (16); The Resistance (18)

Games previously on my H-index that were never played to achieve a new H-index level: San Juan; Ticket to Ride; At the Gates of Loyang

Games currently on my H-index  that were never played to achieve a new H-index level: Dominion; Flash Point: Fire Rescue; Hanabi; Pot O’Gold

Games that were played to achieve a new H-index level more than once: Carcassonne (5, 9); Citadels (1, 16, 20)

Games I am most surprised to see not ever having appeared on my H-index: Bohnanza; Chrononauts; Dixit; Forbidden Island; Jaipur; Star Realms; Ticket to Ride: Europe

Games that at one point I would have guessed would definitely appear on my H-index but that seem like they probably will not now based on current rate of play: Alhambra; Cosmic Encounter; Hive; Lost Cities; Tikal

One final digression was looking at the plays at each level that succeeded the plays to achieve the H-index. I was interested to see how closely it mirrored the growth of my H-index, and I was interested by what I found. Eleven of those games joined the H-index at the next level, and of those eleven, six of those games were played to trigger the next level of my H-index. There is only one game on this list that never appeared on my H-index: Chrononauts. Interestingly, both Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride: Europe had this happen four times apiece, which is likely somewhat of a product of having had a smaller library and roster of games at the time.

For reference, here is the list, with the H-index level in parentheses: Agricola (2), Carcassonne (3,4); 7 Wonders (5); Chrononauts (6); Ticket to Ride: Europe (7); Carcassonne (8); Ticket to Ride; Europe (9, 10); At the Gates of Loyang (11); Ticket to Ride: Europe (12); San Juan (13); Carcassonne (14); Fleet (15); Kingdom Builder (16); Battle Line (17); Fleet (18); and Pot O' Gold (19).

Thoughts on the future of my H-index

An obsessively analytical post like this would not be complete, of course, if I did not further indulge myself by some rampant speculation on the possibilities of the future of my H-index. I decided to go through my list of plays and to attempt to evaluate the games at different play count ranges that might end up on my H-index at some point. I have rated them most likely, very likely, likely, possible, and in a few cases, unlikely, as far as whether I think they may end up on my H-index.

This section (well, the whole post, really) is mostly, of course, for my future self when I look back on this post in a few years so that I can (hopefully) nod my head knowingly and be impressed by my prescient self-awareness about my trajectory in playing board games. And yes, I am aware that I ultimately have control over these results and could manipulate them, but I find that my gaming patterns tend to be affected enough by other players that it will still be interesting to see how these guesses turn out a few years hence.

As I considered which games might end up on my H-index, I had to factor in the history of how games have been added in the past and the trends over the past few years. I ended up with a list of eighty games that could possibly end up on my H-index at some point, with varying degrees of possibility. I chose to focus on games that I have played, as it seems increasingly unlikely that a game that I play for the first time now will enter the list before these eighty games I have listed, as the rate at which new games enter my H-index has decreased significantly as the number of new games I play has increased significantly (from thirty new games a year to over a hundred).

In fact, the only games that I played for the first time in the past three years that have entered my H-index are Splendor, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, and Pot O' Gold. There are another 31 games for which I have recorded initial plays in the past three years that I have listed even as possibilities among those eighty; only five of those 31 have had their initial plays in the past year, with only one played for the first time in the past six months. In short, it is becoming more and more difficult for new games to garner enough plays in a short enough span of time to warrant any kind of consideration as a possibility for my future H-index.

Of course, in order to contend for my H-index at some point, I also need to own the game, as every game currently on my H-index has been in my collection at some point, so games that are already in my collection are rated as more likely to enter my list. Of the forty games I ranked as "most likely" or "likely" to enter or re-enter my H-index (other than T.I.M.E Stories, which I will never own), there are only two other games that I currently do not own - Cacao and The Grizzled - and those are quite possibly going to be the next two games that I purchase.

The criteria, then, for any game that could eventually contend for a spot in my H-index is that it has to be in my collection (at some point), be easy enough to teach and learn for new players, be short enough to play multiple times in one sitting, be replayable often in a short span of time (ie. be "binge-able"), has likely already been played a few times, and, judging by my play history, be a game that my wife wants to play, since she has directly influenced the presence of almost every game on my H-index as my primary gaming partner.

So here are my thoughts on eighty games that are currently not on my H-index, including the six that have been included at some point, grouped by current play count. I find it interesting as an overall trend that I ranked 21 games as "very likely" or "most likely" to enter my H-index at some point, with another 20 as "likely", 36 "possible", and three "unlikely". I doubt, of course, that I will ever reach an H-index of one hundred - or even of 61 or 41, for that matter - but it seems as though I am optimistic about my chances, given these categorizations.

For games for which I have currently recorded ten plays or more (23):

Most likely to enter H-index / the next five games that I predict will enter my H-index: Eminent Domain; Istanbul; Jaipur; Rook; Star Realms (5)

Very likely to enter or re-enter H-index sometime: 7 Wonders: Duel; At the Gates of Loyang; Codenames; The Game; San Juan (5)

Likely to enter H-index sometime: Anomia; Dixit; Galaxy Trucker; Orléans; T.I.M.E Stories (5)

Possible to enter or re-enter H-index sometime: Glass Road; Le Havre; The Resistance; Saint Petersburg; Ticket to Ride: Europe; Village (6)

Unlikely to enter H-index sometime: Chrononauts; Alhambra (2)

For games for which I have currently recorded between 6 and 9 plays (21):

Most likely to enter H-index someday: Between Two Cities; Dutch Blitz; Ingenious; Patchwork; Sushi Go!; Tiny Epic Galaxies (6)

Likely to enter H-index someday: The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game; Coup; OctoDice; Pandemic: The Cure; Tokaido (5)

Possible to enter H-index someday: Bohnanza; Camel Up; Cosmic Encounter; Fresco; Friday; Harbour; Imperial Settlers; Scoville; Takenoko; Viticulture (10)

For games for which I have currently recorded between 3 and 5 plays (25):

Most likely to enter H-index someday: Codenames: Pictures; The Grizzled; Hey, That's My Fish!; Paperback; Red7 (5)

Likely to enter H-index someday: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small; Biblios; Cacao; Get Bit!; Hive; Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King; King of New York; Lost Cities; Love Letter; Valley of the Kings (10)

Possible to enter H-index someday:  Apples to Apples; Caverna: The Cave Farmers; Eggs and Empires; Elysium; Macao; Machi Koro; Medieval Academy; Mottainai; Notre Dame; Villages of Valeria (10)

Unlikely to re-enter H-index: Puerto Rico

And ten games for which I have recorded either one or two plays that I think could contend for my H-index someday: Flip City; For Sale; Gravwell; Kaiser; Lanterns: The Harvest Festival; Oh My Goods!; Qwirkle; The Resistance: Avalon; Roll for the Galaxy; Tides of Time.


This ended up being a much deeper dive than I had initially anticipated. I would estimate, including time going through my BGG history and collecting data, analyzing the data, doing a bit of research, and writing this post, that I spent well over thirteen hours in total composing this post over the span of three weeks. But I learned (or at least re-realized) a lot about myself as a gamer along the way, and that makes the whole journey worth it, right?

I really enjoy monitoring my H-index and using it as a way to measure myself as a gamer. Even though I have greatly broadened my gaming horizons in the past three years, I continue to use H-index as a way to continue pursuing depth in a hobby that often does not seem to lend itself naturally to supporting such endeavours - "cult of the new" and all.

My current ongoing goal is to achieve one new level of my H-index every quarter, which generally means playing all of the games currently at that H-index level at least once and then playing at least one of the games with slightly fewer plays repeatedly to have it catch up with the rest. I have been able to advance my H-index in each of the past six quarters (although just barely this time), and I expect to be able to do so in at least the next two quarters that remain in 2017.

I decided this year to remove all other external challenges like playing ten games ten times each (10 x 10), or playing all of the games in my collection a certain number of times, as I had found them too restrictive in determining which games I would play, and I found myself not enjoying the feeling that I had to play a particular game to achieve a challenge. But I decided to keep the one external pressure of advancing my H-index for a few reasons: it's much easier to manage playing a half-dozen or so games once a quarter; I think it's good to have at least one guiding external goal helping advancing my game playing; I often find myself gravitating toward these games anyway; and I think it's a really valuable measure of how accomplished I am as a gamer.

It seems kind of silly in many ways that it feels like such an accomplishment to have achieved this H-index of 20, since all it means is that I am enjoying certain games enough to play them repeatedly, which is kind of the point of owning games at all; the strange reality underlying this whole analysis is really that I will not play most of the games I own even twenty times.

I recognize that that realization might not make sense to a lot of non-gamers - after all, it does not necessarily seem to make sense to keep buying games when I seem to barely play the games I own - but I know that most people in the hobby will understand my predicament. I enjoy playing new games, but I also really enjoy replaying games I love, and so I keep adding games I like playing to my collection so that I can play them more. And despite how much I do already play, I know I could always play more.

It is possible, of course, that at some point that I will have to reduce the number of games that I own or play, particularly in order to keep advancing my H-index, but I have not yet reached that point in my life or in my gaming. For now, I am proud of the advancements I have made as a gamer, and I am happy that I continue to keep my H-index in mind as I keep gaming and that I do have an H-index that is as high as it is. It validates the fact that I am a veteran board gamer who pursues both breadth and depth as I play, and, if nothing else, it gives me something to obsess over and enjoy in a far-too-nerdy self-indulgent way.

Friday, June 16, 2017

All the Bells and whistles

The first time that I fully realized that "Rob Bell" had become a distinct indicator of a particular worldview within Evangelical Christianity was just before I moved back to Saskatchewan. Sure, I was aware that he had become persona non grata in many circles when he published Love Wins - I even wrote a blog post about the controversy when the book was released - but I was not quite as aware as to how deep the anathema toward Bell ran, particularly in the Bible belt here on the prairies - and believe me, it's deep.

It seems as though when people hear that I like Rob Bell, they have one of a few reactions, of which the most direct and obvious are those who are virulently opposed to him and what they perceive that he represents - namely, a "watered-down" Christianity that they believe does not (and cannot) represent a life devoted to following Jesus Christ. They may react with the aforementioned repulsion and disgust at his heresy, and they may lump me in with his lot. Or the reaction may be softer, despite the fact that they still believe that he is a heretic, and they may more gently wonder and question how I can like him and his work when he seems to them to be far from the Christian worldview they know.

There are some people, however, who react with far less vitriol, derision, or vehement opposition. Their responses vary: confusion ("He was that pastor in Seattle, right?" "No, that was Mark Driscoll. Bell was at the other Mars Hill..."); mild recollection ("Wasn't he the NOOMA video guy?"); slightly fond nostalgia ("Oh, so that's what he's up to now - I read that Elvis book a long time ago"); or even mild interest ("Huh. Sounds like he's up to some interesting things - maybe I should get his new book").

And then there are those of us who have stuck with Bell over the years. We have journeyed with him as he left ministry in the wake of the furor over his supposed universalism of Love Wins. We have continued to read his books and follow him on social media as he has partnered with Oprah and Carlton Cuse and written some very interesting books and generally been freed from some of the shackles of the expectations and limitations of being a prominent author in the Evangelical Christian world. It has been a fascinating journey, and I thought it would be valuable to recount how Bell's journey has interacted with my own over the years.

My journey with Rob

I first read Velvet Elvis a year or two after it was released, sometime in 2006-2007. It was a period in my life in which I was working through what I thought about church and Christian culture, and in which I was really starting to expand my worldview and the way in which I thought Christians and the church should interact with the world. Bell, along with authors like Donald Miller, Brian McLaren, and Bruxy Cavey, started to give me a new lens through which to see the world around me and a new language with which I could express the ways in which I could already sense my previously narrow Conservative Evangelical worldview expanding.

I appreciated Bell's early works, including Velvet Elvis, Sex God, and Jesus Wants to Save Christians. I should actually revisit those works, since it has been a decade since I have read any of them, and I read them all before I started writing reviews on GoodReads. I particularly identified with his work on creativity and suffering, Drops Like Stars, as an artistic endeavour, and I have recently been feeling a need to return to that work as inspiration on my own creative journey.

And then there's that crucial book in his journey, Love Wins, which was superficially about hell. It was the book that marked the turning point in the general attitude toward Bell, as he was accused of being universalist and turning his back on Christianity by more conservative Christian authors and leaders. Bell went from being the mostly innocuous bespectacled NOOMA guy - although there were some pockets of Evangelical Christianity who had virulently opposed his work from the beginning - to a divisively heretical force who was distracting people from Jesus and Christianity and acting as a poison in the church - at least according to his critics; as a result, he (and arguably the reader of his books) was summarily "excommunicated" (or at least ostracized and delegitimized) from fellowship in the general Evangelical ether.

Here's the thing with Love Wins: I read it at the time, and I appreciated it for what it was - a conversation starter. I did not think at the time that it was his best work, and I think there are more problems with the book in terms of his presentation and even some of his arguments than with any other books, but I still appreciated that he was putting something into the conversation. And although I understood how it was controversial, I did not think it should have been.

What he was saying was not what he was being criticized as saying, and it became clear that there was a lot of agenda on the side of the people who were attempting to exclude him. There was some legitimately interesting dialogue at the time, including Francis Chan's response book Erasing Hell and Hellbound?, a documentary from a Canadian filmmaker who had already been working on his project and was able to use some of the controversy to promote his film.

But I lost track of Bell for a few years after that, and I do not really know why; I was not avoiding Bell, but I was not really engaging with his work, either. I can look back at the books I read in that time using my history on Goodreads, and although I owned his next book - What We Talk About When We Talk About God - for several years, I just never got around to reading it. But I still considered him to be very influential on my life and one of my favourite authors - enough so that he was often one of the first names I would list when I was asked about my favourite people who were writing about faith.

Then, last fall, I read Bell's then-most recent book, How To Be Here, and it reignited something in me and inspired me to catch up on what I had missed in those intervening years. I have since read his previous two books - The ZimZum of Love, which is about marriage, and What We Talk About When We Talk About God, which is about, well, God - and I am looking at revisiting several of his other books over the summer; after all, they are all very easy to digest, and they will make some great summer afternoon reading (not to mention great fodder for a future blog post in which I rank his works).

I am also planning on finally watching all of the NOOMA videos, of which I had only watched a couple when they were popular back in the early aughts; it's kind of funny, actually, that I never really caught on to Bell through the series that made him popular. For that matter, it's kind of funny that I have rarely interacted with Bell through his audio/visual presentations, including his current podcast, the RobCast (I'm too full on podcasts right now to integrate another one, but his would be at the top of my list), considering that he is arguably much stronger a speaker than he is a writer.

It has been a lot of fun catching up with him and seeing how his space connects to my space; it has been kind of like reconnecting with a long-time friend after a few years - one of those friends with whom you just lost touch for awhile until you found a really meaningful point of contact. And then once you have reconnected, you start to have a really significant relationship again and you wonder how you ever were not in contact and you realize that this person is really important to you. That's where Rob and I are at.

What is the Bible?

Part of the reason I have been excited to catch up on Bell's bibliography (pun intended) was the release of his new book this spring: What Is The Bible? I was excited to see where he had been and where he was going, so I made sure to read his earlier books before starting on this new one. Here's the review I posted about What is the Bible? on GoodReads:

What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About EverythingWhat Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything by Rob Bell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"What is the Bible?" It's a big question, and it could be very problematic for someone like Rob Bell to wade into these waters. But Bell seems to fully have embraced his status as someone who is not received by much of the church, and he is pushing ahead with writing the things he needs to write for the people who will receive them; I, of course, am one of those people, and I have been since I first read Velvet Elvis well over a decade ago.

There's a point well into this book in which Bell relates a story about delivering a sermon when he was in school. He knew he wanted to do something different from the norm, so he did, and as he tells it, his professor's reaction was: "You can take it further". Well, in What is the Bible?, that's what he does, and I think he does so with great success.

In fact, this might be the furthest that Bell has ever gone - or at least as far as he has gone since Love Wins - and there is an argument to be made that this is his most significant work, period. Velvet Elvis might still be the best entry point to Bell, as he brings up many of the ideas that he explores in further detail in his later works in that book, but I would posit that What is the Bible? might be the one that I recommend people read once they make it through Velvet Elvis.

He spends the first 70% of the book working through the idea of why the Bible matters, as well as how to read, interpret, and apply the Bible (so to speak), but his point really boils down to one emphasis: the Bible is a collection of stories written by people with a particular cultural lens about their understanding of their experience with the divine.

He spends a lot of the book repeating variations on this idea, but it's worth the repetition, since he is quite deliberately working against some very entrenched ideas in the way that the Bible has come to be understood by a large segment of its adherents. Bell is much more in line with a post-modern deconstructionalist view of the text, and he seems to be much more cognizant of current literary critical trends than many other faith-based writers are.

The final section, in which he processes some of the key questions he often receives, is bound to be the most problematic for people; of course, anyone who starts a Rob Bell book is usually already on a certain track of thinking, but it's the final portion in which he really takes it further. Bell really digs into some of the ways that the Bible has been treated and perceived and the descriptors that are used to defend and argue the validity of the Bible - authoritative, inspired, inerrant - and he moves toward some very interesting and valuable interpretations of those concepts.

As usual, I find myself agreeing with most of what Bell says, and I am able to see past the 5-10% that I find somewhat problematic. I really appreciate how he states things, and I often find that he helps me have language to describe my own positions. I think the best takeaway I had from What is the Bible? was when he wrote that we are to read the Bible "literately", rather than "literally"; in fact, I think that short statement essentially sums up the entire book.

I love that Bell continues to frame his work in a pastoral and conversational lens, and that he writes in such a way that his books serve as a valuable entry point for much more discussion. That said, he himself acknowledges in a short epilogue that people reading this book in particular need to be ready and able to engage in a different way of thinking, and that not everyone is ready to go there. I am glad that he continues to take it further, and I think that What is the Bible? is invaluable for helping a new generation approach this text in a new way.

View all my reviews

For whom the Bell tolls

I know that even reading Bell's books - much less writing a post like this in praise of Rob Bell - could be problematic for me, since it further entrenches me in a particular corner of the Evangelical Christian world - one that is perceived as being further from "the truth" - and, quite frankly, I am okay with that. I'm not in the same camp as much of the "Gospel Coalition" or contemporary North American Evangelical churches, and I, for one, tend to think that's a good thing.

Even if you do not know me well enough to know that I share a lot of Bell's viewpoints, you can get a good sense of where I am at by taking a look at the kinds of authors on my shelf: Brian McLaren, Matthew Paul Turner, Shane Claiborne, Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Peter Rollins, for starters. I recognize that there is a lot of criticism toward Bell and these authors from a segment of the Evangelical church, but it does not matter to me.

I appreciate the fact that these authors - among many others - are exploring new ways of living out faith and expressing themselves and finding themselves in new contexts and constructs. I find a vitality in their journeys that mirrors my own experience in my faith journey, and I am excited to see how Bell and these other writers are wrestling with many of the same big questions which which I find myself confronted.

And look, I get that Rob Bell is not perfect, and I am not saying that I think he is. I do not agree with everything Bell says or does, and it would be ridiculous if I did; I doubt even Bell himself does. But I can say that I agree with a lot of what he says, and that the value that Bell brings to the general dialogue is not just in what he says, but the very fact that he says it. He is engaging some very difficult issues, and I generally think he does so in a way that is responsible and gracious and intelligent and well-informed and beneficial for those who are willing to take the journey with him.

Perhaps what I continue to appreciate most about Bell is that as he writes and speaks and lives, he continues to cultivate a pastoral presence as he seeks to guide others to Jesus. He has never wavered from that goal, as critics have accused him of doing so, and he just happens to be "pastoring" a much different community in his current life in California than he did when he started writing books over a decade ago.

I consider myself to be part of that community by extension through his writing, and I am glad that Bell has been a pastoral influence on my life, as I strongly believe that he has been integral in my own journey with Jesus. I am glad that he continues to "take it further", and I am excited to be a part of his journey and to have him be part of mine.

Friday, June 09, 2017

The Legend of Perler: A visual essay

It started off simply enough: I decided that I wanted to start a new Perler project over the April Easter break. I was feeling inspired by playing the new release The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, so on a whim I decided to dig back into the archives and to try to make a project that had been on my radar for a long time: the logo from the original NES The Legend of Zelda.

I (wisely) realized that doing the whole screenshot might be a bit much, especially without mini beads, so I settled on creating just the main part of the logo, using a T-shirt I had recently acquired as my inspiration.

I had never attempted anything this large or ambitious before, but I figured I would just start and see what happened. It was at about an hour in that I realized that I had perhaps started something that might take a bit more time than I had initially expected. I did, however, (mostly) remember to take pictures of my travails at various points through the process, so I thought it would be interesting to recount my journey in a visual essay.

The Start

Here's my progress after the first and second hours, respectively. It was at this point that I realized that this project might take a bit more time than I had expected, as it took an hour to do the initial outline alone. I also realized that I did not have enough boards or enough space to do the whole project at one go, so I knew I would have to finish it in pieces.

Hour 1 - The basic outlines

Hour 2 - Filling in the Triforce
Hour 3 - Filling in the middle letters 
Hour 4 - After filling in the greenery and the sword, the first section is ready for ironing!

Hour 5(ish) - The starting section is ironed!

The Legend continues...

I knew by this point that it was only going to become more complicated as a result of my insufficient planning at the start of the project, and I realized that I would likely have to add the other pieces - the top, the "Z", the "A", and the tip and hilt of the sword - one by one. I realized that the main difficulties would be in figuring out how to line up the beads on the boards, as well as lining up the ironed sections successfully.

Hour 6 - It took awhile to figure out the beading, but it looks good so far.

Hour 6.5 - The top and "A" are ready to be ironed!

It was at this point that I decided to try something I had not tried before: the "masking tape method". The method involves placing masking tape over the top of the beads on the board; I used painter's tape since it is wider and easier to remove afterward. Once all of the beads are taped down (overlapping the edges of the tape, of course), it is easy (in theory) to flip over the boards, keeping the beads in the same arrangement. This method is recommended for preserving the boards, since they can warp from the heat of the iron if the beads stay on the board during the ironing process; it is also recommended for larger projects that will be completed in pieces, like this one. It is also not easy, as I soon discovered.

I struggled with the initial tape placement, and I had to do a fair bit of Perler surgery to make it work after I flipped it over. Despite my best efforts, however, there was still one small section that I had to give up on and rework later; of course, it happened to be the most intricately detailed portion of the whole piece that used the most colours.

Hour 7.5 - The top and "A" that survived to be ironed using the masking tape method.

Hour 7.5 - The aftermath of the small section that did not survive the initial taping.
It took a fair bit of effort, but I managed to get the rest of the top lined up fairly well with the existing piece. I wasn't able to connect the "A" at that time, but I was just happy that it was working so far.

Hour 8 - The pieces that ironed together.

Getting closer to finishing...

After some time away from the project in part due to silly things like work and life (as well as needing to go pick up another bag of red beads), I resumed work on re-beading the top and adding the "Z" on the left side of the logo. My three-year-old nephew was particularly keen on helping with the beads, but of course it happened to be in that most intricate section that had not worked with the tape method previously. It was also quite fortunate that the edge of the "Z" ended exactly on the edge of the board. I had not planned for that to work out that way, but I was glad it did.

Hour 8.5 - The restoration of the section that did not survive the first attempt at the masking tape method.

Hour 9 - The last letter is outlined!
I neglected to take pictures for a couple of intermediate stages at this point, but suffice to say that the whole process was becoming a lot easier by this time. Despite my previous failure, I decided to again attempt the masking tape method - and it worked this time! I knew that my troubles were far from over, though, as the real trick would be managing to line up this new ironed piece on both the top and the sides in such a way as to hide the seam. As you will see, I was proud of the result, even though it took a lot of ironing.

Hour 10 - The masking tape method worked this time!

Hour 10.5 - The ironed piece to be added to the existing base.

Hour 11 - It worked!

The Finishing Touches and the Final Product

At that point, there was not much left to do to finish the project. I had to add the already-ironed "A" to the right side of the base as well as designing, ironing, and attaching the hilt and tip of the sword.

Hour 11.5 - The final two pieces
And suddenly - DA DA DA DAAAAAA!!!! - it was finished! Here's the final breakdown of some of the numbers I calculated:
  • 5,852 beads
  • 9 colours used
  • 16 boards (including two with one and three beads, respectively)
  • Over 12 hours total work over the span of three weeks
  • 6 ironing sessions, for a total of about three hours
  • 2 trips to Michael's to purchase extra beads (black, red, and cheddar)
  • 1 mistake that no one except me will ever notice
Hour 12+ - The final product!


Image result for it's dangerous to go alone take thisThis was by far the largest bead sprite project I have ever undertaken, and it was my first large project in years, so as you might imagine, I learned a lot throughout the process. I was happy to finally use the masking tape method successfully, but I also learned that I will need to do more preparation for future large projects in terms of planning for boards, beads, physical space, and time. I don't know if I will attempt another similarly ambitious project in the future, but I did really enjoy getting back into the hobby, so I imagine that I will work on some smaller projects over the summer, like some coasters and fridge magnets.

And for anyone wondering where I managed to convince my wife to allow me to put this up in our house - I didn't. I ended up giving the piece as a wedding gift to friends of mine who had initially introduced me to bead sprites when they were working as my camp staff five years ago; as I think about it, however, I probably should have made this scene for them. Maybe I already have my next big project lined up...


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