Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Years Resolutions

As a kid, I frequently chose a New Years resolution because it was something adults asked about in January and I liked having something to say.  I never put much thought into these pledges and I certainly never aspired to undergo or sustain the action said resolution required. 

I'm no longer a kid, though, and now I more fully understand why New Years resolutions exist.  They encourage people to break out of their ruts and routines and do something new.  Resolutions cause behaviors to occur, repeating those behaviors causes habits to form, and eventually those habits become ingrained, internal, and automatic.  I'm proud to say that I successfully have met my resolutions since I turned 30.  It's all about small, obtainable actions, right? 

I taught myself how to whistle.
I documented all the books and total pages I read in a given year.
For each week I had off, I volunteered one shift at the Saint Louis Area Food Bank. 

Obviously, most of these resolutions are rather self-centered, but I'm particularly proud of the FoodBank one.  As a teacher, I have a lot of time off each year: two weeks at spring break, two weeks at winter break, and two months at summer.  That's a lot of time to be a slug if I want -- and I do want that -- but it's also a lot of time to do good.  Volunteering gives me something worthwhile to do and I really enjoy it.  Even better, Raina joins me on these ventures and I look forward to the day that Lola volunteers with us too.  I'm optimistic that my 2012 resolution will cause a family tradition of volunteerism.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Year 2012 in Review: Tabletop Gaming

Eric and I have a cutesy romantic “how we met each other” story but the real unifiers in our youthful college relationship were nightly dinners at Centre Court, followed by The Simpsons, and capped off with endless rounds of card games.  We had absolute marathons of Spades and Napoleon and Asshole; our friend Dan introduced us to a bunch of different games and our merry crew devoted entire weekends to playing.  It was absolutely wonderful.  (Oh, free time and little responsibility, how we miss you!) 

After we got married, we faced the shocking problem of not knowing what to do with all our free time together post-wedding-planning.  Of course, we turned to games.  We explored the full realm of two-player card games and board games and dice games …. We played Yahtzee so much that I still can recite the scoring conventions even though I haven’t played in 10 years.  A little bit of competition and a little bit of interaction with our favorite person meant lots of fun each night.

We have so many games that, in 2012, they claimed two separate areas in the house.  One area was filled with games you can find at Target, e.g., Sorry, Trivial Pursuit, Parcheesi, CandyLand.  The other space overflowed with the more interesting games acquired from authentic gaming stores, e.g., Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Carcassone, Gulo Gulo, Battlestar Galactica.  Eventually we could not cram any more games into those two areas and they started overflowing to stacks on the piano and piles propping up laptop computers.  Easily, we had over 70 different board games. 

At this point, Eric and I pondered adding a new room on to our house, a combined game room / library / office space.  We thought about it for a long time, but, seriously, that’s a ridiculous solution to the problem of having too many games.  We decided to keep only those that are really interesting, consolidated some together, threw out a whole bunch, and then dedicated a 6 foot tall bookcase to the remainder.   

Over the past four years, we migrated from competitive to cooperative games.  Now, instead of one person winning and the other person losing, we play as a team against the situation presented in the game.  It’s a really cool element of play and I highly recommend it.  The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game reigned supreme in 2012.  It’s a “living card game,” which means that game additions come out every few months and the game evolves as a result.  The game starts in pre-Hobbit days with the full complement of humans, elves, hobbits, and dwarves, and they quest and accomplish heroic deeds together.  Each person commands a set of heroes and controls a set of skills, which are dictated by the player’s deck of cards.  Each player chooses which cards to place in her/his player’s deck, so it is malleable and receptive to various quests. 

The game wins on a number of levels.  It’s cooperative and we get to geek out on The Lord of the Rings lore.  Playing is complex and varied and requires substantial attention to detail and strategy.  No two games are alike so the chance of getting bored with the “same old thing” is low – the same thing rarely occurs twice.  The game is also really hard; on some quests we lose 80% of the time (an incredibly refreshing problem) because then we can go back, try a new strategy, cross our fingers, and rejoice when we’re successful.  And, finally, it allows for substantial strategizing outside of actual game play.  Eric devotes an incredible amount of his “strategy brain” to matching up new cards in the player decks to problem solve around quests and make our chances of success much higher.  While he enjoys game play, he loves constructing the player decks even more and he tinkers with the decks after each round of games.  (He’s like an inventor modifying his creation after each experimental trial.)  He’s quite obsessive about it, but, really, it’s a great hobby to have.  He regularly blogs about the game at www.boardgamegeek.com and has a loyal following of readers. 

The Lord of the Rings card game claimed a sizable portion of our 2012 entertainment time.  Playing cards occupied the rest.  Even though cards claimed a sizable part of college, as official adults we’ve played cards very little as we’ve explored the full realm of tabletop games.  Late 2011 saw a change in that model.

The Whompton adults numbered three; adding another couple increased us to five.  We know two good five-player card games – Napoleon and Japanese Bridge – but our board game options are better at five people so that’s what we’d do.  After Samantha moved out in 2011, we suddenly became compatible to play four-person games.  We partnered up with another couple and have monthly Bridge and Brunch mornings; the adults play Bridge while the four kids have a massive play date.  Everyone has a great time, and we’ve developed a new friendship as a result.  It is awesome. 

Samantha realized (upon leaving the Whompton abode) that she missed gaming too.  She established a regular game night at our house combining her, Eric and I, and two of her close friends.  Everyone arrives at 5 p.m., we have a nice meal, the guests read books and rough-house with the girls, we put the kids to bed, and then we play!  We explored various five person board games, but have settled on Japanese Bridge as the game of choice here.  Those evenings are light-hearted and fun, filled with good food and lots of teasing and laughter. 

We’re incredibly lucky to have such good friends who want to play with us.