A Classic Gamer’s Valentine Tale

Here’s one of my favorite pieces from a few years back, for those who don’t go to certain other sites.  Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing.

 

All I did was drop a meeple. In a diner.

A yellow one. The meeple, not the diner. Not my favorite choice, but sometimes you have to deal with what you’re given. The diner was the typical chrome and neon; the meeple was a typical wooden figure from any of a hundred or so European boardgames.

I bent under the table and reached for the meeple, fingers groping the greasy floor as I absentmindedly began counting the wads of semi-fossilized pre-chewed gum now hanging from the bottom of the table like a fabulously detailed replica of the roof of Howe Caverns. Across the dingy grey and black checker patterned floor that was probably once white and black, I saw the door open and in she walked.

I had never liked high heels and fishnet stockings before. Thankfully, she wasn’t wearing high heels and fishnet stockings, so I wasn’t bothered. My fingers were still skating through the grime trying to find my meeple and by some trick of fate, she glided effortlessly to my table and slid into the slightly cracked maroon vinyl bench on the other side of the booth. The game was on.

There I was, hunched like Quasimodo, half under the table, one hand whisking for my missing meeple, the other grasping the table support for, well, support, and I was being afforded a perfect and private view of everything of hers perfect and private. She thought she was alone. Were I another kind of man, the man with a different kind of story to tell to a different kind of audience, I could have just stayed there and watched.

But I’m not that kind of guy.

So, I tried with glaring unsuccess to sit up straight without slamming my head into the gum festooned table. Running my hand through my hair and trying to pluck out the last bits of hardened Wrigley’s Spearmint, I looked her over. And over.

Her lips were painted redder than a cold war Russian stop sign. Her face a delicate triangle, a pale blush flower holding two glassy dark eyes under a cascading waterfall of black hair that would make Niagara jealous – and I don’t mean the game.

She looked at me in a surprisingly unsurprised fashion and tapped her long manicured nails to the formica table evenly.

“I,” I stammered, trying to collect myself, and failing like a man running after his chits after dropping the complete Advanced Squad Leader collection in a hurricane. “I was just under the table.”

“So I see,” she murmured as a tiny smile licked her lips as I wish I were at that moment. “I’ll get another booth.”

“No!” I shouted with the unsubtlety of a professional Pit player. “I mean, um, please, stay. Sit.”

She pondered this for a moment and gave a slight sideways nod.

The silence between us felt longer than the last game of Monopoly I had to tolerate. I figured I had better say something or lose her right there.

“I’m a dick,” I blurt out.

She didn’t even bat a perfect eyelash.

“Umm, I mean a Private Investigator. You know, they uh, they used to call us that… you know… dick…”

“Got a name,” she purred, “Dick?”

Never give your real name. Basic rule of the job. Think fast, the timer is about to run out.

“Derk. Derk Aldie, PI,” I said before I had a chance to reconsider. It was the first thing that popped into my mind. Well, the second, the first being whether or not she would say yes to a game of either Twister or perhaps Crokinole on a particularly low table.

“Well,” she sniffed indifferently, “Dick…”

“Derk.”

“Right. I’m looking for some action in this town. You know. A game. Maybe a partner for it. Although I’ve considered doing it with a group as well.”

What? Did I hear this right? I must have, because I could still hear the echo of her words in my mouth, which had opened to a decidedly unattractive gape.

She nodded to the waiter who poured her a dark roast which she never ordered as I tried to figure my strategy.

I did my best to be suave as I leaned one elbow on the table to gently rub my chin as if this were the oddest question I had ever heard, and not one that I had dreamed of being asked every time I close my eyes and picture someone like her actually speaking to someone like me.

Suddenly, she looked me dead in the eye in mid-sip. Had my furious passion for vegetables left a bit of broccoli lodged in my eyebrow? No, this wasn’t the usual look I got for broccoli in my eyebrow, this was something else.

“Is that,” she said in a hushed inquiry, “A meeple?”

I had totally forgotten my little wooden friend, and my meeple, for the last few moments. I had it between two of my fingers as I was rubbing my chin. In an exhilarated rush of excitement that she knew what I was holding, I gasped.

And I swallowed the meeple.

Actually, had I swallowed the meeple, perhaps things would have gone another way. More correctly, I inhaled it. It got lodged in my windpipe. It is very difficult not to look distressed when you’re choking on a yellow meeple. I’m sure you’re familiar with the sensation. I tried to keep my composure as the tears welled up in my eyes and my breathing stopped.

I’m fairly sure I looked like I was trying to figure out my next card in RoboRally as I began to flail spasmodically, turning first one way and then the other, attempting to dislodge the meeple from my craw.

There was a splash of hot black coffee… an indignant scream… At some point I remember seeing her being escorted out of the diner by one of the attending paramedics. It was hard to see as my vision was blurring, but I think I saw her peering in the back of the ambulance as we drove away.

So I go back there a lot. With my yellow meeple. I can only hope one day, she’ll return to me. Every night I dream her, every day she haunts me to no end. I can barely claim points for a river anymore without become all choked up. But I think that might be the scar from the meeple. She’s all I ever think about anymore. I know she’ll be back. She has to. She’s all I have.

All I did was drop a meeple.

2012′s Best Family Strategy Game

takenoko

Click the pic to enlarge.

Hands down, the best Family Strategy Game for 2012 was Takenoko.

Takenoko was available only by special import in 2011, and then became widely available in the US in 2012, and that’s good enough for me.

This is a delightful game about growing bamboo and feeding a giant panda.  No, really.

It’s a variant on a worker placement/limited action game.  each turn, you choose to execute two actions.  Place Land Tiles, Irrigate Land, Move and Feed the Panda, Move the Gardener and Grow or Gain New Objectives.

The objective cards are how you gain points.  They come in three flavors.  Plot card are combinations of colored land tiles you hope to be able to place, Gardener cards are combinations of bamboo the gardener has grown and Panda cards are combinations of bamboo the cute little guy has eaten.

Choosing which goals to try to complete is the essential heart of the game.  Early on, land combos are hard to complete, as there is very little land.  As the board grows, the chance of completing one of the patterns is much greater.  Gardener cards allow you to take advantage of other players’ hard work.  And panda cards require you do all the foot work (paw work?) your self.

You don’t directly get to choose to muck with other players plans, but may accidentally ruin their strategy.  This makes it excellent for family gaming as there is no direct attacking, only accidental attacking, which adds to groans and frustration, but not anger.

The game is gorgeous beyond belief.  For the price tag, the components are well beyond anything similar.  You get a bunch of little objective cards, a stack of large gorgeous land hex tiles, fully painted awesome little gardener miniature and his panda nemesis, and wonderful wooden bamboo segments that pop together to grow the bamboo crops.  Go ahead, click the pic above for a clearer view.

The insert to keep pieces and the player aid cards are top notch.  Once you know how to play, the player aid cards will mean you never have to look at the rules again to know what you can do or what that tricky Weather Die has granted you.  And not a single word of English is on any of the components.  No reading.  Remarkably well crafted components.

The challenge is choosing which of your two meager actions to take.  You want to feed the panda, and place new land, and grow bamboo, but you need to irrigate a plot… wonderful little choices each turn.

And slowly, some player will start creeping up in score, eating and growing just the right bits they need.

Takenoko is available through this link at Amazon at the time of this posting:

Takenoko Board Game

Gifts For The Gamer Who Has Everything

Hardcore gamers have hundreds of boardgames.  It’s an addiction, but there are certainly worse things to be addicted to.

It also makes them dreadfully hard to buy things for without having them directly ask.  How can you keep up with their ever shifting inventory?  Here’s a few ideas for the gamer who just has all the games they want right now.

Custom Made Artisan Dice.

These things didn’t even exist until recently, when a few guys asked for $300 on KickStarter to make some nice wooden dice.  They got $90,000.  This is a great example of filling a demand no one even knew was there.

These dice ain’t cheap.  But, well, frankly, it doesn’t matter, because they’re awesome.  They use over 110 exotic woods to make these amazing little art pieces.  It started with standard 6-siders, but on Kickstarter they’ll be doing a run of Poly dice, similar to the jobolio set you see here.

Being they’re wood – they’re all unique.  Different grains will make each set it’s own creation.  They do all sorts of custom sets on request.  Different woods, different dice.  You really need to check out some of the incredible work these guys do over at www.ArtisanDice.com.

 

The Dice Tray.

OK, this is a little more for the average board gamer.  Dice trays rock.  They prevent cards and little miniature barbarians from being knocked over during a tense moment.

Dice Tray

They can run you from under $20 to over $100.  Personally, I really like this octagonal one.  Why?  Because octagons are cool and that’s good enough for me.  You can get these at most better gaming supply shops locally or on line.

I know this sounds strange, but avoid a square one.  The dice can clump in the corners.  Round is nice.  But it’s not octagonal.

Some players like Dice Towers.  Eh.  It doesn’t feel enough like rolling dice to me.  For dice based games like King Of Tokyo, Zombie Dice, or even Yahtzee, this ‘board’ really makes the game a lot easier to manage.

The Deck Box.

Let’s face it, a huge chunk of the non-video gaming community are those that play Magic, Pokemon, Yugioh and countless other card based games.  You know the players.

Fantasy Flight Games has come out this year with an awesome little deckbox for your FFG Deckbox.favorite card player.  The new FFG DeckBox runs a modest $10.  It comes in a few colors and has 2 nifty features.  Feature one is a clear plate on the front where you can showcase a card that identifies your deck or whatever you like.  Feature two is a teeny little component case to keep life counters, fatigue markers or whatever that deck needs right with the deck.

It’s very simple, but it’s a well designed utility.  Most card gamers would welcome some of these in their arsenal.  Again, available at many game suppliers.

Furniture.

Wow.  Yeah, OK, we’re talking many thousands of dollars here.  But in case you’re wondering, yes, every serious boardgamer wants a table from Geek Chic.

There’s a bunch of different models, all customizable to whether you like roleplaying games, miniatures games, wargames, family games, whatever.  They tend to have this nifty recessed table top, so when a game has to stop in progress, you place the regular tabletop over it.  You can get wipe off board inserts, plexi overlays, all sorts of treats.  Some tables feature storage, some have fold out player areas.

The megalithic beast you see here is The Sultan, all decked out with more features than The Sultan.  Drool.most luxury cars.  Before you start clearing the space, that’s $15,000 worth of table.  No, not a typo.  Fifteen.  Thousand.  Dollars.  But come one, look at that thing!

OK, so they make a ton of other models with different layouts and features, you don’t have to go that high.  But they are gorgeously crafted pieces, and if you’re looking to replace a dining room table soon, why on get something awesome like one of these?

This is one of the first bits of furniture I’m buying for my castle when I win the lottery.

‘Til next turn,
Paul
The Piecekeeper