Clank! League Week 2

From yesterday’s live stream at Renegade Game Studios: Will Victor and I beat Gary in Clank!? Or will Gary repeat as the Week 1 champion? Watch below to find out!

Humans of the Tabletop: John Gonzalez

You know how you just get along immediately with certain people? That’s how it is with me and John Gonzalez. I’ve known John (aka Book Of Nerds on Twitter and Instagram) since August of last year, but it feels like we’ve been friends for much longer, thanks to random conversations on social media.

A former teacher, John is also a writer, miniatures painter, and podcaster. While I’ve gotten to know him through the many hours we’ve spent playing Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition, I asked John to talk about his journey into the board game hobby for this re-launch of Humans of the Tabletop.

Fifteen years ago, John Gonzalez, his wife Lorena, and his sisters would gather at his mother’s home for family game nights. Well-worn classics like Monopoly, Clue, or The Game of Life usually hit the tabletop during their regular gatherings.

“Eventually, I bought Betrayal At House on the Hill,” John recalled. “It was an illuminating experience as far as teaching goes. I had a really hard time teaching the game, mostly due to inexperience.”

When work and school began to take up everyone’s time, the game nights ended. It wasn’t until a train ride in 2009 that John re-discovered modern board games, learning Dominion during the trip to Seattle for PAX. Although he loved the deck-building classic, he had doubts about his family’s response to game.

“At the convention, I learned how to play Munchkin,” he said. “Knowing that it would be a hit with my family, I bought a copy and we started having family game nights again.”

Fast forward a few years and John found himself at the newly opened Game Haus board game cafe in Glendale, California, thanks to an invitation from Oscar, a friend of Lorena’s sister. After playing Indigo, Chinatown, and Bohnanza, John and Oscar began meeting up for more games together.

“Lorena and I started playing more games at home as well,” he said. “Our collections have grown these past few years and it’s been our main hobby since then.”

As his passion for the hobby grew, John began honing his skills as a board game teacher. Drawing on his years of experience as a substitute teacher, John utilizes techniques from the classroom when he’s teaching games.

“When I learn a new game, I start thinking about how to teach it, breaking it down into digestible chunks,” he said. “I make an outline in my head and identify the tricky bits. I think about the student, their familiarity with modern board games, and how convey the rules in a way that is approachable.”

Even when he’s not teaching a game, John is constantly analyzing how people teach a game to him, watching the methods they use. He loves learning games for two reasons: “I’m learning a new game (yay!) and I can pick up new teaching techniques.”

His enthusiasm for learning new things helped him make the leap into podcasting, as he recently joined The Five By board game podcast. “I’m a huge fan of the podcast, so I’m very excited about being one of the hosts,” he said. “Writing a five-minute review is decidedly different than writing one for a blog. I found myself having to be more succinct and to the point. It’s a different beast and I’m still learning, but I’m really energized and I love learning and developing new skills.”

Outside of board games, John and Lorena are regular participants in Extra Life, a 24-hour gaming marathon where gamers raise money to support local children’s hospitals.

“Gaming means gathering around a table with friends and having a good time, sharing some laughs, and having a bit of friendly competition.It’s an opportunity to be social and meet new people.”

Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New YorkHumans of the Tabletop is an ongoing series about the people I’ve played games with. Click here for past Humans of the Tabletop.

November Writing Challenge Day 30: Challenge Completed

I’m blogging every day this month. Some will be game-related, but this challenge is different than my most recent play-a-game-and-blog-about-it challenge. I’m writing a single post every day: no topic guidelines, with some posts being a collection of random thoughts. Click here to read yesterday’s post.

This is my 30th post of the month and my challenge is completed! Thanks for joining me for all or part of my blog-every-day-in-November challenge. I appreciate all of you that shared your feedback via Twitter. For me, this is what the challenge was all about: starting conversations with friends, both new and old.

While I don’t have any pearls of wisdom gained from all of these posts and there’s no Book of Secrets that I gained access to after completing the challenge, there is something to be said for setting a goal and reaching it.

It feels good.

I said I was going to do something and I did it. Following through is always a good thing.

Now I’m asking you to challenge yourself this month. Whether it’s writing a blog post every day or going to the gym every day or just being nicer to others or anything else you’d like to achieve, do it.

Don’t worry if you miss a day or two or more of your challenge. I’ve always looked at my challenges like this: even if I didn’t write a blog every day, I still wrote more than if I wouldn’t have challenged myself.

And, yes, it is all about the journey. Enjoy the ride and then look back and see what kind of progress you’ve made. No matter what the challenge is, celebrate your accomplishments, both big and small. Then challenge yourself again.

Thanks again for reading.

November Writing Challenge Day 29: Attack of the Clones

I’m blogging every day this month. Some will be game-related, but this challenge is different than my most recent play-a-game-and-blog-about-it challenge. I’m writing a single post every day: no topic guidelines, with some posts being a collection of random thoughts. Click here to read yesterday’s post.

Earlier during this challenge I announced my next challenge: watching all of the Star Wars movies and TV series on Disney+ in chronological order before watching Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker on December 19th.

I jumped right in, watching Episode I: The Phantom Menace for the first time in years (and I think my third time overall). The passage of time did nothing to change my opinion of the movie (it’s terrible) and I wondered how Episode II: Attack of the Clones would fare. I remember seeing this one in the theater and actually enjoying it. It’s diminished over the years, though, to the point where I can understand why people think this is the worst Star Wars movie of them all.

Of course, Anakin’s “sand” speech is laughably bad, but one thing that made the prequels unbearable for me is the overabundance of CGI. At the time, this new generation of special effects was set to change movie making, but I feel the same now as I did then about the prequel special effects: just because you can show all of these amazing details like a planet full of spaceship traffic doesn’t mean you HAVE to.

I may have mentioned this before, but I remember reading Liam Neeson talking about his frustration with acting in front of green screens all of the time, with Lucas’ special effects teams filling in the background later. Although Neeson and Ewan McGregor are just fine in Episode I, almost every other actor wasn’t and Episode II has some forgettable performances by Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman.

So, I made it through Episode II and thankfully The Mandalorian was available to get the first two prequels’s taste out of my mouth. I appreciate that a whole generation of fans got into Star Wars through the prequels and I’m certainly not one to gate-keep Star Wars fandom or keep people from enjoying what they enjoy. Just know that I’ve given the first two episodes multiple chances, still think they’re awful, and realize they’re not for me. I’m done with them.

Continuing the action chronologically, I started watching the Clone Wars series. I liked the first Clone Wars series on Cartoon Network back in the day and was bummed when I learned it was no longer canon. I’ve watched a handful of the “new” Clone Wars series so far and they’ve been okay. I’m not a fan of the animation style and it’s definitely skewed toward a younger audience with characters like the Padawan Ahsoka, but at least they seem like they’ll be more entertaining than the first two movies.

If not, then I’ll skip the rest of the series and amend my original challenge to include only the movies.

November Writing Challenge Day 28: Thankful

I’m blogging every day this month. Some will be game-related, but this challenge is different than my most recent play-a-game-and-blog-about-it challenge. I’m writing a single post every day: no topic guidelines, with some posts being a collection of random thoughts. Click here to read yesterday’s post.

Today I’m thankful for my family: my wife, my stepdaughter, my parents, my brothers, their wives, and their children.

I’m thankful for the meals I share with my wife. Whether it’s cooked at home or eaten at a local restaurant, I treasure this time. We eat, we talk, we laugh, and we re-connect every time we’re at the table together.

I’m thankful for conversations with my stepdaughter. I always look forward to talking to her when she’s home from school. It never ceases to amaze me how much she’s changed over the years.

I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made while playing board games. You never know who you’re going to meet at the tabletop. I’m fortunate to have gotten to know such fantastic people.

I’m thankful for the way the hobby has changed my life. This was one of the first Tabletop videos I watched years ago … and this was the latest episode of Game the Game that I was on. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: if you would’ve told me five years ago that I’d be on a YouTube show playing a board game I would’ve thought you were crazy.

And for those who take the time to read my words here and elsewhere on the Internet:

Thank you.

November Writing Challenge Day 27: The Irishman

Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Shutterstock (10428408cl) Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, and Harvey Keitel ‘The Irishman’ film premiere, Arrivals, 57th New York Film Festival, USA – 27 Sep 2019

I’m blogging every day this month. Some will be game-related, but this challenge is different than my most recent play-a-game-and-blog-about-it challenge. I’m writing a single post every day: no topic guidelines, with some posts being a collection of random thoughts. Click here to read yesterday’s post.

If you haven’t see The Irishman yet, this is your one and only warning that there are spoilers below.

Like most of my friends and family, I’m a big fan of Martin Scorsese’s gangster films. From Goodfellas to The Departed, they’ve entertained us for years. Many moons ago when I lived with two of my good friends it seemed like there was always one of Scorsese’s movies playing on TV.

I was excited for The Irishman, especially when I heard it was being released straight to Netflix after a limited theatrical run. The cast shown in the previews was like Murderer’s Row of my favorite gangster actors: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel. This had all of the makings of another classic Scorsese movie.

I watched it tonight and it’s good, really good. But not great.

As seen in the trailers, Frank Sheeran is a mob hitman who eventually finds himself becoming friends with union leader Jimmy Hoffa. Framed as a look back at a life of crime, there are elements of Scorsese filmmaking throughout the nearly three-and-a-half hour runtime. There are tracking shots, sudden bursts of violence, and men being MEN. There are scenes that make you laugh. And there are loads of fantastic performances, highlighted by DeNiro, Pesci, and Pacino.

But after my first viewing, I didn’t get the immediate “Wow, what a movie!” feeling I got from other Scorsese films. The last half hour or so is different than his other gangster movies and, for me, it was the most interesting part of The Irishman. DeNiro’s character is coming to grips with his mortality, his non-relationship with his estranged daughter, and the crimes he’s committed. It’s a more meditative tone and fits in quite well with the rest of the film.

So although I had a lukewarm response to it, I’ll watch it again, just like I do with most of Scorsese’s movies. Perhaps my opinion will change after another viewing or two. I remember thinking Casino was basically just Goodfellas in Vegas until I’d watched it a few more times.

The Irishman doesn’t have the “big” scenes of Scorsese’s other gangster films; there’s no coked-out Henry Hill frenzy or Nicky Santoro brutality. Instead, we get a more drawn-out and contemplative look at a life of crime. It’s one well worth watching, even if it’s not one of my favorite Scorsese films. Yet.

November Writing Challenge Day 26: Ramen

I’m blogging every day this month. Some will be game-related, but this challenge is different than my most recent play-a-game-and-blog-about-it challenge. I’m writing a single post every day: no topic guidelines, with some posts being a collection of random thoughts. Click here to read yesterday’s post.

Nothing beats ramen on a cold night.

My wife and I visited Japan a few years ago while our daughter was studying abroad for a year. It was an awesome 10-day trip and we’re always talking about taking another trip there.

We stayed in Tokyo the entire time and thanks to our daughter we got to explore the city like locals, since she’d already been there for six months when we showed up. The public transportation is efficient and clean, and we never needed to use our non-existent Japanese to ask for directions.

Around the neighborhood where our daughter was staying were a few local ramen shops and we ate at one in particular a few times during our stay. In fact, we ate at a different ramen shop nearly every day we were in Tokyo. I thought we would’ve gotten tired of it, but we didn’t.

Of course, the ramen is better in Japan than back home in the States. Every bowl of ramen was deeper in flavor, fresher in ingredients, and cooked better overall. We liked the efficiency of the local shops: once you entered, there were little kiosks where you entered your order and paid, then sat down and gave the server your ticket. A few minutes later and your piping hot bowl of ramen was placed in front of you.

We learned basic etiquette on the first night we were in Tokyo, like slurping is OK but rubbing your chopsticks is not. We also learned to love the library quiet of all of the shops we ate in. The locals enjoyed their meals with a minimum of chit-chat and there was no music blaring or sports yakking from any televisions.

Besides the ramen itself, it’s the whole dining culture that I miss the most. When we came back home, we noticed how LOUD American restaurants are. It took us awhile to really enjoy a nice meal out, and we’ll still mention Japan whenever we sit down at a local eatery and get bombarded by noise.

The bowl pictured above, unfortunately, is not from Japan. It’s a tonkotsu from our local ramen joint, which would shutter its doors within a week if we were in Tokyo. But we’re in the Inland Empire of Southern California so when we’re craving ramen and don’t want to make the long trek to Los Angeles, this is the best we can do. If it was better we’d probably eat it more often. But even if it was I’m not sure we would: like all of the restaurants here, it’s LOUD.