November Writing Challenge Day 25: Game Häus Cafe

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.

Six years ago Game Häus Cafe in Glendale opened its doors to the public. I was just getting into modern board games back then and even though it was an hour away, I was excited about my first visit.

My niece and nephew were staying with us during their winter break and my wife and I took them to Game Häus before they went home. I was blown away by how many games there were (“only” 700 then, they now have double that amount) and I loved the comfortable vibe of the cafe. We played a bunch of party games with the kids and I remember having a fun time playing a game of Taboo.

It’s funny reading my Yelp review that I wrote back in 2014: “Speaking of hardcore gamers, I’m assuming they take over the place later in the day/night and on the weekends. I saw multiple copies of Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and other popular games on the shelves.”

Now I know that Settlers and TTR are more commonly known as gateway games but looking back I see how I thought those were more hardcore games since I had no idea what most of the games on the shelves were. I slowly got into games from that day on, occasionally surfing on boardgamegeek.com or watching Wil Wheaton on Tabletop. The board game bug eventually bit me in January 2015, when I ordered a copy of Pandemic as a birthday gift for myself. I haven’t looked back since.

While the games and the menu have changed over the years, the outstanding service and welcoming atmosphere remains the same at Game Häus. I recognize owners Rob and Terry now; they and all of the staff have always been kind and friendly to me over the years and I couldn’t be happier for their success. Thanks to this community hangout spot, I’ve played a lot of awesome games and I’ve made new friends.

Tonight Michelle and I went to the Game Häus sixth anniversary party. I thought how much has changed since our first visit; mainly, how I got involved in the industry. I’ve been fortunate to have great opportunities, from writing for various websites to appearing on the occasional episode of Game the Game on Geek & Sundry. Life really is an incredible journey. If you’d told me during our first visit that my favorite game would be one that can take all day to play or that I would be part of a great podcast team, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Game Häus has been and continues to be an inspiration. It’s easy to point to the staggering number of games and the delicious desserts they offer, but really it’s the people that make this place so special. Sitting for hours and actually engaging with others over the tabletop is something that’s been taken for granted over the years as our electronic devices have become embedded into our lives. Thankfully, Game Häus has been offering a space over these last years that offers an alternative to the daily technology overload.

Cheers, Game Häus! Here’s to many more years of tabletop memories. And shout out to Amanda, Jose, Oscar, Benji, Jackie, Al, John, Lorena, and friends at the celebration tonight. Let’s do it again next year!

November Writing Challenge Day 24: It’s Bruno!

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.

I stumbled upon a random Netflix series called It’s Bruno! last night. I’d never heard of it, but after reading the description I was excited to share my discovery with my wife.

Set in Brooklyn, New York, It’s Bruno! is about a guy named Malcolm and his puggle (pug-beagle mix), Bruno. We have a pug named Bruno and couldn’t believe what we found on Netflix!

Of course, the Netflix Bruno’s life is nothing like our Bruno’s life, but it’s a quirky and offbeat comedy. Each episode is about 15 minutes long, with plenty of cute doggos, and features some sort of confrontation with residents of Malcolm’s neighborhood. There’s Harvey and his dog Angie, who serves as Malcolm and Bruno’s nemesis. There’s Crackhead Carl with his shopping cart full of stolen goods on sale for five dollars each, Malcolm’s stoner buddies, the local pet store employees, and a whole assortment of interesting people.

Halfway through the series I started googling the show’s creator and star, Solvan Naim, a young, talented 22-year-old rapper, writer, actor, and director. There’s a quote in a Variety interview that reminded me of our Bruno: “He’s just a loving dog and he always wants to show you attention. He’s never angry or mad. We can all learn a little something from him.”

Pictured above is our Bruno. He may not have his own Netflix series, but if you ever meet him, you’ll see that he has the same loving personality of the more famous Bruno.

November Writing Challenge Day 23: Ruel’s Holiday Extravaganza

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.

Last year I was asked to join The Five By, one of my favorite board game podcasts. I love the format: five game reviews by five different reviewers, with each review going about five minutes. As much as I used to enjoy The Secret Cabal and other longer-form gaming podcasts, I burned out on the two-plus hour length per episode. Kudos to those who can produce a show like that and there are plenty of people who enjoy the format, but I wasn’t one of them anymore.

That’s why I loved The Five By: it was strictly focused on reviews and cut out all of the fluff. While I still enjoy podcasts where the hosts’ banter is entertaining (like the crew at Board Game Barrage), I loved having a half-hour podcast of just reviews.

When producer Mike Risley asked me to join the team, I was ecstatic. Over the last year and a half, I’ve done 30 reviews and it’s been an awesome experience. It’s not easy doing a review in only five minutes, but thankfully The Five By crew do amazing work that I can draw from. While I have my personal segment format set, I’m always looking to improve my reviews. I’ve learned a lot from Sarah and Mason, who contribute outstanding segments every episode.

This week I hosted Ruel’s Holiday Extravaganza, an episode of five reviews from the show archives. I chose titles that gamers could bring to their holiday celebrations and would work well with various groups: family, non-gamers, hardcore gamers, and complete newbies. These games were also ones that I personally own and have played a lot: Tiny Towns, Just One, Wingspan, Indigo, and Takenoko.

I enjoyed going through old episodes and finding these games to share with our audience. I’m proud to be on The Five By and I’m looking forward to another year of reviewing.

November Writing Challenge Day 22: Court of the Dead: Mourners Call

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.

Thanks to the good people at The Op, I was able to play a pre-release copy of Court of the Dead: Mourners Call earlier this year (I also wrote about it for Geek & Sundry). It was a terrific game; basically, it’s a next-step Blood Rage. There’s this whole back story about the ongoing war between heaven-and-hell and how you’re trying to restore balance to the universe.

Sideshow Collectibles did an amazing job with the artwork and components. The cards are beautifully designed and check out the player board trackers in the photo above: they’re these cool skulls that fit right into the theme of the game.

Along with the box art and the rulebook, this is a fantasy game that reminds me of the summers I spent hanging out with my friend Dave. We were teenagers with nothing to do during the summertime except listen to heavy metal, play games, and talk about girls. It was a lifetime ago, but we’re still friends to this day and while we don’t really listen to heavy metal or talk about girls now, we recently started playing games again.

In fact, we played Blood Rage on his birthday this year and I’m looking forward to introducing him to Court of the Dead: Mourners Call. I’ve already got the soundtrack ready for our game.

November Writing Challenge Day 21: The Phantom Menace

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.

Last night I started my latest challenge: watch all of the Star Wars movies and two of the animated series before The Rise of Skywalker debuts next month. I’m watching them in chronological order, which means I started with Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

I never saw Episode I in the theaters. When it came out I was more interested in going out to the bars with my friends. I thought I’d get around to watching it, but before I knew it the movie was no longer showing. When I did finally get to see it on videotape, I was underwhelmed. I watched it a second time on DVD years ago and was bored by it.

So I wasn’t really looking forward to it when I logged into Disney+ last night. The opening scroll talks about a trade blockade and this is where I knew I was in trouble. Trade talks and politics? Not exactly the best way to kick off The Saga, right?

Within 15 minutes, or about the time Jar-Jar Binks made his first appearance, I was ready to turn it off. Jar-Jar was just as annoying as I remembered him. So was young Anakin Skywalker.

The podrace was cooler than I remembered, but it would’ve been better without the two-headed sports announcers. Did we really need this nod to modern sports?

Liam Neeson and Ewan MacGregor were the best parts of Episode I. Darth Maul was a menacing presence, but like most of this movie the best parts were too short and the worst parts were too long. I remember reading an interview with Liam Neeson years ago where he complained about having to act in front of a bunch of blue screens.

Neeson’s interview was on my mind when I saw part of the Star Wars documentary that’s on Disney+. In it, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford joke about George Lucas’ directing style: “Faster and more intense.”

I thought about that quote as I watched Episode I. For its time, the CGI was the latest and greatest in special effects, and it was obvious that Lucas was more enthralled with these than the actual actors or dialogue. You have all of these great actors in the greatest space opera of all time and all you get is a dull film? What a waste.

It’s no wonder I’ve been watching these films in Machete Order for years. After my challenge, I’m going back to it.

November Writing Challenge Day 20: Star Wars. All of It.

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.

I want to get my money’s worth out of Disney+ so here’s my next challenge: watch everything Star Wars before going to see the final movie, The Rise of Skywalker, next month.

For the last two sequels I watched the Star Wars Saga in Machete Order: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and Return of the Jedi. What is Machete Order? I’ll quote from the original article:

The problem with [watching the films in] Episode Order is that it ruins one of the biggest twists in movie history. If you think that this reveal doesn’t matter since it’s common knowledge, I suggest you watch the looks on these kids’ faces. If a newcomer to the series has managed to avoid having it spoiled for them, watching the films in Episode Order would be like watching the ending of The Sixth Sense first.”

In honor of the final film in The Saga, I’ve decided to watch all of the movies and two of the animated series, Clone Wars and Rebels, both of which I’ve only seen a handful of episodes.

I’m going with Episode Order this time and following the chronology seen above, which is from Star Wars: Resistance Reborn, a book that takes place between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. I haven’t decided if I’m going to do recaps of each movie and series episode or if I’m going to just do a summary of this challenge.

Actually, I think I’ll dig up my log-in and password for my old Star Wars WordPress blog, Lando’s ‘Stache.

November Writing Challenge Day 19: Party Games

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.

I love me a good party game. At last night’s gaming event, I played two of my favorites: Just One and Blank Slate. Both are easy to learn and both are not easy to win. Just One is a cooperative game that gives you a ranking based on how many cards out of 13 you answer correctly. Our group last night did well and scored 9. I always play our one house rule, which is that there is no passing when it’s your turn to guess. If you answer incorrectly, you still lose two cards.

For me, the “let’s pass so we don’t lose another card” goes against the spirit of the game. What’s the point of everyone writing down clues if the guesser is just going to pass? I’d rather have them take a stab in the dark and risk losing two cards than playing it safe and losing only one card.

Blank Slate is another word game that’s been well received with my main gaming group and everyone I’ve played it with. The last two Mondays it’s hit the table with a lot of new and casual gamers.

For a competitive word game, Blank Slate is outstanding. It’s easy to learn and it’s perfect for a casual game night. Game play is simultaneous so there’s not much wasted time: reveal a card, which has a word and a blank, then everybody secretly writes a word to fill in the blank. For example, the clue may be “salt [blank].” See the photo above for what I wrote.

After all players have written an answer, they all reveal them. If your answer matches with exactly one person, then you each get three points. If your answer matches with two or more people, all the matching players get one point each. If nobody matches you, then you get zero points. The first player to collect 25 points is the winner.

I love the Dixit-style scoring in Blank Slate. It creates this fun dynamic of trying to be original in your answers, but not so original or obscure that nobody matches with you.

Games usually take 20 minutes to play and it’s also an excellent icebreaker. The group I played it with last night are new-ish gamers and they absolutely loved it. One of them messaged me tonight to say that one of their friends went out and bought it today!

Nothing makes me happier than hearing someone bought a great game. Whether they decide to dive deep into the hobby or not, we’ll see. But it’s always nice to see them take that first step.

November Writing Challenge Day 18: Wingspan

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.

My first play of Wingspan was at Orccon, the first of three yearly events hosted in Los Angeles by Strategicon. I played with my friends Jac and Ben, who taught the game.

I’d passed on Wingspan when it was announced. The pitch was interesting: a game about birds that was an engine builder between Gizmos and Terraforming Mars. Although I’m a big Stonemaier Games fan, I didn’t think a lighter Terraforming Mars game about birds would be that great.

I was wrong.

After that first game with Ben and Jac, I played it twice at Dice Tower West and it confirmed that Wingspan was something special. The smooth play and the gorgeous components are Stonemaier staples, and I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much I loved this game. But I was.

From the bird feeder dice tower to the beautiful artwork on the cards, Wingspan is a beautiful game on the tabletop. I love that it’s more than just a bunch of nice bits, though; the game play is rock solid and features an easy-to-learn ruleset.

When the European Expansion was announced, I knew I’d be the first in line when it went on pre-order. I received my copy last week and after three games (at the two-, three-, and four-player counts), I’m happy with the expansion. It adds just enough new birds with new actions, both during your turn and at the end of the round, to keep the game fresh.

Best of all, everything I’ve seen while playing the expansion makes for a better and more interactive experience. I love expansions that don’t change too much of the base game; I prefer enhancements to the base game and I’m not a fan of expansions that change things so much you wonder if the base game was properly play tested.

While the European expansion isn’t essential, I recommend it for fans of the game. The additional abilities and bonuses make it easy to re-learn the game on the fly. It makes a great game ever better.

November Writing Challenge Day 17: Highlights of the Week

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.

Three highlights from my last week:

  1. Got to hang out with Meeple Lady and Chris at a local game night. They were traveling back home and I was thrilled that they stopped by for dinner and a coupla games. We played Q.E., which has been a big hit with all of my friends. Check out my Instagram post for more info on Q.E., which is one of my favorite games of 2019.
  2. Continued my Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated campaign. We’re halfway through and it’s been a blast. Read my spoiler-free thoughts here.
  3. Had a wonderful brunch with my family today. We don’t get together as often as I’d like to, but when we do it’s always a good meal highlighted by lots of laughter. I shared some old photos of me and my brothers that I’d scanned recently and everyone was cracking up over them. My stepdaughter, nephew, and nieces laughed at our clothes and haircuts while the rest of us marveled at how much my niece and nephew looked like my brothers. My parents love spending time with their grandchildren and it brings them great joy to see them growing into such good young people.

November Writing Challenge Day 16: 100 Games in 100 Days

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 this year I met David Guthrie, also known as GameyLannister on Instagram. Besides having the coolest Instagram handle, David is also known for his insanely awesome accomplishment: he played BGG’s Top 100 Games in 100 days.

We met when I’d reached out to him via Instagram to see if he wanted to play Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition. I’m on my own quest to play it 10 times this year and I had a game scheduled at Strategicon in L.A. Unfortunately, a few of the players couldn’t make it and we ended up playing a three-player game with Ben O’Steen. It was a fun game with two fantastic gamers and while I still think TI4 is best at six players, I’d happily play it at three again.

As the old saying goes, three-player TI4 is better than no TI4.

Today a bunch of us who’d helped David reach his goal met up at The Dragon & Meeple in Los Angeles. I wrote about this gaming restaurant/bar/game store here and today we ate, drank, and played games in honor of David. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve met through the hobby.

I thought about this on the way home, how fortunate I’ve been to game with David and so many other fantastic people. A few of them where there today and I’m grateful for the times we’ve spent at the tabletop, laughing, talking trash, and enjoying each other’s company.

For me, it’s the best part of the hobby. Yeah, we play all of these fun games, but the games are only as good as the people you play them with. If you’re gonna hang out for hours at a time playing games, I hope you’re doing so only with the best people. I’m fortunate that I do.