Tag Archives: games

My Life with Games (part 26)–Agricola

It’s Father’s Day, and that seems like a good day to blog about Agricola (pronounced “agricola“).

If you don’t know, Agricola is Uwe Rosenberg’s board game about…farming. No, seriously. That’s what it’s about. You have a little player board with your farm, and you take actions like “Plow Field” or “Bake Bread” or “Build Fences” to build and develop your farm. At the end of the game, whoever has developed the most diverse farm is the winner. There are twelve different categories to score points in. Things like how many cattle you have or how much grain you have or how many family members you have earn you points.

Ah yes, family members. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

Agricola is a worker placement game. This means that the center board is something like a menu of available actions. You take your turn by placing one of your workers on an action and doing what it says. That action becomes unavailable for the rest of the turn for everyone else. This is where a lot of the tension in the game comes from. You sit there thinking, “I really need to take that wood for fences, but there are a lot of sheep over there, which would also be good. And maybe I should expand my hut to make room for a baby.”

Because, you see, everyone starts with two workers (the farmer and his wife). But, over the course of the game, you can gain up to three more workers by having children. Yes, the time scale of the game is a little vague, but it means that you can gain the ability to do more work on a turn by having children to help you. (There’s also an animal breeding mechanic, which means that this game is also full of SEX!)

Of course, having children is expensive, because of the harvest mechanic.

The game is played over 14 rounds. At the end of rounds 4, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 14, there’s a harvest. At this time, you must pay two food for each of your family members. How do you get food? All kinds of ways, really. You can eat vegetables or grain. You can bake bread out of grain for more food. You can slaughter and cook animals. Pretty much all the ways that you’d think. Of course, this means that you probably need a good oven to have a good food conversion rate.

And if you don’t have enough food, you have to beg. Each food that you don’t have earns you a begging card, which is worth -3 points. You need to understand that most of those twelve scoring categories earn you four points at most. Even one begging card is enough to brutalize your game. A few, and you may as well yield the game.

Agricola wants you to try to get ahead, but it will punish you for not feeding your family. Harshly.

And so, that’s what gameplay becomes. You try to juggle your resources between the need to maintain your farm and family and the desire to “get ahead” in victory points.

It might be obvious by this point that I have a fairly complex relationship with Agricola.

Let me be clear. I think that the game is a wonderful design, fully deserving of all the acclaim it’s received. I love how the game can be easily expanded and tinkered with through the modular Occupation decks. I love the feeling of seeing your little farm grow and develop over time. If I had a physical copy, I’d totally pimp it out with animeeples and vegimeeples, just like everyone else does. I love the effect of “planting” a stack of three grain in a field and harvesting over time. It’s just so cool.

And I respect that Agricola is a game about the common man. You’re not being heroic. If anything, Agricola glorifies and dignifies the everyday occupation of the ordinary individual, living a quiet life. It’s not a game about conquest. It’s a game about the regular rhythms of life. In this way, it’s truly beautiful.

In fact, it does such a good job of modeling the everyday occupation of the ordinary individual that it can stop being fun.

I don’t do the budget in our family. Crystal is much better at handling finances than I am. Nevertheless, I feel the fact that we have limited resources with which to raise our six children. And it’s hard, sometimes, to make all the necessary choices and sacrifices to try to get everyone what they need and still somehow to “get ahead”, whatever that means.

Sometimes, it’s a struggle just to get good food on the table.

Admittedly, we’re not subsistence farmers, and we’ve been closer to the edge than we are now. And yet, the constant vigilance over spending, the constant demand from some area of the household that is lacking funding, the long struggle to save up enough to get that nice thing, the raiding of those savings when an unexpected expense arises…. All these things manifest in some way in Agricola.

And if you get it wrong, your children go hungry, unless you hang your head, swallow your pride, and beg.

It’s rare that subject matter in games gets to me. After all, I’m the guy who loves Diplomacy, remember? But Agricola strikes awfully close to home, and I play boardgames to escape my life, not to engage it. (That’s why I play roleplaying games…but I digress.)

And, until recently, this is where I would have ended this post. But a couple of things happened over the last few months which have also affected my relationship with Agricola.

The first is that I was a playtester for the Agricola iOS app which just recently released. (Check it out! My name is in the credits and everything!) Given my relationship with Agricola, this may be something of a weird move. But I figured that, since I wasn’t a raving fanboy of the game, I’d actually be able to offer a different perspective to Playdek. Also, honestly, I wanted the chance to test something for Playdek. They did a great job, by the way. (Check out this trailer, from just before it released. So cute!) Somehow, through a combination of the cuteness of the game and the ease of play, this app sold me on a game I’d been ready to do away with.

Second, as part of preparing for some game design work with Crystal, she and I played Agricola for the first time in a few years, just the two of us. Our previous games had been four- or five-player games, and we found that two players was much more forgiving. (Rosenberg’s game Le Havre is similar in this regard.) It makes me wonder if maybe four- and five-player Agricola is better suited for more advanced players. But two players was…well…it was kinda fun!

With this sudden increased exposure to Agricola again, my respect and appreciation for the game has increased. The fact that Playdek very generously gave the testers a copy of the iOS app helped, too. Now I can play whenever I want.

And maybe my initial emotional reaction has faded. Maybe additional system mastery has enabled me to better maneuver through the game and be more successful. I certainly think that the time I’ve spend with Le Havre has enabled me to better understand Agricola. I still think that I prefer Le Havre and Caylus to Agricola. But perhaps my relationship with Agricola has been salvaged, which is good.

But still, there’s a little uneasiness for me. Because Agricola is not escapist, and it touches on economic realities that shape my everyday life. And that’s just not as relaxing as I’d like my boardgaming to be.


My Life with Games (part 25)–Jungle Speed

If I were to consult my log of games played on Boardgamegeek, I’m confident that I know the game that has logged the most plays. It’s not Netrunner or Tigris & Euphrates or Go or some other deeply intellectual game that I’ve waxed eloquent about.

Nope. Rather, it’s a small yet boisterous game called Jungle Speed. Even allowing for the short length of a game, I have logged many, many plays of this game. More than any other by a sizeable margin.

This merits some explanation, I think.

Hmm. In this case, a picture might help. This picture shows all the cards and pieces from Jungle Speed. (Except that this picture has one of the silly plastic totems, instead of a proper wooden totem.)

So, that hourglass-shaped thing is the totem. It goes in the middle of the table. Then you deal the cards out to the players, so everyone has a stack of face-down cards. Then, starting with whoever won the last game, you take turns flipping cards over from the top of your stack into a new stack in front of you. Oh yeah, an important note: you need to flip the card away from you. No fair peeking before everyone else sees.

This continues until the weird shape on top of your face-up pile matches the weird card on top of someone else’s face-up pile. Then both of you grab for the totem. Whoever gets it gives his face-up pile to the other player, then puts all his face-up cards on the bottom of his deck.

There are, of course, special power cards that mess with the rules. The “Color Match”, which makes cards match on colors and not shapes. The “All Flip”, which makes everyone flip a card simultaneously. The “All Grab”, which means that everyone can just grab for the totem.

Continue until someone gets rid of all of his cards. That player is the winner!

The space where I brag

I’m good at Jungle Speed. Really good. Like, I don’t want to brag, but I’ve played with some of the fastest players at GenCon, and I emerged victorious many times. But that’s not why I’m writing about Jungle Speed. (Well, maybe a little bit.)

Jungle Speed has become an important part of our local gaming culture. It allows us to be loud, obnoxious, trash-talking jerks in an environment where that is completely expected. Playing Jungle Speed around here involves macho posturing, bombastic trash talk, and the occasional application of physical violence. (Come to think of it, it’s a bit like professional wrestling, except Jungle Speed isn’t staged.) Players have been pulled around tables during grabs for the totem. This has broken a couple of tables. Actually, when Crystal built our newest table, it was designed with Jungle Speed in mind. It’s a pub-height table, in part to require standing play of Jungle Speed and therefore reduce the incidents of table-dragging. It worked, too. The grab struggles have now shifted to roll around the table edge. Design for the win!

Because of the ridiculous nature of the game, it has also produced the most epic stories of gameplay. Like the time that Raquel was playing after her appendectomy and was dragged across the table because she didn’t have the good sense to let go. Or the time that the table broke during play and we continued the game anyways, holding up the tabletop with one hand and playing the game with the other. Or the time that Jeff and Katrina ended up tussling on the floor in a fight for the totem–and Katrina *won*. Or Ralph’s Jungle Speed scars. Or the time that Samuel was sleepwalking and ended up joining the game. And so on and so on….

Now, Jungle Speed doesn’t actually have to be this violent and aggressive. In fact, the rules as written are a bit tamer than how we tend to roll. And, to be fair, not everyone is as keen about the intensity level of Jungle Speed, preferring to watch the insanity, rather than participate. For that matter, I don’t always have the energy to participate myself. It can be quite draining.

And here’s where I could make the deeper game design point about a game being more than the sum of its parts or talk about the role of local culture in shaping games or that kind of thing.

Instead, I’ll just reiterate that I’m the best Jungle Speed player that I know, and I accept challenges. If you want to step up, you know where to find me. Remember, you can’t leave the table until you’ve won at least once.


My Life with Games (part 24)–XXXXtreme Street Luge

Thrill to the awesome exploits of the XXXXtreme street luge community*. Cruise tracks and pull radical maneuvers just like your favorite sliders*. Experience the high-riding life of fame, fortune, and adventure*! Look vaguely like Vin Diesel!

“This may be the best thing ever posted on a livejournal*.”–Elizabeth Shoemaker

*back cover text is almost entirely made out of lies

–the back cover text of XXXXtreme Street Luge.

When I started this series, I wasn’t expecting to write about XXXXtreme Street Luge. For that matter, I had totally forgotten about it and its impact on my life. And, really, why would I be writing about a game that I played exactly one time?

But last Saturday, suddenly, I remembered XXXXtreme Street Luge, and I knew. I knew that I had to write about it.

What is a roleplaying game?
What is this game?
How do I play?
What is this book?
Who am I?
What am I doing here?
Why are you holding a knife?

–the opening text of XXXXtreme Street Luge

XXXXtreme Street Luge is a roleplaying game designed by Ben Lehman (of Polaris fame). It is freely available at his website. In fact, you should just go read it now. It’s just 12 small pages. No, really! The pages are the size of 3×5 cards. You’ll finish it in no time. There’s even a picture! Of Vin Diesel!

(I knew that would do the trick.)

Back? Good. Doesn’t look like much, does it? But I think that it’s a brilliant game. Or, at least, a game that figures large in my emotional understanding of myself.

So, I’m going to break the game down for you as a way of getting at my point. (And because I know that some of you decided to skip reading the game.)

You all play street lugers who look vaguely like Vin Diesel. That’s actually how you create your character. Of the seven stats, you pick three in which you are like Vin Diesel. These are rated as 8s. Everything else is randomly generated with a six-sided die.

(Note: there are special rules for playing this game if you are, in fact, Vin Diesel.)

You also have fame, which is equal to the number of people who think you’re famous. You start with a fame of 1, because your mom thinks you’re famous.

Oh, right. You’re also supposed to pick three goals for your character that have nothing to do with street luge. These are things like “Get a better job than my current soul-sucking one” or “Get a date with the pretty girl from Accounting” or “Finish writing my novel” or whatever. We’ll come back to these in a bit.

The game is then played in two phases: luge and bullshit.

Permit me to explain.

During the “luge” phase, you play out a post-luge hangout at someone’s house. You’re all laughing and talking about the latest race, which one of you won. The point is to share little snippets of retrospective about the race.

That’s right. You don’t play out the race. You play out the telling of the story about the race. You then draw cards to determine if your stories earn you prestige, which is temporary renown, which can turn into fame. So, that’s cool. More fame means more people thinking you’re famous for being an amazing street luger!

Of course, if you don’t gain any fame, then you lose a point of fame, because you’re obviously a washed-up has-been.

Then, during the “bullshit” phase of the game, you focus on the rest of your life. You choose one of your goals and try to achieve it with one of your stats. This requires drawing three cards and having their values all be less than your stat value, which can be up to 8, if you recall. If you manage this feat, then you succeed at that life goal!

Then, back to the luge phase.

Now, a couple of twists. If you have the highest fame, you’re allowed to use your fame to accomplish a goal instead of using one of your stats. That represents getting your fans to help you accomplish your goal. So, it’s good to be the king, right?

And then there’s the other twist: dropping out. You can decide to quit street luging. This means that you aren’t around for the post-luge banter. This means that you’re not earning prestige, so you’ll begin to lose fans. But, instead of drawing three successful low cards to complete a goal, you only have to draw one. Your days in street luge are over, but maybe you can finally finish your novel.

Whoever completed all three of his goals first is the winner.

dedicated to all the dudes on the Forge
–dedication from XXXXtreme Street Luge

I’m pretty sure I played XXXXtreme Street Luge in the summer of 2009. (Yeah, for those of you keeping track, that’s the period of this blog post.) But it was definitely the closing of an era.

The Forge was folding up. It was a long slow process, but it was inevitable. The diaspora of the community was dispersing some of the best people to parts unknown. The discussion wasn’t as sharp as it had been. The life and joy were disappearing.

It was the death of a scene. Even if you’ve never been involved in hobby gaming, surely there’s been some scene that you’ve been a part of. Something that was wonderful and vibrant and beautiful and…you know…important. A part of your life. And then, one day, you woke up to find it slipping through your fingers.

And you even wonder if it had ever been as important as you once thought.

And that’s exactly what XXXXtreme Street Luge is about. It is a critique of the Forge scene, circa 2008. It is sending up the scene in all kinds of ways. The “luge” phase is about posturing in Actual Play posts .The fame mechanic is about micro-fame in a niche of a niche. I particularly appreciated this bit from the frontmatter of the game: “This is an ashcan, which is indie-gamese for ‘I didn’t do any playtesting.'”

Unfair? Maybe. Incisive? More than I care to admit. Funny? Well, yeah, though in that uncomfortable way that really true things can be funny.

And, still, whenever I read the rules about dropping out, it hits me in the chest. Hard.

Because maybe we were all lying to ourselves when we thought that we were changing the world. Maybe we just had stars in our eyes and folly in our hearts. Maybe we were just too idealistic. Maybe we valued this thing too much.

Maybe I valued it too much.

But I didn’t want to let go.

I still don’t want to let go.

And XXXXtreme Street Luge stands in my mind, forcing me to face hard questions. Do I love the games? Or do I just love the acclaim? Am I actually engaging with my life? Or am I just hiding from it?

But it refuses to answer the question. Because the game holds out the possibility that it can be done. Sure, it’s really hard, but you can actually achieve your goals through street luge. You don’t have to give up one to have the other. Maybe you really can have it all.

And I was planning on ending here, but I think I’m going to go one further.

Because, while I’m willing to own my past faults, I’m not willing to allow the world to define what is valuable, either. There are many who would look at what I love as being a waste of time, before they return to their own games of business, politics, and success. Is climbing the corporate ladder–or growing an organization–really more valuable than my design? Or is that just another way of looking for micro-fame, just in a different niche of a niche? Why is crafting a thing of beauty not considered “serious”, but yielding your identity to achieve organizational fame is somehow acceptable and “important”?

I have learned that people get defensive about topics, not because they have strong beliefs in those areas but because they want to have strong beliefs in those areas. I want to believe that what I do has value. Maybe one day I’ll believe it enough that I can stop defending it.

Lest I wrap with self-pity or melancholy, I’ll close with this. The Forge Midwest convention was this last weekend, and apparently people were playing XXXXtreme Street Luge. From all accounts, they were having a blast.

Because, really, who doesn’t want to look like Vin Diesel?


My Life with Games (part 23)–Minecraft

I’m totally cheating on this entry, but I wrote a guest post for Pete Figtree on why I love Minecraft, and it seemed to fit with this series, so I’m including the link to it here.

Community Voices: Seth Ben-Ezra’s Top Five Reasons He Likes to Play Minecraft

Enjoy!


My Life with Games (part 22)–Diplomacy

I have read many articles on strategy and listened to many “old hands” talking about the Lepanto or the Hedgehog, Juggernauts, Steamrollers and such like. However, when it comes down to brass tacks, the only really effective way to win is to have at least one good alliance. In a seriously competitive game it is the opponent who knows the one RIGHT way to persuade players to ally with him who will win through every time. The answer? THREATEN YOUR OPPONENTS WITH PHYSICAL VIOLENCE.–Jeff Smith

Time to talk about another one of my favorite games: Diplomacy.

If Go is the gaming equivalent of spiritual harmony and enlightenment, Diplomacy is its dark mirror, a game of lies, treachery, and deception, and no, I’m not repeating myself. To play Diplomacy is to enter a pit with six other combatants to knife fight in the mud and dark.

Diplomacy is also the most engaging game that I’ve ever played. I don’t mean merely that it holdsmy interest, though certainly it does. I mean that I can feel that the whole of my being was being tested by the game. The game requires your mental acuity, your political prowess, your skill in dialog, your short- and long-term planning ability, your tactical abilities, and your intestinal fortitude. The only thing missing is a test of physical endurance, though dealing with the crawling sensation in your gut as the time ticks down to the revelation of orders could come close.

Diplomacy is also, surprisingly, a game with historical merit. For a relatively simple ruleset, it manages to capture all the geopolitical hotspots in Europe. Play this game, and you’ll understand why World War I happened.

Diplomacy is a triumph of game design. Playing Diplomacy is a gaming experience like no other.

Rules

Diplomacy is the art of saying “Nice doggie” until you can find a rock–Will Rogers

The rules to Diplomacy are not as elegant as the rules for Go, but they come surprisingly close.

The seven players take the roles of the seven European Great Powers at the beginning of the 20th century: England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Russia, and Turkey. The game is played on a map of Europe, which is divided into fifty-six land regions and nineteen sea regions. Thirty-four of those land regions are supply centers, which are significant areas to control. Each Great Power starts with three of these centers as home centers (except Russia, who gets four) and the remaining twelve begin the game as neutral. The number of supply centers that a player controls sets the number of units he has on the board, so gaining (and losing) supply centers is how you gain (or lose) units.

Units come in two favors: armies and fleets. Armies go on land, and fleets go on sea (and coastal land regions).

Only one unit can exist in a space. Therefore, in order to enter a space, you need to be stronger than anyone else entering that space. Since all units are of the same strength, you need to have additional units supporting your move to be successful.

Can other players’ units support you? Of course they can!

There’s no randomness in this game. Success is based purely on the support you’re able to muster.

You win by capturing eighteen of the thirty-four supply centers, which is just over half of the available centers.

Now, there are some rules for disrupting support and for using fleets to convoy troops, but that’s essentially the game in a nutshell.

Well, except for one important bit. Players don’t take turns in this game. Instead, they write down orders for each of their pieces, which are then revealed simultaneously. What this means is that you can’t count on that other player actually supporting. You need to hope that he will do what he said and write your orders accordingly.

Combine this simultaneous revealing of orders with the zero-sum realities of the board (to win, you will have to take territory from your neighbors), and a vicious game rapidly emerges.

So, gameplay alternates broadly between two phases. During the diplomacy phases, you run around to six other players, trying to broker deals, pass (mis)information, coordinate attacks, and generally try to get a sense of what the game state actually is. Then you submit and resolve orders, based on your diplomacy.

And then you pray.

Lather, rinse, repeat, until someone wins, or a peace is negotiated. In this case, everyone still alive shares the draw.

Lessons

Diplomacy is more than saying or doing the right things at the right time, it is avoiding saying or doing the wrong things at any time.–Bo Bennett

I tend to judge my entertainment and media fairly strictly. Part of the measure for greatness in my book is when a work expands past its boundaries to instruct me in life. I’ve shown how Go fulfills the criteria, but Diplomacy has had a similar impact on my life. I’ve learned a number of valuable life lessons from playing and reflecting on Diplomacy.

Diplomacy has fundamentally shaped my understanding of planning. More than anything, Diplomacy reinforces the sentiment that I’ve seen frequently expressed: planning is invaluable, but plans are worthless. When you play Diplomacy, you absolutely must have an all-encompassing plan. And I don’t just mean for yourself. I mean for everyone. You must determine the actions that all the Great Powers must take, and then you must determine what you need to do and say to make those actions occur. At the same time, you have to understand that this plan that you have devised is almost certainly not going to happen. Of necessity, you will have to revise your plans or simply discard them and improvise in the face of the unexpected. The end result will look nothing like what you had envisioned, even if you win. But, without a definitive plan, you will be without a foundation for improvisation and iterative planning. Instead, you will be flailing, and the other players will be able to tell. And the sharks will begin to circle.

In a related lesson, Diplomacy has taught me to be careful in assigning blame to myself when plans go astray. Yes, it’s definitely important to evaluate your performance to see if there are lessons to learn. But sometimes, the answer is that there simply was nothing to be done. Sometimes you did everything right, but it still didn’t work out. I think that this is a hugely important life lesson.

Another lesson I learned from Diplomacy has to do with…and here words fail me. I’ve sometimes talked about professionalism or maturity, but I don’t feel like those quite capture what I’m talking about. This is the quality of being able to control your emotions in service of the greater good. It’s about being able to identify the power dynamics of a situation and act accordingly. Sometimes this means humbling yourself in front of someone who just clobbered you. Sometimes this means being magnanimous in victory, turning an enemy into an ally, albeit reluctantly. If you don’t know how to kneel, you will be eliminated quickly. If you don’t know how to manage your conquests, you will breed resentment and sow the seeds of your defeat.

A related thought has to do with the role of lying in the game. Every novice in Diplomacy revels in being able to lie, cheat, and deceive in this game. This only proves that they don’t really know how to play the game. Diplomacy isn’t about lying. It’s about building trust. Sometimes, it can be about betrayal, but even betrayal first requires trust. Some players have bragged that they’ve been able to play effectively without ever lying. This is how. They are able to build coalitions and maintain those relationships I the face of difficulty. You know, like actual diplomacy.

But there’s more.

If Go has taught me about relating to God, then Diplomacy has taught me about how I relate to my neighbor. And that’s not always pretty.

Remember how I said that you need to approach Diplomacy with a comprehensive plan? The way I’ve expressed this in the past is that the game presents you with six tools that you’re going to use to win the game. Some of these tools are the weapons you’re going to use, some of them are going to be your patsies, and at least one of them is probably going to be the Boogie Man that you’re going to demonize. Everyone has a role to play in the story you’re about to tell. There’s just one problem. This sort of thinking is essentially dehumanizing. Ally or enemy, you don’t have their best interest in mind. They are all tools to be used and then discarded.

And I could be pretty good at it, too.

And so, Diplomacy continues to reinforce for me a basic truth: I’m still a bastard who needs Jesus.

But there’s more than just that.

Back when I was playing a lot of Diplomacy, I was considering my behavior in games as opposed to my behavior in life. What were good things that I did in games that I didn’t do in life? As I evaluated my play of Diplomacy, I came to a conclusion. When I play Diplomacy, I play as a teacher. I actually enjoy equipping people to succeed at their goals. Of course, in the game, I wanted them to succeed at goals that helped me. But teaching is actually core to how I interact with the other players, and it’s something I do in real life.

I’m a teacher, someone who works in the difficult of guiding and advising people as they seek to be successful. Diplomacy taught me this, too.

But I think I’m done with Diplomacy. In part, I don’t feel like I have the excess capacity to devote to playing the game well. My responsibilities have increased over the last few years, and I just feel too tired to put quite that much into a game. But more than that, it requires me to draw on parts of myself that are probably put to better use in more positive ways. But I don’t regret the time that I spent on this game. If you have a chance to try it, you absolutely should.

But it’s time for me to move on.


A little more about Go

A really cool thing happened the other day. Based on my article on Go, Tim Koppang wrote an accompanying piece about Go and values that are impacting his life. You really should go read it. It’s okay; I’ll be here when you get back.

Finish it? Good stuff, eh?

And it resonated deeply with me, and not because Tim chose to cite me. Rather, I appreciated the concept of limits. In his conclusion, Tim writes:

The Chinese invented Go, and I would like to think that their game reflects some of the values espoused by [Michael] Wood: cultivation of inner space and the acceptance of limits. I would also like to think that I can be happy within the confines of my own personal limitations, free from the materialistic symptoms of my unease, in pursuit of a goal that I will never quite achieve. In that pursuit, I hope for fulfillment.

This is the first week of Lent, and so my church is moving through a study of the Ten Commandments in the weeks leading up to Holy Week and Easter. For various reasons, we’re going through them backwards. So tonight, at the midweek service, Charlie spoke about the tenth commandment, which is the prohibition against coveting. He spoke about coveting being a turning away from the good life that God is giving us and rather searching for our own idea of a good life, even if it means taking our “good life” from someone else.

Coveting is fighting against the limits that God has set on my life.

After I read Tim’s article on Monday, I found myself walking up and down my street, rolling around the idea of limits. It felt so right.

The general flow of a game of Go is that, early on, the players are sketching out broad areas of territory. Over time, these boundaries are challenged and, through conflict, the true boundary lines are solidified. Finally, all that is left is the small shuffling of the final details into place, as the territories claimed by each player become apparent. We begin with dynamism and end with stasis. But not just stasis; rather, a peace. The conflict is over, and a deep accepting begins. These…yes…these are the true boundaries of our territory.

And I found myself looking around my home, my land, my neighborhood that I love so dearly. And I could see the boundaries that God has placed around me, has placed around the good life that He is giving me. And I could all the more clearly hear His call to accept this good life, to embrace what He has given, to explore further the territory He has given me.

And for the first time in a long time, I found peace.

“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:6)


My Life with Games (part 21)–Go

Go is to Western chess what philosophy is to double entry accounting.–Trevanian

I’ve never really sat down and figured out which is my favorite game. I’m not sure that I could fairly answer that question. I love so many games, and I find that most games are heavily dependent on the social context. So I wouldn’t normally say that I love a particular game as much I might say that I love playing certain games with certain people. This is a developing attitude, I admit, but it’s one I’m trying to cultivate.

But if I had to choose–if I were dumped on the proverbial desert island and could only take one game–I would choose Go.

If you’ve never seen a Go game in progress, click through this link for a picture and some basic information. It’s such a simple board. Lines and stones. Yet, what a fantastically profound game.

Let’s talk about how this game is played, and then I’ll tell you why I love it.

Go is played by two players on a 19×19 grid of intersecting lines. Starting with Black, each player takes turns placing a piece (called a “stone”) on an intersection (called a “point”). After each move, if a stone or group of stones is left with no adjacent empty point (called a “liberty”), that stone or group of stones is captured and removed from the board. A player may also pass, which is his way of saying that he sees no move that he considers to be valuable. If both players pass, the game is over. At this point, each player counts up the empty points he has surrounded and subtracts the number of stones that his opponent captured to determine his score. High score wins.

There. That one paragraph explains 95% of the rules of Go. It might seem like there’s not all that much to it.

Until you begin to play.

For better or worse, the game that Go is most often compared with is Chess. As such, you get quotes like the one at the top of this post. But it’s not really a fair comparison. Chess is a battlefield confrontation, with cavalry charges, flanking maneuvers, shield walls, and the like. As such, Chess is ultimately a tactical wargame that rewards the coordination of a combined arms force. Go is something else entirely. I could make the case that Go is more of a strategic wargame, but I almost think that it’s better to consider Go as being completely independent from the wargame genre altogether. I know that it sounds like a case of special pleading, but Go is less about war and more about…life. Or insight. Or wisdom. Or something like that.

Chess rewards superior generalship and the martial spirit.

Go rewards superior insight and the perceptive spirit.

No, that’s not quite right, either. Sigh.

But when I play Go, I feel like I’m participating in something deep and profound. This quote seems to sum it up well:

Beyond being merely a game, to enthusiasts Go can take on other meanings: of a nature analogous with life, an intense meditation, a mirror of one’s personality, an exercise in abstract reasoning, or, when played well, a beautiful art in which Black and White dance across the board in delicate balance.–Terry Benson

Very few games engage me in all these ways: mentally, physically, aesthetically, spiritually. But Go never fails to do so.

The mental challenge of Go is perhaps the most obvious reason that I love it. While it is possible to play Go on a smaller board, the “correct” board size to play is 19×19. This is really, really big. Conceptually, think of four chessboards, arranged in a 2×2 grid. That would be a 16×16 area, which is still smaller than a Go board.

Then, imagine trying to play a game of Chess on each of those boards simultaneously. Oh yeah, and on your turn, you’re only allowed to make a move on one board. And checkmate on one board means you lose everything.

That’s what Go can feel like. There’s a definite sense of managing activity in distinct areas of the board that aren’t relating to each other.

Except that they do relate to each other. One quality of a skilled Go player is the ability to see the details of a tactical engagement without losing sight of the larger impact that the moves being made have on the entire board. Every stone placed on the board sends ripples of meaning throughout the entire board, influencing and impacting every stone that has been placed.

Also, while it may not be apparent at first glance, Go has plenty of room for style. So, a particular move isn’t just “efficient” or “sub-optimal”. It can also be “daring” or “conservative” or “uncertain”. This quote seems to sum up the mental appeal of Go well:

The board is a mirror of the mind of the players as the moments pass. When a master studies the record of a game he can tell at what point greed overtook the pupil, when he became tired, when he fell into stupidity, and when the maid came by with tea.–Anonymous

In this way, a game of Go becomes the record of a conversation of sorts between the two players.

Now, if that were all there were to my love of Go, it might be interesting, but you might be justified in thinking that I am overacting a bit in my effusiveness about this game.

But there’s so much more.

I own a number of boardgame apps for my iPad. Assuming that the designer did a good job of making the translation, the experience on the iPad is comparable to the physical game experience. Indeed, in some cases (like Carcassonne), I almost prefer the electronic experience. The computer can tally the score, track the game state, and do all the petty administrative details that often occupy much of the playing of a physical boardgame.

But not Go.

I do own a Go app, which I play to practice. But Go is one of the few games that I prefer to play with physical components.

When I was robbed, one of the things that I lost was my Go stones. I had a fairly cheap set, with little plastic M&M-shaped pieces, and so I’d use them for generic game counters at times. They were in my bag when it was stolen. So, Crystal encouraged me to go out and acquire a replacement set. A nice set. She insisted, and I had to listen, didn’t I?

My new goban (Go board) is a hefty 17″x17″x1″ slab. It’s actually made out of bamboo, which gives it both durability and a beautiful tactile appeal. I love brushing my fingers across my goban. The stones are 3/4″ in diameter and made from glass with a powder coating providing their color. They are contained in two wooden bowls, complete with lids. In other words, it looks a lot like the set depicted on this page. Part of the joy I get in playing Go is in being able to physically interact with this board and these pieces.

Go has taught me other things about physicality. For example, one common lesson is to wait to take a stone from your bowl to play until after you have decided what to play. One reason for this is that holding the stone makes you impatient to play it. Therefore, you put yourself in a position to rush yourself, instead of adopting a posture of calm consideration.

As Yamamoto Tsunetomo might say, this understanding extends to all.

Both mentally and physically, Go is a beautiful game. It is undeniable that it is a deep game. However, all of this depth of play emerges from an incredibly simple rule set. Go defines the quality of “elegance” in games. Nothing else even comes close. Beyond this, the physical components are beautiful to see and to touch. For that matter, when placing a Go stone correctly, there is a particular “click” that is enjoyable to hear.

Unlike many competitive games, Go does not encourage an attitude of aggression towards your opponent. Indeed, in a very real way, the game consists of two opponents coming to a place of harmony and peaceful co-existence. This quote sums it up well:

You’re striving for harmony, and if you try to take too much, you’ll come to grief.–Michael Redmond

Indeed, one of the first things that I have to teach new players is that it is not necessary to attempt to interfere with everything your opponent is doing. Go is not a zero-sum game. Sometimes, to cite yet another Go proverb, you should just “[g]ive your opponent what he wants”.

As a result, Go has produced a community of play that is very friendly and open to newcomers and outsiders. One Go proverb states, “Use Go to meet friends.” This is encoded deep in the culture that this game has produced. Your opponent doesn’t exist to be defeated. Instead, we are together pursuing the study of this great game. There’s almost a sense of a shared meditation happening when the game is played well.

Additionally, instruction is a significant part of the game. It is common for opponents to discuss the game afterwards, both seeking to learn from each other how to improve their play of the game.

Conversely, it is understood that playing Go means being a student of Go. An individual game can be won or lost, but the ultimate goal is to better yourself. One commonly cited Go proverb says, “Lose your first fifty games of Go quickly.” It is through patient study and embracing of failure that you improve your play. Just as the game of Go encourages taking the long view, so too does the study of Go require taking the long view.

For myself, I learned much of what I know of Go by spending time on the Internet, playing with those patient enough to engage a beginning player. Where many Internet game communities can be punishing to outsiders, I was encouraged and affirmed in the game. Even my beginning, fumbling play was applauded, while I was simultaneously instructed how to perform better. The values that Go engenders were communicated to me, and I have sought to pass them on to others. I do not claim to be a great player–or even a good player–but I will happily teach what I know.

And there’s something in all of this that is spiritual. Go embodies so many values that I consider to be important, and so I find that playing Go teaches me to be a better person. Go teaches me to pause, to consider, to meditate upon consequences. Go instructs my intuition. Go teaches me to be at peace with my neighbor. Go teaches me to move aggressively, but only when the moment is right.

And, Go teaches me about God.

As I’ve said, the play of a single stone causes ripples across the entire board. As such, masterful play in Go is about making moves that take advantage of these multiple meanings. A single stone, placed just so, can change everything.

And that’s how God moves in this world. When He wills a thing to happen, it does not merely have a single meaning or effect. Rather, He places a stone upon the goban of the world, and everything changes.

Everything.

And, somehow, He meant all of it.

I don’t get to play Go as often as I’d like. Because I’m usually teaching the game, I’m limited in finding opponents that I can learn from. Instead, I tend to run in cycles. As I return to Go, I bring with me all the lessons I’ve learned elsewhere: lessons about other games, lessons about tactics and strategy, lessons about life. As I return to Go, I discover that I have somehow advanced in my understanding. What was complex or beyond my understanding has suddenly become clear.

And then, as I leave Go, I take with me all the lessons I’ve learned about Go and apply them everywhere else.

I study other games to learn how to play games better.

I study Go to learn how to live a better life.


My Life with Games (part 19)–Now What?

“He wondered briefly what it would be like, working all your life for one zaibatsu. Company housing, company hymn, company funeral.”–William Gibson, Neuromancer

The works of William Gibson introduced me to the Japanese term “sarariman”. A salaryman. A company man. Starts at the bottom of the company and rises to the top. Has a measure of security paid for by conforming to the larger organization. Life is explained in terms of the company, of the job. Company housing, company hymn, company funeral.

I never wanted to be a salaryman. My ambitions have never been about power and position. I want to make beautiful things. Not even useful things, though I’m not opposed to that, I guess. I want to make things of beauty and wonder. Things that are totally frivolous and yet filled with meaning because they are frivolous. Art, poetry, games. To quote from Dead Poets Society:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

I never wanted to be a salaryman. So how did I end up here?

I started off this series talking about how it was therapy for me. I’m glad if this has been useful or interesting to all of you, but, honestly, my first audience was myself. I needed to tell myself my own story, remind myself that I truly believed some things were of value, that they really are of value, dammit, no matter what they say.

So, I guess that worked. But now what?

I wish I knew.

As I’ve thought about this, I’ve formed this idea. An artist needs two related communities: a community of fellow artists to work together and develop their ideas; and a community that is his audience, that he is making art for. Once upon a time, the Forge provided me with my design community and my design audience. Now that’s gone. So, where do I find my communities?

Do I need to broaden my sense of art? Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of “experience architect”, which seems to combine several aspects of design that interest me. This is my attempt to name the intersection of game design, game mastering, DJing, party planning, and user experience which seems to fascinate me. Maybe there’s something in this. Somewhere.

Here’s one thing for sure. I don’t want to hide in my games anymore. I want to be able to delight in games, which, paradoxically, means that I need to not seek my delight in games. Jesus talked about seeking the kingdom of God and trusting God to provide (Matthew 6:33). I have to be straight with you: I’m not really sure how to do that. After having been a Christian for thirty-five years, it really seems like I should. But I feel like I’m working on unlearning what I’ve been told it is.

It’s not about political activism.
It’s not about personal morality.
It’s not about “being nice”.

It’s wherever people love God by loving each other. And Jesus said that this kingdom of peace will spread throughout the entire world.

And, in that kingdom, there’s a place for me.

I’ve never felt like I’ve really belonged somewhere. There’s always some reason why I’m on the outskirts looking in, and I’ve spent the last several years having that reinforced.

But that’s changing. And maybe, in the middle of it all, I’ll begin to learn that Jesus actually likes me and has a place for me where I belong and fit. And maybe, if I learn to believe that, I’ll be able to put down my fears and insecurities and doubts and live boldly and make beauty.

Over the last couple of years, I was introduced to the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi: finding beauty in aging and change, understanding that all is journey, not destination. It teaches me to find joy in the journey, to embrace impermanence, to accept failure and mistakes as part of the process, to learn that everything is a work in progress.

That I am a work in progress.

And that makes me beautiful.

I am beautiful.

***

What does all this mean for my life with games? Some snapshots:

Last Friday I ran Dread for the gaming group, which is the first time I’ve GMed in a year or so. It went well. Next up: Tech Noir, I think. I’ve only been promising it for months….

Showdown continues to poke its way towards completion. A busy spell at work interferes, but that will soon pass.

There’s lunchtime gaming at work. Honestly, the biggest reason I haven’t participated is because I’ve been writing this. Maybe time will permit more participation on my part in the near future.

Ralph and I have discovered Leviathans, which probably needs more attention from us.

More Netrunner cards are being released, and Crystal and I are ready to start deck building.

And who knows what else the future holds?

***

So, Dad, this was all your fault. Hope you’re happy. 🙂


My Life with Games (part 18)–But Hope Was Not Yet Lost

In Polaris, whenever a player character is introduced for the first time that session, you use the ritual phrase “But hope was not yet lost, for [name] still heard the song of the stars.” Honestly, in Polaris, that can be an increasingly inappropriate entry, given the tragic nature of the game. But not all stories are tragedies.

***

But hope was not yet lost, for Seth still heard the song of the stars.

***

I am a Christian. At this point, “Christian” means so many different things, that I feel I need to define what I mean.

I believe in a Creator God, who made the whole world especially for humanity.

I believe in a God who has extended His hands to us in love by sending Jesus to bring us back to Himself.

I believe in a God who hears the cry of His people.

And in the day of my distress, He heard me.

***

I have an irrational love of the Fantasy Flight boardgame Android. From a designer’s perspective, I could levy any number of complaints at it. But I love it, warts and all. I love its scope. I love how it humanizes its characters in ways that I’ve not seen in any other boardgame. And, honestly, I love it because it’s cyberpunk and because it’s kinda like Blade Runner and because it has a space elevator in it.

I’ve already mentioned how Netrunner was a big deal to Crystal and I. And what a beautiful design! But, I felt that it was not served well by being released as a CCG. So, at some point in 2011, I was considering all this, and I thought, “It would be really neat if Fantasy Flight were to acquire the license to Netrunner, reskin it to fit in their Android universe, and release it as a Living Card Game.” Ah, daydreams.

(For those of you who don’t know, a Living Card Game is similar to a CCG, except there’s no random distribution of cards. Each set that you buy has the same cards. So, there’s deckbuilding but not chasing of cards.)

Cut to April 2012. I’m stepping out of staff meeting to, uh, tend to business. So I check my email and find that Jason Blair wrote me with some news he knew I’d want to hear.

It turns out that Fantasy Flight acquired the license to Netrunner and decided to reskin it to fit their Android universe and release it as a Living Card Game.

Funny tangent: the staff meeting was largely a presentation on computer security.

***

I’ve heard people offer the idea that God is concerned with the big stuff in the world. You know, galaxies and nations and pollution and hunger and things like that. Not the production schedules of game companies in Minnesota.

But they’re wrong.

***

The announcement said that FFG was aiming to release Netrunner in the third quarter of 2012. I could read that code. That meant “we’re aiming for GenCon but don’t want to actually promise it in case something goes wrong”. Hey, I can respect that.

But somehow, that release date was a sign. In my mind, Netrunner stood for an earlier age: an age where I was more innocent, where Crystal and I were close to each other, where life was peaceful. God told me, “Hang on until August. It gets better in August. I promise.”

***

I believe the world is full of signs and wonders. I believe that God is speaking all around us all the time, but we’re just not paying attention. There are times when your sight is sharpened, though, and you can see what you’ve been missing. This happened to me when my mother died and when Crystal’s mother died. I suddenly found that I was moving through a world of meaning, where everything connected in ways that suddenly made sense.

And that’s what happened this summer.

***

On July 31, 2012, I turned thirty-five. This was a big deal for me. Thirty was supposed to have been a major milestone, but there ended up being interpersonal drama on that day that tainted it. I wanted a do-over. I wanted thirty-five to be the birthday that my thirtieth hadn’t been.

My big birthday party was going to be on Friday. On my birthday proper, we kept it quiet. Well, Ben-Ezra quiet. I came home from work, and there were presents from my family. Then Crystal and I went out to eat at Flat Top Grill (one of my favorites!) and then saw Brave at the theater.

It was late by the time we left the theater, and as we were walking to the car, we saw a bat circling it. It was a big bat, too, with banded wings. Suddenly, the parking lot felt very lonely and desolate and a bit creepy.

So we hurried up and got in the car. Then, as I looked out of the windshield, I saw a praying mantis perched on one of the wipers. Crystal said, “It’s a praying mantis! That means that we should pray!” She was being a little silly, but when is it a bad idea to pray? So we prayed. Then I tried to get the praying mantis to leave, but it wouldn’t. I didn’t want to get out of the car to brush it off, so I just started driving, figuring that it would hop off as soon as it felt the air moving.

It didn’t. Instead, it clung to the window and hung on, even as we drove down the street.

As I said, I’m a Christian. And that means I believe in demons. Yeah, for real. Crystal and I have known that demons have been attacking us for a long time. And, somehow, all of that was bound up in that mantis. I’m not saying that the mantis was a demon. All I’m saying is: signs and wonders. The mantis represented all the terror and horror and darkness and pain and sorrow of the last several years.

Then, suddenly, without warning, the wind blew, and it was gone.

***

Since that night, we’ve seen praying mantises around our house on a couple of occasions. Always they are climbing on the windows, like they’re trying to get in.

I’ve never seen mantises around here before.

***

And since that day, it has been getting better. The darkness is lifting. I am healing. It’s a back-and-forth struggle sometimes. I still feel the darkness of depression stalking me. My health is not as good as it once was. I still feel fragile.

But for the first time in years, I feel like things are getting better.

And, finally, my copy of Android: Netrunner arrived.

And, people, it was every bit as good as I remembered.

***

In the book of Joel, the prophet records a promise that God made to Israel:

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.

(Joel 2:25a)

He has made the same promise to me. I don’t know where we’re going from here, but He has promised to make all of it new. He will restore the years that I lost to fire and doubt and depression and fear.

Because He is my Hope, and it is His song that I hear.


My Life with Games (part 17)–A Time of Darkness (2009-2012)

Gene Wolfe is known for writing complex novels with odd, unreliable narrators. His series, The Book of the Short Sun, is set on three planets: Blue, an ocean world; Green, a jungle world; and the Whorl, the generation ship that brought humans to Blue and Green. In the story, Green is inhabited by the inhumi, vampire-like aliens who feed on the humans. So, of course, our hero, who is narrating the story, ends up on Green.

And the language changes. He talks about the events on Green in the third person, not the first. The chronology is all weird, too. He throws out these little fragments of memory, like he’s trying to avoid talking about what happened to him. There’s a sense that the events on Green were just so horrible that he still isn’t prepared to talk about it or think about it. So he’s sneaking up on those memories in his mind, approaching them obliquely so that he can talk about them without having to fully engage the horror of what he had seen and done.

***

I’ve been debating if I’m being overly melodramatic with my titling here. But, from my current perspective, as I look back over the past few years, they have been bleak.

I’ve been blogging since April 2005. I look back over my blog archive, and I see a pattern. Up through 2008, I posted frequently. Twenty to thirty posts a month was common. Starting in 2009, it drops to just a couple of posts in a month. Sometimes it’s only one post.

Sometimes it’s none at all.

***

For years, when we’d drive past the Residence Inn, I couldn’t even look at it.

***

Things started to slide in January 2009, which is when Crystal’s mother died. Yes, both of us lost our mothers when they were both fairly young. On the way back from the funeral, we were robbed. Someone smashed a window in the rental car and took a bunch of our stuff.

Reviewing my blog from the time, I can see that I was getting tired. Having a little one in the house can definitely contribute to that, and maybe that’s all it was.

***

I was violently ill in the spring of 2010. I took some time off work and spent all of it being sick.

I would hug myself as I’d sit. In body language terms, this is called “self-comfort”. I curled up in myself.

***

It was November 29, 2009, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Crystal and I were hacking together leftovers into Sunday evening supper. The kids were eating in the breakfast room. Gabrielle was up in her room, watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer with a friend. It was a normal evening.

Gabrielle and Raquel came downstairs to say that the light in Gabrielle’s room had dimmed oddly. Huh. Okay. So we went upstairs and looked. Nothing. I think I said something about telling me if anything else happened when I heard a popping sound from the laundry room. I rushed around the corner in time to see blue sparks shooting from the ceiling.

Due to the layout of our house, I was about as far as oen can be from the electrical breakers. But somehow I covered the distance in record speed, stopping only to grab the flashlight that I always carry in my bag. When I threw open the basement door, smoke billowed out. But down I went.

Crystal tells me that she saw me disappear into the smoke and was afraid she’d never see me again.

***

We live in a neighborhood that can be rough, so we established a code word. We tell the kids that if an adult says “Danger”, it’s time to stop arguing and asking questions and just obey. Everything will be explained later, but do whatever you’re told, even if it seems ridiculous.

Danger was invoked. Those that were older grabbed those who were younger and fled the house.

Downstairs, I moved quickly to the breakers and threw them all. The house was plunged into darkness. I emerged from the basement and called 911.

The house was swarming with firefighters, who quickly established several things. First, the situation would have been much worse if I hadn’t thrown the breakers. Second, the wiring in the house was in a disastrous state. The battalion chief was peppering me with questions which I couldn’t answer, which eventually convinced him that I wasn’t responsible for the state of the wiring. Which is good, because he was furious.

The house wasn’t up to electrical code. Therefore, he declared it to be unsafe and had the power to the house killed until repairs could be made.

Then everyone left.

It was 8:30 pm. An hour before, it was a normal Sunday. Now, I stood alone in the dark in my breakfast room. The remnants of dinner were scattered over the table, left when people had fled.

The Christmas village in the front room was dark.

And I broke down and cried.

***

We ended up at a hotel.

Other fire victims were there. We heard horror stories. The man who opened the door to his baby’s room and saw the wall behind her engulfed in flames. The woman who had been fighting with her insurance company about her fire and had been at the hotel for a year.

Crystal and I ended up at the house a lot, fighting to get the adjusters to listen to us. For a while, it looked like they were going to deny our claim entirely.

We’d watch television every night until it wore us out, because otherwise we couldn’t sleep.

***

Moving through the house was like walking through a tomb. You don’t realize how much of the feel of a place relies on things like warmth and light. I felt like I was passing through the ruins of my home. I was without a home.

Hope learned to crawl at the hotel.

I remember when we drove away from the neighborhood to go to the hotel. I felt like I was leaving everything. I felt the loss of safety, of security, of home. I was homeless.

We celebrated Christmas at the hotel.

Crystal and I would try to escape by going down to the pool until late so that we could talk without waking up the kids in the other room. It smelled like chlorine and fatigue and fear.

I was so afraid.

***

In September of 2011, I took a weekend and went on a spiritual retreat. I started by driving to the Residence Inn and sitting in the parking lot. It was a step.

In July of 2012, I returned to that parking lot, because I wasn’t done facing it.

***

We lived out of a hotel for a month.

We were homeless for a month.

There is a hole in my mind, and it is one month long.

***

For years, my soul was trapped in a dark, dead, cold house; in the rubble of my life; in the darkness and cold that swept into my life and covered everything.

I’ve sought comfort in alcohol. I’m not too proud to say it. It dulled the pain enough so I could function. I’m not talking about being drunk or anything. But my consumption went up sharply. I had discovered absinthe, which is still really tasty. But, even more, I liked that it made my pain ease. I once told Gabrielle, with tears in my eyes, that I only felt happy in those times when I was drinking it.

I’ve sought comfort in games. I’m not too proud to say it. Games can be very distracting, and I tried to throw myself into play and design to hide from my pain. But I had no energy or desire. I wanted to want, but I was so tired that even doing things that brought me joy was too much effort. I’d buy games mostly because I was trying to find that happiness that was eluding me.

***

There was more.

In January 2011, I was been promoted to Director of IT, and as I began to make some preliminary assessments, it became clear that our situation wasn’t just bad; it was disastrous. Not to mention the relocation that I was trying to coordinate, which wasn’t going well at all. Every day at work was another day of uncovering disaster. It was overwhelming.

In February 2011, we left our church to find another one. Over the course of the year, this resulted in significant drama that left us bloodied and drained.

I was afraid.

I was exhausted.

I was alone.

***

I look back at these fragments and I can begin to see what was happening. But, at the time, I was just trying to keep my head above water.

And I was failing.

***

A couple weeks before the fire, I bought the third edition of Space Hulk, which is everything I wanted it to be. My brother and I played a pile of it, even before the fire. So, a few days after the fire, I’m talking to Jonathan. He’s expressing his concern, and it’s all good. Then he leans over in his “I’m being silly and serious all at once” way and asks, “Did Space Hulk make it out?”

That still makes me laugh.

By the way, yes, it did.

***

One Friday while we were at the hotel, several folks came over and we sat in the dining area downstairs and played games like Space Hulk and Dominion until entirely too late.

***

A collection was taken up at our church to help pay for the house repairs.

***

Ralph Mazza took all of us out to see a movie and to hang at his house while we did laundry, so we could get out of the hotel for a bit. He bought all of us popcorn. All of us.

***

When my stuff was stolen out of our car, several of my games were in my bag, including my copy of Breaking the Ice. Crystal got in touch with Emily Care Boss, the designer of the game and a friend of mine, who happily provided a free replacement copy for me.

Inside she wrote:

To Seth–

Wishing you always
Double Happiness + the
Joy that you bring to
all in your life
to you.

Love,

Em

***

It has been a long dark pilgrimage.

But hope was not yet lost.

But hope was not yet lost.

But hope was not yet lost.