Top Board Games From 2018

It is the beginning of the year, so it means we reflect on the year pass. One of the reflections points for me is all the great times spent around a game table indulging in my favorite hobby. With the boon in board games over the past decade, 2018 was another year of stellar titles. It is always hard to pick a list of favorites since there are some titles I never got to play. If there are some games I have missed which you think I should try, let me know by leaving a comment or let me know via Twitter. With further ado, below is my list of favorite titles from 2018 in no particular order:

  • The Mind (2-4 players) - Do not talk, do not signal. The polarizing game of 2018 where players have to play cards in numerical order without talking or signaling to other players. A game consist of twelve levels which correspond to the number of cards each player will receive. The players start with three lives and two throwing stars. When players are ready, the players put their hands on the table and the round begins. Now it is up to the players to figure out who needs to lay down the card first and continue in numerical order until everyone is out of cards. A throwing star can be used if a number is missed by one card and anything greater will cost a life. On certain rounds, players can earn back a life or a throwing star. If the players make it to the end of round twelve, they win! The game can be hilarious to watch if you have no context. One night while playing at a pub, people were coming up and asking questions because they saw people not speaking while laying down cards with a rare moment where a hand was raised to correct the game state or answer a question. Even after playing a few games with people, it can still be difficult to win all twelve levels. The Mind has become one of my favorite travel games this year.

  • War Chest (2-4 players) - Do you love a game with tokens? Do you like drafting? What about strategy games? War Chest is a game from AEG where players fight to control the board by being the first player or team in four player scenario to have placed all their control markers. Before the game gets started, players random select army banners then draft the banners to be part of their army. Each banner comes with a set of tokens and a special tactic. The players take two tokens from each of their banners and puts them in their respected bag. During each round, they will draw three tokens from the bag which players use to perform different actions. The game ends once all control markers for a player (or team) are on the board. After picking up War Chest, it has replaced Hive which was my last favorite two player strategy game. It has a good amount of replay-ability since you never know what banners you will get or draft.

  • Root (2-4 players) - An adorable war game from Leder Games where players assume control of one of the four woodland factions to fight over who will ultimately control the forest. The factions consist of the economic driven Marquise de Cat, the territory focus Eyrie, the mercenary Vagabonds, and the Alliance aka the resistance. Since this is a complex game, I’ve linked a video to help explain how to play Root. We picked up the game at PAX Unplugged which was surprise for us since we heard it was sold out. Sadly, it did not hit the game table until the holiday season, but the wait was worth it. The game has all the best elements from resource management, diplomacy, asymmetric combat. Pick your favorite faction, build up empire, collect all the victory points, and rule over your forest kingdom.

  • The Quacks of Quedlinburg (2-4 players) - A fantastic “push your luck” game from North Star Games where players take turns brewing potions to sell at Quedlinburg each year. Players draw ingredients from their potion bag and put them onto their potion bowl. The whole time they are drawing ingredients, they have to be wary not to explode by drawing more than seven value worth of Poppy. If they do not explode, they are able to get victory points and money which is used to purchase more ingredients. Each of ingredients has a different power based on the alchemy book being used for them. After nine years of selling potions, the player with the most victory points win. The replay-ability on the game is high since there are two potion boards and four books for each of the ingredients except pumpkins and moths. We picked up the game at PAX Unplugged and it has been the one game hitting our table over and over again during the holiday season. It takes the top spot for my favorite board game of 2018.

Aside from the great games which came out in 2018, some favorites from years past continue to be on list of top games.

  • Star Realms (2-4 players) - A deckbuilder from White Wizard Games where two opponents (four with more core sets and expansions) square off for galactic dominance by reducing their opponents Authority to zero. Star Realms released in 2014 and continues to be one of my favorite games to this day. Between the iOS, Android, PC, and the actual game, Star Realms keeping hitting the game table. I highly recommend checking this out.

  • Dropmix (1-4 players) - Harmonix released a music mixing game in 2017 which allows players to put down NFC-equipped cards on a game board. Each card is keyed to an instrument and color coded to different squares on the game board. Once a card is played, it changes the beat of the song. There are a couple different modes from Party where players form a team and play cards to the requests of the game board, Freestyle which allows players to play whatever cards you want to make a perfect mix, and Clash aka the competitive deck construction mode. After a year of being out, I enjoy playing Freestyle just to come up with unique song mixes. You can even save your favorite mixes and share them with the world. Here is an example from Jesse Jones.

  • Azul (2-4 players) - An amazing game from Plan B Games (Next Move Games owns it now) where players collect times to fill up a 5x5 board. Players take turns picking up tiles from one color from either the center of the board or from one of the factory spaces. After pick up the tiles, players fill rows on their game board. At the end of the round and if a row is filled up, they move one tile on their 5x5 board. Each tile is scored and rounds continue until a player fills up a single row on their 5x5 board. There are a couple different ways to earn extra bonus points such as filled up a column on the 5x5 player board. With the easy to learn rules, Azul has become one of my new gateway games to introduce people to the hobby game industry.

Note: The above links use Amazon Affiliate links. I always encourage you to shop at your FLGS, but in case you don’t have one nearby, I’ve included links to buy the games on Amazon.

On the eve of my thirty-second

On the eve of my birthdays, I spend a bit of time doing reflecting on the year and doing a post-mortem with myself. All my thoughts get recorded down in a personal journal then get tucked away to be read a year later. This year is a tad different since I will post them online due in part for my urge to write more publicly and another to provide some thoughts around work, life and the universe. If I were to give a rating to 2018 on a personal level, the score would be a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars. There were many positive moments as mentioned below, but some areas could have been better. The best way to sum up those moments is with the powers of lists. So with further ado…

The following are the positive aspects of 2018:

  • Faced my fear of public speaking by doing three talks – I think most people have a fear of getting up in front of people to discuss a subject which they have passion or knowledge (or any subject really), and I am one of those people. During the year, I decided whenever a speaking opportunity presented itself, I would volunteer to do them. This mental shift forced me to deal with my fears head on which lead me to speak at GDC, TwitchCon Dev Day, Shawnee Game Conference, Twitch Developers’ end of the year stream and one internal event. My fear is still there, but it is becoming manageable with each passing event. Some of the goals I plan to set for myself next year will continue to tackle this fear. For anyone who wants to get into public speaking, Ethan Evans gave me a great tip…stream, stream, stream. The ability to keep talking for multiple hours and keeping content fresh in your head is difficult. By streaming for a couple months on the weekends before GDC and practicing, I found myself more at ease than when I did my first couple talks in 2017.

  • Grew in my career at Twitch – This year at Twitch has been an interesting one. I spoke at multiple events, shipped some big things, put together strategies for my products while assisting with other team’s mission/vision, and started to work together with different teams in Twitch. Through all these initiatives, I was promoted which is always a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. One of my big reasons for success is I have one badass team with me. If you ever ask me to talk about them, you may want to get comfy since you are in for a long story. One of the biggest shifts for me this year was learning to delegate a bit more to other people and take a step toward the balance of product, engineering and business management. I’m still green in some of those areas, but I continue to have some great mentors and teachers as I make this journey.  For 2019, my focus will be on growing my knowledge in those weak areas while maintaining a healthy mix of work and life.

  • Got back into modding – Modding was how I got started with programming; I made SC1 maps and worked on a couple Neverwinter Night mods. I continued to dabble off and on with different games, but I started to fall off after starting to work at Curse. Luckily by working at Curse, I continued to be exposed to the world with CurseForge. Once I started to head up CurseForge prior to acquisition and then other game ugc pieces at Twitch, my mind raced around with new ideas for mods especially with integrating them with Twitch. I released my first Purple Mod, Twitch in Stardew Valley, (see what we did there…) in November. It was a simple concept of posting who is following your channel while you stream Stardew Valley. After releasing it out to the public, the same thrill and rush hit me as the old days. Unlike the old days, I was able to see immediate feedback by watching Darkosto use it on stream (he even found a bug in it). From this elated feeling, my goal for next year is to release a couple mods for games I enjoy playing such as the one I’m working on for Civ VI. I plan to knock it out before the expansion releases in February.  

  • Worked on new board games and assisted with development of another – 2018 is the year I got back into game design despite my mind kicking/screaming along the way. I started working on two projects one codenamed Fae Dreams and another Witching Meadow with Broken Mask Games. Fae Dreams started off as a simple tug of war game (oh look, SC1 maps coming back to me) then it began to transform into battle of Fae Queens teaming up to capture children lost in Arcadia.  I assisted in testing and development of two other titles, Crumbling Temple and Sugar High. Fae Dreams, Crumbling Temple, and Sugar High all made it to GenCon were they were played in the First Exposure Playtest Hall. It was surreal seeing the games being tested out in front of me. Unlike when I develop software, sometimes you don’t interact with your customers directly nor see their eureka moments unless it is through user research. Whenever someone got frustrated or had an epic turn, I was able to feel it. As we head into 2019, I’m going to hone the games more and more with my business partner, Isau, so we can get them ready to be published later in 2019 or 2020.

The following are the not so great aspects of 2018:

  • Work/life balance got out of whack again – Work has a funny way of increasing the time spent on it and this year was no different from me. Until September, I would spend more time on Slack, checking e-mail and responding to non-emergency. I took a stand after I sat up one evening thinking about how long I was focusing on work and not myself. I determined my days would be 7am to 5pm Monday through Friday. Before 7am, I would hit the gym from 5am-6am and after 5pm would be Veigar and me time. I was able to follow this schedule for a couple months before letting the gym days slide sometimes, opening Slack at night, etc. I found by not giving time to myself to learn and explore new things, I lose the opportunity to discover new perspectives and the ability work on myself. When I was working on Gamepedia, I held a strict schedule of 8am-5pm in order for me to be curious on the off hours through working on iOS apps or dabbling with open source initiatives and having time for myself such as going to the movies or playing board games with friends. What does that mean for next year? I plan to hold my stricter schedule (unless it is an emergency or work requires my attention) for most of the year. If I start to notice a shift toward unhealthy balance, it will be time to talk with my superiors.

  • Anxiety levels increased to a not so great point – Back in 2015, I wrote a blog post about my battle with depression and anxiety to help people understand what it means to go through life with it. I started seeing a new doctor last year after have a fun string of panic attacks. Dr. Patrick at Inner Fokus took a different approach to my diagnosis than other doctors. Dr. Patrick used positive psychology and narrative therapy to help guide me back to healthy center of being. It helped for a long time, but during 2018, I fell off the horse thus reverting to some of my older habits such as isolation and non-productivity outside work. There were times where I would cancel plans with friends due to being a ball of anxiety, not show up to Legend of the Five Rings tournaments or just sit around the house binging TV shows. Next year will be getting fresh copy of my old workbooks to work through them and setting up checks to know when I’ve hit all time highs in order to re-center myself such as grabbing a coffee with friends or going to see a movie.

  • Gave up on my reading goals – Each year I set up a reading goal on Goodreads, and this year was a lofty goal of 36 books. My plan consisted of reading one non-fiction and one fiction book each month. It seemed to be a doable goal especially with long walks with Veigar in the evening, traveling to SF each week and enjoying a book with a glass of scotch on the weekends. Like any well thought plan, the plan was disrupted along the way with the twist and turns of reality. Around July, I started to slow down to one book every other month which means I missed the goal by roughly 6 books (I still have time to finish one by tomorrow!). My plan for next year is to drop the count to 30 books but keep the non-fiction and fiction rotation. If you have any suggestions, please let me know so I can get them loaded onto my kindle or iPad in the case of comics.

There are a couple items which did not make the list because either they are a blog post by itself or not even words outside “Yep, that was a thing” from me. The next step in the process for me is to set S.M.A.R.T goals (if you want to learn more, read my blog post from 2014) for 2019. I have not decided if I plan to post those yet as I want to start turning the blog towards my passions around the hobby game industry and personal projects. However, I may post it up on a different part of the site because of my plans to create new sections for things I’m currently reading and games I recommend for people. We shall see, but I know one fact about 2019, it is in a couple days. What? Were you expecting some profound statement or “I’m ready for the new me!”?

 

 

What are the goals for 2017?

Time for the typical post about the 2017 goals! I'll keep this post short and sweet without too much reflection on the previous year. In case you want to read how I approach goals, I wrote about it in 2014. Without further ado, let's jump into the plan for 2017.

Mental HEALTH

One of the big changes I did in 2016 was to go back to seek out help for my anxiety and depression. It has been a slow and gradual process, but improvements have been happening with each passing day. Do I slip? Sure. Do I endure past panic attacks? Absolutely! Is it the end of the world? Not even close. One of the most important goals this year for me is to continue down my current path towards being mentally healthy. Each month there is a set of goals to achieve and new hurdles to overcome. Some of them include professional workbooks while others are actions such as jump start board game nights at my house again. Another way I plan to help tackle some of my issues is writing about them either in my own personal journal or on the blog. As I keep telling myself concerning these goals, it is just one foot in front of the other.

Creativity

One of the muscles I did not stretch last year was my creative muscles. To be honest, I was extremely hard on myself last year to an unhealthy point. The behavior lead to constant start, over analyzing of a project, self-deprecation, and finally stopping the project. It is time to quit that behavior cold turkey. I was slowly easing myself back into the creative groove near the end of last year with the intention of this year being where I find it. If people come to read what I have to say, design, and play, I will be grateful. The most important part is doing it for me. Some of my goals in this category are  as follows:

  • Writing which will focus on blog posts, character templates, random backgrounds, or short stories
  • Picking up the piano again in earnest and learn to play some of my favorite video game, movie, and TV show theme songs (I'm looking at you Star Wars and Zelda).
  • Designing board/card games. I won't talk much about this one...yet.
  • Potentially wrapping up two costumes I've started on and never finished. The good news is I'll be starting from scratch, so I know what did not work last time. 

Reading

My passion for reading has never truly died, but it took a back seat for a long time in favor of video games, work, and just general laziness. I set a reading challenge on Goodreads last year for twelve books which I blew through rather quickly without even realizing it. There was some minor flexing when I crossed the finish line in June. The difference this year is setting the goal higher with a plan to alternate between a fiction and non-fiction book. I want to expand my horizons in literature, so I'll focus on picking different genres and subject matters. Plus, I may slip some graphic novels into my queue since a new trade for Saga is coming out later this year.

Phsycial Health

This is not a goal is where I want the perfect body by beach season. The goal however is to start looking at what I'm eating and drinking each day. I'm no longer in my twenties and want to ensure good health going into my thirties. There is not much to this goal than start to be wiser in my decisions concerning what I'm doing to my body. The rest can come later when I master not eating tons of junk food every day.

No time like the present to get started on my goals. I wish you all a wonderful 2017 and hope you will accomplish anything you set out to do. 

It has been a while...

It has been a long time since I’ve opened one of my text editors to write anything substantial let alone a piece for my website. There were moments where I would double click Byword or Sublime Text, and then promptly close them after a few moments staring at the screen. My mind would go through the familiar emotional cycle of excitement, bewilderment, and fear. The same fear of something being wrong with my brain physically plague me. My mother had a brain tumor when I was in high school, and it has taken a long time for me to realize the irrational fear I have of my own mind being healthy. The same irrational thoughts only combined with my on-going battle with anxiety for an undisclosed amount of time in my life. If you want to know more about it, I wrote about my time dealing with depression previously at the beginning of 2015. My goal with this entry in my blog was to do a fast catchup on life and what has been happening since my last post in 2015. Time to queue up the montage music.

The biggest change from 2015 was my move to Irvine with my promotion to the Director of Web for Curse. My boss called me on my way to PAX Prime 2015 to offer me a chance to head up the web side of the app division. In my mind’s eye, I pictured myself on the west coast to final put down roots and the opportunity to do so was within my grasp. I accepted the offer and prepared for my move to sunny California. Overall the move was painless since the company used Graebel Van Lines to move me out there. I settled in fast and soon after being here, we began work on what would become the new Curse App. If you have not tried out our new version of the Curse App, check it out at https://www.curse.com.  A handful of months later, we would launch the app to the public. My team would shift focus and get CurseForge ready to move from its legacy stack to a more modern stack. We wrapped the initiative up a few days ago; my head is still spinning on getting two major projects completed this year. In between both initiatives, we would be acquired by Twitch. To say it has been a crazy ride in my career this year would be an understatement.

My approaching thirtieth trip around the sun is soon, so a decision was made to see to my mental health. I stopped seeing my doctor a little bit before heading to California. If I am being honest with myself, I was not seeing the results I expected from them. Sadly, I left under the pre-tense of time being an issue with the pending move. After crunch was finished on the app, I began to shop around for different doctors. I cannot stress enough the importance of finding the right professional. Each doctor gave me a different theory, suggested pills, or felt disingenuous toward the plight I was facing each day. I finally settled on Dr. Patrick Aleknavicius from Inner Fokus; it was his data driven decision making which sealed the deal for me. Four months have passed now, and things have gradually been improving each week. One of the biggest takeaways from going back to see a professional is making sure my mental health is a top priority.

One of my friends recommended a book to me called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Act of Decluttering and Organizing by Mari Kondo. During the first couple of chapters, my initial thoughts were skeptical of the techniques being taught in the book. The teachings seem to contradict all the motherly wisdom I received as child for straightening up a room/car/house. However, I began the process last week and can attest to the effectiveness of the teachings. I’ve donated over six bags of clothes, books, and games while throwing about the same in terms of garbage/useless stuff. One of the best side effects of the whole process is the re-discovery of my passions. Discarding the items that did not bring me joy was essentially eliminating white noise. I was left with only items that brought me true joy and passion.

With an urge to change my narrative and finding my passions again, I want to put more efforts into my creative urges. What will this mean for the blog? I am uncertain at this moment, but I know it is probably going to be a huge hodgepodge of my passions, life, and miscellaneous stuff. One thing I know for certain is I won’t make it an obligation to post something each week, but I know I’ll put forth effort each week toward it.

Note: Links on this page do not have referral links for Amazon.

Discovering a New Zen

In a world of information overload and chaotic multitasking, one should find a way to block out the rest of world in order to find internal harmony. My attempts at discovering new zen moments have resulted in failure, frustration, or fruitless endeavors. However, tonight brought about a period of relaxation that soothed the anarchy raging in my skull. My peacemaker is called cooking.

Last year, I received a couple Japanese cookbooks from friends for the holidays. The books sat on my Amazon Wishlist for a couple months while I battled with some internal demons. Aside from the book, my brother gifted me my first rice cooker. Here is the point where I lavish the reader with all the fun recipes I learned over the course of year. NOPE! That is not the story this time around for me. I spent the year looking over more cookbooks and eating out for dinner. 

I began browsing through Simply Japanese  this past week until I found a recipe that did not seem too hard, yet not too simple. I settled on a garlic steak rice bowl. Scribbling down the recipe, my mind jumped for joy at the thought of starting a new hobby. I  quickly ordered some of the missing supplies online. When the day finally arrived to cook the dish, I ran to the store to buy the final ingredients to ensure they were fresh. 

I cracked open a bottle of Sapporo and dived right into cooking the dish. The vortex of voices in my head subsided as I began to slice the cloves of garlic. Anxiety and uncertainty dropped away as the olive oil filled the frying pan. As I toasted the garlic cloves to a golden brown, I did not have a single thought cross my mind. There was only the sound sizzling garlic. Time flew by while I prepared the steak, seared it in the left over olive oil, and cut it into stripes. Before I knew it, I was  stir frying some cooked rice. At the moment of writing this blog post, I can not recall a single thought that entered my mind throughout the time of adding the steak to the  rice mixture. The time came for plating the dinner which brought the exit from my Zen-like state.

There are no pictures of the finished product since I tend to eat my food over photographing it. However, there is calmer mind for me which is worth its weight in gold.  My hope and goal is to keep up with my new hobby and expand my horizons into more cuisine.