Boardgames To Go

Mark Johnson's occasional and opinionated podcast, Boardgames To Go, now has its own blog on Boardgamegeek.
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Recent gaming, an Essen show coming, and a chapter in life

Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
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That's a Palm Pilot on the left, and a pink iPod mini on the right. Yes, I've been doing BGTG that long!
I've got another podcast recorded already, another interesting discussion with Greg Pettit, this time about the value of a boardgame. Not retail (or resale) value, but more of its holistic value. The time you spend, the enjoyment you have...that sort of thing. I won't give more away--I'll save it for the podcast.

But before that goes up, I'd better set aside some time to record my typical "Essen anticipation" episode. There are a ton of personal geeklists that cover this same ground, and now even a separate webtool provided by a clever boardgamer to help you organize your thoughts (or shopping list). I'm neither going to Essen, nor placing an imminent game order, but I still like to window shop at all of the new titles, and play the metagame of determining which ones appeal to me the most...and why. Last year I had more of a system for denoting that, which I recorded in a geeklist and accompanied the podcast. I aim to do the same again this year.

The reason I'm telling you about shows I'm going to post (instead of just posting them), is that I've got a big chapter in life coming up. My oldest kid is leaving for college this weekend. Some of you have gone through this already, and other fathers with young ones don't have to think about it yet. We're really excited for my son, and he's equally excited to jump into this new adventure, but that only lessens the sting of seeing him go. The college is about 7 hours' drive away, so that's a perfect distance for visiting often...but not too often. Best for all of us. Besides the logistics of prepping for college in the final weeks (tuning up the bicycle, getting stuff for the dorm room, troubleshooting our Skype connection, registering for classes, and making the first payments), my thoughts and leisure time have been turned to him more than boardgames. Though he plays them once in a while, the gaming we actually share are co-op videogames. These days, those are almost limited to first-person shooters. We need another good Star Wars splitscreen, dual cockpit game. (Or my favorite stage, when I was the tailgunner in a captured Imperial Shuttle in some game we played together on his old Gamecube.) Anyway, I'll get back into the boardgaming--and blogging/podcasting about it--soon enough.

Funny story about my son & the podcast: If you're a longtime listener, you may recall that he was a "guest" on the show once. That was an episode I did with Dave Gullett, who had his sons on the podcast, as well. This was way back in episode 54, recorded in March 2006. That means my son, who's about to go off to double-major in Philosophy and Plant Biology, was finishing the 6th grade back then. Dave has told me that I really ought to re-listen to that episode. Just last night, I was testing my Skype video connection with Aldie on the other end, and he also mentioned that particular episode, which he still has stored on his old, original iPod. He uses it with a boombox dock for music, but occasionally my old podcast with my son gets shuffled to the playlist and he hears a tiny bit of it again! Podcasting offers some interesting audio snapshots in time, doesn't it? I do intend to re-listen to the episode...but not just yet. Definitely not this week!

(I'm not going to post the actual podcast here, otherwise it'll go out into the subscription feed like a new show. Of course it isn't a new show, and I don't want to pawn it off as one. But if you're curious about it, you should be able to re-download episode #54 in iTunes, or play it from .)

That's it for the personal stuff. How about a little recent gaming?

I introduced the lunch group (which plays every other week if we're lucky) to Coloretto. For the first hand they were a little boggled by my lightning-rules (but complete, thankfully), then it all clicked. They really enjoyed it, proving to me once again that Coloretto is simplest and the best of this mechanism. I think I've tried all of the other permutations, including the dice game, and keep coming back to the original. Lean & mean is best, in my book. Games like this one are why I think designer Michael Schacht has been the heir to Knizia's previous place as the master of the small eurogame. It's why I always take a special look at what Schacht has coming next (a theme that will come up in the Essen preview, of course--scanning for designers.)

The Santa Clarita Boardgamers have played a bunch of things lately, but two I want to point out are Eketorp and Elder Sign. Eketorp is a game I first saw in its barebones edition from designer Dirk Henn's self-publishing (?) house, db Spiele. At the time, it didn't appeal because it didn't look much. Though I saw vikings on the cover, the name sure didn't sound like a viking name to me, and I figured it was a pasted-on theme and I wasn't going to get sucked in. Fast forward several years, and Marcin bought it from a clearance pile. Now I was looking at the Queen edition, and of course they did a fantastic job with the production. They always do. This time, I didn't resist playing the game. Even more important (for me), I did a little research before we played. Hello! Eketorp really is a historic placename. In fact, it's a UNESCO World Heritage site, an Iron Age circular fortress (one of many, actually) on the large Swedish island of Ă–land. Suddenly the game was a lot more interesting to me, and the building of circular fortresses was clearly thematic and historic. Hurray! The fighting between viking clans is probably pretty historic, too, but the collection of resources is very much a game mechanism. I was pleasantly surprised by this under-the-radar game (published first in 2003, then by Queen in 2007). It's worth a look.

As for Elder Sign, you'd be right in thinking this isn't my kind of game. But you'd be wrong in guessing that I avoided it. In fact, it was my copy. I ordered the darned thing as soon as my son's girlfriend brought it up! She was walking past one evening while the gamers were playing, and asked if we'd ever played Elder Sign. None of us had, and though I knew this wasn't my sort of game, she said she'd played a time or two before, and would like to play again. Wow, can you believe it?! I don't know if that will ever happen, and if she'll rope my son into joining us, but it's certainly worth a shot, right? How many gamers like me are just looking for an excuse to buy something new. It wasn't long after that the YouTube channel TableTop featured the game, and the Wil Wheaton effect was felt in our group. (It also helped get Dixit to the table one night.)

We played Elder Sign once, laboring unduly to get through the finicky rules of what's fundamentally a simple co-op dice game. What did I think? Eh. Without the above connection, I wouldn't think much of it at all. But that (potential) connection and opportunity to play with the kids remains, and the other gamers liked it quite a bit. For the moment, then, it's a keeper.

Even if it is fantastical and childish.
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