hair today, gone tomorrow

To say my partner is a good guy would be a profound understatement. He is truly one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met…and I’m not just saying that because I have to share a bathroom with him. For as long as I have known him, he has always made a point of giving to others. Whether it’s his time, his money, or even his most treasured belongings, he’s always happy to step up and help someone in need, and to do it with a smile.

Mark’s most outstanding physical trademark has always been a very long ginger ponytail. He’s always been into heavy metal music and long hair tends to come with that territory. Plus, having a long ponytail was something polite society didn’t really want him to do in the time and place that he grew up, so maintaining it was always kind of an act of defiance for him, a little way of flipping off said polite society and all it stood for.

 

After 30+ years of maintaining the long hair, he’s now ready to give it up, all in the name of charity.  Because, like I said, he has a habit of taking being a good guy to a whole different level.

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He was watching sports on the TV above us. I guarantee it.

The charity he’s choosing to support with this endeavor is the National Immigration Law Center. Unless you’ve been living under an actual rock for the past couple years (is there room under there for me? Seriously, I can bring snacks), you understand why NILC has become so important to so many people. Even so, I still encourage you to click the link above and read more about what they do and how they are helping some of the most vulnerable among us. They are a vital resource in these days of seemingly constant shifting interpretations of immigration law and, quite frankly, human rights.

I’m going to throw up the link for Mark’s GoFundMe campaign below, but I’d like to  point out here that NILC is a four star rated charity and has a direct funding agreement with GoFundMe, so any donations made to Mark’s campaign will go DIRECTLY to NILC, not to his or my bank account. I don’t want any ambiguity on this – we will not personally be benefiting financially from any donations made. Which, of course, is as it should be.

Here’s the campaign link.

If you want to throw a few bucks at it, we’ll love you forever. If you don’t have any money spare but you want to share the link around to get more eyeballs on it, again…undying love. If you want to shut your browser window and forget you ever heard of the NILC, well…you do you. I don’t have the time or energy to be mad about it.

Thanks for your consideration!

escape from FUCK NO Island

One of my coworkers is always coming up with ideas for company outings. Most of them don’t come to fruition because our boss has weird ideas about how we should be ‘in the office’ and ‘being productive’, but that doesn’t stop said coworker from dreaming.

Most of the suggestions are pretty innocuous and well-received. They usually involve going somewhere other than the office and eating / drinking, sometimes with the addition of low-key outdoor activities (like, kick-ball or Frisbee golf. We’re totes not a rock wall climbing crowd). And to be fair, I feel the commitment to the cause of getting paid to do fun stuff on company time is admirable.

Their latest suggestion, however, is enough to make me want to run screaming. They have suggested that we do an escape room.

Escape rooms are pretty much what they sound like: a group of people gets locked in a room and has to try to figure out how to escape via solving puzzles and/or riddles within the room, within a certain time limit. If time runs out, you fail.

You may recall that I did True Dungeon, which is a somewhat similar thing, with my friends back in the summer and a good time was had by all. The key word there is ‘friends’. Friends are people I choose to spend time with because I LIKE being around them. Coworkers…not so much. Don’t get me wrong, most of them are fine in small doses, but the idea of being  TRAPPED IN A ROOM with a bunch of them makes my throat feel like it’s starting to close up. Call it anxiety, call it anaphylaxis…either way, it gets filed under D for ‘Do Not Want’.

Also? The idea of this particular group of people trying to problem-solve their way out of anything is borderline absurd. Most of the people I work with are sales reps who work on a commission-only basis. They have literally no motivation to work as a team – in fact, up until a few years ago, they were actively encouraged to compete against each other. Plus, there are a lot of strong personalities at play. You don’t take a commission-only job in a competitive environment unless you’re pretty confident and most of my coworkers are no exception. So, imagine taking six people who are very used to trying to best each other and sticking them in a room with nothing but some vague clues to part of an even more vague larger puzzle, and leaving them for hours. It would be like a cross between Lord of the Flies and The Office.

No fucking thank you.

A non-fiction novella about my True Dungeon experience at GenCon

One of the events I was determined to get into for GenCon this year was True Dungeon. True Dungeon is kind of like a cross between a haunted house and a D&D campaign, and it’s SUPER popular at GenCon. The tickets sell out in a matter of hours (and the more popular time slots often sell out in minutes). We really wanted to book out all ten spaces of a time slot so that we could do the run with just people from our traveling group, but alas it was not to be. We ended up with five tickets together, so our run consisted of us plus five randos.

Mark (wisely, of course) decided that at least some of us should go to one of the free “True Dungeon 101” seminars offered before we tried to do the actual run, so on Friday he and I spent an hour in class learning all about the game. Turns out this was a really good idea, because Friday night we ended up staying up until 2:30 IN THE MORNING drinking beer and  doing a Magic draft. We were all dragging pretty bad on Saturday morning and I’m fairly sure that if we had rolled up to True Dungeon hung over AND completely ignorant of how the game works, we’d have been in trouble.

So, hung over and hating life just a little, the five of us wandered over to Lucas Oil Stadium to sign in for our run. When we got there, the staff made us sign not one but TWO waivers, which I’ll admit, made me a little bit nervous. I didn’t actually read either waiver though, so I’m not really sure what I agreed to. Hopefully I won’t get sued for writing this.

Anyway.

After the waivers, they gave each of us a wristband and a little drawstring bag containing our starter pack of tokens, then ushered us into a waiting area where we basically stood around in the dark for a while because we were super early. Eventually, we were shown to a “coaching room”, which is a little cubicle with tables set up in a U shape where everyone decides what character they’re going to play, uses their tokens to outfit said characters, etc. The “coach” eventually comes in and writes down everyone’s character sheets, answers any questions and then sends you on your way.

Now, in the seminar it was made to sound like the “coach” actually, you know, COACHED newbs that needed it. There was talk of them helping people pick which character to play, helping them outfit characters, etc. Maybe I read too much into that and had unreasonably high expectations, or maybe it was just that our “coach” had ALSO been up until 2:30 in the morning swilling beer, but he seemed super hands-off. He also could have totally won a Tommy Chong impersonation contest, but that’s really neither here nor there. The point is, I went in expecting a modicum of hand-holding and what I got instead was a few raspy re-tellings of dungeon runs past and a half-hearted scolding for having some of my tokens in the wrong places on the character mat.

After the “coaching room”, we were sent to the skills room where we got a tutorial on how combat works in the dungeon, along with a chance to memorize any of the stuff that might pertain to our characters for skills tests. For example, I played a druid. Druids have spells to heal people and also to deal damage to enemies. I could just cast the spell by telling the GM that I wanted to cast it, but if I wanted the spell to be stronger (ie: heal or cause more damage), I could do a skills test. If I failed the skills test, my spell would still work, it just wouldn’t be as strong…so there’s not TONS of pressure to ace the skills tests, but still. We’re nerds and it’s the principle of the thing, you know? My skills test as a druid was to identify different leaf shapes when shown pictures of them (elm, maple, oak, etc…not made-up ones, thankfully! That’s exactly why I went for being a druid, in fact. I know leaves. I’m not sure WHY I do, but I do). The wizard had to be able to give the names of a bunch of different symbols, the cleric had to be able to tell what certain beads did…or stood for…or something. I’m iffy on that one because I was too busy trying to memorize the leaves I didn’t already know. The combat-oriented characters like the ranger and the barbarian didn’t have skills tests to worry about so they spent their time practicing combat instead. Combat in True Dungeon is done on what almost looks like a shuffleboard. It has a picture of the monster you’re fighting on it, and sections with various corresponding numbers of hit points. You have these little pucks that hold your weapon tokens and have felt on the bottom so they slide across the surface of the board. When you’re in a combat situation, each player takes turns shooting their puck on the board to try and get the highest hit points possible. After everyone has taken a shot, the GM adds up all the hit points and, if the monster is not defeated, everyone shoots again. This continues until the monster is defeated (or kills everyone. The monsters deal damage each round).

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Tokens! Picture taken from http://www.truedungeon.com

Once we were all skilled up and ready to go, we were led through to the actual start of the dungeon. This is where the haunted house bit comes in.  The dungeon is a series of rooms built with partitions, curtains, etc. You work your way through each room, either solving puzzles or fighting monsters. There are no lights on at all. You’re given a teeny little LED light so that you can read your character card in the dark, but other than that the only light sources are from props in the rooms themselves. The adventure we were doing was set in a series of underground caverns, some of which had rock formations, lava pools (which were all lit up from inside to look like actual lava), etc. There were even places where there were little bits of fake vegetation growing out of crevices in the rocks. We were guided through the rooms by a person playing a drow (a dark elf). She had a little clicker that would light up certain things in the rooms, either as part of the puzzle or as special effects. Her delivery was a little stiff, but gods only know how many times she’d had to say the same lines over the course of the weekend. Plus, she was in full kit with a wig and full face paint and it was plenty stuffy in there, so I can’t blame her for being a little unenthusiastic.

There are two separate adventures / campaigns available to play, and you can choose either a puzzle-heavy or a combat-heavy version of the adventure you sign up for. Being newbs with no tokens or knowledge of how anything worked going in, we opted for the puzzle-oriented version of our adventure. Unfortunately, some of the randos in our group had been doing nothing but dungeon runs all weekend, so they had already solved a lot of the puzzles we encountered and weren’t shy about saying “hey guys, the answer is THIS”. It wasn’t catastrophic or anything, but it would have been more enjoyable if we’d all been actually working together to figure things out rather than just being told a lot of the answers. Anyway, the puzzles usually originated from riddles posted on the wall. You had to read the riddle, figure out what the fuck it was talking about (not my strong suit, I’ll be honest), then do the actual thing it wanted you to do. In one case we had to take a bunch of wands with colored light-up ends and figure out the specific order that they had to be arranged in so that it would unlock the door to the next room. In another one, we had to essentially figure out the combination to a lock.  There was one where we had to spell out an incantation to get a big rock to move, and one where we had to put a bunch of different weapons in a specific order according to the number of letters in their names, but certain weapons had to be in certain places in order for things to work. It was fun and challenging, but not like, “this is hard as shit, why did I waste $56 on a ticket back to fucking algebra class” challenging.

At the end of the dungeon we had a boss monster to defeat, then we were ushered out the back to an area where we got our prizes, which were in the form of more tokens we got to pull from the treasure box. Tokens as prizes might sound kind of lame, but because True Dungeon is so popular and because everything is token-driven, there’s actually a really big secondary market for the tokens and some of them are quite valuable. For example, one of our party pulled a rare token that someone else later found for sale at a booth in the trade hall for like $75. Some of the ultra-rares can go for $120 and up. Plus, you can keep all your tokens for use in future runs, trade them, lend them out to other people, etc. If you have a big group of people who all like True Dungeon and collect tokens you can end up amassing a pretty big pool of tokens to draw from, which benefits everyone in the group.

I enjoyed the True Dungeon experience overall…BUT. I have some criticisms (shocker, I know).

First of all, I think it would be better if they could come up with some sort of “first timers” sign-up option which allowed complete newbs to be grouped with other complete newbs if they preferred. And some newbs might very well rather be in a group where someone has already experienced the puzzles and can give them hints…but we were not those newbs. Having people in our group that already knew the solutions not only basically negated the purpose of an entire character in our group (we had a rogue. Rogues skill-test for hints to the puzzles), but it also meant that we were solving most puzzles really quickly and that led to a LOT of time just standing around in the dark waiting for the next room to be cleared so we could go in. It’s kind of hard to keep up the ambiance and stay focused on the adventure when you’re standing around twiddling your thumbs for seven minutes after every puzzle. I just think having the option to say “we as a group are new to this adventure and would like to experience it for ourselves” would be good. And maybe we COULD have said that to the randos in our group who kept telling us the answers, but it kind of felt too late at that point.

Second: after all the reading I did about True Dungeon, I was expecting there to be more live NPCs (non-player characters). We had just the one, the drow that was with us through most of the adventure. I was expecting it to be more like a haunted house where people are in costume doing various stuff throughout the run. And, to be fair, maybe that IS the case in the more combat-oriented runs – maybe there are actual monsters that come out and do things.

Third, the price felt a little steep. Like Mark said afterwards, “it was cool, but I don’t know if it was $56 a head cool”.

All in all, the props were neat, the experience was fun, and I like the idea of making a dungeon run with our group of friends a yearly tradition, but I don’t think we’d ever become those people who basically do nothing BUT True Dungeon all through the con. Once per year is probably enough.

Just kidding about the novella part. I’m only up to 2050 words. That’s barely even a short story. It’s more like an essay that needs some serious editing, probably. Which, really, is the case for any essay I write. And also my life.

My Gigantic Post About Games I Played At GenCon (subtitle: Sorry In Advance)

I promised you a post about the actual games I played at GenCon, and here it is, in all its dubious glory. It’s really long and rambling. You might want a snack. Or, you know, just skip reading it entirely. Trust me, I won’t be mad. I probably won’t even know!
Anyway.

One of the goals I had for GenCon this year was to play actual games rather than to just wander aimlessly and be generally fucking afraid of interacting with anyone. I decided I was going to do the thing and that was that.

Except, then I looked at the GenCon events webpage and got instantly and horrifically overwhelmed by there being OMG TOO MANY CHOICES and I had to spend some time in a darkened room with a bottle of wine.

After a few weeks of making noise about how I really should schedule myself for some stuff and then drinking the idea right back out of my head in short order, I realized that in fact I had only TWO days left until GenCon and I hadn’t bought anything other than generic tickets.

Fuck.

At that point choosing games to play was pretty easy though, seeing as how I had specific time slots to work with and almost everything was sold out at that point. So really, I did myself a favor, procrastinating like I did. Honest!

I ended up booking tickets for three games: Dragoon, Concept and Mythe.

Dragoon was described as a Kickstarter-funded board game where you can “be the dragon”. I like board games and I already pretend I’m a pterodactyl on the regular anyway, so this seemed like a pretty good fit for me. In the game, the dragons (one per player) live on this island that a bunch of humans have invaded. You, as the dragon, can either make friends with the humans and get them to pay you gold in tribute, or you can rampage and smash shit up (both the humans’ shit and other dragons’ shit). The goal is to hoard as much gold as you can (because duh, dragon), and the first dragon to 50 gold wins. There are two cloth boards in the game – the main island map, and another board that is used to track your score. Each of the four dragons is a different metal – gold, silver, copper and…dark? I don’t know, it was a dark grey metal. Anyway, each dragon also has their own lair. During game set-up, everyone chooses where to place their lairs. From there, you then enter a “build” phase where you roll dice and set up little village (or city) cards on the island corresponding to the numbers on the dice. You, as the dragon, then get to move around the island, deciding if you want to torch the human villages for instant gold or claim them so that they have to pay you tribute. If you come to a village or city that belongs to another dragon you can fight them for it…or just destroy it out from under them. You can also sneak into other dragons’ lairs and steal some of their gold. There’s a deck of action cards as well, which let you do things like take extra actions on your turn, move extra spaces across the board, and everyone’s favorite, the “lay waste” card that basically lets your dragon go Godzilla-mode across the island, destroying everything in its path.

I really enjoyed Dragoon. It was quick to learn and there was a lot of potential for fucking people over (which, let’s admit it, is half the fun of many games). The art design was a fun kind of Cubist-meets-comic book style and the dice, dragons, little castles and other movable pieces all felt super solid and of high quality. And of course they were all appealingly shiny. Mmm, shiny! It played relatively quickly – I think it took us about an hour and that was with us getting the full tutorial and lots of hand-holding from the person running the demo. The only real downside I found to the game was a big one: the price. The “special edition”, (which is the only edition available as far as I can tell, although BoardGameGeek shows a non-metallic version), is $75. Considering the quantity of die-cast pieces and all the metal plating involved, that price doesn’t really feel out of the ballpark to me…it’s just not really something I can justify in my budget currently. If there’s a non-special edition available in the near future for significantly less money, I’d be all over it. All in all, I’d say if you have a chance to play this game you should definitely give it a try.

Concept is one of those games that’s so simple it becomes really hard to explain. There’s a game board with a whole bunch of little images on it – everything from shapes and colors to representations of really broad ideas like “faith”, “plant”, “warmth”, etc. You draw a card from the deck with three choices (easy, medium and hard) of words / phrases on it, and then you have to use the game pieces on the board to try and convey the word / phrase you’ve chosen, without using any verbal or physical cues other than placing the game pieces. The goal is for your partner to be able to correctly guess the word / phrase you’re trying to represent on the board. The team with the most points wins.

Concept is super easy to learn but actually guessing things correctly can be extremely challenging, which seems like it could lead to some endless games unless you employ time limits. To be fair, I think probably the fun of the game is much more in the ridiculous things that people end up guessing rather than the accumulation of points. For example, one of the people in the game I played had picked “tea” as their word. They placed tokens on the squares representing hot / heat, liquid / beverage, and plant. We all then sat there staring at the board saying “hot plant water?” over and over, trying to figure out what the fuck that could mean. No one actually ended up guessing “tea”, but we were all still talking about “hot plant water” even after the game ended. There was also a round that proved we were all degenerates because the person representing the word had chosen the tiles for “circle”, “brown”, “happy” and “love”, and more than half of us guessed “anal sex”. It turns out she meant cookies, for the record…but you can see how Concept would be a valuable tool for identifying the pervs in your group if you were so inclined. A good party game, to me, needs to be simple to learn and have the potential for hilarity, and Concept definitely checks both these boxes.

Mythe is a card-based game where you play a mouse hero questing to defeat a dragon and recover the Sacred Cheese. I didn’t actually end up playing it because I opted to play some other games with some friends instead. My brain was pretty thoroughly fried from sleep deprivation at that point and the idea of trying to learn a new game with strangers was giving me the twitches so I skipped it. I hope to be able to try Mythe in the future, though.

Aside from the games above that I bought actual tickets to play, I also ended up playing a bunch of Mayfair board games with some of my buddies. Mayfair gives out different ribbons for demo’ing certain games, and this year after you collected a certain amount of ribbons you got ANOTHER ribbon decreeing you a Knight of Catan, along with a sweet 50% off coupon for some of the games they were selling. My friends were on a quest to get ALL the Mayfair ribbons possible, so that meant playing a whole lot of Mayfair games. Here’s what we played:

–  basic Settlers of Catan, which I’ve played many times before and somehow manage to enjoy even though I continually suck at it.

Costa Rica, which is a tile-based game where you’re an explorer moving through the jungle and collecting animals, but you have to be careful because if you flip over too many mosquitoes your explorer gets malaria or Dengue fever or something and dies. Well, s/he may not DIE, but they can’t collect any more animals for you so it reduces your chances of being able to get a good score (you get bonuses for different kinds of animals, quantities of animals, etc). This game is really fun and pretty easy to learn, although our sleep-deprived brains were making it a lot harder than it needed to be. What we eventually figured out is that the whole game is really just a tile-based version of Chicken: you’re trying to go as far into the jungle as you can without getting mosquito’ed. Sometimes it works…and sometimes you die of Dengue fever with nothing but a box of chameleons to mourn your loss.

Empire Express – a game where you build train routes and then shuttle loads of goods back and forth to try and build up enough money to win. You have to pay for the track you build, though…and some cities only allow a certain number of tracks going in / out…and sometimes you have to pay other players to use THEIR tracks so that you can deliver your goods. So it’s basically Ticket to Ride crossed with Monopoly. This game took us like two hours to play, but the first 45 minutes or so of that was trying to figure out how the hell the game actually worked. Don’t get me wrong, I think Mayfair’s instructions were probably fine…we were just ludicrously over-tired and words stopped making sense pretty early on during this one.  Things quickly devolved into making very crude jokes about dropping loads, there were suspicions of collusion, and our unofficial alternative tag-line for the game became “There’s fucking NOTHING ‘express’ about this game”. I did enjoy it, though I’m chalking about 75% of that up to the company of the people I was playing with. I’d like to give it another try when I’m not hallucinating from lack of sleep, maybe.

Booty, in which you are a pirate trying to stash goods and treasure, accumulate political influence, and populate islands, all to build up victory points. The mechanics are interesting: there’s a deck of cards with all the different “booty” items on them, which the Quartermaster deals out mostly face-up in the middle of the table. The Quartermaster then groups the booty into piles that s/he thinks might be appealing to the other players (or NOT appealing, if it’s something they want to keep for themselves). Player number two has right of first refusal for the first pile of booty. If they don’t want it, it passes on to player number three and on, who can each accept or refuse. If THEY refuse, the pile goes to the Quartermaster. The process is repeated with the other piles of booty until it’s all distributed, then the next turn begins. The interesting thing though, is that the Quartermaster role can be passed off to another player. In other words, if you pick the first pile the Quartermaster offers you, you become the Quartermaster. This can be really advantageous if you’re good at it, but if you suck at it, it can hurt you. So there’s an element of gambling which not only makes the game more interesting, but is thematically clever. I really enjoyed Booty a lot and actually almost bought it…but then I talked myself out of it because I’m a cheapskate weirdo who can’t let herself have nice things. If you’re not a cheapskate weirdo and you like pretending to be a pirate you should totally buy it, though.

Patchwork – a two-player game where each person has a board they’re trying to fill with Tetris-like quilt patches. Buttons are used as currency to buy patches with, and certain patch pieces will net you more buttons each turn than others. You don’t get to just paw through the pile willy-nilly to pick out the pieces you need, though. The pieces are set up in a big circle around the main board and you can only pick up to three ahead of where the turn marker is. You can also choose to not buy any pieces for your turn, which allows you to move your piece ahead of your opponent on the board and net more buttons. There are some pieces you can only get if you pass them on the board, and you can sometimes manipulate it so that you get an extra turn or two if you buy pieces that don’t move you far enough along the board to surpass your opponent. Game play ends when both players make it to the center of the board. Score is calculated by adding up how many blank spaces you have left on your quilt (each empty square counts as two), then subtracting that amount from the buttons you have accumulated. Highest button count wins. This game was really fun, and not just because I’m a Tetris freak. It’s very elegant in its simplicity, but there’s also that underlying element of gambling again – do you spend all your buttons buying a piece you know your opponent would really like, and just hope that you can fill in around it in time to get your money back? Do you skip buying for a couple turns to amass great button wealth, in the hopes that you’ll be able to catch up to your opponent in terms of filling up your board later on? There’s a lot more strategy involved than one might think at first glance.

Happy Salmon – we actually bought this game right before GenCon and brought it with us. It’s a ridiculously silly, fast and fun game. Each player gets a deck of 12 cards which show four different actions: high five (self-explanatory), pound it (a fist-bump), switcheroo (you and the person you match with have to physically swap places at the table), and Happy Salmon (you and another player hold your forearms together and slap each others’ forearm three times). The object of the game is to get through your deck as quickly as possible. Everyone tries to do this by yelling out the name of a card and looking to see if anyone else has the same card. If you and someone else are both yelling “high five”, then you execute said action, chuck the card and move on to the next. If no one is matching what you’re yelling out, you can move that card to the bottom of your deck and try another action. It’s complete and utter chaos, with people fist-bumping and Happy Salmon-ing across the table, running around to switch places, etc. You do need a table where you can stand up and move around so it’s not exactly a play-anywhere type game, but it’s SUPER fun. It could also very easily be adapted into a drinking game. I’m just saying.

Dastardly Dirigibles – this is a card-based game where you have to built an airship. Each airship has the same basic parts, but there are eight different styles denoted by symbols on the cards and you get bonus points for having more coordinating style parts. In other words, if you’ve got an airship with three “wrench” symbol cards, you’re going to earn more points than if you’ve only got one “wrench” symbol and the rest wild cards or something. You HAVE to play part cards in your hand if someone else plays that part, so you can really screw people over by making them replace their chosen style of tail or nose cone with another random one in their hand. There are also action cards that have various ways of screwing people over, like stealing parts from their airship or their hand, making everyone discard a certain part, etc. The game is meant to be played over three rounds with a cumulative score at the end. Even with three rounds, the game goes quite quickly. The art on the cards is neat – they’re basically all variations of steampunky type stuff, but some look more military, some more art deco style, etc. There are plenty of opportunities to screw people over in-game as well, which I find is key to a game being fun for me. What that says about me I’m not entirely sure…ahem. Anyway, I’m going to pick this game up the next time I’m at our local games store, as I think the folks we usually do game night with will really enjoy it.

I think that’s everything I played! We also did a True Dungeon run, which I’ll talk about in a future post because this one has exceeded the bounds of sensibility at this point and I also have to get some actual work done today. Apparently.