Azul

azul cover

At its very best, German game design understands the power of a single decision point. One of the reasons it came to prominence in the late 90s and early 2000s is because it was able to present players with several choices between two or three compelling options. This is a delicate balancing act, one that is harder than it looks from a design standpoint. It’s possible to not have enough interesting options, presenting the player with what is essentially a false choice, one good option that is too obvious. The other extreme is to give the player too much choice, something that might be interesting for some, but also can be completely paralyzing. I’ve played countless games that have erred in either direction. That’s why it’s such a pleasure when a game like Azul comes along and shows us how to do it right.

I view Azul as something of a culmination. For most of the 2000s, European games trended more and more complex. There were always simpler titles, but they weren’t driving the conversation. But since the advent of crowdfunding I sense a shift has taken place. Complex game design has veered into more thematic territory, leaving the nakedly mechanical European design school to rediscover simplicity. This has manifested in titles like Splendor and the Century series of games. Like many of the games from the 90s, they revolve around one or two main mechanics, end in roughly 30 minutes, and don’t worry much about providing context for their mechanics. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that such games, notably Splendor, work so well in app form.) Azul is in that tradition, but to me it stands out because it feels like there are two different games going on at the same time. The pleasure comes from watching these two games interact with each other, which they do admirably.

Azul game in progress
The tile draw on our giant scuffed-up table.

The first “game” in Azul comes in the tile selection, which is basically a draft. Tiles are drawn randomly from a bag, and divided into lots. The players then each have the choice of taking every tile of a specific color in one lot, leaving the rest in the middle, or taking every tile of a specific color from the middle. As is true in a lot of great German game design, this is the kind of choice that has a couple layers to it. The first is what you yourself need. As we’ll examine in a minute, you yourself have tiles that you need in specific number. But the other side is that whatever you leave behind can easily be picked up by other players, perhaps combining with other leftovers to create something truly tempting. There’s also the mechanic of giving the first player to pull from the middle the starting token, along with a slight scoring penalty.

The second “game” is how you arrange those tiles on your board. Each player has a 5×5 grid of the five tile colors in front of them, and each row has, in essence, a staging area where tiles of a single color can wait before going on the grid. Once that “staging area” is filled, one of those tiles is moved onto the grid. There are about three different mechanics intersecting here, the first of which is the different sizes of the “staging areas”. The top row only requires one tile to move over to the right, but the bottom row requires five of them. Then of course there’s the scoring, where each new tile placed on the grid generates points immediately, and at the end of the game depending on their final pattern. Finally, there’s the penalty for not being able to place the tiles you took from the draft. If you get a bunch of tiles and have no place to put them, you can take on water in a hurry.

In isolation, these mechanics are well-executed but not particularly brilliant. You might even be wondering why I just spent over 300 words breaking down some pretty standard mechanics. The pleasure is that all of these elements mesh together flawlessly, making a game that goes down so smooth that it takes a while to see how good it is. But then you start noticing the effects of those mechanics. There’s the way you can stick someone with a pile of tiles they can’t use in the draft, forcing them to take a heavy point penalty on their grid. You might start filling a row to move something to the grid, and then you might not see the tiles you need to actually complete it and move it to your board. There’s the different end-game bonuses that can tilt the draft and the grid play in different directions, allowing the player to pursue strategies that won’t pay off right away. Azul isn’t particularly innovative, but its polish and use of established mechanics makes it something perhaps even better: exemplary.

(To be fair, the way tiles move to the grid is pretty interesting, and I can’t really point to another game that does the same thing. But even if it is unique, it’s not very flashy.)

People tend to respond to good game design, which would explain why Azul has been such a huge hit with my friends. Several people have sought out their own copy after playing mine, and it is not uncommon to set up a second game and immediately play again. It functions well with the full range of players, making it a flexible game that not everyone will love, but that most people will at least like.

Azul endgame
The end of a game with my wife. If you look at her score in the upper right corner, you can see that she snuck ahead of me for the win.

Given the way games like this tend to translate well to smartphone apps, it’s sometimes a fair question to wonder why they aren’t just made as apps in the first place. It’s good then that Azul stands out as a physical product. The game is graphically wonderful. Everything from its blue-red-yellow color scheme to its intuitive design makes this a very pleasant game to play. Best of all are the tiles, which all have a pleasant mass and nice glossy finish. Crucially all of this comes together in a package that is relatively affordable, especially as the cost of games keeps being driven higher by component demands.

On a personal note, Azul has been something of a nostalgic trip for me. This is the sort of game that got me into the hobby, with its reasonable price, nice graphics, and rock-solid gameplay. I eventually moved away from fare like this as I embraced more thematic and more complex games. I still tend that way, but Azul is a good reminder for me of why simple, clean German design is so effective. Designer Michael Kiesling has been active in the German game market for decades now, and his work, particularly with Wolfgang Kramer, speaks for itself. This is an accomplished design. Azul is the sort of game that pulls a few different threads into a polished, attractive whole. It’s the sort of game that I would recommend to people who are entering the hobby for the first time, and it’s a great choice for old hands like myself too.

Baldur’s Gate – Better Late Than Never

Baldur's Gate cover

In 2016 I began to seriously engage in tabletop roleplaying with my friends. As it grew into the lion’s share of my face to face game time, one of the side-effects of this new love has been a new interest in computer roleplaying games, or CRPGs. Since I’ve spent most of my life as a Nintendo gamer, roleplaying has never been high on my list. Unless you count Zelda games, before 2019 the only real roleplaying game I had completed was Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. (Nintendo, if you read this, I would gladly pay full retail for a remastered version of this game on the Switch.)

When you combine the desire for a CRPG experience with an interest in classic PC games, I suppose it wasn’t long before I found my way over to Baldur’s Gate, the classic CRPG originally released in 1998. Along with the original Fallout, Baldur’s Gate is often credited as the game that made roleplaying games vital once again to Western developers. It was the first game developed by Bioware, who would go on to produce the Mass Effect games and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It also spawned a very successful sequel, and as the first game to implement the Infinity Engine, it served as a template for other classic CRPGs from the turn of the millennium, like Planescape Torment and Icewind Dale. I played the Enhanced Edition, released several years ago from Beamdog Studios. This included several adjustments to make the game just a little more palatable to modern audiences, even bringing it to mobile devices.

I’m not sure I actually qualify as a “modern audience,” but a couple of things made Baldur’s Gate immediately appealing to me. First of all there’s its setting in the Forgotten Realms. A longtime fan favorite among roleplayers, the Forgotten Realms is still the default setting in Dungeons & Dragons to this day. Secondly, the year 1998 is squarely in my nostalgia zone. That’s when I played PC games the most, titles like Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, and of course, Starcraft. Baldur’s Gate is clearly from a world where real time strategy was still a major genre in PC gaming, because that’s basically the control method it uses.

The controls of Baldur’s Gate will be intuitive for anyone who played Starcraft and Command & Conquer.

Baldur’s Gate also represents a move away from the tile-based terrain that had dominated CRPGs up to that point. Instead enormous backgrounds were rendered into the game, making the game take up a whopping five CD-ROMs. The character sprites move around the rendered backgrounds, giving the game an almost painterly feel. When you reach the edge of one of these backgrounds, you are presented with a zoomed-out map with every explorable area on it, and you pick the next one to which your party will travel. A huge number of these areas are unnamed and are not strictly necessary for the quest. They are mostly wilderness areas that exist for their own sake, often with ruins or hidden quests tucked away for the player to find on their own. While Baldur’s Gate is far from the first CRPG to really embrace a huge open world for the players to explore, it doubles down on that format as the bulk of the game.

The combat in Baldur’s Gate was also the first example I know of turn-based combat represented in real time, with a pause button used to issue orders. All of the minutia of D&D combat (at least the AD&D Second Edition version of it) is represented here, where characters go in initiative order and make attacks with weapons or spells that are determined through invisible die rolls. It makes sense if you have ever played D&D, though the end result can feel pretty chaotic. The idea is for the player to pause the game and issue orders to specific characters, telling your mage to cast whatever spell on whichever target, or issuing orders to your heavy fighter character to make them attack a particular target.

Baldur’s Gate uses the ruleset from the Second Edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which has a few little perversities that make the game hard to learn, particularly for modern D&D players. For one thing, in 2e your AC is better when it is lower. There is also the little matter of THAC0 (meaning To Hit Armor Class 0), the mechanic that determined the success of your attack roles in 2e. It’s actually not too different in practice from what is used today, but it’s a backwards way of figuring it out for the player, and it feels awfully counterintuitive. Still, it was the current version of D&D in 1998, and one of the big selling points for the game twenty years ago was that it recreated the tabletop experience. This in spite of the fact that D&D has never been designed to function as a computer game, something that shows in the final product. There are WAY more magic items and spells than are actually useful, but those things exist in the game because it existed in D&D. Likewise, there is far more combat in Baldur’s Gate than there would be in any tabletop game of D&D, where a single large-scale fight can take up most of your evening. All of these eccentricities lend the game a somewhat woolly quality, as if it placed fidelity to the original ruleset over what might be called good development.

The mechanics mostly get the job done, but in the end they aren’t really the point of the game. Both Baldur’s Gate and especially its sequel have always been cherished as exercises in great video game storytelling. In the first game the player is an orphan leaving their home, Candlekeep, and their adoptive father, Gorion, for the first time. From there you are given some quests and some direction, but you can take it in pretty much whatever way you like. A concrete narrative does emerge eventually, but in the first half of the game in particular it’s pretty subtle. It was certainly engaging, but it was also hard to escape the feeling that it wasn’t totally clear what the overall story was for the first two-thirds of the game.

The truth is that the first Baldur’s Gate has something of a pacing problem. Most of the first half of the game is spent doing things that are actually important, but don’t really feel like it in the moment. Not only that, but the big story goals the game places in front of you are not actually attainable for a while. Players who try to race to the next section of the story will find themselves in over their head quickly, because this game represents a low-level adventure in D&D, and you’ll need to grind for a while. Lots of RPGs require the player to do some grinding, but in Baldur’s Gate the grind feels particularly transparent because of how many wilderness areas there are in the game. In the second half of the game, after the characters enter the city of Baldur’s Gate itself, the plot suddenly picks up and moves at a breakneck pace, cutting off some of the exploration that the huge city is just begging for. The overall story is strong, but it reveals itself in a rather lumpy way.

The combat does the game no favors in this regard. While there is a lot of space to plan and make interesting tactical decisions, the fact that the game is based on rolling dice means that a shocking amount of the time your character will die, even when the odds say they shouldn’t. A human DM might find a way to mitigate this, but the computer doesn’t really care Like many late-90’s PC games, it is recommended that the player make liberal use of the quick save feature, reloading old saves after failure. The rhythm of exploring wilderness, engaging in combat, and save-scumming until you succeed, is what Baldur’s Gate is made of. The combat does get less streaky as your party gains levels, making you less likely to die when facing wolves in the middle of nowhere, but it is still slow going.

Different NPCs respond to your party members, offering them quests based on whoever is following you around.

This is the Baldur’s Gate experience, and it has been for twenty years. It represents not just a game-changer in the CRPG genre, but the most important D&D video game since Pool of Radiance, the very first D&D computer game in 1988. It’s place as a classic has been established for years now, and I would say it deserves that reputation. That said, this is a long, difficult game with lots of very 1998 design choices. It is most rewarding for the kind of D&D players who learn rulesets and get joy out of min-maxing their character builds. There’s something to be said for the challenge that is present here, but I’m more the kind of player who cares about the overall broader narrative more than tactics. As such I found myself losing motivation to continue playing. Beamdog, the developers of the Enhanced Edition, understood this might be the case, and included in their versions of Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 something called Story Mode. This is essentially an invincibility switch. Your characters can’t die, and the need for save-scumming is basically erased.

No doubt a lot of old fans of the game will think this is an abomination, but it was exactly what I needed to see Baldur’s Gate through to the end. I put in 20 hours of what felt suspiciously like work before basically quitting the game in exhaustion. Story Mode allowed me to return to the experience and treat it like, well, a game. I was no longer annoyed at having to brave my way through huge wilderness areas to find a quest item, or afraid to open a secret door for fear that an army of trolls was on the other side. It’s not a perfect solution, because it makes combat a mere speed bump, and combat is a huge part of Baldur’s Gate. Pursuing loot becomes meaningless in Story Mode, since you’ll never lose a fight or find the need to upgrade your gear. But the positive effect is that it refocuses the game on interaction with NPCs and exploration, two of what the current designers of D&D call the three pillars of roleplaying. It was at this point that I began to really get into the groove of Baldur’s Gate. I felt more free to engage in dialog trees, to accept any quest that was given to me, and to explore every inch of the map. And most importantly, I grew more attached to all of the different characters you encounter throughout the game.

The characters are where I connected with Baldur’s Gate the most. You will meet all sorts of people on your journey, many of which are available to join you on your quest. You only ever get a party of five other playable characters besides yourself, so each game will play out differently depending on who joins you on your journey and what quests they open up. There are some who will be more common among parties than others, like Imoen, a rogue who joins the player in Candlekeep. However, others are hidden in strange places on the map, and sometimes quite far into the game. This is where I can see myself playing the game through again someday, just to create a different party and see where their stories take me. Beamdog also added their own new characters in the Enhanced Editions, though they have proven somewhat controversial among longtime fans. For what it’s worth I had Neera, a wild mage, in my party for most of my playthrough. I noticed that she tended to utilize voice acting for her dialog more than the original characters.  Of course there are also tons of non-playable characters in the game too, some of whom are just there for their own sake. I especially liked the guy who, if you talk to him, just follows you around interrupting you until you either leave the map, or just kill him. They didn’t have to put that guy in there, but he’s there, and it demonstrates the attention to character and detail that the original developers got right on the first try.

A scene from Siege of Dragonspear.

Beamdog’s contribution extends beyond the game itself. In 2016 they also released Siege of Dragonspear, an expansion pack that bridges the gap between Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2. The original Baldur’s Gate did have its own expansion, Tales of the Sword Coast, but it added more quests to the game, not a new storyline. (Tales of the Sword Coast also adds Durlag’s Tower, a huge dungeon-crawl often celebrated for its brilliantly diabolical design.) Siege of Dragonspear is kind of a mixed bag, though it does provide some different sorts of quests than were in the original game. It revolves around a large-scale war, so there are several large battle set pieces that distinguish it from the original experience. It suffers most of all from a need to take the character from point A to point B, sometimes transparently so. It will occasionally present you with what seems like a major choice, but when you try to do something weird it immediately pushes you back onto the tracks. There’s not a huge sense of agency, in other words. It’s a decent enough campaign if you are interested in the whole Baldur’s Gate saga, but it’s definitely a step down from the games on either side of it.

Isometric CRPGs had their heyday in the late 90s and early 2000s, but they are having another moment currently. Games like Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin have given us new entries into the genre, and Beamdog’s own efforts to release Enhanced Editions of all of the old Infinity Engine games has put the classics back on people’s radar. That means that next year, we will get Baldur’s Gate 3, from the Larian Studios, the makers of Divinity: Original Sin. From that standpoint it’s fun to go back and see one of the games that really started established the genre in the first place. Baldur’s Gate is a classic, and it’s been delighting roleplayers for decades now. It’s worth digging into, because it does a great job at giving the player a world to explore and get to know. There are lots of tactical challenges that will delight certain people, but even if that’s not your bag, the Enhanced Editions allow anyone to put in the time to enjoy this epic. If you’ve never dug into computer RPGs before, this is a terrific starting point.

Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization

box cover

As a genre, civilization games always draw from a couple of really big influences. The first is the original Civilization game, designed by Francis Treshem and published by Avalon Hill in the early 1980s. That game takes a lot of DNA from Avalon Hill’s Diplomacy, with its map full of different empires that interact with each other through warfare and trading. Another major influence is that of Risk, one of the most influential designs of all time, full stop. Any time you play a game with army men and dice, you are probably, on some level, playing Risk. The last big touchstone is that of Sid Meier’s Civilization, with its emphasis on the full sweep of history, the creation of great wonders, and the combination of short term and long term goals that make that game so addictive. On one level or another most civ games are recombining these different elements in various ways. It’s hard to break out of the legacy of a single major design, let alone three of them.

Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization manages to stand out above the crowd. Originally published as Through the Ages in 2006, it represents perhaps the best complex design by Vlaada Chvatil, as well as his first real notable work as a designer. After a revised edition in 2015, it has come into its own as perhaps the most important civilization board game today. What’s striking about it is what it chooses to abstract, what it chooses to emphasize, and what it chooses to avoid. It’s a complex card game that is at once cumbersome and streamlined, violent and passive, infuriating and compelling.

What stands out to me the most about the game is its victory condition. In purely mechanical terms it boils down to victory points, but in game terms those points represent culture. You will get them in several ways, but the bulk of them will be generated by building structures like theaters and religious buildings, and by creating wonders like the Pyramids. I like this emphasis a lot, because thematically it’s hard to define what victory is in a civ game. How do we determine what civilizations have “won” in our own history? The ones who made the most money? The ones who conquered the most territory? Who knows? In Through the Ages, culture seems to represent that abstract quality of being remembered, regardless of how that legacy came about. Maybe your civilization made all sorts of amazing monuments. Maybe they created great works or founded an important faith. Maybe they used their military might to push their neighbors around. All of those ways ensure the memory of a civilization will live on. In its raw mechanics it’s just about finding different ways to generate victory points, but this focus on legacy says a lot about what we consider “great” in a civilization.Compared to something like, say, the multiple victory conditions in Sid Meier’s Civilization, Chvatil is doing something similar. The difference is that rather than giving us several different sub-systems that flow into different goals, we have a bunch of ways to get to a single goal. The only important thing is to be remembered, regardless of how you do it.

Most people who see Through the Ages for the first time will notice that it has no map. This is a pure card game, with any boards only serving as ways to make card play easier. It’s a design decision that almost seems a little flashy, like someone who’s right-handed using their left hand. But I think there’s a thematic purpose here too. Civilization games very often become displays of military might, with armies sweeping across continents and territories changing hands every couple of turns. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and games like Clash of Cultures have made hay out of being primarily games of conquest.

But here’s the thing about warfare: it’s expensive. It takes an enormous amount of resources to move people across the land so they can effectively kill other people. A lot of games seem to treat it as the default mode for countries. Every technology feeds back into it, and the design rewards warmongering above all else. It’s not a serious trade-off to commit to the military, and for a lot of people it’s just more fun. In Through the Ages the resource cost to invest in military is severe. It represents resources and workers that will not be invested in other places. Of course there are plenty of ways to make that investment more efficient, but that’s true for the other aspects of the game as well.

Make no mistake though, military here is a vital part of the experience. You need to have some situational awareness of what the military situation is, because countries that are too weak will get pushed around with no real recourse. The game provides several ways to make up that difference quickly, whether through a strong leader, advanced technology, or one-time bonuses, and you’ll want to use those for fear that your opponents will use them. Of course if everyone else is avoiding it, you can just focus on racking up points. Then again, you could also be the military giant and push them all around. Military and warfare is just one of the routes available in this game, but it remains a vital part of the game. Through the Ages feels like it is grasping the scope of how nations leave their mark by capturing all the ways it can happen, and that’s one of its biggest strengths.

Of course there are a lot of clever bits of mechanical design here. The one that I find most impressive is how it handles all of the resources and buildings that normally go into this genre. Yellow cubes are used to represent workers, who essentially become buildings when they are put into play on a card. There they will generate resources every turn, represented by blue cubes. So a yellow cube on an oil well, which generates 3 resources every turn, will generate one blue cube worth 3 resources every turn. Yellow cubes can also become military units when places on military cards, which then generate a certain amount of static military strength. It sounds complicated, but it’s very intuitive when you see it in play, and it keeps the game from getting too cluttered with shuffling resources. There’s also a system of corruption and happiness, meant to keep players from producing too inefficiently or from churning out too many mouths to feed. Even with this in play, one sometimes feels like they’re spending half of their time moving cubes from one spot to another. It’s staggering to think what it would have been like if the game didn’t use these multi-use cubes.

The other mechanic I want to praise is the line of cards. There are 13 of them available every turn, but they function like a conveyor belt. When cards are bought, everything to the right slides left and new cards come in at the right end. Cards closer to the end cost fewer actions to take, but some of them also fall of the edge at the end of every turn, so timing is a big factor. This is a great feature, because it sets the pace for the game. Once you internalize the not-inconsiderable ruleset, the game has a great flow. Each of the three ages feels like it’s over at about the right time, and the selection of cards never stagnates. I might have appreciated just a little bit more flexibility to go with this dynamic flow, since there are times when, for example, you need a really good production card and it just won’t come up. But that comes down to making sure you use your actions wisely, which sometimes means you need to just splurge and take something early. And anyway, the tradeoff of a more dynamic experience is well worth any minor frustration.

That touch of frustration is part of what has kept me coming back to Through the Ages over and over again. I understand the game mechanically, but it’s a very subtle design. Small decisions made early on might seem insignificant, but they can add up quickly. You can find yourself behind in some vital area like science or military, and not be quite sure how you got there. A lesser game would punish you for the rest of the game by just making you play from behind. But Through the Ages provides cards that become more and more efficient as you go, so you can use an area of strength to shore up what might be an area of weakness, sometimes literally, since it’s possible to get workers moved to different places on the board in a pinch. Then of course there’s the long process of learning what cards are best, and how they interact with each other. All of this adds up to a game that is surprisingly intuitive, but that will require lots of experience to get better at.

through the ages app
A game in action on the excellent app.

Vlaada Chvatil has, since the original release of Through the Ages, become known for his punishing design philosophy. Games like Galaxy Trucker and Space Alert contain phases that actively try to destroy what the players have accomplished. Through the Ages is, in this regard, a gentler game. Still, this is also quite a complex game, and it will take a while when played face to face. Fortunately there is a terrific app, probably the single best board game app I’ve ever played. It is easy to connect with friends, and it supports asynchronous play well. Most of all, it removes the need to physically move cards and cubes around the table. I do prefer the game face-to-face, but this is not an easy one to get played for my lifestyle, so I appreciate having the app there for me. There’s also an expansion coming out later this year that will add new wonders and leaders. The latter will be especially welcome, since the variety of leaders in the original game is disappointingly Euro-centric. Hopefully the expansion will address that.

It’s easy to over-invest in civilization games. They are at their best when they are lengthy and complex, because such gameplay is appropriate for the full sweep of history. But in that class, I think that Through the Ages is probably the most strategically rewarding game, and it feels more thematically satisfying to me as well. It’s a great example of how Euro design ideas can revitalize and refocus old genres to create something unique and satisfying.

What’s this blog about?

games in action

My name is Nate, and among other things I play games.

I’ve played them my whole life. I imagined worlds with my friends, guided Mario through levels, conquered the world, constructed additional pylons for Protoss armies, settled Catan, and have run players through scenarios involving both dungeons and dragons. You might not have played the same games as me, but you’ve done it too. Maybe you play Magic: the Gathering. Perhaps Chess is your jam. You might be the more athletic type, participating in various sports, or the less athletic type who merely watches them. The point is that games of one kind or another have filled your life. I probably don’t know you, but I can guarantee that games have played a vital role in your life.

Games are basically universal, but in spite of that fact we put up tons of barriers to make sure people know they are having the wrong kind of fun. It might come down to sports rivalries, where someone else’s success grinds away at us. It could be because of whatever platform you favor, whether it’s a console or a PC. Maybe we think roleplayers are a bunch of nerds, or we wish people would quit playing Monopoly. We might even have very good reasons for feeling this way. The point is that someone else is wrong, and we want to correct them.

The problem is that this ignores what I consider to be the biggest strength of games. They bring us together. When I think of the games that have meant something to me, I think of my sister, who begrudgingly has learned way more games than she wanted to for my sake. I think of my college roommate, who to this day still keeps in touch to hash out the annual game between Ohio State and Michigan. I think about my D&D group, who let me get away with my seat-of-my-pants preparation every week. And I think of the many, many online friends I’ve met through the gaming community, most of whom I’ve never met but who have still meant so much to me.

To help you get started, here are a few questions: Games build bridges, because games are for everyone. They play such a vital part in our human interaction. You don’t need to be an anthropologist to understand this either, because we all have the evidence of our own lives. To help you get started, here are a few questions:

This blog is, on some level, an expression of my conviction that we all need games in our lives. The phrase “Games are for everyone” is not so much a theme for these articles, as it is the fundamental assumption that guides everything I write. Naturally I’ll focus most of all on my own interests, board gaming and tabletop roleplaying, because that’s just who I am. However, if you want reviews of the hottest releases I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. I live in Asia, a long way away from normal distribution channels. Besides that, I don’t really have a lot of interest in chasing the newest release. It’s just not where my enjoyment lies. So expect ruminations on older releases, analysis on designs that are several years old, and commentary on trends as I perceive them.

But as I state above, games are way bigger than things that can fit on a tabletop. Games can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. It can mean isometric CRPGs, cartoony platformers, the NBA playoffs, or annual college football rivalries. So as the fancy hits me, expect me to dip into other forms of games that have some meaning for me. My hope is that these conversations won’t just be super-indulgent, but will instead prompt you to think about what games mean to you.

So I hope you can join me every week as I think about games and how they have dug their claws into my life, and I invite you to participate in the conversation through the comments. You are welcome here, because games are for everyone.