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My Life Through Microbadges (Part 1)

Oliver Kiley
United States
Ann Arbor
Michigan
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Image Credit: Runcible


Oh what cruel irony is this, that I should endeavor to define my being through the whims of microbadges. If only I could resist their dangerous temptations and define my life by actions, instead of by tiny 16x16 pixel icons. Resistance is futile! So let us just get on with Part 1 of a 3 part series. Badge it up!



PART 1: This Boardgame Life


Award & Recognition

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I've got more than 10,000 thumbs. I should probably be giving out more thumbs, as I have ~20,000 received to only 6,000 given. The shame! Or the vanity?!

I've also uploaded a bunch if images (no surprises there), and posted some geeklists. Oh boy!


Game Collections & Acquisition

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I've been hovering around 100 games for a while. In some ways this is a small collection, in other ways it would be great to cut it in half. I really don't need (or have the time to play) all of these games. But what else will go on the shelves?!

I tend to thrift for games, mostly via yard sales, and am always on the lookout for games that might work with the kids. I've picked up a lot of garbage (and gems) over the years and most of it I've either traded away or sold in my own garage sales. Go figure.

I also have a deep love for small game boxes. I despise opening up a big box to see 90% of the box just wasted empty space. The smaller the box, all other things equal, the more I will probably like the game. My ideal games are "small footprint, high impact games" - those that pack a lot of game in small package.

Of course, I also enjoy PnP projects and have various cabinets stuffed full of extra components and materials for crafting up games.


Gamer Personality

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I've always been a gamer, since I was as young as I can remember. So it's "In my DNA" so to speak. I enjoy playing games with people the most when those other people are enjoying themselves too.

I used to be far more competitive than I am. While I wasn't (or didn't think I was!) overly competitive, I did used to win more than my fair share of games and I think people got frustrated at times. So I've relaxed far more these days, and tend to play from my gut and keep the game moving along, even if I know I'm not playing as optimally/ruthlessly as I could be. I'm a friendly competitor (that plays Yellow)!

The slow games movement was about a few nebulous things. One of them was taking more time to actually play a game and not feel rushed or rush other players. The other aspect was about slowing down the "churn" that we burn through games. I'm a cult of the old'er at this point (Tigris & Euphrates). I suppose it's hypocritical to be a designer and pushing for new games in one breath, and then saying STOP THE CHURN with the other, but oh well. For me anyway, it just means that I'd rather play the games I already know I love more times than chase my tail trying to find something that's questionably better.


Gaming "Venues" (e.g. how, where, and with whom I game)

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The salad days are over. It used to be that I could spend an entire day (or more!) holed up some basement playing games - but not anymore. The "venues" in which I game have certainly changed. Despite all this, I remain the primary game bringer and game explainer among my group of friends.

My biggest gaming opportunity is currently with my wife, and we'v had some great runs and got a lot of plays into a a few games. Various Decktet games, Hanabi, Onirim (most recently). I also have my kids and similarly aged nephews to game with, some my opportunities have definitely taken a turn back towards more kid-friendly games. By kid-friendly I of course mean smashing goblins, wrecking buildings, and stealing cheese (HeroQuest, King of Tokyo, and Mice & Mystics respectively).

More recently, and with even less time on my hands, I've taken to playing a lot of boardgames on my iPad (or iPhone) as well as on my PC. Some of these games are web-based through Yucata and other online boardgame platforms. But there are some great digital boardgame apps that I really enjoy as well.


Game Designing / Game Hacking

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It goes without saying that I love game design, and have for as long as I can recall. I vaguely remember being about 12 and being stuffed in the back of a car on a cross-country road-trip while I designed an entire AD&D character module, despite having never played D&D. It was a trend that never really stopped.

I have a (bad?) reputation for wanting to immediately house-rule and hack games apart into something newer/different, even when the game as designed is perfectly fine. Sometimes this pans out, other times it doesn't


Boardgame Genres & Themes

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First of all, my preferred genre lies at the intersection between Ameritrash and Eurogame, in other words Francotrash/Weuro games. Cyclades (also below) is a great poster-child for this genre. I like civilization games as well, so I naturally find myself gravitating towards dudes on the map, build 'em up and tear 'em down style games with a lot of room for spatial interaction and resource management. I like outer space a lot too, do if I can have the above in space that's even better. I'll take feudal japan as a backup, as samurai are pretty sweet.


Gameplay Preferences & Mechanics I like (or dislike)

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I have a terrible problem: if a game has a modular board, and especially one that involves hexagons, I can't help myself from looking at the game a little more than I might otherwise. I like games with a strong and interesting spatial element that's the focus of the action.

The corollary is that I've come to despise games with great big giant boards that are just a smorgasbord of action placement locations, trackers, wheels, manacala-insanity, and other assorted doohickeys. I want the central board and game space to be "geography" ... call me old-school. As a result, I tend to not want anything to do with VP salad games, since these two tend to come hand in hand. At least that's my misguided and biased assumption.

Given the above, it should be no surprise that I like games with direct player interaction. I like the table-talk, dynamics, and negotiation that comes with "playing against players" instead of "playing against the game". I also enjoy a good deduction game, Mascarade being one of my favorites, even if it is a bit chaotic.

Boardgame Designers

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I like Bruno Faidutti quite a bit. Citadels was one of my early German-style game purchases, and it's a game that works as well as a tight 2-player deduction game as it does as a big 6-person chaos fest. Ditto for Mascarade. I've also appreciated Bruno's writing and reflecting on the industry and the game design process.

Reiner Knizia is one of my favorite designers. Tigris & Euphrates is one of (perhaps is) my favorite game, but others from the Dr. include Lost Cities, Samurai, Ra, Ingenious, and Loot (more of a kids game). I've played all of those quite a bit. I find it a bit unfortunate that Knizia seems to be loosing traction among the more hardcore gamers. He stands as a reminder, for me at least, that complexity is not always better. In fact, distilling a game down to it's core essence can be a way to find deeper and emergent gameplay, where you enable relative simplicity to open up into a vast decision space. I like those sorts of games.

Last is Todd Sanders. While I haven't played many of his games, I am always amazed at the volume of games he produces in the PnP circuit. Whether it is remaking a lost relic or doing something original, Todd brings an awesome graphic design aesthetic to his work that I always find inspiring.


Favorite Boardgames (this is why you are really here eh?)

Civ-y
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As mentioned, I love a good civ-building type of game. Cyclades is just about perfect for a quick, highly interactive civ-y sort of game. I think the auctioning mechanic and how it relates to your on the map actions is just brilliant, and of course makes all aspects of the game highly interactive. It's one of those games where only a round or two into the game I feel like everyone is fighting tooth and claw for a win. Each person is often a mere turn or two from winning at any given moment. Cyclades is tense and fast-paced, and for a civ game it plays really quickly (90 min or so).

A bit more bread-stroking is Antike - a distilled civ-lite game. The beauty is in how snappy this plays, while still being very strategic. I'll chalk that up to the use of the Rondal mechanic for action selection, which makes planning and timing actions critically important but keeps each player's turn short and focused. The end game can turn into a little bit of a slugfest, but it's nothing some house ruling can't fix (i.e. play to one less VP).

I have to admit I've only played Inca Empire once, but I like it mucho. Most notably is that I'm totally infatuated by the game's visual presentation: it's gorgeous. Beyond that it delivers a sort of ramped up Settlers of Catan-like experience. There is route + network building, placing cities on nodes, sense of shared ownership, blocking, a way to screw people similar to the robber (the sun cards), and a nice dose of resource management. It's a slick game, has a cool geography, and hits a really under-represented theme.

Last is Eight Minute Empire: Legends. More than anything this is a shout-out to Ryan Laukat (Red Raven Games), a renaissance man/designer/artist/publisher whose graphic style I adore. It's also shout-out for the whole express-game (or microgame) movement that takes big sprawling messes and turns them into compact, tight, little games. Legends fits the bill perfectly.

Spatial Strategery
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Having not one, but two, Tigris & Euphrates microbadges says it all.

Taluva is also one of my favorites. This is a Carcassonne-esque tile laying and meeple placement game that builds 3-dimensionally. It plays really quickly, and overall is a nearly perfect spatial abstract with just enough thematic-dressing to keep it fresh and whimsical.

Probably my most played boardgame, however, is Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, a game I play frequently with my wife. I've never played the original Carcassonne (with or without any of it's myriad expansions), and I see little reason to do so. Hunters & Gatherers hits everything I'd want in a casual tile-laying game. You can read my love letter to the game here.

Card Games & Game Systems
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As I mentioned earlier, I love game systems, and for me the Decktet is just continually interesting. My secret hope is that in years down the road, the Decktet is as known and recognized as a standard deck of cards. That would be cool. I love the artwork and ambiguity of the cards; and I like how they are immediately familiar given the standard rank and suit configuration, yet open up so much opportunity for different styles of games. Magnate and Emu Ranchers are two of my favorite decktet games.

More recently, I've had a serious nerd-crush for Onirim and also Sylvion. I'll write more about these at some point, but I find the overall aesthetic experience to be just excellent, from the opening of the box with it's amazing presentation all the way until the last card is drawn. I purchased them to do some solo-playing while at the lake, but with Onirim I've also been playing the cooperative mode with my wife, which has been a blast and makes for a very challenging game.

Economic Engine-y
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By default I'm wary of engine building games. Fundamentally, I just don't find the optimization/puzzle exercise provided by most of these games to be terribly compelling. Many of these games also fall into the non-direct interaction category, of which I'm also leery. That said, there are a few that grabbed me over the years.

Race for the Galaxy is just awesome. I've only played it with the first expansion (Gathering Storm), and much of my playtime has been either against the solo "robot" or using Keldon's AI program. But I find the card play, interactions between cards, and more importantly the subtle but critically important role selection mechanics and interactivity through leeching and double-think it provides, to be supremely interesting.

Next up is Glen More. I like wiskey, Scotland is cool (although I've never been there), but more pertinently this game is slick. The tile selection system, market, and scoring mechanics keeps the game quite interactive, when normally these sort of "build your own tableau that only you pay attention to" games don't interest me in the least. I enjoy how the tile placement works as a way to trigger and chain actions, and find that spatial aspect of it quite enjoyable.

Last in this bucket is Ginkgopolis. This is, in some respects, a cluster of a game. It has card drafting, communal deck-building, tile-placement, area majority, tableau building, and probably more. Yet - it plays quickly and all of these elements knit together well in my opinion. I like the quirky theme, and as I expressed in my review, I fell that the game IS thematically aligned to the mechanics, despite most people's impressions.


Ameritrash-y
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Last are a few of the Ameritrashy sorts of games. I was firmly within this camp for decades before coming into the fold of modern/designer games.

I have to give a special nod to Illuminati, as this game was the place setting for many a get together with my friends back in the salad days. Which of course we could only play back then because the game can take freaking forever. From today's vantage point, the game is flawed in a number of ways, but the core idea is still cool-as-hell and the theme is just wonderful. I'd love to see a re-boot of this game, to modernize the concept a bit and reign it in. Still, it's one of my favorite games; rose-tinted glasses be damned.

I played a lot of Warhammer 40,000 over the decades. I had the original Rogue Trader rule book, but really didn't start playing intensely until 2nd edition arrived and the game actually became somewhat playable. The Warhammer 40k lore is pretty awesome, although the games themselves are mediocre mechanically. We did a lot of house ruling on 40k, let's just say that. I played on and off for years and have a bunch of painted armies (Elder + Space Wolves were my favs) still in their precious carrying cases in my basement. Ultimately though, Games Workshops shenanigans drove me away. I had no interest in re-buying the rulebook and all the accompanying codex books on a continual cycle, especially when the cost of such books (not to mention the miniatures) continues to escalate. One of my secret lusts is reading speculation articles on when GW is going to go belly up. But whatever happens, their IP is going to live on ...

I should also mention HeroQuest, a game that more or less possessed me as a youth. I have all the expansions crammed into a disintegrating box. Every so often I pull the old bird out, rally the clan, pour a Gin & Tonic, and take up position behind Zargon's Screen of Terrible Plotting to subject my friends to another romp in the dungeon. More recently, the game has captured the attention of my daughter and nephews, whose looks as they gaze (and drool) over the miniatures and furniture pieces no doubt matched my own. We've managed to stumble through many of the quests with a little house ruling to make it easy on them. The love it ... and I do to.

Long live gaming! And Zargon!




This concludes Part 1 of My Life Through Microbadges. Part 2 will report on the digital side of my gaming life, and Part 3 will explore my world beyond games.

Thanks for watching, stay tuned for next time!
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