Summer Game Odyssey 2013 -- Blazing the Vermont-Pittsburgh Trail
C. B. Green
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Culver City
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It was K., Cric, the boy and I, off on our first extended jaunt. We've never really traveled as a family before, and have a bizarre itinerary ahead: A few days with friends in Vermont, a road trip of indeterminate length to western Pennsylvania, a few more days with a different set of friends, and then home. People at work know I'm headed out for vacation, and ask where. Oh, you know, the old Vermont-to-Pittsburgh route, I tell them. I get looks.
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1. Board Game: 7 Wonders [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:43]
C. B. Green
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We catch the red-eye out of LAX Friday night; turn up in Boston suitably bleary, despite successfully dozing through Iron Man 3. After dodging airport taxes thanks to Back Bay Hertz rental outfit, we are off thru the Ted Williams Tunnel and going -- this goddamn vacation is on! Yessss.

We are Vermont-bound on the 93. Refueling stop at Woburn -- lobster omelets and benedicts? Shit, yeah, though I personally cannot seem to veer from corned beef hash. Arrive in crazy picturesque Quechee, VT around noon, ahead of our hosts. Julia, ever-gracious, texts us the code to get in thru the garage and we all flop down in their immaculate house and let jet lag have its way with us.

The boy and I are up first, spirited off by Julia to essential cheese- and steak-buying. Cheese-wise, Vermont is not fucking around. Also not fucking around? Julia, who nails the steak; seriously, the best one I've had all year.

After dinner, the games got rolling. First up, 7 Wonders, which our gang taught to theirs, a big ol' 7p with all wonders in play. 7W wins converts as expected. The boy took this one at 56, savvily taking advantage of the newbs' reluctance to go science. Cric in 2nd. Nominally the most experienced player at the table, I come in 6th. Bleah.

We played a 4-player tilt the next day -- the boy, Randall, Jacob and I. After coming in 7th in game 1, Jacob wreaks his revenge, scoring a staggering 34 blue points en route to easy win. I am 3rd, and not a close 3rd. Bleah.
 
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2. Board Game: Telestrations [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:228]
C. B. Green
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Plenty of party games over the weekend. We did a couple of rounds of Telestrations on Saturday night, then more on Sunday. Personal highlight was the transformation of Darth Vader to a washing machine. I drew a pretty good picture of a punching bag, and what I thought was a fairly vivid hostage standoff, though others may disagree.

We didn't keep score in Telestrations, I think the only game of the whole odyssey where that was the case. Just by playing this game, you've already won.
 
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3. Board Game: Lost Cities [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:293]
C. B. Green
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This was the personal filler for K. and me. We played a quick, close game on Sunday afternoon, then two more Monday morning before shipping out for dessert-based pilgrimage to Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury. (B&J Flavor Graveyard sees K. paying unexpectedly sincere regrets for the passing of of Wavy Gravy.)

Did we Vermont? Yes, we Vermonted. Dairy products. Quaint villages. Cows on hills. Hiking up to a fire tower in a local state forest, thanks to Randall's intrepid navigation... 360 views for miles in the late afternoon summer sun.

And oh, yeah, the first game was close; K took it by a few points. We split the two Monday rounds; I won solidly in game one, turned up at something like -28 in final. Didn't want to make it too hard on K. (cough, cough)
 
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4. Board Game: Taboo [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:1678]
C. B. Green
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K. loves Taboo, so this was busted off of hosts' shelves for Monday night party game blowout. This was one of the rare games that didn't work for me over the vacation odyssey. First round was a flat tie between three teams. I think that Maddie and I may have won the second round.

Some differences between our "home" Taboo set and theirs:

Theirs has working buzzer thing - SUBSTANTIAL PRO, forgot how much fun that thing is.

Their cards had more culturally specific proper nouns as "target words" -- MODEST CON, kids were "passing" on a lot of words, troublesome, given the...

Much faster hourglass in their set -- SUBSTANTIAL CON, our set gives you and your partner/team a nice long time to get into a groove. But here, most teams got maybe 2 or 3 right per round, at best. The night's record was 5. When we play at our pad, the best rounds typically clock in at 10+. I mean, after a good round, people break into applause. But there was no way to build that kind of momentum in Quechee.

In the larger sense, it was quite something to see the families next to each other, differing and similar. Cric and the boy are respectively mere months younger than Jacob and Maddie; Randall & Julie and I have watched each others' kids grow up, though we haven't all been together in 5 years, and K. is basically new to the VT gang. But it was fun and gratifying to see who we've all become as parents, as families... the different ways our older kids are mean to their younger sibs, the ways that Randall and I each act out our do-I-have-to-turn-this-car-around? moments. And that we've both turned into gamer families independently of each other... a gratifying bonus.
 
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5. Board Game: Pictionary [Average Rating:5.82 Overall Rank:4053]
C. B. Green
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I don't know how many years it's been since I've played straight-up Pictionary. But the Monday night party games train continues.

The game begins. Julia has sadly retreated to Boston to bring home the bacon, while Cric is taking a pass, setting up three inter-family duos: me & Jacob; K. & Maddie; Randall and the boy. And ugh, it seems like this game never gets out of first gear, especially for the me-Jacob tandem... we just can't snag an all-play to save our lives, and we're thrashing helplessly on our own turns. The other two teams have themselves made it only painfully past the halfway point when it happens. Jacob and I catch fire, one of those storybook come-from-behind surges you usually only dream about. We're locked in; we've got a shorthand going... three strokes of the pencil and we've nailed it kind of thing. Our second to last draw is a green/difficult: PLACE. Who sketched PLACE, so that Jake snapped to it with time to spare? Yeah, that's right. Stone cold with that stubby little pencil in my hand. High fives. Sweet victory. Jacob, badass HS wrestler & footballer, likes winning. So do I.
 
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6. Board Game: Coloretto [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:495]
C. B. Green
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I forget when exactly on Monday we played Coloretto. But it was a couple of simple 3ps, the boy and I introducing the game to Maddie.

The boy and Maddie have always understood each other. The last time we visited New England, they were 6. Julia came downstairs in the morning to find them both sacked on the couch, Lucky Charms and playing cards everywhere. He had taught her how to play 5-card draw, and they had stayed up well past midnight, gambling for cereal into the a.m. while everyone else was asleep upstairs. This remains quite possibly the most adorable thing to have happened in my lifetime.

So the boy and Maddie, they get each other. This time out, she introduced him to Instagram, so they're following each other photographically; he's now talking about joining the digital photography club when school starts up in a couple weeks. We were in VT about four days, the longest at a stretch they've ever gotten to hang out together, cherubic SoCal moptop and aquiline New England triathlete, and watching their back-and-forth is one of the great pleasures of our time back east.

In the first game, her very first, Maddie mauls the both of us, scoring 40+, thanks largely to the boy handing her a staggeringly sweet row, all but dripping with points. I'm not sure if he momentarily forgot how to play the game, or was just being, um... gentlemanly. Neither is out of character. I took the second game with 37, though we later discovered a pair of AWOL cards (orange and gray, colors the boy was going for in the last game), so perhaps put an asterisk next to those results.
 
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7. Board Game: Battle Line [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:186]
C. B. Green
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I had never played Battle Line, and knew that it was a house favorite... the only game, Randall shared, of which they owned two copies, one for Vermont, one for their rest-of-the-year quarters in MA. After the Pictionary game left everyone exhausted with party games, I invited Randall to teach me this one.

Goddamn, this is a good game... advanced Lost Cities, injected with Poker. A must-get for me. Randall, classicist at heart, makes a compelling case for the game as bucking the Knizia pasted-on theme rep, and I see what he means. Like T&E, it's a heavily streamlined and abstracted -- but still absolutely recognizable -- rendering of ancient conflict, though on the battlefield level instead of T&E's empires. A brilliant game, maybe the best Knizia title there is. T&E may be deeper, but a newb like me can grasp Battle Line in 5 minutes.

We played twice. I took the first; Randall took the second. Both games tight, tight, tight... the card I played to give me my win would have sealed victory for him on his very next turn. Funny, we've been friends for over 20 years, and this marks, I think, the first time we've ever gone head-to-head in a game. Sitting across the table from an old friend, like watching each others' kids grow up... another of the purest pleasures of middle age revealed by this trip.
 
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8. Board Game: Dixit [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:204] [Average Rating:7.31 Unranked]
C. B. Green
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We played Dixit twice -- Once Saturday night, once Monday night, technically Tuesday morning. And in many ways, this was an ideal bunch for Dixit, insofar as the set of players was relatively new to each other. Saturday's game was all Randall; my relative weakness in the Family Guy reference department left me at a bit of a disadvantage, as it sometimes does in day-to-day life. The Monday/Tuesday affair was close, but I pulled away at the end.

The games had a weird symmetry. In the final round of game one, I correctly picked Randall's card, and thus pushed him across the finish line. In game two, our positions were exactly reversed, and his correct guess pushed me across the line. Funny thing: In game two, Jacob tried to game it out so I wouldn't get the points. "Everybody pick the one you most don't think it is!" The one he picked? Same as his dad.

But the game was mine even without that bit of weirdly textbook irony. There was a 100% chance that Randall was going to go with my clue. The pleasure of getting it, of knowing he had it, was going to be too pure for him to deny. 100% certainty. Randall and I go back a ways.

We looked up from Dixit, wondering, what do we play next? It's only... 1:30?! Good god. What in blazes are we all doing up at this hour? We must be exhausted! And thus we crashed.
 
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9. Board Game: Quiddler [Average Rating:6.04 Overall Rank:2950]
C. B. Green
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We leave Vermont lateish on Tuesday. Partly I'm tired from accidentally staying up stupid late. On the phone to Julia, Randall shares the alarming insight that our family, rather than de-jetlagging, seems to be bending his family schedule to west coast time. But partly, we leave late, because why hurry? Impractical Jokers is on. No point in saying goodbye until we absolutely have to.

It's afternoon, we head for Williamstown, MA amid sunlit VT hills, spectacularly green. A rush of joy: hitting the Blue Benn just before its late afternoon closing time. Corned beef hash at Benn the best of the trip.

I went to Williams College and I've always wanted to show the kids around. Cric and I skulk around campus, everything in golden hour sunlight. The place has never looked better. In another year or so, we'll be doing for-real college visits. We hit the bookstore where I used to work, grabbing Macbeth (Cric needs for school) and Real Inspector Hound (Cric just needs to read it, sez me). It's a killer of a late sunset, everything radiant, Cric most of all.

We are staying at the Guest House at Field Farm, which is like you died and went to Swedish modernist heaven. On the way back from laaate dinner, we stopped on the unlit road leading to the redoubtable GH@FF. Moonless, cloudless sky. You could see the Milky Way. Shooting stars, too. It was actually cold-ish, the coldest night of the trip. But we stayed out there a while looking at the stars.

I'd have gone to bed, but the boy proposed Quiddler, and who was I to argue? He, K. and I moved around some aggressively midcentury furniture and got down to it. K dominated, roughly 300-200-100.

When I play Quiddler, I try to tie my words for a given round together into some kind of funny concept/meme. I hit on one sorta mini-scene for IT PER AQUA, implying some kind of elaborate caveman bureaucracy, that had K and the boy laughing and laughing. My family laughs at my jokes! Yessss.

Next day it's North Adams, baby! Some fine fucking art at MassMoCA. Xu Bing. Damn. Chili cheese dogs at Jacks? Yeah, that happened, too. You don't ever leave North Adams without sitting down at Jack's. Another pilgrimage.

And then Friendly's, because why the crap not, it's summer in New England dammit. And then we're off again.
 
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10. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:416] [Average Rating:7.09 Unranked]
C. B. Green
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God bless these long August days when we do all this driving. It's like the days have never been longer.

We skip the border at Hancock, find our way down two-lane highways to Bayside Inn & Marina, late of Cooperstown, NY. It is precisely the kind of place my dad and brother and I would have stayed when we were on some random fishing trip when I was my kids' age. The game room is like stepping back in time -- Arkanoid and a selection of Sega racing games ca. 1990, plus a lone, inoperable pinball machine flashing [sic] AJUSTMENT FAILURE in stick-like LED letters.

But they have a hangout/lounge area. And it has... games! Yeah, Trivial Pursuit, Clue, usual suspects, but also offbeat castoffs: Masterpiece, some 3M stuff, and one oddity above all...

The boy proposes Chess. Last time we played, he beat me. Hell yeah, we're gonna play chess. He put his king in the corner, and bam, it was over. Kept that sucker pinned and wriggling. In some ways I am not a good parent.

Then we went outside. It clouded over and started to drizzle. Baby ducks were seen. Baby. Fucking. Ducks. We win. We win vacation. We win.
 
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11. Board Game: Ivy Towers [Average Rating:1.50 Unranked]
C. B. Green
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Culver City
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I was afraid this would happen.

Among the games in the lounge area is Ivy Towers, a 1981 novelty title that nominally spoofs preppies and the preppy lifestyle. As soon as I mention it to K., she wants to play. The boy likes the idea, too. Oy.

So after kickass (and characteristically late-hour) dinner at Alex & Ika's (lot of good food on this trip, A&I provided some of the best -- I could probably eat here 4 nights a week), I steal Ivy Towers out of the lounge, and abscond with it up to room 21, because there's no way I'm going to be seen in public playing this game.

For the good of posterity, I provide my review here. But suffice to say that this game is every bit the roll & move horror show you'd expect to find in an amateur-designed 1981 novelty boardgame about preppies. K. is astonished that the game has virtually no internet footprint; outside of its minimal BGG entries, you can barely even google it.

In the game, the boy jumps out to an early lead, thanks in part to a card that allows him to leapfrog over the "Join the country club" rung of his "ladder of success"... IIRC, he managed to snag a father-in-law who provided said club membership. But I'm right behind, getting enough good rolls to land a position at a prestigious firm and snag my own socially respectable spouse. K meanwhile still struggling to get into prep school and get that first BMW from mum & dad. In the end, it's neck & neck, the boy and I each one rung away from the top of the ladder, which will have us grooming our own children for Preppism (TM). (Yeah, that's right -- (TM). So don't get all excited about that intellectual property theft you were plotting.) Mercifully, luck is on the boy's side, and he reaches the top of the ladder first. The true winner of the game is Cric, reclining on the other bed, who gets to enjoy all of the idiotic dated jokes without having to go through the charade of actually playing the game.

Still, when you have the rare chance to play a piece of pop-culture archeology like Ivy Towers, you've got to take it, right? Right? Don't all answer at once... Guys?
 
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12. Board Game: 7 Wonders [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:43]
C. B. Green
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Next morning, it's more corned beef hash for me, this time at the Cooperstown Diner, before the next pilgrimage, the big house itself, the Hall. Truthfully, when we came up with the cockamamie idea for this itinerary, Cooperstown wasn't even on it. But when it became clear that our path would take us even in the vicinity of the town, well, what else could I do? How often am I going to be in the neighborhood of the Hall of Fame with my 11 year-old baseball-fan kid? Seriously, they'd have revoked my fathering license if we hadn't gone. So the boy and I tour the Hall. This is my third time visiting. The last time was 20 years ago; the time before that was 1980. I was a year younger than the boy is now. And now here we both are. Growing up is something, I tell ya.

Best memorabilia, we both agree: George Brett's pine tar bat. Runner-up for me: Clemente's bat, the last one, hit 3,000. The boy takes endless photos of the plaques. Steve Carlton's bronze likeness is uncanny. Rickey Henderson's plaque has to break with formatting conventions to accommodate all the teams he's played for. Only plaque to include lowercase letters? Ozzie Smith, for whatever reason. Blyleven's inscription makes the best, most concise case for his belonging here I've yet read. Glad to see him. Glad to see everyone.

In the gift shop, the boy picks out his souvenir for the trip, a fitted Tigers cap. (For reasons of his own, he is a Tigers fan.) He picks the one that runs a little big. He has some growing to do, he figures, and it's clear that this cap is meant to last a while.

Cric and K. have been lounging in Cooperstown public library. Before we leave, they indulge one of my quirks: old graveyards. Cooperstown has one. Children, teenagers, young mothers buried here, close to 200 years on. Good to be alive.

Our biggest driving day. It rains in the afternoon, nice and hard. We are from Los Angeles, and this is sort of thrilling.

Dinner is tasty Lebanese food, in Scranton. Cue theme from The Office.

It's good and late when we arrive at The Queen B&B, on a surprisingly pretty street in Belefonte, PA. K. has chosen the place -- K. has chosen all the places, actually. The Queen is so stacked with early 20th century knickknacks, it's amazing that they found room for beds. But K's and my bed is big enough for a quick 7 Wonders with the boy, the first time I've ever played with just 3. Today I learned: A 3p game of 7 Wonders lasts about 112 seconds. It played so quickly I could've held my breath through the entire game. This was the sole 7 Wonders game of the odyssey where I was even in contention, and my first time playing as Catan, courtesy of the promo we picked up last year. In the end, I am 2 points shy. K. takes it.
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13. Board Game: Treehouse [Average Rating:5.83 Overall Rank:5847]
C. B. Green
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Culver City
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Breakfast at the Queen is eggs benedict, with the eggs sunk into a little pocket in the bread. K. is pumped. And then we are on the road again.

We saw my college pals on the front end of the journey, now it's time for K's friends -- Jess & Nathan, plus their progeny Adella (3) and their hounds Zeb (black) and Mona (wary). We're set up for a few days in Du Bois, PA, at Nathan's clan's house (cool & slender & chalet-like) on Treasure Lake (flat & wet & lake-like).

While Jess & K. commence their inscrutable three-day running conversation about medical/doctor crap, the boy and I play a little Treehouse. The Icehouse pyramids were practically designed for travel. I've brought Martian Coasters along, too, but it's one of the few games we bring that never hits the table. Treehouse is pure, time-killing filler. We try a little Zendo thereafter, but our minds aren't in it.

Nathan arrives last, slaps a 2013 registration sticker on the family canoe, and lake fun commences. The boy and I shove off in the canoe, not realizing until we are 30 yards away from shore that we have forgotten life jackets. I decide that turning the canoe around would be a drag, and so we choose to live dangerously. Nothing befalls us. Though the boy and I prefer kayaks to canoes, it's fun to be paddling.
 
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14. Board Game: 7 Wonders [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:43]
C. B. Green
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Culver City
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Cripes, Nathan can cook. We got lamb for Friday night, with some sort of mustardy seasoning. Yessss.

After dinner, we spread the gospel of 7 Wonders. All 6 of us playing. The boy takes this one, too. I come in 6th. Yep. 6th out of 6. Behind two total rookies, as well as Cric, who bested me despite playing not a single blue, red or green card. Jesus.
 
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15. Board Game: The Resistance: Avalon [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:88]
C. B. Green
United States
Culver City
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We played some Resistance in Vermont, but neither game really clicked. But the two games we play in Du Bois (all 6 of us playing) come alive. The first game is a quickish one, as K. fingers me as Merlin to steal a win for the bad guys. The second is a classic, as Cric plays K. like a freaking autoharp, letting her suspicions run rampant against Jess (Merlin) and Nathan (just a dude). I, of course, am caught up in K.'s madness, and allow my own suspicions of Nathan to blind me to the truth. It comes down to the final mission. K. has picked the team of herself, me, Jess, Cric. It passes, over Jess' objections, thanks to... the boy. We all but know that the boy is a traitor. Shit. Shit. Shit.

Cric spikes the 5th quest, exultant. That lying little bitch. I am so fucking proud to be her father.
 
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16. Board Game: Hanabi [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:289]
C. B. Green
United States
Culver City
California
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Cric knows there's no suitable encore for masterminding a traitor win in Resistance, so departs the company. (Upon reflection, I realize that Cric has been training for these games all week. Summer reading list is not only Macbeth, also The Prince.) Left with five, we decide to bust out Hanabi.

I played Hanabi in Vermont, as well, a Monday night game with K., the boy, Randall and Maddie. Jess and Nathan take to it as well. It's a pretty great game, small and thinky, with plenty of built-in tension. As a family, we have yet to figure out exactly how much information is too much information, to the point where it crosses the blurry lines of the rules. And it's pretty fun. That said, all of the games of it that I've played have felt pretty much the same. That's not necessarily a drawback, but it does make reporting the games a little rote. We hit 21 points this time, just about our average. Though I did arrive at a strategy/principle to try for next time: Always be giving hints, if at all possible. Try your hardest to find a hint to give rather than discarding. Giving hints is the only thing that doesn't burn through the deck. If you finish the game and there are hint tokens available, you've missed an opportunity.

In terms of lake fun, we did not miss our opportunities. The next day, K. and I tried water skiing. I last water-skied, oh... let's call it 28 years ago. My strength : body weight ratios are not what they once were. Two attempts was all it took to make me realize: this ain't happening. I handed the skis off to K., who suffered the same fate. Sigh. Too much boardgaming; not enough building up the core muscles. My regrets, such as they are, are modest.

Because why would anyone in their right mind want to water ski when you can hook your powerboat up to a nearby inner tube and get dragged around the lake at 25 mph while holding on for deal life and laughing like a maniac just sprung from the local asylum on a minor legal technicality? If there are answers to that question, I do not want to hear them. And in fact, I can't hear them, drowned out as they are by the whine of the motor, the jouncing of the tube along the choppy waves, the literal rush of water in my ears as the tube flips and deposits me in the lake at very high speeds. Holy fuck, tubing is fun. K., the boy and I all do a bunch of it.
 
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17. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:132] [Average Rating:7.45 Unranked]
C. B. Green
United States
Culver City
California
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More cooking from Nathan, that night, this crazy pepper-onion-sausage-pasta thing, plus plenty of Blue Moon from the local beer distributor, a PA legal/commercial quirk that K. is still puzzling over days later.

Cric begs off tonight, so it's just 5 of us. Down from the shelf comes the house copy of TtR for my first 5p game of it in a while, K's and the boy's first-ever 5p tilt. It's probably the fiercest-fought game of the whole odyssey, with a big tangle up in the northeast. Nathan seems to have a free hand out west, so I get uncharacteristically dickish and block him from LA to San Francisco; following my lead, the boy grabs the other track to complete the block. But as it happens, I am ultimately hoist by my own dickishness. Nathan's workaround for the LA-SF route is roundabout enough to give him the longest continuous route bonus; I effectively forfeited my chance at the bonus in electing to throw down my blocking trains. In the end, those 10 points are the difference as Nathan bests me 120-116, with K., Jess and the boy following at some remove. It's as intense a game of TtR as I've played, and the best man won. Nathan spent all weekend cooking for us and driving the boat that dragged our tubes around that lake. A convincing win at Ticket to Ride is the least that man deserves.

The next day is Sunday, our last full day of odysseying. There's talk of going for a hike in what we're told is a spectacular old growth state forest. But who are we kidding? If there's a choice to be made, that choice is obviously: more tubing! And by god, that's what happens.

Jess & Nathan are working on Monday, poor souls, so we have to get rolling by mid-afternoon back to their hometown and our departure point, Pittsburgh. After a couple hours' drive, I take Cric and the boy and check in to our only capital-H hotel of the trip, the Westin. Jess and K. take Jess' car, no doubt yapping about diagnoses and CT scans and EMR and impenetrable doctorly jargon the whole way, and pick up tasty Pittsburgh thai food. We all rendezvous at Jess & Nathan's pad in Fineview, climbing some seriously narrow 19th century streets en route. But the food is delicious -- chicken/pumpkin curry and some kind of crazy-ass salmon. I'm so full of food and overall satisfaction I nearly zonk out in their deliciously cool lower-floor den, which also features bookshelves to be reckoned with. My near somnolence is the signal that it's time to bid farewell.
 
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18. Board Game: Guillotine [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1021]
C. B. Green
United States
Culver City
California
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Back at the Westin, K. is unimpressed with the size of the beds, and does her best to intimidate the staff into giving us more/bigger rooms, or at least some kind of comped breakfast, but comes up empty-handed. Tough town, Pittsburgh.

The bed is barely big enough for our last game of the odyssey, which turns out to be Guillotine. Cric declines, so it's K., me and the boy once again. I start out OK, but K. is a fierce Guillotine player, and true to form, she comes roaring back on the third day. No sooner have I forced her to give up Louis XVI and put him back on the end of the line than she throws a card that manages to freeze my play cold and rearrange the line so that Louis falls to her once again. In the end, I have 20 points, with the boy at 24 and K. at 30+. Bleah. My gaming odyssey ends as it started, in mediocrity.

Next morning, I am the only one up early, so I putter around the hotel, reading my book in the atrium, seeing which unoccupied conference rooms I can sneak into. There's some sort of church-oriented conference going on; Westin is crawling with Lutherans. Back up at the room, I see if anyone wants to venture out for breakfast. The boy is game. On hotel staffer's rec, we go to Hanlon's, joyously blasting classic rock on a sunny Monday morning. More corned beef hash for me; Hanlon's comes up short in this dept, sad to say, though the boy's pancakes are richly buttermilky.

Return to Westin to learn that K. has in some bizarre fashion ripped a contact lens in half, something I did not know could happen. K. schedules emergency appt with local Pittsburgh optometrist; kids and I attempt to visit nearby Point State Park. In this, I fail, missing some sort of crucial turn off and getting shot across one of the city's apparent 112 bridges. The mishap redounds to our favor. I pull into a parking lot to get my bearings; by sheerest chance, this proves to be the the parking lot for the Duquesne Incline. So we do that. The Incline is awesome in its Pittsburghery, 19th century mechanical marvelousness, friendly and industrial. And the view from the crest is quite something. (Best thing that didn't happen this trip? Dropping rental car key off the Incline terrace. For a moment, my heart stopped.)

After reclaiming K. from optometrist, we have time to kill. The most reliable solution? As always, lunch. This time, deep into the heart of Allegheny, at Max's. A remarkable meal. Fresh soft pretzels. Spaetzle. Sauerbraten. Wurst. And BEER. K. and I split a sampler of four native German brews. Holy christ. It was like the first time I had beer in the UK: So this is what it's supposed to taste like. Unreal. Max's now an official pilgrimage site.

After lunch, the very last pilgrimage. Too bad the Bucs aren't in town; if they were, we'd have grabbed a game Sunday at PNC. But a few hours before we leave for good, K. drops me and the boy at the Forbes Field site on the U Pitt campus ... the old brick center field wall and the flagpole, sitting peacefully in a shady spot off Clemente Dr.; the left field line, bricked out for posterity, running into the campus; the plaque where Mazeroski's HR cleared the wall. It's simply the loveliest thing. All cities should do this much for their bygone stadiums. Save passers-by, no one else is there, just me and the boy. It's sunny and warm. I know I will remember this. It's good to be here with him.

K. and Cric pick us up, and we struggle through Fort Pitt traffic to the airport, divest ourselves of the rental car. The in-flight movie is again, somehow, Iron Man 3. This mystery holds our attention, though not for the duration of the flight.

By my count, I played 33 games over the odyssey, and also ate corned beef hash in four different states, and ate ice cream and steak, and drank the best beer I've drunk since I became a parent, and saw shooting stars, and got pulled around a lake in a tube and went to the Hall of Fame with my boy. I even found myself in a swimming pool with a complete stranger who turned out to be the son of my high school English teacher, which I didn't even mention before, since so much other stuff also happened. 33 games is a lot, even for me. I even won some. Everybody won some.

It is late in Los Angeles, even later back east. K.'s dad picks us up. Our cars are at his house. Before we sleep, there is In n' Out Burger, and we are home.
 
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