I have always enjoyed the vacation geek lists from others, so I thought I'd try one of my own. Since I've always looked at vacation geek lists with an eye toward whether I would like to do the same vacation or not, I will try to give you a feel for that in this geek list. So, I will be 50% game geek, 50% travel guide. In this geek list you will find both session reports, ideas for games to design, and notes and comments about various vacation attractions. You will also find out how Jennifer Aniston, Siegfried and Roy's white lions, Jamie Farr, Cliff Claven, sharks on a feeding frenzy, George Bush and an unwrapped Egyptian mummy all contributed to our vacation.
This vacation included my primary gaming group (my family), so to help give some context to some of the game comments, let me introduce the group:
Darlene - My awesome wife who enjoys playing games, but is not big on learning the rules for new games. So, I have a hard time getting her to play much of a variety of games. If it is Race for the Galaxy or a Stefan Feld game, then she is in. However, she is not willing to try games with a theme that does not interest her. That pretty much eliminates science fiction, fantasy and war. Not sure how I got her to play Rftg!
Drew - My oldest son who is a prototypical euro gamer. Although he is an analytical thinker, he gets impatient anytime someone suffers with analysis paralysis. He wants to play the game, not watch someone sit and think about the game.
Darin - My youngest son who is an Ameritrasher. It is hard to get him to sit down and play a euro, although somehow Aricola is one of his favorites.
Daniel - Our nephew, who we have turned into a true board game geek. He is huge on theme. Even if it is a pasted on theme, as long as it integrates nicely with the game play he finds a way to accentuate the theme to make the game enjoyable.
Given that both of my boys are competitive atheletes, we also decided to turn our week of gaming into a competition. At the end of the week we would plug our finishing positions for unique games into the Microsoft TrueSkill calculator (http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/trueskill/calcu...) to see who would win the week's most skillful player.
Our vacation accommodations were at The Maumee Bay State Park and Resort (http://www.maumeebaystateparklodge.com/) in Oregon, Ohio. It is just a short, uneventful drive of two hours from our home. Along the trail to Oregon, we did travel right past the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant. Looking at the cooling tower made me realize I had not packed Power Grid to play during our vacation.
We arrived at the resort on Saturday afternoon, checked in, went grocery shopping, and spent the rest of the evening settling in. In our cottage there was a nice shelf above the television to hold all the games we were planning to play.
Of course, when staying at a place for the first time, you are never quite sure if there is going to be a table big enough for gaming. What a bonus to find out the cottage had a table big enough for the Eastern Railways map of Railways of the World.
As for the rest of the cottage, there was room to sleep seven: 1 bedroom with a double bed, 1 bedroom with a bunk bed, and a loft with 3 additional twin beds. While not filthy, the cottage was not as clean as Darlene would have liked. Recognizing we were staying at a cottage in a state park, we were not expecting the cleanliness of the Ritz-Carlton. However, the tile floors looked like they hadn't been scrubbed for a year, and there were some cob webs and a few dead bugs lying around. The shower was not particularly clean and it reminded me of the Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) conversation in the movie "The Break-up", where she criticizes Gary's (Vince Vaughn) plumbing skills because the shower is either too hot or too cold. I will say though that there was always enough hot water to handle five back to back showers. The cottage had lots of windows with a view of the woods, but we are not sure when the windows were last washed. Fortunately, the kitchen was pretty clean and there was an appropriate assortment of pots, pans, dishes and glasses.
When we checked out at the end of the week, Darlene mentioned to the staff that the cottage was not as clean as she expected and they gave us a 10% discount off our bill and apologized profusely. They said all the cottages were supposed to be thoroghly cleaned before guests check in. Overall the quaint little cottage served its purpose, and we did agree that we would be willing to stay in one again.
On Saturday evening we did play some Rftg while we watched the inagural NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway. Race was the most played game of the vacation week. Everyone in the group except Drew loves this card game. Drew is learning to tolerate it and will play occasionally.
Since we only wanted to include each game into the TrueSkill calculator once for our weekly competition, we also used it to determine the overall ranking for Rftg. The Mu/Sigma results showed that:
Toledo is 20-30 minutes west of the resort and is where the Holy Rosary Cathedral (http://www.rosarycathedral.org/vtourstart.asp) is located. On Sunday morning we drove over to the cathedral, which is the primary church of the Toledo Roman Catholic Diocese, for mass. The cathedral is Spanish Plateresque in design, the only one of its kind in North America.
An important facet of games to many gamers is theme. Many games incorporate as part of the theme the building of a cathedral. However, when looking at a magnificent chuch such as this (with its myriad of piers and arches, the nave ceiling decorated with scenes from the Old Testament, a half-domed apse with frescos, and the sparkling rose window above the front entry way), it is clear a game can never deliver the same type of feeling as experiencing the real thing.
After church we visited the Toledo Zoo (http://www.toledozoo.org/zooinfo/about.html). Recognized as one of the world's most complete zoos, this was a must stop for Darlene. After spending the day at the zoo, I can say it is definitely a highly recommended stop.
In the Arctic Encounter exhibit, there was an information board presenting the story on how five different Eskimo tribes have learned to adapt to and survive in the cold. One such tribe was the Intuit (http://www.ehow.com/info_8461923_tools-inuit-tribe.html). Daniel mentioned he thought this would be an awesome theme for a board game. Does such a game already exist?
A baby elephant named Lucas was just born at the zoo. He was only 1 month old and even though you could not feed the elephant, he was still quite the attraction!
A zoo keeper has trained one of the gorillas to stick a twig through the fence of the enclosure into a jar of peanut butter and to pull the end of the twig back through the fence to eat the peanut butter off the end of the twig. We were lucky enough to be at the exhibit when the zoo keeper placed a jar of peanut butter outside of the fence so the gorilla could demonstrate the feat.
Three of Siegfried and Roy's male white lions, Wisdom, Courage and Legend are currently on loan to the Toledo Zoo.
The zoo's botanical flower garden has many different beautiful plants and flowers.
We ended the day on Sunday with a game of Glory to Rome. This is a game I like but can't seem to get to the table much. For some reason, the rest of the family usually turns it down when I suggest it. You wouldn't think this to be the case given that everyone likes Rftg so much.
I won the game with only 16 victory points by completing the Catacomb early in the game.
Monday morning/afternoon was a stormy, rainy day. We started our day with a game of Carson City, using the river side of the board and playing with the might is right variant. This variant adds a tactical element to the game and removes the luck associated with the dice rolls for resolving duels.
Daniel ended up with the short end of the stick with the revolver tiles, but worked to mitigate that by taking either the sheriff role or the three guns chip from the action track. It was a pretty good strategy.
Drew had a tough game because he never got to go first in the turn order throughout the whole game.
I managed to end up getting three saloons and was able to combine that with the Grocer role during the last round to receive a lot of income that could be translated into victory points. In the end I scored 60 points and Daniel finished second with 51.
Everyone in the group except Darin really likes this game. I was hopeful when I bought it that Darin would like it because of the combination of some Ameritrash (with the guns and duels) into a euro. Unfortunately that did not prove to be the case. In any event, I highly recommend this game, as it is one of my all time favorites.
All guests staying in the cottages at Maumee Bay also get to take advantage of the amenities offered in the Quilter Lodge. This includes the indoor and outdoor pools, snack bar, saunas, whirlpools, walleyball and raquet ball courts, and a gameroom with a pool table and ping pong table. We took advantage of all of these amenities throughout the week and at no point during our stay were any of the amenities at the lodge crowded. I don't know if we just got lucky or if that is typical, but it really made for an enjoyable vacation.
We waited out the Monday rain with an intensely competitive match of walleyball. Darin and Daniel beat Drew and I 3 games to 2, with the score of the tie breaker game 15 - 13.
Once the rain stopped later in the day, we spent some time at the outdoor pool. Luckily, there were no crocodile's in the pool, nor were there any floating Baby Ruth's! Seriously, the outdoor pool at the lodge was fantastic and we used it throughout our stay. Darlene particularly enjoyed spending time at the pool reading novels.
Along the road between our cottage and the lodge, right near the driveway to our cottage, was a snake crossing sign. For some reason, this was the only place Darlene insisted on getting a picture of me. Not sure what she was trying to say.
Tuesday was another day at the pool at the lodge. We also got in a game of Earth Reborn. This is an Ameritrash game with some euro elements. I purchased it hoping to bridge the gap between Drew and Darin's gaming preferences, but just as was the case with Carson City this did not work.
We played scenario 4, Trapped In Flames. Drew and Daniel were the Norads and Darin and I played as the Salemites. The Norads ended up getting trapped in the command room and the Salemites were able to secure the win in turn 5.
There was a significant amount of downtime between which any of us got to play another turn, and this was the downfall of the game. Drew declared it as his least favorite game of any of our games. It is still Darin and Daniel's favorite game. For me, I think it is good fun as a two player but am not thrilled with it as a four player.
Just a stone's throw away from the park is the Sundance Kid Drive-In. It is a 50's style drive-in that was voted one of America's 10 best, with all the nostalgia and with FM stereo sound transmitted to your car. In addition to the typical drive-in concession stand, there is the Butch Cassidy Canteen, an outside concession wagon serving up carnival favorites such as funnel cakes. Tuesday night is discount admission night, so we went to the movies.
We watched Mr. Poppers Penguins , which Darlene thought was "cute" and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which didn't start until after midnight. Transformers had what could have been an interesting story line to develop about the great space race resulting from the US/Russia trying to recover Cybertronian spacecraft technology that crashed on the moon and the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident resulting from the Russians trying to revive the recovered technology. Instead, the movie wanted to spend an inordinate amount of time showing the fighting between the Autobots and Decepticons.
A Cliff Claven from Cheers fact: Did you know that at its peak in the 60's, Ohio had 189 operating drive-in theatres. It is still among the top 5 drive-in states in America (http://www.driveinmovie.com/mainmenu.htm).
Wednesday was the day for the golf game. Arthur Hills designed the links-style Maumee Bay Golf Course, which rests on 1,850 acres of protected wetlands inside Maumee Bay State Park, in 1991. Adorned with its tall fescue, the par 72 golf course challenges golfers of all skill levels. Maumee Bay is a favorite among local golfers and has received acclaim from national golf publications for being one of the country's best golf values.
Despite Darin's chip to the green, Drew proved to be the golf ace with low score for the day.
Wednesday was also an opportunity to walk along the elevated two-mile boardwalk traversing swamp and marsh wetlands that starts at the state-of-the-art Trautman Nature Center across from the golf course.
These 80 acres of wetland habitat support diverse plant life, over 300 species of birds, butterflies, insects and an army of frogs. Along our walk we also saw a muskrat and a baby white-tailed deer.
I took some great pictures on the walk and have entered them into the state park's photography contest.
Wednesday evening gave us an opportunity to break out our stock car racing card game. We have a pimped out version that uses the cars that came from Race Day and cards printed through ArtsCow.
Our plan was to play a five race series over vacation, but in the end we only got in two games. Drew raced as Carl Edwards, Darin was Jimmie Johnson, Daniel was Bobby LaBonte and I raced as Kasey Kahne. We played with the pit stop rules of the advanced game.
The first race was the Daytona 500. Kasey Kahne lead for almost the entire race with both Carl Edwards and Bobby LaBonte losing traction and falling out off the lead pack. It was a remarkably clean race with only a single caution flag. This worked to Kasey Kahne's disadvantage as the lack of cautions resulted in his draw pile becoming depleted (with only four cards in the drivers hand) with 184 of the 200 laps completed. On the next turn, 15 additional laps were raced, going to lap 199 with Kasey Khane maintaing the lead but down to two cards. On the final lap of the race both Carl Edwards and Bobby LaBonte were able to pass Kasey with Carl taking the checkered flag.
Race two was at the monster mile in Dover. As the green flag racing progressed, concrete Carl Edwards felt he had the strongest car but just had to find a way to race through the lead pack to get to the front. Dover was raced with five caution flags, one of which was for Kasey Kahne overheating and being eliminated from the race. In the end, Carl Edwards lead the most laps and came home with his second checkered flag.
Using the championship points rules of the advanced game for scoring a race season, Carl Edwards (Drew) was the clear points winner:
All of us except Daniel thoroughly enjoy SCCRCG. He is not a stock car racing fan so he hates the theme of the game. As far as I am concerned, it is definitely the favorite of all car racing games I have played.
Also on Wednesday night we had to go over to the lodge to do some laundry. While waiting for the laundry to complete we sat at a table in the lodge and played Pandemic. This was our first time to ever play with the On the Brink expansion. We played a five player game with 4 epidemics and the mutation challenge. We ended up curing all the diseases with 7 cards left in the draw pile.
One thing we learned is that the dryer in the laundry area is extremely slow and not hot enough. It was devouring quarters like a shark on a feeding frenzy. While we waited and waited, Drew and I got in a bunch of games of ping pong and the rest of the crew played several games of Rftg.
Thursday was a day at the beach. The beach on Lake Erie at Maumee Bay State Park has many activities offered by http://www.taylorrec.com/, including Banana Boat rides, Jet Ski and sailboat rentals, and Ocean Kayaks and canoes. We stayed away from the kayak's and canoe's because Darlene is sensitive to the smell of a paddlefahrt.
The beach is a nice place to be on a hot day as the winds coming off of Lake Erie help to keep you feeling comfortable in the summer sun.
Due to the winds and access to the wide open waters, this beach is a popular destination for boardsailing as well.
We played a game of Railways of the World Thursday night. Darlene likes Ticket to Ride and I wanted to find a game that gave the same feel but that was a little closer to being a gamers game. So far we have only played this game a couple of times and only with the Mexico map. This was our first chance to play with the Eastern US map. Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience, but from our final scores it is clear we still have a ways to go to understand the best approach to playing this game:
Lakeside Chautauqua (http://lakesideohio.com/) is a summertime tradition for many. It is about an hour east of the state park and was our day trip for Friday. It is one of only a few continuously operating independent chautauquas that persist in the 21st century.
Chautauqua was an adult education movement in the United States, highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying that Chautauqua is "the most American thing in America." The Chautauqua brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, artisans, entertainers and preachers. It was for nurturing mind, body and spirit.
Perhaps the best thing at Lakeside are fresh morning donuts from the Patio Restaurant. While there we had a cookout/picnic in the central park and played basketball. We also played several games of shuffleboard on their glass beaded, concrete courts. These are perhaps the only shuffleboard courts with stands for seating spectators. Lakeside is the home of both the prestigious annual international shuffleboard competition and the national championships.
In the evening we attended the performance of the Passing Zone comedy juggling team at the Hoover auditorium.
We had to check out of the resort Saturday morning, so we headed back to Toledo to visit the Museum of Art (http://www.toledomuseum.org/). The museum is internationally known and considered to have one of the finest and most diverse collections in the country.
One of the current exhibits was "The Egypt Experience: Secrets of the Tomb." Of course, ancient Egypt is a popular theme for gamers so there were lots of interesting items in this exhibit, including Amun-Re and Mut. There was also mention of Ra in the exhibit. It was also neat to see the museum's famous partially unwrapped mummy.
Also on special exhibit were Frank Stella's Irregular Polygons. There was an activity area to the exhibit where visitors could try to create their own work of art with the irregular polygon theme. As Darin worked on his masterpiece, he was quick to point out "I don't need therapy, I need art school."
One of the popular discussion threads here on the geek centers on games with boards with great artwork. There are also games focused on painting, such as Modern Art, Fresco, and Pastiche. Further, Siena is the only game I know that was inspired by a single work of art. While looking at Stella's polygons, it struck me that someone should design an abstract game using one of the abstracts from his irregular polygon collection. Stella's art would be the game board. As his art highlights many of the elements and principles of art and design, and some of these principles are also core to game design, they would have to be incorporated into the game design. I am thinking the work Conway would be a great choice for the board.
The parallelogram in the painting evokes a left to right movement. Movement is a principle of design in art and a core mechanic of board games. Unity, another principle of design highlighted in Stella's work, is the overall coherence of the composition. The structure, color and shapes complement each other and contribute to a unified picture. Likewise, unity in rules, art work and mechanics is necessary for a great board game. Stella also strove for balance in his work. This principle relates to the sense of visual equilibrium in a work of art. In game design, balance is the key to ensuring each players chance to win, or the illusion of being able to win, are kept in equillibrium among the players as long as possible throughout the game. Shape is the primary element of art used by Stella. Shape is the enclosed area in his paintings defined by other elements of art such as color. Shape and color are key choices for the design of both the game board and game components. They are key elements for ensuring the game is functional.
Finally, any game based on Stella's Conway would have to include some sort of "mirror" mechanic, as this was his inspiration for the painting. He said, "What I had in mind was a swinging mirror in my mother's bedroom. This was a rectangular mirror mounted on two pieces of wood with pivots." Hmmm - these Stella thoughts might be a great idea for a game design contest here on the geek.
Another fun moment at the museum centered around a model of Rodin's Thinker. As Drew looked at it he felt the title was wrong. He thought instead of representing a thinker, it represented someone suffering from depression. He had to give us his pose for a thinker.
Toledo is known as the glass city because of the many companies started in Toledo that service the glass industry. The Libbey family of the Libbey Glass company founded the art museum, so it is only natural that part of the museum is the Glass Pavilion (http://www.toledomuseum.org/glass-pavilion). There is a cool glass blowing demonstration at the pavilion that is free to watch. For a fee, you can sign up for Art Hours and produce your own glass works.
Our final vacation stop was for dinner at Tony Packo's.
This restaurant is another Toledo landmark made famous by Jamie Farr's Klinger character on M*A*S*H. Specializing in Hungarian style food, the inside of the restaurant walls are adorned with glass-encased autographed hot dog buns. Bert Reynolds was the first celebrity to sign a bun and in addition to the main cast members of M*A*S*H hundreds of celebrities have signed buns. Among those we saw are former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, comedians Bill Cosby and Jerry Sienfeld, and musicians Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper and Bing Crosby.
We arrived back home on Saturday evening. However, not anxious for our vacation filled with gaming to end, we played a couple more games on Sunday. First was Agricola, which is probably the most universally enjoyed game of our group. We had a close game using the E deck with final scores coming in at:
Leonardo da Vinci is a game that rarely gets to the table. We don't like how each starting player starts with a different mix of resources, and have not tried playing with the variant for chosing the starting set up. It doesn't seem like we ever have a close game when we play this and it became apparent who was on track to win this game prior to the end as well. The final scoring was very lopsided:
So, based on each unique game that we played over the week, who would win the Microsoft True Skill competition? Well, Darlene spent too much time reading and Darin sat out too many games to have a competition between all of us. In plugging in the results from the seven unique games played with Drew, Daniel and I, the calculated MU/Sigma numbers indicate:
To finish my job as a travel guide, I wanted to include just a few of the other great destination spots in this area of Ohio. Since we live close by, we have done many of these so we did not cram them into our summer vacation.
The biggest attraction is Cedar Point (www.cedarpoint.com). Located about 1 hour east of Maumee Bay in Sandusky, the roller coaster capital of the world is a must visit for anyone who does not live close enough for regular visits. Other Cedar Point attractions are the Castaway Bay (www.castawaybay.com) indoor waterpark resort and the Soak City outdoor waterpark. Located between Cedar Point and Soak City is Challenge park, with go-kart tracks and miniature golf.
Not far from Cedar Point is the African Safari Wildlife Park with more than 400 animals. In addition to the drive-thru safari, it also offers camel and pony rides.
There are also several islands in Lake Erie that can be accessed by ferry or speedboat. The world's largest accessible glacial grooves are found on Kelleys Island. The island offers an abundance of sights and experiences and is considered the walleye fishing destination of the world (http://kelleysislandchamber.com/). Kelley's Island offers one of America's top 10 healthiest beach and lake getaways. (http://www.harbourridgeinn.com/pdf/today-show-article.pdf)