Categories
Comics Life

Salt Lake Comic Con 2014

Back when we lived in Utah, we went to Salt Lake Comic Con every year. Our 2014 trip included two of my favorite moments with my daughter, Lark. These were originally posted on different days on Google+, but I’m pulling them into one post here (since G+ is going the way of the dodo).

April 18, 2014

I expect my Parent of the Year award any day now.

April 19, 2014

Comic Con day two (for us; day three of the con). One of the things I love about cons is the surprises — I didn’t expect we’d get to wear a snake.

Categories
Life

Our 10th wedding anniversary

Yesterday was our 10th wedding anniversary, and we spent it in Leavenworth, WA — the first just-us trip we’ve taken since our daughter was born (even further back, actually: the first since our honeymoon).

It was a short overnight trip that somehow managed to feel like it lasted much longer, in the best possible way. We tasted some excellent wine, ate some excellent food — including a stop at Twede’s Cafe, the diner from Twin Peaks, en route — and stayed in a lovely little B&B.[1]

We also had a chance to reflect on the past ten years, being in love, how happy we are as a couple and a family, and how little of where we are now we would have guessed at ten years ago. At dinner last night, we chatted about where we might be in ten years — in our fifties, with Lark about to head off to college, for starters. It was wonderful.

I’ve been married once before; it was a years-long disaster. Both of our parents are divorced, and there are quite a few remarriages and subsequent divorces in the family as well. We don’t tend to dwell on that, but it’s always there as context — and it makes ten happy years mean that much more.

Here’s to the next ten!

[1] This photo was taken while staring into the sun, which is why I look like a squinty ferret.

Categories
Board games

Kids’ board games my whole family enjoys (around ages 4-7)

We like playing board games as a family, and it’s always a fun challenge to find age-appropriate board games that all of us will enjoy. It’s easier to find age-appropriate games that only my daughter, Lark, will enjoy, and we play those, too — but the sweet spot is when everyone is genuinely engaged.

Looking over our collection, these 12 games that have become family favorites. It’s a pretty varied mix, including dexterity, party, memory, and abstract games, but the one thing that unites them is that actual decisions are involved, and those decisions are enjoyable for all of us. Some are games I mentally categorize as grown-up games, but my kiddo enjoys them too.

These games, with my ratings, are listed below in alphabetical order. (You can see all of my current ratings on BoardGameGeek, too.)

  • Animal Upon Animal (8/10; paid link) is right on the edge of the “dexterity games I count among my non-kids’ games” line. It’s Haba, so the pieces are fantastic and the game is quick, fun, and accessible, and it plays well with 2-4.
  • Click Clack Lumberjack (8/10; paid link
  • ), also called Toc Toc Woodman, is one of my overall favorite dexterity games, not just among kids’ games. It requires a balance of finesse and confidence that neatly levels the playing field in mixed-age groups.
  • Connect Four (6/10; paid link
  • ) is the lowest-rated game on this list, and a hoary old chestnut that has been eclipsed by many, many other games…but it takes like two minutes to play, and my daughter loves it. It’s been a good one for observing (and teaching) her about tactics.
  • Don’t Break the Ice (7/10; paid link
  • ) is another lightning-quick two-player dexterity game that tends to get pretty same-y, but it’s so short that we usually play several times in a row anyway.
  • Gobblet Gobblers (8/10; paid link
  • ) is an abstract two-player game that makes Tic-tac-toe interesting by giving you the option of covering each others’ pieces. It’s a simple change, but it makes all the difference — and a game still only takes a couple of minutes. We find ourselves playing several times in a row.
  • Hold On Scooby-Doo (7/10; paid link
  • ) is a light dexterity game for two that takes about as long to set up as it does to play. It’s just tricky enough to have been fun for several years, and the theme is cute.
  • Labyrinth (7/10; paid link
  • ) is a solid game, and it scales extremely well with age. When my daughter was little, we gave her all sorts of advantages; as she’s aged, we’ve removed them to keep it competitive. This is her overall favorite game, at least for the past year or two.
  • The Magic Labyrinth (9/10; paid link
  • ) is the prettiest game on this list, and has the cleverest board. Its use of magnets and big, pleasing pieces is ingenious, and it’s probably the only memory game I genuinely enjoy. My kiddo is very good at this one.
  • My First Carcassonne (8/10; paid link
  • ) is one I wish my daughter picked more often, because the decisions are interesting and it nudges up against other games — like Carcassonne (paid link) — that drift into grown-up territory. It’s a beautiful game, too, another one that plays well with 2-4.
  • Reverse Charades (9/10; paid link
  • ) is one of our overall favorite party games with adults, but my daughter likes it, too. She doesn’t know all of the cards, but tends to pick them up quickly once her teammates start acting things out.
  • Rhino Hero (8/10; paid link
  • ) is a hoot, a great card-based dexterity game with a tiny footprint, and one I happily bring to parties. It’s solid with two players, and with more than two. (I bet it would be fun drunk, too.)
  • Suspend (8/10; paid link
  • ) is another example of dexterity being the “great leveler” in kids’ games played with the whole family. It starts out easy, but the whole assemblage turns into a hot mess pretty quickly, and it’s a blast.

This list will probably look different in a year, never mind in another few years, but for now it’s a good snapshot of this particular sweet spot in my family — the games we all enjoy, and in many cases have enjoyed for the past few years.

Categories
Free RPGs Story games Tabletop RPGs

Storylike

After posting The Thief, the fourth game I designed, I started thinking about the third, Storylike. I designed Storylike for my daughter, Lark, for New Game Day 2014, and we played it with my wife, Alysia, and our friend Jaben.

I came away thinking it probably needed some work, but a year later I haven’t done that work. So why not put it out there?

I’d probably design it differently now, but in cleaning it up to publish I realized that that’s not a bad thing — Storylike reflects what I wanted out if it in 2014. It’s a snapshot, and a playable one; we had fun playing it. I might tweak it someday, I might not.

My design goals for Storylike were:

  • Create an RPG for my daughter, age four, that plays quickly enough for her attention span but which includes some traditional RPG trappings. There are dice, you roll them to see what happens, you have “hit points” (sort of), and the game has a “strong GM” role. It plays in about 30 minutes.
  • Use as many of the standard polyhedrals as possible, as she’d just bought a set of her own. (Storylike uses d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12).
  • Make it easy to tell which dice are which on the character sheet, since she was still working on her numbers at the time.
  • No math, just compare results, because addition doesn’t come easily to her yet. Every roll is one die vs. one die, high die wins (players win ties).
  • Encourage creative thinking, teamwork, and perseverance. Storylike does this through Talents, which require creativity to apply; dice odds, which incentivize helping; and Problems, which anyone can have and which need to be overcome.
  • Assume the GM can improvise a short game on the spot, and don’t provide advice for doing so. The GM was me, so for good or ill the game assumes I know what I want to do with it.
  • Fit the whole thing on one page. It’s two pages if you count the character sheet.

The odds of success also tell you quite a bit about the game:

These odds incentivize players to help each other (which increases your roll to the next die type) and to try to use their abilities (d4 is the “I don’t have that” default, and gives the worst odds), but the odds are always tilted in the players’ favor thanks to players winning ties. The possibility of failure exists, but it’s not rampant; that felt about right for my kiddo.

My favorite things about Storylike are Problems, Hidden Talents, and the visual character sheet. You can tell that the latter wasn’t designed by an artist, and that I created it in Word. Anyone with a drop of design talent could sexy it up in just a few minutes.

I like Problems because they’re so flexible. They can be injuries, sure, but they can also be conditions like Afraid, Embarrassed, or Dazed. Problems were inspired by stress and consequences in Fate, but they distill that combination of tracks and aspects down to a single mechanic for the sake of simplicity. Hidden Talents are similarly flexible, and they also signal that characters should develop during play.

If you try out Storylike, I’d love hear what you think of it. Enjoy!

Categories
Story games Tabletop RPGs

My daughter’s first RPG session

I wanted my daughter Lark’s first RPG experience to be one that reflected her personality and interests (at age 4), so I designed one, Storylike, for us to play New Game Day. I snapped this photo from her first-ever gaming session.

Categories
Fitness Hiking Peakbagging

Dooly Knob

Here’s Lark at the summit of Dooly Knob (5,278 feet), not the mountain we set out to climb. We couldn’t make it up Frary Peak, and turned around when we hit a snowy patch that neither of us felt comfortable attempting. It was a good lesson, and we had a great trip.

I decided Frary Peak would make a good first-summit-since-I-started-peakbagging, and a good hike for my daughter (age 4). While I got a lot right, I somehow missed that it was 3.5 miles one way, not RT. D’oh! Given that I was doing it with my daughter on my shoulders as much as possible, that was a big difference — and longer than I’ve hiked in one whack in about 20 years.

We started seeing snow around the 2 mile marker, and compacted snow on the trail around 2.5. At about 2.75 we hit one of the steepest spots, which looked like it went up to the false summit (radio tower). With compacted snow and a long drop to the left, neither of us felt comfortable continuing; we were scared we’d fall. Solo I might have tried it, particularly as I’d have been less tired, but being responsible for Lark as well I knew turning back was the right choice.

It was disappointing, sure, but we still had a great time. On the way back, we had time to summit Dooly Knob instead, a much easier hike that we completed with no problem. All told, 6.5 miles in 4 hours, 6 of it with Lark on my back. I was bushed.

I would love to have made it up Frary, but in retrospect I learned a lot from not making it, and from the trip itself. It makes a good benchmark for my own abilities, and hers at this age, and will help me decide what I need to do and learn before trying it again — and climbing other mountains in the future.

Categories
Hiking Life

Albion Basin

We just got back from a camping trip in Albion Basin, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Moose are common up there, and we saw not one, but four, in the same evening.

The shot below is from Cecret Lake, at about 9,700 feet, with Sugarloaf in the background (11,000 feet). Lark and I hiked around the lake, and later to the foot of Devil’s Castle, and the whole place is like an alpine wonderland.