Thursday, September 14, 2017

The rhythms of writing

For the second week in a row, I found myself in the position of feeling an intrinsic need to write as Wednesday rolled over to Thursday. It certainly was not a conscious plan to sit down and write, nor was it an urge that originated from any external locus or impetus; just an internally-driven sense that I had something to say, and that even if I was not sure what that something was that I had to say something.

This push - which in part has produced this very post - made me think about the idea of writing and rhythm and creative outbursts. It is, particularly for those who have journeyed with me for much or even all of Life of Turner (a quick aside: kudos to you who have stuck around for over thirteen years of this blatherskite), a well-worn topic in these parts, though I tend to think that the constant changes in my daily circumstances more than justify my repeated self-indulgence into this topic.

Besides, even though the territory might seem familiar at first, I often find myself encountering something new in these reflective escapades, which in my mind more than justifies the amount of time I spend considering and composing them. (Not that I feel the need to justify myself in most situations anyway, but it's a comfort to think that there is a reason that I should subject my readers to such repeated ramblings. But I digress...)

Finding the beat

It seems that every time that something in my life circumstances changes that I need to find a new rhythm - and I have had no shortage of opportunities to explore this trend in my adult life, which now very slightly supersedes in length (by a few months) the amount of time I spent growing up and living at home.

In my adult years since starting university back in the fall of 2000, I have had only two calendar years in which either me and/or my wife have not experienced some kind of not-insignificant life shift - moving, changing jobs, a change in relationship status; that number lowers to one if you include starting on a church leadership team as a similarly major shift (which I do).

My life, such as it is, has been one of constant adjustment and finding the beat, as it were, only to have those processes often disrupted summarily by the conclusion of a contract or a move. I have had some success in establishing some broader patterns at times, but the goal of a constant beat has been elusive at best.

Perhaps life is actually better this way, but I suppose that I have no "control" to which to compare my experience. All I know is change and adjustment, so I cannot claim to know what it would be like to not be in such a state of flux. After all, the one year in which I did not change jobs or move was my first full year of unemployment in several years, so it was still a period of life marked by transition and instability.

And so, I have found myself again in the position of adjusting to new circumstances - in this case, a new job. It has been a great start, and I am very excited about the early progress I have made in just a few short weeks, although I have found myself surprised at how tired I have been. I find that I am having to constantly remind myself that starting all of these new relationships and initiatives and getting to know a new workplace is inherently exhausting, and that it is okay that I am crashing at the end of the day (though I feel the need to more effectively use my "useless" time on relatively passive activities like TV or video games, because of course I do).

The act of starting a new job makes every day in some way a new creative process, particularly as I am often entering the worlds of people who have things well-established by now, and I am constantly learning how to negotiate within those worlds - and even more so by the collaborative nature of my job position. It is a great challenge with a high reward factor, but it does end up taking a lot of energy as a result.

The man who would be Thursday

All of which brings me to how odd it is to have experienced not only this intrinsic need to write in two consecutive weeks in the first two weeks of September, which are two of the most intensive weeks of the school year in regard to the output required, but also to have actually been able to do it in the midst of this mentally busy season. Moreover, it is especially odd that I have felt the release to be able to incorporate writing as a functional part of my schedule without feeling as though I have had to make much of a sacrifice to do so.

Although my writing on this blog have been a consistent part of my life for most of the past thirteen years, I have rarely imposed any kind of externally derived rhythm on my process when I have blogged. My often erratically spaced method of posting new content has been subject to my desire and my availability, sometimes resulting in very creatively fertile times (like, say, October 2015 through March 2017 or so) and sometimes producing dry spells (like most summers). I wrote when I could and didn't write when I couldn't - either through circumstance or circumspection - but it always seemed as though I was subject to the whims of my writing, rather than the other way around.

But I strangely and suddenly find myself (by the way, I think I have used that phrase more often in this one post than in the past year of posts - but I digress) feeling like I can - and perhaps should and need to - attempt to adhere to some kind of publishing schedule, which is, judging by my nascently emerging circadian writing impulses, on Thursday.

Maybe it is an effective way to be able to channel my creative energy and divert enough time and focus from my other creative enterprises into my writing; or maybe it's just that I really like routine and I naturally gravitate toward it. Either way, there's a comfort in knowing that I have a week to compose my thoughts and to chip away at an idea before making it publishable, without, of course, any external expectation or pressure to do so. And even though it has only been a couple of weeks, Thursday just feels right, so my hope is to continue the trend, even if only to keep my writing chops up and to get some long-gestating ideas out into the world.

I have a backlog of half-baked, sometimes half-composed posts that I can bring forward in the queue to publish, and I think I am looking forward to trying to say something - no matter how trivial it may seem - on a weekly basis. It seems likely that I may have an even greater proportion of posts on inessential topics like pop culture as a product of my writing process and time becoming somewhat more of an entertaining diversion in life rather than a creative necessity, but I think I am okay with that, since that is the season of life in which I find myself (there's that phrase again). 

I do, of course, have other creative outlets beyond my job and this blog that I am attempting to pursue - namely my board game designs and my writing about learning about game design sporadically at Regina Game Forge - but I am hoping that standardizing this schedule may, in fact, free me up to be more creative with those other projects that I often neglect. Creativity begets creativity, as it seems.

If I am successful in this publishing endeavour, it would arguably be the first time in my history of blogging that my output would be consistent and reliable from an external perspective, so I think I am really rooting for myself to carry through with this initial momentum. I really do not know what will come of this season and where it may lead in the future, in much the same way I have had little foreknowledge of where my previous seasons of writing might lead, but I am excited to try to post more regularly and to see what comes of this season. 

For now, all I can do is do what I can for now to keep the momentum going, and I hope - without making any promises to anyone, especially me - that I have the ability to find something within myself to say and to publish each Thursday, no matter how menial or meaningful it might seem. There are definitely some rhythms to be found in this season, and I'm looking forward to just tapping (the keys) along with the beat.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The uncool of U2

It has been a great week to be a fan of U2. The band has been working on Songs of Experience, their fifteenth (!) studio album, for years, and in the last week, the album has become much more of a reality, with two new songs released as well as a release date: December 1, to coincide with World AIDS Day (a cause the band has championed for close to two decades with their partnership with the (RED) campaign).

After the band debuted "The Little Things That Give You Away" in May as the final song of the set on the first night of The Joshua Tree Anniversary tour and later played a song entitled "I Love You" on that same tour, U2 released a video of another new song entitled "The Blackout" via Facebook Live last week after sending members of the U2 fan club an intriguing piece of mail about a week beforehand.

This week, they released the official first single from the new album, "You're The Best Thing About Me", which received immediate praise from various outlets: Rolling Stone called it "lustrous", "gleaming", and "a joyous earworm"; Billboard called it "rocking" and "classic"; and although Pitchfork did not include any similarly exuberant or adulatory adjectives in their write-up, their announcement was pleasantly bereft of any of their usual snark or sarcasm, which essentially amounts to the same thing as Billboard's and Rolling Stone's exultations, when you consider the source.

Aside from my own inability to help but be unironically and unrepentantly overexcited by any new music from my favourite band - not to mention my inability to stop repeatedly streaming the two new songs - I have been very interested by the general tone of the news articles about the new single and how that tone has even shifted over the past week between the release of the two songs.

The Blackout

When U2 released "The Blackout" last week, it seemed as though most outlets of music (or entertainment) journalism had been on a conference call to decide on the general tone for a reaction to new music from the Irish foursome, as almost every news article I read (and I read most of them out of interest, even though they contained mostly the same information) hit the same beats in almost the same pacing with a similar undertone that I would describe as "grudgingly optimistic".

Most pieces mentioned the roll out of "The Blackout" in comparison to the infamous simultaneous release of the band's 2014 Songs of Innocence album directly into every user of iTunes; of course, the cosmic irony for me was that I had just moved at that time and my internet was not connected at home, so I was one of the few people who did not get the album but who actually desperately wanted it. (I ultimately had to use my Android phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot to be able to get the album on my iTunes - it took some work and time, but it was worth the agonizingly slow process.)

Now, to be fair, U2 deserved the criticism for their hubris - Bono has since admitted that they were far too ambitious in their release - and their botched roll out of the album likely directly impacted its sales, which were disappointing. It also makes sense that most articles would make mention of that escapade, since this is the first music to be released since then other than the single "Ordinary Love" which was written for the movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (and which produced a great performance on the launch of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, on which the band again performed this week.)

But under the slight sense of sarcasm, there was also an undercurrent of a combination of respect, awe, and in some cases straight-up fanboying at both new songs. This is after all, a band that has been the "biggest band in the world" on at least three occasions, and who somehow continues to be creative and engaging well past the point that most artists' careers shift into greatest hits tours and albums of covers of other artists.

By the way, I refute the implication that this summer's 30th anniversary tour of The Joshua Tree descended to that level of nostalgia; rather, I think that the tour is evidence of the continuing creative impulse of the band and their internal drive to reinterpret and recontextualize their canon in a new political climate. Now, if they were to tour Rattle and Hum in two years, I might be open to reconsidering my position...

The general tone of the articles was not unlike the recent reaction to the current "biggest pop star in the world" - Taylor Swift - who similarly released two new singles in the past weeks to mixed thoughts and reviews, including some people who seem to feel the need to not like her singles even though deep down they actually kind of want to like them. It's like there's this need from music journalists to have to distance themselves from artists who are popular solely for that reason, which is something that has been happening to U2 for three decades since The Joshua Tree sold 25 million (!) copies.

The peaks and valleys of U2

It's almost like artists are not allowed to be popular and cool, unless they cross a certain threshhold, like Bowie or Bruce or Prince; then again, each of them had a period in their careers in which they were neglected or disregarded, only to have popular opinion reverse itself again and allow them to be considered "cool" again. Then again, U2 does not care if anyone thinks they're cool. It has, after all, always been kind of cool for true music fans to regard U2 with a certain detached snobbery, with two notable exceptions.

The first such exception was 1987, when The Joshua Tree made them the biggest band in the world and was so well-received that all but the hardiest critics praised it, and again in 1991, when they deconstructed their own sense of cool with Achtung Baby, which was lauded to the point that Rolling Stone named it their album of the year over Nirvana's Nevermind, which actually finished third behind R.E.M.'s vastly underappreciated Out of Time, which featured their biggest hit, "Losing My Religion". (Rolling Stone, of course, is regarded by many other musical journalistic outlets with the same kind of geriatric disregard and ironic appreciation with which they have regarded U2 for most of their career., but the point still stands that Achtung Baby was still well-regarded at the time.)

The reality is that Bono, The Edge, Adam, and Larry are lifelong rock stars in their late fifties who are still finding ways to create interesting music and spectacle after over four decades in the business. The only sign they have shown of slowing down is that their albums have been released far less frequently than they were in the 1980s, but their output and public presence is still surprisingly consistent and creative considering the trajectory of their colleagues, and U2 has almost always eschewed public perception and done their own thing.

It has, of course, not always gone well for them to do so. Aside from the mistake in the release of Songs of Innocence, which obscured what was otherwise one of their better albums (IMHO), there have been a few such nadirs in the band's career. Their sophomore album October came in the midst of a personal spiritual identity crisis for the band, who were being pressured to choose between their career and their faith, and it also suffered from weaker lyrics in part to the fact that the lyrics were stolen days before their recording sessions.

Rattle and Hum, their 1989 follow-up to The Joshua Tree, became an ill-fated and somewhat self-indulgent album and film that flopped at the box office. Pop was a critical flop in 1997, and the PopMart Tour, despite making millions, was considered a loss because it cost so much to keep it on the road; the album has itself not aged very well. And most recently (other than Innocence), How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was critically disregarded in 2004 thanks to an awkward title and a lackluster latter half of the album.

But even those albums that are considered to be weaker still were worthwhile entries into U2's history, as they produced songs that either were hits at the time, that have been lionized or canonized by the band in the years since, or both: "Gloria" on October; "Desire", "Angel of Harlem", and "All I Want Is You" on Rattle and Hum; "Discotheque", "Staring at the Sun", and "Gone" from Pop (an album in which, admittedly, neither the songs nor the album have aged very well); and "Vertigo", "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own", and "City of Blinding Lights" on Dismantle - not to mention the various deep cuts on each of those albums that remain favourites of fanatics like me (I, for one, love "Love and Peace or Else" from Dismantle, "Hawkmoon 269" from Rattle and Hum, and "Wake Up Dead Man" from Pop).

Here's the other thing to think about when evaluating those efforts: consider what albums followed up each of those "failures" (a term I use loosely and only because of external consideration rather than my own classification). October preceded War, which features "Sunday Bloody Sunday", "New Year's Day", and "40". Rattle and Hum was followed by their best album, Achtung Baby. Pop preceded the release of The Best Of 1980-1990, which featured "Sweetest Thing", as well as All That You Can't Leave Behind, which kicked off with "Beautiful Day". And even How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was succeeded by No Line on the Horizon, which I think is still the lost masterpiece in U2's collection.

(I am not necessarily arguing that the ends of those albums justify the means of the previous efforts and the misses therein, but I do think that it bears noticing that times of artistic struggle have resulted in some of the best work of their career, and that bodes well for Songs of Experience, considering the backlash to Songs of Innocence. But I digress.)

The appeal of uncool

I think that part of the enduring appeal and success of U2 is that they have kept trying new things and that they have never gotten to consumed with their appearance. That's not to say that they have not been very self-aware about the way they present themselves and appear; it is not much of a stretch to think that U2 have probably been more conscious of that aspect of their career than almost any other rock artist, and it is a similarly effective argument to make that they have done more than almost any other artist to advance the technological aspects of a band's overall presentation.

The appeal is that U2 seems to do everything with a level of intentionality and vision that few artists - or politicians, for that matter - appear to possess, and that makes them seem uncool sometimes. But they've been that way their whole career, from when they were teens in Dublin until now, when they're almost in their sixties and still making meaningful music that resonates with a wide audience.

That earnestness is probably what initially drew me to their music more than almost anything else, and what continues to draw me in after two decades. The fact that the band had recorded most of Songs of Experience, but then felt the need to hold back its release after the shift in the political climate of the West in 2016 in order to make sure that the album fit the times into which it will be birthed is further evidence that they are still trying not to seem cool or relevant, but to say something of substance and significance and meaning on a personal and political level.

The lyric video for "You're The Best Thing About Me" concludes with a picture of a boy and a girl holding hands with the caption "A song of experience", and Bono has talked repeatedly about how this new album is not only drawn from the band's own experiences, but from the experiences that all of us have had over the past two years.

I believe, from what I have heard and seen so far, that, in the same way that Songs of Innocence drew on a sense of wonder and unpreparedness for the world in 2014, that Songs of Experience will reflect the ways in which the world has changed in just a few short years, and that it will not matter what anyone thinks, or whether the album is well received or not; what matters is that U2 have stayed true to themselves, and that's the coolest thing of all, no matter what Pitchfork might say.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Baby Driver: A Review

Baby Driver poster.jpg
Baby Driver is the story of a young getaway car driver who is caught in a web of capers and heists and who is trying to get out. It is the newest effort from one of my favourite directors, Edgar Wright, whose previous movies - Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and The World's End - all rank among my personal favourites of the past as homages to their respective genres while also being innovative, hilarious, and often just plain fun - a characteristic that seems harder and harder to find in the ever-increasing world of franchise tentpoles and self-serious sequels. (I do still wish we could have seen his version of Ant-Man, though, even though I'm certain some of the feel of that heist movie ended up here.)

I will admit that I was likely predisposed to enjoy this movie based on my affection for all of director Edgar Wright's efforts, though I will simultaneously admit that my existing affinity for his previous nerdy films was also reason to wonder whether his antics would work within the construct of a more conventional Hollywood movie, cast, and narrative. And I will now gladly admit that I loved Baby Driver for what it was: a tightly wound sonic and visual feast of a heist movie with the right balance of action, charisma, comedy, and the killer tracks to make it work.

There are so many ways this movie could have gone wrong but didn't, starting with casting. There was every possibility that Ansel Elgort might have not been able to carry the sympathetically stoically cool character, but he does in a way that establishes him as a bona fide real actor; his look is (likely deliberately) evocative of Tom Cruise in Risky Business, and although I'm not projecting him as the next coming of the Tom, it's not as much of a stretch as I would have thought to mention them in the same thought.

The supporting cast is fantastic. Lily James is very believable as the waitress/love interest, and she holds her own in a few scenes against some heavyweights. Spacey, Foxx, and Hamm are all established leading men, but they all use their charm and presence to bring unexpected life to what otherwise may have been somewhat flat stereotypes. They each manage to be captivating without chewing their way through their scenes; these are three men who know how to do what they are being asked to do, and they do it incredibly well in character while still being magnetic in their roles.

I do understand the criticisms that some people had of the cast, characters, and the story, and I can see why some people would be more cynical of the movie and what it did. It did at times feel like it was on the edge of cliche, but I think that it never really traversed into that space without winkingly knowing what it was doing and embracing it as homage, rather than merely perpetuating tired tropes; perhaps nowhere was this more evident than when Wright used what is arguably the most truly cliched driving song - Radar Love - and still managed to make it feel fresh and interesting.

I know some critics will find the movie derivative and unoriginal, but I think that Wright strikes the balance between deference and discovery well. This is a great drive heist movie as part of a long tradition, but there are enough new elements and pieces here to make this entry memorable and meaningful to both generations past and present (and, I would imagine, future). Many will also point to 2011's Drive as the reinvention of the genre and deride this movie for being more "mainstream" than that one was, but I think both movies can - and should - coexist as different entries in the same tradition (which reminds me that I still need to watch Walter Hill's The Driver).

I have heard some criticisms about the setting of the movie - Atlanta- feeling kind of generic, but I think it works both for the style and the substance of the movie, and that some of the metaphorical resonance of the movie (which I think is there and that I'm not just trying to impose a "deeper meaning" on what is mostly just an action movie) comes from that setting; exactly what that is I'm not sure, but I do think that it functions as more than a convenient tax break for the filmmakers.

This is a sumptuous visual spectacle, with all of the tricks Wright has used in the past and more, but it's the aural element of the film that really sets it apart. Wright has used music to great effect in his past efforts, but he hits a new level with the soundtrack here. Not only does the soundtrack have stylistic significance, but it also manages to convey character and have emotional resonance within the context of the movie's action - plus, any movie that features Queen in a key scene is usually good with me.

Sure, there are other nitpicks to find with the movie, but it was just so much fun as an action movie with great set pieces and comedic interludes and such a treat to find something original and self-contained that I did not find myself questioning the internal logic or structure of the movie. It's a great thrill, and I will definitely let Baby Driver take me for a ride again.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Turner Games Q2 Update

I am a little late in posting this summary, but such is life in the summertime. It has been a busy month of resting, traveling, and playing new games, but I still wanted to make sure I posted this overview for future reference.

Game Design

I made some significant progress on one of my designs in the second quarter, as I generated a playable prototype of my Canadian electoral game, First Past the Post, by the end of May. After a couple of playtests, I have not worked on it further, but at least it's something. I also did some idea work on my next design, so that's also quite exciting.

What was more significant was that we finally launched the site for our local game design group, Regina Game Forge. I have been doing some writing about game design and board gaming there, so less of it has been and will be appearing here, so make sure to check it out if you like this kind of nerdery.

Writing about Board Games

I did find the time to write a couple of posts on board games on this blog, but I think more of my writing will be diverted to Regina Game Forge in the future. I only wrote two posts, but I really enjoyed composing both of them, including the hours of research I had to put in for each.

Deck Building Games: A Mostly Comprehensive Introduction was my next attempt in synthesizing my experience in a particular mechanic and genre. I like the way this is going, so I hope to write more of these kinds of posts in the future.

A Deep Dive into my Board Game H-Index was a deeply, deeply nerdy investigative dive into my playing habits over the past six-plus years as seen through the lens of my H-index. I am particularly proud of this post because it's just so deeply nerdily awesome.

Ongoing GeekLists on BGG

Goals for 2017

1. 400 plays during the year, including 30 plays in each month. I had to work to make it in June, but I just barely made it on the last day of the month. I'm still well on my way to meeting this goal with 215 plays in the first half of the year.

2. Play 100 new games during the year. I am well on my way to meeting this goal, with forty-nine new games played in addition to eight new expansions.

3. Play 20 of my Top 25 to Play. I have played 11 of the 25, with another 7 seeming likely, so I am well on my way to accomplishing this goal.

4. Play 10 out of my 20 leftover Top to Play games. I am still stuck at two, so I will need to do some serious work to get through this list.

5. Play 20 out of my Top 25 to Replay. I am also stuck at two on this list, so it's seeming increasingly unlikely that I will reach this goal.

6. Increase my h-index to 22. I hit an h-index of 20 on June 30 with a play of Citadels, so I'm still on track to hit 22 with the right games played over the next six months.

7. Attend a convention. This is still in the works for the fall.

8. Publish Pot O' Gold. It's still in the works.

9. Finish the prototype of First Past the Post. I finished the prototype and started playtesting at the end of May! Of course, after two playtests, I will have to spend more time redesigning the prototype and reworking a number of aspects of the game, but this goal is accomplished!

10. Start a game design / review website. went live on May 5, so this is accomplished!

Games Played

Games played this quarter from my Top 25 to play: Bear Valley; Oh My Goods!; The Oracle of Delphi; Terraforming Mars (4)

Games played this quarter from previous "Top to Play" lists: N/A

Other new games played this quarter: Babel; The Bird Told Me To Do It; Clank!; Colosseum; Control; Dragon Slayer; Fairy Tale; El Gaucho; Honshu; Keltis Mini; Kingdomino; Onitama; Sagrada; Star Trek: Five Year Mission; Tak; Tetris Link; Valley of the Kings: Last Rites; Villagers and Villains; Yokohama (19)

New expansions played this quarter: 7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon; The Grizzled: At Your Orders!; Istanbul: Letters and Seals (3)

New party/social games played this quarter: N/A

New filler games played this quarter: Control; Dragon Slayer; Keltis Mini; Tak; Tetris Link (5)

New light strategy games played this quarter: Babel; Bear Valley; The Bird Told Me To Do It; Fairy Tale; Honshu; Oh My Goods!; Onitama; Valley of the Kings: Last Rites (8)

New family games played this quarter: Clank!; Kingdomino; Sagrada; Star Trek: Five Year Mission; Villagers and Villains (5)

New family strategy games played this quarter: El Gaucho (1)

New complex games played this quarter: Colosseum; The Oracle of Delphi; Terraforming Mars; Yokohama (4)

New mega-complex games played this quarter: N/A

Favourite new games played this quarter: Honshu; Kingdomino; Oh My Goods!; Onitama; The Oracle of Delphi; Sagrada; Terraforming Mars

Most-played games this quarter: Carcassonne / Ingenious / Jaipur / Monkey / Pot O' Gold / Splendor (3 plays each)

New games played repeatedly this quarter: Babel; Bear Valley; The Bird Told Me To Do It; Oh My Goods!; Villagers and Villains (5)

Other games played more than once this quarter: The Grizzled; Pandemic; Pandemic: The Cure; Paperback; Viticulture (6)

Games replayed from my Top 25 to Replay List this quarter: Mombasa (1)

Other games replayed (for a second time) this quarter: Akrotiri; Monkey; Quests of Valeria; Qwirkle; Shadows Over Camelot (5)

Expansions replayed (for a second time) this quarter: Village: Inn (1)

New games to reach three plays this quarter: Monkey; Nerdy Inventions; Paperback; Quests of Valeria; Thief's Market (5)

New nickels (five total plays) this quarter: Elysium; The Grizzled; Ingenious; Pandemic: The Cure; Villages of Valeria (5)

New dimes (ten total plays) this quarter: N/A

New quarters (25 total plays) this quarter: N/A

Most plays this year:
1. Carcassonne / Istanbul / Jaipur (6)
4. Pot O' Gold / SeaFall / Splendor / Villages of Valeria (5)
8. Rook / Viticulture (4)
9. Fleet / Ingenious / Monkey / Nerdy Inventions / Pandemic: The Cure / Quests of Valeria (3)

All-time most plays as of the end of this quarter:
1. 7 Wonders (68)
2. Pandemic (44)
3. Race for the Galaxy (40)
4. King of Tokyo (35)
5. Splendor (31)
6. Carcassonne (29)
7. Dominion (26)
8. Agricola (25)
9. Hanabi (24)
10. The Castles of Burgundy / Flash Point: Fire Rescue (23)
12. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (22)
13. Pot O' Gold (21)
14. Battle Line / Citadels / Fleet / Glory to Rome / Innovation / Kingdom Builder / Lords of Waterdeep (20)
21. Jaipur (19)
22. At the Gates of Loyang (18)
23. Istanbul / The Resistance (17)
25. Eminent Domain / San Juan (16)
27. Alhambra / Galaxy Trucker / Saint Petersburg (15)
30. Orléans / T.I.M.E Stories (14)

Want to play

Games added this quarter: Alien Artifacts; Barenpark; Century: Spice Road; Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done; El Dorado; Ex Libris; Heaven and Ale; Herbaceous; Magic Maze; Near and Far; Okey Dokey; The Palace of Mad King Ludwig; Pandemic: Iberia; Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu; Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time; Pyramids; Sentient; Spires; Valletta; Ulm; Yamatai (21)

Party/social games added this quarter: N/A

Filler/light games added this quarter: Herbaceous; Magic Maze; Okey Dokey (3)

Light strategy games added this quarter: Century: Spice Road; Pyramids; Spires (3)

Family games added this quarter: Barenpark; El Dorado; Pandemic: Iberia; Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu; Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time (5)

Family strategy games added this quarter: Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done; Ex Libris; Heaven and Ale; Near and Far; The Palace of Mad King Ludwig; Sentient; Ulm; Valletta; Yamatai (9)

Complex games added this quarter: Alien Artifacts (1)

Expansions added this quarter: N/A

Games and expansions removed from my Want to Play list this quarter: N/A

Changes to my collection

Games acquired this quarter: Acquire; Bear Valley; The Bird Told Me To Do It; Blokus 3D; Crokinole; Finca; FlowerFall; For Sale; Incan Gold; Mega Man Pixel Tactics: Blue; Oh My Goods!; Pandemic: The Cure; Qwirkle; Scrabble (1976 edition); Telestrations; Time Pirates; Waterworks; Wits and Wagers; Wits and Wagers Party (19)

Large expansions acquired this quarter: Istanbul: Letters and Seals; Race for the Galaxy: Xeno Invasion; Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black (3)

Promo (mini/small) expansions acquired this quarter: Codenames: Pictures - The Broken Token Promo; Dixit: Spielbox 03/15 Promo; Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black - Drones (3)

Games and expansions liquidated from my collection this quarter: Concept; Keyflower: Emporium and Monument (2)

Kickstarters that arrived this quarter: The Bird Told Me To Do It; Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black (2)

Kickstarters ordered this quarter (with target arrival date): Alien Frontiers: Outer Belt (with 10 promo expansions) (August); Hardback and Paperback expansion (Oct); Ladder 29 (Oct)

Kickstarters still on order from previous quarters (with expected arrival date): Alien Frontiers: Factions and 2017 Promo Pack (August); Innovation Deluxe (Q3 2017); Tiny Epic Quest (August)

Here's the updated shelfie for posterity:

Wish List

Games added to my wish list this quarter: Akrotiri; Arboretum; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Caylus; Codenames Duet; Flip City: Wilderness; La Granja: No Siesta!; Pandemic Legacy: Season 2; Terraforming Mars (9)

Games acquired from my wish list this quarter: For Sale; Pandemic: The Cure; Wits and Wagers (3)

Games removed from my wish list this quarter: N/A

Expansions added to my wish list this quarter: Between Two Cities: Capitals; Concordia: Gallica / Corsica; Fields of Arle: Tea and Trade; King of Tokyo: Cthulhu; Lanterns: The Emperor's Gifts; Star Realms: Scenarios; Troyes: Ladies of Troyes; Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium (8)

Expansions acquired from my wish list this quarter: Istanbul: Letters and Seals; Race for the Galaxy: Xeno Invasion (2)

Small (mini/promo) expansions added to my "Want in Trade" list this quarter: 7 Wonders: Duel - Stonehenge; Caylus - The Jeweler; Codenames: Board Games; Core Worlds: Champion of Ra; Core Worlds: Pre-Game Draft Cards; Finca: El Razul; Fleet: Captain "Peg Leg" Louder; Fleet: Captain Mouse; Harbour: Klaus; Imperial Settlers: Aztecs - Commons; Imperial Settlers: Man vs. Animals; Isle of Skye: Themenplattchen; Istanbul: Caravan Leader; King of Tokyo: Fish Market (14)

Small (mini/promo) expansions acquired from my "Want in Trade" list this quarter: Core Worlds: The Stronghold; Dixit: Spielbox 03/15 Promo (2)

Small (mini/promo) removed from my "Want in Trade" list this quarter: Carcassonne: The Watchtower; Keyflower x5 (Beekeeper; Keymelequin; Pig Shelter; Storyteller; Trader) (6)

Looking forward to Quarter 3

The summer tends to be a bit of a lazier time for gaming, what with all the nice weather and all, but there are still a few things I'm looking forward to over the next three months in addition to my regular game design work.

Century: Spice Road - This light strategy game has been described as "Splendor Plus" and a "Splendor killer"; since Splendor has been one of my favourite games of its type over the past few years, I am understandably excited to play this, since it seems like it has the potential to become a fast favourite of mine.

GenCon - The Indianapolis game convention has become one of the premier events in gaming, and many companies aim to release their new games at the Con. It runs from Thursday, August 17 to Sunday, August 20, during which time there will be a lot of exciting news about new releases coming over the rest of the year.

Innovation Deluxe - The long-overdue Kickstarter of one of my favourite games has finally arrived, so I will get to finally experience the final two expansions!

Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 - Season 1 was one of my favourite gaming experiences ever, and although Season 2 looks like it will be very different in content and narrative, I am anticipating some great gameplay.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Q2 Pop Culture Update

These last few months were an intense time in terms of my intake of culture, especially on the small screen, as there were at least a half-dozen shows that aired over this past quarter that were squarely in my wheelhouse. I knew that I would not be able to keep up with all of the new shows, and I didn't - at least until I got sick in the last week of June and caught up on the two most pressing releases (the third seasons of Better Call Saul and Fargo).

There was a relative dearth of interesting movies that were released, which helped offset the onslaught of worthwhile television, but by far the most significant experience I had was in playing through The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I spent a hundred hours in the game, and I still have not even finished it yet because I just do not want it to end.

Here's a snapshot of what I experienced, what I missed, what I skipped, what's still in the queue, and what's coming up in the next few months of my ongoing journey through pop culture.

What I experienced

The BadChristian podcast - I started listening to this podcast in mid-March, but I wanted to see if it would stick, so I left it off my Q1 Update. Well, it has stuck around for me, and I really enjoy the conversation for the most part. There are times at which I think that they are a little sophomoric, but that's part of their thing; there are also some times when I think they are really contributing to the dialogue in a positive way and really generating some interesting points to consider, so it more or less evens out. I'll stick with it for now at least.

Rob Bell - What is the Bible? - I included my review of Bell's latest book in a recent post, and yeah, I am a fan.

Better Call Saul (Season 3, AMC) - I am not sure that there is a more meticulously crafted show on television right now than Better Call Saul. The web continued to expand to include Gus Fring and others, and Jimmy McGill continued his inexorable path toward transformation into Saul Goodman as the show continues to find fascinating ways to build into the world established in Breaking Bad. Michael McKean as Chuck was easily the highlight of the season, though, and I would not be surprised if he won the Emmy for his performance this year.

Fargo (Season 3, FX) - The limited anthology series returned with its strangest and most unresolved story yet, replete with symbolism, Jewish mythology, Biblical imagery, thematic resonance about reality and fiction, and what seemed to be more than a few possible red herrings along the way. It did not exceed the heights of Season 2 - not that I was expecting that it could - but I do think it was better than the mostly straight-forward first season. I also found it interesting that this season seemed to evoke The Big Lebowski and A Serious Man (in addition to the one episode that pulled heavily from Barton Fink) more than any other Coen movies. There's a lot to digest, and the show raises more questions than it gives answers, but it continues to be one of the more engaging properties on the small screen.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Here's the tl;dr from my review and thoughts: I really enjoyed this movie (sometimes in spite of itself), and Guardians is easily my favourite superhero film franchise right now (and it's not even close).

Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. - As I have written before, I am not a huge hip-hop/rap guy; even though I feel like a bit of a tourist when I am listening to something new in the genre, I do feel the need to keep up with some of the highlights, and Kendrick is definitely one of the biggest out there right now. DAMN. is a fascinating contrast to To Pimp A Butterfly - which I think will stand as one of this generation's defining albums - in its much more minimalist musical manner and lyrical introspection. I do not really understand or identify with his journey, but I can definitely appreciate the artistry involved in its construction and presentation; plus, the song "XXX" features U2, and it's really interesting as a part of their canon - a continuation of the legacy of "Bullet the Blue Sky", perhaps.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U) - I cannot think of any gaming experience I have had that is like Wild, save for perhaps my first times playing The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time almost two decades ago. I was almost ninety hours into Wild before I even thought of playing anything else, and even then, I still decided to keep playing it. I still have not finished the final boss because I am still enjoying exploring new areas and I am nowhere near done with the game - and that's without factoring in the DLC that was just released.

Survivor: Game Changers - Mamanuca Islands (Season 34, CBS) - I wrote most of my thoughts on the latest season of Survivor here, but suffice to say that I enjoyed this season in spite of itself.

Veep (Season 6, HBO) - I was not sure what they would do with Selina and crew post-presidency, but any concerns I may have had were allayed with the brilliance of the circumstances in which she tries to establish her legacy. The quality was a slight drop-off from the sustained crescendo of the electoral shenanigans the last season and a half, but that was to be expected, given that seasons 3 to 5 rank among the best seasons of comedy in television, ever. I will add, however, that there were a few more even more cringeworthy moments than here had been in the past

Wonder Woman - I finally watched the movie that everyone has been talking about, and I found myself mostly underwhelmed by what it did as a (superhero) movie aside from the fact that it featured a woman; then again, I'm not sure it's really possible to put that fact aside, since it's arguably as big a deal as almost anything that has happened in pop culture in the past several years. I found myself not really drawn in by the movie, but I think I can completely understand why it has been embraced so strongly and forcefully. Still,

Also: Rob Bell - What We Talk About When We Talk About God; Nadia Bolz-Weber - Accidental SaintsBrooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 4, Fox); Fleet Foxes - Crack-UpKubo and the Two Strings; Lorde - Melodrama; Moana

What I missed

Bruxy Cavey - (Re)union - The Canadian author of The End of Religion, one of my favourite books on faith from the last decade, finally published a new book, and I'm very excited to finally read it.

Doctor Who (Series 10, BBC) - Peter Capaldi might be my favourite Doctor, which is really saying something, so I'm looking forward to watching through his final season this summer.

GLOW (Season 1, Netflix) - Alison Brie stars as a lady wrestler in the '80s. Seems like it should be fun.

Great News (Season 1, NBC) - This sitcom comes from people who were involved with 30 Rock. I'm looking forward to checking it out.

The Handmaid's Tale (Season 1, Hulu) - After rereading Margaret Atwood's classic dystopian novel over the course of a day in preparation for the series, I just did not get around to watching the series. I think I might binge it at this point

Chuck Klosterman - X - Chuck is one of my favourite cultural essayists, so I'm looking forward to reading this latest collection of thoughts from the pre-eminent pop cultural philosopher of our times.

Master of None (Season 2, Netflix) - Everything I have heard about Aziz Ansari's second season is that it is even better than the first, which I started but stopped after only a couple of episodes. This might be worthy of a binge this summer.

U2 - The Joshua Tree Tour - Well, I did not see it live, but I did spend a fair bit of time on YouTube watching clips of the opening show in Vancouver. I was particularly fascinated by the first performance of "Red Hill Mining Town", as well as the the new song "The Little Things That Give You Away"

Also on my radar but missed: The Big SickCars 3; Coldplay - Kaleidoscope EP; Dan Auerbach - Waiting on a SongDespicable Me 3; Feist - Pleasure; Trial and Error (Season 1, NBC)

What I skipped

I used to feature "What I missed" and "What I skipped" as the same section in my quarterly recaps, but it seems to me that the things that I deliberately skipped are worthy of their own section. For the record, I tend to include pieces here that I made a decision to skip, even though they might otherwise have been in my wheelhouse - hence why you will not see mention of, say, Transformers: The Last Knight.

Alien: Covenant - I promised myself I would never give more money to the Alien franchise after Prometheus. It turns out that Ridley Scott made that promise even easier than I had imagined.

American Gods (Season 1, Starz) - One of the two pillars of the new wave of "weird TV" that initially piqued my interest, until I started reading about the show. I think I'm good for now with Legion and Mr. Robot in terms of my weirdness quotient.

The Americans (Season 5, FX) - I think there's a good chance that The Americans will earn a spot on my list of "shows I feel like I should have watched but did not get around to at the time and now probably will not end up watching but that will stay on a list to watch for a lot longer than it should due to the pop culture guilt I feel about not having watched it", along with Mad Men, the last three seasons of Friday Night Lights, and The West Wing (among others).

The Circle - I was initially very intrigued by this adaptation of the Dave Eggers Silicon Valley novel due to the really catchy trailers, but my enthusiasm soon waned upon reading the tepid reviews of the movie. Oh well - maybe Eggers just can't translate well to the screen. (Of course, there are those who would say he doesn't translate well on the page either, but that's just a bit harsh, innit?)

The Get Down (Part 2) (Season 1, Netflix) - Although I am still nominally interested in this series about the birth of hip-hop in 1970s New York, its recent cancellation has taken away some of my desire to get into the show. Then again, it's guaranteed to be a short watch now, so maybe I'll get around to it. Or not.

The Leftovers (Season 3, HBO) - See my thoughts on The Americans, but notch it just outside the top ten of that list (and yes, it's an easy ten).

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales - I was foolhardy enough to see the fourth Pirates movie back in 2011. I'm older and wiser now.

Twin Peaks (Season 3, Showtime) - As much as I thought I might be more interested in what happened after a quarter-century, I did not end up getting into this return; then again, I never watched the original, so that should not come as a surprise.

In the Queue

This is only the second time I have included this section as part of this feature, so I'm still figuring out how it works. For now, I'm including things that I have mentioned in recent memory as having missed, including from this past quarter. I will probably have to tweak the lists down at some point (especially in the already extended and elongated television lists, which now include almost twenty shows between the three of them), but for now, I will leave them as is.

An asterisk (*) indicates a new addition to the list.

Movies: Get Out*; Logan*; Manchester by the SeaMoonlightO.J.: Made in America; Split*

Television top five: Doctor Who (Series 10)*; The Handmaid's Tale (Season 1)*; Master of None (Season 1-2)*; Sherlock (Season 4); Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 3)*

Television backlog: Black Mirror (Season 1-3); Broadchurch (Season 2)*; The Hour (Season 1-2); Morton and HayesTop of the Lake (Season 1)*

Television to investigate: BoJack Horseman (Season 1-3); Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (Season 1); GLOW (Season 1)*; Great News (Season 1)*; Powerless (Season 1); Superstore (Season 1-2);  Trial and Error (Season 1)*

Video Games: Chrono Trigger (DS)*;  Earthbound (SNES)*; The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D (3DS); Pikmin 3 (Wii U)*

Non-Fiction Books: Bren√© Brown - Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection; Bruxy Cavey - (Re)Union*; Chuck Klosterman - X*; Ann Voskamp - The Broken Way and One Thousand Gifts*

Fiction Books: Kim Stanley Robinson - Mars trilogy*

Looking forward to Quarter 3

Summer is always an interesting time for pop culture, as it often features a mix of overhyped IP and surprises that come out of nowhere (especially by the time August rolls around). There are a number of interesting pieces being released over the next few months, but most of them come from relatively underestablished pieces of IP, which means that there could be some interesting things that emerge from the next few months.

Aside from catching up with all of the culture I missed over the past few months, there are a few things that might grab my attention from now until the end of September.

Baby Driver (June 28) - Edgar Wright's heist/getaway movie is already getting great early reviews, and he has not let me down yet as a director, so I'm in, baby.

The Dark Tower (August 4) - After a long time in development hell, the Stephen King sci-fi classic is getting an adaptation with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Expect a lot of profile shots.

Dunkirk (July 21) - Christopher Nolan is going for all of the Oscars in his WWII epic. I can't wait.

New summer TV shows - There are always a few new interesting shows that networks drop over the summer to see if they will work. There's a decent track record in recent years, with shows like Mr. Robot and Stranger Things taking over the cultural conversation for much of July and August in the past couple of years.
  • Get Shorty (Season 1, Epix, August 13) - I did not see the film adaptation, but Justified taught me that Elmore Leonard's work can translate very well to TV; also, Chris O'Dowd!
  • Ozark (Season 1, Netflix, July 21) - Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, and drug problems in the Ozarks; could be interesting.
  • Snowfall (Season 1, FX, July 5) - This new series is set in the crack cocaine epidemic in 1983, and from the description, it sounds like Traffic meets The Wire meets The Shield. It might be really intense, but FX has a strong enough track record in recent history that it's worth looking into.
  • Will (Season 1, TNT, July 10) - Okay, so it's a show about the life of young William Shakespeare, which seems like it's a tired trope even though it has really only been done once or twice. But the creator is Craig Pearce, who has worked with Baz Luhrmann for two decades, so there's a possibility that this could be a really great summer watch - or it could be terrible.
Revisionist History (Season 2) - Malcolm Gladwell's podcast returned a couple of weeks ago, but I have been saving up the episodes for the summer.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7) - I know, I know - but I just can't help myself, and besides, it looks like Marvel will do Spidey right, judging by Civil War.

Star Trek: Discovery (Season 1, CBS All-Access, September 24) - Seriously, just watch the trailer and tell me this doesn't look amazing.

The Tick (Season 1, Amazon, August 25) - Peter Serafinowicz brings back the titular blue hero in another live-action adaptation. SPOOOOOOOOOOOONNNN!

Wind River (August 4) - Writer Taylor Sheridan adds to the already formidable reputation he has built with neo-westerns Sicario and Hell or High Water with his thriller directorial debut. Having Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen as stars doesn't hurt, either.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21) - The most expensive French production of all time is a crazy sci-fi from the director of The Fifth Element, which has a permanent spot on my list of "guilty pleasure" movies. And, like Element, this looks like it might be absolutely cuckoo-bananas - in a good way.

Also intrigued by: Broadchurch (Season 3, BBC, June 28); Marvel's The Defenders (Season 1, Netflix, August 18); Splatoon 2 (Nintendo Switch, July 21); Top of the Lake: China Girl (Season 2, Sundance, September); War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14)

And, just for reference, here are some of the things that I'm looking forward to (or at least mildly intrigued by) in Quarter 4: Blade Runner 2049 (October 6); Coco (November 22); Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 9, HBO, TBD); Darkest Hour (November 24); The Deuce (Season 1, HBO, TBD); Downsizing (December 22); John Green - Turtles All The Way Down (October 10); The Killing of a Sacred Deer (November 3); Mary Magdalene (November 24); Mr. Robot (Season 3, USA, TBD); Phantom Thread (December 25); Pitch Perfect 3 (December 22); The Shape of Water (December 9); Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch, October 27); Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dec. 15); Stranger Things (Season 2, Netflix, October 31); Suburbicon (November 3); Thor: Ragnarok (November 3); U2 - Songs of Experience (TBD)


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