Friday, February 27, 2015

Anticipating the movies of 2015

2014's cinematic history is all but in the books, save for a few more million dollars for American Sniper, and in the next two weekends, our real beginning to the 2015 year of movies begins. Several trailers have been released over the past few weeks, with more to come in the near future, but it's that time to start anticipating the movies that are to come. There is an interesting mix of movies slated for the year so far. It's mainly the sequels and established properties that have their release dates in stone; we won't know many of the smaller indie or prestige films for next year's awards season until the end of the summer, but even a few of those have assigned dates already in anticipation of next year's Oscars.

I have taken a look into the movies scheduled for this year to see which ones have initially grabbed my attention. There are about 50-60 movies a year that I might pay any attention to at all (Spoiler alert: Furious 7 is not one of them), but of those, I can usually write off 20-25 of those upon their release. I have taken 36 movies of various levels of interest to me from the year to come and categorized them generally according to my interest in seeing them. It's a variation of "marry, boff, kill", but with four categories: must-see, definitely intrigued, planning to be disappointed, and wild card. For each category, I have given each label to one movie; the resulting lists give a fairly clear picture of the movies that I'm looking forward to over the next ten months. I have also included embedded trailers when possible for your enjoyment.


Superhero movies




Must-see: Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1) - Joss Whedon says he was inspired by The Godfather: Part II and The Empires Strikes Back when he was writing this supersized sequel. Also, Hulkbuster!!!!


Definitely intrigued: Fantastic Four (August 7) - Director Josh Trank (of the underrated Chronicle) has stated that this reboot was inspired by the body horror of David Cronenberg. In the words of Calvin Candie, "Gentlemen, you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention."


Plan to be disappointed: Ant-Man (July 17) - While it doesn't look terrible, exactly, it doesn't look great, either. I'm assuming that the downgrade from Edgar Wright to Peyton Reed will not be insignificant, so I'm expecting a fairly traditional formulaic hero origin story here.


Wild card: Daredevil (April 10) - OK, so it's not a movie, but it is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and from the trailer, it seems like it will have cinematic quality to it. (Besides, there are incredibly only three superhero movies being released this year. Of course, I think there are that many being released each quarter starting in 2016, so enjoy the rest while it lasts, fanboys!) This series could go either way, but given the pedigree of both Netflix and Marvel, I think I'm justified in hoping for good things.


Sci-Fi/Fantasy


Must-see: Tomorrowland (May 22) - As if Brad Bird being the director didn't pique my interest already, Disney released one of the best trailers in years for this movie. I don't even really know what it's about, but I'm in.


Definitely intrigued: The Martian (November 25) - I'm reading through Andy Weir's novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars and I'm really interested to see how it is visualized. I'm also interested to see what Ridley Scott can do with a real claustrophobic sci-fi like his earlier Alien and Blade Runner (unlike his last attempt with Prometheus).

Plan to be disappointed: Chappie (March 6) - Johnny 5 is alive and in South Africa! This is a cautionary tale about the power of trailers; the first one looked really interesting, but the second one completely turned me (and many others) away. It looks like two entirely different movies. Check them out for yourself.



Wild card: Pan (July 24) - I honestly don't quite know what to do with this. On the one hand, you have Hugh Jackman chewing scenery like a madman as Blackbeard, and on the other hand, you have...yet another live action origin story of a beloved character  Joe Wright, who has directed some really interesting films. I'm expecting terrible things, but I just wanted to include this here for posterity.



Long-Gestating Sci-Fi Sequel


Must-see: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (December 18) - I'm not a Star Wars guy, but even I have to admit that I'm intrigued by what J.J. Abrams will do with this new sequel. I'm in.



Definitely intrigued: Jurassic World (June 12) - I skipped out on Jurassic Park III, and I barely remember The Lost World (other than the fact that Jeff Goldblum was a boss and it starred Julianne Moore), but this new "reboot" has my attention. Sure, it'll be cheesy, and it doesn't have Jeff Goldblum (unless it does!) or Samuel L. Jackson, but Chris Pratt leading a herd of raptors? I'm in (even if, in reality, they were closer to chickens than vicious killers.)


Plan to be disappointed incredulously flabbergasted at how terrible it is: Terminator: Genisys (July 1) - And we have our first possible 2015 Razzie nominee on this list! I cannot overemphasize how terrible this movie looks, and that's just from the title. Everything about this movie looks awkward: the rehashed "rebooting" that seems to be regurgitation of scenes and dialogue from the other Terminator movies; the mish-mashed attempt to continue to try to sort out a legitimate timeline for this series; and Ah-nold re-tuh-ning again.


Wild card: Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15) - Confession time: I have never seen a Mad Max movie. I don't know how I avoided them, since my dad loves them, but I did, and it remains one of those gaps in my sci-fi/pop culture awareness. This trailer makes me want to see them.



Action Spy Movie



Must-see: Spectre (November 6) - While I haven't been much of a Bond fan, I really want to see where they go with this. Plus, Christoph Waltz and Andrew Scott (Moriarty from Sherlock)!


Definitely intrigued: Spy (May 22) - While the whole "Melissa McCarthy does her schtick" is somewhat overdone at this point, she and Paul Feig have been a great combination (Bridesmaids, The Heat), and seeing her as an inept spy should produce some good laughs.


Plan to be disappointed: Mission: Impossible 5 (July 31) - Although every M:I movie has had its moments, the series as a whole has been disappointing, and the downgrade from Brad Bird, who helped Ghost Protocol be (arguably) the best of the series to Christopher McQuarrie (the Oscar-winning screenwriter for The Usual Suspects, but still no Brad Bird) is sure to affect the movie. Also, no trailer, poster, or official subtitle yet makes this one seem suspicious, especially since it's six months from its release.

Wild card: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (August 14) - It's hard to tell from the trailer whether this will actually try to capture the feel of the original series and the Cold War, or whether it's just Guy Ritchie's attempt to translate his cinematic sensibilities to the 1960s, but either way, it's on my radar.


Family


Must-see: Inside Out (June 19) - Pixar has been on a bit of a skid for the past few years - Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University are their three lowest-rated movies on Metacritic - but pencil in your next Best Animated Feature Academy Award winner now, since this looks incredible.


Definitely intrigued: Minions (July 10) - Despicable Me was a lot of fun, and the minions were a huge part of the fun of the movie. Can they sustain a whole movie on their own? I'm interested to find out.


Plan to be disappointed: The Peanuts Movie (November 6) - I was really interested in this until I watched the trailer. I'm holding out hope for something good, but...well, you can see for yourself.


Wild card: The Good Dinosaur (November 25) - It's a Pixar movie, and most of the studio's key minds have been involved with it, but it has been "reimagined" after the original director struggled with the third act. Translation: "we put too much money into this to let it not be released, but we're concerned it might not be very good." I'm still interested, and I'll still see it, but who knows what it might end up as?

Comedies


Must-see: Pitch Perfect 2 (May 15) - Pitch Perfect is one of our favourite comedies and one of my all-time "discovered it before it was popular" movies (we watched it the day it opened). I was understandably excited about the sequel; that excitement was heightened after the first trailer and Super Bowl spot, but significantly dulled after the most recent trailer. It's still a must-see for me, but I'm not nearly as enthusiastic about it now.




Definitely intrigued: Sisters (December 18) - Sure, it looks like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have extended a Saturday Night Live skit to a full movie, but even Baby Mama had enough laughs between the two to justify its existence.


Plan to be disappointed: Pixels (July 24) - I want to think I could enjoy this movie, about aliens who use classic video game characters to attack Earth, but it stars Adam Sandler AND Kevin James - not a combination that inspires confidence.

Wild card: Masterminds (August 14) - "Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Zach Galifianakis, and Owen Wilson in a heist comedy" seems like a "can't miss" concept - until you realize that the director is Jared Hess (of Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre, and Gentlemen Broncos). I have no idea of what to expect.

Prestige Biopics


Must-see: Joy (December 25) - David O. Russell directs, Jennifer Lawrence stars. I'm in.

Definitely intrigued: The Walk (October 2) - Robert Zemeckis directs Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit, the French tightrope walker who famously walked between the Twin Towers in 1974. The 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire about the story was fascinating, but I'm interested to see what Zemeckis does with artistic license.

Plan to be disappointed: Love and Mercy (June 5) - Paul Dano and John Cusack star as Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. I think it might be hard to get past Dano and Cusack and to believe them in the role, but I have been wrong before.


Wild card: Steve Jobs (October 9) - The pedigree is there - Danny Boyle directs, Aaron Sorkin writes, Michael Fassbender stars - but this film has gone through a number of crew and cast changes as well as production issues. I'm hoping for good things with those names in the fold, but who knows?

Historical drama


Must-see: St. James Place (October 16) - Steven Spielberg directs Tom Hanks in a Coen-brothers script about the 1960 U-2 Spy Plane crisis? Sounds like fun.

Definitely intrigued: The Revenant (Dec 25) - Reigning Best Director Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu directs Leonardo DiCaprio in what could be the first great western since No Country for Old Men.

Plan to be disappointed: Snowden (Dec 25) - Joseph-Gordon Levitt stars? Good. Oliver Stone directs? Not good.

Wild card: Black Mass (Sept 18) - Johnny Depp has not had a great track record lately, but this version of the story of a Boston mob boss who worked with the FBI could be interesting.

Et cetera


Must-see: Paper Towns (June 5) - John Green is one of my favourite authors, and although I don't think this will be as good as the book (arguably his best, IMHO), I'm looking forward to it.

Definitely intrigued: Creed (November 25) - Rocky returns for the first time in almost a decade after the understated brilliance of 2006's Rocky Balboa. Stallone has smartly moved out of the ring and into the role of trainer, and the film will focus on how he trains Apollo's grandson, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan, who is poised for a great year between this and Fantastic Four).

Plan to be disappointed: Dystopian young adult novel adaptations [Mockingjay Part 2 (November 20); The Scorch Trials (September 18); Insurgent (March 20)]

Wild Card: Aloha (May 29) - Cameron Crowe's latest seems like a combination of The Descendants, Silver Linings Playbook, and, well, every Cameron Crowe movie ever. Could be incredibly formulaic; could reinvent Crowe and get Cooper an Oscar; could be completely forgettable. I don't think there's any movie being released in 2015 that has a greater range of possibilities.


What movies are you looking forward to this year? What movies do you think will live up to the hype? Which will be terrible?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lessons learned from the #2015Oscars

Birdman is my new Oscar nemesis, and it's my own fault. In picking the Oscars this year, I backed Boyhood over Birdman, and I ended up with my worst year of Oscar picking yet (4/9 on the major awards, although I did get 17/24 overall). I underestimated the Academy and the Guilds, and I thought I knew better; apparently, I don't. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that the Academy would choose a self-referential meta-movie somewhat-superhero comedy this year, approximately five years (or more) into the general introduction of those subgenres and styles. Birdman (for which I refuse to use the full parenthetical title) encapsulates the Academy's current direction perfectly, and I think it will come to represent the mid-2010s accurately. I don't know if it will be considered a "good" movie in the long run, but it will be noted for its notoriety.

But in reviewing my picks and my process in the wake of this prognosticational catastrophe (which is admittedly a tad overdramatic), I realized that not all is lost, and that I am better off than I might have thought despite my poor showing. As soon as Birdman won the Original Screenplay award last night, I realized the error of my ways and that I had actually violated all of my rules in picking against it this year. So, for future years of picking, I have decided to write out my rules for the Oscars so that I can return to this post and hopefully not make the same mistakes again.

The Rules


1. Don't be contrarian in your picks and trust the Guilds. I tried to out think the recent trend toward Birdman and I didn't trust the Guilds, all of which pointed to Birdman's victory. Each award other than Best Picture is selected by its guild, so it makes sense that most of the same winners appear on both lists. 

Since 1950, only seven winners for Best Director from the Director's Guild have not won the Oscar. In the 25 years the Producers' Guild has given the award, only seven have not won Best Picture at the Oscars, and they have lined up for seven years in a row. (Those seven included two of the more controversial Oscar wins in the 1990s (Braveheart and Shakespeare in Love) and a stretch of three in a row from 2004-2006 that differed.) The Writer's Guild does not often vary widely, as there has been only once (2002) in the past 30 years which neither WGA winner has repeated their Oscar. The current trend of only one of the two winning (as has happened in five of the past six years) was preceded by five years in a row in which both screenplays repeated, so it's a good bet to choose at least one. (Just choose the right one; this year, I missed both Screenplays because I chose Wes Anderson (WGA winner for Original Screenplay) over Graham Moore (WGA winner for Adapted Screenplay) as the Oscar winner, rather than the other (correct) way around.) The Screen Actors' Guild similarly lines up with the eventual winners.

2. Don't choose subtlety. The Oscars rarely reward subtlety, instead choosing the much more ostentatious showy kind of movies and performances. It's especially obvious in the acting categories (as it has been for many years), but it's clear in all major categories. Birdman was not subtle; Boyhood was.

3. Never underestimate the power of "the narrative" for the year. The effect of the period from October to the awards should not be underestimated, and so it makes sense that most of the winners are released in this period of the year. Birdman took on a life of its own in December and January, and it became clear that it was the leader despite Boyhood's early prospects. The narrative essentially wrote itself - Michael Keaton's comeback, the innovative nature of the film, the meta-analysis of Hollywood - and it fulfilled its destiny with its win.

4. Don't overestimate the long term possible ramifications. I often get sucked into considering the overall perspective and the legacy of the movies selected, and it's always wrong. The only history that really matters, other than the narrative for the year, is very recent history (ie. the past two or three years), rather than the future. Voters don't care how the pick is perceived in the future; they only care that they don't really dwell on the past (unless, of course, they are remembering it nostalgically, as in The Artist). Last year's win for 12 Years a Slave meant that should have been no surprise that a more comedic film took the award this year.

5. Don't overthink it. When in doubt, just go with your first (informed) guess; think of what Malcolm Gladwell wrote in Blink. I know the Oscars well, and my first thought was Birdman for Best Picture; I talked myself out of it by convincing myself that Boyhood had more support and that it made the better picture in the Oscar legacy and violating every rule I have. I overthought my choice, and I paid the consequences. (Granted, I still would only have had 6/9 correct, rather than 4, but it would have been somewhat respectable.)

Bonus rule for Best Animated Feature only: If there's a toss up between nominees, choose Disney/Pixar first, then pick the highest-grossing movie, then go for the most recent nominee, and avoid sequels (unless they obey the first two rules, like Toy Story 3 in 2010). In the 15 years of the award, the highest-grossing nominee has won ten times, and Disney/Pixar have won nine times, including seven of the past eight. (The only Pixar movies to lose were Monsters Inc. to Shrek in 2001 and Cars to Happy Feet in 2006.) Recency and popularity seem to matter more in this category than others, so default to the top earner if there's any confusion. With this in mind, the early bet for next year is Pixar's Inside Out, so mark it in now.

Other observations on this year's Oscars


  • This was a highly politically charged ceremony, despite indications that it might not be due to the (somewhat correctly perceived) lack of diversity. Suicide, veterans' rights, wage equality, homosexuality, incarceration rates, immigration, and Alzheimer's and ALS were all raised as issues in speeches and presentations, and despite the mostly inward focus of the Academy itself, its members were looking outward.
  • I know people have had issues with the telecast for years, but this year's fell particularly flat, which seemed mostly due to Neil Patrick Harris. NPH might be the new equivalent of Letterman, a comedian whose talents simply do not translate to the Oscar stage. Here's a thought: what about Jon Stewart hosting again next year? He won't have much to do with his resignation from The Daily Show, and his turn as host in 2008 was unfairly maligned (I thought he was hilarious.) If not Stewart, maybe it's time for Jimmy Fallon to host with The Roots as the house band?
  • There are 24 categories, which break down into basic groupings: Picture; 4 for Acting; 5 for the craft of filming (Directing, Cinematography, Writing x2, and Editing); 6 Production (Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Costumes, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing); 2 for music (Score and Song); and 6 in specialized categories (2 Documentary - long and short, Animated, Foreign, and 2 Short - live action and animated). I'm not the first to ask for categories to be examined, but I still think that there are a couple of changes to be made. Present the three awards for short films before the ceremony and just tell us about them to take the total awards down to 21. And finally combine Sound Mixing and Sound Editing into "Best Sound" to bring the total awards from Production down to 5 and 20 televised awards. I'm still in favour of the possibility of a Best Cast or a Best Use of Existing Media (music/movies/TV) in a Film to round things out (which would also make a fascinating blog post to examine sometime), but just make the cuts to the bloated telecast already (along with the song after the In Memoriam montage - that just needs to go).
  • Aside from the surprise of American Sniper, the gulf between Oscar movies and popular movies is as large (if not larger) than it ever has been, and Birdman is the perfect example of the kind of movie that exists for the Oscars and not for the people watching the Oscars. My perception is that most viewers were disconnected from these movies, as they were in 2011 when The Artist won, or in 2008, which was the last time that there were only five nominees for Best Picture and that The Dark Knight and Wall-E were famously omitted despite commercial appeal, critical success, and eight and six nominations respectively. That means that our current cycle seems to be two mostly good years and then one not as good year, which means that 2015 and 2016 should be good before 2017 takes another tumble.
  • In terms of the legacy of the year overall for movies and Oscars, I think it will rank high in the middle third of the modern Oscars since, say, 1969 - good, but not great. It would be interesting to try to rank the years sometime according to criteria such as the overall quality of nominees, the satisfaction of the winners, and the general sentiment about the movies of the year. (I don't know that anything could beat 1972, but 1991 and 1994 might come close. Another hypothetical exercise for a future post, perhaps.)
There you have it - another year at the Oscars concluded. Now I just have to watch pretty much all of the nominees from this year, since the only one I have seen so far was The Grand Budapest Hotel, and then to wait until October when it all starts again.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 Oscars Final Picks

Well, you definitely cannot say that it has been a month devoid of interesting dialogue about the Academy Awards, whether it has been the "whitewash", the rise of American Sniper, or the battle between Boyhood and Birdman. I'll start my final ballot with the "additional categories" before moving onto the nine awards on which I truly stake my reputation.

Additional Categories


Best Song - Selma
Best Original Score - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Costume Design - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Makeup and Hairstyling - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Production Design - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Cinematography - Birdman
Best Editing - Boyhood
Best Visual Effects - Interstellar
Best Sound Mixing - Whiplash
Best Sound Editing - American Sniper
Best Foreign Language Film - Ida
Best Documentary - Citizenfour
Best Documentary (Short) - Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Best Short Film (Animated) - The Dam Keeper
Best Short Film (Live Action) - The Phone Call

Main Categories


Best Supporting Actress - Patricia Arquette for Boyhood.

Best Supporting Actor - J.K. Simmons for Whiplash.

Best Actress - Julianne Moore for her entire career Still Alice.

Best Actor - As much as I thought Michael Keaton could pull it off, I'm getting a Bill Murray/Mickey Rourke vibe from this year, so I'm picking Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything.

Best Adapted Screenplay - Some pundits are picking The Imitation Game (partially because it won the WGA) but I think that it will be this year's "highly nominated but ultimately shut out" movie (like True Grit or American Hustle), leaving Whiplash taking this award.

Best Original Screenplay - Wes Anderson won the WGA for The Grand Budapest Hotel, and that seems about right to me, especially because the sentiment will be that Birdman and Boyhood will be awarded elsewhere (whether they actually will be or not).

Best Animated Feature - I think this will go to How To Train Your Dragon 2 over Big Hero 6.

Best Directing - It's really a two-person race between Linklater for Boyhood and Inarritu for Birdman. My suspicion is that Linklater's decade-plus devotion to his film will overcome Inarritu's innovation, so I'm picking Boyhood.

Best Picture - This is the most difficult category to pick. Boyhood was the early front runner, but Birdman picked up enough key wins along the way to have more than a few pundits pick it. I could easily see either winning, but when I think about the overall narrative of the Oscars and the possible legacy of these films - both of which are highly innovative - the Oscars tend to have aversions to comedies, superhero movies, and innovation, which means that Boyhood will win. (But don't be surprised if I'm wrong on this one.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The List: Favourite Board Games

I was inspired recently by a blog post by one of the gamers on I Slay the Dragon in which he reflected both qualitatively and quantitatively on his experience in four years of gaming - a period that matches up very closely with my own. It turns out he has a lot of the same favourite games as I do - though he has played far more frequently than I have - and so it has made me reflect on what my top games actually are. I am often asked about my favourite board games, and it is admittedly a challenging question to answer, though it might not seem to be so at first glance. I find myself qualifying my answer by saying something like, "I have been playing a lot of _________________ lately" without actually qualifying what my favourite games are.

I think it's due in part to somewhat of a dissonance between the gamer I am/have been and the gamer I would like to be (in theory), and even though I'm probably one of the few who notices this juxtaposition, I still feel it every time someone asks me about my favourite games. There are the games that I would like to be my favourites, and then there are the games that statistically are my favourites as determined by number of plays. I recently updated my plays on BoardGameGeek so that all plays of expansions are now included with the base game entry, so I have a refreshed list of the games I have played the most all-time (which, to be fair, only covers the past four+ years that I have recorded my plays). Here are all of the games that I have played at least 5 times since December 2010 in order from most to least.

GameQty
7 Wonders48
Pandemic27
Race for the Galaxy26
Dominion24
King of Tokyo24
Agricola17
Innovation16
Glory to Rome14
At the Gates of Loyang13
The Resistance13
Carcassonne12
Citadels12
Hanabi12
Lords of Waterdeep12
Saint Petersburg12
Ticket to Ride: Europe12
Battle Line11
Galaxy Trucker: Anniversary Edition9
Le Havre9
Pot O' Gold9
San Juan9
Anomia8
Dixit8
Flash Point: Fire Rescue8
Fleet8
Forbidden Island8
Splendor8
Alhambra: Big Box7
Bang!7
Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game7
Eminent Domain7
Star Realms7
Tikal7
Among the Stars6
Bohnanza6
The Castles of Burgundy6
Chrononauts6
Jaipur6
Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot6
Village6
Camel Up5
Cosmic Encounter5
Glass Road5
Kingdom Builder: Big Box5
Ra5
Things...5

Observations from my Most Played list

  • There are 17 games I have played at least 10 times, another 10 games I have played 8-9 times, and another 19 I have played 5-7 times for a total of 46 games with at least 5 plays. (By the way, I have another 116 games with between 1 and 4 plays: 20 games 3-4 times, 27 games twice, and 69 games once.)
  • I own all but three games of the 46 on the list: Dominion (which I recently gave away); Blood Bowl: Team Manager - The Card Game (played repeatedly for a beta test for an expansion); and Camel Up (recently purchased by a friend).
  • Most of the games I have played most often are shorter games (45 minutes or less), which is partially likely to playing games in succession (like 7 Wonders).
  • Most of my list skews toward more family-oriented games, likely because I'm often teaching games to others. A fairly high percentage of my most played games are lower in weight (complexity) and would be considered "gateway" games. Even Agricola, which is weighted as a "3.6" on BoardGameGeek, is considered by many to be a simpler "complex game".
  • There were some surprising omissions from the list: Apples to Apples (2); Pit (3); Rook (3); Dutch Blitz (3); and The Settlers of Catan (4). I suppose that this list skews more toward more strategy-style games over the past few years, and of those five, only Settlers qualifies. But they have all been part of my repertoire for many years, and most would likely rank in my top 10 all-time if I had counted plays all along.
  • My "H-number" is 12. An H-number describes the number of games that someone has played that number of times; in this case, there are 12 different games that I have played at least 12 times. In my case, it would not be difficult to raise my H-number to 13 or 14, since I have a lot of games clustered at the 11-13 play mark.
  • I tend to play a lot of different games, which reduces the number of times each game is played. Of my 693 recorded plays, just under 10% were one-time plays, and my top 5 games only account for 21.5% of my total plays (149/691). The game I have played the most - 7 Wonders - is still at fewer than 50 plays, which shows that I often choose a broad variety of games rather than a few that I play repeatedly.
  • This list does not include electronic versions of games. If it did, Race for the Galaxy, San Juan, and Star Realms would easily be past 100 plays each - if not many more for Race and Realms.
  • I have a breadth of mechanics and styles of games represented on my list, and I do not have many examples of each genre or mechanic. For example, I have only four co-operative games on my list (Pandemic, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Forbidden Island, and Hanabi) and only a couple of worker placement games. I tend to play a variety of styles of games, but only a few within each genre.
  • On a side note, here are some notable games that were not on that list because of a lack of plays: Puerto Rico - 4 plays; Spyrium - 3 plays; El Grande, Takenoko, Notre Dame and In the Year of the Dragon - 2 plays; Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Fresco, Gravwell, Impulse, Istanbul, Macao, Ora et Labora, Scoville, Stone Age, Tokaido, Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar - only 1 play, but I could see them making their way onto that list eventually.


Determining Favourites


Of course, stating my favourite games is still not quite as simple as just taking the top 10 games in order of number of times played. I have realized that my games played list is highly contextual, as the games I play are highly affected by the tastes of the people with whom I play them primarily my wife). To determine my favourite games is both a qualitative and quantitative process, and both actual plays as well as desire to play are factored in to the list. Eventually, my hope is that the two lists would line up - that my most played games are in fact my personal Top 10 - but for now, I'm going to adhere to the following criteria in determining my favourite games:

1. I have to have played it more than a few times, so it has to have at least five plays (ie. it must appear on the list above).
2. I also have to want to play it - so even though Dominion ranks highly in my games played, it won't end up on my list because I don't really want to play it much (hence why I gave it away).
3. It should be a game that I would always choose to play; I'm always in the mood to play it.
4. I would choose to play this game over all other games not in the Top 10 (given the time to do so).
5. Favourite games should be my "go-to" games for a mechanic (ie. card drafting, deck building, worker placement, etc.; it is possible that a mechanic may be represented more than once on the list, but it has to be different enough to justify its spot.

Favourite games by category


Before I get to my top 10, I thought that I would start by narrowing the list down from the 46 on the list to 28 - my favourites in each category. I have divided my favourites into five general categories: party/light games that are primarily social in nature; family/gateway games that are simple enough to teach and learn to anyone but that still have at least an element of strategy; light strategy games (mostly card games) that have some strategy but are distinctively lighter in time and gameplay; medium strategy games that benefit from experience as a board gamer; and complex games that have a fairly steep learning curve. These, then, are essentially the nominees for my favourite games.

Favourite party/light games: Anomia, Dixit, Dutch Blitz, King of Tokyo, The Resistance

Favourite family/gateway games: Alhambra, Carcassonne, Kingdom Builder, Hanabi, Pandemic, Splendor

Favourite light strategy (card) games: Battle Line, Fleet, Jaipur, San Juan, Star Realms

Favourite medium strategy games: 7 Wonders, Cosmic Encounter, Glory to Rome, Innovation, Lords of Waterdeep, Race for the Galaxy, Saint Petersburg

Favourite complex games: Agricola, The Castles of Burgundy, Galaxy Trucker, Le Havre, Village

Top 10 favourite games


After all of this build-up, I'm finally getting to the core of this post: my Top 10 all-time favourite games. These are the ten games I would choose to play over any others. Six of the ten appear in my top 10 all-time played list, with at least one more certain to join that list soon. As you can see, they represent a variety of styles and levels of complexity along with a variety of themes and mechanics. Here is my Top 10, with a little bit of description as to why it has earned its spot (and the current BGG rank in parentheses).

Close to the Top 10: Battle Line (123); Lords of Waterdeep (28); Splendor (76); Star Realms (63); Village (73)

7 Wonders (17) - This card drafting civ-building game is my most played for a reason. I feel as though I have barely scratched the surface of this game even at almost 50 plays, and it is one of my most adaptable games for larger groups.
Agricola (4) - The highest ranked game on my list on BGG is my most-played complex game, and it's my go-to complex worker game. I have not tried the Intermediate or Complex decks, so I have a lot of play left in this game.
The Castles of Burgundy (11) - It's really hard to explain this game, other than to say that it combines a number of great mechanics - dice, area control, variable player powers, strategic player distribution, and more - into a package that is much more than its composite parts.
Cosmic Encounter (74) - One of my favourites with fewer plays, this is a highly social argumentative negotiation game with constant direct conflict and lots of cool aliens. I don't get to play it nearly enough.
Galaxy Trucker (79) - The frantic scramble to build your spaceship from a common tile pool, followed by the inevitably disastrous encounters with meteors, pirates, slavers, and space stations make for one of my favourite gaming experiences. I have only 9 plays, but I can remember almost every one clearly as a memory of its own.
Hanabi (127) - The concept is simple, but unique: everyone knows what cards you have except you, and you have to give clues as to which cards to play. I've played a dozen games and I have still never cracked 20 points (of 25 maximum), so there's a lot of play left in this fireworks card game.
Innovation (195) - A card-based civilization game that is known for being text-heavy, swingy, and a lot of fun. It's similar to Glory to Rome - the designer's earlier game - but I like this one just a bit better.
King of Tokyo (97) - I thought about not including this game, but it's just so much fun as a light Yahtzee-style filler game. I have played the thematic sequel, King of New York, but I just love the simplicity of Tokyo and its iconic kaiju.
Pandemic (43) - Everyone wins or loses: work together to save the world, or watch it collapse into a diseased corpse of a planet. I just love the theme, and it's made much better with the On the Brink expansion.
Race for the Galaxy (21) - The iconography of this essential role-following tableau-building game is intimidating at first, but it becomes very intuitive with only a few plays. The game is made better by the first expansion, The Gathering Storm, and there's almost always a tense finish to this galactically epic story.

There you have it - my Top 10 current board games. I'll check back in a year or so and see if anything changes, but until then, I'll see you at the table.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Happy WiiUversary!

It seems hard to believe that it has only been a year since I acquired a Wii U. It has become such an integral part of the daily activities of our house that it scarcely seems believable that just at the beginning of last year I was still scheming how to get one and just under a year ago that I wrote about my first month with the new console. Of course, it has been a busy year for me as a Wii U owner, since I have significantly altered my video game collecting habits to adjust to the new console, and these changes have allowed me to really have a lot of fun with the system.

Over the course of the year, I acquired 16 new games for the Wii U (in addition to a few Virtual Console games from previous Nintendo systems); in fact, there were only three games in release at the beginning of 2015 on my wish list that I did not yet own (The Wonderful 101, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and NES Remix Pack). Part of my personal pride in this collection is that I have spent very little money acquiring these items, as almost all of them have come through trading away or selling items from my until recently much larger retro game library. (I have in some way or another cleared out something like 200 items in the past year, but I'll write more about that in a future post.)

One of the fun things about the Wii U is that it tracks all of the hours logged in all of the different apps and games, so it's possible to look back at how many hours were played and how many times each game was played. My playing lagged significantly in the summer, which is perhaps not surprising because I was running a summer camp and planning to move 1,800 km, but my hours picked up again in September for two reasons: it provided an easy distraction from school; and my wife (at least for these last few months) would rather play video games than board games with me. Here are the totals for my first year of owning a Wii U (plus a couple of days, I think, but the sentiment still stands), along with a few comments on most of them.

Significantly Underplayed (if at all)


Wii Party U. It was a free bonus with Mario Kart 8. I probably won't play it at all, and I kind of wish I could give it away to someone.

Lego Batman 2. We played on the Wii a couple of years ago, and I want to replay on Wii U after picking up a copy cheap.

Pikmin 3. I didn't play it all, somehow.

Lego City Undercover. My wife played completed it in over 70 hours; I didn't play it at all - but I intend to.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze: 2 times (Feb), 1:59.This one really surprised me. I think I played it when I first got it and got distracted by other games immediately. I'll have to go back to it, since it's a lot of fun.

Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed: 4 times (Jan-Feb), 2:35. It's a fun enough game, but the main reason I bought it was to have something to play until Mario Kart 8 released. I'll probably trade/sell/give this one away at some point.

Super Smash Bros.: 9 times (Nov-Dec), 3:05. This one really surprised me, since I was so excited about it, and then I just haven't played much. I guess it matters that my wife does not really enjoy it, but I really want to play this one more!

Surprisingly lower playtime than expected


New Super Mario Bros. U: 7 times (Jan, May), 5:46. It's a fun game and I'll probably come back to it when I want a Mario fix.

Nintendo Land: 8 times (Jan-Feb), 7:41. Great multiplayer quick fun game; I just haven't had many opportunities to play with groups.

Dr. Luigi: 12 times (Aug, Sept, Dec); 8:08. It's Dr. Mario, and I can play a lot of Dr. Mario - especially against my wife.

Mario Kart 8: 16 times (May, June, Aug, Nov, Dec); 10:02. I was a little surprised at this number, but considering that I didn't play for much of the summer, it makes sense. It's a great game, and I look forward to playing more of it.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD: 12 times (Feb - April); 12:43. An absolutely gorgeous game that I played through on the Gamecube back in the day. I got distracted from it, but I will return to it.

Exhaustively played


Super Mario 3D World: 32 times (Feb, April, May); 26:16. What a great game - and it kept on going and going and going! That play time number does not include the 15 or 20 hours I spent helping my wife play through almost every level on her account to beat it. The only thing I have left to do is to beat that final level (I mean, other than defeating every level with every character, but that just seems a little redundant.)

Lego Marvel Superheroes: 34 times (May-June); 39:43. This was another one that I played with my wife. We really enjoy the Lego games, and this one has so many little in-jokes and cool Marvel moments that it was worth playing through to 100%. I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Hyrule Warriors: 125 times (Sept to Jan); 136:21 (and counting). Hyrule Warriors is a simple hack-and-slash fighter that incorporates most of the major timelines and characters from the history of the Legend of Zelda series. It seems like it should get tired, since it involves fighting the same maps and the same characters over and over again, but somehow it never does. The game has also released two sets of DLC, with two more on the way, and we still have a lot of things to accomplish in the game as a result, but even after this staggering amount of time - roughly an average of an hour for every weekday since the game's release in late September - we are still enjoying playing through the game. Perhaps it's that we need the catharsis of beating these enemies after working so much, or perhaps it's that my wife and I tend to both be very goal-driven and this game is full of little goals, but we are still going strong even after this much time invested.

So there you have it: the games I've played on my Wii U over the past year. The clear connection amongst my most-played games of the year: they're the games that I have played with my wife. Also, a quick side note: I also acquired a 3DS in early September, and I spent some time (mostly on the bus ride home from work) enjoying some of the games there. My two main conquests have been The Legend of Zelda: The Oracle of Ages (an old Game Boy Color game) and Super Mario 3D Land, with New Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario Kart 7, Yoshi's New Island, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds high in the queue. (I'm still deciding if I want to pick up Super Smash Bros. for my 3DS or not.)

What I'm excited for in 2015:


Yoshi's Woolly World - Just like Kirby in his Epic Yarn, Yoshi moves into a stylized yarn-y world that could be a lot of fun.


Splatoon (May) - This could easily be the next major multiplayer awesomeness from Nintendo, and it looks like a lot of fun.


Star Fox Wii U - Count me in.


The Legend of Zelda - Sounds like the goal is a true return to the open world Zelda game format. I can't wait.


Mighty No. 9 (April) - In the wake of no new classic Mega Man games, this just might do the trick.


I'm also mildly intrigued by: Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (Feb. 20), Mario Party 10 (March 20), and Lego Jurassic World (June) for the Wii U and by Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. for the 3DS.

Final thoughts


It has been a lot of fun recapturing my enjoyment of video games with these new Nintendo titles over the past year. For a long time, I had not really played a lot of games, but I am really having fun buying and playing games as they release. It helps that I have several good friends who are also Nintendo fanboys and with whom I can socially enjoy the experience of playing these games. I had to catch up with the first year (and a bit) with the Wii U, but I think I picked the perfect time to get in on the system, as I have been able to enjoy Mario Kart 8, Hyrule Warriors, and Super Smash Bros. as they released.

I think it's possible that I might not add too many new games over the next year, as I intend to spend some time playing the games I have, in addition to some classics like Earthbound or Metroid Prime: Trilogy, both of which I have downloaded on the Virtual Console. I do hope to be more social and to play more multiplayer both locally and online with friends, and I really want to keep refining my collection to include only the games I will truly enjoy and play over and over again. It was a great first year of Wii U, and I'm looking forward to a great second year with the console.

Monday, February 02, 2015

On selling board games

Early last year, I wrote about the process I go through when I buy new board games. The process entailed eleven questions that I would ask myself whenever I was looking at acquiring a new game - perhaps an overly exhaustive process, and one that I do not necessarily go through every single time, but nevertheless a representative guide of how I bring new games into my collection. But even with how thorough I tend to be with my purchases, I still find myself having to evaluate on the other end: when and how does a game leave my collection?

When most people talk about owning board games, they own 10 or maybe 15, tops; I currently own 103 games and 115 expansions for those games, with another 9 games and 11 expansions on pre-order (mostly through Kickstarter). I think that I have hit an equilibrium point in my collection, as the games I have fit the space I have and (mostly) get played frequently (with a few exceptions to be identified later). I'm not sure that I would really want my collection to be much larger than it is, which means that some games will have to go in order to make space for the new incoming games. And it means that I really need to have a process for clearing them out.

In the past year, I have cleared out over forty games - maybe even fifty - primarily in order to a) facilitate getting new games and b) so as not to move unnecessary games across three provinces. Many of those were purchased at thrift stores for a minimal price - small card games, abstract strategy games, party or trivia games - though some were more difficult decisions that took some thought. In clearing off my shelf, I have realized that there are a few key questions that I ask every time that I use to help me decide whether to sell or trade a game away. It's much easier for some games than others, as I will discuss later on, but I have tried to streamline the evaluation process for myself and to help others with the same (first world, admittedly) problem. Here are five questions (plus one bonus) that I ask when I'm considering moving a game off my shelf and out of my collection.

The Process


1. Do I actually play it? There are a number of sub-questions here, but the core question is whether I actually play the game or not. In most cases, it is not sufficient for me to own a game if I only play it once a year, as I can usually find a way to play a game that often at a local gaming group. I track all of my plays, so for any game I own, I know when and how often I have played it over the past four years. This also includes the question of whether I own it to play it or just to collect it.

2. Is it likely that I will play it again? Assuming I may not have played it very often, the corollary to the first question then becomes whether I can see a time in which I would play it again. Maybe I haven't had the right gaming group for it, for example, but could I see a circumstance in which I come back to this game, perhaps somewhat regularly. If not, why would I keep it?

3. Is it redundant in my collection? If it duplicates a mechanic that I like better in another game, why would I choose to play this game? Would I choose to play this game over another game, or would I choose the other game every time. This might also apply to criteria like theme or number of players, but the bottom line is whether it is unique or not.

4. Will the game run out of functional playability? A well-designed game should be playable over and over again, but there are many games that seem to be limited for several reasons. It might "require" more expansions to make it really work, or it might be too difficult for new players to pick up, or it might require too much focus and/or constant replaying in order to keep its playability manageable.

5. Would I rather use that money to buy a different game? If I were to lose my entire collection for some reason (theft or house fire or alien abduction or terrorist attack or what have you), would I rebuy this game, or would I put the money toward buying a different game? That is to say, is the investment of money worth keeping this game, or is it worth perhaps taking a bit of a loss on the value of the game (although, to be fair, the difference in purchase and sale/trade price can be justified by the number of plays and/or the value of having owned the game) and using that money toward a game I would play more?

(6.) Are there any other reasons I would not sell this game? There is this one final question to ask even if all five other questions point a particular direction. I suppose, perhaps, that I could have some sentimental value attached to the game, or that there could be some unforeseen reason that I would want to keep a game in spite of the answers to these questions. I have several games that my wife and I played on our honeymoon, for example, that might qualify here. I think I would rather take pictures for the memories, rather than keeping the game itself, but I'm allowing that there could be exemptions.

At this point, it all might seem a little esoteric and loosey-goosey, so let's practically apply this model to a number of games from my collection to determine how they went or whether they should go (or should have gone).

Games that went


Lord of the Rings Monopoly and Risk: I had owned these for a decade and played the Monopoly once, and I didn't see any situation in which I would choose to play them. They weren't exactly redundant, as I didn't own other copies of Monopoly and Risk and I figured that if I had to own a version of those games that it may as well be LOTR. Then I realized that I didn't "need" to own them, and that I would rather use the money to get other games, so I did. Gone!

Lord of the Rings (the co-operative game): I had bought this for $10 at a garage sale and we played it a few times, one with a group of five people. It was a fun enough game, but it was a little overly complicated (failed #4) and it ended up being redundant thanks to Pandemic as a co-op game (#3). It went, and I used the money for other games (#5).

Dominion: Dominion is one of my most-played games of all-time - 24 plays with various expansions - but I cleared it out, along with the Hinterlands expansion, before we moved for several reasons. I played it mostly as an introductory game, but I do have other deck-building games; although they don't use the mechanic quite as well as Dominion, I still can get my fill with those other games, so there was some redundancy. The deciding factor here was #4, the functional playability, as I could see having to purchase the other seven (now eight!) expansion sets to fully enjoy the game, and I just didn't want to do that. I gave it away to a better home where it is well-loved.

Power Grid: After playing the game once, I found it for a good price online, so I picked it up with two expansions. Then I played it once a year over the next three years, each time knowing that I enjoyed it, but that I wanted to play it more. It's a great game, and worthy of its Top 10 status on BGG, but it just wasn't for me. It failed #1 (played rarely), #3 (redunancy), and #5. If I want something for a large group (6 players), I'll usually pick a shorter game like 7 Wonders. Auction game? Fleet or Ra. Tight economic game? Le Havre. And it's a game that's common enough that if I ever want to play it, I can find someone else's copy. Sold.

Last Will: I bought the game without having tried it because of a really fun theme: you're trying to be the first player to lose all of the money you have inherited. I actually really enjoyed the game, but it failed on three questions: I didn't play it that often; I saw that it would have limited replayability because of the teaching required each time to play it; and I used the money from selling Last Will to buy Lords of Waterdeep - one of my wife's favourites - on a great deal.

Starfarers of Catan: Lost out on #1, #2, and #5. I actually owned this game twice; I gave the first away as a gift to someone who really enjoyed it (and with whom I could still play it), and the second copy I bought in order to sell it in order to buy other games. I still have another friend who owns it, which will be enough for the annual itch I have to play something Catan-styled, but not enough to keep it, especially at its current value.

Egizia: I picked this up for super-cheap online, played it a few times, enjoyed it enough, and decided initially not to sell it because it was OOP (out-of-print) and I wouldn't be able to find it again. It has gone up in value since, and it is redundant as a worker placement game, as I have several others in my collection. Great game, not for me, and worth more (much more) sold than in my collection. Sold.

Loaded Questions, Scattergories, Telestrations, Curses!, other assorted party games: My family played a lot of party games when I was growing up, so I have tended to own a number of them myself; it's also because they're the mostly likely games for non-gamers to know and they are easy to enjoy. But I just had too much redundancy, and I didn't play most of them. I distilled my party game collection to a select few: Apples to Apples (words/pop culture); Dixit (creativity); Things (comic value); and True Colors (relational). I probably could have kept some of the others - Scattergories and Telestrations in particular - but I also know that I can always pick them up again if I so desire.


Games that might (could) go:


Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot (with all of the expansions): The hardest call (cull?) in my collection. This was arguably the game that got me into board gaming, so I have some sentimental attachment to it, but I also have some practical reasons for keeping it (other than loss aversion). I don't play it much (about once a year and not in almost two) and I'll probably never pull it out to play with someone unless it's a larger, younger group.

Settlers of Catan: The Card Game (with Expansion): I bought this early on in my gaming hobby because a) it was cheaper and b) many people already owned Catan, so I didn't need to. Admittedly, it fails on #1, #2, and #5, as I don't play it often, probably won't, and would probably rather sell it to buy something else. The main issue here is that it does have sentimental value as a game my wife and I played on our honeymoon, so I'll probably keep it for now - though I might try to convince her to take pictures of it for a scrapbook so I can give it a better home.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue expansions (Extreme Danger; Dangerous Waters; Honor & Duty; etc.): I purchased these on Kickstarter mostly all with the base game (Honor & Duty came later), and although I really enjoy the base game, I haven't played with the extra boards yet. I'm not ready to get rid of them, but I should try them soon.

Puerto Rico: One of the top games on BGG and a fantastic strategic game that for some reason I never play. It's on my 10x10 Challenge this year, so maybe it will earn its spot on my shelf. Then again, it's common enough that I could get rid of it and still be able to enjoy it. But it's such a good game! Of course, it doesn't matter if it's a good game if it doesn't get played. And so back and forth I go...keep for now, but that could change.

RARRR!!!: Another Kickstarter that I played once and seems like fun, but will probably not hit the table that much. It has a great concept (using cards to name Kaiju with Japanese characters to give them special powers), fun art, and is relatively enjoyable, but I just don't know if it'll stick. Maybe it could become a game to keep at the school for lunch hour games with students.

Evil Baby Orphanage: We ordered this from Kickstarter - the first game I ordered - because my wife is a huge Nerdfighter. The idea is great, but the game doesn't really work without some major modification. It actually fails on all five counts - even its "kind of wacky uncontrollable fun" game mechanic is redundant thanks to Killer Bunnies and Monty Python Fluxx - and it's more of a fun show piece than a functional game, so it might go sooner rather than later.

Tikal: On the surface, it's very similar to the situation with Power Grid; played it a few times when I first got it online for a good deal, then about once per year since. The difference here is that it is not redundant in my collection and I really want to play it more, so it's a keep, especially as a "classic" game. But I think it I don't play it that often in the next year that I might have to consider selling it.

Thurn & Taxis: Another great "classic Euro" that I really enjoy but that doesn't get played very often. It was one of my gateways into gaming, and it's a great game; the only issue is that it's almost a decade old and it doesn't feel "new". Still, I don't have a lot in the "medium weight Euro" section of my collection, so it's not redundant. I'll probably give it another year and then decide if it's worth keeping or not.

Conclusion


Part of the fun of managing a board game collection is the "meta-game" of how to get new games and when to keep and when to sell. Most board gamers I know actively enjoy this part of the hobby, some almost as much as playing the games themselves. I know that I have appreciated this side of the hobby over the past few years, and that as I hone my collection by considering and selling or trading games away that I am much happier with the games I still have. I have gone through a similar process with video games over the past year and I have cleared out more than half of that collection (I think - more on that in a future post) and I am much happier with what is remaining as a result. More isn't always better, and I'm learning to value quality over quantity. That's what this whole discussion really amounts to: how to ensure that the collection I have is the best quality for me and my house. Selling off games makes me a better board gamer - and it's still fun to dream and scheme about prices and getting new games, and that can only happen as I clear the old ones out.

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