Friday, January 22, 2016

Through the Ages: A board game biography

In the spirit of my recent foray into exploring my early experiences as a music enthusiast, I thought it might be similarly entertaining for myself and others to recount my journey through the world of board gaming, starting with my roots in my childhood and culminating with where I am today. I also thought that for many people who have attempted (or even perhaps succeeded) to weave their way through my rather dense analytical board game posts that a narrative approach might be a little more approachable and preferable as an entry point; consider this, then, my "gateway" post to my world of board gaming. (That's the second board game pun for you; the first was in the title.) Enjoy!

My formational years of gaming (1990-1996)


I have played board games since I was a kid, almost as long as I can remember. By the time I was eight and my sister was six, we started amassing a decent collection of games - I have started trying to keep track of them on a GeekList on BoardGameGeek - and we played card and board games together a surprising amount, at least for a couple of years until we got a Super Nintendo. We played a lot of basic card games like Rummy, Crazy Eights and War, and for some reason I remember that we quoted lyrics from Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy" and giggled at shaking butts on the catwalk. We had some dexterity games, some junior versions of popular games such as Monopoly Jr. and Scrabble Jr., and a lot of thrifted games, like this glorious piece of work from the 70s:


Sure, it's basically a nastier version of Monopoly, but I probably liked it because that kid on the cover reminded me of myself; that, and I remember usually skunking my sister quite handily when we played.

I also played a lot of games at school, especially because I chose to stay inside as many recesses as I could rather than playing battleball or shinny with the other boys. I was convinced for some reason that sports were beneath me or that I didn't enjoy them or something, so I didn't play sports at recess until I was in Grade 8; in a completely unrelated development, I didn't have any friends until I was in Grade 8. At any rate, I played games like Pente and Set - which was brand new at the time - when I could, and I devoured games like Whatzit?, which required the type of lateral thinking that I thoroughly enjoyed with my advanced intellect.

My Grade 5 teacher also used puzzles from GAMES Magazine in class, which led to me designing my own puzzles and having her photocopy them for the class; they weren't very good, but I was trying something creative, and I was experimenting with design even at a young age. I think I must have been one of the only twelve-year-olds ever to request a subscription to GAMES Magazine for Christmas; my grandmother ordered it for me and I enjoyed every issue, even though I had little of the knowledge of trivia or pop culture to be able to do most of the puzzles inside. I still enjoy GAMES to this day, and I still have kept copies of some of my favourite puzzles from the past two decades to use in my classroom as I can.

Party on, Wayne! (1996-2000)


My family also enjoyed playing a lot of party games, of which there was a boom in the mid-to-late 1990s. We played most of the popular hits from those years, including a number of games that focused on movies and pop culture: Taboo; Outburst; Scattergories; Mad Gab; TriBond; Act One (movie and TV quotations); Planet Hollywood; and various pre-DVD versions of Trivial Pursuit like the Genus IV. As I was learning more historical facts in school and reading more books with trivia, I became formidable at these kinds of games, especially when Cranium was released a few years later; in fact, I don't remember ever losing at Cranium (an assertion that I'm sure someone will gleefully contradict in a recollection of victory over me in the comments on Facebook). My success at these kinds of party games was due partly to my general trivia knowledge, but also in being able to predict the kinds of information that might be asked for in a question, so I was apparently understanding game theory even as a preteen.

Party games were great for getting to know others, and for many years they were a staple of my game collection, especially since there were so many variations of party games available at thrift stores. At one point I owned several dozen party-style games, although most of them remained unplayed until I returned them to the thrift stores from whence they came. I don't have many in my collection anymore, since I have cleared most of them out in my interprovincial moves, but the ones I have kept are among my favourites to this day: Apples to Apples; Things...; and True Colors. Every so often, I add a party game to my collection at a rate of about one per year - notable examples in the past few years include Dixit, The Resistance, Anomia, Geek Out!, and Codenames - and I have one or two more that I would like to find in a thrift store at some point (namely Wits and Wagers and Word on the Street). Although they may not have a place on my shelf, those 90s party classics will always have a place in my heart - and my classroom, actually, since they make great filler games during down times.

4X: Exploration, expansion, expenditure and exposure to Eurogames (2000-2006)


When I moved out on my own in 2000, I started to build my own collection of games, a large portion of which consisted of thrifted party games and mainstream card games - lots of card games. Some were more animated, active games, like Dutch Blitz or Pit; I still enjoy a good round of Blitz to this day, and I still hold the distinction of having had the worst round possible (-20 points, no cards from my Blitz pile or my hand out on the piles) and still coming back to "Blitz out" and win the game in the end. Some card games, such as Mille Bornes, Phase 10, or Skip-Bo, were more laid back, to the point that I now find them close to unplayable except with children (and even then not really that playable).

I played a lot of trump-based games like Rook and Kaiser - probably hundreds of hands of each - which helped teach me how to count cards, how to read other players, and how to play these kinds of games strategically. I even remember experimenting with game design on one bus trip by creating six-player Kaiser with a six-suited deck of cards that included crowns and anchors; the catch was that the extra suits each included a 4 card that doubled your score for the round if you won that trick with that suit. It seemed to work well enough, but I'd like to try to play it again; a cursory Google search reveals that no one else seems to have created such a mutation, as well as some difficulty in tracking down a deck with six suits, so I might have to put this on my "to do sometime" list.

I started playing European strategy games during those years (roughly 2000-2006), but I did not get really invested in them just yet. Even though I don't remember my first time playing Catan, I do remember really enjoying it whenever I played it (which was infrequently enough that I still enjoyed it), enough so that I bought the two-player Card Game version, which I still own; I figured, after all, that with everyone else owning Catan that I did not need to own a copy for myself; to this day, I have not bought Catan and I do not own a copy of my own (I have been given copies twice, which I have then passed forward to others).

I was exposed to other Euro-style games infrequently over those years, but it was mainly the popular ones: Carcassonne; Alhambra; Bohnanza (which quickly became one of my favourites); and Ticket To Ride. I purchased a number of smaller games, such as Coloretto, Corsari, and Bang!, mainly because their low cost made them easy to afford and their small packaging made them easy to move. I even posted a short blog entry in July 2006 in which I confessed to being a "board game geek" in which I linked to the BGG site, even though I did not sign up for a BGG account for another two years.

The quest for the magic board game: the transitional years (2007-2010)


By the time I finished university and started my first teaching job, I owned a lot of thrifted and smaller games and I really enjoyed playing games, but I still was not fully entered into the much wider world of board gaming. My then-fiance (now wife) and I made some friends who also loved games, so we started playing certain games more frequently. Our game of choice for that year was Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot, which we played sequentially, adding an expansion each time until we played with all 800+ cards; we enjoyed playing it so much that we made the entire set one of our first purchases after we were married, and we played it many times over the ensuing year. We bought Thurn and Taxis, the 2006 winner of the Spiel des Jahres, just before we moved, and my wife bought Carcassonne for me for our first Christmas as a married couple. We began to add a few more games to our shelves and games slowly became more significant in our lives with our new friends. We even planned a game night at our church on our first Valentine's Day as newlyweds; she thought it was a good idea, too, and it turned out to be a success since it was a great way for people to connect. We continued to run games nights intermittently, and we really enjoyed connecting with our community through board games.

What really sticks out to me over those years is that I could (and still can) remember a lot of the experiences playing those games, especially when I was playing them for the first time. I might not remember the results, but I remember the context, the other players, and the feelings of many of those plays. I remember my first (mostly unsuccessful) foray into the world of 4X games (a shorthand for games, often space themed, that let players "explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate") in an abbreviated game of Twilight Imperium, and though I did not have the skill set to appreciate how to play the game, I still remember that experience fondly. I remember the game of Apples to Apples in which a friend attempted to connect "Chickens" with "Nasty" by exclaiming that "Chickens is sons of b*****s, yo!" I remember moments of many different games, and I feel like I really started to understand just how special board games were. By the time November 2010 came around, I wrote a short post entitled "A Gamer's Lament", in which I expressed dismay at not playing enough board games; little did I realize the world I was about to enter...

Earning the title of "Board Game Geek" (2011-2014)


I am not sure how long I was on BoardGameGeek before I started tracking my collection, but it was somewhere near the end of my transitional phase that I started adding my games and expansions to my profile. I don't remember exactly what launched me into the next level of the hobby - that of tracking my plays and being much more conscious and intentional about my board gaming; I think it was mostly curiosity, but also the realization that there was a whole new set of data that could be recorded and analyzed. I do know that I recorded my first play on BoardGameGeek on December 21, 2010; it was Citadels, which I bought within a few days. Two days later, I played Puerto Rico for the first time, and I received it as a birthday present two weeks later. And with that, I feel like I really launched into board gaming as a hobby, rather than simply an activity or a pastime as it had been in previous years.

It probably helped that at the same time that I was making the shift into board game geekery that I met a close friend, Jordan, who helped propel me in that direction as he was going in that same direction. Over the course of 2011, I played a number of new games - Agricola, Dominion, Dixit, Innovation, Power Grid, Tikal - and by the end of the year, I included board games in my year-in-review posts for the first time. That post was still far more oriented toward video games, but the board games hook was in, and it wouldn't leave; in fact, it only took another month or so for board gaming to emerge as my dominant hobby.

In 2012, board gaming exploded for me in a big way: my plays rocketed to an average of almost twenty a month, and my year-in-review post went from parenthetical mentions with video games to a full-blown analysis of its own. My "Want to Play" list went from very small to very large, and I added many new games to my collection and my repertoire. I went to a convention for the first time - GottaCon in Victoria, BC - and I developed friendships with others who were also expanding their collections and with whom I was exploring this amazing new world of games. By early 2013, I started ordering games on Kickstarter, and my collection exploded as I found deals, made trades, and started putting more time and resources into board games in general.

My gaming took a step back in the remainder of 2013, and I'm not quite sure why; there must have been a few factors that affected it, but I don't recall what they could have been. At any rate, I continued to refine my palate and my collection, and even though I did not play as many games that year, my hobby orientation remained significantly toward board games. I had a strong collection, a constant gaming group, and many opportunities to play, and I made the most of those opportunities. I had a return to form in early 2014, but that resurgence was tinged with sadness as I also prepared to move back to Saskatchewan later that year. It was disappointing to leave the friends and those gaming possibilities behind when I made the move at the end of the summer of 2014, but I was excited for the road that lay ahead - even though I was not sure what was in store for me as a gamer or as a person.

To SaskGames and beyond (2014-2015)


The first two months after the move were the most desolate gaming I had experienced since emerging as a gamer several years earlier; then again, I suppose that's what happens when you move over a long weekend and start a new teaching job in a new province the next day. After a few months, I started to recover and stabilize in my new surrounding, and I discovered SaskGames in December 2014, and lo and behold, there was a weekly game night only a two-minute drive from my house! A new chapter in my gaming started, and I launched into hyperdrive in my new digs, which now included a new Kallax shelf from IKEA upon which I could finally display my entire collection; my wife laughed, as it was one of the first things I set up in our new house - we didn't have living room furniture, but we had our gaming shelf in place. I quickly made new friends and started connecting with old friends (I had moved back, after all) who had also picked up board gaming as a hobby in the interim.

SaskGames quickly became one of the best ways for me to connect with new people and to find more stability in my new setting. I started to play more frequently, and I had access to many others' collections, which allowed me to whittle away at that ever-growing Want to Play list (which of course, also ended up ballooning with the number of new games I now could actually potentially play). I ended up playing over a hundred new games over the course of 2015, and I recently recorded my thousandth play on BGG, just a week or so after the fourth anniversary of my first play, and you bet I wrote a ridiculously intense analysis of those plays. I have also found myself refining my collection and clearing out games that I owned and enjoyed for several years but that I rarely ever play on my own, including a number of games from that first wave of acquisition in 2011, such as Power Grid, Puerto Rico, and Dominion, and I am currently happier with my collection than I ever have been.

I had to balance this new found euphoria of my new gaming surroundings with grief, as Jordan, the friend with whom I had entered into the hobby back in 2011, was dying from cancer; eight months after my big move, he passed away. I was able to visit him one last time in February and we played our final game of The Castles of Burgundy - our favourite game together - on Valentine's Day; he won, which seems fitting. I was able to share about our friendship and our experiences at his funeral over the Victoria Day long weekend, and even now, I still think of him often as I play games that he wanted to try, play games from my collection that we discovered together, and when I hear of new games are released that I know would have been right up his alley (like the upcoming card game version of Burgundy). He lived, died, and played well, and he will always be a part of my story and my legacy as a gamer.

In the midst of these conflicting emotions of wonder and loss, I have found that gaming seems again to be moving into new territory for me. I love gaming as a hobby, and I still love the games for what they are and for the intellectual and creative outlet that they provide, but gaming is also opening new doors for me personally and relationally. I am starting to step into some new roles of leadership with SaskGames, and I am making genuine friends in the process. I am starting to find new creative outlets in game design, and I am hoping to finish my first (of many) designs this year. I have started writing more about games, and I am considering new creative outlets for writing or podcasting about games (and possibly other subjects). There are many possibilities for me here, and I'm excited to see the splendor of what board gaming looks like for me in the future.

I am enjoying being an experienced gamer and the knowledge and understanding of what the past few years - a lifetime, even - of gaming have given to me, and I am excited to pass my passion for gaming onto others. I love learning new games and I love teaching new games. I love meeting embryonic gamers who are at the point I was at several years ago and seeing their eyes widen as they realize what it possible in this world of board games. I love being a part of a community that not only values games, but that also values relationships, and I love seeing how board gaming doors in so many ways. And, as always, those doors - as well as my table - are open and you are welcome to be part of my board games, no matter your current status as a gamer. Thanks for being part of my ongoing journey and for wherever this hobby may take me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Favourite* Games* of 2015*

In addition to my extensive review of games played in 2015, I thought it would be valuable to attempt to determine what were my favourite games of those released during the last calendar year. My primary purpose here is to serve as an answer to the question of what have been my favourite recent games, and also to provide as a bit of a commentary on some of the games rather than my gaming habits, which is what my year in review posts have become. I'm also trying to be a bit more selective and actually choose games that I have really enjoyed, as opposed to this scattershot list from Popular Mechanics that includes 35 different games, including several dating back to 2014.

This list, however, comes with three asterisks, as indicated by the title of this post. The first is that some of the games I have included here might technically be counted as releases from 2014 because they were released at Spiel in October. I am choosing to include them here as games that came to prominence and/or availability in my part of the world in 2015, even if they were technically available a few months before the calendar turned, because of the flexible nature of board game releases.

The second asterisk is that, even with as many games as I have played over the past year (over a hundred games that were new to me), I still have even more games that I have not played from that period of time. I have around seventy games on my list between games played and want to play; there could have been a thousand games released in that same time span (even BGG does not seem to have an easy way to determine that number). In addition, I played many of the games I have listed here only once or twice, with a maximum of five plays on a game, so any of my early thoughts might be a tad embryonic. My final asterisk, then, is that this is a list in transition, and that these rankings may change in the future - particularly my top ten games of the year. There are four or five that are solidly in place, but I suspect that there are a few more that will emerge as I play a few more of these games.

I have grouped the games roughly into a few categories to make it easier to evaluate them based on roughly on the divisions that existed in the Games 100 in Games Magazine;: Party/Social; Filler (up to 1/2 hour); Family; Family Strategy; Advanced Strategy; Two-player; and Game Experience. For each category, I have listed my favourite and the runner-up, as well as other games I have played in that category before a short commentary on the games and before concluding with the games in that category that I have yet to play. My top ten for the year (so far, that is) are included at the end of the post.

Party/Social


Favourite: Codenames
Runner-up: Spyfall

I was surprised that two of my favourite games of the year came in this category that I often ignore, but these two spy-themed social games are so innovative and entertaining that it's hard not to love them. It's not even a contest between the two, as Codenames might be my favourite game of the year, period, though Spyfall would like win if it had come to prominence in any other year. The concepts for both games are so brilliantly simple it's a wonder that they were not created until now. Codenames has one player giving word association clues to a team based on a 5x5 grid of words, kind of like a super-intense version of Password. Spyfall has one spy attempting to determine the location that everyone is at through asking questions in a social setting while hoping not to be discovered. The replayability of both games is incredibly high, and I think they will both stay in my top games, period, for a long time.

Filler


Favourite: Eggs and Empires
Runner-up: Between Two Cities
Other filler games played: Fidelitas; Fleet: Wharfside; Flip City; Harbour; Mottainai; Tiny Epic Galaxies (6)

The primary value in a good filler game, at least as far as I'm concerned, comes in providing a strategic experience in a short amount of time; the secondary value is in being able to replicate that experience repeatedly with little difficulty. My favourite so far, Eggs and Empires, is an easy, fun social deduction game with a low entry for learners and enough strategic twists to keep it interesting. My runner-up, Between Two Cities, involves an innovative combination of drafting, tile-laying, and team scoring, and I think it might emerge as my favourite with a few more plays. Mottainai, a new manipulation of one of my all-time favourites, Glory to Rome, could also eventually emerge as my favourite, but the barrier to successful entry is much higher for the strategy of the game.

That said, there's not a game I do not enjoy in the bunch I have played, and I would play any of these games any time. I have a number of filler games yet to play as well, though I'm not sure if those ones will fare as well as the games I have played, all of which I either own or plan to own. As a side note, I found it interesting that almost all of these games were from Kickstarter, which I attribute to the fact that I have been much more willing to order games through Kickstarter at a lower price point as well as the fact that these games originated with designers or game companies that I trust.

Want to play most: The Game: Spiel...so lange du kannst!
Want to play: Arboretum; Biblios Dice; Cosmic Run; Epic; Knee Jerk; OctoDice; Seven 7s; Xenon Profiteer (9)

Family


Favourite: Sheriff of Nottingham
Runner-up: Medieval Academy
Other family games played: Colt Express; Floating Market; Machi Koro; Space Junk (4)

There were quite a few genuinely entertaining family games this year - enough that I had difficulty picking only one runner-up despite having played only six games in this category. Each of these games do something unique, and they are each accessible to players of all ages and abilities, which is part of what makes them fun. These are the kinds of games that are easy to pull out and teach at any time with anyone, which is perhaps why I seem to end up playing a lot of them.

Sheriff of Nottingham is a great bluffing game, and the accompanying app makes the game extra fun. Medieval Academy uses card drafting and manipulating multiple scoring tracks, and it has a lot of interesting decisions for such a simple game; there is also an advanced variant that might make the game more fun for more experienced gamers. Colt Express, the winner of this year's Spiel des Jahres, has a fun western theme and an innovative group deck building mechanic (as well as a cardboard train). Machi Koro uses dice and cards in a simple resource gathering and spending race game, and it improves with the expansions. The final two Kickstarters have a lot of appeal, too: Floating Market uses dice speculation and worker placement with the unique theme of gathering fruit in Thailand; whereas Space Junk involves building crazy ships and flying them through attacks from your opponents, kind of like an easier-to-play Galaxy Trucker.

Want to play most: Cacao
Want to play: Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King; Lanterns: The Harvest Festival; Oh My Goods!; Star Trek: Five-Year Mission (5)

Family Strategy


Favourite: Scoville
Runner-up: N/A
Other family strategy games played: Among the Stars: Revival; Artifacts, Inc.; Asking for Trobils; Discoveries; Viceroy (5)

These games are a little more complex than the basic family games, but they are still accessible for most players. They place more emphasis on strategy to be able to enjoy and succeed at the game, which is why they are included here rather than in the more simple "family" category; at the same time, they do not have the strategic complexity to warrant being categorized as "advanced strategy".

Scoville was far and away my favourite in this category, which I found to be surprisingly light on games that I had played so far - so much so that I found that I could not name a suitable runner-up. Scoville has a fun theme - cross-breeding hot peppers and making chili recipes - and a neat mechanic for determining how the peppers are created. I am looking forward to the expansion - Scoville: Labs - which will arrive through Kickstarter later this year.

Want to play most: Barony
Want to play: Above and Below; Brewin' USA; Favor of the Pharaoh; Loop Inc.; Nautilus Industries; Nova Cry; Parfum; Super Motherload (10)

Advanced Strategy


Favourite: Orleans
Runner-up: Elysium
Other advanced strategy games played: 504; Deus; La Granja (3)

Although I spent a lot of my year playing advanced strategy games, many of them were releases from previous years on which I was catching up, so my list is fairly short in this category; even with a short list, however, most of these games are currently sitting on my top ten for the year. These are the kinds of games toward which I gravitate most often, and they are usually the games I enjoy the most as a strategic player.

My favourite here, Orleans, is one of my favourite games of the year, and its combination of "bag-building", role selection, map exploration, and manipulation of different scoring tracks is sure to keep it in my top games for a long time. Elysium has a fantastic theme in the truest sense of the word - it's set in the world of the Greek gods - and the variability of the different families of cards (as well as the inevitable expansion) will give this a lot of replay value. I enjoyed my single plays of Deus and La Granja, and I think that both games will possibly find a way into my collection at some point.

Want to play most: Grand Austria Hotel; The Voyages of Marco Polo
Want to play: Mombasa; Nippon; Shakespeare; Signorie; Steam Works (7)

Two-player games


Favourite: 7 Wonders: Duel
Runner-up: Patchwork

There was really no other possibility here for my favourite, since Duel is a compelling revisioning of my most-played game of all-time, 7 Wonders. It is just similar enough to make it easy to learn and teach, and different enough that it offers a totally different range of strategies, and although I have played it five times in the past month, I do not feel as though I have begun to master the possibilities of the game. Patchwork, which was technically one of those late 2014 releases, takes a potentially dry theme - making a quilt - and combines spatial reasoning, economic management, and a race element to make an incredibly tight strategic game that demands another play as soon as you finish; plus, I always think of the theme from Tetris when I'm playing, so that's another point in its favour.

Want to play most: Tides of Time
Want to play: ...and then, we held hands; Hengist

Game Experience


Favourite game experience: SaskGames
Runner-up: T.I.M.E Stories
Other game experiences: 504; Scythe

So my favourite game experience isn't a "game", per se, but connecting with the SaskGames community here in Regina has opened up a wide world of friendships and games (including many listed here). In fact, I have been able to play many of the games here because of those connections, and I am excited to see what happens in the new year as I continue to build into the community, particularly as I am taking some leadership roles in events.

I had some other very unique and interesting game experiences over the year that I think warrant some mention here. T.I.M.E Stories is an innovative co-operative game that uses the theme of time travel in a narrative game, and the plays in which we solved the first case, "Asylum", were genuinely captivating and frustrating; I'm looking forward to the next few cases at some point this year. I had the opportunity to play test an early copy of Scythe, which then became a huge success on Kickstarter, and I'm excited to play the final version when it releases later this year. I also recently had the chance to play Game 163 of 504, a new game that contains 504 different games using nine numbered modules that incorporate various mechanics popular to advanced strategy games; it will be interesting to play try out different modules and to see how the game works as a piece of game design.

Want to Play: Pandemic: Legacy; T.I.M.E Stories: The Marcy Case

Conclusion


2015 was not only a great year for me for gaming, but also for games. Several of my top games of the year have already taken place in my favourite games, period, and I am certain that there are at least a dozen games (or more) from the past twelve months that will find a permanent home in my collection. One game I mentioned only in passing because I have not yet played it is Pandemic: Legacy, which takes one of my favourite games - Pandemic - and adds a Legacy mechanic in which previous plays affect future games. It is currently the #1 game on BGG, which is no small feat, especially because it accomplished its meteoric rise in less than three months and because only a small number of games have ever held that top spot. I am currently waiting for the game to be reprinted and made available, so I am hoping to start playing through the game's campaigns in March, but I imagine that it will emerge as one of my favourite games of the year.

Expansions yet to play/own: Castles of Mad King Ludwig: Secrets; Dixit: Memories; Galaxy Trucker: Missions; Istanbul: Mocha and Baksheesh; Orleans: Invasion: Pandemic: State of Emergency; Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition; Takenoko: Chibis (8)

Top games of 2015 to buy: Between Two Cities; Orleans; Spyfall

Top Ten Games of 2015: 7 Wonders: Duel; Codenames; Deus; Eggs and Empires; Elysium; La Granja; Orleans; Patchwork; Scoville; Spyfall

Monday, January 18, 2016

2015: The Year In Television!

We finally have a somewhat widely accepted name for the era after "The Golden Age of Television": "Peak TV". The final holdover(s) of the Golden Age, represented by Mad Men finally ended this year, the last bastions of the age that started with The Sopranos, continued through The Wire, and reached its feverish peak with Breaking Bad are now but a memory. The shows that remain in their wake - led critically and commercially by Homeland, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, and The Walking Dead - are representative of this new style of TV; Willa Paskin of Slate recently wrote a succinct but clear summary and commentary on the phenomenon of "Peak TV", and noted TV critic Alan Sepinwall includes his thoughts on it here. The gist of the idea of "Peak TV" is that there is more television being produced in more places with more diversity than ever (almost twice as many shows as in 2009) and that has produced more choice, diversity, and quality than has ever been seen on the small screen.

The result seems to be that, more than I ever remember seeing in the past, not only a diversity among critics' top ten lists, but also a common amendment within those lists that it is not possible to watch all - or even most - of the shows produced in a given year and that any one critics' list is merely a representation of the shows that they liked best out of the shows they watched. It might be a bit of a cop out from actually naming the top ten shows of the year, but it's also an honest admission that there is just far too much good stuff out there to actually not only consume but also to fairly evaluate it all. I would like to state for the record that I have been including that kind of admission in my year-end posts for years, so I was merely ahead of the trend.

As I have done in past years, I have included short snippets of commentary on the shows I have watched over the past year. And, as in past years, I am both surprised by the volume of TV I was able to watch as well as the amount that I was not able to watch; it's an interesting dichotomy feeling genuinely surprised by both sides. A significant portion of my viewing this year took place in September, when I was not working, though I was not surprised that I had some viewing that took place throughout the year.

I have included brief thoughts on the shows I watched in different basic categories, including drama, sci-fi/fantasy, comedy, and reality/variety, although I freely admit that some of my distinctions are arbitrary and arguable. In each category, I have also included notes on the shows I missed (occasionally with notes on why), the next shows I want to watch and investigate; what I'm not planning to watch, some of the other shows from before 2015 that I watched from that category over the year, and the still-outstanding projects (some of which I have listed for several years). At any rate, here are my thoughts on the television that I watched (and did not watch) over the past twelve months.

Drama


With the conclusion of Justified in the spring, I officially had no currently airing serial dramas on the go for the first time since fall 2006, when I started watching TV again after a few years away from the medium. Although I picked up a couple of shows in September, I have been reticent to add new shows to the queue because I am actually enjoying not having intense TV to watch, which is why I have not yet added The Americans or Fargo to my queue and I have several shows in my "to investigate" category.

Better Call Saul (S1) - No new show faced a more daunting task than Saul, an audacious prequel spin-off to Breaking Bad, which is routinely (and rightfully) voiced in the discussion of "greatest show of all time". Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould needed to establish their own tone and universe for Saul while maintaining a canonical connection to Bad, and they needed to do it in the pilot to catch the interest of old and new viewers. They did one better, as they accomplished both of those difficult tasks with their first shots of the series. It did not take long for the all-new characters to feel familiar, and the season stands on its own as a fantastic character piece. "Five-O" was easily the best of the season - how Jonathan Banks did not win an Emmy for his performance is beyond me - but Bob Odenkirk's Jimmy McGill is a memorable character in and of himself. It will be interesting to see how Season 2 proceeds, particularly as the show will get nearer to the timeline of Breaking Bad, but this was easily one of my favourite shows of the year.

Justified (S6) - The final season of the Kentucky crime drama was one of its best (I have it ranked third behind seasons 2 and 4), and the series finale was one of the best I can remember. Justified never got the attention it truly deserved and it stayed in the shadow of the shows that preceded and succeeded it, but it is truly a modern American noir masterpiece, and Boyd Crowder is one of my favourite characters of any medium.

Show Me A Hero - The concept sounds a little dry - a mini-series based on the true story of the process of a city in New York debating over passing legislation for affordable housing in the late 1980s - but the result is captivating thanks to a fantastic script from David Simon (The Wire) and incredible performances from several actors, including Oscar Isaac as protagonist Nick Wasicsko. Simon and director Paul Haggis have created one of the most topical depictions of race in America, and

Missed: The Americans (S3); Broadchurch (S2.5); Fargo (S2)

To investigate: Halt and Catch Fire; The Jinx; The Leftovers; Making a Murderer; Mr. Robot

Not watching:

Gotham (S1/2) - I'm slightly interested in the Batman origin story of this show, but it's a network show, and those take a lot of time. I'm more inclined to watch it now that the first season is on Netflix, but I'm still not rushing out to watch it.

True Detective (S2) - Considering the fact that one season does not depend on the next, I'm inclined to skip this season entirely, given the dismissal that it received from audiences, critics, and even the showrunner. Maybe this series was a one-hit wonder after all.

Finally caught up on: 

Broadchurch (S1) - I finally watched the 2013 British series about a murder in a small town and what it does to the community, and I was mesmerized. David Tennant was incredible as a damaged detective, and the entire supporting cast was similarly impressive. I watched the first few episodes of the new season and then got distracted from it. I imagine that I will finish it at some point, but it was definitely of lower quality and interest - at least initially - than the captivating first series; then again, I've never really been one for court room drama.

The Newsroom (S2/S3) - After well over a year, I finally finished off the last dozen episodes of Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom. Aside from a really underwhelming finale and a couple of odd choices for dealing with subject matter (particularly the campus rape episode), I enjoyed the conclusion of the series and I felt like it did not overstay its welcome.

Outstanding long-term projects: The Wire, Mad Men, The West Wing, Friday Night Lights

Sci-Fi/Fantasy


I know the lines are very blurred between "drama" and "sci-fi/fantasy", but I have chosen to continue to include a few shows in this separate category as a result of their primary mode of theme and story-telling.

Doctor Who (S9) - I have only watched the first half of Capaldi's second season, but it's brilliant so far. Steven Moffat is exploring some really interesting territory with his characters, and it's saying something that Capaldi might end up as my favourite Doctor.

Marvel’s Daredevil (S1) and Marvel's Jessica Jones (S1) - I had toyed with the idea of writing an entire post just on these two, but I think that this short review will suffice for what I thought about Marvel's first "adult" entries in the MCU. I know I'm in the minority here, but I think Daredevil actually worked better than Jessica Jones. I thought that Daredevil's conflict, villain, and plot were more compelling, and I found myself being further drawn in by the final few episodes, particularly as Matt Murdock really began to explore the ethical and internal conflicts of what he was doing as Daredevil. Aside from a few unfortunately scenes of gory violence early on and some less-than-stellar acting from Foggy Nelson throughout, I really appreciated the entire season, and I think Daredevil has more room to grow as a series of the two. I'm a little mixed on the idea of bringing in Elektra and Punisher for season 2, but I'm not tuning out yet.

Jessica Jones, however, was somewhat of a miss for me, and it's not because of content or the fact that she was a woman; I think that the season was tonally inconsistent, short on meaningful plot, and a little too much on the side of gratuitous moments. The problem was not with the principal actors or characters: Krysten Ritter was absolutely fantastic as Jessica, and I really enjoyed watching her, Luke Cage, and David Tennant as Kilgrave, who is one of the more nuanced and compelling villains in the MCU. Where I think the show went wrong was in introducing Kilgrave too early, getting too much into the realm of superheroes and out of the noir detective setting, and being too focused on the moments of shock and pop, particularly in the middle of the season; also, I didn't really like Simpson or his storylines. I also had some issues with some of the plot of the secondary characters, and I found myself fairly tired of some of the plot lines and characters by the end of the ninth episode. The show did explore some interesting thematic territory, and if it moves away from the more sensational moments and really grounds the characters, I think there could be some depth to plumb in future seasons - as long as they haven't done everything interesting in season 1. 

Missed: Orphan Black (S3)

To Investigate: The Man in the High Castle

Not Watching: Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead - I feel the need to mention that I'm choosing not to watch these shows. I thought about watching them back in 2010 when they started, but I realized soon thereafter they were not going to be for me, and I really don't fell . Given the number of articles I have read over the past year that talk about the rape problems in GoT, I think I've made the right decision.

Finally caught up on: The Dead Set - a BBC zombie/reality show parody from several years ago; Star Trek: The Next Generation (S6-7)

Outstanding long-term projects: Orphan Black; Star Trek: The Original Series (S2-3)

Comedy


Much like the dramas I have followed for years, I had only two comedies, and no network comedies, that I was following as both Community and Parks and Recreation ended. That left the door open for me to explore some new comedies to add, and it was a good year to do so, particularly from the major networks, which surprised me.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (S2/3) - I watched Season 1 and 2 as quickly as I could in the first couple of months of the year, and then I watched them again in the summer. The 9-9 has some of the best comedic characters on TV, and it is my go-to comedy right now. Season 3 has been even better, and the last episode before Christmas might be the series' best yet. 

Community (S6) - Showrunner Dan Harmon convinced Yahoo! Screen that he had enough good ideas for one last season, so they picked up the sixth (and last) season of Community at the last second. Season 6 provided one pantheon-level episode ("Grifting 101") as well as a satisfying paintball episode ("Modern Espionage") and several good moments from most of the characters in addition to a satisfying series finale - though it's hard to imagine that there won't be the "and a movie" of "six seasons and a movie" to finish the series right. Cast additions Paget Brewster and Keith David performed well and both stole a few scenes over the course of the season, although the show did miss the presence of Yvette Nicole Brown and Donald Glover. Though I would rank it as the second worst season of the series and the worst "non-gas-leak" season, I'm still glad that it aired.

Fresh Off The Boat (S1) - Imagine Malcolm in the Middle, but about an Asian family moving to Orlando in the mid-90s. This family comedy was able to make jokes about immigrants, 90s pop culture, and kids in school, and it worked really well. I'm not sure how long it can keep it up - after all, it seems that most of these kinds of comedies lose creative steam after three seasons - but there's enough to keep it going for at least a couple of years.

The Last Man on Earth (S1) - This post-apocalyptic comedy works mainly because of a completely quirky concept and because of the oddball humour of Will Forte and Kristen Schaal. I didn't quite finish the first season, but I saw enough to keep me wanting to watch more.

Louie (S5) - Season 5 was less serialized than the previous two seasons, and it was most similar in feel to Season 2, when Louie CK was exploring some uncomfortable comedic territory. As usual, there were some really interesting ideas here, not all of which entirely worked, but the experimental spirit of the show is what makes it one of the most genuinely compelling shows on TV. His exploration of parenting this year was particularly interesting, and I'm looking forward to Season 6, whenever he returns from his "extended hiatus" from the show.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (S1) - My favourite new comedy of the year by far, Kimmy took a unique concept and made it accessible and catchy while making some really interesting social commentary on perception and race. Ellie Kemper and Titus Burgess make the show work, and it has the catchiest theme song ever. At times, it's almost a bit too reminiscent of 30 Rock, and the storyline of Jacqueline's origins teetered on the edge of acceptable and/or funny, but I'm looking forward to what happens with Kimmy and Titus in Season 2.

Veep (S4) - Season 4 was the best yet, which is saying something considering the brilliance of the previous three seasons. The political satire of the campaign was hilarious, and the ending on election night was absolutely brilliant. The show deserved its Emmy, and although showrunner Armando Iannucci is not returning for Season 5, I'm still excited to see where the show goes from here.

Missed: Fresh Off The Boat (S2), The Last Man on Earth (S2), Parks and Recreation (S7)

To Investigate: Crazy Ex-GirlfriendMaster of NoneThe MuppetsSchitt's CreekWet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

Not Watching:

New Girl (S4) - I lost track of New Girl after Season 2, and I just haven't gotten back into it.

Modern Family (S6/7) - I think I made it to the end of Season 4 and then lost track of the show, and I haven't missed it enough to pick it up again.

Silicon Valley (S2) - I dropped the show halfway through Season 1 and haven't picked it up again, though I'm beginning to wonder whether I should.

Outstanding long-term projects: Curb Your Enthusiasm (S2-8); Monty Python's Flying Circus; Parks and Recreation (S5-7); The Thick of It

Variety/Late Night/Reality


I paid more attention to variety shows, sketch comedy, and late night programming than I have in years thanks to the sheer volume of YouTube videos that circulated through social media. Saturday Night Live had a few good moments (particularly the recent Ryan Gosling Alien Abduction sketch), but there were more than enough funny sketches elsewhere in the world of sketch comedy to make up for it. Key and Peele had some really great moments in their final season - my favourite was perhaps the "Gremlins 2" sketch because that movie was one of my guilty pleasures as a child - and Amy Schumer really came into her own on Inside Amy Schumer with "Footballtown Nights" and her episode-long perfect parody of 12 Angry Men in which the jurors debated if Amy were hot enough for television.


There was a lot of shifting in late night this year - except, of course, that it's still dominated by white men; Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Craig Ferguson, and David Letterman are gone, and Trevor Noah, Larry Wilmore, James Corden, and the real Stephen Colbert are in, Then there's still Conan O'Brien doing his thing, Seth Meyers settling into his role as the smarmy little brother of the crowd, and the battle of the Jimmies - Kimmel and Fallon - of which Fallon is the undisputed king. Despite The Tonight Show's dominance, some writers are lamenting the general geniality of late night, as well as how viral videos are killing the comedy of the medium, but that is how most people (myself included) are encountering these new hosts. I have not yet watched Wilmore's or Noah's shows; though I have found that each of the others have their charms, I find that their appeals are limited for me, so perhaps YouTube videos are the best way to take them in.

I had not watched much Letterman in recent years, but he was one of the most significant comedians of my teenage years. I remember reading (and re-reading) his books of Top Ten lists with friends in middle school - even when I didn't get the joke. I watched his show most nights for a couple of years in the mid-1990s, so I remember a lot of the significant moments first hand: Dave in the drive-thru at Taco Bell; Drew Barrymore flashing Dave; Dave driving around San Francisco with a bag of groceries glued to the top of the trunk of his convertible; Manny the Hippie reviewing movies as "diggity dank", "schwiggety schwag", and various permutations and combinations thereof. I tuned in to his final few episodes, and it was heartening to see how much the comedy community at large - particularly the 90s New York crowd - showed up to pay their respects to Dave. It seemed like it was definitely time for him to go, but we would not have the current YouTube late night climate without Dave paving the way for several decades; and, if nothing else, we'll always have "Uma-Oprah" from that time AMPAS inexplicably let Dave host the Oscars.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was significant for me for several years in university - particularly from 2004 to 2007, during the latter part of which it was paired with The Colbert Report - but I found it mostly easy to say goodbye to Stewart (and Colbert at the end of 2014) for a few reasons: firstly, Stewart's schtick had gotten a bit tired in recent years, and he wasn't quite as sharp as he once was, except for a couple of notable instances in which he broke away from his usual comedy and gave meaningful monologues inspired by significant incidents. Secondly, although Colbert's ridiculous right-wing characterization is in the past, we are still benefiting from his rapier wit - arguably even more so without the constraints of his performance - with his intelligent commentary and interviews on Late Night. And finally and most significantly, we still have access to Daily Show-style commentary on the final outlier in late night: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Oliver followed up his brilliant first season with a longer, even more brilliant second season that included commentaries and takedowns on: public funding for stadiums; mandatory minimums; tax exemptions for churches; tobacco; pharmaceutical marketing; infrastructure; municipal violations; the NCAA; the IRS; voting rights in the US territories; fashion; standardized testing; bail; FIFA; torture; food waste; DC voting rights; sex ed; LGBT rights; mental health; medicaid; prisoner reentry; fantasy sports; the penny; and, one of my favourites, the Canadian election (as well as a few others). Oliver is being credited with the "John Oliver effect", a phenomenon in which there has been legitimate social or even legislative change directly ascribed to Oliver's coverage of a topic on his show. While there are not-infrequent instances in which Oliver tends to be a bit too crass or rude in his joking (he is on HBO, after all), he has set a new standard for populist investigate journalism, and I am more excited to see his new extended take on a topic on YouTube on Mondays than I am for any other show during the week. It's no wonder that YouTube's year in review prominently featured Oliver, 


As far as reality shows go, there were two that I watched over the past year.

Survivor (S30/31) - Survivor is still going strong, and the two seasons that aired this year were very memorable (albeit for different reasons). Season 30, Worlds Apart, which separated tribes according to "white collar, blue collar, and no collar" was memorable for its poor strategy and an unfortunately mean and misogynistic streak that tainted the end of the season. Cambodia - Season 31 - will go down as one of the best strategic seasons with one of the best winners, as I wrote directly after the finale. Survivor is still compelling television, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in the next two seasons this year.

King of the Nerds (S3) - TBS' little-known reality show about nerds in competition to sit on the "Throne of Games" was still nerding out hard in its third year. Season 3 was a little more mean-spirited than the first two seasons, but it was fun nevertheless. I'm disappointed that the show will not be returning for a fourth season, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Looking ahead to 2016


There are a few series on my radar for the next few months, including some that are returning for their next season as well as five new series in particular that I am planning to look into.

New series to investigate:

Beowulf (Series premiere, Sat. Jan. 23, Esquire) - I'm assuming that this will be terrible, but I'm mainly interested to see how they develop this for TV, particularly given the awful 2007 movie.


The X-Files (Season "10" premiere, Jan. 24, Fox) - sure, it's not technically "new", but I'm interested to see how this revisioned update of the 90s classic goes in an updated political climate.


You, Me, and the Apocalypse (Series premiere, Jan. 28, NBC) - The Last Man on Earth played the post-apocalypse for laughs; this British-inspired sci-fi comedy looks to probe the actual end of the world for giggles. I don't know if it will work, but I'm interested to find out.

Vinyl (Series premiere, Feb. 14, HBO) - There is no new show with higher stakes than this high- concept pilot about the 70s rock and roll scene from Terence Winter (of The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire), Martin Scorsese, and Mick Jagger. I'm not sure if it's actually going to work or if it's only going to provide new HBO-style schlock and sleaze, but if nothing else, it will be the talk of certain pop culture circles of the internet in February, so I will have to at least check it out.

Of Kings and Prophets (Series premiere, Mar. 8, ABC) - The series is based on the story of David - you know, the one from the Bible. The last time a network tried to do a story like this was NBC's Kings, which was more interesting in concept - a modern monarchy that used the story of Saul and David for inspiration - than in execution, so who knows what's going to happen with this series?

Returning series:
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (Jan, BBC)
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (Season 3 premiere, Feb. 14, HBO)
Better Call Saul (Season 2 premiere, Feb. 15, AMC)
Survivor: Kaoh Rong (Season 32 premiere, Feb. 17, CBS)
Marvel's Daredevil (Season 2 premiere, March 18, Netflix)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 2, March, Netflix)


Favourite shows of the year


Overall, I found 2015 to be a strong year in my circles of television fandom, particularly for comedies. I have a few new shows that I will be following throughout their runs, and I have a surprisingly long list of shows to investigate or on which to catch up. In conclusion, here are my favourite television shows of 2015. There are seven shows on the list because that's where I wanted to stop, but I would like to imagine that these seven would likely make any top ten lists I make and that the last three spots are for shows I have not yet watched.

Better Call SaulBrooklyn Nine-Nine; Justified; Last Week Tonight with John Oliver; Show Me A Hero; Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Veep

Friday, January 15, 2016

2016 Oscar Nominations!

Yesterday's announcement of the nominations for the 88th Academy Awards brought on the final stage of the awards race that has been running since September. As usual, it brought a number of long-expected validations, a few surprises, a number of reflections on the silly nature of these kinds of awards, and the second annual flub of a nominee's name by Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (on Best Director nominee and last year's winner Alejando G. Inarritu, which was not quite as funny as last year's accidental nomination of "Dick Poop"). I wrote some initial thoughts and predictions last week, so along with my commentary on the early stage of the awards, I have included observations on how those early thoughts fared.

The field is perhaps unsurprisingly diverse (at least in some respects), given the relative lack of critical consensus this year. As usual, three front-runners have emerged: Mad Max: Fury RoadThe Revenant; and SpotlightFury Road did receive at least eight nominations, like I predicted, with ten in total, although it did not have the most as I thought it would; that honor went to The Revenant thanks to two nominated acting performances which Fury Road could not duplicate even with Furiosa in the mix (as I had speculated Theron might get an acting nod). Star Wars: The Force Awakens was appropriately honoured by the academy with five mostly technical nods, as I had thought it might be, and although each of the films that had underperformed commercially and critically over the past few months (The Danish GirlThe Hateful EightJoy, and Steve Jobs) received some love from the acting branch of the academy, they were shut out of all other non-technical categories.

But perhaps the biggest story of the year, again, is the academy's incredible lack of appreciation for diversity. Though I'm sure they will applaud themselves for nominating Eddie Redmayne for his transgendered performance in The Danish Girl, as well as Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara for their love story in Carol, the reality is that the Academy has breached those taboos before with Brokeback Mountain in 2005 and by nominating Felicity Huffman for Transamerica. In addition, those nominations came at the expense of any racial diversity within the acting branch, so for the second year in a row, it's #oscarssowhite.

The whitewash is appalling, particularly given that Creed and Straight Outta Compton both provided opportunities for the Academy to value performers and filmmakers from diverse communities, but both of those films earned only one nomination each - and Creed's nomination was for Sylvester Stallone, even though Michael B. Jordan was named Best Actor by the National Board of Film Critics. Both films had African-American stars and directors who were not nominated, and neither was Creed's Maryse Alberti, who was vying to be the first woman nominated for Best Cinematography, ever - a fact that seems unbelievably ridiculous after 88 years of nominations. I'm not trying to argue for some form of affirmative action or a quota to make sure that non-white movies make it into the conversation; I am pointing out, however, that even when movies that are made by and that star African-Americans (in particular) are on par critically with other movies that they are regarded with less respect from the Academy, and that it is disappointing that this conversation is still happening in 2015.

I am pleased with my initial handicapping of the possible films that were in consideration for nominations. Of the twenty primary movies that I listed, all received at least one significant (ie non-technical) nomination (acting, writing, directing, picture); four of the extra ten I listed - 45 Years, Sicario, Son of Saul, and Youth - also received nominations. In fact, there were no films outside of those thirty that garnered any significant nominations (outside of a technical nomination, that is). In terms of my named wild cards, Room got the most significant nominations (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Actress); Sicario received three mostly technical nominations, while Steve Jobs and Trumbo managed only a couple of acting nods, including one for Bryan Cranston, one of my wild card performers. I will discuss the relative success (or failure) of my other early thoughts from last week as I discuss the nominations in the different categories.

Best Picture: I was surprised to see only eight nominations again this year, as I had expected that there would be nine, though I am otherwise pleased with my pre-nomination predictions. I had seven pictures as locks after the PGA awards, all of which received nominations: The Big Short; Bridge of Spies; Brooklyn; Mad Max: Fury Road; The Martian; The Revenant; and Spotlight. I had predicted that one of another five (Room, Sicario, Steve Jobs, Trumbo, or Straight Outta Compton) would get the last nomination, which Room did - even though it is one of the lowest earning Best Picture nominees in over 25 years. I had Carol earning a nomination despite its PGA snub, but it failed to get a nomination despite six other nominations, much to my surprise (and likely many others who expected it to fare better). I think the only other "snub", so to speak, would be of Straight Outta Compton, which I thought might have had enough juice to make it into the race; I'm not surprised it didn't, but I wouldn't have been surprised if it had.

Room does not seem like a likely candidate to win Best Picture, nor does indie compatriot Brooklyn. Bridge of Spies and The Martian both received a number of nominations, which is impressive given the general lack of respect given to their types of films, but their lack of nominations in both Editing and Directing leave them both statistically unlikely (given past patterns) of persevering with the win. That leaves four films: the late-breaking The Big Short, which I think may be the most likely candidate for "several nominations but no wins", and what I think are the top three contenders: Spotlight; Mad Max: Fury Road; and The Revenant. I still think Spotlight is the favourite, as it has been for a few months, but I cannot count out the swelling support for The Revenant.

Best Animated Feature: This is Inside Out's to lose, especially given its nomination for Original Screenplay, so the discussion here is about the films that were not nominated, which included all of the other high-earning animated films of the year, including MinionsThe Good Dinosaur (Pixar's first original film not to be nominated, The Peanuts Movie, and the Spongebob sequel. It's not a huge surprise that the animated branch is ignoring blockbusters, much like the general Academy does, but it is telling that the stratification of "Oscar" films is happening in this arena as well. The other story here is about how Inside Out inexplicably dropped out of Best Picture consideration after being considered a lock for most of the year; perhaps Pixar is being taken for granted, or there were just not enough voters who considered it their best film of the year, or The Good Dinosaur Norbited its chances, but there is no reason that Inside Out should not have been considered for that trophy.

Best Actor: No real surprises here, with the short list having been long-established with previous nominees Fassbender, DiCaprio, Damon, and Redmayne all in the mix since September. Damon was a bit of a question mark after a snub from SAG, but he emerged as the only comedic nominee, as well as the only performance based on a fictional character. The only "surprise", as it were, was Cranston's Trumbo edging out Johnny Depp's Whitey Bulger in Black Mass, though I cannot understated how disappointed I am that Michael B. Jordan wasn't able to grab a nomination for Creed; the sheer physicality of his role alone, not to mention the nuance and subtlety with which he communicated throughout his performance, should have been more than enough to get him one of those five spots. I'm sure that some people will try to frame this category as a battle between Damon and DiCaprio, but don't be fooled: the most sure thing about this Oscars is that Leonardo DiCaprio - who is one of the biggest commercial and critical stars of the past twenty years - will finally win his first Oscar for The Revenant.

Best Actress: I lumped my early predictions for Actress and Supporting Actress together, and I got eight out of ten overall correct; I thought that Charlize Theron might get nominated for Mad Max: Fury Road, and I picked the wrong "token older nominee who is just happy to be nominated", as I forgot about Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years. Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence have both won recently, so count them out of the running here, with their nominations included as part of their larger Oscar narrative. That leaves two young actresses: Saiorse Ronan for Brooklyn and Brie Larson for Room. Though I think Ronan will challenge for the gold, the award is Larson's to lose, as the physical constraints of her performance are likely too emotionally succulent for voters to ignore.

Best Supporting Actor: The biggest surprise here was that Idris Elba, who I had thought would break the whitewash and contend for the award, was not nominated at all; I guess Netflix will have to wait a few years to conquer movies, too. This is probably the most wide open of all the acting categories this year, with no clear front-runner, and with every nominee. Christian Bale won recently, but he could win again with his performance in The Big Short because there is so much buzz about his scenes. First-time nominee Tom Hardy has some momentum from The Revenant, but it seems unlikely for someone like him, who likely has a number of nominations ahead, to get an Oscar on his first try. Same with previous nominee Mark Ruffalo, who has a lot of buzz for his role in Spotlight but seems likely to have a flashier role with which to contend in the future; then again, this is his third nomination, and a win would be a way to recognize Spotlight. That leaves the scene-stealing Mark Rylance from Bridge of Spies and the sentimental favourite, Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Creed, nominated for the first time since Rocky almost four decades ago. Although my heart hopes Stallone will pull it out, I suspect that his story will echo the fate of Michael Keaton, Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray, Burt Reynolds, and a number of other actors who have earned a late-career nomination, which is that the nomination becomes their award when the Academy gives it to another more Academy-friendly performance (or performer). I think Rylance pulls this one out over Ruffalo for the win, but this is anyone's to win at this point.

Best Supporting Actress: Like Supporting Actor, this is another toss-up category that anyone could win. Kate Winslet earned her seventh nomination for Steve Jobs, and like Christian Bale, she could contend for her virtuoso performance. Jennifer Jason Leigh earned the only acting nomination for The Hateful Eight, but she could earn some "lifetime achievement" type votes; plus, Christoph Waltz's wins in recent years have proven that the actor's branch likes performances in Tarantino movies. Then there are the three young actresses: Rooney Mara with her second nomination, and Alicia Vikander and Rachel McAdams each with their first. I'm not sure who to favour early on, as I think any of the five could win, but I'm leaning toward Mara as the early favourite, though McAdams could get some of the Spotlight love.

Best Director: The Director's branch again bucked the expectations put on it, as they have in previous years, and they made at least one unbelievable pick (although nowhere near as crazy as 2012's snubs of Tarantino, Hooper, Affleck, and Bigelow), choosing Room's Lenny Abrahamson over Ridley Scott for The Martian, who I (like many others) had picked not only as a lock for a nomination, but for the win, in what seems likely to be his last best shot at an Oscar. His absence leaves this category wide open for the picking, but it seems likely to come down to two nominees: George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road and Alejandro G. Inarritu for The Revenant. Either win would be historic, in a sense, as both films are epic, audacious, exhilirating pieces; Miller's would be historic for directing a truly action/sci-fi film, and Inarritu's would be historic for repeating as Best Director, which only two other directors have done (and neither since 1950, when there were far fewer working directors). I think there is significant respect for what each director has done, and I don't think that Inarritu's having won last year will significantly decrease his odds; if anything, it increases the respect he receives. Still, I'm leaning toward Miller as the early pick because recent history has shown that the director with the higher degree of difficulty and a significant technical accomplishment will win the award.

Best Original Screenplay: This seems to be another slam dunk easy category to pick this year, and the story is more about the fact that Quentin Tarantino was not nominated for The Hateful Eight than for the five films that were nominated. Straight Outta Compton earned its only nomination for writing, which of course includes four white nominees, so it won't contend. I was pleased to see Ex Machina and Inside Out listed among the nominees, but they will not win. The Coens earned another nomination for Bridge of Spies, one of only two Best Picture nominees in this category, but they should expect to lose to Tom McCarthy, who will likely be honoured here (rather than in Best Director) for Spotlight.

Best Adapted Screenplay: This category is more competitive than Original Screenplay with four Best Picture nominees in the fold, along with noted snub Carol. Although Brooklyn and The Big Short have an outside chance, I think this will come down to The Martian and Room, both of which have been acknowledged as very difficult screenplays to write in very different ways. I think Room has the early lead, but I would not be surprised to see Drew Goddard take it for The Martian; it will be hard to tell for sure until the WGA winners are announced in mid-February.

Music (Song and Score): The Original Song category was again one of the stranger of the Oscars, but it did give Fifty Shades of Grey the first nomination of the morning yesterday, so there's that. The biggest surprise was that "See You Again", one of the biggest hits of 2015, was left out of the running, which leaves the path clear for Lady Gaga to complete the "O" of her EGOT. In Original Score, it is interesting to me that Carter Burwell earned his first nomination this year, since his work throughout the Coens' movies over the years has been so iconic. He is in tough against two giants: Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight and John Williams for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so it's anybody's category to win.

Technical Awards: Before this year, there had been only three films ever that had been nominated for all seven technical awards (Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects): Titanic; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; and Hugo. This year, both Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant accomplished that feat, so I expect that most of the technical awards will be given to those two, with more for Fury Road, including Film Editing, both Sound Editing and Mixing, and Visual Effects.

As always, I will pipe in again just before the awards with my final picks after the talk of the next few weeks, with hopes of improving on my dismal performance last year. In terms of movies I would like to see, Spotlight and The Big Short are at the top of my list, followed by Bridge of Spies and The Revenant (which I know will be super intense) and rewatching Mad Max: Fury Road. I'll get around to seeing Brooklyn and Room eventually, and at this point I'll likely wait to watch Joy, Sicario, and Steve Jobs. The Academy Awards air on February 28, so there are six weeks of this relatively unpredictable awards season left before the final questions are answered; whatever happens, it promises to be an interesting year.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2015: The Year in Video Games!

I have not written a post that focused expressly on video games as part of my year in review series since my first gaming review post in December 2011, which also incorporated board games almost as an afterthought; things have changed over the past few years, and now I spend far more time and energy playing board games than video games. Nevertheless, last year, after owning my Wii U for a year, I posted a summary and analysis that included the games and the amounts that I had played on the system over the previous twelve months. I have decided this year to integrate that post directly into my year in review and to write a video games year in review post for the first time in four years.

Given the state of Nintendo's releases in 2015, however, I hardly could have picked a worse time to do so; 2015 was objectively one of Nintendo's worst ever, both in terms of sales and in critical reception, which is not a surprise when you look at their line-up for the year. Several of the most-anticipated releases for Wii U - Mighty No. 9, Star Fox Zero, and The Legend of Zelda - were delayed until 2016, leaving 2015 with only one new Wii U release that was worth adding to my collection: Splatoon, which has easily become my favourite first-person shooter. The other major new success of the year for Nintendo was Super Mario Maker, which I chose not to buy because I was not sure how much I would actually use the design element of the game, though I am starting to rethink that initial decision and I am considering adding it to my collection given the changes Nintendo has made and how well the game has been received.

Of the remaining roster of titles released for the Wii U in 2015, few were of interest to me, save perhaps for Yoshi's Woolly World and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, both of which I will likely borrow from the library to play before deciding whether to buy them. Xenoblade Chronicles X got some attention late in the year, but I have never really been much of a fan of JRPGs, and games like Mario Party 10 and Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, which both seemed like blatant cash grabs, earned negative reviews anyway. There were two other independent titles on the eShop that interested me this year: Runbow, which I have not yet played, and Affordable Space Adventures, which is a unique space flight simulator that involves multiplayer problem solving and teamwork.

2015 was also notable for two other new developments in Nintendo: downloadable content (DLC) and collectible interactive figures - "amiibo" - that add extra modes of play on certain games (and that look super cool too). Through trades and purchases, I ended up with nine amiibo in my collection by the end of the year: Link; Ganondorf; Sheik; Toon Link; Mega Man; Little Mac; Bowser; and the Inkling Boy and Girl from Splatoon. In addition to amiibo, there was notable DLC for three games: Mario Kart 8, Splatoon, and Super Smash Bros. The Splatoon DLC, incredibly, has all been free, and it has significantly extended the game by providing more modes, arenas, and weapons. Mario Kart 8's second round of DLC added more tracks and racers based on Animal Crossing, and it was a great deal for the cost.

Smash's DLC added five new fighters to the roster (with a further final two fighters released in 2016), along with several new stages and revamped stages from the original Super Smash Bros. and many costumes for Mii fighters. I ordered all of the fighters and stages, even though their total cost was close to the cost of the original game itself, though I chose to order only one costume: Geno from Super Mario RPG, one of my favourite games as a kid. I must admit to being somewhat disappointed in the some of the fighters who were not included as DLC - particularly King K. Rool and the inklings from Splatoon - but I suppose that I should be happy for the 58 (!) fighters that were included in the game when DLC is factored in. At any rate, I have not come anywhere close to finishing the content of the game, so I will still get a lot of play out of this title.

I also spent time this year enjoying a new podcast, Nintendo Week, from Gamnesia.com. It features three young Nintendo fans - Colin, Ben, and Alex - who spend time talking about the latest news from Nintendo and discussing their thoughts on some of the developments therein. It was the podcast's first year, so it was a little rough at times, but they have some interesting insights and are well-informed and passionate about Nintendo - and casts rarely last longer than 45 minutes. They have spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the new Super Smash Bros. fighters, so I will be interested to see what topics they explore now that the final fighters have been announced, but I am expecting a lot of good discussion about Nintendo's new console, the NX, which is rumored to be coming out as early as Christmas 2016.

What I Played on Wii U in 2015


One of the fun things about the Wii U is that it tracks play time by each user by day (or month) on each game, so it makes it fairly easy to record and analyze my video gaming habits. My total play time on Wii U (not including time on YouTube, Netflix, or the eShop) was 217:37, which sounds like a lot, but averages out to just under four hours a week. What I found really interesting was when I calculated (approximately) how much of my total play time was devoted to playing with my wife: over 160 hours, or almost three quarters of my total play time. Half of that time alone was on Hyrule Warriors early in the year, but that total also includes four other games that we played through to completion. I played surprisingly little on my own, other than a few hours of Smash and playing through the story mode of Lego City Undercover mostly over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Here are the amounts I played each game on Wii U in 2015, along with the months in which I played each title.

Affordable Space Adventures - 0:30 (Nov)
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker - 1:50 (Sept)
Dr. Luigi - 0:17 (Jan)
Hyrule Warriors - 79:14 (Jan-May)
Lego Batman 2 - 22:15 (Aug)
Lego City Undercover - 17:15 (Oct)
Lego Jurassic World - 24:27 (Sept-Oct)
The Lego Movie Video Game - 13:31 (Jun-July)
Mario Kart 8 - 6:13 (Feb, Apr, June, Aug, Sept)
NES Remix - 1:58 (Jun)
NintendoLand - 0:41 (Feb)
Rayman: Legends - 20:40 (Oct-Dec)
Splatoon - 11:35 (July-August)
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U - 15:31 (Feb, Apr, Jun, Aug, Sept)
The Wonderful 101 - 1:44 (Sept)
Virtual Console (Mario Kart: Super Circuit; Yoshi) - 0:22 (Sept, Dec)

All-Time Wii U Plays (2014-2015)


I have grouped my Wii U games by the amount that I have played them in ascending order (with one exception, The Lego Movie Video Game, that was very short even though I played it through to completion). I have included all games I own, as well as other games I have played over the past two years.

Underplayed:
Pikmin 3 (0:00, 0 times)
Affordable Space Adventures (0:30, 1 time)
The Wonderful 101 (1:44, 1 time)
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (1:50, 2 times)
NES Remix Pack (1:55, 2 times)
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (1:59, 2 times)
Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed (2:35, 4 times)

Played some, but there's still a lot of game left to explore:
New Super Mario Bros. U (5:46, 7 times)
Dr. Luigi (8:08, 12 times)
Nintendo Land (8:22, 9 times)
Splatoon (11:35, 14 times)
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (12:43, 12 times)
Mario Kart 8 (16:15, 36 times)
Lego City Undercover (17:15, 7 times)
Super Smash Bros. (18:26, 28 times)

Played to Completion:
The Lego Movie Video Game (13:31, 18 times)
Rayman: Legends (20:40 (20 times)
Lego Batman 2 (22:15, 15 times)
Lego Jurassic World (24:27, 18 times)
Super Mario 3D World (26:16, 32 times)
Lego Marvel Superheroes (39:43, 34 times)

And my most-played game:
Hyrule Warriors (188:48, 186 times)

What I played on 3DS in 2015


After obtaining a 3DS in late 2014, I started to build my library of games in 2015. I managed to find games through trades or very cheaply, and I'm still playing through the backlog of games on the system. My favourite game for the system so far has been The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, which was a fun riff on the SNES classic A Link to the Past. I finally picked up Super Smash Bros. in July, and I have been really enjoying having it in a portable version, even though the Wii U version is far superior. I enjoyed Paper Mario: Sticker Star in the fall, though I am not as enamoured with Mario and Luigi: Dream Team.

As with the Wii U, the 3DS tracks play time for each title, which is handy in determining when and how much I have played different games. I have included the games I have played and games I own but have not yet played in my list, which also includes observations on all-time records for titles I also played in 2014.

Fluidity: Spin Cycle - 0:00
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D - 0:00
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D - 0:00
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon - 0:00
New Super Mario Bros. 2 - 0:00
Bit.trip Saga - 0:00 [All-time - 0:22, 2 times, Nov 2014]
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages - 2:05 (4 times, Jan-Feb) [All-time - 14:41, 22 times, Sept. 2014 - Feb 2015]
Mario Kart 7 - 4:22 (8 times, Aug - Sept)
Super Mario 3D Land - 4:42 (25 times, Jan - Apr) [All-time - 13:34, 25 times, Dec. 2014 - Apr 2015]
Mario and Luigi: Dream Team - 11:01 (7 times, Nov - Dec)
Super Smash Bros. - 17:15 (25 times, June to Dec)
Paper Mario: Sticker Star - 29:57 (23 times, Oct - Nov)
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - 30+ hours (30+ times, July - Aug)

Changes to my collection in 2015


2015 was another year in which I cleared out more games than I purchased, particularly in terms of titles from previous generations. Many of the classic titles I sold are either on other compilations I own or are easily available on the Nintendo eShop, so I can download them at any time I want to play them. I am far less attached to owning physical copies of games, so I am taking advantage of relatively high demand and prices right now and clearing games out of my collection - and there is more to go in the coming year. Here are the games I have sold or traded away over the past twelve months:

NES: Castlevania; Dr. Mario; Excitebike; Galaga; Ice Hockey; Kid Icarus; Kirby's Adventure; Mega Man 2; Mega Man 3; Metroid; Punch-Out!!; Rampage; Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt; Super Mario Bros. 2; Super Mario Bros. 3; Wrecking Crew; Yoshi; Yoshi's Cookie (18)

Sega Genesis: Aladdin; Cool Spot; Forgotten Worlds; The Lion King; Ristar; Road Rash; Road Rash II; Road Rash 3; Sonic 3D Blast; Star Trek: The Next Generation - Echoes of the Past; The Tick; Vectorman; Vectorman 2; Zool (14)

Game Boy, GB Advance, Nintendo DS: F-Zero: Maximum Velocity (GBA); The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX (GB); The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap (GBA); Mario Kart DSMega Man and Bass (GBA); Metroid Fusion (GBA); Metroid II (GB); New Super Mario Bros. (DS); Yoshi’s Island DS (9)

Other systems: Expansion Pak (N64); Game Boy Player (GC); The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64); The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64); Lego Lord of the Rings (Wii); Lego Marvel Superheroes (Wii U); Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed (Wii U); Super Game Boy (SNES) (8)

And now for the games I have added to my collection over the past twelve months:

3DS games added: Fluidity: Spin CycleThe Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds; The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D; The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D; Luigi's Mansion: Dark MoonMario and Luigi: Dream Team; Paper Mario: Sticker Star; Super Smash Bros. (8)

Wii U games added: Affordable Space Adventures; NES Remix Pack; Rayman: LegendsSplatoon; The Wonderful 101 (5)

Virtual Console games added: The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX; The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap; Mario Kart DS; Mario Kart: Super Circuit; Metroid Prime Trilogy; Yoshi (6)

Older console games added: Kirby Air Ride (GC); Kirby's Dream Collection (Wii); The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Master's Quest (GC); Luigi's Mansion (GC) Yoshi's Story (N64) (5)

Steam games added: Fez; Oddboxx; Small World 2 (3)

Mobile games added: Alphabear; Carcassonne; Galaxy Trucker; Kingdom Builder; Splendor (5)

And finally, my top wish list titles to pick up in 2016: Chrono Trigger (DS); Mega Man 64 (N64); Mega Man Soccer (SNES); Shovel Knight (Wii U); Space Station: Silicon Valley (N64); Yoshi's New Island (3DS)

Looking forward to 2016


2015 turned out to be mostly a dud for new games - save for Splatoon - but I am quite excited about the year to come. It seems likely to be the final year of the Wii U (and possibly the 3DS), and I, like most Nintendo fans, am eagerly anticipating the "NX" and where Nintendo will go next. After all, the last console they had that performed like the Wii U was the Gamecube, which also had significant improvement over the previous generation's console, a great library of titles, weak third-party support, and a dedicated fan base, and they followed that up with the Wii, the console that completely reinvigorated the company (and arguably gaming as an innovative industry).

There are a few new games that I am mildly interested in playing this year - namely Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS, Jan. 22) and Metroid Prime: Federation Force (3DS, 2016) - as well as Nintendo's first foray into mobile games, but here are the ten games (well, nine games and one system) about which I am excited for the next year.

Lego's Marvel's Avengers (Wii U, Jan. 26) - Lego Marvel Super Heroes was easily my favourite game of the Lego franchise; this one looks like it will be even more fun, with six MCU movies in the plot and even more characters included. Of course, I'll wait six months until it drops down to $20 in price and enjoy it then.

Mighty No. 9 (Wii U, Feb. 9) - I missed out on Kickstarting this new version of Mega Man from creator Keiji Inafune back in September 2013, but I'm looking forward to it nevertheless.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (March 4) - Twilight Princess is my second favourite Zelda game, and it has been a few years since I have played through it for the second time. The HD remake of Wind Waker looked really great, and I hope for similar things from TP. Plus, the game comes with a Wolf Link amiibo, so there's that going for it.

Hyrule Warriors: Legends (3DS, March 25) - Hyrule Warriors was my most played game on Wii U by a long shot, so I'm excited for Legends, which will integrate characters and stories from The Wind Waker storyline into the game, as well as a new female character named Linkle!

Star Fox Zero (Wii U, April 22) - I own most of the Star Fox games, but I was never a huge fan of the franchise; still, this game looks like it will be fun. Plus, there's not much else new coming out for the Wii U this year, and it's definitely better than nothing.

The Legend of Zelda (Wii U, likely November) - This is it, the main game for which I'm excited this year - a true open world Zelda title. The last real Zelda game - Skyward Sword - came out in November 2011 for the 25th anniversary of the franchise; games like Hyrule Warriors have kept us Zelda fans occupied in the meantime, but we have waited too long already. This seems likely to be the last major game released for Wii U, so

Yooka-Laylee (Wii U, 3rd quarter 2016) - I kickstarted this spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie well over a year ago, and it has been fun to see the updates ever since. I grew up on 3D games like Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, so I'm excited to finally play this game!

ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove (2016?) - Another Kickstarter that has been well over a year in the making, Back in the Groove is a direct sequel to one of my favourite games of all time (ToeJam and Earl for the Sega Genesis), so I'm definitely feeling funky about this title.

Pikmin 4 (2016?) - Even though there has been no official announcement from Nintendo, various interviews with Shigeru Miyamoto have indicated that Pikmin 4 is essentially finished and ready for release. I would be surprised if it is not released by the end of the year.

Nintendo NX (Holiday 2016?) - Here's the game changer for the year - the next Nintendo console. It is rumoured to be well into its development cycle even now, and given the slowing in the Wii U and 3DS releases, it seems likely that it will be available for Christmas this year. There are many rumours surrounding NX, but the most appealing is that it might be a hybrid of home and portable game console, which would allow Nintendo to streamline its development and focus on one system rather than two. It is unclear what the launch titles for NX would be, but it seems likely that we will find out some information at E3 in June.


Goals for 2016


I am much more determined and detailed in my goals for board gaming, but I still have a few goals in mind for my video gaming in 2016. Although all but one of my goals relate to playing games - which makes sense, considering that's the main point of video games - there is a mix of playing games more, finishing certain games, or playing through some classics I never took the chance to play earlier. I have also formulated a couple of goals based on
Here are my goals for video gaming over the next twelve months.

1. Play more Splatoon, Super Smash Bros., and Mario Kart 8. I really enjoy each of these games, each of which has incredibly high replay value; I'm really looking forward to putting in more time on each of these titles this year, particularly if I can play the latter two more socially.

2. Finish games that I have started. I wrote back in October that I wanted to finish some things that I had started, and I included several video games as part of the "superficial media" section of the post. This includes the portable Zelda titles I have not yet completed (Phantom HourglassSpirit TracksOracle of AgesOracle of Seasons), Metroid Prime Trilogy (I have made significant progress in each title in the series, but I have not yet finished any of the three games), and that game that has dogged me for a decade and a half, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. It is the only 3D Zelda console game I have not beaten, so this is the year to do it!

3. Play through Chrono Trigger and Earthbound (and maybe Earthbound Beginnings, too). I have a couple of gaps in my SNES classic RPG playing, so I'd like to remedy that this year.

4. Play through half of my Steam library. Like most Steam users, I have a significant number of titles that I bought for super cheap but have not played.

5. Play through the Wii U games I own: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze; New Super Mario Bros. U; Pikmin 3; and The Wonderful 101. I think I'm going to try to limit myself from buying anything else until I have these ones played.

6. Play every Mario Kart track in one day. I have all eight Mario Kart games (including several on Virtual Console on the Wii U), and I think it would be a lot of fun to race every track from every game in sequential order in the span of one day. If I included only the original tracks (ie. not the revamped tracks from previous releases or battle tracks), it would take about 9 hours (plus breaks) to do, which is totally doable.

7. Continue refining and digitizing my collection. I have a significant portion of my collection digitized already, so I hope to continue finding ways to reduce my physical footprint and to obtain digital copies of games, especially games that were originally released for the NES. I am also continuing to evaluate which games I own I will play (and/or replay) and whether they are worth keeping, and I hope by the end of this year to have most of my "extras" out of my collection. I currently have 276 items logged in my collection on VGCollect, which includes just under 220 games, a number that I think I could stand to reduce by at least 10 %; of course, I will likely obtain new items in the meantime, so I think my game collection will level out at around 200 titles, which is still a lot.

8. Write more posts about video games - especially classic games. I'm starting to be much more reflective in my biographical posts, and I would like to write more about how video games have influenced me. I'll make my goal twelve posts for the year - six superficial posts and six more indepth biographical posts.

That's it for 2015; bring on the games in 2016!

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