Friday, January 27, 2017

2016: The Year in Video Games

Through most of my teens and early twenties, video games were arguably my primary hobby. I loved getting lost in the world of a game and playing for hours, and I have many fond memories of playing (or replaying) through certain games at certain times of my life. My enthusiasm for video games has waned significantly in recent years, though, and now I would consider them almost more of a pastime than a hobby. I think I probably played less video games in the past year than in any year of my life since I started playing video games when I was eight years old.

2015 may have been a bad year to be a Nintendo fan, but 2016 was even worse. In my year in review for 2015, I mentioned eight games as possibilities that I might want to play over the course of 2016. I played none of them, mostly due to terrible reviews, and I have intentions on playing only one of those eight (Lego's Marvel's The Avengers) at some point in the future. I suppose the paucity of interesting titles in the past two years has provided some respite, however, as it has meant that I have not fallen further behind in my backlog of games that I want to play.

I still have an extensive collection of games I can enjoy - 206 including my mobile games - and about a quarter of those are games that I have never played, so I still have a lot of games I can enjoy. (By comparison, I have worked my board game collection down to just a dozen unplayed microgames and expansions out of a similar count of games and large expansions in my collection.)

That said, I still enjoyed a lot of the games I played over the past twelve months, so I thought I would take some time and reflect on the year that was in terms of playing video games, as well as some of my reflections on the year to come.

What I Played on Wii U

I spent 148:39 total time playing Wii U, which works out to just under three hours a week. That might seem like a lot - and I suppose it is - but I find it interesting that most of that time was spent playing games with my wife: 131: 28, or 88.4 % of my total play time, leaving only 17:11 of my total time playing independently.

Here are the amounts I played each game on Wii U in 2016, along with the months in which I played each title.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker -  3:21 (5x; Aug, Oct)
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze - 8:43 (9x; Feb, Mar, Apr)
Hyrule Warriors - 75:07 (77x; Jan, Feb, Mar, July, Aug)
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse - 8:01 (11x; Sept)
Lego Batman 3 - 16:46 (14x; Jan)
Mario Kart 8 - 2:47 (3x; May, June)
New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U - 30:17 (41x; Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec)
NintendoLand - 0:01 (1x; Sept)
Rayman: Legends - 4:17 (4x; Jan)
Super Mario Maker - 0:10 (1x; Sept)
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U - 2:09 (3x; Jan, June)

All-Time Wii U Plays (2014-2016)

Limited play:
Pikmin 3 (0:00, 0x)
Super Mario Maker (0:10, 1x)
Affordable Space Adventures (0:30, 1x)
The Wonderful 101 (1:44, 1x)
NES Remix Pack (1:55, 2x)
Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed (2:35, 4x)

Played significantly, but not completed or mastered:
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (5:11, 7x)
Dr. Luigi (8:08, 12x)
Nintendo Land (8:23, 10x)
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (10:42, 11x)
Splatoon (11:35, 14x)
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (12:43, 12x)
Lego City Undercover (17:15, 7x)
Mario Kart 8 (19:02, 39x)
Super Smash Bros. (20:35, 31x)

Played to Completion:
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (8:01, 11x)
The Lego Movie Video Game (13:31, 18x)
Lego Batman 3 (16:46, 14x)
Lego Batman 2 (22:15, 15x)
Lego Jurassic World (24:27, 18x)
Rayman: Legends (24:57, 24x)
Super Mario 3D World (26:16, 32x)
New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U (36:03, 48x)
Lego Marvel Superheroes (39:43, 34x)

And still by far my most-played game:
Hyrule Warriors (263:56, 263x)

What I played on 3DS

I did add a limited amount of play on my 3DS - another 21:15 total on five different games. I did not play it nearly as much as I did in the previous year, likely because I was not spending nearly as much time riding the bus. I was quite surprised, actually, to see that I had only one game that I really got into - and that one happened to be two decades old, so I think I'm going to try to play more of my games for this system over the next year.

Kirby's Star Stacker - 0:03 (1x, Nov 2016)
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D - 1:38 (2x, Jan, Mar)
Super Mario 64 DS - 12:41 (14x, Aug - Nov)
Super Smash Bros. - 3:05 (6x, Feb, Aug, Nov)
Yoshi's New Island - 3:48 (7x, Apr, May, June)

All-time 3DS plays (2014-2016)

Limited play:
Fluidity: Spin Cycle - 0:00
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons - 0:00
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon - 0:00
Mario Tennis Open - 0:00
New Super Mario Bros. 2 - 0:00
Star Fox 64 3D - 0:00
Kirby's Star Stacker - 0:03 (1x, Nov 2016)
Bit.trip Saga - 0:22 (2x, Oct - Nov 2014)
Kirby's Block Ball - 0:54 (3x, Sept - Oct 2014)
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D - 1:38 (2x, Jan-Mar 2016)

Played significantly, but not completed or mastered:
Mario Kart 7 - 4:22 (8x, Aug - Sept)
Mario and Luigi: Dream Team - 11:01 (7x, Nov - Dec 2015)
Super Mario 64 DS - 12:41 (14x, Aug - Nov 2016)
Super Mario 3D Land - 13:34 (25x, Dec. 2014 - Apr 2015)
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages - 14:41, (22x, Sept. 2014 - Feb 2015)
Super Smash Bros. - 17:15 (25x, June to Dec) 20:20 (31x, July 2015 - Nov 2016)

Played to Completion:
Paper Mario: Sticker Star - 29:57 (23x, Oct - Nov 2015)
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - 30+ hours (30+ x, July - Aug 2015)

Changes to my collection in 2016

I continued on my quest to continue to clear out my collection, and I made even more progress than I did in 2015. In that year, I cleared out 49 games while acquiring 32; in 2016, I cleared out 36 games while acquiring only sixteen. A number of the games I sold are among my favourites; I sold them because I will be able to play many of those games again thanks to the wonders of digital downloads.

Here are the three dozen games I have cleared out over the past twelve months.

NES: Battletoads; Bubble Bobble; The Legend of Zelda; Tecmo Bowl (4)

Sega Genesis: Altered Beast; Ecco the Dolphin; Ecco: Tides of Time; Jurassic Park; Kid Chameleon; X-Men; X-Men 2; Zoop (8)

SNES: F-ZeroThe Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past; Super Mario Kart; Super Metroid; Tetris 2 (5)

Nintendo 64: Dr. Mario 64; Mario Golf; Star Fox 64; Super Mario 64; Tetrisphere; Wave Race 64; Yoshi's Story (7)

Nintendo Gamecube: Kirby Air Ride; The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures; Lego Star Wars II; Metroid Prime; Metroid Prime 2: Echoes; Star Fox Adventures; Star Fox Assault (7)

Nintendo 3DS: Bit.Trip Saga; Paper Mario: Sticker Star (2)

Wii: Link's Crossbow Training; Metroid Prime 3 (2)

Wii U: NES Remix Pack (1)

And the games I added to my collection, some of which may find their way out sooner or later.

Wii U: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker; Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham; Super Mario Maker (3)

Nintendo 3DS: Mario Tennis OpenStar Fox 64 3D; Yoshi's New Island (3)

Nintendo DS: Chrono Trigger; DK Jungle Climber; Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt; Super Mario 64 DS; Yoshi's Island DS (5)

Virtual Console: Kirby's Star Stacker; Super Mario Kart (2)

Retro consoles: Tetris 2 (NES) (1)

Steam: Hive (1)

Games I want to play

Over the past year, I have worked on creating a list of the games that I want to play at some point. I currently have 61 games on my Want to Play list, including 45 that are already in my collection. I have mostly committed to not buying any new games until I play the ones I have. Some of these have sat on my list for years - a decade or more, even - but I am hoping to play a number of them over the next year. Here are all of the games that are currently on my list to play.

Retro: Beyond OasisChrono TriggerEarthboundEarthbound BeginningsKirby and the Amazing MirrorThe Legend of Zelda: Oracle of SeasonsMega Man VMetroid: Zero MissionZoda's Revenge: Star Tropics II (9)

Nintendo 64: Banjo-TooieJet Force GeminiMega Man 64Space Station Silicon Valley; Yoshi's Story (5)

Nintendo Gamecube/Wii: F-Zero GXKirby's Return to Dream LandLuigi's MansionMega Man X CollectionMetroid Prime Trilogy; PikminPikmin 2 (7)

Wii U: Affordable Space Adventures; Lego Marvel's AvengersPikmin 3; Shovel KnightThe Wonderful 101; Yoshi's Woolly World (6)

Nintendo DS/3DS: DK Jungle ClimberFluidity: Spin Cycle; The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3DLuigi's Mansion: Dark MoonNew Super Mario Bros. 2 (5)

Steam: Axiom VergeBastionBraidBreath of Death VIICthulhu Saves the WorldDungeons of Dredmor; Fez; Human Resource Machine; Limbo; NightSky; NyxQuest; Oddworld (x4); Ori and the Blind Forest; Portal 2PsychonautsQuantum ConundrumRoad Not Taken; RochardSonic the Hedgehog 4 x2; Tetrobot and Co.; TrineTrine 2Undertale (27)

Windows: Starship TitanicStrongBad's Cool Game for Attractive People (2)

Evaluating my 2016 Goals

I completely forgot about all of my goals until I looked at my post from last year, so it should be little surprise that I did not do very well in completing them. Of the eight goals that I had set in my year in review post for 2015, I met one of my looser goals and one quarter of one other goal over the past year. Here are the goals I had set for myself, with a couple of comments along the way.

1. Play more SplatoonSuper Smash Bros. for Wii U, and Mario Kart 8. That did not happen.

2. Finish games that I have started. I listed several games in my goals last year, including the portable Zelda titles I have not yet completed (Phantom HourglassSpirit TracksOracle of AgesOracle of Seasons), Metroid Prime Trilogy, and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D. I did not play any of them.

3. Play through Chrono Trigger and Earthbound (and maybe Earthbound Beginnings, too). 

4. Play through half of my Steam library. 

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 did play through most of DKC: Tropical Freeze and all of New Super Mario Bros. U (and New Super Luigi U), but not the other two.

6. Play every Mario Kart track in one day. 

7. Continue refining and digitizing my collection. I suppose I started to do this by getting rid of the games I did and downloading a few games, but I still have a way to go. Partially accomplished, I guess.

8. Write more posts about video games - especially classic games. I wrote only four posts that specifically responded to video games, which I suppose was more than the previous year, making this the one goal that I did accomplish.

Goals for 2017

My goals for 2017 are all very simple, and mostly related to playing games. If I were to finish all of these goals, it would take about the same total time I spent playing games this year, although it would far exceed the amount I played on my own. Even though I am much more passive in my pursuit of video games (particularly in comparison to board games), I thought that I would set some goals that I can turn back to over the year to guide my progress. (Now I just need to remember to check up on this post every so often.)

1. Play twenty hours each of SplatoonSuper Smash Bros. for Wii U, and Mario Kart 8. I'd love to play even more, but I will set a more conservative estimate for now, considering my performance in recent years.

2. Play through an average of one new game each month. Of those sixty games listed earlier, here are the dozen that I most want to play over the next year. It seems like it's a reasonable goal to attempt to achieve, even though it's almost a month in at this point. Here are the dozen I intend to prioritize over the year: Chrono TriggerEarthboundThe Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3DThe Legend of Zelda: Oracle of SeasonsLuigi's MansionLuigi's Mansion: Dark MoonNew Super Mario Bros. 2; Pikmin; Pikmin 2Pikmin 3The Wonderful 101; and Yoshi's Story.

3. Play the rest of the three Wii U games I have started but not finished: Captain Toad: Treasure TrackerDonkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze; The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. 

4. Play every Mario Kart track in one day. It's still on my bucket list, and I should probably do it before Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is released for the Switch - or maybe as a celebration of the new release in April.

5. Write four posts specifically about video games over the course of the year. That's only one per quarter, which I think should be manageable.

Looking forward to 2017

Aside from those aforementioned goals, I have a couple of things I am eagerly anticipating over the next year - but none more than the Nintendo Switch, of course. Although I was a little underwhelmed by the Switch's release presentation, it's great to finally get something new of value from the Big N. I doubt I will buy a Switch on its release, but I would not be surprised if I find a way to pick one up after the first price drop around Christmas.

There are a number of seemingly great games being released for the system between now and the end of the year - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 DeluxeSplatoon 2, Super Mario Odyssey, and the inevitable Super Smash Bros. Deluxe Edition - but it looks as though I will likely have to wait for a while to dive into those titles, since the price point of the system is a little steep at this point.

There are two other games I am excited to play in 2017, both of which I preordered on Kickstarter years ago. ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove is a long-awaited sequel to the original Sega Genesis classic from the early 90s, and it looks to be every bit the continuation of the original that neither of the existing sequels were. Cue the funk!

The other game is Yooka-Laylee, a game that is attempting to revive the "collectathon" genre of games from the Nintendo 64 era. Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and Donkey Kong 64 were some of my favourite games of that period, and this game has brought back many of the staff who worked on some of those titles in order to create a fantastic-looking game. The only problem is that they have now cancelled the Wii U release, so I will likely have to wait to play it on Nintendo Switch.

I am planning to write a post of more detailed thoughts on the Switch soon, but suffice to say for now that I am cautiously optimistic about the system, even if it looks at this point like it might be a repeat of the Wii U in terms of release and commercial success. Still, I know that as a Nintendo fan that I will pick it up at some point (likely later than sooner), and that I will enjoy the games when I do get to play them, whether that is in the next year or sometime into the future. For now, I will enjoy the games I can, sell the ones I can't, and use the proceeds to save up for that Switch.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

2017 Oscar Nominations

As I was preparing to watch the live stream of the nominations this morning, my wife asked me why I get so excited about the Oscars. After all, I'm not nearly as passionate about movies as I used to be, and this entire awards process lends itself to a naturally cynical posture. I wrote a few thoughts about this in my conclusion to last year's Oscars season, but I realized that there is something else beyond my affinity for movies and my history of predicting the Oscars that continues to drive my interest in the process: it's a game to be played and a puzzle to be solved.

Sure, the rules are slightly different each year, but the general idea of the game is the same on an annual basis: take a body of disparate information from conflicting sources and try to distill it to a predictable pattern using previous knowledge and intuition. It's not dissimilar to the process of participating in a hockey draft (which I did for several years) or predicting playoff winners or filling out a bracket for March Madness.

It just so happens that I have a very well-established base of information that allows me to do very well in this game. I have watched the Oscars for 25 years, and I have a good idea not only of what will win but also why it will win; in fact, I am at the point now at which I can successfully predict a significant portion of the films in the conversation and even the specific nominees.

Sure, every once in a while I whiff on the awards - missing on Birdman in 2015 being the most egregious example, although I was busy focusing on more important things at the time - but those failures just make the whole game that much more interesting and compelling, and they make the successes - like the years before and after that failure - that much sweeter.

With that game theory perspective in mind, here are my early thoughts on this year's nominations, preceded by my previous results and the ten guidelines that I am learning to apply as I finalize my picks over the next month.

Past Results

In twelve years of predicting the awards, I have picked roughly three-quarters of winners in major categories correctly. Last year marked the closest I had ever come to sweeping all of the major awards, missing only the final award of the night, Best Picture, for which I have the worst record of any category of prediction over the years thanks to a poor streak in the mid-00s.

2016: 9/10, missed Picture
2015: 4/9, missed Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, and Animated Feature
2014: 8/9, missed Original Screenplay
2013: 6/9, missed Director, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature
2012: 8/9, missed Actress
2011: 7/9, missed Director and Original Screenplay
2010: 6/9, missed Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay
2009: 8/9, missed Actor
2008: 6/9, missed Actress, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay
2007: 5/9, missed Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature
2006: 7/9, missed Picture and Supporting Actress
2005: 7/9, missed Picture and Original Screenplay

Here are my results in each of those major categories:
Best Picture: 6/12 (missed 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2015, 2016)
Best Director: 9/12 (missed 2011, 2013, 2015)
Best Actor: 10/12 (missed 2007, 2009)
Best Actress: 10/12 (missed 2008, 2012)
Best Supporting Actor: 10/12 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Supporting Actress: 10/12 (missed 2006, 2008)
Best Animated Feature: 9/12 (missed 2007, 2013, 2015)
Best Original Screenplay: 7/12 (missed 2005, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015)
Best Adapted Screenplay: 9/12 (missed 2008, 2010, 2015)
Best Film Editing: 1/1

Total: 81/109 for 74.3% accuracy


Over the past two years, I have crafted a list of ten guidelines to help guide my thinking through awards season. I amended them after last year's miss on Best Picture, and I think that they are helpful as a reminder as I share my thoughts on this year's race. Here they are:

1. Trust the Guilds, which matter more than other precursors.
2. Don't underestimate the power of the acting branch.
3. A film's other nominations matter.
4. Historical precedent matters...unless it doesn't.
5. Never underestimate the power of "the narrative" for the year...but don't overestimate it, either.
6. Avoid the "interlopers", particularly in the acting categories.
7. Don't be contrarian in your picks - unless you have a good reason to do so.
8. Don't choose subtlety, particularly regarding the crafting of a film.
9. Don't really consider the possible long term ramifications.
10. Don't overthink it; after all, sometimes the best choice wins.

Commentary on this year's nominees

Here are my thoughts on the ten categories that I count for predictions, as well as a few assorted thoughts on some additional categories.

Best Picture: No surprises with any of the nominees here - all of these nine films had been part of the conversation, and Hidden Figures' recent box office success likely pushed it over the edge. As always, there are a few films that separate themselves from the rest, and this year is no different; the big four, at least in terms of buzz and quality and number of nominations, are La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, and Arrival.

Unlike previous years, however, there does not really seem to be much differentiation in the other nominees; each of the other five nominated films - Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, and Lion - are represented fairly well and in some notable categories. (In recent years, some Best Picture nominees have had as few as two nominations.) But the real question here is whether anything can beat La La Land; the answer seems to be a clear "no", although Moonlight has an outside shot at the upset.

Best Director: This is actually a difficult category to predict, as there are three nominees who have a decent shot at winning. I'm going to rule out Hacksaw Ridge's Mel Gibson - a former winner - and Arrival's Denis Villeneuve off the start, but that leaves Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight, and Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea. My guess is that Chazelle is the favourite here, especially because he was not awarded with even a nomination for Whiplash two years ago, but Jenkins in particular has a decent shot here.

Best Actor: This is the only acting category with any question, and it's between two performances: Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea and Denzel Washington in Fences. Will Affleck's unsavory past catch up with him, or will the Academy overlook it? Will Washington's charm and charisma power him to a win to help him join the elusive club of actors who have won three Oscars (Katharine Hepburn, Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, Ingrid Bergman, and Walter Brennan back in the 30s and 40s), or will he be considered to have already been awarded sufficiently for his career? My early money's on Washington, though it's close to a toss up at this point.

Best Actress: At one point, this was touted to be a competition between Natalie Portman in Jackie and Emma Stone in La La Land, but considering that Jackie ended up being a relative snub with only three nominations (Costume Design and Original Score in addition to Portman), this should be Stone's coronation ceremony. But the real story here is that Amy Adams was easily the biggest (and arguably only) acting snub of the day, especially considering the success of Arrival on a wider scope; her nomination was considered to be a lock by most pundits, as she is an Academy favourite and her performance propelled the film to its success, so her absence is puzzling, to say the least.

Best Supporting Actor: Despite unexpectedly losing the Golden Globe, this is by far Mahershala Ali's award to lose for his performance in Moonlight. I cannot even craft a plausible narrative for a different nominee, though I suppose Dev Patel is the next most likely for Lion.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis has this locked up for her performance in Fences, though Naomie Harris has a very outside chance for Moonlight.

Best Animated Feature: This will likely come down to the two Disney entries - Moana and Zootopia. I expect that Zootopia will come out as the winner.

Best Original Screenplay: The writing categories are interesting, as both categories feature two of the four leading Best Picture nominees, and eight of the ten nominations are for movies also nominated for Best Picture (only Hacksaw Ridge was overlooked). In Original Screenplay, it's Damien Chazelle for La La Land against Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea. My initial suspicion is that Lonergan will be awarded here over Chazelle.

Best Adapted Screenplay: This category features the other two significant Best Picture nominees: Arrival and Moonlight. Although Arrival has a strong possibility of winning, I think the early traction belongs to Barry Jenkins for Moonlight as a way to honor his work on that film.

Best Film Editing: This seems likely to come down to La La Land and Moonlight. I think La La Land likely has the early edge.

Documentary Feature: This is a seriously heavyweight category this year, with I Am Not Your Negro, 13th, and O.J.: Made In America all in contention. I suspect that Ava DuVernay - overlooked for Selma a few years ago - will win for 13th, giving Netflix its first Oscar for this incredible must-see film.

Music (Original Score and Original Song): It seems like La La Land should win both of these categories, though I could see Lin-Manuel Miranda pulling an upset in Song for his work in Moana.

Production and Technical Categories: I suspect that La La Land will win several awards in these categories. I was quite surprised that Arrival, in particular, was not nominated for Best Visual Effects, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Arrival might take the title previously earned by True Grit, American Hustle or The Martian for "highly nominated movie that ends up winning zero awards".

Stories to follow over the next month

There are a few stories that have already emerged out of the nominations and that will likely shape a lot of the discourse over the next month until the awards. Here are what I think are the top five stories of significance from now until February 26.

1. The domination of La La Land - With 14 nominations, La La Land has equaled the record previously set by All About Eve and Titanic, and the question seems to be not whether it can win Best Picture, but just how many Oscars it can win. Though I doubt it will equal the eleven earned by Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the King, it seems likely that La La Land will earn at least seven or eight Oscars and earn a place in that echelon of dominant Academy Award winners.

2. Not as #OscarsSoWhite - It seemed as though this year might prove to be a reversal of the unfortunate trend of the past two years, and it was. After two years of having no acting nominees of color, the Academy made some serious amends by nominating a significant number this year: seven of the twenty. There were also nominees of color in many other technical categories, as well as four of nine Best Picture nominees that prominently feature stories of people of color. The Documentary Feature category, in particular, features those three films with explorations of race from an African-American perspective.

The founder of the #OscarsSoWhite is quick to point out, however, that it is far too soon to call that concern part of the past, as it is entirely possible that the situation could emerge again next year; after all, the movies that are nominated this year are the product of years of development, so we are still likely a year or two away from seeing the actual effect of the fallout of #OscarsSoWhite.

She notes as well that there is still need for increased diversity in regard to nomination of performances by Latinos and Asians, as well as significant inroads that need to be made in regard to the technical side of the industry for all non-white males. Women, after all, have been nominated for a total of four directing awards (with one win) and zero cinematography awards in the history of the awards, and only one woman was nominated for a writing award this year. There's still a long way to go, but at least this year has some diversity that will help inspire further change in the future.

3. The Trump Effect - Much has already been made of how much the election of Donald Trump may have already affected this awards season, particularly in the type of films that have earned nominations. La La Land, Moonlight, and even Arrival have all been identified as benefitting from a perceived need for a more positive and diverse outlook on the world, and I am sure that there will be more than one thinkpiece written about how Silence, Martin Scorsese's haunting story of Jesuit missionaries in Japan, may have in particular been a victim of timing and that people just do not want to watch "depressing" movies in this season. The shadow of Trump will loom large over this year's awards and ceremony, and it will be interesting to see if host Jimmy Kimmel does anything with it.

4. The coalescence of common opinion - There is a relative lack of snubs and surprises from today's nominations, other than the aforementioned snub of Amy Adams. There was no Best Picture nominee that was not already nominated for the Producers' Guild Award, which is the best predictor of Oscar success. Silence, SullyJackie, and Loving had already been fading in the general conversation, and it's hard to say that there were any other movies that "should" have been nominated. Sure, Zootopia could have been nominated for Best Picture, or Deadpool could have earned a nomination for Adapted Screenplay, but I do not think that anyone would consider either of those to be snubs, per se.

5. The popularity of the awards themselves - Some commentators have made much of the fact that the Oscars telecast - and to a large extent the awards themselves - have been generally decreasing in viewership and popularity in recent years, and I expect that this year will be no different, as there is again a dearth of popular movies among the leading nominees. The leading box office earners among Best Picture nominees are Arrival, La La Land, and Hidden Figures; none of the three have yet earned even $100 million, although they all should at some point, and Hidden Figures will be able to be considered a bonafide success.

I just do not see, however, how the Oscars will attract those extra viewers that might have tuned in to see what might have happened had Rogue One or Deadpool, for example, gotten some high profile nominations. I doubt the trend will change in the future, as the gap between blockbuster and Oscar fare generally continues to increase - although Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk and Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 might make some noise next year. At any rate, I suspect that this year may prove to be the lowest-rated Oscars telecast in a long time.


I have thought for a while now that the closest comparison to this year in terms of previous Oscar races was in 2012, and those suspicions were confirmed this morning. In that year, The Artist, a movie about film-making in a revival of a past popular style - sound familiar? - won six awards, and most of the other awards were very predictable. (I missed correctly predicting only Meryl Streep's win for Best Actress, as I chose Viola Davis to win.) The style and type of nominated movies this year are very similar to that year, and oddly, several prominent performers from that year - Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, and even the snubbed Ryan Gosling from Drive - are in this year's race.

Of course, The Artist, as well as that entire year of winners, is often regarded to be a lesser year in the annals of Academy Award history, and it seems like this year may end up with a similar reputation. Although La La Land seems destined to dominate the awards, it seems likely that this year will be considered to be a "lesser" year in the historical record, and that the Oscars will likely be as irrelevant as they have been in recent history not only in general pop culture but also by the internal canonical measure of the Academy.

I myself have been mostly unenthused by this year's crop thus far; of the Best Picture nominees, I have watched only Arrival. I have wanted to see La La Land, Hell or High Water, and Moonlight, but any interest I have in the other major nominees is entirely due to their nomination and general critical regard, rather than any intrinsic drive to do so. That usually means, by the way, that I will likely not end up watching them for a while - if at all - but I will put them on my radar for now.

Over the next month, I will try, as I always do, to see some of the nominees I have not yet seen.My nominees to see, in priority order, before the awards if possible, are La La LandMoonlight, and Hell or High Water. I do want to see O.J.: Made in America and I Am Not Your Negro at some point, and the other major nominees (Hacksaw RidgeManchester by the SeaLionFences, and Hidden Figures) will likely have to wait for awhile - until they appear on Netflix or arrive at the library.

I will also, of course, keep tracking the various guilds and how their results affect the race, listening to The Awards Show Show podcast, and preparing to make my final picks just before the Oscars air before seeing how right (or wrong) my picks are by watching the telecast on February 26.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A eulogy for the cinema?

Sean Fennessey of The Ringer wrote an interesting article in early November about the current status of cinema. He does as good a job as any of the many thinkpieces over the past few years about the decline of cinema in the age of sequels, marketing, and blockbuster culture, particularly as the demise of movies is contrasted with the rise of television, with the line separating the two continually blurring in regard to the critical and commercial success of the medium. It's an interesting argument - even if it's not anywhere near a new one - especially in the light of my own changing attitudes toward movies.

I consider myself to be a cinephile - an avid fan of the medium of cinema - and movies have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, but I have definitely noticed a drop off in my inclination and ability to enjoy movies in the past few years. I used to invest a lot more time, money, and energy into keeping up with movies, but I do far less now for a number of reasons, not least of which are a rise of interest in television as a visual medium and the prevalence of other hobbies in my life.

But there is also the fact that movies curry far less social capital than they used to. I just don't spend as much time with people on movies, and movies are generally far less of an intermediary method of socialization than they have been in the past. Even though movies are making huge business, there is some credit to the argument that they carry far less significance as part of the zeitgeist, and that the resonance of most movies has been significantly reduced in scope, range, and time. There are some movies that burst through and dominate part of the cultural conversation, but it seems that even the biggest franchises mean less than they once did, even as their profits increase.

Consider the major movies of the past year - or what you would consider the biggest movies, at any rate. There are a couple of obvious highly anticipated sequels that come immediately to mind - Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - but many of the movies that seem like they could have seized the moment ultimately feel quite forgettable. I cannot imagine that even some of the huge money franchise cornerstones such as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Doctor Strange, or Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will have a very long shelf life.

Perhaps part of the problem is that so much of the narrative of cinema has come not only predictable, but also ephemeral. The shelf life of many movies - even enormous blockbusters - is limited to a week or two, with the next major tentpole being released the next Friday; to evoke The Incredibles, "when everyone is special, no one is special". These huge releases have become "too big to fail", and so they are designed to be risk-averse, making them all a little less special in the process.

It's not as though tiresome tedium is limited to the blockbuster wing of the theatre, however, as much of the progression of awards season has become just as - if not more - predictable in how it unfolds. The narrative of each season is becoming easier and easier to anticipate, and even the minor surprises - Spotlight triumphing over The Revenant, for example - still fall within the category of the expected. It has been over a decade since a true upset has happened in Best Picture (not that I am necessarily advocating that Crash should have won for 2005) but even many of the other major categories have not featured a significant upset in what seems like a long time.

In order for there to be a freshness to the entire cinematic enterprise, there need to be surprises that break through - and there were a few this year. Deadpool and Zootopia came to define much of the start of the year, and even a smaller movie like Arrival took over part of the narrative near the year's end. There were a couple of other pleasant surprises along the way - the success of La La Land and Moonlight and their emergence as Oscar frontrunners, for example - but I suspect that 2016 will generally be remembered as an overall uninspiring year in cinema.

I feel much more like most of the movies that I take in over the course of the year are as a product of a sense of necessity rather than of genuine interest. Many of the movies I see in theatres are as a result of a still lingering sense of needing to be part of the conversation as an early adopter, rather than an intrinsic desire to see the movie for what it provides to me - a feeling that transcends budget and style and that includes both franchise cornerstones and indie Oscar bait.

So when it comes to evaluating my favourite - or even the so-called "best" - movies of the year, I feel conflicted with a few sentiments shaping that state of being. One is a sense of inadequacy, as I struggle with not having seen enough of the movies that I feel like I should have seen in order to make a judgment of suitable quality. To some extent, there is a question of moral nature - not in regard to content, necessarily, but in response to the #OscarsSoWhite movement and the general whitewashing that comes from Hollywood and the ramifications thereof.

And yet another sentiment is that aforementioned general disinterest in much of the product of the medium, as the kinds of movies that are now being made are genuinely not nearly as interesting as they once were as artistic products - or perhaps even as commercial entities, for that matter, even though I do acknowledge that even the blandest blockbusters of 2016 often exceed the quality of those from the previous two decades.

But perhaps the dominant sense I experience right now is resignation that these are the best choices we have. I do know that there are great movies being released right now, and that some of those are among the blockbusters and the prestige fare, but that sense of staleness in cinema permeates not only the movies of the past year but of the medium as a whole, which is a not insignificant issue that will need to be addressed to ensure the future success of the medium, at least within my own cultural worldview.

I am tempted to believe that it might be an aberration over the past few years, but the seemingly entrenched nature of the studio system and the growth of American cinema as a worldwide enterprise indicates to me that this is the way that movies will be for a while. Sure, every once in a while a Deadpool or a Mad Max: Fury Road breaks through, but there's mostly a lot of flotsam and jetsam that gets in the way.

As I continue to consider the ways in which I watch movies and the kinds of movies that may eventually make my "best" list for the year, I do have some hope. There are a few genuinely inspired movies that made me think and react, and there were enough moments that made me realize that the medium is far from finished, even though I find myself in a position of increasing disinterest in general.

I had originally considered that I might write this reflection as a prelude included with my year in review post on movies, but as I wrote this piece, I realized that it should stand on its own. It is, in some sense, still part of my year in review for movies, as it is a product of the movies that I experienced over the past year, but I am not ready to finish that list just yet. There are still enough movies I have not yet seen that I have a glimmer of hope that there is more to the world of cinema than what I have seen, both in 2016 and beyond.

I continually find myself hoping for greater things, and I get them occasionally enough that I keep coming back in hope for more. Sure, most movies are rather tepid and uninspired, but that one experience can change it all and bring hope even to the most hardened cynic. After all, as Jyn Erso taught us in Rogue One, all we need is hope.

Friday, January 13, 2017

2016: The Year in Thought

I have been writing "year in review" posts since I started blogging in 2004, but I am still finding that there are new areas that emerge that I feel the need to cover. For 2016, I have realized that I had a lot to say about the kinds of thinkings that I have been reading and listening to over the past twelve months.

I am not sure exactly what inspired this new entry, other than perhaps the fact that I have been more intentional in writing up my media updates over the past year than I have been in years previous - as well as the fact that I now listen to a number of podcasts. At any rate, I feel like I have enough to process and say about my various inspirations and sources of thought over the past year that it warranted its own post, so here it is.

I am going to begin with the books and authors before moving onto the podcasts. I have divided my discussions of each into sections of lists, most of which have accompanying commentary, before including a few reflections and anticipations in my conclusion.

New authors in my repertoire

I have always been an avid reader, and I am always seeking to add new thinkers to my repertoire. I usually add five or six new authors in a year, and I often spend time investing in their back catalog as well - much in the same way that I bring new musicians into my listening rotation. A lot of those authors tend to be Christians writing about faith, church, and religion, but some are various cultural commentators, political analysts, or even science fiction writers, as well as other assorted fields of interest. Here are the authors I added to my shelf over the past year.

Sarah Bessey - Jesus Feminist / Out of Sorts: It's slightly hard to believe that I have only read Bessey's books and blog over the past year, as it seems as though her writing has been a part of my life for much longer.

Brené Brown - Daring Greatly: Brown had been on my list for years, though I had only ingested her work in the form of YouTube clips and TED talks until this past year. I read through only the first half of Daring Greatly, which itself was significant enough to bump her body of work to the top of my list.

Ernest Cline - Ready Player One / Armada: Cline's particular brand of combining dystopian sci-fi, retro video games, and love for 80s and 90s pop culture may not be for everyone, but it definitely works for me.

Hugh Howey - Wool / Shift / Dust: I read through nascent sci-fi author Howey's Silo trilogy on the recommendation of a couple of friends. I enjoyed it well enough, though I thought there was some significant drag in the latter two books; I would, however, be interested to read what he writes next, and I would love to see The Silo become a series on FX (20th Century Fox has bought the film rights) rather than a series of big-budget movies.

Alan Sepinwall - The Revolution Was Televised: Sepinwall remains one of the preeminent TV critics of our era, and this book is rightfully regarded as one of - if not the - seminal work in ushering in this era of TV criticism in which we now find ourselves. This book is a must-read if you want to know more about the medium that has helped define the 21st century so far.

Lauren Winner - Girl Meets God / Real Sex / Mudhouse Sabbath / Still / Wearing God: Winner had been on my radar for years, and I had owned her first two books for a long time before finally starting to read them this year. I started at the beginning with her memoir Girl Meets God and read through until her most recent (and arguably her best) book Wearing God, and I thoroughly enjoyed each book along the way.

New works I read by authors I already followed

A number of my favourite authors released new books in 2015 and 2016, so I pushed them to the front of the queue. Here are my abbreviated thoughts on three of them, as well as a couple of older books I read to fill out my bibliographies of their respective authors.

Rob Bell - How To Be Here: Bell's most recent book, which is all about living in the present moment and appreciating life as it is, provided me with one of those rare experiences in which I received a book at the exact moment at which I needed it. Like Bell's previous works, it is very easy to read, but this book had an accessibility that I think even his previous books did not achieve. I felt refreshed and revitalized after reading it, and I am definitely looking forward to reading it again soon.

Nadia Bolz-Weber - Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television: Bolz-Weber's first book has an entertaining enough premise: watching a day's worth of Christian programming and making sarcastic comments along the way. It's an easy enough read, and it contains enough of her now-signature tone to make it worth it for fans and to stay on my shelf for now.

Michael Chabon - The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: Chabon's first novel, a bildungsroman set in 1980s Pittsburgh, was one of the books I read as a result of the death of a good friend in the previous year; the book itself has nothing to do with his death, other than he and I shared our initial fandom of Chabon and this came from his collection. The book is interesting in and of itself as a progenitor of other coming-of-age stories for the Gen X and Millennial generations, as well as an early example of literature with LGBTQ themes, so I am not disappointed that I read it; that said, I do not see a reason to read it again in the future.

Rachel Held Evans - Searching for Sunday: Held Evans' story about her (and her husband Dan's) journey in leaving their local Evangelical church and eventually finding themselves in the Episcopal church is inspiring, exhausting, exhilirating, and heartbreaking - often all within the space of a paragraph. She organizes her deliberately disorganized thoughts according to the sacraments of the church and provides incredible insight along with some of the most poetic passages I have ever read about faith.

Chuck Klosterman - But What If We're Wrong? Thinking about the Present as if it were the Past: Klosterman has been one of my favourite thinkers for years, especially as he has mostly solely dwelled in the becoming-increasingly-less-lonely field of pop culture philosophy. He has had some interesting thought experiments over the years, including his two novels, but this one takes the cake: attempting to consider our present as if it were being looked upon as history by humans in five hundred years. A number of his conclusions make a lot of sense in their Klosterman kind of way, but even if you do not ultimately understand or agree with the points at which he arrives, it's certainly a lot of fun going through the mental gymnastics to get there.

Top books to read to catch up for authors I already read

I have a huge list on Goodreads of books that I want to read - almost 450 in total - enough so that I actually divide my "to read" list into a general list and a "priority" list. A number of the 50 or so books on my priority list are books I have not yet read by authors I enjoy and appreciate - the gaps in my experience of their bibliographies.

I already own many of these books, so it's mostly just a matter of making time to read them and pulling them off my shelf, but I am hoping that communicating them here might make me a bit more likely to  push them to the front of the queue. Here are twenty of those books that are near the top of my queue, including two that have been announced for release later this year.

Rob Bell - What We Talk About When We Talk About God; The Zim Zum of Love

Nadia Bolz-Weber - Accidental Saints

Brené Brown - Daring Greatly; The Gifts of Imperfection; I Thought It Was Just Me; Rising Strong (April 2017)

Bruxy Cavey - Reunion (May 2017)

Francis Chan - Crazy LoveYou and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity

Shane Claiborne - Executing Grace; Jesus for President

Dave Eggers - The Circle; A Hologram for the King

Donald Miller - Jazz Notes; Storyline 2.0

Matthew Paul Turner - The Coffeehouse GospelHokey Pokey; Our Great Big American God; Provocative Faith

Top authors to investigate in 2017

There are always a number of authors I want to investigate, but a few manage to sneak their way to the top of the queue. Here are the five writers - all of whom happen to be writing in the realm of exploring some aspect(s) of Christian faith in our current context - who are at the top of my list to start reading this year.

Glennon Doyle Melton - The noted Christian mom blogger is hitting a new level of prominence with her newest book Love Warrior (thanks to promotion from Oprah) which is bumping her to the top of my list.

Jen Hatmaker - Hatmaker has been on the periphery of my radar for awhile, but the way in which she publicly responded to the American election made me want to read more of her work.

Shane Hipps - Hipps was part of Rob Bell's community at Mars Hill Bible Church, and even though I own two of his books, I have read neither. It's time to remedy that.

Peter Rollins - I started reading his book Insurrection in the summer, and although I didn't get very far, I read enough to know that I think a deep dive into the works of this "heretical" Irish philosopher is in order.

Ann Voskamp - The Canadian author of One Thousand Gifts and now The Broken Way is favoured by a few dear friends, and so I feel the need to read through her works, which are noted for their peaceful nature.

Other Possible Reading Projects

I usually try to alternate my ongoing gap-filling and investigations into new authors with books I have already read or have meant to read and/or re-read. Here are five possible projects I may find my way into over the next year.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams - It has been a few years since I last read through Adams' cheeky sci-fi satire - long enough that I feel the need to reread the books.

The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov - I read the first book a few years ago, but the fact that I never read beyond it in this classic series is a continued black mark on my credibility as a fan of SF.

The non-fiction of C.S. Lewis - Although I own many of his non-fiction books, I have only read Mere Christianity of the bunch, despite intentions otherwise. The portions I have read are quite meaty, so I do not expect this project to be short-lived, but I do expect it to be rewarding.

Kim Stanley Robinson's Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy - The now-classic 90s SF series has long been on my radar and on my shelves, but I have felt a renewed sense of interest in it largely because it functions as the inspiration for the widely-hailed new board game Terraforming Mars, which is very high on my priority list to play.

Rereading The Lord of the Rings - I am not sure when I last read The Lord of the Rings - maybe in 2002 when I took a Tolkien class in university - but the fact that I cannot remember when I last read them means that I should probably pull them off my shelf again.

Top Podcasts

In 2016, I added podcasts to my regular life as a new medium as a method of processing new avenues of thought. In retrospect, it's somewhat odd that I had not listened to podcasts previously, and I'm not exactly sure why I did not do so. Perhaps I thought that I could only listen to them through iTunes, or maybe I just did not think I had the time to listen to them, but the point is that I really just do not know why it took as long as it did for podcasts to become part of my life.

What I do know is that I listened to a lot of podcasting over the past year, and I do not think I can really imagine life without them. Podcasts have largely replaced music in my life, and I do most of my menial tasks in life with the accompaniment of someone talking about a topic I enjoy.

I thought that this would be a good place to update on the podcasts I have been following over the past twelve months, especially as a number of them have overlap with the authors that I follow and read (even in blog form), so I have included a number of sections focused especially on the podcasts in my life, starting with my favourite podcasts of the year (in alphabetical order).

The Bill Simmons Podcast - Simmons, long one of my go-to sources for sports commentary, had a tumultuous year. After his previous project, Grantland, was unceremoniously shuttered by ESPN late in 2015, he was hired on by HBO and worked to establish his own internet media company. His HBO show did not really work on its own - HBO cancelled it within six months of its premiere - but his podcast is where he still shines, even if he occasionally descends into unfortunately sophmoric "bro" territory.

He is a skilled long-form interviewer, and his discussions with various celebrities, as well as with intermittent regulars like Chuck Klosterman and Malcolm Gladwell, are informative and entertaining. I occasionally tire of some of his more regular featured guests, but even those segments have their moments. Even though I have mostly avoided the BS Podcast for the past four months, when it devolves mostly into discussion of the NFL and gambling on football, I am arguably more excited about an interesting new episode of Simmons' show than for any other podcast.

Keepin' It 1600 - Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor provided a lot of needed commentary during the entire last year of American politics, but I thought that their best episode was recorded immediately after the election when they had to be humble and admit how wrong they had been all along. They have since split off from The Ringer, now forming their own company - "Crooked Media", in a not-too-subtle subtweet at Trump - and they have started a new podcast, Pod Save America, under the new banner. I am very interested to see how their voice develops as their sense of activism grows.

Revisionist History - Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favourite authors, and this podcast series of ten episodes did well to fill the gap left by the fact that he has not published a book in a few years. Each episode - or in one case, a connected series of three episodes on education in America - provides a now-typical Gladwellian inversion of expectation, along with an application of a current sociological or psychological theory to accompany his perspective.

It seems, in some ways, that Revisionist History is essentially a collection of ideas that might otherwise have found their way into essays in The New Yorker or that might not necessarily have fit into one of his books or that just work better with audio clips. They are appropriately insightful, ingenious, and even intuitive, and I am very excited for the second season of episodes in 2017.

The Watch - Former Grantland TV Critic Andy Greenwald and current editor at The Ringer Chris Ryan offer their thoughts on pop culture twice a week, and The Watch has quickly become one of my go-to places for valuable insight into the world of television, as well as movies and music on occasion, and I generally find it to be one of the most entertaining podcasts in my rotation, often with at least one laugh-out-loud moment in each episode.

It does get bogged down at times in the minutiae of following series that I have not watched myself (ie. Mr. Robot) or that I choose not to watch (Game of Thrones and Westworld), but it's easy enough to skip those segments, much as I skip Bill Simmons' NFL discussions on his podcast, or many of you readers skip certain posts on my blog. I have at times had to wait to catch up on episodes until I caught up with a show they are discussing weekly (The Night Of and Atlanta), but that's not a huge issue in the long run. Great job, Baranskis!

Hobby-driven podcasts

There are a number of other podcasts that I follow regularly with great enjoyment that are based on my interest in a particular hobby or aspect thereof. Here are my top five podcasts in that category.

The Awards Show Show - Vulture's Kyle Buchanan and host John Horn break down the awards season developments each week from late October to late February, including interviews and commentary as the season develops.

Biscuits: A Hockey Podcast - Dave Lozo and Sean McIndoe (aka Down Goes Brown) started this weekly hockey podcast through Vice Sports after the start of the season, and it has quickly become my default source for hockey commentary. Both Lozo and McIndoe have a wealth of knowledge and a healthfully cynical perspective on the NHL, and their thoughts often resonate with my own.

Nintendo Week - Even though Nintendo had a lackluster 2016 - to say the least - I still found this weekly discussion of all things Nintendo fun and fascinating. It improved when they shortened the format and tightened up the show in the last part of the year, and I am looking forward to listening to it during a much more fertile period for Nintendo news.

The Podcast of Nonsensical Gamers - There are a lot of board game podcasts out there - a lot - and although I check into others on occasion - The Dice Tower, Heavy Cardboard, Ludology - PNG has been my default podcast when I want some board game news and discussion.

The Vulture TV Podcast - Matt Zoller Seitz and others discuss their thoughts on the happenings in the world of television and often feature interviews with various creators in the medium. I do not listen to every episode, but there is interesting material provided often enough that I keep them on my radar regularly.

Other podcasts I listen to intermittently

Beyond my favourites and my podcasts driven by assorted hobbies, there are a few more that I have tuned into on occasion over the past year. These are the five podcasts that I have dabbled with over the past year and that I may find myself revisiting in 2017.

Channel 33 - The Ringer, Bill Simmons' pet internet project, burst onto the scene halfway into the year in a big way with a podcast network that soon spawned several different feeds. I mostly ignore most of the Channel 33 feed that encompasses all of the podcasts that have not yet found their own audience and/or stream, but I find an episode every few weeks that piques my interest (particularly the new "Sports Movie Hall of Fame" series from Simmons and Chris Ryan).

Infinity +1 - Geekdom House, a community from Winnipeg that seeks to find the space in which geek culture and faith intersect, provides this weekly look into various nerdy pursuits and the theological ramifications therein.

The Liturgists - Art, faith, culture, and science intermix and commingle in this infrequent podcast led by worship artist Michael Gungor among others.

The Relevant Podcast - The official podcast of Relevant magazine is one of the oldest in the biz, and it often provides interesting content along the lines of what is discussed in their magazine, to which I have subscribed for a decade now. The cast is a little long for my liking, but I check in every so often depending on the featured interview subjects and/or musical guests.

That God Show - Matthew Paul Turner and Benjamin L. Corey look into different issues on the fringes of American Evangelical Christianity in this podcast.

Looking forward to 2017

2016 was a full year, what with all of the unexpected and tragic occurrences in the world: political upheaval; celebrity deaths; the general degradation of common decency. I spent a lot of time - too much, probably - thinking about and paying attention to others thinking about the American election, and I find that I am still adjusting to the "New Abnormal", as it is being called, though I hope in some ways that I never do actually adjust.

I will continue to access many of the thinkers I have mentioned here, as well as a number of websites that post thoughtful and intelligent commentary on various aspects of life, faith, and culture - such as FiveThirtyEight, The Globe and Mail, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Relevant, The Ringer, Slate, Vulture, and the Washington Post (among others) - in my continuing journey to make sense of the world and my place in it.

As I have reflected on much of how and what I have processed over the past year in the areas and intersections of politics, faith, and culture, I am satisfied with how much I take in and process, and how most of it provides meaningful, well-informed commentary on issues of significance. I know that I have a certain responsibility through this blog, as well as through the links I share on social media, to do what I can to elevate the overall dialogue, and I really do feel as if I was able to do that this year.

I am looking forward to 2017 for many reasons - and not just because it means that 2016 is finally over. I think that in the last few months of 2015 and throughout 2016 that I rediscovered my own voice and place in the internet firmament, and I am looking forward to continuing to develop this space over the next year - perhaps even with a sorely needed update to my eyesore of a template.

In regard to my own online presence, I am really hoping to continue with much of the momentum that I have experienced over the past year as a thinker and commentator not only on my own life but on the world around me. I am honored - and quite frankly often surprised - that I write things that people read, and it always takes be aback and humbles me when a piece that I write resonates with a wider audience.

I think I was most proud of one of the articles that I wrote in the wake of the American election: Thoughts from a Codependent Evangelical. I received more feedback - constructive and correctional - than I had received on any other piece I wrote this year, and I am really looking forward to writing more of those kinds of posts over the next year.

I have been particularly inspired by the work of one of my best friends, Leah Perrault. Leah has a singularity of presence and vision that is unusual for people our age, and those aspects of her ministry have been clearly manifest in her biweekly series, Barefoot and Preaching, that she has published throughout the year on her website. Her voice is as vital as Rob Bell, Sarah Bessey, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Rachel Held Evans, Ann Voskamp and other writers who are processing what it means to be living a life of faith in this world, and if any of those writers - as well as any of the other Christian thinkers I have mentioned throughout this post - have intrigued you, you should be reading Leah's work.

I know that I will still write articles about random hobbies and happenstances like board games and hockey and Survivor and movie awards season, but I feel as though there is are depths that I have not yet plumbed in my self-exploration over the past year, and I am really excited to see what is going to come out of what I hope will be a new season for me in life in general and in my writing.

To that end, I am seeing this year in review post as the first of a new series that I am entitling "Under the Influences". In the same way that I have started digging into some of my musical history in my "Turner Tunes" series over the past year, I am looking forward to spending more time looking into influences on my worldview and thinking processes - including many of those listed here - over the next year.

I think there are going to be a number of unexpected rewards in my journey in blog and in life over the next twelve months, including the ways in which many of you will serve as inspirations and influences on my life, so thanks for your part in my journey and for allowing me to share yours as well.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2016: The Year in Board Games

2016 may have been a terrible year by many accounts, but it was easily my most successful year yet as a board gamer. I played more games more times and accomplished more at the table than I had in any previous year, and I would say that I enjoyed the hobby even more than I had on all sides (playing, researching, and designing). I am excited for what might be coming next year, but I thought it would be good to spend some time looking at the year that was before I start looking forward. Here is my year in board games for 2016.

Gaming Goals for 2016

I thought I would start, as I usually do, by evaluating the goals that I set for the year at its onset. As I look back over these goals, it is interesting to see which ones I accomplished and on which goals I failed, as well as the somewhat awkward nature of a number of these goals in retrospect. I'm mostly happy with my progress as a board gamer over the past twelve months, and although these goals do not necessarily reflect that reality, they do give a snapshot of some of how I grew as a gamer in 2016. Here are my goals and my evaluation of their achievement.

Goal #1: 366 plays for an average of one play per day. I passed this goal on October 20 and ended up absolutely destroying it with 457 total plays recorded in 2016. Achieved.

Goal #2: Complete a 10x10 challenge. For the second year in a row, I stalled out in the last quarter of the year on this challenge, and I ended up with only 64 % of the 100 games played. It was still a significant improvement over 2015, but not enough to consider it achieved. Not achieved.

Goal #3: Play 25 of my Top 30 to play. I stalled out at 17 after the first week of October, and although I tried to arrange to play a couple more, it just did not happen. Not achieved.

Goal #4: Play at least one game with my wife per week. Although I doubt we played at least once in every week of the year, we easily played an average of once per week, so I'm calling this one finished in spirit, if not in reality. Achieved.

Goal #5: Reduce my Want to Play list to 150 games by the end of the year. After playing almost 100 games from my 2016 WTP list, I reduced my list to 191, only 11 fewer than last year. Of course, I added 105 titles to my list over the course of the year, so that impeded my progress. I think this target of reducing my list will only be realistic if I stop wanting to play new games, or if I severely mediate the games that I add to my Want to Play list. Not achieved.

Goal #6: Play all of my complex games at least three times. I ended up with only 6 of 20 complex games played thrice, and there were a couple that I did not end up playing at all. Not achieved.

Goal #7: Host one game night per month. I am not sure if I actually hosted one per month, but there were at least a dozen times in which I had multiple friends over to play games, so I think this one is close enough. Achieved.

Goal #8: Blog once per month about board games including my quarterly review posts. I ended up with fifteen posts tagged with the topic "board games" in 2016, a dozen of which were specifically about board games. They were not spaced out monthly, but the average works out over the course of the year, so I'm calling this goal achieved.

Goal #9: Be more careful with Kickstarters. There were several Kickstarter projects in the last quarter alone that I almost backed in the last few hours before ultimately declining in the last few minutes. I ended up still backing several projects, but I was much choosier and I think I will be much happier with my Kickstarter results after this year. Considering that this was not a measurable goal, I'm going to say that I did it. Achieved.

Goal #10: Have Pot O' Gold published (or at least well on its way to production). It's coming along, one step at a time. I had a couple of impediments this year, but I also made some significant progress, and I think it might actually be realistic to have the game published in the next year. Let's call this half-finished. Half-Achieved.

For the record, that's five goals achieved (more or less), one half-achieved, and four not achieved for the year - not a terrible record, but one that definitely leaves room for improvement in 2017. In addition to those goals, however, I did have a few other accomplishments as a board gamer this year. Here are my top five other achievements for the year:

1. I recorded at least thirty plays in each month, and I had an average of 38 plays per month.

2. I increased my h-index (the number of games I have played a certain number of times) from 15 to 18, meaning that there are now eighteen games that I have played at least eighteen times (since I started tracking in December 2010, that is).

3. I greatly reduced my unplayed games and/or expansions in my collection, so at the end of the year I had only ten items in my collection (a few microgames and a couple of expansions) that I have not yet played at all.

4. I played 100 new games and another 32 new expansions, setting records for both.

5. I started a local game design group and had a half-dozen local designers buy into our philosophy and practice and start using our group as inspiration to work on their own designs.

So even though I did not necessarily accomplish everything I laid out at the beginning of the year, I am proud of what I was able to do and how I grew as a gamer over the past year.

Games Played

I played more games more times than I ever had in the past:168 unique games with a total of 457 plays. My previous record had been 360 plays in 2015, so my plays increased by 27% over the previous year, which itself had marked a substantial increase in total plays, different games played, and new games played.

Of those 168 different games in my list for the year, I played 85 (barely over half) just once, which means that I played 83 games more than once; 33 of those were twice and the other fifty were three times or more. My most played games of the year were a mix of legacy games, games that were on my 10x10 challenge, games for which we tried new expansions, easy-to-teach fillers, and games my wife really enjoys. My top 10, by the way, made up 107 of those 457 total plays, or about 23.4%.

Since my playing patterns shifted so much in 2015, I thought it would be interesting to look back at how I have progressed on games that I first played that year, in addition to the upcoming section on the new games I played in 2016. 

Most played games in 2016: 
1. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (22)
2. Pandemic (11)
2. Orléans (11)
4. Flash Point: Fire Rescue (10)
4. T.I.M.E Stories (10)
6. The Castles of Burgundy (9)
6. The Game (9)
6. Kingdom Builder (9)
9. Carcassonne (8)
9. OctoDice (8)
11. The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game (7)
11. Codenames (7)
11. Imperial Settlers (7)

All-time most games played as of the end of 2016: 

1. 7 Wonders (66)
2. Pandemic (42)
3. Race for the Galaxy (39)
4. King of Tokyo (34)
5. Dominion / Splendor (26)
6. Agricola / Carcassonne / Flash Point: Fire Rescue (23)
7. The Castles of Burgundy / Hanabi / Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (22)
8. Battle Line / Citadels / Innovation / Kingdom Builder (19)
9. Glory to Rome / Lords of Waterdeep (18)
10. At the Gates of Loyang / Fleet / The Resistance (17)

Games first played in 2015 that have seen repeated play (2-3) by the end of 2016: AquaSphere; Betrayal at the House on the Hill; Biblios; Blueprints; Cinelinx; Core Worlds; Deus; Eminent Domain: Microcosm; Fidelitas; Fleet Wharfside; Flip City; Geek Out!; Get Bit!; Goa; Guillotine; Impulse; La Isla; Keyflower; Legacy: Gears of Time; The Manhattan Project; Medieval Academy; Mottainai; My First Carcassonne; Pandemic: Contagion; Pandemic: The Cure; Paperback; Red7; Roll for the Galaxy; Russian Railroads; Samurai; Scythe; Sheriff of Nottingham; Snake Oil; Spyfall; Temporum; Valley of the Kings / Valley of the Kings: Afterlife

Games first played in 2015 that have seen moderate play (4-5) by the end of 2016: Antidote; Caverna: The Cave Farmers; Eggs and Empires; Elysium; Floating Market; Friday; Machi Koro; Marvel Legendary; Sushi Go!; Viticulture

Games first played in 2015 that have seen extensive play (6+) by the end of 2016: 7 Wonders: Duel; Between Two Cities; Codenames; Coup; The Game; Fresco; Friday; Harbour; Imperial Settlers; Orléans; Patchwork; Scoville; T.I.M.E Stories; Tiny Epic Galaxies; Tokaido

Games played from my Top 30 to Play in 2016: Alien Frontiers; Arctic Scavengers; Cacao; Dungeon Lords; (Traders of) Genoa; Grand Austria Hotel; Hansa Teutonica; Le Havre: The Inland Port; Luna; Rialto; Taj Mahal; Targi; Through the Desert; Tigris and Euphrates; Tournay; Troyes; The Voyages of Marco Polo (17)

Games not played from that list: Amun-Re; Barony; Dungeon Petz; For Sale; Hengist; Merkator; My Village; Nations; Shakespeare; Space Alert; The Spiecherstadt; Strasbourg; Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization (13)

Games replayed from my "Top 20 games to Replay in 2016" list: AquaSphere; Caverna; The Cave Farmers; Core Worlds; Deus; Goa; Imperial Settlers; Impulse; Keyflower; Mottainai; Russian Railroads (10)

Games not played from that list: Amerigo; Bruges; Concordia; Fields of Arle; Five Tribes; Terra Mystica; Trajan; Twilight Struggle; Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar; Viceroy (10)

New Games Played

I was really intentional about playing new games last year, much as I had been in the year previous. I played a hundred new-to-me games in 2016, establishing a new record over the 97 I played in 2015 for a slight improvement; the big difference between the two years was that I also played 32 new-to-me expansions in 2016 against just a half-dozen the year before. 

As I broke my list down into the basic divisions of complexity, I found the balance between my six general categories quite fascinating. Of the hundred games, slightly more would be considered to be less complex, but the fact that 45% of the games I played for the first time were complex demonstrates how much I am increasing in my depth in the hobby. Of course, of the 25 most complex games I played, I managed to play only four of them a second time, so I am mainly still trying a lot of new games without replaying them at this point.

Many of the games I played for the first time (about three-quarters) came from my Want to Play list - either as it was, or as additions from throughout the year - meaning that about a quarter of the games I played had not been on my list when I played them. Most of those were games that someone else had and wanted to play, although there were a number of them that had been on my radar, but that I had not yet added to my list yet because I knew I would be playing them soon enough. At any rate, here are the new games I played in 2016.

New games played in 2016: 504; Akrotiri; Alien Frontiers; ...and then we held hands; Arboretum; Arctic Scavengers; Battlestar Galactica; Beyond Balderdash; Bomb Squad; Broom Service; Bunny Bunny Moose Moose; Burgoo; Cacao; Carcassonne: The Castle; The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game; Codenames: Pictures; Commissioned; Concept; Cthulhu Realms; DC Deck Building Game; Dead Last; Dr. Eureka; Dreamwell; Dungeon Lords; Eldritch Horror; Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers; Empire Builder; Finca; Fire and Axe: A Viking Saga; Feudality; Forbidden Desert; Funemployed!; The Game; (Traders of) Genoa; Gold West; Gone Viking!; Grand Austria Hotel; Great Western Trail; The Grizzled; Haggis; Hansa Teutonica; Happy Salmon; Le Havre: The Inland Port; Hey, That's My Fish!; Hey Waiter!; Imhotep; Ingenious; Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King; Karuba; Kingsburg; Knit Wit; Lanterns: The Harvest Festival; Lewis and Clark; Loop, Inc.; Luna; The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction; Mice and Mystics; Mombasa; Monkey; Morels; Morocco; Mysterium; Mystery of the Abbey; The Networks; OctoDice; Pandemic Legacy: Season 1; Province; Quadropolis; Railways of the World; The Resistance: Avalon; Rialto; Ricochet Robots; SeaFall; Star Realms: Colony Wars; Super Motherload; Taktika; Taj Mahal; Targi; They're at the Post!; Thief's Market; Through the Desert; Tides of Time; Tigris and Euphrates; Tiny Epic Defenders; Tiny Epic Western; Tournay; Trainmaker; TransAmerica; Troyes; Twilight Imperium Third Edition; Uchronia; Uno; Valeria: Card Kingdoms; Valley of the Kings: Afterlife; Volcano; The Voyages of Marco Polo; World's Fair 1893; Yedo; Yggdrasil; Yunnan (100)

New Party/Social games played in 2016: Beyond Balderdash; Bunny Bunny Moose Moose; Codenames: Pictures; Concept; Dead Last; Dr. Eureka; Funemployed!; Happy Salmon; Knit Wit; Mysterium; The Resistance: Avalon; They're At The Post! (12)

New Filler/Light games played in 2016: Burgoo; Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers; The Game; The Grizzled; Hey, That's My Fish!; Monkey; OctoDice; Province; Ricochet Robots; Taktika; Trainmaker; Uno (12)

New Light Strategy games played in 2016: Akrotiri; ...and then we held hands; Arboretum; Cthulhu Realms; Gone Viking!; Haggis; Le Havre: The Inland Port; Hey Waiter!; The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction; Morels; Star Realms: Colony Wars; Thief's Market; Through the Desert; Tiny Epic Defenders; Tiny Epic Western; Tides of Time; Valley of the Kings: Afterlife (17)

New Family games played in 2016: Bomb Squad; Cacao; Carcassonne: The Castle; DC Deck-Building Game; Dreamwell; Forbidden Desert; Imhotep; Ingenious; Karuba; Lanterns: The Harvest Festival; Super Motherload; TransAmerica; Volcano; World's Fair 1893 (14)

New Family Strategy games played in 2016: Arctic Scavengers; Broom Service; The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game; Commissioned; Feudality; Finca; Gold West; Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King; Kingsburg; Loop, Inc.; Mice and Mystics; Morocco; Mystery of the Abbey; The Networks; Pandemic Legacy: Season 1; Quadropolis; Rialto; Targi; Uchronia; Valeria: Card Kingdoms (20)

New Complex games played in 2016: 504; Alien Frontiers; Battlestar Galactica; Dungeon Lords; Eldritch Horror; Empire Builder; Fire and Axe: A Viking Saga; (Traders of) Genoa; Grand Austria Hotel; Great Western Trail; Hansa Teutonica; Lewis and Clark; Luna; Mombasa; Railways of the World; SeaFall; Taj Mahal; Tigris and Euphrates; Tournay; Troyes; Twilight Imperium: 3rd Edition; The Voyages of Marco Polo; Yedo; Yggdrasil; Yunnan (25)

New expansions played in 2016: Alhambra: The City Gates; Alhambra: The Thief's Turn; Alhambra: The Vizier's Favor; Cacao: Chocolatl; Carcassonne: Hills and Sheep; Carcassonne: The Tower; Carcassonne: Wheel of Fortune; Cosmic Encounter: Cosmic Dominion; Eminent Domain: Escalation; Eminent Domain: Exotica; Flash Point: Fire Rescue - 2nd Story; Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Dangerous Waters; Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Extreme Danger; Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Honor and Duty; Fresco: Modules 4,5, and 6; Galaxy Trucker: The Big Expansion; Imperial Settlers: 3 is a Magic Number; Imperial Settlers: Atlanteans; Imperial Settlers: Why Can't We Be Friends; Istanbul: Mocha and Baksheesh; Kingdom Builder: Crossroads; Kingdom Builder: Nomads; Orléans: Invasion; Pandemic: In the Lab; Pandemic: State of Emergency; Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts; Scoville: Labs; Takenoko: Chibis; Thurn and Taxis: All Roads Lead to Rome; T.I.M.E Stories: The Marcy Case; T.I.M.E Stories: A Prophecy of Dragons; T.I.M.E Stories: Under the Mask (32)

New games extensively played (5+) in 2016: The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game; The Game; OctoDice; Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (4)

New games repeatedly played (2+ times) in 2016: Alien Frontiers; Burgoo; Cacao; The Grizzled; Ingenious; Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King; Karuba; Knit Wit; Morels; Morocco; SeaFall; Thief's Market; Through the Desert; Troyes; Uchronia; Valley of the Kings: Afterlife; The Voyages of Marco Polo (17)

Favourite New Games Played in 2016: 

Social/Light/Filler: Codenames: Pictures; The Game; The Grizzled; Knit Wit; OctoDice

Light Strategy / Family: Arboretum; Cacao; Ingenious; Thief's Market; Tides of Time

Family Strategy: The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game; Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King; Morocco; Pandemic Legacy: Season 1; Targi

[Complex Runners-up: Grand Austria Hotel; Hansa Teutonica; Luna; Tigris and Euphrates; Yunnan]

Complex: Alien Frontiers; Great Western Trail; Mombasa; Troyes; The Voyages of Marco Polo

Want to Play

In some ways, my Want to Play list is the bane of my board gaming existence, as it never seems to shrink despite the fact that I am constantly attempting to work on it. I started the year with 202 on my list and ended with 191, even though I played and/or removed 116 items from my list over the course of the year, because I added 105 items to that same list.

The vast majority of games I added to my WTP list were releases from 2016 or 2017; by my count, only 23 games and 7 or 8 expansions (for a total of just under a third) of my additions were released before 2016. Several of those two dozen games have achieved enough attention - whether through critical or commercial success, usually marked by strong reception on BGG - that I finally felt the need to have to play them as part of the ludological zeitgeist; most of the rest are earlier releases from designers whose work I know and enjoy.

It's little surprise that the games I added to my WTP list skew much more significantly toward complex Euros and strategic games, with well over two thirds (57/87) of the games I added having a well-established level of complexity. I do, of course, have another fifty games that I have considered adding to my WTP list - mostly light Kickstarters in which I expressed interest but am not sure if I will have the opportunity to try without having ordered them - but for now, these are the games I added to my Want to Play list in 2016.

Games added to my Want To Play list: Acquire; Adrenaline; Animals on Board; Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time; Bear Valley; The Bird Told Me To Do It; Blood Rage; Bohemian Villages; Broom Service; Burgle Bros.; Camel Up Cards; Carson City; Chariot Race; CO2; Colony; Colosseum; Costa Rica; Cottage Garden; Council of 4; Covert; Dead of Winter; Eldritch Horror; Evolution; Exodus Fleet; Fields of Green; First Class; First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet; FlowerFall; Food Chain Magnate; The Gallerist; The Game; La Granja: No Siesta! - The Dice Game; Great Western Trail; The Grizzled; Guilds of London; Helios; Hero Realms; Imhotep; Inis; Islebound; Jambo; Jorvik; Jump Drive; Kanban; Key to the City - London; Knit Wit; Las Vegas; Leaders of Euphoria; Liguria; Lisboa; London Markets; Lords of Vegas; Lorenzo Il Magnifico; Louis XIV; Mega Man Pixel Tactics; Monkey; Murano; Mystic Vale; New York 1901; Oceanos; The Oracle of Delphi; Pictomania; The Pillars of the Earth; Potion Explosion; Power Grid: The Card Game; Quadropolis; Quantum; Quests of Valeria; Saami; Sail Away; Snowdonia; Solarius Mission; Star Trek: Frontiers; The Staufer Dynasty; Terraforming Mars; Thief's Market; Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails; Tides of Madness; Tiny Epic Defenders; Tiny Epic Quest; Tiny Epic Western; Tyrants of the Underdark; Via Nebula; Victorian Masterminds; Vikings on Board; Villages of Valeria; Yokohama (87)

Games Added and Played within 2016: Broom Service; The Game; Great Western Trail; The Grizzled; Imhotep; Knit Wit; Monkey; Quadropolis; Thief's Market; Tiny Epic Defenders; Tiny Epic Western (11)

Party/Social games added to my Want to Play list: FlowerFall; Knit Wit; Leaders of Euphoria; Pictomania (4)

New Filler/Light games added to my Want to Play list: Camel Up Cards; Chariot Race; The Game; La Granja: No Siesta! - The Dice Game; The Grizzled; Monkey (6)

New Light Strategy games added to my Want to Play list: Bear Valley; The Bird Told Me To Do It; Hero Realms; Jambo; Jump Drive; Mega Man Pixel Tactics; Power Grid: The Card Game; Thief's Market; Tides of Madness; Tiny Epic Defenders; Tiny Epic Quest; Tiny Epic Western (12)

New Family games added to my Want to Play list: Animals on Board; Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time; Cottage Garden; Imhotep; Las Vegas; London Markets; New York 1901; Potion Explosion (8)

New Family Strategy games added to my Want to Play list: Acquire; Adrenaline; Bohemian Villages; Broom Service; Burgle Bros.; Colosseum; Costa Rica; Evolution; Fields of Green; First Class; Guilds of London; Helios; Islebound; Liguria; Lords of Vegas; Murano; Mystic Vale; Oceanos; Quadropolis; Quantum; Quests of Valeria; Sail Away; Snowdonia; Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails; Via Nebula; Victorian Masterminds; Vikings on Board; Villages of Valeria; Yokohama (29)

New Complex games added to my Want to Play list: Blood Rage; Carson City; CO2; Colony; Council of 4; Covert; Dead of Winter; Eldritch Horror; Exodus Fleet; First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet; Food Chain Magnate; The Gallerist; Great Western Trail; Inis; Jorvik; Kanban; Key to the City - London; Lisboa; Lorenzo Il Magnifico; Louis XIV; The Oracle of Delphi; The Pillars of the Earth; Saami; Solarius Mission; Star Trek: Frontiers; The Staufer Dynasty; Terraforming Mars; Tyrants of the Underdark (28) 

Expansions added to my Want to Play list: 7 Wonders: Duel - Pantheon; Agricola: Farmers of the Moor; Cacao: Chocolatl; Cosmic Encounter: Eons; Galaxy Trucker: The Big Expansion; Galaxy Trucker: Another Big Expansion; Galaxy Trucker: The New Models; Imperial Settlers: 3 is the Magic Number; Imperial Settlers: Atlanteans; Imperial Settlers: Aztecs; Imperial Settlers: Why Can't We Be Friends?; Istanbul: Letters and Seals; Kingdom Builder: Harvest; Kingdom Builder: Marshlands; Pandemic: The Cure - Experimental Meds; Temporum: Alternate Realities; Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black; Tokaido: Matsuri (18)

Games and expansions removed from my Want to Play list: Alhambra: Power of the Sultan; Alhambra: The Falconers; Alhambra: The Treasure Chamber; Arena: Roma II; Cult Classic; Epic; Hollywood; Lancaster; Mu and More; New Bedford; Nova Cry; Paradox; Progress: Evolution of Technology; Quarantine; Rampage; Rise to Power; Robots on the Line; Say Anything; Steam Works; Thurn and Taxis: Power and Glory; Time Jockeys; Vikings on Board (22)

Top 25 games to play in 2017: Agricola: Farmers of the Moor; Bear Valley; Carson City; Cottage Garden; A Feast For Odin; First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet; Food Chain Magnate; The Gallerist; La Granja: No Siesta!; Guilds of London; Jorvik; Jump Drive; Kanban; Lorenzo Il Magnifico; The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire; Oceanos; Oh My Goods!; The Oracle of Delphi; Port Royal; Power Grid: The Card Game; Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island; Solarius Mission; Terraforming Mars; Vinhos; Xenon Profiteer

Top 25 games to replay in 2017: Amerigo; Belfort; Broom Service; Bruges; Castles of Mad King Ludwig; Concordia; Fields of Arle; Firefly: The Game; Five Tribes; Great Western Trail; Grand Austria Hotel; La Granja; Hansa Teutonica; Kingsburg; Loop Inc.; Luna; Mombasa; Quadropolis; Suburbia; Targi; Terra Mystica; Tigris and Euphrates; Trajan; Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar; Vikings

Games carried over from previous Top Games to Play lists: Amun-Re; Barony; Dominant Species; Dungeon Petz; For Sale; Glen More; Hawaii; Hengist; Jump Gate; Mascarade; Merkator; My Village; Nations; Nefarious; Shakespeare; Space Alert; The Speicherstadt; Strasbour; Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization; Tikal II: The Lost Temple (20)

Changes to my collection

My collection changed significantly again this year, both in terms of games added to my collection and games that left my collection. Over the course of the year, I added 117 items to my collection, including 49 games, 20 large expansions, and 48 small mini or promo expansions. I also liquidated 35 items from my collection, including 16 games, 6 large expansions, and another 13 mini and promo expansions. As I looked over these changes, I am quite pleased with the progress I have made in my collection. Here's how it has changed over the past twelve months.

Games acquired in 2016: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small; Alien Frontiers; ...and then we held hands...; Bananagrams; Belfort; Between Two Cities; Biblios; Blueprints; Carcassonne; The Castle; The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game; Caverna: The Cave Farmers; Codenames: Pictures; Concept; Core Worlds; Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers; Flip City; The Game; Geek Out! Pop Culture Party; Haggis; Le Havre: The Inland Port; Hera and Zeus; Hey, That's My Fish! Deluxe; Hey Waiter!; Imperial Settlers; Impulse; Ingenious; La Isla; Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King; Keyflower; King of New York; Knit Wit; The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction; Medieval Academy; Monkey; Morels; Morocco; OctoDice; Orléans; Pandemic Legacy: Season 1; Spyfall; Star Realms: Colony Wars; Takenoko; That's Life!; Thief's Market; Tsuro; Uchronia; Valley of the Kings; Valley of the Kings: Afterlife; The Voyages of Marco Polo (49)

Party/Social games acquired in 2016: Codenames: Pictures; Concept; Geek Out! Pop Culture Party; Knit Wit; Spyfall (5)

Light/Filler games acquired in 2016: Bananagrams; Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers; The Game; Hey, That's My Fish! Deluxe; Monkey; OctoDice; Tsuro (7)

Light Strategy games acquired in 2016: ...and then we held hands...; Biblios; Flip City; Haggis; Hera and Zeus; Hey Waiter!; Ingenious; The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction; Morels; Star Realms: Colony Wars; Thief's Market; Valley of the Kings; Valley of the Kings: Afterlife (13)

Family games acquired in 2016: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small; Between Two Cities; Blueprints; Carcassonne; The Castle; King of New York; Medieval Academy; Takenoko; That's Life! (8)

Family Strategy games acquired in 2016: The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game; Le Havre: The Inland Port; Impulse; La Isla; Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King; Morocco; Pandemic Legacy: Season 1; Uchronia (8)

Complex games acquired in 2016: Alien Frontiers; Belfort; Caverna: The Cave Farmers; Core Worlds; Imperial Settlers; Keyflower; Orléans; The Voyages of Marco Polo (8)

Large expansions acquired in 2016: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small - More Buildings; Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small - More Buildings; Carcassonne: The Catapult; Core Worlds: Galactic Orders; Council of Verona: Corruption; Cosmic Encounter: Dominion; Eminent Domain: Exotica; Flip City: Reuse; The Grizzled: At Your Orders!; Imperial Settlers: 3 is the Magic Number; Imperial Settlers: Atlanteans; Imperial Settlers: Why Can't We Be Friends?; Istanbul: Mocha and Baksheesh; Orléans: Invasion; Orléans: Trade and Intrigue; Pandemic: In the Lab; Pandemic: State of Emergency; Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War; Scoville: Labs; Takenoko: Chibis (20)

Small (promo) expansions acquired in 2016: 7 Wonders: Duel - The Messe Essen; 7 Wonders: Leaders - Esteban; Agricola: Biogas Plant; Agricola: Wood Scrounger; Alien Frontiers: Expansion Pack #1; Carcassonne: Halb So Wild; Carcassonne: Little Buildings; Caverna: Mini Expansion; Caverna: Water; Core Worlds: Galactic Orders Promo; Dixit: 2012 Asmodee Special Cards; Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers - Heavy Assault; Fidelitas: The Hunting Lodge; The Game on Fire!; Get Bit!: Dolphin Die; Get Bit!: Orange Player; Get Bit! Sharkspansion; Get Bit! Squid Die; Glass Road: Harlekin; Glass Road: Oktoberfest; Hanabi: Bonus Tiles; Harbour: Ice Viking; Imperial Settlers: Council Promo; Imperial Settlers: Exploration Tiles; Isle of Skye: Brettspiel Adventskalendar Bonus Tiles; Isle of Skye: Kennerspiel Promo Tile; Istanbul: Kebab Shop; Keyflower: Emporium and Monument; Keyflower: Key Celeste; King of New York: 55 Central Park West; King of New York: Monster Idol; Lost Cities: 6th Expedition; Ora et Labora: Loamy Landscape; Orléans: 5th Player; Orléans: Neue Ostkarten 1, 2, 3, and 4; Orléans: Die Riese Nach Tours; Orléans: Prairie; Pandemic: Promo Roles; Russian Railroads: Mini Expansion; Splendor: Nobles Promo; Spyfall: Gaming Convention; Star Realms: Cosmic Gambit; Uchronia: Promo Cards; Viticulture: Moor Visitors; The Voyages of Marco Polo: The New Characters (48)

Games acquired and liquidated in 2016: ...and then we held hands...; Hera and Zeus; Russian Railroads: Mini Expansion; Tsuro (4)

Other games liquidated in 2016: Alhambra: Big Box + The Falconers + 2 promos; Among the Stars + The Ambassadors + Expanding the Alliance + 4 promos; Among the Stars: Revival + 1; Antidote; Arena: Roma II; Bora Bora + 1; Coup Reformation; Legacy: Gears of Time + 4; Province; Roma; The Settlers of Catan: The Card Game + Expansions; Sheriff of Nottingham + 1; Spyrium; Thurn and Taxis (31)

Kickstarters on order (with expected arrival date): Innovation Deluxe (Q1 2017); Nerdy Inventions (Jan); Quests of Valeria (Feb); Star Realms: Year One Promos (ASAP); Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black (June); Tiny Epic Quest (Aug); Villages of Valeria (Jan)

Wish List

With all of those acquisitions over the year, you might expect that my wish list might have shrunk during the year, which did happen. I started the year with 103 items on my wish list and I ended the year with 68 items on my wish list on BoardGameGeek, including 31 games and 37 expansions. 

Of those 31 games on my list, almost a quarter of them (8) are under consideration as possibilities to pick up at some point. I also, of course, have another sixteen games - many of them smaller games - that I would consider buying if I found them for the right price. I was not surprised that more of my wish list is comprised of expansions, including seven that are for games that are also on my wish list.

I did make progress on my list - going from 103 to 68 - but not necessarily in the way that might be anticipated. I added 55 items to my list throughout the year, but I also acquired 55 items from my wish list. I removed another eight items from my list, which leaves another 27 unaccounted for; those were promos and mini-expansions that I moved onto a separate "Want in Trade" list to make my wish list easier to manage. 

I added a number of items to my "Want in Trade" list to end up with 59 mini-expansions and promos on that particular list. When combined with my wish list, I end up with 127 items on both lists for the year

Games added to my wish list in 2016: Aquasphere; La Granja; The Grizzled; Jump Drive; Lanterns: The Harvest Festival; Spyfall 2; Targi; Tides of Time; Troyes (9)

Games added to my wish list and acquired in 2016: The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game; Codenames: Pictures; The Game; Knit Wit; The Voyages of Marco Polo (5)

Expansions added to my wish list in 2016: 7 Wonders: Duel - Pantheon; Alien Frontiers: Factions; Alien Frontiers: Outer Belt; Cosmic Encounter: Eons; Imperial Settlers: Aztecs; Istanbul: Letters and Seals; Kingdom Builder: Harvest; Kingdom Builder; Marshlands; King of New York: Power Up!; The Manhattan Project: Second Stage; Pandemic: The Cure - Experimental Meds; Race for the Galaxy: Xeno Invasion; Star Realms: United; Temporum: Alternate Realities; Tokaido: Matsuri (15)

Expansions added and acquired in 2016: The Grizzled: At Your Orders!; Imperial Settlers: 3 is a Magic Number; Imperial Settlers: Why Can't We Be Friends?; Orléans: Trade and Intrigue (5) [+ Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond The Black pre-ordered]

Party/Social games on my wish list: Batman Fluxx; Love Letter: Batman; Spyfall 2; Wits and Wagers (thrift) (4)

Party/Social games not on my wish list that I would also consider buying: FlowerFall (1)

Light/Filler games on my wish list: For Sale; The Great Heartland Hauling Company; The Grizzled; Isle of Trains (4)

Light/Filler games not on my wish list that I would also consider buying: Camel Up Cards; Oh My Goods! (2)

Light strategy games on my wish list: Jump Drive; Jump Gate; Tides of Time; Yardmaster (4)

Light strategy games not on my wish list that I would also consider buying: Akrotiri; Arboretum; Bear Valley; Power Grid: The Card Game; Xenon Profiteer (5)

Family games on my wish list: Gravwell; Lanterns: The Harvest Festival; Pandemic: The Cure (3)

Family games not on my wish list that I would also consider buying: Cacao; Cottage Garden; Finca (3)

Family strategy games on my wish list: Castles of Mad King Ludwig; Missionary Conquest (thrift); Targi: Vikings (4)

Family strategy games not on my wish list that I would also consider buying: Loop Inc.; The Networks (2)

Complex games on my wish list: AquaSphere; Fields of Arle; The Manhattan Project; Roll for the Galaxy (4)

Other complex games on my wish list for consideration: Bruges; Concordia; Deus; La Granja; The Princes of Florence; Russian Railroads; Trajan; Troyes (8)

Complex games not on my wish list that I would also consider buying: A Feast For Odin; My Village; Shakespeare (3)

Top priority games on my wish list: AquaSphere; Castles of Mad King Ludwig; Fields of Arle; For Sale; Gravwell; The Great Heartland Hauling Company; The Grizzled; The Manhattan Project; Pandemic: The Cure; Roll for the Galaxy; Targi; Tides of Time (12)

Top ten expansions on my wish list to buy: 7 Wonders: Duel - Pantheon; Alien Frontiers: Factions; Imperial Settlers: Aztecs; Istanbul: Letters and Seals; King of New York: Power Up!; Kingdom Builder: Marshlands; Star Realms: United (4 mini-expansions); Race for the Galaxy: Xeno Invasion; Tokaido: Crossroads; Village Inn (10)

Other expansions on my wish list: 7 Wonders: Babel; Alien Frontiers: Outer Belt; Core Worlds: Revolution; Cosmic Encounter x4 (Alliance; Conflict; Eons; Storm); Dixit x7 (Daydreams; Journey; Memories; Odyssey; Origins; Quest; Revelations); Galaxy Trucker: Missions; Kingdom Builder: Harvest; Temporum: Alternate Realities; Ticket to Ride: Europa 1912; Tokaido: Matsuri; Village: Port (20)

Expansions to buy when I buy the game: Bruges: The City on the Zwin; Castles of Mad King Ludwig: Secrets; Concordia: Brittania/Germania; Concordia: Salsa; The Manhattan Project: Second Stage; Pandemic: The Cure - Experimental Meds; Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition (7)

Promos (small expansions) on my "Want In Trade" or "Want to Buy" List: 7 Wonders: Duel - Statue of Liberty; Alien Frontiers x10 (Expansion Packs 2-7; Faction Packs 1-4); Carcassonne x11 (Castles in Germany; Corn Circles; Darmstadt; The Festival, German Monasteries; Halb So Wild II; The Plague; The School; Tunnels; The Watchtower; The Windrose); The Castles of Burgundy: Trade Routes; Caverna x2 (Christmas Chamber; LARP/Cosplay); Codenames: Authors and Games; Codenames: Pictures x2 (5x5 Promo Tiles; Broken Token Card); Dixit x2 (The American; The Gift); Eminent Domain x2 (Cygnus and Elusive/Exclusive Victory); The Great Heartland Hauling Co.: Badlands; Imperial Settlers x3 (The Dice Tower Inn; Storage Tiles; The Watchers Guild); Isle of Skye x1 (Adjacency Tiles); Istanbul: Pegasus Depot; Keyflower x5 (Beekeeper; Keymelequin; Pig Shelter; Storyteller; Trader); King of New York x6 (Force of Unnature; Nano Bots; Promo Cards; New York City Defender; Sewer Crocs; Trump Tower); The Manhattan Project: Nations; Medieval Academy: Galanttry and Magic; Roll for the Galaxy x2 (Bountiful Gaming Grid; Terraforming Colony / Diversified Economy)Targi: The Action Tokens; Tokaido x2 (Felicia; The New Encounters); Yardmaster x3 (Bonus Cards; Caboose; Methylamine) (59)

Goals for 2017

In light of my 2015 and 2016 goals, I have decided to make some changes this year to my goals. For one thing, I have worked to make my 2017 goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based) in a way that I realized my goals have not been in recent years.

I decided to eliminate some of my other challenges, such as my 10x10 challenge, my attempt to play each of my complex games three times, or even trying to play each game in my collection once during the year. I often felt like I was having to manipulate my plays to meet those goals, and I am much more interested in what I am actually playing than what I am forcing myself to play.

I ended up with goals that divided into two general categories: goals based on plays and goals for game design. I am very happy with my goals for this year, and I think that this might be my most achievable set of goals yet; even though the game design goals are ambitious, they are achievable with a strong effort. Here are my goals for 2017.

1. 400 plays during the year, including 30 plays in each month. Although I easily surpassed that total this year, I am being a little conservative in my estimate for next year, considering that my wife has assured me that there is little possibility that I will be able to game more than I did this year.

2. Play 100 new games during the year. Another feat from 2015 that I am setting as a goal for 2016.

3. Play 20 of my Top 25 games to play. I have decided to return to 25 as a viable number for games to prioritize to play for the first time this year. Not only is it a little more manageable than thirty, but it also mirrors the size of a list that fits on one page on BoardGameGeek.

4. Play 10 out of my 20 leftover top games to play. Since 2012, I have maintained a list of Top Games to Play in a year. There are twenty games leftover from those lists, including thirteen from 2016, that I have chosen not to transfer to my 2017 list, which is composed of all-new games. Although these games are no longer listed in my Top 25 to play, I would still like to play them at some point, so I'm consciously keeping them in a list.

5. Play 20 out of top 25 games to replay. I made a list of top games to replay for the first time in 2016, and I made decent success on my list (ten of twenty). It seemed necessary to do so, considering that I had played almost a hundred new games in 2015; it seems even more necessary now that I played over another hundred games for the first time this year. There are a few carryovers from last year, but many of these games are new to this list for 2017.

6. Increase my h-index to 22. This is the one concession I have to prioritizing certain games throughout the year, as this goal will mean that I play certain games repeatedly in order to get to 22 plays on those games. I currently only have twelve games at twenty-two or more plays, but I have another 13 that between fifteen and nineteen plays. The minimum number of plays it would take to hit 20 would be 14, if I play the games I have played the most in that range. An h-index of 21 would take a minimum of 26 plays on those games, and it would take a minimum of 41 plays on those games to get to 22 plays. It will mean that I have to be more directed with those ten games in my plays - that list, incidentally, consists of At the Gates of Loyang, Battle Line, Citadels, Eminent Domain, Fleet, Glory to Rome, Innovation, Kingdom Builder, Lords of Waterdeep, and The Resistance, with Galaxy Trucker, San Juan, and my own design Pot O' Gold also in the mix - but I am okay with one such challenge on my radar.

7. Attend a convention. Although there are several quarterly events here that function as mini-conventions, I have not attended a full convention since 2014, so I would love to get to one this year. This also bridges the gap between my play-based and game design goals as part of the reason I would love to be at a con would be to either sell one of my published games or to play test another prototype; whether that happens or not, however, does not deter my desire to go to a con.

8. Publish Pot O' Gold. This has been on my list for a few years, but I feel as though I am closer than I have ever been to finishing this goal, especially because I need to get it out of the way so I can focus on my next design...

9. Finish the prototype First Past the Post. My next design is significantly underway. I'm excited for how it is developing, and I am hoping to get this game about the Canadian electoral system into prototype testing in the next six months to celebrate the Canadian Sesquicentennial - the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

10. Start a game design / review website. This is by far my most ambitious goal for the year, but I am hoping - along with my game design group - to start a website devoted not only to promoting our own work but to reviewing others and providing content through reviews and features.


As you might be able to tell, board gaming continues to be my primary hobby right now, and I devote a not-insignificant amount of time and attention to my various pursuits within the hobby. The past two years have been very rewarding, and I am looking forward to another strong year of gaming in 2017.

Board games continue to be a significant way that I connect with people, and I am looking forward not only to the games I will play (and design), but also the ways in which I will share those experiences with others, including through this blog. Thanks for being part of the journey, and I look forward to seeing many of you on the other side of the table over the coming year.


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