The 2013 Good Gift Games Guide
The 2013 Good Gift Games guide appears in The Morning News today. Kind of a strange list this year, populated almost exclusively with card games. The only games with traditional boards are VivaJava and Eight-Minute Empire (albeit one the size of a large index card). There also no games exclusively for two-players. I was originally going to include Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (see below), but ultimately omitted it from the main list for the crime of Excessive Dryness.
Here are the ten games featured:
- Eight-Minute Empire | Rules: PDF | Purchase: Appears to be out of stock everywhere, but the sequel, Eight-Minute Empire: Legends, will be released on 12/09 according to Amazon and Funagain.
My Other Favorite Games of the Year
The Good Gift Games guide focuses on games that are “easy to learn and teach, fun and engrossing to play, and that can be completed in 90 minutes or less”. I like games that meet these criteria of course, but also enjoy the meatier stuff. Here are five of my favorite mid- to advanced-strategy games of last year or so.
- Android: Netrunner (Fantasy Flight Games, 2 players, 45 minutes): I’m late to the party on this one (it was released in 2012, and is based on a game from the 90s), but holy smokes, Android: Netrunner presses all of my buttons. I’m a sucker for the setting — hackers vs. corporations in a dystopian cyberpunk future — and every element of the game reinforces the theme, from the mechanics to the art to the terminology (the corporation’s draw deck is called “R&D”, for instance). It’s a “living card game”, which means that there are endless expansions to buy, but there is plenty of game in the base set alone. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
- Sentinels of the Multiverse (Greater Than Games, 3-5, 45 minutes): As long as I am confessing to late-adopterism, I should also point out that, after years of being urged to play Sentinels of the Multiverse, I finally did so a few months ago. And yes, everyone was right: it’s right up my alley. Each player has their own, custom deck in this cooperative superhero card game, which pits players against a supervillain and his minions. What elevates the game beyond the basic “play a card, do what it says” filler is the fascinating way in which the good guys, bad guys, environments, and assorted powers interact, providing lots of emergent gameplay to explore. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
- Terra Mystica (Z-Man Games, 2-5 players, 120 minutes): Terra Mystica is very much a euro despite its fantasy theme, a worker placement game that emphasizes resource management and long-term strategy. I’ve had my fill of “point salad” games, but the various races in Mystica set it apart from its brethren: in my three games I’ve played the halflings, the giants, and the nomads, and each has required a completely different approach. There’s a steep learning curve on this one, and you’ll be perpetually checking the rulebook for clarifications, but so far it’s paid hefty dividends on the investment. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
- Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar (Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, 90 minutes hours): My other favorite euro of the year, Tzolk’in has one of the best board game gimmicks in recent memory: a set of interlocking gears that completely regulate the gameplay. You can read my full review at Playtest. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
- Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (Z-Man games, 2 players, 30 minutes): Agricola is a huge, sprawling, complex game, in which 2-5 players have to manage seven types of resources while trying to eke out an existence on a 17th century farm; Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, on the other hand, is its adorable little nephew, allowing two players to just focus on the fun part of farming: chilling with the livestock. To that end the players take turns building fences, constructing stables, and raising sheep, pigs, cows, and horses. And what happens if you have two animals of the same kind at the end of the round? Yay, babies! [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
Don’t trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other “2013 best game of the year” lists. German Game of the Year:
- Winner, Overall: Hanabi
- Runner-Up: Rise of Augustus
- Runner-Up: Qwixx
- First Place: Terra Mystica
- Second Place: Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar
- Third Place: Bruges
- General: Terra Mystica
- Two-Players: Le Havre: The Inland Port
- Game of the Year: Garden Dice
- Family Game: Via Appia
- Strategy Game: Triassic Terror
- Advanced Strategy Game: Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar
- Abstract Strategy Game: Kulami
- Card Game: Morels
- Party Game: HomeStretch
Where to Buy
I dunno about your hometown, but board game stores have recently been cropping up in Seattle like toadstools after a rain. Plug “games” into Google Maps and see what you get. As for online, Amazon now carries just about everything I recommend. Funagain Games is one of the oldest board game retailers and remains one of the best. Others that I’d recommend include:
Need additional info, or want a more specific recommendation? Don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
This is Maciej Cegłowski’s talk from XOXO Fest - one of the best and funniest talks I have ever seen in my life. It was a privilege to get to see this in person, and I’m so excited that everyone will be able to enjoy it now.
About five minutes into Maciej’s talk, the skies opened up and the YU building got slammed with rain, which started dripping on the audience, rattling the windows, and echoing in the hall. As he ended the talk, the rain slowly stopped, and afterwards we were all able to walk outside and just be together outside.
Make a few moments to watch and enjoy this talk, you’ll be happy you did.
"Digital Projection" for the Portland Mercury
view the article here
I WROTE THIS! It’s mostly about how my life is weird on Twitter and for some reason our local alt-weekly put it on the front page? I only saw Mr. Floyd’s gorgeous illustration for the piece after it went to print, but obviously I felt very lucky to have his work next to mine. Look at that, man!
No More Month of Son Reblogs
I’m going to stop reblogging A Month of Son post to the dy tumblr. If you’d like to continue seeing them, please follow amonthofson.com, or read them at the main dy site, defectiveyeti.com. Thanks!
Lord of the Rings
My son loves the playground. I sometime joke that he enjoys monkey bars even more than I enjoy human bars.
Actually, it’s truer to say that he loves playground equipment, regardless of where it’s found. When we installed a pull-up bar in our last home, it quickly became his favorite hangout, so to speak. Given a choice of activities, “hang on the bar!” was often his pick, and he would while away an hour swinging like a trapeze artist preparing to dismount.
In the absence of equipment designed for hanging, he will quickly press something else into service: a door frame, an overhead pipe, even the top edge of the refrigerator. We eventually broke him of the habit of hanging from curtain rods, but only after each had been torn from the wall at least once.
When we moved into our new home, our first order of business was to erect a swing set in the backyard, one that would accommodate him even after he grows out of what is typically considered to be the swing set age range. We ended up with a monstrosity that looks like a Soviet-era oil rig, but also one that will survive the apocalypse with little more than scuffing.
Yesterday, well after his bedtime, my son were in the backyard playing on the swings in the near dark. Leaping off is his new favorite thing, and he would do so seemingly at random. I would push, the swing would reach its zenith, and he would simply continue on, arcing into the night.
Lack of Control
I was an employee of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center when we first began to suspect that our son had ASD. My job at the time was to write programs to analyze data collected in various drug protocols. I didn’t need to know anything about clinical trials to do my job, but after a few years I picked up quite a bit via osmosis. I could speak knowledgeably about phases and informed consent, blinding and double-blinding, and the critical distinction between causation and correlation.
My wife and I also come from scientific backgrounds: she has a degree in chemistry (and works as a botanist), I have a degree in environmental science (and work in the field of software engineering). Not to brag, but we know our way around a null hypothesis.
So when we were approached by the University of Washington Autism Clinic, and asked if we wanted to participate in the Toddler Assessment Project, we enthusiastically agreed. Not only would we get a diagnosis out of the deal, but our participation would help the doctors identify the early signs of autism in other children.
Our son was given a battery of standardized tests and exams before an official assessment was made. The rigor of the process and the staff’s commitment to objective, impartial conclusions were a great comfort to us. They never hesitated to explain to us exactly what they were doing and why; better yet, they were very open about what they didn’t know. I sat by the MRI operator as he gave me a guided tour of my son’s brain, freely admitting that they didn’t know specifically what they were looking for, but were gathering data to advance the science and aid in future diagnoses.
All of this was in stark contrast to our experiences after the study was concluded. When we began seeking treatment options for our son, we were inundated with suggestions from friends and family and casual acquaintances, ranging from the benign (vitamins) to the severe (chelation therapy). Each recommendation came with an assurance that the treatment had worked wonders for someone, be it the child of the speaker, or a son of a friend, or a kid they had read about on the internet.
These suggestions were well-meaning, and I sincerely appreciated the motives of those who made them, but they also gave me fits. Anecdotal evidence is anathema to disciples of the scientific method such as I, but in the fledgling field of autism treatment it was all anyone had to offer. And everything was proposed as possible treatments: dietary modification, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, magnets, auditory integration training, horseback riding, supplements, pharmaceuticals, homeopathic tinctures. Pretty much every form of medicine, Western or Eastern or complementary or alternative, has at one time or another been championed as aiding, or even “curing”, those with autism.
But who really knows? In a clinical trial, you have an intervention group and a control group; you administer the drug or therapy to the first, and leave the latter unaffected. Then, after some period of time, you compare the results. Did the intervention group fare better than the control group, using whatever rigorously defined definition of “better” you’ve adopted? If so, then you had evidence—not proof, never proof—that the intervention was beneficial.
But when you introduce a treatment method to a three-year-old with autism, it is extraordinarily difficult to evaluate its efficacy. What if his communication skills suddenly increase? Isn’t that evidence? You can interpret it as such (and, if you are hoping that the treatment works, confirmation bias will ensure that you do), but maybe the jump in verbal skills was just a normal advance, something that would have happened even had you not administered anything.
Worse, from a clinical point of view, parents will often try several things at once, introducing three new supplements and altering the diet and enrolling the child in art therapy all in the same week, thereby ensuring that they will have no way to determine which of the treatments is responsible for which of the outcomes, assuming that the outcomes are a result of any of the intervention and not just a manifestation of the child’s natural development.
It is maddening. We tried a lot of things, and I’m not sure we can point to any of them and say with conviction that they “helped”, whatever that even means. Our son is on a gluten-free, casein-free diet, for instance, which we adopted shortly after his diagnosis because it is one of the few “alternative” treatments that actually has some scientific support (albeit a single study, with largely inconclusive findings). We keep him on this diet because GFCF foods have become so ubiquitous in Seattle that it’s no more difficult to stick to this diet than any other (protip: Udi’s), and also because … *shrug*, I dunno. Because maybe it’s helping? Because maybe he would have been “worse” had we not kept him on the diet?
That’s what you wind up doing: using an imaginary version of your own child, in a universe where you didn’t administer some treatment, as your control group. You can’t compare him to his peers, because every child with autism develops uniquely, thwarting your attempts to draw conclusions from differing parenting techniques.
Think of a baseball player with an elaborate ritual before every at-bat. He once touched the brim of his ballcap before hitting a home run, so now he always touches his ballcap while warming up; he once hit a triple after tapping his shoe with the bat three times, so shoe tapping goes into the routine. Now he can’t swing until he’s gone through a full minute of seemingly random actions and tics, some that may actually help, others that are pure superstition. He’s unconvinced that any one of them is effective, but he’d be a fool to tempt fate by stopping.
That’s what you become, as a parent of an autistic child. You try various things, latch onto those that preceded a positive development, and stick with them in the hope that you are getting some return for your investment. Empiricism is great on paper, but in the absence of evidence you go with your gut.
Repeat After Me
My son exhibits delayed echolalia, or “scripting” as it is now commonly called. He repeats words and phrases that he’s heard from a variety of sources, sometimes immediately, often after a long period of time. He does this quite frequently, talking to himself as he moves around the house, or during our walks, or while he lay in bed falling asleep.
Everything seems to be fair game, from Dr. Seuss rhymes to radio station jingles to dialogue from his favorite TV shows. Recently he has been on a Curious George jag, so much of his chatter is composed of commands and reprimands given to an unseen monkey.
He may repeat a phrase several times in a row, but he rarely quotes at length from any one source. Usually he strings together snippets from an assortment of media: first a lyric from a song, then a line from an audiobook, then something he’s heard me say. I sometime imagine his head as one of those Powerball machines, with words and phrases written onto the balls, bouncing about and popping out in random order.
There are many hypotheses as to why people with autism script. Some believe it is the communication instinct gone awry, the speaker mimicking conversation by parroting things he’s heard before. Others believe that echolalia is a way to organize thoughts. I don’t pretend to know why my son scripts, though I believe it calms him down. As someone who often sings or whistles songs as he goes about his day, I can relate.
Occasionally he will blurt out something that sounds like communication at first blush. Once he was pacing around the living room chanting “I can change! I can change! I can change!”, as if berating himself for a character flaw. I became genuinely alarmed, thinking that someone at school had chewed him out, and asked him what he was saying. It wasn’t until I prompted him to keep talking, and he continued with the line “if it helps you fall in love”, that I realized he was quoting from an LCD Soundsystem song that I’m pretty sure he had not heard in years.
Another time, while we were driving to the playground, “Creep” by Radiohead came on the radio, and I sang along at the top of my lungs. Upon our arrival we clambered out of the car and headed to the monkey bars. As we reached the perimeter of the equipment my son suddenly stopped in his tracks and softly exclaimed, “what the hell am I doing here?”
What is your favorite part of parenting your son?
My son and I crack each other up. We are hilarious.
When we are not engaged in a specific task, such as getting dressed, or eating your watermelon come on eat it you love watermelon gum why would you not like actual watermelon eat it!, we are often just hanging out together, laughing most of the time. There is an hour window between his evening shower and his bedtime, which is ostensibly “book reading time”, but usually winds up with me stoically intoning “Frog and Toad Are Friends” while feet are rubbed across my beard, or while my son slowly slides behind the cushion of the couch, giggling all the while.
It’s not just his joie de vivre that leaves me in stitches, but his jokes. They are not sophisticated, but he really sells them. Halfway through “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble” he’ll suddenly cry “tickle on your foot!” and I’ll tickle his foot, and then he’ll yell “tickle on your arm!” and I’ll tickle his arm, and then he’ll yell “tickle on your”, and I’ll watch him ponder his options for a moment while a smile creeps across his face, and he’ll end with “swimming pool!”. And I’ll yell “tickle on your swimming pool? That doesn’t even make sense?!” And we’ll both wind up laughing until we’re short on breath.
He’s a great audience as well. If I say something unexpected, or in a funny voice, or even just make up a dumb song on the spot, it’s a guaranteed laugh. No eye rolls, no grimaces, no “oh, dad”, just straight up giggles. It’s very gratifying. We are a comedy club of two.
Given his druthers, my son will listen to pop music. Pop music, and the theme songs to TV shows. He basically uses Netflix Instance as a jukebox, playing the first 30 seconds of a variety of programs just to hear the intros, or jumping around Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey to find the musical sequences.
We usually have the car radio tuned to C89 FM during our drives. But music has a noticeable affect on him: fast songs wind him up, slower tunes calm him down. So when I put him to bed I let him select a playlist from a curated collection, one confined to albums with soporific qualities. This has worked wonders in getting him to sleep. Before he could be up for hours, rolling around in bed, kicking the wall, laughing and whooping; now he listens to music with such an intensity and stillness and he usually drops of to sleep within minutes.
His favorite album is The Kaleidoscope by a local duet called Lemolo, a perfect blend of the eletronica and lilting female voices that he prefers. We carry Kaleidoscope with us on our phones, and even have a CD in the car, ready to deploy in case of meltdown, with the self-titled album by The Lumineers as an emergency back up.
Here is a playlist of songs, taken from my son’s favorite “going to sleep” albums.