Saturday, July 14, 2018

Codenames - Boardgame review and game night report

A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the game Codenames. When it first came out it was all the rage and was getting a ton of buzz. When I heard the initial descriptions of the game, I was a little skeptical and wondered how it would catch on with my normal gaming friends, family and other groups of gamers since we don't often go in for party-style guessing games. Once I finally tried it, I decided it was worthwhile and wanted to introduce it to my family. It was a quick hit. Everybody really enjoyed it and was excited to play both as a guesser and as clue givers.

That winter I was going to a family holiday gathering with extended familiy and was asked to bring games. I packed Codenames. Knowing that there would be younger kids there, I went out and bought a copy of the Disney version to bring along. Once again, I was a little skeptical as to whether or not it would go over well and work with younger kids and once again I was pleasantly surprised. Just this past month, I was selected by #Tryazon to be a participant in a Codenames party night showcasing Codenames Disney and Codenames Marvel. I got a copy of the Marvel version and sent out invites.

Party night came and I set up Codenames Disney and Codenames Marvel to meet the tastes of whoever showed up. We had a great mix of kids and adults and some wanted to bounce between versions because of enjoyment for the characters and concepts found in each version. We even had a Chinese exchange student come play. Her English skills were limited but due to the nature of the game she was able to hold her own and was a successful guesser on her team (she didn't want to try and provide clues). Of those who played, only 3 people (including myself) had played Codenames before. Everyone else really enjoyed the game and felt like it was a great title that's easily accessible for pretty much any group. One person was playing Marvel and acknowledged knowing almost nothing about Marvel characters or stories and yet she was able to fully participate and have fun as well.

The Codenames game night really showcased what I've come to love about the game. Codenames is a game with a simple concept that can be played by almost any age or crowd. It can easily accomodate teams of almost any size as long as they can fit around the table and see the cards. It plays quickly which allows for players to jump in and out easily depending on their scheduling opportunities which means you could have an ongoing game of Codenames throughout your entire game night with packs of rotating players as they wait for other games to start or end...or they could just play Codenames all night.

I still haven't tried out the Co-Op "Duet" version of Codenames but based on enjoyment of the game so far, I'm fairly confident that it will also be a hit.

Bottom line, if you haven't yet tried Codenames, you probably should. Unless you are strictly limited to 2-3 player games, this is a game that should be in your library (and now they have Duet for the small player count). I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Book Review - The Slow Regard of Silent Things

Having read (and thoroughly enjoyed) the first two books in "The Kingkiller Chronicle," I found myself in the same predicament as other fans. I now must patiently wait for the conclusion to be finalized. And with no specified release date, there's no telling how long we have to wait. I found my way into the author's picture books about The Princess and Mr. Whiffle and I started following his blog. A friend of mine talked with me about this book (The Slow Regard of Silent Things) and pointed out that he didn't really like it much but that it was interesting. With that intro, I sought out Slow Regard and began to read.

From the very beginning, Rothfuss lets you know that "You may not want...this book...This is a bit of a strange story. It doesn't do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do." Starting out with a strong apology is an interesting tactic. Often such an apology can be viewed as a non-apology and more of a challenge. Rothfuss does set up some distinct warnings (such as "this is NOT book three" or rather this does not continue Kvothe's storyline. Also, if you haven't read his other books, "don't…start here.") The rest of the warning felt more like a challenge to me to figure out what this book is about and/or why it was written/published.

Books Read in 2018

For the past few years (2017, 20162015, 2014, 20132012, 2011, 2010, 2009) I've had a goal to read and review a bunch of books over the course of each year.

My goal had been to average a book per week and end up with 50 books read and reviewed at the end of the year. I usually don't include smaller books (early middle grade, picture books, etc) unless I feel really strongly about them. For the past couple of years I've dropped well below my 50 and only ended up reviewing 14 books last year (though I did read more than that). I don't know if I'll get back to the ~50 range, but we'll see what I can do. Wish me luck.

  1. Cloud Atlas
  2. Artemis
  3. Anthem
  4. The Slow Regard of Silent Things

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Book Review - Anthem

On a whim, I decided to read Anthem by Ayn Rand. I'd noticed it popping up on Middle School and High School reading lists in recent years. Since this book wasn't part of the reading curriculum in my school years I was curious to read it and see why it was being revisited now.

As I started reading I made a couple of early observations. First was the odd usage of point of view and pronouns. If you've read the synopsis or any brief outlines of the book you are aware that this book is set in a dystopia where individualism has been eradicated to the sense that the idea of "I" or "me" has been eliminated. Thus, while the book is written in "first person", it is written in first person "plural." That is, the narrator speaks and writes using "we" to narrate rather than "I." Even as he speaks of actions he did alone, he writes "we" rather than "I."

The other observation I made was that of simplicity. The sentence structure and the delivery of ideas and concepts was very blunt and matter of fact. While there were certainly a lot of nuances and details still left to be learned about this world and the people inhabiting it, the sentences and observations were very to the point. As such, Rand's messages quickly became very clear and often felt a little heavy handed and over the top.

As you might expect in a world without individualism, I found the characters and the world to lack in terms of depth. Our narrator (whose name was "Equality-7###") was the only character with any depth to him at all and that was presented as an abomination and subversive to society. Indeed, everyone and everything was expected to be precisely the same and completely equal.

The story of the book progresses as you might expect with the primary tension being because of the narrator's break from same-ness and the consequences of that break if, and when, it is discovered. With more than a century of dystopic fiction (and a recent resurgence in the past decade), it was fairly easy to predict how things might play out. As a result, the story and the plot obviously aren't the most compelling things about this book.

Rather, this book is more a book of philosophy. As the title suggests, this could be seen as a sort of celebration or eulogy. This book is meant as a way for readers to forge their own personal "anthem" in celebration of their individualism and rights to be their own person.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book Review - Artemis

With the wild success of Andy Weir's first book, The Martian, it was no surprise that he would write another book and it was even less of a surprise that people clamored for their copies of his follow up novel Artemis. I was intrigued to read his next offering but I lagged the rabid fans and am 'finally' reading Artemis about 6 months after release.

For readers comparing Artemis to The Martian, they will find some similarities and some differences. Weir maintained the snarky, sarcastic style and wit of his main character along with plenty of scientific explanation and information throughout the story. He also works to maintain a balance of action and suspense. The main differences come in terms of the story structure and plot flow. As I was reading the novel, part of me kept wanting to compare it with the plot of The Martian and by doing this I found myself discounting Artemis. Once I separated the plot of the two novels and only compared them in terms of style and tone, I gave Artemis a fairer shake.

Rather than spending a "man versus nature" story of Astronaut Watney stranded on Mars trying to survive, we have a "man (woman) vs. man" novel. Our main character, Jazz Bashara, lives in the populated moon city of Artemis. And Artemis should certainly be classified a city rather than a "space station" or "moon base." The later terms would evoke thoughts of space shuttle or space station missions of recent years where human populations are in the single- or low double-digit values. Artemis is a city of 2000 people with a bustling economy and many human dymanics. Jazz works as a porter, delivering goods to various portions of the city but also using her legitimate job as the perfect cover for her more lucrative job as a smuggler of contraband goods. Thus, the human interactions become critical to the plot in a way that seldom happened in The Martian.