November 28th, 2010
Happy Thanksgiving everybody! We spent a quiet weekend with just our little family. I was looking forward to cooking a nice Thanksgiving meal.
Instead of turkey, we did Cornish Game Hens. Yum! They were brined in salty cranberry juice, although the flavor of the juice didn't really come through--I'll have to experiment with this a little more.
We also had corn soup using a recipe from Spark, a local restaurant. It turned out really well, although I had to invent an extra step in the recipe--strain the soup through a fine-mesh colander to remove corn skins and celery fibers. It was delicious, probably because it contained a quart and a half of cream.
The mashed potatoes were also really good, my "ultimate mashed potatoes" recipe that includes cream cheese, and serving them in individual bowls with cheese melted on top.
The stuffing was provided by Stove Top. Quick, easy, and yummy.
We spent Black Friday cowering in our homes, safe from the crowds. We did get a great online deal on a 16GB USB drive.
On Saturday, we decided to buy an HDTV--a family Christmas present. After much deliberation we found a good one and set it up. Ethan immediately tested it out with Lego Star Wars.
All in all it's been a fun, relaxing weekend with lots of naps and good times with the family.
June 15th, 2010
My Mom asked me what my top 10 Beatles songs were. I'm don't know everything about the Beatles and their music (although I've learned a lot since marrying Alyssa), so I knew that I couldn't make a list of their most technically impressive songs, or their most culturally important songs. The only list I'm qualified to make is the top 10 Beatles songs that mean something to me.
10. Can't Buy Me Love - This song represents the Beatles of my youth. While growing up, my parents listened to the local oldies station in Denver (KOOL 105) and I was exposed to a number of Beatles songs. Then on a trip to Idaho we listened to the best of the Beatles. I was amazed by how many songs I recognized, but never knew were Beatles songs. There were two tapes, one of their earlier stuff and one of their later stuff. As a kid, I liked the earlier stuff--fun and upbeat, with easy to understand lyrics.
9. Let it Be - I enjoy playing the piano, and I always wanted to learn to play and sing at the same time (you know, to impress the ladies). Problem was, I could only find sheet music that had the melody built in to the music. I didn't want the melody, I just wanted the accompaniment. (You can find that kind of thing now, but when I was a teen--nothing.) Then I went to Japan and discovered that their sheet music was done the right way, so I bought song books for Elton John, Billy Joel, and the Beatles. Let It Be was in that book, and I spent many a happy P-day learning to play it. It has a beautiful chord progression and a lovely melody.
8. Hey Jude - This song was also in the songbook mentioned above, but it's a lot more fun to play. A little bit easier, and a real crowd pleaser--everyone likes to gather around the piano and sing along.
7. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) - One of the title tracks to what is probably my favorite Beatles album. This song is on this list mostly to represent my affection for Beatles: Rockband. From the moment I saw the opening sequence for the game I knew we would need to get this game. As I imagined what it would be like playing it, I most often pictured us playing this song--an energetic song about a band who just enjoys playing the music. This is the Beatles in their prime.
6. I Am the Walrus - Although I liked this song before, I really grew to appreciate it through playing it on Beatles: Rockband over and over. I was trying to get a trophy on the drums -- 350 perfect notes in a row or something like that. Playing that many times I got to know the song pretty well and I really like it. I also like John's supposed reason for creating the song. It seems like some college classes were analyzing the Beatles songs, so John made a nonsensical song to really give them something to think about.
5. Because - This song speaks to my love of great harmonies. I especially like the Anthology version, which is presented a cappella. The harmonies with the slight echo effect are hauntingly beautiful.
4. Nowhere Man - This song is on the list because Alyssa and I would sometimes sing the harmonies together while I played the guitar. I really enjoy singing with Alyssa because she has such a great voice.
3. Maxwell's Silver Hammer - What? Why is this on the list? Nobody likes this song! Even most of the Beatles hated it! Here's why I like it. Alyssa loves the Beatles, so soon after I started seriously dating her, I wanted to get to know the band better. I borrowed some of her CDs and listened to them while driving around. This was my first exposure to some of their lesser-known songs, including this one. I loved the dark imagery of the lyrics contrasting with the upbeat melody. It was very reminiscent of another band I associated with Alyssa, They Might Be Giants. Also, because nobody else likes it, it feels like my own personal Beatles song--my unique connection with the band.
2. Strawberry Fields Forever - I don't know what it is about this song. My fondness for the Beatles matured through listening to a couple of audiobook historical accounts, through watching the Anthology, and various other articles and books. I started really listening to their songs. I remember listening to this song and being so impressed by it. I just thought, "This is my favorite Beatles song." Of course, now it also makes me think of Ethan.
1. We Can Work It Out - This is the most important Beatles song in my life. While Alyssa and I were engaged, we hit a bit of a rough patch. I was working at Checker putting away stuff and thinking about her, me, and our decision to start a new life together. I was questioning whether this was the right choice or not. I said a prayer asking for some kind of sign--some way to work out the problems between us. Right as I thought this, the store radio started playing "We Can Work it Out." The lyrics hit me so hard that I started crying right there in the store. Of course, no matter what problems we have, we can work it out. And we did. And we still do.
January 7th, 2010
Alyssa has wanted this ever since we played it with our friends in CA, the Snells.
The Gist of the Game - Just your regular Munchkin-type game. Players draw a card and try to defeat it if it's an enemy, going up a level if they do. First player to level 10 is the winner.
The Good - One of the better Munchkin variations. The spy theme really fits the gameplay well. Fun to play as a filler.
The Bad - Just another Munchkin game. Highly luck based.
The Verdict - I would rather have this one than Super Munchkin, but it's not at the top of our "Love to Play" list.
I picked up this gem while I was in a science-y phase.
The Gist of the Game - Players take turns placing or moving tiles of different bugs, attempting to surround the other player's Queen Bee. Each type of piece has its own unique movements and abilities.
The Good - This game is a contender for "Most Portable"--the pieces are sturdy and the playing space required is minimal. I really enjoy the theme of this game and each piece's representation matches with its movement (grasshoppers can jump, ants move quickly, etc.) The game is also really easy to learn.
The Bad - It's only two player. Also, once you start to get good, it gets easier to win. You can balancing this by handicapping yourself a couple of pieces though.
The Verdict - Love it. Wish I could play it more often. Great for anyone who likes strategy games like Chess (or bugs).
Got this for a birthday present for my in-laws. Yay!
The Gist of the Game - Players draw domino-like tiles of different colors. Placement on the board will score different points for different colors, but you're final score is based on the amount of points earned for the colors with the fewest points, so you'll need to develop evenly between the colors.
The Good - Quick and easy to learn. Not complicated with extra stuff--a fun abstract.
The Bad - Being an luck-based abstract, there's not a ton to compel me.
The Verdict - I should probably play this more, but it's been overshadowed by other games.
Ticket to Ride - Switzerland Expansion
For shame! We've had this game for forever and we've never played it! I enjoy Ticket to Ride, and this is supposed to be great for two players, so we really should, but we haven't. Consequently, I don't have anything to say about it.
Got this after playing it once with Marin and Ammon.
The Gist of the Game - The submarine is sinking! You need to run around the sub fixing any problems that comes up and survive long enough for rescue. As time passes, more problems come up. Spending more time on a problem increases the chance on fixing it, but the more time you spend, the more problems could come up.
The Good - For some reason I have a fascination with cooperative games, and this one is pretty good. The theme is unique and interesting. It was also pretty inexpensive for a game.
The Bad - Teeny tiny board! Also can suffers the problem of many cooperative games in that bossy players could suggest and direct a milder player into disengagement. Although exciting for the first few times, this game also gets a little old after a few plays as the ideal moves become more obvious.
The first game I bought after moving to Springville. Introduced to me by Anton, a regular attendee of our game nights.
The Gist of the Game - Players try to get 5 tokens in a row by placing and moving rings, which affect the placement of tokens on the board. But the tokens placed can be flipped over to your opponents color if you jump over them with a ring.
The Good - This is one of the best abstract games I've ever played. It's really easy to learn and I've seen beginning players beat seasoned players, which is always nice.
The Bad - Only two players, although Alyssa likes this one more than most other abstract strategy games (mostly because she beats me regularly).
The Verdict - This is part of a set of abstract games called the Gipf project. It's generally regarded as the best of the set, so maybe I'm not missing out on much. Games are quick and I'd happily play this any time.
The clerk at Board Game Revolution talked me into this one when I fully intended to get another game in the Gipf series (see Yinsh above).
The Gist of the Game - Players start with a few coin cards, then use them to buy more cards--more coins, action cards, or victory points. As their deck increases, gameplay gets a little more complicated and interesting. Player with the most victory points at the end wins.
The Good - Easy to learn and pretty fun to play. There are a number of different combinations of action cards that can be played for variation on gameplay.
The Bad - Lots of shuffling as you refresh your draw deck with the discards. Also, there's not a ton of interaction between players, and it can feel a little like 4-person solitaire at times.
The Verdict - Although this has been a really popular game lately, it didn't really grab me the first time I played it. There was hardly any interaction between players and it seemed a little boring. But it's gotten better with more plays and seems to play better with 4 players (Alyssa and I tried it with 2 the first time). It might be more interesting with different action card decks (we used the recommended-for-first-time-players setup). Once you understand the game, it also goes a little faster, which helps. Definitely needs more plays.
Christmas present from my parents. Yay!
The Gist of the Game - Diseases are spreading throughout the globe and the players need to apply the special abilities to control and cure the diseases.
The Good - The best cooperative game I've ever played. Keeps all players engaged by giving them unique roles and the turns move quickly. Also play surprisingly well as a two-player game. Adjustable difficulty level.
The Bad - Only four players. Kind of hard, especially as you increase the difficulty level. I also hear that the game gets a little old after a few plays (although the expansion pack definitely helps, see below).
The Verdict - I had so much fun playing this the first time (and we even lost). The game creates a nice tension. The theme really engages me and I totally feel immersed in the game.
Pandemic: On the Brink
An expansion for Pandemic that I went and got this the day after I played the base game (see above).
The Gist of the Game - Same as pandemic, but it adds new twists like more roles, a mutating virus, a virulent strain, and the possibility for a player to play against everyone else as a bio-terroist.
As a bonus, you got some improvements to the pieces of the original game: small pawns, and improved role, and petri dish containers for the disease cubes.
We haven't really played much with the expansion, so I can't say much, good or bad, about it, but I am looking forward to some of the possibilities.
Jambo: Expansion 2
I hadn't even heard of this until I saw it in the game store, but knew I had to get it.
Jambo is a perennial favorite--probably one of our most commonly played games. This expansion pack balances out the previous one, which allows us to use all the cards (see "The Bad" on my review of the first expansion). It add a few new interesting aspects, such as carpet cards, on which each player controls a side, but that can be rotated to switch the sides. Also new cards, which seem interesting.
For some reason, we didn't play very many games when we lived in Orem. I guess the real reason was that we didn't really have another gaming couple in our ward. So for a good part of the past 7 months since my last entry, we hardly played any board games.
However since we moved to Springville, we've set up a regular gaming group (every other Friday--contact us if you want to come!) and that's increased my exposure to new games--leading me to want to buy them.
I've also started listening to Board Game podcasts. The one I like the best is The Dice Tower. I get the lastest news in board games that way and find out about new and interesting games.
The problem I'm noticing is that I have a ton of games that we hardly play anymore. This list has a lot of games that need more plays, but are getting pushed out by newer games. So I need to play more games, or buy fewer games.
September 15th, 2009
In the months before its release, we geared up for it with several Beatles-themed activities. We re-watched the Beatles Anthology and introduced Ethan to Yellow Submarine. (He actually liked it!) We would have liked to re-watch A Hard Day's Night and Help! (maybe even Magical Mystery Tour if you twisted our arms), but we didn't quite have enough time.
We also spent about a week reading a fascinating article Playing the Beatles Backwards: The Ultimate Countdown written by a Beatles fan/music aficionado in which he ranks all the Beatles songs from least to greatest in terms of their musical/lyrical ingenuity. Although we occasionally disagreed with some of his choices (he thought "Piggies" was superior to "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds"?!?), it was a fitting tribute to the band's genius.
We also built up our anticipation by creating some Beatles artwork. Inspired by the Sesame Street homage to the band as actual beetles, Alyssa drew this on our refrigerator's dry-erase calendar:
Wanting to kill time on a Saturday while we played outside with Ethan, we also spent three hours composing this chalk mural on our driveway:
Here's some details of each of the band members:
When the release day for Rockband finally came, we could hardly contain our excitement. We all drove as a family to pick up our pre-ordered copy as soon as I got off work. We've played it almost every day since it came out and we've had quite a few friends over to try it out. We've really enjoyed our new purchase:
Ethan also loves to play Rockband several times a day. He especially enjoys playing the drums (no surprises there) and can actually use the controller to get to the songs he wants to play.
The other day we were in the car when "Yellow Submarine" popped up on our mp3 player and he shouted out: "It's the BEATLES song!" It totally took us by surprise that he could recognize their music after playing the game a few times. Looks like we've got a budding Beatles fan in the making.
August 24th, 2009
My parents bought a pachinko machine a number of years ago at a garage sale. We played with it when we were kids, so when we went to visit, I got it out for Ethan. He liked it.
Pachinko is played in Japan as a form of gambling. You get a bunch of tiny metal balls, pour them into a machine, and shoot them into the field, hoping to land some in the catchers and getting more balls. After you collect a number of balls, you can turn them in for prizes.
Seeing as I'm a big fan of Japanese stuff, I asked my parents if I could have it. So now it's in my basement. Maybe someday I'll try to get the lights working again. It's really fascinating because it's completely mechanical--nothing electric about it except the lights.
I guess now I'm going to spend my child-rearing years picking up tiny metal balls from all over the basement.