An Intro to Board Games

Both Papa Bear and I grew up playing board games. In fact, when asked if he liked growing up with three brothers, he says, “Yes, because we always had a perfect amount of people for games.” I’m sure he likes his brothers for other reasons too, but it’s hard to say.

As an only child, I prefer to think that I was just super creative when I wanted to play a game and couldn’t wrangle together anyone else. After all, playing by oneself is almost a surefire way to win.

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I’m also going to lose, unfortunately.
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Though we grew up with games like Mastermind, Scrabble, Life, and Monopoly (So. Much. Monopoly.), our tastes have changed in recent years. It all started when a good friend gifted us with Dominion for our wedding.

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More on this later.
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Any good game involves a certain level of strategy, but what Dominion introduced us to was a whole new world that took those strategies to the next level. (For what it’s worth, bad games involve strategy too, but the goal is usually to end the game as soon as possible. Here’s looking at you, Candyland.)

In this new world, games are more complex. When I asked my game group to describe what makes these games different, they said that, unlike Monopoly or Life, for example, these require “meaningful decisions.” Because there is much less left to chance (e.g., rolling a die or spinning a wheel), you are responsible for your outcomes. Each action must be carefully planned as it can greatly affect your and your opponent’s future strategies. In turn, each time you play is very different from the last.

Now, I don’t mean to sound snobbish. There is a time and a place for games like Monopoly and Life. To me, one of the greatest things about board games is that they encourage conversation and interaction. Nearly any game allows for fun interchange, even those where “fun interchange” may be better described as “contentious debate.” Plus, many of us grew up playing these games. Playing them later in life can be fun for purely nostalgic reasons. Furthermore, they are great for teaching both kids and adults how to play board games. They introduce turn order and help people learn how to read game rules, win and lose with grace (sometimes), and generally have fun playing games.

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These faces strike a chord with my sentimental heart.
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Let me step back, though. Before we go too far down the board game path, let’s start with some basics.

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A Quick Board Game Primer

A board gamer’s best friend: BoardGameGeek

Simply put, BoardGameGeek is a database for board games and it pretty much contains anything you’d possibly want to know about any game. I like to use it to research games before we buy them, read forums for recommendations of what to buy next in any certain category, search for rule clarifications, and log my game plays. If you think that’s a lot, you should see how Papa Bear uses the site. He basically lives and breathes “BGG.”

Board game categories

BGG helpfully classifies games in a few ways: type, category, and mechanism. Here are BGG’s “types” of games:

While these categories and descriptions are generally helpful, and will earn you points if you use them correctly in the gaming community, it’s important to remember that some games span across categories. So if you think you only enjoy party games, you may be surprised to find out that some of your favorites are also considered to be thematic games. You may be a bigger board game geek than you thought!

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This guy is so excited about games that he decided to dress up as a blue meeple at the beach!*
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Where to begin

Based on the above descriptions, you may be drawn to a particular kind of game. You’ve likely already played a party game in recent years. If you have any friends who like to play games, ask them to play. I’ve never met a board game fan who will turn down a game night. If you don’t know any game lovers, check out a local board game store. For me, it’s the Chicagoland Games: Dice Dojo on Broadway and Bryn Mawr.

Going to your local store is great for a few reasons: 1. Any purchase would help support a local business; 2. They usually have demo libraries full of games you can try before you buy (with no pressure to buy at all); and 3. They typically host open game nights. The Dojo, for example, hosts an open board game night each Wednesday. There, you can meet like-minded people and try your hand at a new game. You are most likely not the only person unfamiliar with the game, so the environment is very conducive to learning and asking questions.

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Open game night at the Dojo. You can see a sliver of the demo wall on the right. They have so many games to try.
[Source: Me, after participating in a great open game night at the Dojo]

Now, since I tend to like strategy games (and party games) best, and since that’s kind of what I started off talking about here, I’d personally recommend starting with Dominion. Admittedly, I have no other frame of reference, but I think it’s a fun game that’s easy to learn and play in a relatively short amount of time. Another popular starting point for strategy games is Catan, formerly known as Settlers of Catan or “Settlers.”

Learning to play a new game

I’ll admit, when we first started playing Dominion, I found the eight-page rule book to be rather daunting. Now, I find eight-page rule books to be refreshingly short.

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“Time out. I don’t want to read eight pages of rules. What else can I do?”
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There are several ways to learn how to play a new game. Over time I’ve realized that, in order of preference, I like to:

  1. Play with someone who already knows the game;
  2. Watch an overview video; and/or
  3. Read through the rule book.

Playing with people who know the game. Assuming your friends are somewhat articulate, it’s easiest to learn how to play a game from people who have already played it, especially if they’re played more than once. After a brief summary of components and rules, I often find that it’s easiest to just start playing and asking questions along the way. Sure, you may not be able to form a solid strategy yet, but there’s no better way to improve than by making mistakes. Plus, if you totally suck it up the first time, imagine how surprised they’ll be when you dominate the second time around.

Watching an overview video. Now, let’s say you know you’re going to play a game but you don’t own it and your friends aren’t with you yet. Save everyone the time and energy of having someone explain it by watching an overview video first. Good ones (like the Watch It Played series) will provide a succinct review of the basic game play and may even throw out a few ideas for strategy. The Dice Tower also has some nice videos.

Reading the rules. Finally, it never hurts to learn a game by simply reading the rules the designers took so long to write. In my experience, they become easier to understand the more games you play and rule books you read.

Regardless of how I initially learn a game, I find it to be very insightful to read through the rule book again after playing once. With a basic understanding of the game down, it’s easier to understand some of the intricacies of the rules. It’s also helpful because you realize what you did incorrectly the first time. Oops.

Ready to Play?

Enough talking about what kinds of games are out there and how to learn how to play them. It’s time for you to just start playing!

Have no friends? There are several solo games. Have a lot of friends? Grab a party game. Have just a medium amount of friends? You’re in luck, because there are a gazillion for two to four players.

Because I talked up Dominion a couple of times throughout this post, look for a follow-up that gives a little more detail about the game and why Papa Bear and I like it so much.

(Edit: Here’s the Dominion review.)

Again, the best part of playing games is the social element (although I do love a good mental challenge and some healthy competition). So while you (eagerly) wait to learn more about Dominion, feel free to ask questions or comment with your personal favorites.

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Yes, I’m using a Monopoly board as the final image on a post where I kind of bash Monopoly. 
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*A meeple is a little wooden figure used in board games.

 

 

 

Motherhood: A Land of Irrationality

Motherhood opens your mind to its own dark recesses, ones you never knew were there. Even within the first few minutes of having Baby Brown Bear, I started worrying. I worried that he was cold, that he wouldn’t be able to do the baby-led crawl to the breast, that he was pooping too much on me (the latter to which the answer is probably always a yes).

I used to think my grandma worried too much when she told me to be careful about the most ridiculous things. “Be careful when opening your plastic Easter eggs because they could slice your fingers!” Um, okay.

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The sharp edges of a plastic Easter egg.

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I also saw how much my mom worried, especially once I moved away from home. Granted, it was probably smart of her to be worried about my 18-year-old idiotic self. Still, it never seemed to end. And hasn’t to this day. “Yes, Mom, there are other people riding the ‘L’ with me at 4:00 p.m.”

Then I became a mother and I suddenly understood.

Even though my baby is not even a year old, I can only imagine how nervous I’ll be when he starts to become more independent. Driving? By HIMSELF?! Forget it.

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Is this what it feels like for parents when their kids start to drive?

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While my imagination has always been colorful, the most irrational fear I had before baby was one of snakes. Motherhood, on the other hand, has brought to light a whole host of things I never realized I needed to worry about. Though, to be fair, the thought of snakes anywhere near Baby Brown Bear is especially horrifying.

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Yes, I can only tolerate a cartoon snake because even pictures of real ones scare me.

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In the last eight months, at least three scary scenarios have popped into my head each day regarding the safety of my baby and/or me. While I think it’s important to be aware of our surroundings and mindful of the people nearest us, I do have the tendency to take things a little far and worry about the unlikeliest of issues.

On the more realistic end of what I’m talking about, I recall that on our first stroller walk after Baby Brown Bear was born, I yelled at Papa Bear to push the stroller with two hands. “You drive a car with two hands. Why on Earth wouldn’t you drive our baby’s stroller with two hands?” In my mind, the tire would hit a sidewalk crack at an angle, jolt uncontrollably, and roll into oncoming street traffic. Even though there are about six feet of grass between the sidewalk and the street.

But that’s pretty tame compared to what I really mean.

Top Three Irrational Fears Thus Far, or, Why My Brain Needs a Chill Pill

From what I can remember (and there’s a lot of baby-induced memory loss going on here), below are probably the top three most irrational, improbable situations I’ve envisioned since Baby Bear was born.

3. Strangers throwing acid on my baby.

I remember this one clearly. Baby Bear and I were walking with the stroller when he was about two months old. At the time, he was still in his car seat attachment, so he was facing me. As we walked past a laundromat, I saw two people on the sidewalk in front of us with their backs turned. Before I knew it, I pictured these people waiting until we walked by, then lunging forward and heaving hydrochloric acid into the stroller. Of course, I then tried to figure out how I would intercept the throw and block the acid with my own skin. Then this led me to think about how this would likely incapacitate me for long enough for the acid throwers to steal the baby. Would I be able to crawl and tackle them? Call 911? Would anyone on the street help me or would it be a Kitty Genovese situation? Dammit, I’ve always hated doing laundry and this is probably why.

laundromat

Getting stuck inside a washer is the least of my concerns.

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2. A ghost haunting Baby Bear’s bedroom at night.

Luckily for us, Baby Brown Bear is a pretty amazing sleeper (knock on wood this continues). His naps can be hit or miss, but his nighttime sleep is one for the books. That’s why, on the rare occasions when he wakes up screaming, I naturally wonder if he’s not being haunted by a malevolent ghost. What else would cause him to go from zero to 60 in the course of 10 seconds?

As soon as this thought initially occurred to me, I had to wake up my husband because I could be thinking it alone in the dark. Then I felt bad that I didn’t rush into the baby’s room because, if he really were being haunted by a ghost, shouldn’t I be the one to save him and send it away? In the time it took me to think through all these things, he stopped screaming. It must have been a friendly ghost who just scared him by showing up unexpectedly, I guess. Carry on, affable spirit.

the shining

This confession bear is, sadly, my own. I suppose I’m prone to middle-of-the-night irrationality. More on The Shining later.

[Source: My own pitiful, adult self]

1. A zombie apocalypse occurring while we are away from home. 

As Baby Bear and I were packing to leave for a trip to Denver without Papa Bear, I was suddenly seized with fear. What if, while we were gone, the zombie apocalypse broke out? I’ve already read too much about zombies thought about this kind of situation before, but not since I had the baby. Obviously there were several things to consider: 1. How would I communicate with my husband and family when the world’s communications systems stopped working?; 2. Would I be able to keep my six-month-old quiet or would he immediately attract all the zombies around us with his cries and babble?; 3. Would my husband be able to escape Chicago or would the city be too overrun when he realized he needed to leave? Assuming he wouldn’t be a sure goner, I had to plan. (Note: I never once doubted my own survival skills. This girl is prepared.)

Since the zombies in my mind are of the Max Brooks variety (i.e., sluggish and slowed down by cold), I threw together a rough strategy. Given that I had only one night before we left, it would have to suffice. When my husband came home that evening, I told him our plan: we’d reconvene in the countryside outside of Winnipeg since it was far enough north that the zombies would freeze in the winter and was situated roughly half way between Denver and Chicago. To which he responded, “Wait, what plan is this?”

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Lord, please let George R. R. Martin be wrong. My snow plans would be f***ed.

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I’d like to say that over time these bizarre thoughts will fade, but if I’m honest with myself, I know better. In fact, I’m sure they’ll just become even stranger and more irrational.

But you know what? If they help me over prepare, I’m all for it. After all, I’m signed up for the long haul no matter what.

What are some of your strangest and most irrational fears?

Book Club: An Introspective

I love books. I love the feel of books, I love the smell of books, I love taste of books (kidding). I love reading books. Hell, I even love reading about books (thank goodness for Goodreads). As such, I also love talking about books. It makes sense, then, that I’d love book clubs as they are the intersection of reading and discussing.

bibliophile

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Over the last decade, I’ve been a founder and/or member of a handful of book clubs. Some have been with friends, others with strangers. Some have had wonderfully clever names (Bibliophiles Beets Battlestar Gallactica Book Club–circa the years of Dwight and Jim’s hijinks), others have been more to the point (Corpus Christi Book Club). Some have worked well, others have failed. Sometimes a successful meeting will consist of only three members. Other times, it takes a whole room of people to get the conversation going.

If you’ve ever participated in a book club, you may know just how difficult it can be to get one started in earnest or how hard it is to keep the momentum going.

Because I could talk about how much I love book clubs forever, I’ve decided to reflect on what it is that works well and, just as importantly, what doesn’t when forming and maintaining a book club.

Building That Bibliophile Base

Starting a book club is exciting. You love to read and you probably have a few friends who love to read. So why is actually making a book club happen so difficult?

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The dos:

  • Do start small. Invite a few people you know who love to read and expect to build your club membership over time.
  • Do add diversity. Yes, even close friends have unique perspectives to bring to a club. In my experience, though, a diverse group of ages, genders, or even just circles of friends makes for the best discussions. The love of books is a powerful relationship binder even when you have not much else in common.
  • Do schedule your first meeting. A month or two out, go ahead and start turning the wheels. Act as the first host, figure out what kinds of books people want to read, choose the first book (I suggest starting with a shorter book so as to not scare would-be members off), then just pick a date that works for people. If you have a lot of people trying to chime in, I suggest using an online scheduling tool like Doodle. As far as the location goes, if you don’t want to host in your own home, a local coffee shop (with enough seating) works well, too.
  • Do figure out who you are. Are you a genre-specific book club or will you read across genres? Fiction, non-fiction, or a mix? I’ve admittedly only belonged to the variety camp because one of my favorite things about a book club is that it encourages people to read outside their comfort zones. One member recently told me that joining our book club has made her enjoy fiction for the first time in years. She said she never would have realized she liked it had she not been in the club because she never chooses fiction for herself. What a compliment!

The don’ts:

  • Don’t be afraid to remind people. After you determine your first date, create a calendar invite (Google Calendar, Evite, etc.) to actually get it on everyone’s calendars. Even after that, ask people if they’ve started reading. Engage your members in teaser discussions to help build excitement for the meeting. Remind them of the date a few times so you don’t have a meeting of no-shows. This may sound like overkill, but trust me, it’s not.
  • Don’t come without some discussion questions. Sometimes a book is so thought-provoking that people come armed with questions or discussion topics. Other times, the conversation may be slower to start. This is totally normal. As the host, though, it’s never a bad idea to have a few ideas in your back pocket. You can easily browse the title of the book with “discussion topics,” but I’d also suggest looking at LitLovers for some thoughtful questions.
  • Don’t be too formal. A book club is supposed to be a fun hobby. No one wants to participate in one that’s rigid. Even if you don’t know people well, help foster a warm and welcoming environment and invite everyone to participate without calling on anyone. Similarly, don’t freak out if someone hasn’t finished the book. This will almost inevitably happen to you at some point too. Our book club’s rule is that we will discuss the ending, so if you come to the club, you should expect spoilers. That said, you’d be surprised how captivating a conversation can be even when only a few people have actually finished.
  • Don’t forget to choose the next host. Even if you decide to have each meeting take place at a neutral location, I suggest designating a different host for each one. In my most successful clubs, the person who hosts is responsible for choosing the next book (or, if they have no preference, opening the floor for suggestions). They will also be responsible for meeting reminders and discussion questions. Rotating hosts helps everyone feel responsibility and ownership for the group and keeps it from becoming a burden for one person.
  • Don’t forget to schedule your next meeting. Before you leave your first meeting, you should decide when you will meet next. In fact, you should determine the cadence with which you plan to meet (e.g., monthly) and, ideally, the timing (e.g., the third Sunday of each month at 3:00 p.m.). This helps people set their calendars ahead of time (knowing that some months will need to be more flexible). Regardless of what you choose, I’ve found that waiting to poll people on their availability after the meeting ends often means the next meeting will be delayed. Be respectful of the people who took the time to come and cater to their needs first. Anyone else will come if they can.

Keeping Up with the Book Club-dashians

You’ve had your first, maybe even second or third, meeting! Now what?

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The dos:

  • Do encourage people to invite others. It’s a great problem to have if your book club is expanding enough that you need to break up into smaller discussions because there are too many people for one. Tell people to invite their friends, coworkers, or anyone who would be an interested and respectful addition to your club.
  • Do take advantage of social media. Facebook has been a great tool for my book club. The host posts the meeting information each month (date, time, location, and book) and tags anyone who has specifically expressed interest to make sure they see it. We also share relevant links with each other (like “20 Books You Can’t Put Down” or “The Andrew Luck Book Club“). Other clubs I’ve been in have used tools like Meetup, which is especially helpful if you want an open invitation to anyone in your area.
  • Do reflect on what works for your club. If monthly meetings become too stressful or the books you’re choosing are too long, it’s time to evaluate and change something to make the club fun. If you’ve determined that you don’t want to just read science fiction, try a new genre. Nothing you decide has to be permanent. Experiment a little until you find what works best for your group.
  • Do be flexible. Sometimes, especially over the holidays, people are too busy to meet and it is easiest and least stressful for everyone to just push back the meeting by a month. Just make sure to get the next date on the calendar as soon as you can so you don’t fall into a cycle of delays and cancellations.

The don’ts:

  • Don’t be afraid to let people go. Book club membership will wax and wane. That’s just how it goes. Sometimes people lose interest, become too busy, move, or just fall out of the reading habit. It happens and you just have to move on. It’s most likely not personal.
  • Don’t be too bummed when people flake. Similarly, sometimes you choose a book that everyone is excited about and a bunch of people RSVP yes only to have only two or three actually show up. Life sometimes gets in the way! Just remember that a conversation between two people can be equally engaging as one with seven.
  • Don’t forget to include food and drink. Remember, book clubs are social events. If you host a meeting at your home, I encourage you to do a little potluck with food and drinks (alcoholic or non). A little chitchat is fun and healthy. These people may become good friends of yours, so you’ll want to allow yourselves time to catch up, have a drink, and grab food before you dive into your book discussion.

The Gist

Remember, a book club is supposed to be FUN! They shouldn’t cause you to stress or hate reading. Instead, they should just fuel the fire that is your love of all things books. Now get out there and join an existing club or start one of your own!

I’m happy to answer any questions you have regarding my own book clubs, but I’d also love to hear your dos and don’ts in the comments.

book love

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Baby Brown Bear Welcome

Welcome to, and thank you for visiting, this blog! The result of several months of saying, “I miss writing,” it’s my goal to post semi-regularly about a variety of topics relevant to my life.

As mentioned, I’m based in Chicago, specifically in a neighborhood called Lincoln Square. I also am a new-ish mother–Baby Brown Bear Wear is eight months old as of this post–and have decided to stay at home with him for a little while. These factors, plus the tendency to go stir crazy rather quickly, lend themselves to a lot of fun adventures around the city. Stick with me and I’ll share some of them with you.

Since motherhood sometimes makes me feel like I have a dual persona, that of a mother and that as an adult woman, my “adult woman” self loves to eat (and cook when I can motivate myself), read, exercise, play board games, and travel, among other things I’m sure I’m forgetting (I’m loath to admit it, but “mommy brain” is a real thing sometimes). Because we all need balance in our lives, I’ll make sure to include a good amount on these things too.

While I’m sure I’ll entertain myself if nothing else, I do hope you’ll be entertained along the way, too.