The Best Of The Thoughful Gamer In 2018

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We’ve done it, folks! We’ve made it another year and now I have to remember it’s 2019 for all those times I have to write the date on something. Before looking ahead to the bright, glorious future, maybe we should take a look at the dreary past. Or nice past? I don’t know what I’m supposed to think about the new year. Since I’ve joined twitter I’ve learned that everything is both great and horrible and that 2018 was the either the worst year ever or fine.

I thought it was pretty good for The Thoughtful Gamer, at least, and while I didn’t accomplish all of my goals, when I looked back I found some articles and podcasts I actually liked. I guess this is sort of narcissistic, but I can’t help myself. Here’s what I’m most proud of from 2018.

Reviews

Reviews were hit and miss this year, and I seemed to alternate between barely scraping them together into something cogent and genuinely enjoying the writing process.

Spirit Island was a highlight of early 2018, and I still love the game dearly. If I was to make my top games of all time list right now, there’s a good shot it’d be #1. The review was a blast to write, as are most reviews where I’m enthusiastic about the quality of the game. It’s one of the longest reviews I’ve ever written but I think it reads much shorter.

I played Harvest around the same time I first played Spirit Island, and even with that point of reference, I had a great time with it. It’s fairly rare to find a game with relatively modest aims that completely nails it. Either it’ll try to do too much or too little. Harvest does exactly what it wants to do, and I think my review of it sums that up well. Plus I got to joke about the turd tokens.

The Castles of Burgundy review clicked into place as soon as I came up with the Bach comparison. I remember having some trouble getting this review off the ground. What do you say about a near-universally loved game from a well-respected designer that many people have played? How do you make that interesting? I took the baroque music metaphor and did my best.

Pumpkin Patch was a bit of a surprise. I think I got the offer to review it out of the blue, and as with many game offers I get, if I’m not certain about the quality I’ll tend to be more willing to accept it if it’s small. But not only did Pumpkin Patch end up being a pretty good game, I had a lot of fun being inspired by its wonderful art for the review.

Finally we get to my review of London, which was written over the course of much too much time as I tried to motivate myself to do anything at all. It was a struggle, but some time during the process it took a turn. I realized that I was writing some of my favorite sentences I’d written in a very long time, and I used that tiny bit of momentum to propel me forward. It’s not a flashy game by any means, and it’s not a flashy review, but I quite like it.

Podcasts

While the holiday season has made podcasting consistently more difficult, I am incredibly proud of what we’ve done this year. I wanted to interview more people and do more topic podcasts, and I succeed. Those ended up being some of my favorites of the year, too.

In interviews, we talked to Isaac Shalev, who happened to be in town. I’m still getting used to these sorts of guest discussions, but it’s certainly easier when they’re sitting across the table from you. He’s a wealth of board game knowledge that was somewhat intimidating, actually.

One of the most fun podcasts was our discussion of football analytics with Sam Wolkenhauer. It’s a bit off-brand but I managed to tie some of it back to board gaming. He’s doing really awesome stuff with sports analytics and I wanted to open you all up to that.

Our most successful podcast ever, and probably my favorite ever, was our discussion with Eric Reuss. I remember I told him it would be 60-90 minutes, but we talked for nearly 3 hours. I only stopped because it was getting late and I felt bad about keeping him there so long. We were still talking game as he gathered his stuff and headed out. I wish the audio quality was better, but I still think it’s great.

Three different topic podcasts stood out to me as interesting. The first was episode 28 where we discussed basic game strategy. I don’t know how we didn’t talk about this before, but I’m already thinking of a sequel of sorts where we discuss more ways to not be horrible at games.

Three episodes later we talked about hindered communication games, which didn’t even occur to me as a topic until I started thinking about the similarities between Deception: Murder in Hong Kong and Codenames. Once that clicked the podcast came together and it was one of the easiest to record we’ve ever done. There’s so much to talk about there.

Finally, we all loved the podcast on randomness. We had been talking about doing this podcast for a very long time, but I finally got it together and it didn’t disappoint. Matt and I had a 20 minute discussion about chaos theory as we were setting up the mics before we realized we should save some of that for the podcast itself. There were a number of sub-topics, and again I think I’ll look at revisiting the topic again in 2019.

Other Writings

As I looked over all that I had written in 2018 what stood out most to me were the more personal pieces. I had forgotten about many of them, and I’m not quite sure if that’s because they’re unmemorable or because they’re a product of the moment I wrote them in. As games become more of my life they seem to connect to other events of my life. I don’t have much to say that isn’t in the pieces, and not all of them are personal, but here they are.

Gloomhaven and the Skinner Box

Is The Mind A Game?

Debate, Board Games, and Culture

Cult of the New

Narrative

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