Welcome

I guess you are here because you have discovered one of my books and enjoyed it enough to find out more about the author, me. Either that or you’re a potential employer who is investigating me to see if I would be a good fit for your organization. In which case, surprise, I write books as well as teach. Some might look at that as a bad thing, and if so, please explain to me how.

For whoever finds my site, I want to welcome you, and also allow you the opportunity to follow me on a regular basis. Anybody is welcome as long as you keep your posts appropriate, and respect the other followers to this site. As long as everybody follows those two simple rules, I won’t have to kick anybody off. Let the friendly banter begin.

I am hoping to create an interactive site that everybody can enjoy. Of course, I will keep you up to date on the latest writings coming out of my head, and I will also let you know when and where I will be in the world, so someday you might be able to meet me in person. Most people regret that decision, but who knows, maybe you’ll be in the minority.

I will also tell you about my world-wide travels as this is something I do on a regular basis. I’ll show you pictures from places I have been (this one is from Dubrovnik, better known to fans of The Song of Ice and Fire as King’s Landing), and tell you the exciting stories that happen to me along the way. You are also welcome to ask me any questions you may have about the place I have been, and I will try to answer them in a timely manner.

I know it all sounds amazing, and I can see you wondering why you haven’t been a part of this fantastic experience so far, but let me tell you about the most exciting part of following this site – the interactive part.  You were probably wondering when I would get to that part I had promised you earlier. Well, I plan to create a list every month, and I want you to participate in its formation. I do love countdowns, but I am always disappointed in them. So I have decided to take matters into my own hands. You will be able to post your top ten of each monthly list and at the end of each month, I will comprise the total list to give you the countdown for that subject. Look for each new subject on the first day of each month, and the final list of the previous month by the fifteenth.

Otherwise, it is very nice to have you a part of this experience, and I look forward to all of our future posts together.

Saying Goodbye

It is hard to believe that a short two months ago, I sat at the Bangkok airport with all of my bags packed, getting ready to head back to the United States for the first time in two years. As for most people around the world, it had been an interesting two years, and I was excited to get back to see the people I loved. It was going to be a little different from other trips back home because the threat of the pandemic loomed large over everything everybody did, and I was also going to go through the process of moving to a new country at the same time.

Despite all of this fear that was plaguing the world, there was still hope. A vaccine had become available and people were starting to take off their masks to get life back to normal. We were a little worried when we first started looking at coming back that we would have a hard time finding a shot, but by the time we landed in Portland, Oregon, there was enough vaccine in the United States to where we could walk into a local Target and get a vaccine without an appointment. We also were able to leave Thailand just in time. The numbers have skyrocketed in that country for the first time ever with the latest numbers showing over 17,000 new cases just the other day, and it does not look like it is going to slow down anytime soon. I feel for all of the people I left behind in that country, and I worry about them as they struggle through another school year. I hope that they can get things under control soon, and find a place where they can start easing up the restrictions that I got to enjoy while I was living out there.

As I went through my stuff in storage, my sights switched over to Jordan to see how they were handling this crisis. The numbers there a lot lower, but there has been a new creep up that I will keep an eye on. I also look at those numbers for overall vaccination, and though Jordan is not in a place where America is at, they still steadily move in the right direction. It gives me hope for the next year that it will be closer to a normal school year as opposed to the last two, and I will also be going on a new adventure in a new country at the same time.

The summer was still a great time to catch up with friends and family, and meet new characters along the way. I always find myself falling into that comfortability that it means being an American in America. The old relationships feel like we pick them up right where we left them off, and the conveniences that we have come to crave while away are once again taken for granted.

But we were able to discover some new ways that America has evolved as well. I remember being excited about the movie, Chef, right before we started our overseas adventures, but thinking that the land of food trucks that it described was a little taken out of context. There might have been a couple of places where these existed, but there seemed to be more of them during our return visit. It almost seemed that this was the preferred way of dining out, but summertime and Covid might have had something to do with it as well.

That didn’t stop me from searching out the more traditional way of eating out. Of course, I hit my fair share of Mexican restaurants while in Colorado because I needed to get as much green chili as I could. This is my favorite of all food groups, and everybody I meet who has ever eaten green chili understands my love for it, yet I am still confused as to why it can still only be found in three of the four states connected with the four corners region. It makes coming home that much better because I get to have this food again. I still do not believe that I got enough on this trip out, but I still enjoyed what I had.

I also love being able to see the beauty of America every time I am home as well. I am really lucky to be associated with what I consider to be two of the more beautiful states, Oregon and Colorado. I love seeing the mountains and forests that both of these places have to offer. Though I have seen some beautiful and amazing sights all over the world, my heart always returns to the mountains and I don’t think of any place better than these two for me to connect back with them. I was able to spend a good amount of time in them in Oregon, and I wish I would have ventured beyond the foothills during my stay in Colorado.

I was still able to make it outside quite a bit and enjoy the majesty that is Colorado. Whether it was taking long walks in many of the green spaces that can be found in many of Colorado’s neighborhood, or going out to Chatfield Reservoir, I was able to spend a lot of time outside. This is not something that is as enjoyable in a more tropical climate, and there are times of the year where Colorado is better spent indoors, but I was out here during the summertime and this is the perfect time to be outside there.

I was even lucky enough to experience some of the wildlife during my trip. During the last couple of years, I had run into what many would consider exotic animals, with Thailand filled with many types of monkeys, tropical birds, and a variety of reptiles, and snakes. But this is only a matter of perspective. From the other side of the world, a herd of deer or elk is just as exotic as a monitor lizard is to the people of America. Being deprived of this view for so long has made it exciting once again, and I enjoyed it every time I came across the usual herds of animals that I grew up with.

Not everything ended up in taking me to the great outdoors. There were a couple of stops that showed me other great things that America had to offer, and they were not always Target stores. The greatest had to be the new U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs. It was nice to get out to museums once again, and though I had to spend my time in there wearing a mask, I have been doing it so much lately that it no longer bugs me. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon and a great way of celebrating the Olympics this year.

It has been great to get back to America, especially after two years away, but nobody can spend their whole life in rest and relaxation. Like an international school teacher under normal circumstances, I have to get back to the country where my work is, and I am complicating the process by changing schools and countries to Amman, Jordan. So I have packed up my bags, eaten those last meals, and given those last hugs to family and friends, and I have headed off the airport. I am confident that the world is moving in the right direction, and I will not be forced to stay away for as long this time around. So as I head off to a brand new adventure, I say goodbye to America, and guarantee I will be back soon.

The Eternal Guest

I slept in Sakari’s room.

Sakari is a big Alaskan malamute who owns my brother and sister-in-law. She is an easy going dog that likes nothing more than to be petted, long walks, and frozen green beans in her morning and nightly kibble. She usually sleeps in the room that my sister-in-law uses as an office because it is cool at night and nobody else is using it at the time. When guests are in town and are staying with them, they pull out the hideaway from the couch and it takes up the whole room. This means that Sakari needs to find a new place to sleep.

I was unaware of all of this as I got ready for bed. After reading a little bit to get myself sleepy, I decided to go to the bathroom one last time before I slept. This is when I found the place that Sakari had found to sleep for the night. If I was going to take over her room, she would take a different important place in the house, the spot right in front of the toilet, and she wasn’t going to move for any reason.

I get it. Try to explain houseguests to a dog, and they will look at you sideways and wonder who will be taking them on their next walk. They will not understand the delicate balance that takes place as soon as a stranger walks into the house and takes over a little corner of it. They don’t know how long they will be there for, or even why they are there in the first place.

As hard as it is for the dog, it is also difficult for me as the houseguest. I want to make myself at home, but as long as I am there, I know that it will never be my home. I am always stumbling on the routines, and trying to find my place in it, knowing that I will only be there for a short time and will never have a chance of figuring it out. I know that I will never be able to feel completely at home while I am a visitor. There is only one place where you feel completely at home, and that is at home.

I know that as I write this, members of my family will read this, and they will think that I am saying that I am not comfortable in their presence. And this is not what I am saying. I love the summertime as an international teacher because it gives me the opportunity to go home and see my family and spend time with them. I would even say that I have gotten to know them better by moving half way around the world because when I do see them, I get to witness those intimate routines that they have in life, and I get to be a part of them. When I lived in Colorado and got to see them on a regular basis, it was only for celebrations and family gatherings, and there is a small facade that you have to work through because we are always trying to put on the best that are homes have to offer at that time. When you become a houseguest, that facade gets broken down quicker because we can’t and don’t always want to break from the routines that we have created to make us feel comfortable in our own homes.

This makes things a little difficult when you are a houseguest. I feel a little off when I am staying at other people’s places. I want to be polite and respect their routines, but I also can’t just give up mine. It is always a tightrope wire act trying to balance spending time with the people that you are there to see, but not get in their way when they need that downtime that everybody needs to recharge themselves. It feels like everybody is on all the time when there is a houseguest.

Being an international teacher builds on this feeling as well. One of the perks of taking one of these jobs is that the school will purchase a round trip airline ticket for you once a year, so you can go back and visit family. Most people take advantage of this during the summer because they will have lots of time to catch up with family and friends. This means that you will be a houseguest for a long time. This summer is a great example of this. I got two months off to go visit friends and family, and I love to have this opportunity. We get to spend a lot of quality time together and catch up with what has happened over the last year. This time was even more exciting because it had been two years since we had seen each other, and there was a lot of catching up to do. But staying at somebody’s place is a lot different than staying at a hotel room. Even though you are given space in both places, it is never completely your space when you are a houseguest.

This is okay when it only last for a couple of days to a week, but once it starts to extend into time beyond this then things start to become a little bit of an imposition for those whose house you are staying at, and it starts to become a chore living out of a suitcase for that long.

I have loved seeing my family again, and being able to spend time with them, and I know that as soon as I leave, it will only be a short time before I miss them again. But it has come to that time that I need to move on, and get back to my own life. I am pretty sure that the people whose houses I have stayed at are looking forward to getting their space back as well. I know that Sakari was happy to have her room back.

It will be a bittersweet moment when I have to leave in a couple of days, but at the same time it will make it that much better when I get to see everybody again. I will be that guest again, and I look forward to that time, but I also need my own space again as well.

Celebrating Fifty Years

There are always those milestone years that we reach that bring everybody together to celebrate that milestone. They come pretty quick when we are younger: the first time we hit double digit, when we become a teenager, when we turn sixteen and are able to drive, when we turn eighteen and legally become an adult, and when we turn twenty-one and can drink at bars. When we are these ages, we get excited about the days and we look forward to the moments that make it memorable, whether that is a birthday cake, a set of car keys, a new ID, or a collection of empty shot glasses paid for by our friends.

As we get older these milestone years come less and less and eventually they only come every ten years. At first, it is still fun to hold these celebrations, and we try to return to our younger days to prove that we are still young. We quickly learn that time is not working in our favor at this time, and we cannot return to those old ways, and we must think of new ways that we can celebrate the passing of time in our lives. For some people it is the rush to spend the money that we have collected over the years, but most of these outrageous purchases end up being dismissed as a display of our mid-life crises. Others of us create a challenge that reflects the age we are turning while making it obtainable at the same time. It is that step towards a new beginning that shows the world that we are still able to be a factor in our remaining years. It is a show of strength and endurance that reflects the struggles we have been through with our time on Earth.

My brother is hitting one of those milestones today. He is turning a half of a century old, and there will be all of the trappings of such a milestone. There will be a party where friends from all over the world will gather together to celebrate. They will share drink and food, and people will celebrate his fifty years. There will only be one thing missing from this equation, my brother. He will be close by and we will all be sitting on his driveway to wave at him every once in awhile as he makes his occasional presence, but for the most part, we will be celebrating without him. He will be trying to achieve a milestone of his own, fifty miles on his fiftieth birthday.

This will be quite the achievement, and a commend him for making this attempt. He started early this morning on his first five mile loop that will send him back to the front of his house about once every hour. At that time, he will drop off a group of people who ran with him to pick up another group to do another five miles. This way he gets to spend a lot of time with his friends and family on his birthday while trying to prove something to everybody that will not leave him with a weird purchase, or send him to hospital for the poor choices he made. And after he is all finished all of his loved ones will be there to celebrate not only the achievement, but the fact that he has turned one year older. I hope that in a couple of years, I, too, can accomplish something as meaningful as this, but in the meantime, I wish him the best of luck on his ordeal, and I will be there to cheer him on as he finish his epic task.

Olympic City – Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs is Colorado’s second biggest city, and I have come down here from time to time during all my years in Colorado, but most of the time it was for a quick visit, or to pass on through as I went to other locations in Colorado. Very rarely have I spent a whole day in this city even though I knew that there is a lot to do down here that should have attracted my attention. But what better place to go to on the start of the Olympics than the city that houses the United State’s Olympic organization than Colorado Springs.

I did go to a couple places down here, but the biggest was the new Olympic Museum that I was surprised was not busier when I went there. A lot of this might have been about the newness of the building, but also the fact that the Olympics were on TV at that same moment, so why would you want to go to a place that talked about them when you could sit down and watch them instead. It actually might have been a blessing in disguise because it made for a great day to walk through this museum without all of the crowds.

The museum was really interesting and it held a lot of rare items in its exhibits. There was a collection of Olympic torches from over the years, outfits and equipment that were used by some of the most famous of American Olympic athletes, a complete collection of all of the medals that have ever been given out, and even the medals that they one time stripped from Jim Thorpe. It is this kind of stuff that made the museum exciting for adults, but they had a lot of stuff there for younger people as well. There were many interactive places where you could see what it was like to race on skeleton, or be the coach of the Para-Olympic hockey team, or act as a goaltender in the Para-Olympic handball court, or see what it was like to shoot an arrow using an Olympic bow from regulated distance. All of the information from each spot you stopped at was collected on a card that you could access later to see what you learned and how well you did.

Going to the museum made me rethink what Colorado Springs had to offer. Driving around it made it clear that the place really played up the Olympic city image, but it has more depth to it than that. The downtown area has a lot of character not only with its architecture, but also the art painted on the sides of many of them. My favorite one was a painting from an indigenous painter from Colorado Springs that highlighted the red handprint that has come to represent violence that affects indigenous people from Canada, and the United States. I had never heard about this movement until I had come across this mural, and it made me feel inspired by a place that I used to think was so set in their ways would be so willing to display and highlight this important issue in such a prominent part of the city. It made me think that I had prejudged the people of Colorado Springs, and I needed to learn how to be more open-minded in the future so as not to misjudge them. Maybe if more people took the time to do that then we wouldn’t be living in the mess we are right now, and the only way that I can make that happen is if I start doing it myself instead of preaching to other people that they need to see things my way.

No visit would be complete without a nice meal out as well. This came from the Crystal Park Cantina located just outside of town on the way up to the mountains. It was nice to find a place with southwestern version of Mexican food that I crave all of the time that I am away. The food was not the only thing that I enjoyed about the place. It was the perfect place that sat on the hills and made it feel like we were in a small little town instead of the second largest city in the state of Colorado. It was the perfect place to unwind after a long day and talk with my friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. It allowed me to see why Colorado Springs considers itself the Olympic city. It is not only about the big world wide sporting event that takes place every other year, but it is also about the Olympic feeling you get when you go down there. It is a place I have ignored for way too long, and one I will easily consider going back to soon.

A Small Business Story

Covid was hard for the little man. They did not have the resources or the established name to make it through this difficult time. It was even harder for those small restaurants and microbreweries that could not compete with the ones that have a corporate office and can continue to pump money into an establishment in order to keep it alive during this period when hanging out at a place like this is not safe and cannot happen. There are many empty buildings that highlight all of the businesses that did not make it through this period, but it is nice to see the smaller businesses that did make it through. These were the places that were meant to be because they had a product that could withstand the tribulations of this trial. One of these places hangs out on the corner of Prince and Littleton is downtown Littleton called Jackass Hill Brewery.

Now before I tell this story, I do think that it is important for me to explain that part of the reason I have come to this place is because my father’s cousin (which I think makes him my first cousin one time removed, but this is where things get confusing so do not hold me to that definition) is part owner of this establishment. I know that makes it sound like I have a say in trying to help him make it successful and I have written about this microbrewery before, but in full disclosure, I have not been able to come back for two years because I have been living abroad. I did not write about it during the time when it needed it most and it could have helped them make it through the pandemic. This is a story about how they survived the pandemic, and why they are still where they are today.

The last time I visited Jackass Hill Brewery was right before I left for Thailand, and they had been open for only a couple of weeks. They already had an established name from the brewer selling his beer out of his house on top of Jackass Hill, a famous stretch of road that connects Prince Street to Mineral Avenue in Littleton, but this was more of a public announcement of the great beer he was making. It isn’t that big of a place, as it has a bar inside with a couple of tables, and it spills out into the parking lot outside where they have a bunch of picnic tables. They don’t bottle their beer, but you can come out and get a growler filled. They also don’t have a real kitchen. When I went there first, they rented out another part of the parking lot to food trucks, but have since bought their own food truck where you can buy ten different items on a very select menu. The focus of the place is and always will be the beer, which, by the way, from the perspective of a long time beer snob is very good. They have a great Last Man Standing IPA, and fulfilling espresso porter.

It was a great model for a business as long as people kept walking through the door. It took a little bit of time for them to create a name for themselves, but they were able to do it in the first six months and were getting ready to become a steady presence in downtown Littleton.

And then Covid hit.

Businesses had to close down to keep people safe. Restaurants were allowed to sell food to go, and for a brief hour early into the pandemic, people made a mad rush to their liquor stores to buy a supply of drinks when the governor declared that liquor was not an essential services. Luckily that did not last long. It might have had something to do with the panic the announcement caused.

This allowed Jackass Hill Brewery to survive. People could run in and get a growler or two of beer. I don’t think they were able to sell the food, and to get by on only beer made things difficult, but they were able to sell enough of it to say that they had survived the pandemic and they are still around today. But it really came down to the customers that kept them around. They made the effort to make sure that the company survived. They could have gone to their local liquor store to buy their beer. There is not shortage of craft beer at the liquor and grocery stores in Colorado, so it meant something more that these people would continue to come to Jackass Hill Brewery to keep that around. It wasn’t just the beer that they loved. It was the atmosphere of the establishment that they wanted to see at the other side of this dark tunnel we have all traveled through. They wanted this small business to survive, and they are the ones that kept it open.

These are the kinds of stories I have been enjoying during my stay in the United States. It is nice to know that the quality small companies out there had a strong enough product that they were able to have those loyal customers come back to keep them around. I am glad that Americans decided to spend their money here instead of the big corporations that would survive no matter what happened. There is a passion in those small business’s product that you will not find in those bigger organizations, and this is what America needs right now, that passion.

You might not live close to Jackass Hill Brewery, but you know organizations like it. So go out and find your Jackass Hill Brewery and give them the business that they need so we can continue to let the heart and soul of America surivive.

Teaching to the Test

I am now one of those people who is over the age of thirty and living in their parents’ basement. This is not because I am a jobless bum, but rather because I am in-between jobs and in the process of moving from one country to another. My stuff is sprawled over the basement as I sort through what I should take and what I should leave behind. I have to make predictions about what my life will be like in the new country that I am moving to, and what I will need for clothes and for entertainment. Most of this is old habit as I have learned much from past experiences about how to stay informed about my sports teams, and watch their important games, what television shows I can access, how many books and new music will keep me engaged until I can make my way back to the United States, and most importantly how I can engage with my new fellow colleagues. I am excited about the change, and nervous, but not as nervous as I was when I made my first leap to a different country six years ago. The whole reason I don’t feel the same kind of fear of what I was getting into during that first time is because I have lived through it before, and I know a little bit of what I should be expecting. I am prepared. There is something about being prepared and how that helps to reduce stress in your life.

It is part of what I have been doing this past week. Every day, my alarm has been waking me up, so I could crawl over to my computer, hop on to Zoom, and participate in a workshop for a class I will teaching for the first time next year, AP Literature and Composition. I knew a little bit about the class from teaching in an AP school for four years, but I had a few questions that I needed answered to make sure that I could give my students the support that they will need. I have been looking at different lessons, and different texts to use in those different lessons. It has taken me back to my college days and all of the literature classes I took back then. I am sitting in a room with like minded people who love to read and talk about what they read, and it has been fun to engage with texts in this way again. But we have also looked at many students’ essays based on the prompts they might encounter on the test, and we have gone over what the College Board will be looking for when they grade them. It reminds me of the drudgery I go through any time I have student plop a completed essay on to my desk and the task I have to go through in order to grade them all and get the feedback to them. Granted, these are the higher end students writing literary analysis and for the most part, they are engaging and well written. Also, most of these essays were written in a time period of only forty minutes, so they do not take that long to grade. But I appreciated the opportunity to look at this final product because it helped me understand where I need to get my students in order to be successful in this class and on this exam.

This gets me to one of the biggest discussions that teachers have when they are assigned to one of these classes with a big exam at the end of it. Should I be teaching to this test or does that do my students a great disservice because I am not preparing them for the more important thing, life? I do believe that this is an important question to examine. If I am being honest, there will be very few of my students who will need to know how to to write a good literary analysis essay in order to be successful in life. There are very few professions that need to know how to do this, so why should I spend so much time nurturing this skill within my students? Wouldn’t the time be better spent exploring the ideas presented in the literature and having my students talk about these issues to become better citizens after they have graduated from high school? Does the test actually measure their ability to do this, and why do a bunch of dead white males hold the keys to this kind of profound thinking?

But then again I look at the reason I love literature so much, and why I want to instill that same kind of love into my students. There is a reason that the most successful people have the ability, desire, and ambition to read a large amount of fiction in common. Every story that they read teaches them the capacity to understand the world from a different person’s point of view. They get to live hundreds of pages in the mind of another person. It is the true definition of empathy, and this ability makes successful people great leaders and amazing innovators. The ability to dig deep into a piece of prose or poetry and analyze it in a way that is profound and purposeful. This may not be a skill that an engineer or a lawyer might need to know, but it is something that a human being needs to know. And though it is important to have a profession in life, it is also important to be able to practice that skill of empathy so you can have those connections in life that are meaningful.

Can I reach that level of understanding by teaching to the test? Normally, I would say no, but I do believe that AP Lit is a different class. It is a skills based class. I will be teaching students how to write effectively, and writing effectively is nothing more than an act of thinking effectively, so essentially what I will be teaching students is how to think effectively, and if they can do that then they will be successful on this test, and this test will allow them to reach that level of understanding that they need with others so they can be empathetic and successful. Why wouldn’t I then teach to the test? It is what I should be teaching anyways.

So as I prepare to take the leap to a new country again, I have been taking some time out of packing and getting the supplies I will need to be comfortable in this new country, I will take a little time to make sure that I am also prepared to teach this class for the first time. It will allow me to get my students to the place where they will need to be in order to be successful not only on the test, but life as well. I now look forward to the new school year with anticipation because it will a great one filled with a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to get to it.

Scythe – A Review

One of the nice things about summer that I missed last year because I was stuck in Thailand is coming back to Colorado and hanging out with my family. I get to catch up with everybody and see what they have been doing the last year. What I found out with my family is they all got into the same thing that I did, board games. It was a great way to keep our sanity while being locked away in our homes. But now that things have opened up again, and people are able to visit other people, these games are still there, but instead of playing them with the same people over and over again, we can now share them with other people. It seems like every house I visit from my family, they pull a board game off of the shelf for me to play. Some of these I have had some interaction with because I like to get the app on my tablet to try out games before I go out and buy them. One of these was Scythe published by Stonemaier games. I had heard about this area control game that blends in Eurogame rules to make a truly fun and exciting experience, so the app seemed like the right idea. This was not the way to go about understanding and appreciating the complexities of this game. Some games work better the other way around, play the physical copy first and then when you have trouble finding other people to play with you, then rush off to play a game on the app. I need the physical copy and the slower game play to wrap my head around this game, and when I did, I started to see how great of game Scythe really is.

I will look at this game in this review by looking at the overall theme, the gameplay, the artwork, the interactivity, and the expansions to this game that at the time of this review was sitting at the number 14 spot on Board Game Geek’s top 100 board games of all time.

THEME

The dust has just settled after the horrors that accompanied the Great War and the Bolshevik Revolution and Eastern Europe is left in disarray. Factions in the area are trying to rebuild their economy while carving out a part of the landscape that they can call their new country. Each faction has their own leader that has a focus on how going about rebuilding their lives and the lives of all their people, and oh, did I mention that technology had developed enough to include mechs that stand above the landscape to protect and battle other factions if necessary.

It is the weird alternative history that combines a science-fiction fantasy element behind a sense of realism that on paper does not look like it will work, but just like the game where you are forced to balance economic strategy with area control, the blending of these ideas work really well together. It creates an alternative world that is grounded enough in what you already know to keep you buying into the story you will start to play.

Rating – 9

GAMEPLAY

This is not a light game. There are a lot of rules going on as you collect resources to build building, support your mech army and explore the vast landscape of the board. Each faction has their own special ability and various player-boards are distributed to the players that means you will never have the same experience every time you play. The person you are closest to does not necessarily mean that you will encounter them first as you both race to carve out your part of the board because there are tunnels in the middle of the board that allows for easy access to almost any other location on the board, but I do recommend that you spread out as much as you can based on the number of players because if there is somebody off by themselves, they can easily control more of the board. The final point count is not based on money alone as there are points distributed for the amount of goals that have been met, the amount of places occupied at the end of the game, and the amount of resources and money that is in a person’s control. You can have a clear idea about who is in the lead as the game goes on, but there is no way to no for sure until the dust settles. It allows for some competitive game play that extends beyond the niceties of most Eurogames, and adds a little bit more of an edge to the game.

There are many different conditions for victory ranging from releasing all of your workers or mechs, maxing out on either the popularity or power tracks, winning two battles, gaining all your recruits or buildings, or completing you secret mission. The first person to complete six of these missions ends the game, causing everybody to stop what they are doing and count up their points. They can each fight to complete these objectives by placing a person on one of four spots on their board which will allow them to perform one of two combinations of actions that will push them closer to these goals. The only rule is that they can not complete the same action twice in a row.

Each one of these actions helps build an engine that grows in complexity as the game goes on. What starts off as being very simple and boring turns into a trigger that will set a lot of actions into play with the movement from any of the players. Getting to that first objective can take a long time, but once they start getting completed, it becomes a mad dash to be the first to complete six, and the game really speeds up by the end.

Overall, it is thoughtful and engaging. I made a couple of mistakes with my pieces early on, but was able to recover from these mistakes to still be competitive by the end of the game. I instantly finished the first game that I played and wanted to play again to do better based on the mistakes I had made. Not much is left to chance in this game either. Even the battle sequences are based on how many power points you have and how many you want to use to beat the other person. Of course there are a couple of places where a little bit of a gamble takes place, such as when you are first picking your play mat, picking combat cards, and encounter cards, but this is such a minimal part of the game that it will never impact the conclusion of the game. More of it is based on strategy and how you interact with other players. It combines all of the best things from area control games, Eurogames, and abstract strategy games to create a unique gameplay experience that will have you coming back again and again.

Rating – 10

ARTWORK

Most of the time the game is made first, and then an artist is hired to add flavor to the game. This is not the case with Scythe. Jamey Steigmaier came across some deiselpunk illustrations by Polish artist Jakub Rozalski in which farmers worked on fields in Eastern Europe with large mechs looming over them in the background. Steigmeaier used the bones of this story world that Rozalski had made to build upon it and develop this game. They work really well together and really help a person to immerse themselves into the landscape and the game. The paintings are combined with chunky resource tokens that depict the different resources that an individual can collect in the game that goes hand in hand with all of the meeples that really add to the landscpe.

If this wasn’t enough, it also comes with plastic minis that are specific for each faction. They are not only given four plastic mechs that will eventually emerge onto the game board. Each collection of mechs is different to highlight the different characteristics of each of the asymmetric player. Each faction is also given a leader which has some of the same qualities as the mechs during gameplay, plus a couple of other abilities that makes them the most important figure in play during the game. Each one of these characters is also unique and they are accompanied by a different animal that also adds to the overall aesthetic of the game.

The player game mats are also of high quality. There are a couple of levels to them which offer the perfect tactile places to put all of your playing pieces. Also as soon as you move them from one place on your player board to another place, it opens up parts of the player board that adds to the complexity of your game play. They are just a wonderfully fun feature to this already amazing game.

If there is any complaint about the artwork, it would have to be with the board. It is a little boring with symbols being used to highlight the different terrains that are available, but I couldn’t see any other way to get around this without making the game even more complicated. This is quickly dismissed as soon as the other pieces are placed on the board to make an exciting explosion of pieces and landscape by the time that last star is placed on the game track.

Rating – 10

INTERACTIVITY

This is a tricky thing, especially when it comes to economic games or Eurogames. These games are designed to be nice, and not cause animosity to happen between players so everybody can walk away feeling nice about the experience, even if they lost. The problem with this kind of game is that you spend so much time playing with your own board that you rarely look over to what you opponent is doing and also spend very little time interacting with them. I think this is a very important part of the reason to play board games, to come together with other individuals and play out a story that everybody can remember fondly.

Scythe has a nice twist to the worker placement Eurogame problem with interactivity. It mixes in this area control element, similar to Risk, but it does not create the animosity or backstabbing that the Parker Brothers classic does. It can be used for victory points and there are ways that you can steal other players’ resources to use to your own advantage, but it is not such a central part of the game that all you are thinking about is how to ruin other players’ chances of winning the game. The battles are not dictated by the chance role of the dice either. You can decide to duck out of a battle or put in everything you got, depending on how important the position of that location is to your overall path to victory. It makes battle cordial, and even if you lose, you do not feel like the whole game is over because you lost this one battle.

If you are also looking for interactivity in your board games, this is one that benefits from more people on the game board. I played with only three players, and the way we were situated around the board, I had a distinct advantage over the other players because neither of them were close enough to me to cause me any alarm; whereas, they were interacting with each other more often throughout the course of the game. I barely won the game, probably due to their proximity to each other, and me being left alone to my own devices. I felt that it would have played a little better with four or more people, and with the expansions, you can have a game up to seven people at one time. At that level, I can see it causing confusion about what is going on around the table at all times, but for a group who is really into the game, it could be a lot of fun.

For the most part, the game has that interactivity that I am looking for, but still holds onto the benefits of its Eurogame roots. It also requires a number of players to find that sweet spot that makes the game the perfect play for everybody involved.

Rating – 8

EXPANSIONS

I will lead off with the caveat that I have not played any of the expansions of this game yet, but I do like to look for those games that allow for complexity to happen to a game in order to keep it fresh and exciting as I continue to play it. There are three expansions available for this game at the writing of this review: Invaders from Afar, The Wind Gambit, and The Rise of Fenris.

Invaders from Afar adds two new factions with their own abilities to play with that would add a new twist to the game, but would not really expand on the gameplay much beyond just giving you new ways to explore for victory.

The Wind Gambit adds airships to the game with their own set of rules. It adds a little more depth to the game that allows for its complexity to add a refreshing renewal of the game for those that are looking for that moment to refresh their love of the game. It also adds resolution models giving another new way to gain that final victory that you are looking for.

The Rise of Fenris adds a campaign mode to the game that would give it more of a story flavor that is completely replay-able. It goes through eight scenarios that can add customization to the game to allow you to play the rules that you enjoy the most.

All three of these add new twists to the game that will have you pulling it out onto your game table again and again at a price that will not break your wallet. It is the kind of expansions that I look for when looking for the initial purchase of the game.

Rating – 9

OVERALL

I can see why this game has been around for as long as it has and maintained its spot among the list of best board games out there. It is thematic enough to get you engrossed in the story with exciting game play that is both strategic and thoughtful. Special intent went into the design of the game to bring people together when they are playing, even though this is what I find to be the weakest element to an all around great game. This is turning into a classic and I can see myself playing this game for many years to come.

RATING – 4.6 stars out of 5

Breckenridge Brewery – Littleton, CO

Colorado is the land of breweries. It competes with other states, most notably Oregon. Luckily for my tastebuds, I have spent a lot of time in both of these states as I get to sample a variety of great beers. Unfortunately for my waist line, if I spend too much time in these states, I will continue to sample these beers and will have to work off all of the calories I gathered during my time sipping. It is still one of the bigger attractions of both states, and it is part of the draw of the tourists who visit. Some of the breweries do better than others. They have made a name for themselves beyond the borders of the state, and some of them are even starting to make an impact on the international scene. One of the bigger ones to emerge from Colorado is the Breckenridge Brewery.

This iconic brewery started off as a tiny brewpub in the ski town of Breckenridge. You can still go visit the town and find the brewpub on the main street close to where the slopes end and the evening entertainment begins. But this small brewpub exploded on the scene in Colorado when the state of Colorado decided to bring in a professional hockey team and name it the Avalanche. Breckenridge has a beer with the same name, and it became the beer of choice as we watched the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup during their first year in the state. It helped Breckenridge expand from a small local brewpub into something bigger. They needed to lease a bigger building in lower downtown Denver so they could keep up with the demand for their beer. This led to them eventually selling out to Anheuser-Busch and them taking advantage of a big plot of land on the southern edge of the Platte River for them to build a new home for their brewery called the Farmhouse. It is located on the southern end of Santa Fe Avenue, and ever since it has been built, it has attracted many people from all around to enjoy the food, the atmosphere, and most importantly, the beer.

I have been a few times to this place and most of the time I get a place inside of the restaurant area. They have a beautiful building with a central bar being the main feature of the room. It has a huge vaulted ceiling and many places to sit in a room that feels more like Herot Hall from Beowulf rather than the name farmhouse implies. It is very comfortable in their but the acoustics can sometimes make it rather noisy. Despite this, the staff is always friendly and they have a wonderful selection of beers that you can choose from.

But because of Covid, and the fact I need to have negative test to make the move to Jordan in a couple of weeks, I have been looking for places with an outdoor atmosphere more than an indoor restaurant, and this is where the Breckenridge Farmhouse really shines. The yard extends beyond the parking lot to include a beer garden surrounded by small stalls where local people can come to sell their wares. All the food comes prepared from a food truck, and though they hold back on the spiciness to appeal to a larger crowd, the food is still pretty good. There is a stage where bands filter in and out on the weekends and will play a variety of music with occasionally a bigger Colorado name popping up. I have heard that Big Head Todd and the Monsters has graced the stage. They also have a variety of outdoor games that you can play with cornhole being the most popular.

But let’s not forget about why we come here in the first place, the beer. Breckenridge is one of those breweries that has outlived the years not because it was one of the first to be in Colorado, but because it has always been one of the best. They have a variety of beers from fruity wheats, IPAs and pale ales, lagers, and let’s not forget the one that started it all off, Avalanche amber ale. Combine some of your best friends with an American style of beer garden, you have the recipe for a great afternoon, hanging out, laughing, listening to music, and enjoying the perfect Colorado weather. It is a must tourist attraction for those who make their way down to the Littleton area of Denver, and is worth the trip every time I have been there.

Grant’s Ranch – A Walker’s Paradise

I have been spending a lot of time over at my parents, and one of the things I have been enjoying every morning before the Colorado sun gets too hot and makes the outside unbearable is a walk around the neighborhood with my dad. They moved a while back, so it is not the same neighborhood that I grew up in, and it was when I was old enough to have moved out of the house, so I did not really have much of an opportunity to explore the neighborhood that they moved into. I thought of it as just a place with a bunch of big house with small yards to keep maintenance to a minimum, and a couple of parks for people to walk through or play at if they wanted to wear out the kids. I was unaware of all of the space that was designated to keep the area beautiful while highlighting the beauty of Colorado at the same time.

A lot of this open space is maintained by the good people at the Colorado lottery and I am happy that there are places like this out and it is a benefit of having an organization dedicated to collecting money and reserving places in Colorado to keep natural so the whole Front Range will not be overcome by human sprawl. But I do have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with the organization. Though I love the fact that they are dedicated to keeping Colorado beautiful, they do collect a lot of money that could also be used for other purposes that need attention in the state of Colorado. In the year of 2020, the Colorado Lottery collected $658.8 million dollars, making it the second biggest year for this organization that has been around since 1983. I love the way that they make sure that a little part of Colorado stays Colorado, and when I find these hidden little corners that they protect, I am happy that they are there.

But I am also an educator, and spent a lot of my first few years working in one of the smaller districts in the state. The building I used to work in housed a small alternative high school that kept students in school who wanted to drop out for various reasons. It was not a priority of the district, but I like to think that we did a lot of good there with very little money. Parts of the building were falling apart and we did not always have the equipment we needed in order to give the students the education that they needed. I was not paid well, nor were any of the other teachers that worked in this district. A little bit from the state could have helped out a lot to make this struggling district a great place, but one of the biggest contributors to the coffers of the state went to protecting the landscape of Colorado. If they could have allocated some of that money to education, it could have transformed this field into something really great.

And that is where the love/hate relationship with this law comes into effect. I love Colorado for its beauty and I know that with the amount of people moving here, the need to protect this land becomes greater with each passing year, but I also believe in education and the system has been broken in Colorado for a long time without any sign of anybody willing to come along to fix it. There are ways to do allow both things to exist, but it would take some strong leadership to bring it about. The priorities of the state do not seem to align with my thinking either, so I will just have to keep on letting my voice get heard with my votes, and maybe some day the change will happen.

Until then, I will continue to enjoy what Colorado has to offer by enjoying my walks, and finding those little treasures that can only be found in this state. I hope it continues to be that way and the new influx of people into the state will not change the beauty of the Front Range and that my parents will always have the wonderful neighborhood that they can always enjoy due in large part from the funds generated by the Colorado State Lottery.

A Change for Downtown Littleton

The sunset from the View House in downtown Littleton.

Last night, I got to travel to my old stomping grounds of Downtown Littleton. It is the place I used to work as a bartender, and the building which housed the brewery still stands though the brewpub is no longer in operation. It is not the only changes that have come from this quaint section of metropolitan Denver. A street that was filled with barber shops and dive bars has turned into a neighborhood filled with apartment buildings and high-end restaurants. The only thing that is holding this place back is the main streets that have cars traveling through to get to busier parts of the city. I was told that during the pandemic that they closed off the streets and allowed these restaurants to spill their tables out into the roads so they could stay in operation. It created something that could be found in Europe with the walking streets, giving it a feel of something more out of the 18th century rather than modern times. If they would just add cobblestones over the pavement, they would have something spectacular. People would take the light rail from Denver to this exciting location, and certain buildings that have remained empty might actually get filled up again, adding more to the atmosphere.

There are other places that I know of that would benefit from this kind of arrangement, downtown Castle Rock in Colorado, and downtown West Linn in Oregon, but I also know the biggest argument against them as well. The roads that would be closed happen to be main thoroughfares that would have many motorists mad if they were changed into a place where only walking people could go. These places already have sidewalks, and people can wait for the lights to change before they walk across the street.

I do understand their points, but at the same time, the pedestrian outdoor areas are the busiest places in Europe. They are always filled with tourists looking for ways to spend their money. They also add a certain amount of charm to the cities they reside in, making people want to visit more. There are a couple of these locations in Colorado that I know of: Pearl Street in Boulder, Old Town in Fort Collins, and 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver, and they are always busy. As some of the older parts of smaller towns are looking to revive their older parts of town, I can see them eventually make this slight change to bring back the business they lost, and this is the best time to do it. Many of these proposed locations did the same thing that downtown Littleton did during Covid, and they can see how the conversion can transform their part of town.

Bend is proposing to do this right now with Minnesota Avenue. Some of the trendier restaurants in Bend are on this street, and they want it to stay the pedestrian mall that they had during the Covid crisis. The town is currently considering this, but it is meeting with the same resistance that other places will meet, traffic, and why should people put up with this for something that will only be in use for at most six months out of the year.

It is just a trend that I noticed last night as I visited the place where I used to work, and I wonder if it will take hold or not. I am pretty sure that if it does, it will take a couple more decades before it is considered because the American society is not ready to go there yet, but I am sure there will be a couple more of them popping up from time to time as towns start to see the benefit to them.