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.

Wingspan versus Everdell

When Covid started and I was stuck inside a lot more, I looked for ways to entertain my wife and myself, and I went back to one of the hobbies that I enjoyed so much in my youth, board games. I did a lot of research to find games that would be fun and had a strong enough theme that would draw my wife into the gameplay. Two names kept popping up, Wingspan and Everdell. Both of them had huge fans and they both seemed to have a little bit of a rivalry going on between them. Any time that you look at Board Game Geek at their ranking, they will be some place in the top twenty and usually right next to each other. Still, I had only money for one of the games, so I went with the cute woodland creatures building a forrest city as opposed to the collection of birds in three different ecosystems. This did not mean that my intrigue for the game that won numerous awards in the years 2019 and 2020 did not still grab my attention, and I always had a desire to play the game. I searched people out who might own the game, but I could only find versions made in Thai because Stonemaier Games believed that nobody in Thailand would want an English version, and considering the amount of reading involved in the game and the fact that I can’t read Thai, I knew I had to wait until I made it back to the United States. Well, after a couple of years waiting, I finally had my chance to play the game, and I can now give a definitive answer as to which game I prefer over the other by looking at their themes, gameplay, art work, interactivity, and expansions.

THEME

Both games have a story to tell, and do a great job of tying their story into their game play. Everdell tells the story of a group of woodland creatures living a year in the meadow underneath the Evertree. They gather their supplies consisting or twigs, pebbles, amber, and berries to carve out their little location in the forest and attract other woodland creatures to live there. Every other player is trying to create their own little town and might take the resources you need or even the building that you want to construct to make the perfect place.

Wingspan tells a similar story, but only involving birds. Instead of woodland creatures building a mythical woodland town, you are an ornithologist attracting various types of birds to your ecosystem that consists of a forest, grasslands, and wetlands. You attract certain birds by collecting food from the bird feeder. Once one bird is in a specific ecosystem, it will lay eggs, collect more food, and attract more birds until you build a thriving bird habitation.

A lot of people I have talked to about Wingspan complain that the theme does not really fit with the game, but I disagree. There were many times while we were playing that I would talk about the food that one of my birds collected, or how my owl could never catch any food, but my hawk was an amazing hunter. I loved how some of the birds worked together to create a complete picture of the ecosystem they lived in. It is there and if you let yourself dive into the theme, you can have a lot with the game.

With that being said Everdell does a better job with theme. It is fun to talk about what kind of town your woodland creatures are creating whether it is designed more for production of resources, or if it caters to the intellectual endeavors of schools and universities. Each town I have created while playing this game has its own flavor and I don’t think I have ever created the same town twice. I also love watching other people’s towns as they are being built, and I did not feel the need to see what other people were doing when I played Wingspan. They both do a great job, but on a whole, I enjoy the story that is created while playing Everdell.

GAMEPLAY

The whole reason to play a game is to immerse yourself in a puzzle and see how well you can operate in that system, and both of these games create a great puzzle with many different ways to victory depending on which route you choose to go down.

Everdell is a worker placement game where you send off you cute woodland characters to collect resources so you can build structures and eventually attract woodland creatures to your town. Each card you play, whether it is a structure or a creature has an ability that helps you build an engine so you can collect more resources and build greater structures. If you don’t like the cards that are in your hand, you can pick from the ones offered in the meadow which are cards available to everybody. There are permanent locations that are always the same every game, but there are other cards that are placed on the board that open up other locations, and allow for each game to be different. You can also collect certain event cards if you meet the requirements to gather them. All of these collect points that at the end of the game you count, and the person with the most points wins.

Wingspan has a similar goal. The one who has the most points wins. The way to obtain the points is a little different though. You are still trying to create an engine, but this one is based on the birds that you place in three different ecosystems: forest, grasslands, or wetlands. Each ecosystem allows your workers do different things. The forest allows you to collect food. The grassland offers you eggs. And the wetlands will get you more bird cards that you can pick from three that are in front of everybody, or you can pick from the large pile of birds at random. Each bird has an ability that is triggered either when you play the bird, play on the ecosystem, or if one of the other player triggers the special ability. Each bird is also worth a certain amount of points, as well as the eggs, food, and other birds they collect along the way.

The engine that Wingspan has is a lot more complicated than the one that Everdell has and there are so many different cards that the possibilities of how to build that engine are endless. The last round of a game of Wingspan fizzles out though as everybody tries to add more eggs because those are guaranteed points and you don’t know what you are going to get if you keep on trying to collect birds. This happens a little bit with Everdell as well, but there are more options to pick from, so the end of the game feels a little more exciting, but the edge goes to Wingspan in this category.

ARTWORK

I know that a game should not be dependent on the artwork, but a lot of publishers have upped their game in recent years in this area, and both of these games are great examples of what a game can look like. Everdell’s box just draws you over and makes you want to open it up to see what it inside. It does not disappoint. The little forest that is created with the three dimensional Evertree looming over the board makes it even more exciting to play. The resources are a tactile experience you will never forget. I have not met one person yet who hasn’t touched one of the berries yet and exclaimed, Oh! They’re squishy. All of this is enhanced with the cards, each with it own masterpiece or either a woodland creature or the structure they would live in on it. The only complaint I have about the cards is that the print on them is a little small, making it difficult to read sometimes, but this a minor flaw that a pair of good reading glasses can fix.

Wingspan also has an impressive collection of cards. Each card has a different picture of a bird on it with informative bits about where the bird comes from, its wingspan, and an interesting fact about each of them. Each player is given their own board with a nice landscape painted on it, but it looks a little boring until the cards get played on it as well as the eggs. Then it starts to look impressive. The food is not as exciting as they are punched out circles of cardboard, but the special dice that come with the game are fun. And if that wasn’t fun enough, the three dimensional bird-feeder that you use to roll the dice adds a lot to the aesthetics of the game.

Though both games are pretty to look at, I hear more about the artwork with Everdell than I do with Wingspan. I know it is the most subjective thing with this review, but I have to agree with those people that are drawn more to Everdell. I love the artwork, and would even love to have some of the paintings framed and placed on my wall. And I didn’t even talk about how great the meeples are that come with the game. This one easily goes to Everdell.

INTERACTIVITY

One of the reasons that I got back into board games after being away from them for so long is because it gave me an opportunity to interact with my wife in a different way when we were stuck in the house for so long without any contact from other people. When Covid restrictions loosened and things opened up again, I also wanted to have a great excuse to have my friends back over to my house to play some games. I was a little nervous when I started looking at both of these games because Euro-games are not known for their interactivity. Players can be off doing their own thing without others worrying about what is going on in their individual boards.

I would have to say that this was my biggest complaint with Wingspan. I never looked over at other players’ boards and there were only a couple of ways that we could interact with each other. The biggest way that you can mess with other players is with the bird-feeder. You can take something that they might want, but that only happened a couple of times during the course of the game. Though I find this to be a disadvantage, some people might like this because it will make the game more friendly. You are not going to worry too much if you are hurting your friends’ feelings by doing something mean.

This kind of friendliness is also there in Everdell. There are enough spots to place your workers, especially early in the game, that you will not interfere much in other players’ plans. When the game builds and you collect more workers, then things start to get a little more crowded, and the jostling for position becomes a little more intense, but for the most part, it is still a friendly game. I think they found a sweet spot in their interactivity here though that places this as one of the more enjoyable Eurogames that I have ever played, and Everdell wins this category because of this.

EXPANSIONS

When a game is new and shiny, I always want to pull it out to play it again and again, and ignore the other, older games that I have collected. The publishers know this and want to make sure that you are always pulling their games off of the shelf to play, so they add expansions to add new twists on an old game to make it feel new again. Both Wingspan and Everdell know this, and have periodically added expansions to their games. Wingspan has added bird sets with European birds and Oceania birds. The expansions add a new collection of cards with birds from these areas in the world as well as the nectar resource to add a new dynamic to the game. The cards are worth it because they add new skills to the engine and create new combinations that make the game fresh.

Everdell also has added three expansions with the fourth coming out soon. Each one of them connects to the board to allow it to spread out on the table even more, making it really important that you have a big table if you wish to play with these. Each of the three adds a new dimension to the game with Pearlbrook adding a new worker with a special ability, Spirecrest making the change of seasons move in the game more exciting, and Bellfaire adding some asymmetric gameplay for each one of the woodland creatures that you can play. They recommend that you only play one of the expansions at a time, but this is a suggestion, and it makes for a really intense gaming experience.

All of the expansions make both games fresh, but the gameplay really changes with Everdell making it almost a new game with each expansion you add. Not all expansions are equal for this game with Spirecrest being the best of all of them. It does get a little pricey, but Everdell’s expansions are worth it.

OVERALL IMPRESSION

I know this review lends itself to saying that Everdell is a better game, and I do think it is. It is harder to find, and Wingspan seems to have made it all the way to the shelves of Targets as well as your local game stores. Even though I do think Everdell is a better game, it only barely edges out Wingspan in each of these categories. The ideal would be to have both games in your collection because they are both different enough and easy enough to learn that anybody can pick them up and play instantly. Both of them do take at least two play throughs before you can really wrap you head around the engine, but if you can only afford one and both of them are in front of you, I would go with Everdell.

A Walk Through a Developing Neighborhood – Castle Rock, CO

Castle Rock used to be this small town in-between Denver and Colorado Springs on the I-25 corridor. It took a little bit of time to get to, but it was always a fun little place to visit. Things have changed over the years, and slowly the metropolitan area of Denver continued to spread south and eventually incorporated this small town. There is still a little divide that happens on your way there, but you really have to pay attention to notice when it happens. Basically the spaces that have existed along the Front Range in Colorado have been slipping away and soon the I-25 corridor will become one big city. The unnamed They have been talking about it for years, and I never thought I would see it through my lifetime, but now that I have not seen this part of the world for over two years, I have really noticed it happening.

My brother recently moved into a new house in this sliver of space that still exists between towns. It officially belongs to Castle Rock, but it is easier and quicker to get to downtown Parker than it takes to get to downtown Castle Rock. It makes it really hard to figure out exactly which community you are a part of. My brother told me that the place is actually making its own traditions and building its own sense of community, but it will take some time before all of they all take hold. Until then, the old farms and ranches that used to own this land are still in the distance reminding people of a time when this place used to be something completely different.

I get why this farms and ranches are selling off pieces of their lands right now, especially in places like Colorado, Washington, or Oregon. People are flocking to these places in the United States and builders cannot throw up the houses fast enough to accommodate the influx. The price of that land has grown exponentially and it is really hard to turn down a big wad of cash when somebody comes along and asks you to build on the land. It will take awhile but all of this land will become a sprawling suburban center filled with large houses and people creating a community.

It makes me wonder if we are losing or gaining something by doing this. There is a natural beauty that will be replaced by manicured lawns. There is a free roaming of wildlife that will be replaced by a community of neighborly Americans. Do we want the landscape or do we want the community? They both have their advantages and from what I have seen with this new community and other ones in Castle Rock, they have done a good job of incorporating both aspects together to let the beauty of the American landscape blend together with the beauty of the American people, and I hope more places going through the same growing pains try to establish that same balance.

Things

I am already thinking about winter. It was one of the chores that I knew I had to do while I was in the United States because I knew that the clothes I had shipped to Jordan from Thailand would only be appropriate during the first couple of months out there, and then I would need some long sleeves, pants, and hats. I had some of that stuff in Thailand because my thought was we would travel to cooler places to get away from the tropical heat, but then, Covid. So I do have a weeks worth of clothes that will allow me survive in those conditions, and they are not for the really cold temperature that Amman can sometimes get to.

So this is why I have been thinking about winter.

Growing up in Colorado, and visiting Oregon often means that I do have these clothes, but I pushed them in some boxes and bags and left them in storage some place in one of these two states, and even then, I am not sure where I left them in those states. It has been a little game of hide and seek so far this summer, rummaging through this box and that one trying to find what I know is out there, and yesterday, I went to my storage unit in Colorado.

Lo and behold, I found the missing clothes among piles of things that I am not sure what they are anymore. This little game made me realize what has become of my life, and my things as they are strewn across the world. Of course right now I am living out of bags and have to rummage through them every morning to find the things that I need to be a part of society. I have some rare discs and records tucked away in a closet at my parents’ house, and a couple boxes of random stuff at my in-laws’ house. And somewhere, en route, there is a shipping container full of more stuff and things finding its way to my new place in Jordan. I have truly become a man of the world, and like a teenager does in their room, I have left myself wherever I just happen to drop it.

While looking at my stuff, and all of the places where it is, I am constantly thinking about a story I taught a couple of times early in my teaching career by D.H. Lawrence called “Things”. It told the story of a couple who started taking teaching jobs overseas. Of course, they did not want to bring all of their stuff with them, so they put some stuff in storage here, and other things in storage over there. They bought art and mementos along the way, but they did not have a place in their house to display them, so they stored those in other countries. They ended up having places all over the world to hold their stuff for them. I now thing of that story and realize that I am now living it. (I will put a link to the story at the end of the post if you are interested to read for yourself.)

There are a couple of themes that could be looked at while reading this story, but the one that stuck with me and the one that I always return to is how we no longer own our possessions, but instead they start to own us. Part of the lives of these characters was to tend to their things, and I am participating in the same ritual. Some of these things are easy to attend to; whereas, others are going to be a surprise when I return to them years later. I will have forgotten that I have some of these things, and it will be like a return to Christmas when I find them again. But it makes me start to wonder how much of it I really need, and how much of it I can give away.

My wife and I always talk about going to the storage unit every summer and reorganizing it to move to a smaller storage unit, but something always comes up that makes us put that off for another year. Basically, it is easier to maintain my things than to deal with them, but someday I will have to deal with them. Until then, I will just lock the door to the storage unit, push that box in the corner of the room where I found it, and track my shipment over the internet until it arrives, and I will continue to play this game with my things.

“Things” by D.H. Lawrence

Chatfield Reservoir – Denver, Colorado

I can once again find west. All I have to find the mountains and I know which direction I am pointing. It makes a Colorado boy feel like they are home. During the summer, another part of home for a person that grew up on the south side of Denver is visiting the place where all of our water comes from, Chatfield Reservoir. Any time I came out here to visit, it meant that I had reached the farthest spot in the south west portion of the metropolitan area. There were a couple of buildings past the waters that were collected here, but they were highly restricted areas owned by Martin Marietta, but a lot has changed since I have been back. The boom in the area has caused housing to spring up all over the place, but nothing has been able to touch this treasure because long ago, the ones in charge decided to give this big plot of land state park status.

It has always held the distinction of being one of Denver’s playgrounds during the summer months. There are other reservoir that people flock to depending on where they are located in this ever-growing city, but for those of us on the south side, it was always Chatfield. The water rises and lowers depending on how much rain the state is getting, and when I went out there, it was the deepest I have ever seen it. Most of the time the man made beaches would stretch past a line of cottonwood trees, but the water had reached the roots of these trees. Apparently, Colorado has received an excess of rain this year, and all of the reservoirs are reaching the same levels. It was almost as if the dry weather that Colorado usually gets was traded to Oregon this summer for its rain.

People are taking advantage of this fact this year and Chatfield was also a lot more crowded than I remember it being. It could also have been that it was a long holiday weekend and people were getting in their last hurrahs before heading back to work the next day. I hung out at the Roxborough Cove where many kayakers and paddle-boarders come to spend the day. There are a lot of places along the coast where people can set up their day camps as they go out on the water and come back in for a little bit of time. Most of the people bring their own boards or kayaks, but they are available for rent as well. I would suggest to reserve them ahead of time because they are not always available if you just show up. They even have instructors that will give you a couple of pointers before yo shove off.

This is not the only activity that happens at the reservoir. Many people bring their motor boats out and spend the day on them. There are a bunch of no wake zones, mainly Roxborough Cove and the Gravel Pools, but motor boats can still slowly make their way into these areas even though I rarely see that. Most of the time they come out to speed around the center of the water as they take people out waterskiing. Or they look for the deeper parts of the reservoir where they can catch a few fish as there is always a good amount of them in the water.

Some people take the trip even further and make plans to spend a couple of days there. There are some campsites available. I haven’t used them in a long time, and I remember them not being that great. They do have all the facilities that a camper could need, but the rest of the city is always around you and the shrubbery does not lend itself to a beautiful landscape. But if you are there to get to the water quickly in the morning, it is a great option to have.

Chatfield Reservoir is a great getaway spot for a hot summer’s day. It is not far from anybody living on the south end of Denver, so there are always people flocking to this spot. There is a fee for anybody wishing to bring their car in, but they let bikes and runners just blow past the check-in station. It beats sitting around the house all day and it brought back many memories by making it out there again while also seeing how it has grown and matured over the years. It will always remain a staple of southwest Denver, and I can’t wait to get back there again some day.

What I’ll Miss About Thailand – The Beaches

Hau Hin a couple of months before the pandemic started

I know I have said in the past that I am more of a mountain man rather than an ocean man, but that does not mean that I don’t appreciate a good beach, and Thailand has a lot of them. It does have mountainous terrain to the north and I do enjoy those places, but it is mainly the beaches that I will remember from my stay of living in Thailand.

Kata Beach on Phuket island

I was pretty lucky also. Most of the time, the beaches in Thailand are crowded with people and it can be hard to stake out a place on the sandy shore. But than Covid happened, and the usual stream of tourists were no longer allowed to come into the country, giving the beaches back to the locals who should have a chance to enjoy them as well.

Rayong! I don’t need to say more

This meant that there were many times we had the beach to ourselves. It is an odd thing to see, a long stretch of sand next to the warm, tropical waters just begging for toes to be dipped in. Most of the time, this was a welcoming sight, but there was a little bit of a down side to this as well. The Thai people usually do a good job making sure these beaches are pristine and free of trash, but with the loss of the tourist dollar, they were not able to keep all of the beaches clean. That meant it was a hit or miss affair where sometimes the beach would be clean, and there were other times where I had to watch where I was walking because I didn’t always know what I would be stepping on.

A monitor lizard on Koh Lipe island

But on those beaches that were clean and the people were still not flocking to them, there was another sight that wasn’t as common in the past, wildlife had returned. Of course, I still saw the crab scuttle along the beach, or the birds flying just off the shore, looking for a quick bite, but I also saw monkeys and monitor lizards just basking in the summer sun. It meant that any time I went to a beach, a new adventure was just around the corner.

Princess Beach on Railay

The beaches were only just a place to walk and lie in the sand, but there were many opportunities for water sports as well. I went snorkeling a few times, and paddle-boarding as well, but my favorite activity had to be kayaking. The rentals of these were still available in most places, and sometimes they were even a free service with the hotel we were staying at. It was a great way to explore the coastline and see other beaches that sometimes were not easy to get to.

Nai Harn Beach on Phuket island

Even if I did not have access to any of these floatation devices, I could still run out and play in the water. During the summer months on the southern beaches, the surf was pretty big on some of the beaches. What surfers that were still in the country made their ways down to these beaches to catch these waves, but there was still plenty of space for people like me who love to jump into the oncoming waves and keep my balance. I know it is not the safest activity in the world with the danger of the undertow, but it is probably one of my favorite things to do on a beach.

A sunrise on Koh Lipe island

And with all of that available, the beaches in Thailand are the perfect place to lay back with a good book and relax. I know that there are many places out there in the world that offer the same kind of relaxation but I really fell in love with this activity in Thailand. The country does really have some beautiful landscapes and I know that they will get overcrowded again as things start opening up all around the world, but I will always look back fondly on the ways that I was able to enjoy the beaches while I was living in Thailand, and it will definitely be one of the things that I will miss from there.