A Bedouin’s Lifestyle – Wadi Rum, Jordan

Wadi Rum has been one of those places that people told me that I had to visit at least once in my lifetime, but I will be honest, I did not see how visiting a desert could be that exciting. To me, it looked like a beach without the water, so why would I want to go to some place where I would have to endure the heat, and bring nothing back from the experience but a bunch of sand. But there had to be a reason for me constantly hearing about how great this place is, and why so many movie came out here to film, so I needed to come out and see for myself. Plus, it was only a three-and-a-half hour drive from my house in Amman, so when I was presented with a three day weekend, it seemed like the perfect thing to do. And I am glad that I went because I learned something there that I had forgotten.

Wadi Rum is an adventure. I had not gone on an adventure for a long time. I had spent a lot of time over the last couple of years stuck in my home, making sure I did not get exposed to the deadly atmosphere that existed beyond my door. When I did leave my home, it was to find a beach to unwind on, and I would return back home feeling refreshed, but not as if I had experienced anything. I would still be connected to the outside world while I was relaxing on the beach, and I wasn’t able to let go of all of the responsibilities I piled up on my lap. I thought that I would be able to stay connected when I went out to Wadi Rum, but I ran into a group of people that saw life in a different way, the Bedouins.

The Bedouins roam around this huge desert landscape just like they have for centuries. They might have a couple of modern conveniences like trucks, and lights, but they like to get away from these distractions and find themselves among the rocks and sands of Wadi Rum. Because of this, they are completely off the grid, and anybody that comes out to visit them is forced to get off of the grid as well.

This means that the only distractions I had on this trip were the small wonders that could be found out in the desert. I couldn’t plug into social media to see what I was missing someplace else in the world. I couldn’t tackle the stacks of work that I had to accomplish to make sure my students were getting the education I think they need. And I had to let go of past frustrations that seemed to haunt me. I could only live in the moment and make the most of it.

It is amazing what comes out of the desert when you take on this kind of lifestyle of the Bedouins. At first, they are pretty obvious such as a camel looking for a piece of pita.

But then you start to notice the smaller things that you might have passed by because your mind was in a completely different place. It might seem obvious at first that you should have seen them because green like this just doesn’t happen in the desert. But when you stop to look at them, it makes you start to wonder why there is this kind of green out in the middle of the desert, and how does it end up on top of a mountain where the harsh conditions are made even harsher with the winds that blow over the sands.

And then you start to see the strange patterns that nature makes in the rock. It seems almost too perfect to have been created by nature, but then again there is too much of a randomness to it to be created by man. It makes you wonder if mankind is only a amateur artist compared to the crazy creations that nature can put together.

It takes you on journey that you know you should have been on a long time ago, and wonder why you didn’t push to get yourself on it sooner. It gave me an appreciation for the world around me that I had not experienced for a long time, and I have to thank the Bedouins for forcing me to disconnect so I could appreciate it the way that it was meant to be appreciated.

It gave those small moments that we pass over in life the importance that they deserve. It might not have been the relaxing break that I was looking for, but it was something better. It was the vacation I needed. I needed that adventure that only a Bedouin could give me, so I could regain that appreciation for life I had lost during the last couple of years. It makes me excited for the next adventure I get to have, and I won’t soon forget the one I just experienced.

A Desert Feast – Wadi Rum, Jordan

To my American friends, I am sorry I am late, but I would like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope that you were able to spend it with good people, sharing good food with them, and making good memories. To all my friends who come from other places in the world, I hope that your adventures allow you to experience the same kind of joy that makes Thanksgiving one of my favorite American holidays.

Living away from the United States makes this holiday a little harder to celebrate. Many of the places I have worked for as I moved overseas has not seen this day as an important holiday, even though they celebrate holidays that are very similar to Thanksgiving. Luckily, I have found myself in a community that appreciates this day, and made sure that my coworkers and I were able to celebrate it in the best way we could find. I took advantage of this fact, and got up early on Thanksgiving morning to take a three and a half hour drive south to Wadi Rum, a Unesco World Herritage Sight, and the movie set for such famous films as Dune, The Martian, Prometheus, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and Lawrence of Arabia.

This desolate landscape might not be the first choice for many people when they think of gathering together for a big feast, but there is much more to this location than the stark beauty. There is a whole community of people that live nomadic lifestyles among the sand, and rocky mountains, and they welcome people with open arms to take a couple of days and feel what it is like to live this way.

It might not have been what I was expecting for a Thanksgiving dinner, but the food and the way it was prepared made for a great Thanksgiving experience. The Bedouins having been preparing huge feasts for centuries out in this desert. It basically starts when they dig a hole in the ground and fill that hole up with burning coals. They then add vegetables, and chicken, cover that hole with a blankets and some sand, and let it cook for two hours.

After two hours, they dig away the sand, pull back the blanket, and pull the feast out of the hole.

And it is quite the feast that they pull out of this hole. Just like a great Thanksgiving meal, there is not a lot of spice added to the meal. For the most part, it is about the preparation of it. Simple ingredients cooked well and combined in the right way to make the perfect meal, and though it was not turkey and mashed potatoes, it was still the perfect meal for this day.

But it was the friends I got to share this meal, and all of the other meals this weekend, that made it a Thanksgiving. Though we may talk about the food, it is the company and the experiences we remember. I feel lucky this year to have spent it with a great group of people. It may not have been my family, and I do miss sharing this day with them, but if I can’t be with them, I am glad that I was still able to have an experience that I will soon not forget.

I hope your Thanksgiving was just as good, and that continues on through the whole holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

A Short Love Story

My wife and I recently moved to Amman, Jordan and took new jobs at one of the international schools in this ancient city. It has been an exciting move, especially after a year of being forced to spend a year in a country and losing one of the aspects of this lifestyle that we enjoy the most, traveling. Though the opening of the world is still moving slowly, the change of scenery has been rejuvenating, and experiencing the change of seasons has been great. I never knew how much I loved this change in my life, and it is wonderful to experience the crisp, cool mornings of autumn again.

Despite all of these advantages, there was one we were really excited about. We had talked with the new school we were moving to, and made sure that they would supply us with a place that we would be able to have a pet in. It meant moving into a smaller apartment than the rest of the people starting with us, but after living the last six years in the big cities of Southeast Asia, we have learned a minimalistic lifestyle and didn’t really want a big place to begin with. It was more important that we ended up in place with a yard, so we could have a dog to share our time with. We were waiting until after we settled in, and our first big break before we talked with the rescue shelters and found the perfect companion for our place, but sometimes life moves quicker than you expect.

Enter into the narrative, a little puppy that was found wandering the streets of Amman as a stray. The city has a few of these running around the empty lots, but from my experience, they are still rare to see. It is not the like the soi dogs that could be found on the streets of Bangkok, but they are still here. Still, it is more common to run into stray cats scurrying throughout the neighborhood rather than a lone puppy looking for a companion.

Anyway, my co-worker had found this puppy running around her neighborhood. She took her in, and her daughter named her Socky for the white paws that she had. Her mom knew that they could not keep her because they already had a dog, and she knew many other people who were looking to adopt a dog. Of course, our name was top of the list. Within five days of them finding Socky, she was at our house running around, pulling shoes out of the closest, and cuddling up to us as we watched television later in the evening.

It was not exactly what I thought would have happened. My thoughts of adopting to a dog went to us finding an older dog that needed to be rescued and giving him or her a great life that they never experienced before. The older dogs are usually a little easier to bring in for the adjustment. You don’t have to house train them, and they don’t take the time that a puppy does. But when a cute little bundle of joy falls into your lap, it is hard to say no to her, so we ended up adopting her.

The first thing we did was change her name to Suji. We couldn’t keep it Socky because too many people thought she was named after the Japanese liquor, and the new name had a nice connection to the neighborhood we lived in Seoul. We also spent time puppy proofing the house, bought a few puppy comforts to make her feel at home, and took her out a regular basis to make sure she understood what it meant to go to the bathroom outside. It was a little bit of work, but it was worth it. She only had one accident in the house, and she was quickly becoming a part of the family. We were experiencing the love that can only come from a brand new puppy.

On the fourth day of being new dogs owners, we came home to find that Suji was exhausted. We did not think about it much because we had hired a dog sitter to come in for an hour a day to let her out and to play with her so she wouldn’t make a mess of the house while we were gone. The main worry we were having was a cough that she was developing and the fact that she wouldn’t eat or drink anything. Once again, we weren’t too worried about it because we had set up a vet appointment the next day so we could take her in to get a quick checkup and talk to them about eventually having her spayed. We could see if it was something serious then.

Well, the next day, we got a text from our dog sitter saying that Suji was running a little bit of a temperature, and she was having trouble walking. She still wasn’t eating or drinking, and our worry grew. This was beginning to look like something more serious than we originally thought. We rushed home after work, and took her to the vet where we were told that she had distemper. This is a disease that many stray dogs contract when they come in contact with wild animals. In older dogs, there is a slim chance of them surviving, but in puppies that chance is reduced significantly, and if they do recover, they will have extreme neurological damage for the rest of their lives. During the last stages of the disease, the brain and the brain stem swell causing loss of motor function, and severe seizures that are extremely painful. After some blood tests, it was shown that Suji was not responding well, and the disease had a great chance of progressing quickly. We had the tough choice to make, and we went with the advice of the vet and let Suji go in the thought that we were helping her overcome what would otherwise be a very painful ordeal that would have ended the same way.

Even though we had just gotten to know this little puppy, it was still an extremely difficult decision to make. It was a painful moment, but I do believe that we had done the right thing, but I don’t want to leave this story making you feel bad. That is not the purpose of this narrative. It is to talk about love, and how sometimes it is a long hug, and at other times it is just a short breath, but either way it is still a powerful emotion and one that I wouldn’t change for any other experience.

Suji’s life was short, and the time that she spent with us was even shorter. I could count the days that she was in our lives on one hand, and though I do not like the way that our relationship ended, I still loved the time we got to spend together. She brought a joy to our house for those five days. The way she smiled and wagged her tail when we got home will never be forgotten. The excitement she showed when I told her she was a good girl for peeing outside made me just as proud of these small accomplishments as she was. The greeting she gave every new person she encountered to spread the love that was inside of her was unforgettable. Those puppy moments where she would love to play and explore followed by those other puppy moments where she just wanted to cuddle were moments I will never forget. She brought love into our house, and I will be forever grateful for her for doing that. She had renewed a part of myself that had been missing for a long time, and I hate the hole she has left behind, but she has let me know that this kind of feeling is still out there waiting to be experienced again.

It might be a little while before we get another dog, but I now know that I need one of these furry friends roaming around my house. I know I will love the next dog just as much as I loved Suji, but I will always be grateful for her to bring this unconditional love back into my life. Even though it was a short love story, any moment that you get to experience love it is important, no matter how little amount of time they may be.

Thank you, Suji, and I hope that you rest in peace.

The Dead Sea, Jordan – The Kempinski Hotel

Very rarely do I talk about the hotels that I stay in while traveling, but that is mainly because, I do not go traveling for the hotel. My main goal while out in the world is to see and experience many different places. I do not believe that this can happen at a hotel because the real adventure is beyond the borders of these places. Of course, this philosophy has been tested during the Covid years. Places that would be out of my price range lowered their prices by quite a bit, and I had a hard time ignoring their attempts for me to stay with them. This was something that happened all the time during my years in Thailand, and I thought I would have to break myself of this habit when I moved to Jordan. I had built up my resolve and was getting ready to face the return to more modest accommodations when the school I have started working for had a raffle and I was the lucky winner of a night’s stay at the Kampinski Hotel at the Dead Sea. I could have run down for a quick night’s stay, but I decided to wait until my first big break, and add a couple of nights to really enjoy the place and what it had to offer. I do have to say that it was worth the extension, and it was nice to get to stay one more night at a resort before I switched over.

The resort is a sprawling complex located on the edge of the Dead Sea with its own little beach at the edge of the water where you can go down to float. There are six different restaurants, five different pools, a gym, a kid’s center, and a spa. The place, like so many other resorts, is designed to cater to your ever need so you will not want to ever leave.

And I will admit that it was hard to defy them in this attempt. The pools are comfortable and there is enough variety among them that you can find the one that is perfect for you, whether you like to hang at the lazy river designed for family fun, a long lap style pool, an infinity pool supplied with its own DJ and party vibe, or one at the bottom of the resort that gives you the best view of the Dead Sea and the land that stretches out on the other side of it.

The food options are also outstanding, but I will admit that, like most resorts, they were a little overpriced. Still the best one was the Lebanese restaurant, Code, that offered authentic Lebanese food. If you do decide to eat here, I do recommend that you make a reservation because it is impossible to get seated otherwise. If you are looking for something a little more affordable, you can find it at the mall a ten minute drive away where they have an English style pub, and an American style sports bar where the drinks and food are not as expensive.

There are also some nice day trips close by as well. There is Wadi Mujib, a biosphere reserve that offers a nice hike, the salt flats with the intricate salt formations, the panorama that offers outstanding views of the whole area, and the baptism sight for Jesus that can add a historic perspective if that is something you might be interested in. If you do decide to leave the resort to go on one of the adventures, I have found the Kampinski Resort is the perfect place to come back to so you can unwind with friendly staff and comfortable accommodations.

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.

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.

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.