The Land of the Midnight Sun

As the sun finishes another lap
In the northern sky, I watch the shimmer
Of its light glimmer on the ocean’s sap.
I know the night will only get dimmer,
So I can sit out here a bit longer,
And from my well deserved drink, take a sip.
As a distant brewing storm gets stronger,
And threatens to give the air a sharp nip,
I will breathe in deeply this last moment
As I wait for its coming arrival.
For the sun in the sky has not been spent;
I will bear witness to its survival.
What else can I do on this grassy shore,
But enjoy the scene that’s been laid before?

One Long Summer

It has been a long time since I have seen this view, the city of Amman from my back porch. I spend a lot of my time during the school year looking over this perch, and it has been almost ten weeks since I have been back. When I was younger, this was a normal amount of time for summer break, but the schools have slimmed them down a bit. There are numerous reasons for this. Schools wish to have more breaks during the school year to help reduce the pressure that many students feel at certain points of the schedule. Districts also wish to reduce the summer slide when students put the books down and pick up the game console controllers. It is also a long time to be a way from work, and by the end of it, people are bored, no longer being productive about anything in their lives. This is the reality for many schools around the world, but for me this year, it was not the case. There were a couple of complications with the way the holidays landed this year that complicated things, and extended the summer. The school I work for now also does not believe in the smaller breaks, following the work hard, play hard philosophy. Because of these things, I have had a long summer to explore the world.

When I first thought about what this prospect of a long summer meant for me, I started to think about how I would spend my time. Most of the time, I head back to the United States and visit with family and friends, but there is a limit you can stay at a place before you wear out your welcome. I prefer to have my time spent with these people to be quality time, and not just passing the time. Also considering that the last couple of years had made travel difficult and I now had an opportunity to see a part of the world I never had before, we made arrangements to spend the first part of the summer in Iceland.

Iceland seemed lie the perfect place to go in a world still getting over its post-Covid hangover. The danger of the disease still lurked around every corner even though right before we boarded the plane to start on our travels, the United States followed suit with a lot of the other countries in the world, and decided to no longer make having a negative PCR test part of flying into the country. Everything was coming together to make for a great summer of travel. Still, it was going to be nice to be in a country without many people in it and the main attractions that tourist go and see being outside. We didn’t even need to worry about catching the disease in hotel rooms because we spent our time traveling around the island in a camper van and rarely did we have contact with other people.

Still, this did not make our travels easy in Iceland. We ran into rain and cold weather during most of our three weeks we were there. The people we did interact with told us time and time again that Iceland was experiencing the coldest June in thirty years. It created some challenges along the way, and there were many nights that we were huddled up in our van staying warm in our sleeping bags while waiting out the rain and blowing wind that was beating itself against the side of our vehicle.

Still, there were plenty of moments where the sun came out and we took advantage of those times to gaze upon the beauty of Iceland. It was the perfect way to start this long summer. I was able to let go of all the stress and pressure that comes with the school year, and concentrate on something else. I didn’t have a lot of down time that usually comes from vacation, but it was okay because I had plenty of time later on to take advantage of that. I also did not experience a lot of heat, but I knew I would eventually run into it when I made it to the second part of my trip Oregon in the United States.

But the Pacific Northwest can be a fickle place as well. My father-in-law is always telling me that he never expects it to get warm in Oregon until after the Fourth of July, and not to get mad if it doesn’t happen until after the fifteenth of the same month. Well, this summer put that saying to the test. I would like to say that I had made it all the way to the 24th without experiencing a day over 90, but that was not the case.

There were two days early on in the month where we traveled down to Tucson, Arizona to attend the wedding of a couple of friends from both Korea, and Jordan. We ran into day over 100 degrees there, but if they weren’t that hot in mid-July there, I would have been worried. The wedding wasn’t an actual wedding either. The happy couple had gotten married the previous summer to allow them to move to Jordan without any trouble. The problem with that first ceremony was that it only involved a handful of people due to the speed in which it happened and the fact that the world was still in lockdown during the summer of 2021. This time around was a celebration of a marriage that had already happened, but it was with all of the people they would have invited if it wasn’t for those strange circumstances surrounding their first ceremony. It was more than just a celebration of love because a lot of the people invited to the ceremony were also people I had worked with in Seoul, and had not seen since I had left that country. It became a reunion as well from people who live all over the world now. The world had moved on from Covid and was willing to get back together again. All of these things were expressed in that tiny ceremony, and it was one of the highlights of this summer, right around the halfway point of my time off as well.

I did not get to enjoy the heat for long though because it was back to the Pacific Northwest, and though I got a couple of days in the high 80s in Central Oregon, we left that behind to go up to the Puget Sound of Washington. Being so close to the ocean so far north meant cooler days, and nights where we actually built a fire to enjoy the evening outside. It was around this time that I was hearing about the heat that the rest of the country was experiencing and I felt really lucky that I kept avoiding it. I was even able to dodge that bullet when those temperatures finally hit the Pacific Northwest by making the jump to another part of the country, but I knew that I had a long way to go this summer, and there was no way I could avoid it forever.

But I wasn’t that far north to enjoy the weather. It was for another celebration that was put on hold because of, once again, Covid. My in-laws had been planning a little getaway for their whole family to celebrate one of them hitting a significant milestone in age, and both of them celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. This trip had been scheduled early in 2020 before Covid became a worldwide pandemic. I remember many conversations from that year about whether the trip should be canceled or not. It is funny looking back and thinking that it would have been a possibility in 2020, but I am sure many people had the same kinds of conversations. I am just happy that we were able to eventually get to celebrating these moments, even if they were a couple of years later; they were still important, and still needed to be recognized. I am sure that there were a lot of people around the world who also wished to make up these lost moments for the last two years, and that was probably the reason that travel was so crazy this summer.

It wasn’t just the visiting of family and friends that returned to a sense of normalcy this summer. Business was also getting back to the way that it once was. Some considered this a good thing; whereas, others thought that something could have been learned about the way we conduct business from the last couple of years. As a teacher, I am required to take class to keep on top of the latest developments in education, and they have been annoying the last couple of years. I have had to sit in front of a computer, and watch a tiny screen as some trainer babbled on about what I should know. This is not a good form of education. It is easy to get distracted, and all of the teachers I had in this kind of experience, rambled on about nothing for way too long. I get a lot more out of the experience if I show up and have face to face conversations with my colleagues, and interaction with the person running the training. This summer, I was able to enjoy that kind of experience again. During the end of July, I flew to Wisconsin to have some training on English Language Learning with the WIDA Institute. It was a great trip, and I got a lot out of the experience, and am looking forward to more like it.

Though I appreciated the in-person conference, I understand why things have changed for companies all over the world. A lot of money has been spent on office space over the years, and they have learned that this is not necessarily needed. They are beginning to see that their employees will get their work done from their homes, and there is no need for somebody to watch over them to make sure they are doing their work. These companies are starting to recognize that they do not need to spend a lot of money on office space, and have their employees commute into work every day. They can have happy and productive employees and allow them to make their homes their workspace. This rethinking of the way we do things is one of the effects of the last couple of years. Both the old and the new ways have advantages and disadvantages to them, and it is interesting to see how the world makes the changes because of the adjustments that needed to happen the last couple of years.

Of course, as anybody living in the United States over the summer can testify, it was impossible to escape the heat that gripped a lot of the country. It was only a matter of time before I ran into that heatwave in my home state of Colorado. I enjoyed it at first, but of course, heat is always oppressive and I found that spending my time indoors was more comfortable than being outside in the heat. Still, it was nice to make it back home and have the chance to visit with family and friends. The time always seems so short for this, and I try not to fill it up with too many other things that would take up my time.

But of course, you can’t head back to the place where you used to live and that has a part of your life still at it, and not have some business that you need to attend to. For me this time around, it was with my storage unit. It had been getting to be a mess from years of just rummaging through it without me giving much thought to how well I organized it after I had left. The company I was renting from was also raising the price, and it was getting to be a little ridiculous with how much I was paying per month. So I spent a couple of days going through all of the stuff I had left behind, so I could move it to a new storage space that was more reasonably priced. There were moments with it that had a nostalgic feel to it. I was looking at stuff I had not seen in over seven years and it brought back some great memories. Of course, there was a bunch of other stuff that I went through and wondered why I had kept it for so long. When it was all said and done, it was great that I had gone through it all, and my stuff was a little more organized.

It was a great and busy summer, and it was a great time to make up a little bit of what was lost over the last couple of years, and I feel that a lot of people had the same idea with their summer. I was lucky to avoid the heat that many other people had run into on their summers, but in the end, we were all able to form some great memories with the adventures we had. It is back to the grind, and based on the adventures I had, I am ready to take on that challenge to build up to that next time I get to go out and have another adventure. Until then, keep on

The Purge, The Best Thing about Moving

There are many things that you can learn while attending college, but the most important one come when a friend asks you what you are doing the next day. You always tell them you are busy even if you are not. This goes double if you are the proud owner of a truck. The reason for this is because nine times out of ten, that friend of yours is looking for your help to move them. This is never a fun experience, and the only reward you usually get for all of your time spent might be a slice of pizza and a Keystone Light. Never think that they will be around to help you when it is your turn to move because they already played the mental chess game of asking you what you are doing the next day, and where that will lead them.

I know that moving is never a pleasant experience. It is even worse if you are only moving from one storage unit location to another. When that happens, you don’t get the joy of actually putting your new place together and getting to feel what it is like living there. During this experience you are just looking through your stuff that you haven’t seen for awhile, and putting it some place else where you won’t look at it again for another long time. Even though this is the case, there is something to take out of the experience.

The reason we got a storage unit in the first place was because there was a lot of our stuff that we wanted to hold on to, so when we wrapped up living overseas and moved back to the United States, we could have that stuff to start over again. What we didn’t realize was that we would soon forget all of the stuff we packed into that tiny space, and what was not really worth holding on to in the first place. This opportunity of going through that stuff again allowed us to rethink what we were saving. In other words, it was a great time to purge and reduce our possessions down to the think that really held value to us. Too often, when we are living in a space, we collect stuff, and have a belief that this stuff is important because it is what we can see and hold on to on a daily basis. But as soon as you pack that stuff up and move it to a place out of sight, it quickly moves itself out of your mind.

But that’s the thing. If it is out of mind, how important is that thing really for you. This was the standard that we created for ourselves as we went through our storage unit. We had to do this. We went from a 10 by 15 foot unit to a 10 by 10 unit, and not all of our stuff would fit in the new space. So if the item wasn’t unique or special to us, or we would have to buy it again when we moved back, it went into a pile that went to Goodwill. There were some tough decisions made along the way, but in the end, we were able to organize ourselves, and load up the storage unit with just the stuff that was really important to us.

Most people would think that this kind of purge would leave them feeling deflated, like the years of living ends up in a pile on the donation site at a Goodwill store. It can feel that way, but if you are being honest, there is a lot of stuff that we collect over our lifetimes, and we need to purge it from our lives. These stores that collect the stuff that you no longer need know ways to repurpose it. There are plenty of people out there that would love to have that stuff in their lives for a reasonable price as well. and when you look at the clean and clear space that is left behind, you will feel better about your lives because you will no longer have that clutter hanging over your head. So, yes, the two days I spent moving from one storage unit to another, and the various trips I took to Goodwill to purge some of this stuff was exhausting, but in the end, I feel a lot better for having accomplished the task. I feel like I have simplified my life, and what I have now own, I truly appreciate.

I will close the door on my new space as I get ready to move back overseas for another year of teaching, and I am sure I will forget about all of the stuff that I have collected in that space. Who knows, maybe in another seven years, I will have the opportunity to purge again, and bring it down to exactly what I need, but I am not sure if I can simplify it more than I already have. Then again, in seven years, I may wonder why kept all of this stuff and feel the joy of bring it down to an even smaller unit that will be the essence of my life.

The Heirloom

Right before I moved overseas, I was given this old clock. It used to belong to my father’s uncle who had just passed away, and it was given to my as a family heirloom. It no longer worked, but I was told that if I invested a little time, energy, and money that I could get it working again. At the time, I didn’t have any of those things to offer, but I thought that it was a cool looking old clock. I knew that one day I would look into getting it fixed, but until then I needed to store it some place. We had just sold our house at that time, and we were moving most of our worldly possessions to a storage unit. Obviously, the clock was going to be one of these things that went into the storage unit, and as I started on my adventures overseas, I soon forgot about the clock.

This was until recently. The price of our storage unit kept on rising over the seven years we were overseas, and we noticed that if we moved to a new storage unit, we could lower our price by almost a quarter of what we were paying. It seemed like a no-brainer, except for the fact that we were going to have to go through all of our old stuff, get rid of some of it because we were moving to a smaller unit, and go through the toil of moving it from one place to another. While we were in the process of moving, I came across the old clock again. I recalled the vow I had made to get it up and working again some day, and I knew that it was small enough that I could find a place in the new storage unit that I would be able to get it fixed when I moved back to the United States. So there it sat as I worked on moving stuff from unit to another.

Once again, I put the clock in the back of my mind. That was until, I started to hear it tick. At first, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The clock was supposed to be broken and badly in need of repair, so I moved closer to it to see if what I was hearing was accurate. It was working now not only because of the ticking, but the minute hand had advanced seven minutes from when I first pulled it out of the storage unit. This would have been a creepy enough thing even if it wasn’t for the fact that I had just watched the fourth season of Stranger Things a couple of weeks earlier. I looked around to see if Vecna was going to pop out and take me away to the upsidedown. I did not see him, but I did see my wife walked back to our original storage unit.

Of course, I beckoned her over to see if she would hear and see the same thing that I was at that moment. I pointed out how the clock was ticking away, and I started to take a picture of it with my phone. She agreed that she could hear it too, and when I finally snapped that picture, the clock let out a gong that made both of us jump back. It only took a couple of minutes after that when the clock returned to its usual state of not doing anything, but my heart was still pumping away from just having gone through the experience.

For those of you who were worried, first, thank you for your concern. Second, I am sure that it was a freak occurrence that had something do with me triggering the clock to get it started up again, and Vecna is not going to come out of the woodwork to take me away. Despite all of this, it made what would have been a dreary day of moving into something a little more fun, and lively. Plus, now I know what this clock will sound like the day that I get it up and running again. At least it will not be out of my mind until the next time I run across it because it is too good of a story to tell to forget about it now. I guess that is what makes it a true heirloom.

Fort – A Review

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that my wife and I travel a lot. Usually, I like to bring a smaller game with me, so during those down periods, we will have something to play. Usually this means a card game, and because my wife love the game so much, it usually means that we will be bringing Phase 10 with us. As far as card games go, I really do enjoy playing this one, but I have played it so many times, that I need to put aside for awhile. So when I started to prepare for a three week long Iceland trip, I started to look for a new game that I could take with me that would be refreshing, and a little more complicated. That is when I found one that might work from Leder Games, the king of board games with only four letters in their titles. I thought the theme, and the use of a simple resource management mechanic combined with deck building might make for the perfect game to bring on this trip.

THEME

You are a kid who likes to hang out with his friends, eat pizza, play with toys, and most importantly, build a fort in your backyard with this group of companions. Like any group of friends, there is a rival group of friends who want to outdo you by eating more pizza, playing with more toys, and making a better fort in their backyards. Of course, the friends that are collected are fickle. If you don’t play with them, they will run off and join some other group to help them build their fort, so it is important to make sure that they get some use. You can always make sure that they remain your friends forever by giving them a prestigious position in the lookout, but if you do that then they loose their special abilities, and can only help out by helping with which resources they bring to the mix. Of course, your best friends will never run off, and will always be by your side, and they will also help you come up with your own special rules to help you make the best fort possible.

I absolutely love this theme, and it works so well with the gameplay. The amount of characters that are represented in this game are numerous, and there are only a few repeats of cards. The fact that you bribe these kids with pizza and toys just adds to the overall theme, and there are moments when you want certain kids to play with you, so you are always looking at the ones that did not get used by your rivals. Certain kids get passed around all over the place, making the most popular kids in the game. Despite this, it is not as immersive as some of the other games I have played, though it does work well with the story that it is telling.

Rating – 8

GAMEPLAY

Leder Games is known for its complicated games that take multiple plays to become comfortable with the system that they have built. This has been a turn off with my wife who like medium level games where she can wrap her mind around the system rather quickly. Out of all of the Leder Games that I have played, this is the one that is the least complicated, and can be learned in fifteen minutes. Even though this is the case, it does take a couple of games before you can start to develop of strategy with the game.

At its heart, Fort is a deck building game. Each player has a player mat where they will pay attention to the resources they collect, and the level of their fort. They will also have a collection of ten cards to start off with, five of which will always be in their hand. Each card will have two actions that a player can take if they play that card. The top action is a shared action that if the other players meet the requirements of that action, they can do the same thing. The bottom action is a private action, and can only be used by the person playing the card. These actions allow you to do certain things like gain resources such as pizza and toys, build up your fort, or move a friend of yours into the lookout. A combination of these things set allow each player to reach a winning condition that will being about the end of the game.

Each card also has a suit with it that can trigger certain things from taking place if enough of the same suit is played. This means that if a player plays his or her cards right, they can use all of the cards in their hand at their turn. This is important because any cards that are not played go into the player’s yard unless it is one of their best friends which instantly go into their discard pile.

The last action that a player takes on their turn is to add a new friend to their deck. This is where the game can get a little brutal, and shows you what kind of friend you really are. The selection comes from three cards that are always shown from the unused deck of cards, or the cards that are out in other players’ yards. This means that the card that you did not use and were hoping to use at a later date could be stolen by another person and end up helping them instead.

The gameplay is not that complicated, even though there are a lot of actions that a person can perform. The design of the game was smart enough to give every person a cheat sheet that explains what each of these actions are and how you can use them. It does take one play-through to start to formulate a strategy that might work for you, but a game does not take long enough that you feel like you can’t collect everything up again and play another round after you have figured out how everything works together. Of course, the first play takes a little longer than following games, but when you get into the groove, a game plays around thirty minutes.

The gameplay also represents the theme well, and it creates a fun experience. Like most Leder Games, it has a learning curve that might discourage certain players, but if they can get over that hump, I believe they will eventually come to enjoy the game.

Rating – 8

ARTWORK

I may be a little biased, but I love Kyle Ferrin’s artwork. It is one of the things that always draws me to Leder Games. His cartoony figures add as much to the game as does the gameplay. Fort may be the game where his artwork fits in with the theme the best. Playing the game, and seeing all of these children sketched as cartoon characters, it makes me feel as if I am a part of some Saturday morning cartoon that never actually got produced. Each of the characters are completely different, and there personality seems to jump off of each card.

The design is not only based upon the drawings either. The resources that you gather are nice chunks that have a toy box or pizza painted on one end. They fit in nicely into each player board. The player boards themselves are these chunky pieces of cardboard that has indents in them that allows for fun manipulation of all the piece that you collect throughout the course of a game. And on the back of each board is the background of each player’s best friends which though not necessary, is a still a nice detail that adds to the overall enjoyment of the game.

Basically, I don’t think that there is any game that Kyle Ferrin could not do the artwork for that I would not be drawn to, and is one of the main reasons that I like to bring this game to the table. It is a little deceiving though. These characters that look like they could have been drawn by Charles Schultz make the game appear like it could be enjoyed by a much younger age. But this just adds to the nostalgic feeling that I get when playing this game.

Rating – 10

INTERACTIVITY

The game is fun to play because of your always changing deck. This deck changes not always because of the cards that you pick up from the big deck, but because of the cards that you take from other players’ yards. It makes this fun interaction take place during the game. This gives you the ability to manipulate other people’s hands, and at times, it hurts when a friend that used to be yours shows up in somebody else’s hand, especially if that kid has a power that you desperately need.

This interaction does add a little bit of fun to a two player game, but because only one kid from your yard can be taken each turn, your hand does not change that much throughout the course of a game. In a game with more players, this interaction becomes more important. Players can gang up on another player if they see that this person is getting closer to one of the win conditions. One player could lose a lot of their cards making their hands less powerful and they would need to build up their group of friends again. It adds for some fun moments and the kids that get traded around start to get their own personalities that add to the overall story you are creating as well.

Players are also interested in what other people are doing during their turn. The shared action on the cards allow the other players to do something even when it is not their turn. It also forces you to think about which card you are going to play because there are times when other players cannot do something with that shared action, and you will want to think about whether or not this is a good time to play that kid. It just means that you are constantly thinking about what other people are doing while planning out your strategy as well.

The design of the game was put together so the various players around the table are interacting with each other, but that interaction works better on higher player counts than it does with only two players. It is still fun with two players, but I find myself wanting to play with at least three.

Rating – 9

EXPANSIONS

Leder Games is known for their expansions to their games. They know that some games can lose their edge if you play them over and over again because it feels as if you are playing a round that you have already experienced. When they design their expansions, they do it in such a way that does not just add new cards to the game, but also adds new rule sets, so the game feels just as fresh as it did the first time that you played it. I have the feeling that Leder Games has these expansions already in mind when they release their games because the original boxes seem to have spots for these expansion already in them. The game, Fort, is no exception. They have just recently released the Cats and Dogs expansion that is packaged in a nice card box that slides in nicely next to the original deck of cards.

The cards add three new ways to enjoy the game. You can play with the dogs who will always be loyal to the player who can lure them into their doghouse, or the cats who are fickle and will jump around the table to different players sometimes granting them special things, sometimes hinderances, or both at the same time. They do add some victory points for the players at the end of the game, so it is important to pay attention to them while playing the game, but the dogs have the potential of becoming a distraction for the players; whereas, the cats can sometimes be forgotten if you get to involved with what you are doing with your fort.

Still they are both fun, but if you decide to add them to your game of Fort you will want to make sure that you are first very comfortable with the game. They do throw a big enough monkey wrench into the gameplay that it can make the game unbearable if you play with them before you are ready. When you do start to add them, I would recommend playing one at a time before adding them together. I would suggest starting off with the dogs because they are more apart of the gameplay; whereas, the cats can become an afterthought, and you might forget to hand off one to another player. But once you become comfortable with them, they become the only way to play the game.

Rating – 8

OVERALL

I love playing this game, and always look for a way to bring it to the table. The theme is great enough that it will attract others to it, and the explanation of how to play is not that hard that you can teach it relatively quickly. But this is not a game for everybody. Like most of Leder Games, the learning curve of this game to make it feel like you know what you are doing takes a little time, and it might discourage some people from playing again. Still, it is the most accessible of all the games I’ve played from Leder Games, and a great gateway game to get those other games of theirs to the table more often. If you are a fan of Oath or Root, you will love this game as well. It also plays a lot quicker than those other games, making it more of a casual game to play.

Overall Rating – 4.3 stars out of 5

The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine – A Review

Some people may be wondering why I am reviewing a game that won the prestigious Duetscher Speilepreis award in 2020 for the best board game. It should be obvious that this is a great card game, and the fact that it is now available in so many different shops around the world beyond the typical board game stores should make it a game that will soon be in everybody’s home. Why would I need to throw in my two cents, when people don’t really need to hear it anyway?

Well, it is a great game worth talking about. It only takes five minutes to learn how to play, but the amount of time that you will play, and how many times you will want to come back to the game makes this game worthy of being talked about again.

GAMEPLAY

The Crew is a collaborative trick taking card game where communication is limited. When I heard about it, I couldn’t wrap my head around a collaborative card game that used the trick taking mechanic. But it works. Basically, there are four suits of nine cards each, and a trump suit that has four cards. After dealing out all of the cards, cards from a smaller deck is selected from depending on what part of the adventure you are on. People take turns around the table selecting which card it is they will take on a trick, and without speaking game play begins.

There are ways to communicate a little bit of what is in your hand to help with that urge to work together, and there are a couple of special challenges that happen along the way to your voyage to planet nine. A hand can take anywhere from five to ten minutes, and from my experience, the moment you finish one hand, you want to scoop them up and play a new hand, whether that is to repeat the challenge you did no win, or move on to the next one. The game play is very addictive, and we found ourselves playing late into the evening with the promise of this being the last hand over and over again.

It also solves one of the biggest problems of collaborative games, the quarterback. I love playing collaborative games, and I always want to manipulate the board the way I see it so I can beat the game. This happens so much that I have the Pandemic app on my tablet so I can play the game over and over again without having to find others to play it with. This becomes a problem when I play with other people because I want to tell everybody what they should do. I have to remind myself that they are playing as well, and I need to keep my mouth shut. The communication rules written into The Crew will not allow one person to take control of the game, and creates some tense moments during the game play.

Rating – 10

THEME

On the back of the rule book, you will see this hook to the adventure you will go on if you choose to continue to open the pages. It tells the story of a group of astronauts who go through training, blast off from Earth, and the problems they encounter along the way as they pass the various planets of our galaxy. Each challenge comes with a little flavor text that you have to read before you try to overcome the challenge. The flavor text is about all there is to the theme of the game. Yes, there are some that work better with the challenge as opposed to others, but for the most part, they don’t really add much to the overall experience of the game. Yes, we would take the time to read the flavor text before each challenge, but most of them end up being pretty forgettable as you spend more time trying to get over the challenge rather than think about why you are getting over that challenge. For the most part, they could have tagged any story to the game play and it would have felt exactly the same, and this is not why you play the game over and over again.

Rating – 6

ARTWORK

Even though the theme feels a little tacked on to this game, designer, Thomas Sing, and artist, Marco Armbruster, made sure that the artwork bought into this theme. The pictures on each of the cards lends itself to the story and each highlights another problem that could be encountered along the way to Planet Nine. But this is not where the genius of these cards lie. Marco Armbruster understood that many people would want to play this game, and he designed the artwork on the cards to be all inclusive.

It started off with the colors of the four suits. Sometimes in low light, the colors of blue and green can blend together making them hard to tell apart, especially when the only color used on the card is for the number. By making highlighting the picture in the same color as well, it makes it easier to distinguish between them. There is nothing worse than accidentally playing the wrong card especially in a game that every card played eventually becomes important.

This inclusivity continues to people that can’t see color at all. Each of the four suits of the game are also designed with easy to distinguish symbols underneath each of the numbers, allowing people who are color blind to play the game just as easily. It was a great way to bring the fun of this game to more people, and just adds to the enjoyment.

This game could have easily been created with a two regular decks of cars, and couple of quarters, but because of the artwork, you really want to play with this deck. It makes it feel more like an event and less of just playing a game of cards.

Rating – 9

INTERACTIVITY

You wold think that a game whose key rule is no talking between the players would not have a lot of interaction, but this is where you would be wrong. Just because you can’t talk about the cards you have in your hand does not mean that you can’t talk. The game presents this wonderful opportunity to get together with friends and just talk.

But the best interaction with this game happens when the play stops. Whether you win or lose the round, you are going to want to talk about what happened during the gameplay afterwards. Every time I have played, we have discussed what moves worked really well, and mistakes that we made along the way. Even with the limited amount of communication, you find that it gives you enough information to make good decisions with the group. You also find that you start to trust your teammates to do the right thing, and you can even start to anticipate what your teammates will do next. The group I play with on a regular basis has gotten so comfortable with each other that we have named our What’sApp group after the game and our the trust we have built extends beyond the game play itself. The interaction in this game is so surprising that it always becomes a part of game nights because people find that they enjoy themselves that much because of that interaction.

Rating – 10

EXPANSIONS

There is not an expansion to this game, but that does not mean that you cannot get a lot out of this game. With the fifty missions that come in the log book, it will keep any group busy for a long time, and I have found myself returning back to earlier missions that were really fun to play and replaying them.

There is another version of this game that has been released that is its own stand alone game called The Crew: Mission Deep Sea. The game introduces its own set of rules and game play, but still has the same feel as the original. It only comes with 35 missions, but they are a little more complicated in game play. I would recommend playing The Quest for Planet Nine first because it is a little easier to digest, and if you wish to continue with the collaborative game play, get the second installment of this game. It is a little easier to find the first one, and it has become a staple at Target stores now, selling for around ten dollars; whereas, the second version is a little harder to find.

Either way, you will not be disappointed by picking up this game.

Rating – 8

OVERALL

The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is a really fun game that I come back to time and time again. I have started three different quests with different groups of people and each time I introduce the game, we spend the whole night playing and laughing. It is a great shared experience, and I can see why it won the Duetscher Speilepreis award. The best part about it is its price. It is not an expensive game which is becoming a rarity in this market where publishers keep on creating bigger games with more components. It is nice to know that there are affordable games still out there.

It is also an easy game to teach, especially if people know the trick taking mechanic from card games such as Hearts and Spades. Each time I have taught this game, we have been up and playing it within five minutes. The early missions are exceptionally easy, but they get people into the game. But don’t worry about it being too easy of a game. By the time you reach the eighth mission, it is difficult enough that it will take you multiple times to get through that mission.

If there is any complaint to the game, it is that the theme does not really contribute much to the overall enjoyment of the game. Basically, it is nothing more than flavor text, and it could have just been a list of challenges that is tied to any other theme. The game is still so much fun that it is a minor complaint that is quickly forgotten about as you play. I definitely recommend that you go out and form your own crew today. You will find yourself wasting hours playing this memorable game.

Overall – 4.3 out of 5 stars

Learning about English Learning – The WIDA Institute

Pardon the interruption, but I am going to talk about something that veers down a different path. For those of you who read the usual travel posts, or various poems, or review of board games, this post might not be for you. Many of you might not know this, but I spend a lot of time as an educator. For those of you have your educator license in the United States know that one of the requirements to keep that license is professional development. As an international teacher, this means some time during the summer I have to travel to various parts of the world to take a course that I might find useful in my craft as an educator.

I picked the word ‘might’ for a specific reason. There are many educators out there that will know the meaning of that word choice. Professional development, a lot of the time, is just a moment in your career where you try to develop your ability to remain professional. A lot of the time, it is a rehashing of what you already do, or a way for some retiree to make some extra side money by selling some program that they developed during their teaching career. You have to sit in this program, and nod your head as you try not to get mad that you paid money for this checking of the box that you need in order to renew your license. Rather, you would like to get that professional development that you can bring back to your classroom and use to fill in those gaps within your own instruction.

This brings me to this year’s summertime professional development. I took off to Wisconsin for a week so I could learn everything I could about WIDA, World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment. For those teachers out there, this is probably a program that they are familiar with, and may even implement in their own schools. For everybody else, WIDA is a program used for English language learners to help them in that struggle while they still try to be successful in their content classes. It is usually used for those teachers who run the English language learning programs in their schools, and their purpose is to guide the other teachers as to what they can do in their classrooms to help these students.

I know what you are asking now?

What is an English teacher doing getting trained on how to support English language learners?

Well, the short answer is that in the state of Colorado where my license is, I need to have a a certain amount of hours of English language learning in order to renew my license. There are many Colorado teachers are annoyed by having to jump through this hoop in order to renew their license. I get that feeling, but I like to go into these trainings with the idea that there is something that I can get out of it that I can take back to this classroom. It is this positive attitude that makes these professional development moments worth it.

It was pretty easy to go into this training with this attitude though. The conference covered an area that all international teachers should be aware of when working with their students. There are a variety of languages that are brought to my classroom though I can easily forget this fact because everybody is expected to speak English. Though they speak, read, write, and listen to this language in my classroom, they may still struggle with processing and expressing themselves using this language, and might need those extra structures in place to be successful. What I discovered in this training was that the structures that I could implement for my language users could also be used for my regular students, helping to reach those higher level of expression as well.

I am also starting to see why the state of Colorado requires this training as well. Whether you like it or not, the United States is becoming more multilingual every year, and in ways that would surprise many people. I was talking to a person from North Carolina who is working with many students that use Arabic as their first language. I know that Denver has a huge population of Russian immigrants where certain parts of town, that is the major language spoken. Los Angeles has the second largest population of Korean speakers over any other city in the world, except for Seoul. There are Chinese, Hmong, and Ukrainian speakers coming in all the time, and it is the role of the teacher to help these students learn the material. Even walking around Madison where I was getting the training, I heard a variety of languages spoken from the students that were getting some extra credits during the summer. It is no longer the need to know Spanish in order to help the students coming from Latin America, but a variety of tools that can be used to help all students.

I am really glad that I took some time this summer to go to this institute and learn what they had to teach me. It will definitely help my practice when I arrive in Jordan for my second year there, and it introduced me to other conferences that I will want to take in the future. My only regret was that I was the only content teacher in the training, and I wish that there were more of us there rather than just the English Language Learning teachers that I got to work with. I would hope that more content teachers take that leap and take this class. It will not only help their craft, but it will help to bridge that important gap between them and the English Language Learning teachers in their schools. It will create a classroom that everybody can learn in, and not just the ones who are already comfortable with the language.

Campus During the Summer – Madison, Wisconsin

When I was in college, I would drive up 1-25 in early September every year with a carload full of my stuff to get ready for the upcoming school year. I would spend the next couple of months in Fort Collins, making the trip back to Littleton around Thanksgiving, the holidays, and Spring Break. When I finished the school year up in May, I would pack all of that stuff up again to head back down I-25 for a summertime job, leaving behind the college campus. This is the story of many college students, but what story is not told is that of the college campus that we all travel to. During the school year, it is a crazy place of activity and stories are being written around every corner, but what happens to that campus during the summer months when the population drops because of the mass exodus of college students?

I was lucky enough to have stayed behind one summer to be able to answer this question. It is a strange experience to be on a college campus without all of the students. It is calm, and relaxed. The insane parties and rallies to support the college lifestyle are also gone. It is instead populated by people who are considering on attending the school some time in the future, the students taking summer classes because they are really interested in learning, and people coming out for professional development in their fields. I am having a similar experience I had during that summer on the University of Wisconsin campus right now.

Let me start off by saying that the campus of the University of Wisconsin is absolutely beautiful. It sits on a lake, and there are amazing old buildings and some really cool statues usually centered around Bucky the Badger. It also is not far from the state’s capital building on State Street where there are plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops, so not only does it make for a cool place where the students can hang out, but it also presents a place that attracts tourists that seem to always wandering about. I never knew that Madison was such a destination place, and I was surprised about the amount of tourists that I saw as I wandered around the campus.

The experience that I had though was a completely different one than the ones that happen as soon as the school year starts up. There was a little bit of the hustle and bustle that I saw with the tourists, but they did not have an agenda, and could leisurely make their way around town. As soon as classes start, the students will need to be at certain places at certain times, so there will always be this constant flow of people moving from one place to another. State street will also have a different feel to it every night. Instead of easily getting into restaurants or bars, I am sure there will be places packed with people inside, and even more waiting to get in. I could also imagine more of a party atmosphere as people hop from one bar to another. I was not getting that kind of flow while I was out here.

There is also the aspect of the weather. I was here during the summer months and was lucky enough to experience that time during a mild spell during the summer, so the days just begged for me to come outside and enjoy walking around. I have been told that this not always the case during the summer, that sometimes it gets really hot and humid. The winter months can be even more brutal with the winds and snow that sometime blow in from the lake. So this made this moment in time even more special. I got to be out here during the slower summer months with the weather that people hope to find when they go traveling to any place in the world.

All of this probably helped in the way that I fell in love with this city and campus. I have to keep on telling myself that this is not the way that it looks most of the year, and it makes me want to come back again some other time to see it in its other iterations. I do hope that I get to do that some day, and for those of you who consider yourself badgers, thank you for sharing your school with me during this week.

Happy Campers vs. Go Campers – Iceland by Camper Van

One of the best ways to enjoy Iceland is to rent a camper van and spend the day driving from sight to sight while spending the night in one of the various campsites that can be found all over the country. If you are planning a trip to Iceland and you are thinking about going this route, there are a few things that you need to know about traveling this way. If you want to get that information, look at my post about tips for traveling by camper van. If you are interested in knowing which camper van is right for you, I have a comparison of two of the bigger and more affordable companies that can be found just outside of Reykjavik, Happy Campers and Go Campers.

Organization

Both companies use the same type of van for their smallest version of a camper, the Nissan        . It is really funny to get in the driver seat of both vehicles and have it feel exactly the same. They do have all the bells and whistles that you need to drive comfortably and safely, but as soon as you get in the back of the vehicles, the organization of them change dramatically.

Happy Campers tries to make the back of their camper vans to feel like a mobile home. On the side behind the driver’s side they have a couch that at night can be folded down to become your bed. Underneath this, they have some storage space that they claim is easily accessible, but this is not the case. The lifting and lowering of the couch becomes a chore if you store the wrong stuff in this part of the camper van. The side behind the driver’s side is where they have the kitchen area. This consists of a sink, more storage space for dishes and pans, a place for the stove, and the refrigerator. It takes up a large portion of this side of the van, and if we used the couch more, it would have been a comfortable way to cook. Unfortunately, there never seemed to be enough space in this camper van. We spent a lot of our time moving stuff from the front of the van to the back of the van depending on whether we were driving or settling down for the evening. Granted we took too much of the extra, such as the bedding, a table, and chairs which we should have scaled down on, but I think that the way the van was organized, we would have had to continued to do this with our stuff anyways.

Go Campers went for a more stripped down approach. The kitchen equipment is located in the very back and you have to open the back doors to access it. It definitely puts it out of the way, and as long as the weather holds out, it is a great location for this stuff. Unfortunately, this was not the case while we were in Iceland, and it made cooking in this camper van a little bit of a chore. Still, most of the campsites have kitchens that make for easier cooking, so the fact that we used the kitchen so little made this one a better one for the overall organization of the van. The bed is folded up and placed on top of the kitchen equipment. When bed time rolls around all you have to do is pull the bed out, climb on in, and get some sleep. Our stuff became a little disorganized in the back because there is a huge open space in between the back and the front where we put all of our stuff. The bed just covers up all of this stuff, so there was never a need to move all our stuff from the front to the back every evening.

Though they both had their flaws, I do believe that Go Campers organized their vehicle better than Happy Campers make it the better choice in this category.

Comfortability

Let me start off by saying that being a six foot two man, living in a camper van for three weeks will never be a comfortable experience. With that in mind, I still got some wonderful nights’ sleeps while on the road. This was due to the fact that we rented sleeping bags with the van, and did not rely on the duvets that they gave us with this rental. I do believe that this was one of the most important things that we did on our trip to make it more comfortable, but it did add to the overall cost with both companies.

The front of the car was comfortable for both vans as well, and both were organized the same way. They both had nooks and crannies that allowed you to put all of the important stuff that you needed while driving, and there was not much difference there. It was the beds and the movement in the van that mattered when we stopped.

In the case of the Go Camper van, there was a lot more freedom of movement and I did not feel as cramped inside. There was also a lot less of the moving stuff from the front to the back as we prepared for either driving or the night. They did only supply one door to exit the van at night, so if the person sleeping on the left had to get up in the middle of the night to use the facilities, they were forced to wake up the other person which was a poor design. The bed also had wide open edges on either side that I some times felt threatened that I will fall off. The heater was in a more wide open space though which allowed for more access to the heat, and the lack of windows made it very dark in the land of the midnight sun.

The Happy Camper van did have windows which made for a feeling that you weren’t staying in a cave. They did give you some blinds for the windows to make the space dark during the evening, but they did not close well enough and you could never make it dark enough at night. The bed also fit in almost perfectly to the back of the van with the kitchen adding a nice space to put your stuff at during the middle of the night. The bed was a little skinnier which sometimes caused some struggle for the fight for space at night, but it was still big enough for a good night sleep. The door on either side of the van made for easier entrance and exit access which was great for the middle of the night as well.

For the most part, either van had some flaws with its design which made it difficult to completely get comfortable, but that is part of the appeal of traveling this way in the first place. Despite this fact, I would still give the edge to Go Campers but it made things a little more simple to move around in which was much appreciated after a long day of exploring Iceland.

Friendliness

Both companies did a great job when getting us to our camper vans. They had somebody come and pick us up from our hotel and take us to their office so we could go through the paperwork and start our adventure. Both companies did not do a good job of getting us back to where we needed to go after we dropped off the van. Basically we were on our own, except Happy Campers did supply a shuttle once a day to the airport which was nice. Otherwise, we needed to pay for a cab which are ridiculous expensive or to work our way to a bus stop with all of our gear if we wanted to get anywhere. Both companies are not located in central locations with Happy Campers being the further out of town, but they are located closer to a bus stop. Figuring out this problem would be nice for both companies to figure out because it was a struggle both times to make it where we needed to go.

As far as the people helping us out and making sure we understood what was required of us, there was one that I felt more comfortable with. Happy Campers were more willing to answer our questions, and had a more warm and inviting office that when we left, and made for a better overall experience. They were a bigger company with more vans, but that did not take people away from giving us the help we needed when we needed it. At Go Campers, it felt like we were rushed through a little more, and it wasn’t because both places weren’t busy. They both had about the same amount of customers, and employees to help out those customers, but Happy Campers took that little extra time to make sure we were ready to head out on the road than Go Campers did.

Price

Of course, this is a really important thing to consider before renting a van especially in a country where things are really expensive to begin with. Considering you are getting the same van for each company, and both of them gave us coupons to N1 gas stations for free coffee, there is not a lot to say about the differences but the bottom line.

As of July 2022, Happy Campers 90 Euro a day/ Go Campers 129 Euro a day. Both include heaters, and kitchens. They both had strong batteries that would allow us enough power to run those heaters and kitchens when we needed them. So if I was just looking at the cost, Happy Campers are obviously the choice to go with.

Extra Perks

Both companies have a list of items that you can rent with the van that can supply you with the experience that you are hoping for. These can be anything from camping chairs, French coffee presses, tables, coffee mugs, and bedding. You can get wifi as well, but we found that all we needed was a SIM card at the airport when we first arrived, and had enough GB of data to make it through a three week trip with some even left over at the end. The prices between items were very comparable between the companies, but there is something you want to keep in mind when you add these extra bonuses. Whatever you rent, you have to carry around with you, and that will take up precious space in these vans. So before you keep adding on the comforts of home, thing about the size of the item, and if you will really need it. There is nothing more annoying than spending each night rearranging the whole van so you can be comfortable. With that in mind, Go Campers recognized this and would warn people if they kept adding things that would make their vans more crowded. Happy Campers just kept on adding it on to the bill and pulling it out from the supply.

They both had a pantry of food left behind from other campers that you could grab for free. This was a great perk, and an easy way to get started on our trip. Happy Campers’ pantry had more of a selection but this was probably because of the size of the company as opposed to Go Campers.

Happy Campers also gave free gas for the camp stove which was a life saver. The stoves were not always needed though because many of the campsites had a kitchen with a stove that you could use instead, so I do not know how important this really was.

Happy Campers also had a stack of flannel blankets and allowed each customer to take two for free. This was a great perk, and we used those blankets on a regular basis, and felt the absence of them when they were gone.

Overall

Once again, both companies were great, and which ever one you choose, you will not be disappointed about it. It really comes down to what is important for you when you make the choice. For me, personally, it came down to how comfortable I was in the van. With all things put into consideration, I would lean more towards using Go Campers again in the future rather than Happy Campers. Because of the organization of their van, it was easier to move around in, and I enjoyed my experience with them more because of that.

Either way, Iceland is a great adventure, and you will want the right camper van for yourself to make the most out of that experience. I know this will not cover everything, but I hope it helps you out a little bit when you make that important decision when flying off to Iceland for that adventure.

Tucked Away on the Bay – Anacortes, Washington

Up on the northern end of the town of Anacortes in the state of Washington is a ferry port that will send people out into the San Juan Islands and beyond. You can work your way down to Seattle, and if you plan it right, you can even find a way to get up to the southern shores around Ankorage, Alaska. There are many sailboats that make their way up here, and if you look out into the water from certain points, you can see the constant flow of boating activity. At the same time, you can also move a little further into the bay and avoid all of this activity, and find yourself a quiet little bay instead.

This completely changes what Puget Sound can be. Instead of being staying on a place where you are constantly watching the passing of boats, you can nestle back in a chair and enjoy the quiet beach and calm waters. It makes the place the perfect place to come on vacation. A calmness comes over you as you sit back and enjoy the scenery, but there is still enough to do so you don’t get bored with your time there.

Most of it involves being on the water. I was amazed at how few boats I found on this cove, but the ones I did see were very active. There were a couple of motor boats that were floating waiting for their owners to come use them, and a couple of sailboats doing the same thing. But the others I saw were manpowered, and that was the way most people enjoyed this little corner of the Puget Sound. I went out a couple of times on a kayak, and my wife took it a step further to go paddle boarding. The currents in this bay made being on a paddle board difficult if you moved away from the shore. Kayaks were a little more stable but it was still a bit of a workout.

Getting across the bay took me to places even quieter than the simple Air B+B that I was staying at. There was some tribal land that is available to hike, but you are not allowed to dock your boat there. It does not make it any less beautiful as you can simply coast down the shore and look at the forest, beaches, and cliffs that make its landscape.

There are a couple of other islands that have easy access from this bay as well, some of which can give you the perfect private beach for an afternoon picnic. It does take a little bit of effort, but not enough to wear you down before you get there, and not so hard as to make it a chore to get back home. All of this, and free from the crowds that can found a little further to the north. It is a great escape, and if you can find that perfect little bay, you will get that quiet weekend getaway we are all looking for.