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.

Wingspan versus Everdell

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

THEME

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

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

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

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

GAMEPLAY

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

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

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

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

ARTWORK

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

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

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

INTERACTIVITY

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

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

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

EXPANSIONS

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

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

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

OVERALL IMPRESSION

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

What I’ll Miss About Thailand – The Food

It may not be one of the first cuisines that people think about when walking about the best food that this world has to offer, but Thai food is often high on many people’s lists. It would definitely make it on my top three, and living in Thailand, I learned about so many new dished that never make their way on to the menus of the Thai restaurants invading America.

You are guaranteed to see pad thai and pineapple fried rice on many of those menus and those are regular staples on many of the menus in Thailand, and yes, these are tasty dishes, but when I discovered all of the other ones available out there, I realized that many American had no idea the culinary delights they were missing out on.

When eating Thai meals, it is important to recognize that it is a family affair. Many dishes are ordered at a Thai restaurant ant they are brought out and placed in the middle of the table. A heap of rice is put on your plate and then you dig in, passing dishes around and trying a bit from each culinary delight. When I was at a restaurant I knew I was eating, but there were a couple times where the meals were designed for us at some of the hotels we stayed at and I was introduced to a couple new dishes in the process.

There are a lot of dishes that can found everywhere in the country such as somtam, a spicy green papaya salad, or tom yum soup, a spicy shrimp soup with a hint of coconut milk. They can be found from the southern beaches to the northern mountain with the only thing that each dish has in common is the fact that the word, spicy, is used in the description of the dish.

There are some regional dishes as well. My favorite would have to be a northern Thai dish called khao soi. It is a rich brown curry usually served with pork, but you can find options with chicken if that is what you prefer. It is topped off with fried rice noodles to give the dish the impression of a mountain filled with winding mountains which is what the name of the dish actually translates to. This is one of those menu items that I don’t think will be found in the United States at a Thai restaurant because it has not made its mark on the rest of Thailand yet. There were a couple of places in Bangkok where I could find a good imitation of this dish, but the best version remained at the small stalls, and mom and pop establishments in Chiang Mai.

The curries are delicious out in Thailand, and can be made to order with varying levels of spice. They can be served with rice or roti, a flatbread designed to scoop out the sauce, meat, and vegetables hiding just below the surface. It became a joke with my friends when we talked about how this option would be taken away when we traveled back to the United States. The Thai restaurants would only have names on the menu such as red curry or green curry, and not even allow their guests to attempt the name of the dish. I am sure I will find a version of my favorite, panaeng curry, but I will just have to hope that is what it is until it arrives in front of me, and I am sure it will never reach that level of spice that I had become accustomed to in Thailand.

There is always the street food as well. This is the main way that most people eat in Thailand. They go down to the main street in their part of Bangkok and look at what food options are available and pick the one that they are most interested in. I will admit that it is a little nerve wracking the first time you do it because you do not know how fresh the food is you are picking up, but there is a trick to finding the best food. Watch the crowd for a bit. See where most of the people go, and then you know that they are moving through their supply fast enough that the food will be fresh by the time you order, and it must be good if so many people are eating there.

Thailand is not just a great spot for its own cuisine, but it also specializes in all the other styles of food as well. They do a great job as well. If I got bored with Thai food all of the time and as long as I was in the bigger cities, I could find Italian, Mexican, Bar-b-q, Korean, Japanese, and Swiss. They put a little twist on it to make it their own, but the food was just as good as if you were getting it in the country where it originated.

I would have to say that they did breakfast the best. There is nothing better than going to a good breakfast place and having them make a fantastic meal for you, and in downtown Bangkok, there is an endless supply of them. I would always want to go back to the one that I just enjoyed, but would rarely do it because I would find another one that would be just as good or maybe even a little better.

The point being is that Thailand is a foodie’s paradise. They know how to cook out there, and combined with the pandemic, it made it a struggle to stay in some form of shape without having to buy a whole bunch of new pants. I will find the food like this again in other places, but nobody will be able to do Thai food like they do in Thailand, and for that reason, it will be one of the things that I will miss the most about that country.

Run Indoors – Escaping the Heatwave

I knew that it wasn’t going to be cold when I came back to America. I knew that I was going to have to face the heat of summer. I knew that when I finally made it back to Colorado during the month of July, I would probably face a string of 90 degree days that would cause me to return to the air-conditioned environment created by the great indoors.

What I didn’t know was that I would have to face these kinds of conditions while I was in Oregon.

That is not to say that Oregon never gets hot. I have experienced some hot days during all of my time out visiting the state. There have been strings of hot days that have made me want to stay inside until the sun dipped over the horizon, but most of those days have come in late July or early August. Oregon is usually trying to work its way out of the cool spring during the month of June, and when I first got out here, that was the weather I was experiencing. But the news in Oregon has been focusing on the heat wave that is about to hit the not only the state, but all of the West. It is not just a small bump in temperatures either. What they are predicting could break records for the longest streak of 100 degree days in a row, and in the middle of it all, the hottest day ever on record in Portland. Needless to say, there is a little bit of panic going on in the state right now.

Now, it is not the kind of panic that has people running to the grocery store stocking up on toilet paper. Only a world wide pandemic can cause that kind of panic. No, this is more of a reserved apprehension about how each individual will be able to handle this extreme heat. There is talk of running down to the coast where the temperatures are always cooler and will only reach the 70s, and they are setting up shelters to pump out cool air-conditioned air during the hottest parts of the day.

It appears that many people in Oregon have already decided that it has gotten too hot out there because a lot of the places are missing the people I would normally see there. I do not think that it is that hot outside yet, but I know when it starts to hit those triple digit numbers that I will be running inside with the rest of them. It is all a sense of relativity though. Most Oregonians have spent the last couple of months shaking off the colder parts of the year, and to be thrown directly into this heat wave is a shock to the system; whereas, I have been spending the last couple of years living in one of the hottest and most humid cities in the world. It will have to be those extreme temperature that they are forecasting this weekend that will get me to start to feel the heat, and like a lot of those people who are inside right now, I am not looking forward to it either.

That brutal heat of Thailand seems to have found me. It took it awhile, because I flew half way across the world to get away from it. Flying is way over the Pacific Ocean, it kept a watchful eye for me, and I should have spent more time indoors because it spotted me and is now bringing its fury down upon the innocent people of Oregon like they have never seen before.

I am sorry for that, but it was just a joy to have a change of season and be able to walk around outside without instantly sweating. The sad thing is that it seems to know what I will be doing next. I am moving on to my home state soon which is just east of Oregon, and this heat bubble is hanging over the Pacific Northwest just long enough to make the move over the Rocky Mountains. It looks like I will have to apologize to the fine people of Colorado in advance for the heat I know will be coming their way. But hey, it is summer, and you knew this heat was coming. It will only last for a short period of time before the crisp days of autumn come your way. Until then, look for those good people you want to spend time with, and run for that cool comfort you can get from an air-conditioned inside.

The Things I’ll Miss about Thailand – The Sunsets

Koh Yao Yai

Thailand has a lot to offer with its natural beauty, and I was lucky enough to have lived there during the Covid pandemic. It kept out the usual throng of tourists and made the prices for some of the more expensive hotels more affordable. I was spoiled a little bit because of this. Normally, I spend my time traveling in mid range hotels, Air b&b’s, or private rooms in hostels. The reason for this is not only financial, but because I like to spend more of my time away from the hotel, and see what the locations I am visiting have to offer. If I wanted to see the sunset over the ocean, I would have to find a good location, and stake out my spot. I was not aware that many of these luxury hotels were designed to give its visitors the premiere spots to watch the sunsets without having to leave their patios.

Koh Yao Yai

Because of this, I spent a lot of my time in Thailand chasing the sunsets. I never knew that they could be so dramatic and different depending on where I was and how the clouds hung in the sky over the horizon.

Khao Yai

It always meant that I had to rush to the perfect spot around six o’clock every evening during my travels to get the best shot I could. I always found that the best pictures came when I had a body of water to bounce the colors off of.

Hua Hin

But sometimes that would not be an option, and I would have to use what was available. Thailand offers enough landscapes though to make almost every sunset a perfect expression of color in the sky. Most people think of the ocean in Thailand, but there are enough mountainous locations that created beautiful sunsets that would rival the ones I used to see over the foothills on the western edge of Denver.

Phuket

I do believe that I got better at capturing the sunset as my time in Thailand grew. At first I was just trying to capture the sky, but I soon realized that the sunset was actually an event that brought the people of Thailand out to capture their own spectacular pictures.

Railay

There were stories to be told in those sunsets, and the color in the sky just became a backdrop for those tales.

Railay

It took my pictures to another level, and help me to remember those moments I had in Thailand that helped shape me into the person I am today.

Koh Yao Yai

So as my time sets in Thailand, I will always have these pictures to look back at think on the beauty that is this country. It will easily be one of the things I will miss the most about Thailand, and I know I will see other sunsets in my life, but I do not think I will ever witness ones that are as spectacular as they were there again.