I’ll admit that the only really thing that I knew about the small Greek island of Santorini I learned from the board game by the same name. I never played the game, but it looked really pretty with all of its white buildings with blue domes. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of the island that I learned where the inspiration for this game came from and I knew in an instant that I would have to make my way there someday.
Santorini was a volcano at one time that had a massive explosion that left the island as a caldera looking out over the sea. A couple of the cities on the island were destroyed and there are a couple of place where you can go look at these ruins that outdate Pompeii, and have the same eerie feeling as it.
But it is the recent cities that have been built on top of the cliffs that are the real treat of this island. The buildings all have a similar feeling to them, and they are painted white with blue highlights. It isn’t just the city of Oia on the northern edge of the island either. It is every place where people have settled, whether it is on the caldera side or the seaside. It gives the city a utopian feel that is fun to stroll through and just marvel at the beauty of it.
I know it all started with a board game review that I saw on YouTube, and looking at the little city that white an blue pieces of plastic could make, but I am glad that I came across that video because it has led me to an amazing island out in the middle of the Aegean Sea where I can experience that Greek lifestyle.
Hints of Oath: Chronicles of Empire & Exile started to surface at the beginning of the year, and there was something about it that instantly made me want to not just play it, but to own a copy of the game. All games have a central idea around it, and they usually focus on things such as dungeon crawl, cooperative, abstract, economic, area control, or role playing. Recently, some game have added a new aspect to it to add a campaign experience to the gameplay called legacy, and I have always been intrigued by these games because it would create a storytelling element to it that would make the experience of playing it unforgettable. The only problem I had with games like this is that after you have completed the cycle of the legacy, it could not be played again. This is a lot of money to spend on a game for only a limited amount of game time. Leder Games saw this problem and designed a game around legacy games’ central appeal, a sense of history.
Think about it. What if you had a game board that created its own history? Every game presented its own set of characters that played out their stories in various landscapes with their own objectives that created a new direction that the world would turn. Then take that world at the end of each game, let the winner write down this history of what happened, and then set up the game for a completely new experience the next time around with a new cast of characters playing their stories out in new landscapes with different directions.
And unlike all other legacy games, Leder Games have set up a system where, like history, the story never ends. This was too exciting of a concept for me to ignore this game, and now that I have played it, I am excited to share my thoughts on its unique and yet familiar style of play.
Three areas of the kingdom, the Cradle, the Provinces, and the Hinterlands, is tentatively held together by the rule of the Chancellor. This fledgling government has deployed war bands on some of the lands that it rules of over to keep control over other sights overrun with bandits, and even worse, the scheming exiles who are looking to take over the kingdom for themselves. In the first game, the Chancellor will try to keep control over his land by sheer force of his army, but this is not the only way that the exiles can overthrow this dictator. These other ways come in the form of Visions.
One of the exiles might find in the middle of the night that they have obtained a dream that they can interpret different ways. Maybe if they could collect the secrets of the court and use them to their advantage to make their way up through the ranks. Or they might become the most popular person in all of the land and get the favor of the people. Or they might search the lands for the hidden treasures that have been left behind for a time long forgotten. These powerful artifacts could help them in their rise to power.
The Chancellor still has another trick up his sleeve. He has collected a few of these powerful artifacts and has placed them in his treasury. At any time, he can offer one of these powerful artifacts to one of the exiles, and offer them citizenship into his kingdom. With citizenship comes certain privileges, and new paths to taking over the kingdom as a successor.
All of this takes place in a closed economy where favor is passed off to different factions within the kingdom who use that favor to unleash their special influence over the land. But one faction may gain too much favor which causes the economy fall into the control of the ones who may have advisors who are friends with those factions, making it harder for the other players.
Overall the story sounds like a complicated game of courts and politics that has enough variety to it to allow a different story to unfold every time the game is played. Add into the unique legacy aspect of the game that creates history for each individual game box and you are left with a fun and exciting story that will have you begging to play a new game as soon as you finish one.
Rating – 10
A game with this complicated of a story line might scare away some people away because the gameplay must be as complicated to support it. It might scare others away because there is no way that a designer could take on such an ambitious endeavor without it all falling apart. It would take quite the balancing act to make this work out properly.
But this is where the genius of Cole Wehrle comes into play. He has already made his mark with other four-lettered games such as Root and Fort, and each of those games has its own unique twist on gameplay that makes it unique, but Oath is by far his most ambitious. There is enough asynchronous game play going on this game that you have to pay attention to what other people are doing, or before you know it, they will have taken over control of the kingdom. The nice thing about this gameplay is that, except for the Chancellor whose role is to react to what is going on, the rest of the players have the opportunity to choose their own paths to victory. All of this come in a set of choices that when stripped down are not as complicated as it would seem to be in a game like this. There are elements of randomness, but it is adds more to the story rather than being frustrating when a person looses due to some unlucky role of the dice.
Despite all of these different ways of going about pushing your influence out on to the game board, the gameplay is rather easy to pick up and figure out. There are only six different actions you can take per turn, and some minor actions that you can participate in as well, so it does not take long to figure out what you can and cannot do. Strategy takes a little longer to figure out because you are not always aware of all the new cards you will see during a game and how they will be able to help or hinder your gameplay. It is what makes the game exciting and fun each time you play this.
It is a little more crunchy than a typical game, and takes some time to figure out, but Leder Games added a walkthrough of the first round of the first game that you play. It talks you through what would be the best move for four players based on what they have in their hands and what cards they draw. It also talks about why this is an important move for each person to help wrap your mind around the strategy of the game. So even though, it may appear complicated and intimidating, they help ease you into the game.
The best part of all of this is that the gameplay and the different cards that you get to see for advisors, artifacts, and locations with different win conditions not only playing out during each game, but for each player that each game is a unique experience. It also feeds directly into the theme and creates a unique story each time that you play. People who love this storytelling element in their games will obviously make the story come alive more as the game plays out, but do not think of the stories that this game tells is like one that plays out in role playing games. The strokes are more broad with the narrative and important moments in the history of your board are the ones that you will be talking about long after the game is finished. People who bought the Kickstarter version of the game even received a journal where they could write down the story after each play of the game and how that has expanded their overall history. It was one of the things I was really excited about, and was really disappointed that I did not get it with the version I bought through retail, but a quick trip to a local bookstore, and a purchase of a cheaper journal fixed this problem rather quickly. The one I got even looks like it might have originally been part of the game to begin with.
Rating – 10
If you know anything about Leder Games, then you know that each one of their games has a certain look to it that adds to the overall enjoyment of the game. Kyle Ferrin has a certain art style that quickly recognizable and can be seen in their other two games, Root and Fort. He has taken great care with each of the cards, whether, it is one of the advisors, lands or artifacts. It is not only a great card to look at, but each cartoon character begs for its own story to tell that will add to the narrative that your group tells. It also adds a different kind of levity to the game. This is easily a game that could come across as being extremely dark as war, and court intrigue play out in every session, and if the artwork was designed to to reflect this darkness, then I feel like it would be a completely different game.
The game board also has a unique design. It is not a big piece of cardboard that you unfold and place on the table, or a collection of tiles that you have to piece together. It is a nice mat that you role out and place your pieces on. It does provide the basic knowledge that you need to have in order to play the game, but for the most part, until you add the other pieces, it does not add a lot to the overall gameplay.
Great care also went into creating the game pieces. Though the only difference between the war-bands that you use during battle is the color, the pieces that represent the various exiles and Chancellor reflect the personality of each of them. Of course, the Chancellor’s piece is taller that any of the other ones that just adds to the fragile nature of his character, as if he is taller somehow makes him better. The pieces also have the same feel as the cards that are played and once again help you to become a part of the world that you are playing in.
The game not only is a lot of fun to play, but it also has a great look to it that adds to the game play. The Kickstarter version of the game even went so far as to make the favor and secrets plastic which adds more to the overall experience, but they are nothing more than cardboard punch-outs if you buy the retail version of the game. It was a little disappointing when I opened the box, but it was quickly forgotten when I looked at all of the other artwork that game had to offer.
Rating – 9
As always, the main reason I enjoy to play games is because it allows me the opportunity to hang out with friends and enjoy an experience unlike any other. Some games have low levels of interactivity where the players are over in the corner doing their own thing, and it isn’t until the end of the game and everybody counts up their points that the interactive aspect of the game begins. Oath is not this kind of game. The game forces you to interact with other people and either work together to stop the bigger threat, or fight against your greatest enemy. Some people are trying to be sneaky, while others are using all of their force to win the game. You will be spend a lot of the time playing this game interacting with each other. When I played, as soon as the game got going, there was not one of us that were sitting down. We were so excited about what was going on that we were walking around the table, looking at different points of attack and strategizing about how we could pull off a win. Nobody was ever completely out of the game, and at any moment, a simple turn could change the tide of the game. I absolutely loved the aspect of this game.
The battles also added a lot of dramatic tension that I had not seen since playing the old area control games, and it was not a long drawn-out tension like you might see in other area control games, such as Risk or Axis and Allies. Basically, it is one role of the dice for both the attacker and the defender. At first look, the attacker has the advantage because they have a handful of dice compared to the defenders couple of dice. But the dice that the defender uses are more powerful, and even though, the attacker won most of the time, the battle would leave both sides devastated. I believe this to be the most accurate depiction of war I have ever seen. Very rarely, does someone just come in and destroy the other side without taking any casualties. It just means that there has to be a good reason to attack, and you had better have a lot of war-bands mustered before you attempt it.
There is also a lot going on in the game, so you need to keep a close eye on everything happening, or someone might sneak in a win when you least expected it. The bottom line is I spent a lot of time interacting with the people I was playing with, and because of the legacy nature of the game, it would be best to try and find the same people to play with on a consistent basis, or they might lose what is going on with the history of the board. The set up for the next game took a long time to figure out, and people got bored while this was going on, but if the winner spends that time writing their history down and sharing it afterwards, it will add to the overall experience.
Rating – 10
At the time of the writing of this review, there are no expansions to Oath. I have not even heard of hints or rumors about expansions coming later, but considering the game is less than a year old, it does not surprise me. If it is anything like Leder Games other big hit, Root, there will be extra packs of cards added to the game, and new complications to keep people interested in playing the game for years to come. Right now, the only thing that you can buy to add to the experience is the leather bound journal to keep track of your board’s history, but I am still a little annoyed that this does not come with the game. I do believe it is the main draw of the game and it is the one thing that really make this game more unique than any other I have ever played. As of right now, this is not one of the strong points of the game, but there is enough going on in the game to keep you engaged, and you will not replay a game any time soon.
Rating – 5
I have loved my experience with the game so far, and I am constantly thinking about the next time I will get to enjoy it again. I love the history aspect of the game, and how each play is completely different, but somehow still familiar. Its gameplay is simple enough that I feel confident in what I am doing, but complex enough that I still feel like there is a lot I have to learn about the game to get really good at it. I do hope that they have plans to make expansions for this game, so that it stays fresh and exciting for each game play and allows me to continue to add on to the history of my board. With this in mind, this is not a game for everyone. Though the rule book is short, there are enough of them to keep certain people away from this game. It is also rather expensive, so before buying, you might want to make sure that you have a group of friends that will be excited about playing it over and over again. If you do have that group of friends, it could easily become that group’s favorite game, and I could see it being pulled out time and time again.
2021 was another rollercoaster of a year, and though Covid continued to make life difficult, things loosened up enough to allow me the opportunity to travel a little more this year than the previous one. It is always fun for me to look back at the posts from the previous, and it shows me how great the last year has been. I hope you feel the same way as you take a trip back through the year of 2021.
This is the perfect post to start off this list for the year 2021 considering how difficult a year 2020 was. Based on how little we learning this year and how it feels like we are in the same place this year where we were last year, it might be an important poem to start the 2022 year. This post is also one of three poems that appear on this list which is the most that has ever appeared on any of the end of the year lists I have ever created.
I moved to Jordan at the beginning of August, but did not have the chance to explore it much until October. There are many places that I want to visit, but I got a gift card for a night’s stay at the Kempinski Hotel at the Dead Sea, so this was the first place I voyaged off to. It was a great experience, and floating in the salt water really surprised me by how easy it is to do. I am hoping to post many more travelogues from places I visit in Jordan and other close-by countries in the coming year.
I do enjoy sharing the poetry I write while traveling with you, but only a select few people really get into it. This is why I love it when one of my poems pops up on the top ten list for the year. This one was written during a rainy afternoon in March when I was visiting Khao Sok, a reservoir in southern Thailand. I had taken off work to take this trip, and I enjoyed the way the rain forced me to take things easy on a day that I should have been working.
Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. It is not about spending more or giving gifts. It is all about sharing time with family and friends. Since I have moved overseas, this holiday has meant something a little different for me, but this year I was able to have an experience that will make it one of my favorite memories of this day of celebration. I was able to head down to Wadi Rum with new members of my school and spend some time with the Bedouins that live there. The meal was not a traditional Thanksgiving feast, but it was the best one I have ever had for a meal that was cooked underground. You seemed to be intrigued by this process as well to make it one of the bigger posts of the year even though I posted it so late.
I did get to travel to a lot of different places in Thailand during the pandemic, and I feel lucky to have had that experience. Out of all of them that I went to see, Koh Lipe will always hold a special place in my heart. Not only was it a beautiful place to relax during my Spring Break right before the country went back to lockdown. It was also my last hurrah while living in Thailand. Though there were many parts of this island paradise that I wrote about, it was this feature that resinated the most with my followers. I hope the information I gave will give those that eventually travel there the hints to enjoy this place as much as I did.
One of the many stops I was supposed to go on my road trip through Thailand last Winter Break was to the reservoir at Khao Sok, but we had to cut that portion of the trip out when the country started to close down. Luckily, the people at the resort let us rebook for a time in March. It create a moment in my life that I will never forget, wild elephants eating breakfast while I was kayaking nearby. This was even more remarkable considering that these elephants rarely come out to be viewed. I was told that because of the recent decline of tourism, they are more willing to come to the shore, and I was happy to be able to share this moment with those who cold not travel there and see it for themselves.
Late in 2020, I received an offer for a new job opportunity in Amman, Jordan, and I spent a lot of my time early this year preparing for the move. Part of that preparation meant signing on to a new email account at my new school as I started to transfer things over. The head of the school sent out an email describing the difference between problems and possibilities to inspire his staff who had been struggling with the pain of online teaching. It was the inspiration for this poem which seemed to connect with other people. It also makes me happy when one of my poems connects with people in this way.
I have written a lot about Black Butte Ranch in central Oregon because I am lucky enough to get to spend a couple of weeks there every summer. It is also a place close to my heart because it is where I got married. The place is a beautiful collection of cabin-like houses underneath the shadow of Black Butte that is off the beaten path of the busy tourist towns and cities of central Oregon. Because of this quiet atmosphere, the wildlife likes to hand out in the forests. Most of the time this is squirrels, deer and coyotes, but I had never seen a herd of elk, so when they came wandering around the house I was staying at, it was reason to pull out the camera and take some pictures. Apparently, other people enjoy seeing these pictures as well because they kept of visiting this post long after its first publication.
One of the nice things about Covid was it forced me to explore Thailand than I would have normally explored it. I spent the whole of the last Winter Break traveling through the southern portion of the country, and the city of Railay was one of my favorite spots. It was a small isolated town that can only be reached by boat where people go rock climbing, kayaking, and lounging on the beach. One of the most prominent features is a cave off of the Princess Beach that people hike up to all the time. My wife and I made this trek one day, and the story of how to get there has now helped a bunch of other people make the same hike.
Board games have become quite the hobby for me during the pandemic. They have been a great way to get together with friends, and continue to be social. The first one I bought to bring me back to this hobby was Everdell, but I had spent a lot of time researching whether this one of Wingspan was the one for me. I ultimately chose to build a woodland village, but I did have a chance to play Wingspan over the summer and compare the two. I have given my thoughts on both games in this post, and which one I thought was the better buy. The post did so well that I have considered doing more board game reviews in the future.
Though there were many posts from the last year that were worthy to see, here is the lists of posts that continue to do well even though the were written in previous years.
While I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do was to play board and table top games. I spent a lot of time with my friends playing Dungeons and Dragons, Monopoly, Axis and Allies, and any new game that we could get our hands on. Most of the games had not been updated for years, and it caused us to think of ways that we could create our own games to see what other worlds we could create or how we could adapt the games we already loved to make them more exciting. Some of them got a little too complicated while others were a little too simple, but every once in awhile we hit that sweet spot and created a game that we all really loved, and it became our new favorite.
As years went by, my friends moved to other parts of the country or got to busy to play a game. Soon all of these games got put away into a closet and collected dust. I am actually not quite sure what happened to all of them after I moved away to college because my parents eventually moved into a new house and I don’t know if the games made the move or not. At the time, I didn’t care much because the idea of playing a game seemed childish and I was too busy with my life.
When I moved overseas, I was looking for that way to connect with people again. There was always the option of heading out to the bars, and that can be fun for awhile, but after working in bars for so long, I knew that this could get old after a little while. I was lucky enough to get hooked up with a Dungeons and Dragons group in Korea, and it got me interested in the game again. A lot about it had changed since my days of hacking and slashing my way through dungeons in search of riches. The Wizards of the Coast had bought the rights to the game, and added to the story aspect of the game. It changed how the game was played, made it simpler and yet more of a sandbox that allowed creative minds to play off of each other to create wonderful story moments. Being an English teacher and a writer, I instantly got sucked back into this world of table top games.
Then Covid happened.
I know that there are a lot of people out there that here that statement and divide their lives to before this event and after it. The pandemic has changed many people’s lives and the way that they look at the world. Many people can look at this in a bad way, and there are times where I fall into this category. But not everything that has happened during this world wide event has been all bad. I went on the search for things that my wife and I could do while being confined in our house that would not drive us crazy, and this brought me back to a love that I had in my childhood with board games. I also did not realize how much the hobby had changed over the years and how much it is now directed towards an adult audience. There are so many games out there with amazing puzzles to unlock your imagination, and tickle your strategic ingenuity. It was hard to decide which games I should get into first because there were so many out there, but I did some research, and with the help of my new favorite YouTube channel, Shut Up and Sit Down, I was able to find a couple that I would love as well as my wife.
It helped us get through that tough time this year, and we still pull out a couple of these games from time to time to play. But there was another benefit to them that I did not expect as much.
It introduced me to a whole new group of people who shared the same interest. These board games have not only become a way to challenge myself intellectually, but also to visit and hang out with people on a regular basis. It is a trend that I hope continues because I am loving the games that I am playing, whether it is a simple card game or a complex role playing game. They all tell stories and I get to be a part of those stories that are being told. And most importantly I get to also create stories with other people as well.
Last night I gathered around the dining room table with my parents, and My sister’s family to play a game of Codenames. It is one of the newer games that has helped bring about the resurgence of the popularity of board games, and I can see why because it is a smart game that with endless possibilities that will never let the game get old. It would almost impossible with all of the way the cards can be laid out that you would never experience the same type of mental connections that make this game interesting in all of the amounts of times that you get together to play the game. Its gameplay is also unique, and I have never experienced another game like it. Getting together with my family on a Friday night to play a board game might sound like a boring way to spend the start of a weekend, but I tend to disagree, and I think it is part of the reason why board games are becoming big business again.
These games are important. First of all, they are a social event. This is something that you cannot get from television or video games as well as you can from a board game. Television used to be a social event with people gathering around to experience the same story at the same time, but people still remained quiet so as not to disturb the action on the screen and didn’t really interact with each other. In recent years, it has gotten even worse. People rarely watch television in real time. Instead, they grab their tablet or phone, find a quiet corner of their house and experience the show on their own. The same can be said for video games. Yes, there are a couple of games like Madden, Smash Brothers, and Mario Kart that lend themselves to people getting together to play, and they have even set up on-line communities that allow people to interact over headsets, but the speed of the game takes over and the opportunity to talk gets taken away, and people become more interested in their reaction times rather than talking to each other.
Board games like Codenames are actually designed for people to interact with each other. There is enough downtime during the game to allow people to talk about their days and what is going on in their lives, and when the action is going on there is collaboration that is happening that once again forces people to interact with each other. It might not be as slick as a video game or cost as much to produce as a television show, but for some reason, this interaction with other people ends up more satisfying then getting together around a screen. I feel that after I play a game that I have made a stronger connection with the people I played with rather than when I sit down and watch something on the screen.
As a teacher, I also think that board games are important. On Fridays in my Creative Writing class, we always play a game of some kind such as Gloom, Balderdash, Magnetic Poetry, Exquisite Corpse, or Line-by-line Story. My students love these days the best and not just because it allows for some downtime in their hectic schedules, but because they get something out of the experience as well. The games are designed to spark creativity, and help my students with their writing whether it is with their voice, word play, or putting together a tighter plot. They are learning while having fun. In fact, I believe that when you are having fun is when real learning is taking place. This is when true engagement is taking place. This is part of the reason that I always try to make my classroom a fun place to be.
Codenames is a great example of how a game can be fun and at the same time a learning tool. It requires that the Spy Master makes connections to various words spread out on the table, and communicate that connection with the use of only one word. It requires that people start to see the connections in words. It also forces players to see that words can have multiple meanings. There is a lot going on in this game through some mental challenges. And it wasn’t like we were all sitting at the table staring at the matrix we created with intense concentration. We were laughing, talking, and having a good time.
This is why games are important. I am happy for this resurgence of games, and I am amazed at the different ways that people have come up with to challenge us while still being entertaining. It is the reason why when I have the opportunity to play a game, I always take it up.