Year in Review – The Best Posts of 2022

Two Greek Islands – Santorini and Naxos

Greece had always been one of the places I always wanted to visit, but it is in such a strange location in Europe that makes getting to it a little difficult by Eurorail. It became a no-brainer though when I moved to Jordan. It is a short flight to the islands, and with Spring Break being open to the world again this year, we took advantage of that fact to explore two of the islands, Santorini and Naxos. It was fun to see one of the more touristy islands, Santorini, compared to one of the quieter islands, Naxos, and get to experience them right before the Summer season started in full. It is easily a place that we will eventually come back to.

Sleipnir’s Footprint – Asbyrgi, Iceland

Iceland was another place that I had never been to that I always wanted to explore, and this last summer was the perfect time to do so. Covid restrictions were being loosened and we could spend the whole time outside where any exposure to it would be minimum. The funny thing about this trip is that I caught Covid right before we landed, so we were the ones that people needed to stay away from. The hike that we took on this day was absolutely beautiful, and I would have probably enjoyed it more if I wasn’t sick on this day. It was still a stunning place to visit in a country full of stunning places to see.

Akrotiri Ruins – Santorini, Greece

There are many things to do on the island of Santorini, Greece, but one that is skipped by many of the people that go there is the Akrotiri Ruins on the tip of the island. This is Greek’s answer to Pompeii. This city was destroyed by the volcano that turned the island into a ring instead of the massive mass of land that it used to be. So far, archeologists have just started unearthing the ruins that were left behind, but it is cool to see what Greek life used to be like, and imagine being a part of it.

Ode to Mary

This was one of my poems that people enjoyed a lot this year. Usually they do not make it into the top ten posts for the year, but I guess people connected with the story of Mary. I had been watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time in a long time over the Christmas holiday, and I noticed one part of the story that did not hold up as well as I remembered it to be. The awful life that Mary had because George Bailey had never been born is almost absurd if compared to today’s standards. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great movie, but I’m having a hard time getting over this little part of the story.

Snow Day

This is the second poem of the year that ended up on the list of top ten poems for the year. I love the snow, and I have not been able to see it much ever since I moved abroad. It was a nice treat to see it early in the year, and it made for a nice inspiration for a poem. Evidently, many of you thought the same as well because it was the most popular poem of 2022.

The House of Dionysus – Paphos, Cyprus

This last year was spent learning a lot about the Greeks, and Romans, but one of my favorite trips was to a place that many people forget about when thinking of these two ancient civilizations, Cyprus. It is a short flight from Jordan, and it is filled with ruins all over the place. One of the best places to check out is the House of Dionysus. It has mosaic floors from ancient times that are still being uncovered. They do a great job of telling old Greek stories, and are worth the time to check out.

A Snowy New Year

Growing up, my family had a tradition of getting together on New Year’s Eve and playing game until we could ring in the New Year. As I grew older, my siblings kept up the tradition, and not being able to attend has always been one of the bigger regrets I have had about moving abroad. Luckily, this year was started revisiting that tradition at my brother’s house. It was fun to ring in the New Year this way, and it is amazing that this post was one of the more popular ones as the year continued.

I Failed My Test

Considering that things have started to return to normal after the couple of years of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hard to remember that it was still going on at the beginning of the year. This made travel exceptionally difficult. Not only did you need to be vaccinated in order to travel, and some countries had not gotten up to speed with that yet, you also needed to prove that you were Covid free. I had to stand in two line in the cold of Portland, Oregon at the beginning of the year to make sure that I could travel back to my job, and this post was an exploration of what that was like.

Happy Campers vs. Go Campers – Iceland by Camper Van

When summer rolled around, restrictions relaxed, and I was able to enjoy my first real travel experience after a couple of years of not being able to do so. Of course, we went big by renting a camper van and driving around Iceland for three weeks. It is a beautiful country, but we were there during the coldest June they have had in thirty years. Because of this, we got to know our camper vans really well. This post has been viewed by a lot of people who are going to travel there as they wonder which camper van company will be right for them. I hope the post guides them in the right direction and they can enjoy the country the way it is meant to be enjoyed.

Blue Wine – Cyprus

My first trip of the year took me to Cyprus, only an hour flight from Amman, and a world of difference from each other. Cyprus is wine country, and one of only three places in the world where you can get the rare blue wine. This was the most popular post of the year, and I can understand why. The wine is a novelty, and it sparked a lot of people’s interest. It is fun to try, but for the most part, it is just like white wine, except the process of making it turns it blue.

Honorable Mentions

Elk in the Backyard – Black Butte Ranch, Oregon

This was a post from a year early that is still getting a lot of traffic. Apparently people love the combination of elk and the forests of Oregon. It was a treat for me to see them instead of the typical deer that roam the ranch, and apparently a lot of other people agreed.

Meow Wolf – Denver, Colorado

This was actually a post that went live at the end of 2021. I was visiting family in Colorado, and my brother and his family took me down for the opening on Meow Wolf. I had never heard of this place, and it sounded interesting. It was cool to see the craziness that it had to offer, and it took until this year before people started visiting the post.

Oath: Chronicle of an Empire & Exile – A Review

During the pandemic, I found my way back to hobby that I enjoyed a lot when I was younger, board games. This was a game that I got for Christmas, and I was able to play it at the end of 2021. This is the review of the game, and it has apparently helped a lot of people decide if the game is right for them or not because it was regularly visited during this year.

The Dead Sea, Jordan – The Salt Flats

This was one of my biggest posts of 2021, and it continued to be a favorite of people’s again this year. It tells people how to visit this cool part of the Dead Sea that is a little ways away from all of the resorts that are further up the road. It is a great day trip and I expect people to visit it often again in 2023.

Bend Sucks! Move Somewhere Else – Around the World Day 39

It always surprises me what people connect with and what they do not. This was supposed to be a throw away post based on a bumper sticker I saw while driving through Bend, Oregon. It has endured over the years, and is always one of my top posts. It is one of the few ones that I have posted that does not even have a picture to accompany it with, but people continue to come back to it again and again even though it has fallen off in popularity this last year.

Wingspan versus Everdell

This is by far my most popular board game review. It pits two of the top board games against each other and helps people decide which one is right for them. Even though I have been able to play Wingspan more over the last year, I still think that Everdell is the better game, and I have even started to see it for sale at Target, making it an even bigger game than when this was first posted.

The Bat Cave – Railay, Thailand

This is far and away this most visited post that I have. It talks about a little hike that you can take if you find yourself in Railay, Thailand. It must be the one that people go to on a regular basis to help them find the way to the bat cave because it gets visits on a daily basis. I am glad that I have been able to help people find there way there, and I hope, if you are reading this blog, that you some day make it there as well as all the other places that I write about. The world is a great place, and you should go explore all of its nooks and crannies while you still can, especially now that travel is a thing again.

Thanks again, until next time.

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.

The God Organ by Anthony J. Melchiorri

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The God Organ gets a strong eight out of ten.

When I picked up this novel, it was marketed under dystopian literature, and I expected to see a bleak landscape with no hope for its characters that mirrored the problems seen in the United States today. What I got instead was a pleasant surprise. Anthony J. Melchiorri tell the story of a great mystery wrapped around the development of a new medical marvel, the God Organ.

The year is 2064, and LyfeGen, a biomedical company, has developed the Sustain, termed by some the God Organ. This medical marvel allows the person who has it implanted into their body the benefit of no longer suffering from heart attacks or strokes. It also offers the bearer a more youthful appearance for the rest of their lives which also gets extended because of this device. Preston Carter enjoys the benefits from his creation both financially, as well as physically because he was one of the first people to have this invention implanted in his body. This is until he falls victim to a stroke that sets into motion a series of events that questions the integrity of this miracle device.

Anthony J. Melchiorri does a wonderful job of bringing to light some of the modern problems facing the Unites States such as the ever-growing division between the classes, and the disadvantage this puts on the poorer members of society as they not only struggle with making financial ends meet, but also with their inability to get the medical attention that they need. Add to this the fact that the jobs usually held by the masses are being taken over by automated machines, making it even more difficult to find anything worth a person’s time and effort, except for those who have the luxury of some of the more prestigious positions. He also brings up issues with the power of religion over certain people as it takes on issues that it perceives to be against their beliefs, and the declining power of print media as fewer people read it and more of it is written by algorithms. These are real issues and Melchiorri handles them well.

The most surprising part of this novel is the way that it was written. It has lots of strong characters that at first don’t seem to have any connection with one another but in the end blend together very nicely. Each character has their own problems and their own flaws which makes none of them the perfect person and also makes them very realistic. He also doesn’t write his story as an overdone representation of what the world will look like in the year 2064. Instead, he shows what life will be like at that time making strong predictions based on the direction that society is headed in. It is refreshing to see a science fiction novel written this way.

But because of the way it is written, I think calling it science fiction is a mistake. The story has more of a feel of a mystery or a thriller, and fans of that genre would really love this story. I don’t believe the hardcore science fiction fan will like this story as much even though there is a lot there to make it worthy of that genre. It definitely keeps the reader engaged with the twists and turns that only a good mystery can take.