July 9, 2020

The Looming Disaster of Current School Re-Opening Plans and Finding Better Ways Forward


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I need to get this off my chest. Last month Michigan announced it’s approach for re-opening public schools amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan, which I’ll get into in a moment, doesn’t even pass the sniff test as an effective approach to either instruction or safety. And it’s all going to fall apart the second an outbreak occurs anyway, putting the school building or district into a paralyzing rhythm of successive opening and closing. The plan does little to actually minimize the potential vectors and points of contact.

In short, the plan is tantamount to burying our heads in the sand and hoping the storm will blow over. My spouse is a high school teacher and I have two kids in elementary school. I’m terrified.



June 5, 2020

Black Lives Matter, and they must matter to all of us


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I don’t often write political pieces. And despite what some may think, this post is also not political. Some people reading this may insist that it is. But racism and discrimination, and the never ending quest for equal protection, equal rights, equal opportunity and equal justice for all people in this country is also not political. It is instead a fundamentally “human” issue. These pursuits are the foundation of this American society. And the pursuit of justice and equality for all people encompasses all of us, whatever your politics may be.

And so Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter because if they don’t, then none of us are fully realizing the values and the ideals that we claim to support. Black Lives Matter because our country, from its founding moments, has used systemic racism and discrimination to oppress people and communities of color, and black communities most of all. So it is to them that we must apply our efforts. Black Lives Matter because all of us have an obligation to value and support the people in our society - those that are oppressed most of all.

I work as an urban planner and have had the privilege to work with communities of color across the country. I cannot claim to know how less-privileged people feel, or how differently they must conduct themselves to stay safe in their own communities and even in their own homes. It would be rude of me to assume that I do. But I can try to understand. I can listen and be empathetic. And I can challenge myself to take action and to do more to help. And I can take action within my communities, both personal and professional, to advance this movement.

Our country has a history of racism and discrimination. From slavery, to Jim Crow, to redlining, to racial profiling, to the criminal justice system. These laws and practices are not accidents. Those with power and privilege created these laws and practices “intentionally.” And the resulting oppression is not accidental either. We must own up to this. Black communities are oppressed economically, they are oppressed through unequal access to opportunity, they are oppressed by the legal system, they are oppressed by police action, and they are oppressed by the inaction of those with privilege. We all can act. We all can, in fact, “intentionally” change the laws of this country to better realize our values and start healing the damage to those we have harmed.

Change will require sacrifice. Black communities have sacrificed much throughout history, merely to exist - with their culture, beauty, and strength under constant siege. As changes to our laws, and institutions - and the very structure of our society - are demanded, further sacrifice must be made. And this sacrifice must fall on the shoulders of those in positions of privilege - such as me typing this and most likely you reading this - to make the personal sacrifices demanding this change. We must all demand that Black Lives Matter and insist that action be taken to ensure that they do.

Like many with privilege, I struggle to know what I can do. What sacrifice can I make to help? Fortunately, the options are myriad. The hardest part is taking the first step, in deciding to take an action and go from a state of inaction, one that is tacitly supporting the status quo of a racist society, to a state of action. We all have actions we can take, however large or small, to affect those around us and the communities we inhabit.

I am taking this action, among others, of writing this blog post, with whatever size audience it may have, to assert that Black Lives Matter. To assert that I stand with you in demanding change and action to reverse the forces that have oppressed black communities. I hope to encourage and inspire others to search in their hearts for what fundamental values they hold self-evident and to take action to live up those values.

All of us can reach out to people we know who are hurting and offer our support. All of us can engage with our communities and circles to implore a commitment to action. All of us can reach out to our local leaders and elected officials, demanding that they enact laws and programs to ensure that Black Lives Matter. All of us can vote in political elections for leadership that recognizes that Black Lives Matter is a basic human rights and American values issue that must be addressed.

Obama said (and I’m paraphrasing) that his life was better knowing that someone who never had access to health care now finally did. It is the outcome of empathetic behavior. Of listening to people different from you to understand what they need to thrive. And of making sacrifices and taking actions to help. Our strength as a nation is through our unity of purpose, through our shared values and through securing liberty and justice for all people. This pursuit belongs to all of us, and we all have a responsibility for action. Black Lives Matter, and because they matter, all of us have a role to play in ensuring that they do. Find a way in your life to make it matter.


June 1, 2020

Warning, Chaotic Thought Storms Ahead: Wingspan, Awards, and Preference Reflections


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From gallery of Mezmorki

This post is going to be a bit of an outpouring of thoughts, stream of consciousness style.

This fall will mark 10-years that I’ve been part of the BGG community. But of course my gaming life - both video and tabletop - has gone on much longer than that (since the mid 80’s when I was a young lad). More significantly, this fall will mark 9 years since I started this blog. It’s remarkable because this has been one of the few constants in my “hobby” life. Games come and go, gaming groups come and go, … but this blog is always here. Even if I take long lapses in posting, I know that it’s quickly available when inspiration strikes!

My time on BGG has marked an era of sorts for me and my gaming however. Both the depth of conversation here with many of you all, the collectively hemming and hawing we all do over the games and ratings … and all of it … adds a certain formality to engaging in the hobby. The conversations have helped crystalize my own thinking more, and much of the critical analysis that I’ve seen has in turn inspired my own writings, my gaming preferences, and - more tangibly - my game design work.



April 22, 2020

Springtime Status Report: Games, Behaviors, and Pandemics


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From gallery of Mezmorki


First of all, if you are reading this, I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. These are crazy times for a number of reasons, and many people are struggling mightily to thrive under the current global situation. It’s hard to talk about gaming and other non-essential items during such times.

But then again, talk of gaming or pleasurable pursuits is a spark of positivity and a shared passion that many of us can connect around and find joy within. So perhaps it’s okay. For my own part, I’m fortunate that both my wife and I are able to continue our employment in relative security - staying home and staying safe. Staying sane is another matter!



April 18, 2020

Board Games Make Better Strategy Games


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From gallery of Mezmorki

The title of this essay is a declarative statement. It’s of course open to debate and I’m not suggesting this is an unequivocal rule. But at least in my experience, when I think about the “crux” moments that are the pinnacle of strategic intrigue - where the fate of everything is hanging on the line or where you wait breathlessly to see if your gambit pays off - board games provide both a greater “density” and a greater “diversity” of such moments in comparison to strategy video games.

There are, I believe, a number of factors that contribute to this situation. There are things unique to the design needs and expectations of board games that enable “deep and interesting decisions” to come to the forefront. There are also things, on the video game side of the table, that frequently distract, diminish, or are otherwise at odds with their capacity for deep strategic gameplay. I want to explore both of these dimensions in an effort to tease out, if possible, some poignant ways that strategic video games - especially 4X games - might better capture the strategic depth they aspire to.

Before we get too deep, let’s consider for this article what I mean when I talk about deep, or interesting, or compelling strategic decision points (or the “crux” moments). Principally, I feel these moments exist when: (1) having read and understood the “game state” you are faced with having to decide between mutually exclusive courses of action; (2) these decisions are consequential and have a traceable link to your eventual victory or defeat; and (3) predicting the outcomes of your decisions are laced with enough uncertainty that player skill, experience and heuristics matter for good play (i.e. you can’t just look up an optimal build order and call it a day).

This definition is a lot to unpack. But let’s explore two facets of it.



January 20, 2020

The Curious Case of 4X Games, Efficiency Engines, and Missing Strategic Gambits


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I've long been a fan of the 4X genre, while also being frequently critical of it and its many floundering conventions. Despite the renaissance and watershed of renewed interest in the genre, there is a worrying lack of design advancement in my estimation. A recent reddit post and ensuing discussion on r/4xgaming encapsulated nearly all my frustrations with the 4X videogame genre in a single question:
Do you know of any [4X] games that will let you fight back after being beaten down, or have the AI be able to come back after you start to gain an advantage over them?
This seems like such an obvious question to ask, and yet it’s one that apparently few, if any, 4X developers have seriously raised, let alone crafted gameplay mechanisms to answer. What’s fascinating about this question is that, while seemingly simple, it nevertheless strikes at two critical points: (#1) the core of what 4X games are; and (#2) the perennial frustrations players have with unsatisfying late game gameplay.