Decemberween is over, and with it a month of gratitude and promotion of my friends and things my friends have done. I don’t think of this as a time to go back and say ‘hey, check out these previous posts,’ especially in this case. Just click the Decemberween 2019 tag and check them out. ♥
This month’s video is hanging out with me and Fox playing Minecraft. This was a really hard video to record, because Fox and I are in the same room, and her mic and my mic are different beasts. There were some possible alternatives – we record one audio track through one of the two mics, but our two computers are very distant. Turning up the gain to get us both would involve getting more background noise, and clearing that out would make us sound really distant.
Shirts! Well, don’t worry, I absolutely did make shirts this December (I mean, c’mon, I have a hard time stopping). But since the Decemberween slots wound up taking up all this month, I decided to bump talking about them to January. Basically, there are going to be a fairly large number of January shirt designs, and if you wanna go check out my Redbubble or Teepublic store, the designs are there right now.
This month, there’s been some work done on LFG and the upcoming card game Die Rich, which will hopefully happen in January! Looking back on games this year, there were two major releases – Freight Expectations and Hook, Line & Sinker, and we did our first time selling games in a standup store, which I’ll talk about more next year when we have the whole thing summarised.
On my personal life front, though, it is now Summer. That means that the temperature is higher in the mornings, and Elli, the dog, will hug close to me of a morning, forcing me to wake up earlier. This means if I can’t sleep, or if I get to sleep late, I can’t catch up in the mornings. This sucks! It’s also full of fire and fear! That also sucks! And existential anxiety! That sucks too!
It’s also Christmas! Which is a time for stress out of the wazoo! But it’s also a time when there are people I can share my time with, time where I can hold out my arms, lift, and care, and hug and love… and that’s pretty nice.
Oh and bonus detail: My arm and back are really messed by my sleep patterns? Don’t know what to do about that.
East bound and down!
Loaded up and truckin’!
We’re gunna do what they say can’t be done!
Do you like extremely literal country music lyrics and preposterous displays in the name of appreciating really specific beer branding? Well, do I have a movie for you!
I did say that part of Decemberween would be giving you stuff that cost very little to engage with, right? Well, how about this very blog, where there’s a bunch of stuff that you might have missed?
I get readership statistics on my blog, which I can break down to teach me all sorts of interesting things. One interesting thing is that even a mild bit of interest from Reddit explodes my statistics, and also that the most popular thing I’ve ever done is probably always going to be the No Magic Colour Is Transphobic piece. Magic content gets more attention, reddit-friendly content gets more attention, it do be like that though.
Here’s a curated list of the top stuff that I wrote this year, sorted by how much I like them. Note that this year has featured three hundred and sixty five articles, so this is going to give you a long list of maybe thirty of the ones I like the best out of the ones that audiences have indicated they like the best.
Okay, so what are some of my game pile articles that I liked? Well, I wrote about Kingdom Hearts, after watching a video on it and I think the ensuring research was so fascinating I might be able to be considered something of a fan of it? Look, there’s a nonzero chance I’m going to buy this game to talk about it more in depth.
Easily my favourite, most self-indulgent piece this year was my two parter discussing Exalted and Exalted: The Infernals. Not only were these articles extremely fun to write and read, I’ve seriously considered turning them into long-form videos. They’re about one of the most bombastically excessive, beautifully evocative and dizzingly incompetent Roleplaying Game sourcebooks and settings I’ve ever seen. Bonus, it has probably my favourite joke of the whole year in it.
It wasn’t a proper Game Pile article, but back in June I did break down the enormous and preposterous Fabula Nova Crystallis in a summary fashion (and missed some important details and context, by the way!). I may still hate how excessive and extra everything Final Fantasy is trying to do has become, but you gotta respect the completely wasteful and foolhardy development process, or don’t!
I also made some videos about games! Particularly, I made one about Mirror’s Edge and Platform Capitalism, one about Skyrim and Gaps In Language, one about Love Is Strange, The Game You Asked For, and one about Abe’s Oddysee and Meatpunk. I’m pretty happy with these (I need to get used to using backing audio to make my voice sound less like a lecture in an empty room), but I’m glad at how I’ve improved and sped up at making these videos.
I talked about three critical darlings this year: Majora’s Mask, Bloodborne, and Braid, and one of those games got a real kicking. I looked at a bunch of visual novels as well, and of them, my favourite, DoraKone still stands out to me as being worth sharing and suggesting you check out.
Finally, at the start of the year, I codified a new direction on kindness and cruelty with my view of Risk of Rain. Be kind with energy, be cruel with purpose (Exalted).
Dungeons & Dragons!
Oo boy! Lots of stuff this year, and some of it surprisingly well received. None of my Hunter’s Dream work cracked the metaphorical top twenty, but that doesn’t matter that much. What does surprise me is that double digit groups of people wanted to check out my takes on 4th Edition D&D.
First, an article about how 4th Edition’s structure limited it. Then there was an article about how you should give 4th edition a shot (because it’s cheap). Then another article, about making halloweeny heroes for 4th edition, and finally, my favourite so far, the How To Be Hilda article.
There was also some setting stuff I wrote about, things that are more generally applicable than just my 4th edition treatment, which mostly focused on, weirdly, races. There’s an article about how Dwarves relate to goblins (dwarves are bad, yo), my article about how I and only I get Tieflings right, and the twin pair of articles about Orcs and Elves.
The Story Pile!
The most popular Story Pile this year was my piece on Touhou Project as a storytelling canon, which it turns out, was one of those social groups that click links a lot, especially if it’s saying that they are doing something good. I don’t imagine ‘Touhou is hollow and everything meaningful to it is created by the fans’ would fly well!
I took a month to go in on the new Voltron series, a project I greatly relished, and still hold that series out as an excellent and positive franchise that more people in fandom should look to, and that more writers and creators should embrace because of its positive attitude towards fandom. Hunk sucks though.
I finally sat down and pulled apart a retro anime series called Geobreeders, because it’s one of those things that kind of just hangs around the back of my mind, a weird and remotely removed unimportant anime series that was nonetheless composed mostly out of the mind of a lone creator’s personal obsesssions. I went in on one of my favourite characters in Young Justice and even talked about my favourite Disney movie, Lilo And Stitch.
Finally, I explained not anything about the story but about the presence in the culture of the immense anime titan Neon Genesis Evangelion. Mixed in amongst this there’s also a little slip about the Gen 1 Transformers, The Stunticons Are Gay.
This year brought with it a handful of different pieces about longer-form criticism, tools for talking about game making and media criticism. One, I got to codify my problem with TvTropes Criticism, and a longer form response to Chris Franklin’s piece where The DM Is Removed. Inexplicably, my piece on how a game of Scrabble ends was really popular?
I also talked about the role of erotic roleplay in academic studies of people and their relationships in online spaces, which was in response to a year of watching people who I used to respect deciding to mock people for using the internet to have sex.
At the start of this year I said I wasn’t going to write about Magic regularly. This is something I’m glad I did, but also it’s kinda funny that this year would have been the best year to write about it weekly because there was always something going on to write about. There were four major set releases over the course of the year, there was a banning, a whole new format introduced, major story related stuff happening, announcements and special projects and all of that and hey, we may have gotten rid of Nicol Bolas! For a bit!
Still, I did write some stuff about Magic, and I even collaborated with Fox on a two hour long video where she basically passed her opinions on which members of the cast she wanted to do smooches on.
Then I did some articles about custom magic design: One about why we should ignore the bottom of the deck, and one about how to manage your word counts and why that matters.
And then there was the absolute doorbuster of an article I put out in April, where I spent three thousand god damn words talking about how the discourse comparing a random distribution physical game without a central server was and had the same moral pitfalls as a Gacha game might. Since I wrote it, literally nobody I know has criticised me for it, so I have to assume I just got it right, and now that discourse is over.
And that’s that! It’s a bunch of reading that you, the audience, has deemed to be popular and good! thank you for your attention and I hope you keep reading!
At the end of 2018, I got a Vocaloid calendar from Kate, my big sister. Over the course of the year, I updated semi-regularly with the pages from it, tweeting out at first, one each week.
This year my timekeeping got pretty shaky! I didn’t wind up doing a good job of keeping on top of my bullet journal either, with October and November not even getting spreads, and here we are in December, with.. well, also no spread.
But still: If you wanted to see all those pictures, collected in one spot, here they are.
yes, the photography is uneven and shoddy. I wasn’t doing this for archive purposes.
This is going to be an annoying one. Not because she’s annoying (though, I mean), but because Freyja’s not someone with a central like, place for her stuff. This means that this doesn’t get to be a comprehensive easy linking to some website or something, and instead, I have to point to her twitter. Which is extra silly because her twitter is three times the size of mine and there’s literally no help I can offer her there. This isn’t really a promotion, I guess, not really – I’m not extending reach or offering her anything here.
But I wanted to say something anyway.
Freyja has had a big year. It started in February and has continued for the ongoing eleven months, and during that time there’s been a kickstarter, vindication in a major TTRPG scandal, and a whole lot of discourse. She’s had a few medical problems, quit an abusive job, started relationships and on top of all that, she’s changed her name officially to Freyja Katra Erlingsdóttir, which is, as I understand it, not common.
And during this year we’ve talked about vintage anime, Hermitcraft, practical solutions for cleaning objects, editorial oversight and yes, indeed, the explosive way in which AM LESBIAN happens in some spaces. It’s funny, she’s someone I’ve followed and unfollowed a bunch this year, not because I’m actually upset with her, but because the nature of twitter is one where there really are only a few ways to moderate the flow of what happens. And with that kind of thing I feel it’s worth putting a statement here, in this year, about this person, this lovely lady and her utter exuberance.
This is a year that has asked a lot of Freyja, and she has risen to the occasion and exceeded it.
Something else that Freyja has done, and I don’t know if enough people have paid attention to this, is talk about the ways that media around us help us practice the identities we want to have and the ways we want to share our identities. Catra is the most obvious one – a character that gave Freyja the metaphor she needed to understand something phenomenal about herself. But she’s talked as well about the ways that folk stories have given shapes to national identities and the way that fascists tell themselves stories about the person they think they are, and even the way that various Youtubers have been useful lessons for ways to express herself.
Now, I’m not saying I’ve acquired another sibling (I don’t think), that’s not what this is about.
But the important thing is, I wanted to put, somewhere this year, that I am so, so proud of her.
I launched my Patreon early in 2018, after arguing myself around on it over and over again. There were some ideas I had for it, which did not pan out well, and this year I committed to a much simpler schedule: Micropodcasts for people who paid for them, my blog schedule as normal, one video every month, a major game each year, and as many minor games as I could make.
Largely, it’s seen as polite to keep Patreon stuff ‘in Patreon’ and behind the scenes, and I think I fall into that because it involves money. Also, I don’t ever want to be the kind of person who monitors who is and isn’t my patrons, and just accept at the most base level that anyone who is my patron on patreon is doing it because they like what I’m doing and they’re not doing it as part of a benefits package, and maybe because they want to be part of conversations about my commercial production and being included in the games I’m making as I make them.
That’s it, though, and I think this is important to mention: My patreon patrons are extremely, extremely hands off. I have never had anyone contact me to tell me they’re upset with the money they paid, I have never had anyone tell me ‘as a patreon supporter, I-‘ and I’ve never had the conversation space of my patreon turn into a serious fight over anything, ever.
Largely, the people who are supporting me on patreon, it seems, are doing it because they want to, and their doing so has allowed me to do some things this year I would not have been able to bring myself to do.
What kind of things?
Well, being able to purchase a large number of my own shirts for a gimmick at work where I wore a different Loss Shirt every day, which I’ve already covered. It’s not that I couldn’t afford that, but that I could not bring myself to spend ‘important’ money for what was basically a goofy joke only the internet could appreciate.
I spent over two hundred USD on other people’s creative efforts this year, and some of that did not result in anything getting made. I basically sent some people some stuff, and because my patreon patrons were supporting me, that was able to promote the creativity of others with a safety pad. Some vulnerable people who are shy and did not have a lot money were able to try out creative endeavours without the ability to fail, because my supporters were willing to trust me to distribute some money for that purpose.
Also I got to speak to a lot more artists with the confidence that I could drop some money right there on them, so the conversation didn’t feel like I was wasting their time. That was all really valuable.
My patrons have given me freedom and comfort, even if this project isn’t paying all my bills and I appreciate the way they aren’t making the things I do into this sort of tense, ‘monetise everything I do’ kind of heckscape.
Hey, you know Fox? Fox Lee? @MunchlaxRegrets, short for Munchlax Regrets Nothing? Artist, web developer, game designer, smut peddler and a stack of three munchlax wearing a human suit?
I don’t talk that much about Fox on this blog; she has her own platforms and her own audience, and she doesn’t want necessarily to be presented to my audience in ways that aren’t in her control. I largely keep myself focused then on sharing her work when it’s relevant here and on twitter. I don’t like talking for Fox, I don’t like feeling I’m talking over her.
Fox has been a part of my life now for longer than she wasn’t. She missed all the damage. And she and I have been spending time growing together and learning about ourselves and working things out. Sometimes small things, sometimes big things. Again, I don’t like speaking for her, but if you’re a fan of her work, follow her twitter feed, or listen to the things she talks about, you might know some of the things I’m talking about.
As with years before this one, I want to take this moment on Christmas Eve to repeat, once again: this time with her, this another set of tomorrows, has been a gift.
Twas the nights before Christmas,
And all through the house
Fanagement was happening
In the name of the mouse,
Holy wamps this movie is great.
Not a lot of people have an internet sister, but I have, and have had for as long as I’ve known internet siblings were a thing. Kate, found on her twitter handle Chyron HR, has appeared in previous Decemberweens, as she did threads looking watching anime and telling jokes, and livetweeting her experience with videogames.
This year, however, I got the surprise that my little brother is in fact my older sister, as she made some choices and did some paperwork and acquired what I am assuming is just the most unnecessarily large pile of cute socks.
Now, you might imagine the dynamic of having a naive younger brother to a –
sorry, I’m checking the revision notes she’s given me
– ‘sexy office lady’ older sister is pretty confusing but the main thing I have to bear in mind is that it’s now much more permitted to dunk on her and she’s not looking up to me to set a good example. That much so far is great.
Pictured: Kate, Actually
But in all seriousness, joking aside, Kate’s year has had some sadness and stress and anxiety and it is all big and important and hard and I am so proud of her, I love her, and if you like my kinds of jokes you should probably follow her because she’s where I got a not-insignificant amount of my extremely deadpan, extremely online kind of humour.
Kate is great and I love her very much.
Merry Christmas, Kate.
(Also I have other internet siblings and at least one offline sister who has nothing to do with this, and, prior to this year, really, probably has no idea about any of what was going on in my online life, for anyone constructing any kind of chart.)
Hey, do you remember, a few years ago, a really good article on Kotaku about how the absence of women from the core group of Final Fantasy XV was a way that the story could show men’s relationships with men rather than presenting them as relationships compared to or in reflection of their relationships with women? Well, Jeb wrote that, and it was really good.
And Jeb’s writing again!
Jeb’s been writing on their patreon, long form examinations of games, but not videogames but hands-on, look-at-the-pieces examinations of board games. And no, this isn’t the latest Board Game Review Channel that’s going to talk about Charterstone and Reiner Knizier, but rather Jeb’s fascinating deep examinations of the world of vintage board games from the side of board games that’s normally treated as ‘junk.’
Licensed game, gimmick games, the tie-ins and spinoffs and knockoffs, and games that are all built for a market that we don’t understand in anything like the same way as the modern Euro landscape. It’s a fascinating study, and you should go check them out on Patreon and maybe help give them some money!
2019 has not been a kind year to a Jeb, but they have perservered, and done some writing, which is really good and I recommend it.
I sometimes am cautious of putting something on my blog that feels like it’s basically one big tweet. This is especially so since we got 280 character tweets, which means it’s very possible to give a very clear, positive or negative impression very conveniently, especially with a single picture attached.
Also this is one of those games with such a beautifully ridiculous premise that if I just show it to you and tell you what you’re playing for, you will almost certainly know whether you want it or not.
I participate on the Custom Magic Subreddit, a place where amateur designers come together to make cards for Magic: The Gathering, and it is a place where, overall, people get the colour pie wrong. But that’s okay, because we’re all amateurs and we’re all having fun.
Now, if you look through my history you’ll see that largely, I am pretty negative, but I have seen cards that I liked and wanted people to see, and so, that’s what this post is about. I thought I’d get all the cards I liked in a year and put them in one master post, but uhhh, so that was a bad idea for a number of reasons. First, Reddit doesn’t archive your personal upvoting history that far (it only shows the most recent 1,000, it seems), and second, I have liked way more than ten or twenty cards this year, and third, some of the people who made those cards have deleted their accounts, which makes it really hard to properly credit them.
Hey, Wizards employees! Stop reading! This is going to start showing custom magic cards, as unsolicited designs! Thank you! I don’t want you or me getting in trouble!
If you read this blog, you know I talk about a lot of general stuff, usually through the lens of games. This blog is a Talen Lee blog, where I write about videogames, board games, sometimes my study, historical tabletop roleplaying games, occasional media studies insights like I actually studied that or something, phd angst, and the life of a former fundamentalist abuse victim. It is a big ole pile of jelly in the jam.
One thing I do on this blog is get old games that didnt’ get a lot of critical prestige or were from platforms that you, my mostly-not-PC-playing audience that is younger than me, did not play, and talk about them, showing you things you might not have thought about while introducing you to things. There’s a tension at the heart of this kind of process, because on the one hand I have to introduce you to something, then show you something deeper in that thing.
But I control that discussion. You don’t necessarily know anything about the game until I introduce it, and then you just kind of have to nod along to me as to whether or not what I’m talking about is even present in the artwork in question. Part of this is the space involved in videogames, and part of it is the sheer volume of content in this space that you can’t track it all. I could tell you the last third of Assassins Creed 3 features a speedboat and odds are good you’d probably have to believe me.
Spare a thought then for Vincent Kinian’s Game Exhibition, which in november addressed this very question: how do people who’ve never played the game engage with critical reflection on that game? How does deep game examinations that want to put the genuinely obscure in a meaningful context handle the fact that the art they’re presenting cannot possibly give the audience the same access to art that say, a sculpture or painting has. It’s a really interesting quandrary, gone in depth in part in the article about Cave Noire.
If you like the kind of stuff I do on this blog in general, you should check out Vincent’s stuff for much more specific consideration of just games. It’s good stuff; I don’t read weekly, but I do from time to time (every few weeks) trundle in and have a read of a few articles.
Look, I try to be friends with a lot of people. If you know me via twitter, you know that I am generally pretty nice to people I talk to (and rude about things). This is not however to say that I am good at being friends. There are plenty of people around me that I feel or think very positively of that I am just not prone to socialising with. I come across as smug, or meanspirited a lot more often than I mean to be, and that’s on me, but it also can mean that sometimes, the best option I have for being a friend is to check in sometimes, see if someone’s okay, and try my best to be there when they need to reach out.
Anyway, in an unrelated topic, here’s my friend Char doing a Let’s Play of Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. Char’s great! Char likes superheroes. Char and I have reconnected to an extent from playing City of Heroes together, and I am a real fan of Char.
Check it out! The Raptor Squad does long form, slow playthroughs, they have dialogue back and forth about the game to explain it, and it’s a game I haven’t seen. Also there aren’t a lot of people following this channel at the moment, so your comments and feedback get to have an outsized effect!
Go check ’em out, and be nice!
Hey, look, alright, I know this may seem a bit weird to anyone out there who already watches and enjoys Mystery Science Theatre 3000, but I had to be introduced to this show after it stopped running and everything gets to be someone else’s first time. What do you want from me, I’m trying to spend this month focusing on media that’s family-shareable and isn’t going to be ruined by interrupting it for a meal.
First, to those people who are already into this kind of stuff: If you haven’t checked out The Gauntlet, aka Season 12, which is available on a variety of streaming services that are now all offering a one-month free trial in various locales, you absolutely should give it a shot. While you can talk about the charm of older episodes and a different time or energy in different arrangements of the cast, approached as its own thing, The Gauntlet showcases a variety of bad movies that are different enough to tell them apart and funny enough on their own without the (very good) comedians helping out.
Anyone who has no idea what I’m babbling about.
Mystery Science Theatre is a TV show that could not be more of its time if it tried. It was basically a show that served as a wrapper for movies, which mostly but not always showcased science fiction or fantasy movies. This is a thing that you’d see on television, back in the day, where schedules had to be determined well enough in advance that they could be printed in the newspapers (in Australia) or books (in America and other countries) that would show you what TV shows would be available to watch at various times. This schedule meant that you sometimes would get ‘shows’ that would curate other shows and show them, sometimes edited for time or content. They might have names like ‘masterpiece theatre’ or ‘the Afternoon Show’ or ‘Saturday Disney,’ or, in this case, Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Continue Reading →
As the year concludes, I thought hey, I should check out my friends’ stuff and show it off because it’s a perfect time for people to look for small weird specific things that they might not realise they wanted until hey, now, time to see it. Anyway, this has meant going to all my friends that I made this year or people I reconnected with (as say might happen thanks to City of Heroes coming back?) and being surprised by the cool things I wouldn’t have known or expected because hey, everyone keeps their business to themselves more or less.
Sometimes this means finding out that a friend is working on a tactical RPG they don’t want to talk too much about in public, and some are making microfiction and some of them are successful prop makers and cosplayers with over ten thousand instagram followers.
That was a surprise.
It’s weird but in my little creative space I’m kind of used to being a microscopic fish surrounded by even smaller fish. Now, I still approached my friend with an attitude of ‘hey, I want to promote your work because I like you and is that okay’ and then found out that the reach I was extending to my friend is pretty much meaningless to her by the kind of numbers she can do just waking up of a morning.
Anyway, I met Amber this year, and we got to hang out and play superhero games and talk about our pets and her work schedule lines up well with mine and so, in a very natural, comfortable way, we just wound up hanging out a lot, and turns out, I think she’s super neat and she sure tolerates me. And if you want you can go check out her cosplay instagram and prop store, which I normally would then go on to tell you is great or cool because something or other, but uh, nope, turns out that I am way out of my depth here and she’s doing this as her main source of income.
So that’s cool! I made a cool friend! She’s helped me find my feet in some social spaces I’d normally withdraw from, we’ve punched Nazis together, and helped each other consider various logistical challenges of our workloads. Go check her stuff out!
There are lots of music podcasts out there and for the most part I find them extremely unrelatable. Maybe it’s because they’re engaged with by people who have a very American music palate, who are either markedly younger than me, or maybe they’re not ashamed to dance. Where, then, is the podcast for guys in their thirties who are sobbingly distressed about their age and who only started to engage with pop music in the very tail end of the nineties, maybe ones who are ashamed to show their faces in public.
Ah, here we are.
Todd in the Shadows is a youtuber and Channel Awesome escapee, who does pop music song reviews, with sorts of sub-themes of examining One Hit Wonders and disastrous albums, and they’re really cool and fun. This is a podcast he does with Dany J Roth, his friend who goes to Karaoke with him. I have a hard time remembering Dany’s name, in part because I also listen to Dave And Jeb Aren’t Mean, where one of the voices is Dave Roth. Anyway.
There’s no deep insight here, no great brilliance. But if you want a new podcast that has a few hours of goodnaturedly ribbing on various hit songs in contrast with one another, this is one I like and I recommend you check out.
Oink games are one of those companies I deeply appreciate in the same way most people appreciate art. They make beautiful, tightly integrated little games with a lovely visual aesthetic and a variety of play scales of difficulty, from a different cultural perspective than I’m from and they satisfy a variety of different play types.
But they’re also extremely pricey to get my hands on here, because I don’t know, we have a nice beaches tax, whatever. Attempts to buy Oink games tend to be kind of happenstance – you either see them for sale on a shelf and snap them up, or if you can’t, you deal with them being randomly unavailable. The internet, normal place I go to for this kind of thing, isn’t much help – shipping fees for Oink games can sometimes be as high as seventy dollars.
Still, these games are great and if you live in Europe, Japan, or America, they’re a lot more obtainable, and statistically you do, so I want to share with you a game of theirs that you can play yourself with just the bits and pieces you already have access to, and hopefully it’ll encourage you to check out their other stuff and give you something you can do at a family party this holiday season that doesn’t involve again, monopoly.
Wait a second.
Monopoly joke, family reference, talk about other games to pad the word space, talk about using components you already have…
… is this going to be another drawing game?
Okay, unfortunately, yes, but I promise it’s not the same thing and it’s really good! A Fake Artist Goes To New York is a drawing game where rather than everyone needing their own pad of paper, you instead need one pad of paper, and some scraps of paper and markers.
What’s going on in this game is that each player is part of a collaborative art asset to create an artwork together, except one of the players doesn’t know what you’re drawing. You draw one line of whatever you’re drawing and you hand it to the next player. They then do their line, and pass it on and on. And again: Some of the players know what you’re drawing, one of them doesn’t.
The thing with this game, and what separates it from Fax Machine, is that it’s a game where you don’t have to be good at drawing to win or lose. You’re adding one line at a time to your drawing, and that means that you don’t really have a luxury of being good or bad. Much like how I spoke of Poker earlier this year, it’s not a game of expressing your skill as an artist as much as it is a game about communicating with the other players. You’re trying to find the fake, and the fake is trying to make sure other players don’t catch them out.
This game is lovely and charming, and I recommend you don’t just check it out, but try playing it. But didn’t I say it costs a bunch? Well, you don’t need to buy it to play it.
You don’t need specialised equipment to play this game, you just need the rules, which I won’t explain in full, because I don’t have to. You can get them here at BoardgameGeek, hosted there with permission by Oink Games. This is a really impressive move, by the way, because the rulebook covers how you pretty much don’t need to buy the game. They’re giving a version of their game away for free, understanding that if you like it, you might buy it. I really respect that, especially in a game that’s so approachable and can serve as a gateway to get people into the games scene.
For someone who gets mad at suggested content so much, I’m extremely bad at subscribing to things. As I’ve had a channel of my own on Youtube, and a few podcasts going, I’ve been trying to get better about remembering to actually do that thing, broadening my media intake rather than rewatching the same thing over and over again.
Still, I’ve done a lot of focused work this year and that’s meant using a lot more ASMR channels to help me focus, and that sometimes means, like flipping a pillow over, I need to slightly adjust what I’m experiencing to be able to appreciate it. Here are some ASMRTists I listened to this year:
Gibi is a pretty well-known ASMRtist. She’s one of your ‘general mix’ channels, which do a bunch of roleplay things, close attention to a small number of objects, but also, she does videos as an anime character. Particularly what I like about her work is that she does a lot to play with wordlbuilding and character voice – such as her play as Hange Zoe, which has a random joke about potato theft in the middle that you’d only appreciate if you actually can put her actions in context. Interesting stuff!
Kaya ASMR is a channel I don’t actually know very much about at all, because all I’ve seen from her is one video – a really high production value scene of playing with locks and keys, and I don’t just mean normal tapping, drumming and close inspection, I mean hardware store key archive tools. It’s really lovely and interesting to watch and then the narrative gives this context of a cyborg watching its own complex parts be examined. It’s a really good video!
Albinwhisperland is probably the channel I’m most embarrassed to share because the video of hers I keep returning to is one where she’s asking a questionnaire. She does a lot of stuff about vintage clothing (in which I am not interested) and small focused roleplays like Morticia Addams doing your makeup. She’s got pink hair, she’s high femme in a truly over the top way, and I just find her very restful to listen to while I’m taking notes on Autoethnographic practice.
So there’s three folk I’ve been revisiting this year and greatly appreciating as they help me work and relax and deal with my stress.
I started this year pretty burned out on writing about Magic: The Gathering, what with the heavy narrative focus on the importance of Nicol Bolas, and what I saw as at least another half year defined by that story and the ongoing pressure of Teferi. I wasn’t having fun! It wasn’t cool! I found myself getting annoyed at how much work it was to pump out Magic articles that weren’t very shallow, and so, I stopped.
Now, this has not been a good year for Magic: The Gathering, overall, I don’t think. It’s probably sold fine, but it’s just been one of those years with a lot of rake-step moments. Bannings in standard, data breaches, story controversies, another new format being created and handled weirdly, continued problems with Brawl, players just being the worst and oh look, another Teferi planeswalker that we’re all going to be very glad to see rotate out and also, Throne of Eldraine bringing
But while I haven’t been writing about it that much I have been playing Magic quite a bit, and I realised there was a whole fistful of cards from this past year that I really liked and I wanted to shout out about them. Hey, if you’re a casual Magic player, these cards are worth grabbing, especially because they’re really cheap.
Okay, so what’s Microfiction? Microfiction is fiction, but smol, and oh hey we’re done. But seriously, Microfiction is fiction made using some inherently limited medium, stories that want to be able to fit in a tiny space, or in a medium that forces a smallness.
It’s something that you may not realise if you don’t spend your time examining mediums instead of media, but the size of a page changes the way stories on that page feel, and readers and twine games and webpages have got us re-examinign this whole space all over again. The format I’m focused on for here is twitter microfiction, where your natural unit of story is a single tweet. You can thread them together, like pages, but the breaks between tweets is part of the form that you use. There’s this whole thing here where if I was a better read narratologist I’d be able to say something like the narrative morpheme but hell with that.
Two of my friends are big into making Microfiction, with my friend Cae even compiling a book of Microfiction this year, while still releasing a bunch on twitter. My other friend Jade, and by other friend I mean she’s the other friend I brought up at first, not that I only have two friends, but if I did only have two friends, these two would be pretty good choices, point is, Jade also makes microfiction.
Microfiction is basically this whole way of telling a story that we normally reserve for something the size of a joke. It’s interesting and it’s challenging and it’s a really good way to get into the habit of telling small evocative stories that cut away every part of what they’re trying to do in as few words as possible.
Aw hell yes.
Okay, so we have an established formula for Jimmy Buffett albums at this point; he basically has three dials of ‘nostalgia,’ ‘chill,’ and ‘alcoholism,’ and there’s an occasional dash of whatever it is he’s thinking of exactly right now. After Pink Sports Coat we get Living and Dying in 3/4 Time, which was where I learned what a time signature was.
Fifteen years after I first heard the album.
First up, this album had some mainstream pop success with Pencil Thin Mustache and Come Monday, songs that served up the nostalgia and schmoop in pretty solid measures. Pencil Thin Mustache is especially funny to listen to when you remember it’s a dude in his mid-twenties talking about feeling old, making the whole affair feel artificial now in hindsight even if my whole life, Jimmy Buffett’s been the same age as my dad, and therefore, never younger than me.
Get off my lawn, Jimmy.
Anyway, sure, whatever, Come Monday is a – actually no, wait, let’s not skip over this one. This one taught me something, a message that’s served me well in relationships. He refers to himself as being in a proud, ugly haze. Later on I learned the song Foolish Pride by Hatsune Miku. That song includes the lyric Chalk another love lost up to foolish pride, and it’s kind of the whole point of the song. She’s not subtle, that Miku. Anyway, the thing is, I realise there were a lot of times I was doing things because I didn’t want to feel like I was weak or stupid for being mad or hurt in the first place, and I know for a fact there’s a lot of times my long-term relationships have been helped dramatically by a willingness to recognise that I’m being proud and setting that aside.
It’s surprisingly hard. It’s fucked up enough that my ability to recognise these moments in myself, stop, and immediately apologise for being a stupid asshole that it sometimes upsets the person I was arguing with because they can’t believe I actually mean it. That’s weird!
Anyway, Come Monday is a very generic song but it taught me that my pride could hurt the people around me for no good reason.
Anyway, you know what, let’s just skip to the B-side on this album because it fucking rules. Uh, Brahma Fear and Livingstone’s Gone To Texas are attempts to capture the country market again, and Brand New Country Star is making fun of that same market that doesn’t like him (and we’ll get to that). Ringling Ringling is one of those ‘loser town’ songs that touring musicians wind up writing. Anyway, whatever.
The B-side of this album starts with The Wino and I Know, a song that scored on my brain the phrase I am trying to get by, being quiet and shy, in a world full of pushing and shoving and fuck me if that isn’t a phrase that perfectly encapsulates some of my beautifully soft friends. I may not be a quiet and shy person, jagged and bloodstained as I am, but I 100% here to get hot donuts and coffee for my friends who just want to be the metaphorical flannel pajamas of life.
Saxophones is a blatant callout of the way country music (the dominant music of his home state of Alabama) treats him, despite his growing success and mainstream success and it suggests that he’d be better off doing ‘rock’ music with saxophones to try and get their attention. It did not work. It didn’t work for this album or the next, but it’s still a fun track and it sounds good.
Gods Own Drunk is a funny bit of stand-up, barely a song, but whatever. The Ballad of Spider John is a really good, strong closer song for the album, a real classic kind of riverboat story song that you might imagine Kenny Rogers would record if most of what he did didn’t suck ass. But the real gem of this album, the thing that I will always hold up and share with people, the song that may be his best song ever is the song which got this album banned in Canada.
West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gowns is a short song. Two forty. It’s a story song. It’s about picking up a hitch-hiker who shares maybe fifty words in the song. It’s not a big song. But it jam packs those words with the tension of a ruined relationship with an abusive mother and delivers the most satisfying final refrain of any Jimmy Buffett song. Period. This song ends with a raised middle finger fit to split a soul and I love it.
This is probably also the first place I ever heard the word ‘fuck.’
And this is 1973! This is a country album! This is before KISS!
Ugh, I love this song so much. I love it because I had a childhood of women in songs and stories who really didn’t matter, really didn’t make choices and sure didn’t get to cuss their bad moms out.
If you listen to the albums on these articles, you can absolutely skip everything except West Nashville. It’s that good. When talking about this album with Fox and my dad, the funny thing is you can knock out the two best songs on the album and you’d still have a pretty good Jimmy Buffett album.
There’s another album that’s more jam packed, that has more amazing songs I love on it, but this one, this one has the song that I think more and more may just be my single favourite Jimmy Bufffett song.
What’s a nonogram?
Well it’s a type of math structure, which has been for some reason of late been labelled as a game distributed under the general label of picross, where you’re presented with a grid where each row and column has numbers in it expressing how many of those squares are filled in and in what kind of sequence and you get something that looks a little bit like a crossword someone forgot to finish making.
There’s a lot of fun stuff in Picross structures that builds around mathematical principles and grids and boundaries and ranges and the good news is that if you play Picross a bit you’ll start to see ways that these things create inferred information that you may have thought was impossible.
Wait, hang on, someone paid to be funny did a video explaining it, here, go see what he has to say:
I’m not going to try to explain how to play Picross? Because I don’t really know how I learned how to do it beyond having it underscored to me that Picross is fundamentally fair and that if you have to guess, that’s a failure of the design, that everything else is literally just a matter of building techniques and processes that always work.
The thing is, this isn’t really a game to recommend as much as it is a genre of games that I am now imparting to you which you can play on almost every platform and with varying degrees of accomplishment or framing that makes it feel good for you to play. In my case, the Picross I play of choice is this website, because the puzzles it generates are effectively meaningless. This isn’t a perfect site – it seems to me after a lot of play that there are some puzzles that it generates that may have a unique solution but that the final steps of that solution may involve guessing between one of two final options. That’s non ideal, but it also takes literally no time to roll up a new puzzle the second you make a mistake, which I do.
Picross is a nice no-impact game to spend your time on, and there are so many different Picross games out there it’s kind of a game itself to find the one or two Picrosses that work best for you. I really liked finding out about Picross this year and it’s a lot faster than booting up The Swindle when my brain worms start to eat me.
Okay, so around this time each year I and my friends sit around and discuss a weekend game of D&D that we’ll play when they come around. It’s a highlight of my year, even if it lands – typically – smack dab during GDQ, meaning I miss a bunch of the celebration at the end of that event. But that’s not what’s important.
A few years ago, I proposed for this event, to my friends, a game with the short pitch of Robin Hood vs Vampires. The idea got a bit of meat on it, and I served it to my friends, and we wound up playing something else.
But it got a name.
The name it got was Brinkwood: Blood of Tyrants.
I threw this name out there on the internet at one point because I was happy with the logo I made for the game even though nobody was actually super interested in it. And then Leastwise saw it.
My friend Leastwise, aka Erik the Bearik (and he’ll come up again later this month), saw this pitch, and straight up asked if he could have it. Or more specifically, he had his own idea inspired by this idea, and he asked if he could use my logo. What resulted is a game that’s been streamed, played by multiple groups, run at cons and may even get to be a major project from the San Janero Co-Op. It is amazing work, and it has all these great, thoughtful pieces at the root of it, like addressing the philosophical vision of what trauma means in Blades in the Dark. The game seems to have coined the term Castlepunk, the idea of ‘hey, that kind of mish-mash of medieval-seeming things we all associate with general fantasy without getting into a long argument about what really counts as medieval.’ It’s great and it’s cool, and you get to adorn these twisted wooden masks with fae blessings on them as you go out on missions to drink the rich.
Time to time when talking about the game, he’ll mention me, as it relates to this idea because I mean it kind of works as an origin story, it’s as good a place to get started. But I need to stamp a stake in the ground right here: This is Erik’s idea. It’s 100% his idea and all of this beautiful, thoughtful, engaging, exciting and creative writing about this idea is his. All I did was make a logo and a name and he went ‘oh, I would do X with it.’ Part of what excites me about this is it’s a kind of fanart? I had an idea, I put it out there and someone else who was inspired by it was able to create with it and make their own thing, and I get to see my little logo become something amazing.
You can go check out the playtest kit over here, on itch.io, and please, I recommend you do.
Normally, when I write about games on Game Pile, I’m writing about games you can buy, or maybe games you can have for free. I’m not often talking about games that are more practice than they are objects. For some of you, this time of year is a time when you go visit people you kinda like but don’t like much and there’s inevitably, someone who wants to ‘play games’ so I want to equip you with a really good game so you’re not stuck in an hour long slog of trying to remember how mortgages work in a dusty copy of monopoly nobody likes.
Now, then, our basics. First, a fax machine was a kind of email machine that could send a complicated text message over a phone line to a specialised device. These machines are pretty outmoded now, but for a while there they were fundamental to businesses and even had people doing ‘spam’ calls by randomly sending faxes to different phone numbers in the random hope they’d be picked up by a machine and you’d print something in a stranger’s workplace. They were also slow – a fax could take ten to fifteen minutes to arrive when they were new, which means fax correspondence always had a sort of slow stop-and-start nature to them. They were faster than mail, but they still had a sort of asynchronous communication feel to them. That’s the core of this game: People communicating badly with paper.
Okay, with that in mind: Fax Machine is a drawing game. Some people don’t like drawing games, they don’t like being put on the spot like that. That’s fair. Don’t try and make anyone play if they don’t like this kind of game. In fact don’t try and make anyone play games they don’t like the sound of. It’s just a dick move.
Okay, so, rules.
- Give ever player a way to draw (pen, pencil, texta, whatever) and a pad of paper or stack to draw on. They need to be able to turn the page, so whatever is on the previous page is hidden. You can make booklets using staples and typical printer paper.
- Every player writes a phrase, word, or name on the first page. People can get hung up on this, so for the first round you may want to ask people to write their favourite movie quote or their favourite vegetable.
- Then each player passes their work to the next player.
- Each player turns the page of their work and tries to draw what they just read. This will almost always be hard because nobody went into this thinking they’d have to draw that.
- Then, players passes their work to the next player.
- Players turn the page and try to write what they think that picture was trying to describe.
- Continue as long as you want.
Now I don’t mind drawing and I hang around with a family that are all pretty crafty so it’s not a game that goes badly for us. What it means though is that we don’t think of the same turns of phrase or the same ideas expressed by pictures, and so we get steadily more and more silly pictures. I’ve seen ‘All’s well that ends well’ concluding with ‘a microbe travelling through space and time.’
It’s cheap, it’s fast, it can be played with a big group or a small group and you’ll usually get a good laugh out of it, and if you don’t like it, you’re not out an expensive setup fee.
I say that like it’s something I did but I think it’s really just because I’m still numb that I did it. I think back on that hour or two of waiting and talking and asking and waiting and waiting and waiting and I feel sick to my stomach thinking about the mistakes I made. It was weird to enter with so much confidence I downplayed myself in the name of not looking like an arrogant dickhole, and in the process it all twisted around on itself.
My PhD scares the hell out of me, and every time I stand in front of an actual academic and explain it, I feel my grasp on my confidence slipping away. It’s scary!
But this year, I did my RPR, my first major presentation on the Phd to someone who doesn’t know the field and doesn’t know me. It didn’t go amazingly, I missed some specific details and – and –
You know what.
The thing is, the real reason I want to write this.
My supervisor and my co-supervisor went into a small room with two of their peers and went in to bat for me. They didn’t defend the indefensible, they provided context that was meaningful.
I’m not saying my work is bad and my supervisors made it look palatable. I’m saying my work is good, but I’m not yet good at making that clear, and my supervisors did heroic work in standing up for me. It’s a huge deal to me, the way I can feel cared for and respected by these people.
It means a lot to me and I’m very grateful for it.
City of Heroes is back.
City of Heroes is back and based on these past six months, it might be able to last.
I don’t know how to tell you how unnecessarily happy this makes me.
The game is still a clunky, 2004 content churn of a game. It’s a space full of people who, like me, didn’t get over losing it last time, and have kept their personal roleplaying stories going, or just brought back old ones, and that means I get to see a bunch of people I genuinely hate and never wanted to see again running around and having fun but it’s okay because City of Heroes is back!
As far as free games go, a customisable superhero MMORPG is a pretty sweet one to offer, and here’s the link. I don’t think it’ll be to your taste – it’s a limited appeal kind of work at the best of times – but it’s something I’m so glad to see around, and part of what I love about it is that I get to play this game again and it somehow survived.
There was a lot of anger at the discovery of a secret server this year. It was a big deal, and a lot of people close to me were super pissed about it, because the idea that they didn’t get to play, but someone did was really unpleasant. But what stood out to me was the idea that a population of what, a few hundred people were able to keep this kind of thing a secret, even through breaches on Reddit and multiple attempts to attack it.
I don’t think Corporations are good. I don’t think NCSoft, despite making a thing I love, are a good company. I don’t think that Nexon, the company that owns NCSoft are good, and I don’t think Tencent, the company that wants to buy Nexon are good. Simply put, I do not see a reason to want to defend a corporation in face of people taking things from that corporation. I don’t like the Disney Vault for example, and I don’t feel there’s any shame to be had in making a corporation surrender control over something. Corporations aren’t the heroes. They don’t need us to stand up for them.
We sure don’t want to be their unpaid enforcers.
Instead, for years, years, people kept that secret.
Like you would, for a superhero.
I have a complex relationship with long form fiction.
Undeniably, I have read some long book series, and they were very important to me. I spent a lot of time working on my theories about them, composing diagrams and fanart and all the things we normally associate with fandom these days. I read the entire story arc of the Animorphs books, one seven dollar purchase at a time. I read Robotech and the Mallorean and the Belgariad and I mean, I read Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering novels.
I have read a lot of fiction books.
For the most part, though, I have not read many good books. Not books I hold up and tell my friends hey this rules or hey this is great genre fiction. I do it with Animorphs, but let’s not kid ourselves, those are a bunch of great ideas swaddled in many layers of Dicking Around because the author was on a monthly schedule.
When I talk about long form fiction in TV I often make all sorts of forgiving statements about how they work or don’t work or what’s going wrong in them because of things they couldn’t control like maybe some of the people involved died or there was an incident or they had to find their feet or whatever, and that’s all a byproduct of those works not really knowing what they’re about or what they’re going to be about. Imagine that, imagine eight years and millions of dollars spent on wages and sets and productivity and promotion and advertising and it all falls apart like wet biscuits because when it comes down to it, you don’t know what your story is about and it means you don’t know what the story is doing. JK Rowling didn’t know what Harry Potter was doing aside from making her rich and that’s why the conclusion of that story is a wet fart.
I bring this up because I want to make it exceptionally clear that Resplendent In The Sky is work I am 100% convinced knows what it’s about and knows where it’s going.
Am I saying Resplendent In The Sky, a book of gaslamp fantasy available for free, now, by someone I know and like, is better than Game of Thrones?
Honestly, yeah pretty much. Go check it out!
My first encounter with this movie, which I understand to be based off a series of children’s books which are wildly different in their overall scope and tone than this, was not in its advertising or reviews (which is weird, I watch a lot more movie reviews than I watch movies these days) but instead as a work of fan remix where people took short gifs from this movie, resubtitled them with different dialogue and intercut them with short gifs from another movie to imply a connected continuity between this story and that one as one of the most interesting and time-intensive forms of fanfiction I’d ever seen when you considered the time investment to make versus the time investment to process and this has all been one sentence, dear god.
This is the time of year when the last thing I want you to read is Here’s How This TV Show Should Make You Sad, or Videogames Are Made By Assholes, Maybe, and so instead, I dedicate December to a festival of fun stuff.
Now, that means this month is going to be about trying to put forwards people who don’t qualify by my normal metrics as Game Pile or Story Pile candidates. It isn’t to say they’re not good, mind you. I try to avoid putting people making non-commercial or extremely indie work on the same platform as work that is, in no small part because it seems unfair to compare people with a marketing budget to people with none.
The aim is going to be stuff you can enjoy with minimal expenditure or cost, stuff that’s good for sharing or good for binging, stuff that I feel grateful for in small and personal ways, and stuff that yes, unashamedly, puts forwards my friends.
Hope you have fun this month!