Becoming more social part 5 – the current frontier

This is the final installment of my “becoming more social” series for my blog that chronicles my adventure to break out of my shell through gaming.  It is the final installment because it brings me to my current social state, even though it started almost 10 years ago.  I had briefly mentioned the event that lead to the largest crack in my shell in my first blog post, and I will expand on it greatly here.

My friends and I enjoying a funny story at the gaming table
My friends and I enjoying a funny story at the gaming table

In the fall of 2005, I started playing in a Shadowrun campaign with a couple classmates of mine.  A few of us had the same lab class and we were invited to game with our classmate and a couple of his friends, one of whom was going to be the GM.  This classmate had a ton of experience in gaming and had previously gamed with our GM and his other friend that was joining us.  Three of us from lab, me included, were completely new to Shadowrun and this gaming group.  But, since it sounded like fun, and because I was already in love with tabletop roleplaying, I decided to give it a try.

After the initial conversation, we quickly decided upon a location and day for this Shadowrun campaign.  It was going to be at my classmate’s house on a day when we didn’t have class late at night.  The other two who were joining us had been friends with my classmate and his wife for a few years, and they were experienced gamers, the GM had previously run them through a Shadowrun campaign in the past.  We quickly acquainted ourselves with the system and started gaming.

Now, this is VERY important.  If you are gaming at someone’s house who is married, but the wife/husband/partner is not part of the gaming group, it is crucial that you do not ignore them.  It is their house too, so be polite and try to talk to them.  Since this person also lives at the house you are gaming at, they will be around when you are gaming.  This is, perhaps, the most important lesson I have ever learned while gaming: DO NOT IGNORE THE SPOUSE!  Because I didn’t ignore my classmate’s spouse, I was not looked upon as rude or weird as my other two classmates were.  They ignored her and thus she was weirded out by them.  Because I engaged with my classmate’s spouse, when other things came up, like possibly board gaming or a Christmas party, I was invited whereas the other two weren’t.  I also had the benefit of ingratiating myself with my classmate’s wife as I commented on their beautifully decorated Christmas tree, not knowing that she loved Christmas.  So, by being a “normal” person by not ignoring her and making appropriate comments and small talk, I quickly moved from classmate to friend.

Because both my classmate and his wife liked me, they started to invite me over for board gaming and other get-togethers like their annual Christmas party.  It was at these events that I met and became friends with more of their friends.  It was at these events, the board game nights, where they introduced me to their incredible collection of board games, of which I have blogged about before.  Before them, I had no idea there were so many board games; I thought Monopoly was it.  They completely opened my eyes to the wonderful world of board games.

And this couple, whose house this Shadowrun campaign started at, has become some of my closest friends to this day.  We go camping together a few times a year and I am invited over for all sorts of random hangouts (could be dinner, could be for more board gaming).  Because this couple introduced me to their friends and family, I have been invited to a couple weddings, invited to more birthday parties than I can shake a stick at, and made several more friends that I would never have been able to on my own.  I was even able to get one of the friends I made through this couple a job where I work and she will be having her 5 year anniversary later this year.

I am truly grateful for the friends I have made throughout the years through gaming.  However, I am most grateful to the classmate who invited me to play Shadowrun, and his wife.  They have had a huge impact on my life and I am a much better and more social person for it.

Have you made long lasting friendships through gaming?  If so, how did it come about?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Old game with new twist

We have all heard of and played the card game Uno, yes?  Good.  Chances are you, like me, played it when you were a kid and never really thought much about it as an adult.  It was always considered a kid’s game.  While I still believe Uno truly is a kid’s game, when adults play it can take the game to a whole new level of competitiveness.  However, when you have a group of friends over and you bring up games to play, very few will mention Uno.  But, what if you could put a twist on the game that made it more fun, more competitive, and outright crazy?  Chances are, your friends will be interested in playing.

That twisted version of Uno I am talking about is called Hot Death Uno.

Hot Death Draw 8
Hot Death Draw 8

I am unsure to its true origins, but it came to me through a friend who learned it through a friend of his while they were both RAs at UNR.  What I can tell you is that it gets pretty crazy when playing.  The standard rules of Uno apply, but there are extra cards added with new rules that shake things up quite a bit.

Hot Death Uno attack and defense cards
Hot Death Uno attack and defense cards
Cards with unique abilities
Cards with unique abilities

There are more attacks than before, and some of them are quite powerful.  There’s a Draw 2 Spreader, which makes everyone around the table draw two (unless they have the block card, which we call Matilda’s Block after my friends’ daughter).  There’s Double Skips, Reverse Skips, Delayed Blast Draw 4, and Mystery Draw 4 (you look through the played deck looking for the first number card you see and draw that number).  There’s MAD, which takes you and another player out of the round, and Twist of Fate which brings someone back who has been eliminated.  The Magic Red 5 can be played on anything, 69 allows you to play 9s on 6s and vice versa, Virus splits any draw 4s between you and the person who played it, Luck O’ the Irish allows you to draw one less card, and Glastnost Comrade forces someone to reveal their entire hand for the rest of the round.

The infamous zero cards
The infamous zero cards

Then we get into the really nasty attacks and defenses.  These are the new zero cards: The Quitter takes the next person out of the round, the Holy Defender can block most attacks from hitting you that instead hit whomever is next, Return to Sender returns the attack to whomever played it and reverses the order, and lastly the Crapper which can only be played as your last card, after the Holy Defender, or after the Magic Red 5.  These can be round breaking cards to have and play.  They are also worth a ton of points if they are in your hand when the round is over.

The Harvester of Sorrows
The Harvester of Sorrows

These last couple of new cards give the game its name as well as bring down card drawing punishment.  Hot Death is a Draw 8 and the Harvester of Sorrows is an unblockable Draw 4.  Almost all draw 4 cards can be added to with other draw 4s, even Hot Death, to cause whomever cannot block or add to it a huge number of cards to draw.  The defenses mentioned above, Holy Defender and Return to Sender, can cause all those draw 4s to hit someone else.  However, the Harvester of Sorrows (which you must say “Harvester of Sorrows” when playing it) is completely unblockable.  So, if you are able to add that to a series of other draw 4s, then the player after you will be stuck drawing until their hands overflow.

This version of Uno is extremely fun and aggravating.  With the additional attack and defense cards, it is easy to change a losing game into a winning one for you.  However, in the process of this, you are very likely to anger those around you and thus feel the wrath of their attack cards.  Uno has never been better.

Have you played a version of Uno similar to Hot Death Uno?  Would you like to know more about Hot Death Uno?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Becoming more social part 4

After coming back from my yearlong exchange program in Japan, I noticed I had changed quite a bit.  I was back in the dorms and instead of keeping to myself, I found myself chatting with pretty much anybody.  This was mostly limited fellow dorm-mates, but this kind of thing was very unusual for me.  Perhaps returning to the familiar after being completely out of my comfort zone for a year allowed me to just fully relax (not that my experience in Japan wasn’t fantastic).  I was able to, quickly, make friends with pretty much everyone on my floor; I did feel like the resident old guy since many of my dorm-mates were still in high school when I last lived in this dorm.

Image credit: http://www.unr.edu/around-campus/facilities/lincoln
Image credit: http://www.unr.edu/around-campus/facilities/lincoln

Due to my newly found openness, and my seemingly insatiable need for more Dungeons and Dragons, I was quickly able to find a group of people to tabletop roleplay with.  Since we were all college kids, our weekend schedules lined up nicely to play all day on the weekends.  We would start out early afternoon and play until we were too tired to play anymore.  We could easily put in 8-10 hours of playing at a time.  It was incredibly fun.  To this day, over 10 years later, I still tabletop roleplay with a couple friends I made during these sessions in college.

The breaking out of my shell wasn’t limited to just Dungeons and Dragon friends like it had been in the past.  I started to socialized and hang out with others as well.  A group of friends that I had made created a double-header movie day.  We would all head out, grab some food somewhere, and go watch two moves back to back.  If we didn’t go out to the movies, we would hang out in their dorm room (they had a nice, huge room) and watch movies there or play video games.

I also started going to and participating in dorm activities, something I never did before I went to Japan.  Part of this was because one of my D&D friends was involved in the residence halls, but I had also become pretty good friends with the RA (Resident Advisor) who lived across the hall from me.  We would shoot the breeze all the time as we both had open door policies.  He would also participate in the dorm events.

It was here, during these dorm events, that I became more comfortable branching out and meeting more people.  Since these events were social by nature, it didn’t work to sit in a corner and ignore everyone.  A lot of the events were essentially pizza parties with some kind of group game.  Others were team events pitting one dorm against the other, which I also participated in.  These events were incredibly fun and I got to meet a lot of really great, interesting people.  I cannot really imagine how it would have been had I still been fully within my shell.  I would have missed out on a lot of good times.

Did you ever live in the dorms in college?  What was your experience like?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Team Collaboration with Tabletop Roleplaying

I have discussed tabletop roleplaying a few times on this blog.  I’ve talked about how it has helped me break out of my shell, and how it helps me reduce stress.  I have also talked about how it can, by playing someone entirely different from yourself, give you a new prospective.  However, there is another aspect that I haven’t talked about yet; team collaboration.

My recent Pathfinder session last Friday, which you can see a short clip of on my “About” page for this blog, got me thinking about how tabletop roleplaying encourages complete and full team collaboration more than anything else (in my opinion at least).  During our session, we had to come up with a plan on how we were going to handle our meeting with some drug dealers that were selling a rather dangerous drug (it’s called mumia and has the side effect of eventually killing you and turning you into the undead).

We had encountered mumia before and discovered not only its side effect, but what the evil forces behind it were going to do with the sudden influx of undead.  We were also working with the Church of Pharasma, a god who despises the undead, so we were trying to come up with a plan to destroy their operation.  However, we didn’t exactly know how we were going to do this.  Enter team collaboration step 1: Planning.

Image credit: http://www.theverge.com/2014/11/11/7193647/dragon-age-inquisition-pc-ps4-impressions
Image credit: http://www.theverge.com/2014/11/11/7193647/dragon-age-inquisition-pc-ps4-impressions

Each of us, in turn, discussed what our objectives were and how we best thought we could achieve them.  We didn’t rule or shut anyone out; it was going to take the full party to handle this.  We compared and contrasted what each character could do ability-wise and how best to utilize those abilities.  We came up with a few ideas on what we were going to do.  We put specific people in charge of specific aspects of the plan and came up with a kind of “in case of x do y” contingencies.

Since my character is the only foreigner, and I had met with a patsy before to try to get a meeting, we decided to continue that rouse.  I would go to the meeting with my guides from before, which were other party members, and another party member was going to be our expert on the drug.  The last member of our party, who excels at sneaking into places, was going to do just that.

Even though this plan seems simple, we debated it for several minutes.  We couldn’t just storm the place with swords and maces a swinging, we had to be delicate; we didn’t know if the high ranking member of the criminal organization would actually be there.  So we decided to act as though we were serious about procuring the drugs, and then try to ambush them when their backs were turned.  In the end, it did work out quite well, though there were numerous times when we all thought we were going to die.  But, that’s what tabletop roleplaying is about sometimes.

The fact that everyone got a say and no idea was turned down without debate and analysis is the key.  We were able to come up with a plan we all agreed upon because we allowed everyone to have a say, to be invested in the plan if you will.  Since this was a unique scenario, there weren’t any past events or plans we could pull from to help us.  We had to build our plan from scratch in a timely manner (no one wants to spend all night coming up with a plan only to run out of time before implementing).

This same kind of team collaboration works in the real world.  Whenever you have a unique problem, get the appropriate subject matter experts into one room and open the floor for suggestions.  Remember, one of the keys for this to work is that no idea is thrown out without examination.  Not only will this give every member of the team a stake in the outcome of the agreed upon plan, but it will increase team cohesion.

How do you handle planning operations in your tabletop roleplaying adventures?  Does everyone get a say, or is there usually a point person?  Have you tried implementing something like this where you work?  How did it go?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Evolving Strategies

In a previous post, I talked about strategy and how it was important to pay attention to what everyone else is doing and to work on a team.  I am going to revisit strategy but put a different twist on it.  We’re going to be talking about evolving strategies where you have to change up what you are doing in order to be successful.  To do this, I am going to be talking about a fantastic card game called Dominion.

My friends' custom Dominion box
My friends’ custom Dominion box

Dominion is, in my opinion, one of the most re-playable games out there.  Since you only play with 10 different cards out of 206, each game is unique.  Not only is each game unique, but the optimal strategy to win each game is also unique.  Simply swapping out one kingdom card for another can completely change what strategy you employ.  Seeing what strategies your opponents are playing can also completely change what strategy you employ.  So, Dominion isn’t simply about strategy but also about paying attention.

Depending on what cards are chosen for each specific game, you might be able to come up with a couple strategies or see a couple good card combinations.  However, you must remember that your opponents are also probably seeing the same combos and having the same strategy ideas.  Regardless of what everyone sees in the cards before starting and what strategies they may or may not have come up with, everyone starts the game relatively the same way; buy some inexpensive cards and/or get more money.  Once you have a couple low value cards, that usually give you extra draws or something similar, then you can start employing your strategy.

This is when you need to pay very close attention to what other people are playing.  Some might have gotten lucky with their draws and are able to start getting the more expensive cards for their strategy before you are.  This is when you need to look at your strategy, see if you can still use it, and look to possibly blocking someone else’s.  If your strategies happen to be very similar, with both of you going for the same cards, then keeping your strategy is the same as blocking theirs.  If not, and you are being exceptionally unlucky, then completely changing to a blocking strategy might be more optimum.

Every card, from every expansion, neatly in their place
Every card, from every expansion, neatly in their place

This ties in directly with a game of Dominion that I witnessed the other night.  Since I have class on Thursday nights, I get to my friends’ house late, and they had already started a game of Dominion.  In this game, one of my friends had a strategy where he would cut his deck down as far as he could in order to cycle through it each turn.  This meant that instead of just dealing himself five cards from his deck to play this turn, he was able to play his entire deck.  This gave him access to all his cards and allowed him to buy provinces often (provinces give you six points and is what everyone is trying to buy).

Everyone saw his strategy but didn’t evolve theirs to counter it.  This friend was clearly winning, and when that happens, others typically look for a counter.  And a counter was available.  All anyone had to do was pick up the Masquerade card, and that would have thrown my friend’s entire strategy out the window.

This is just an example of shifting or evolving your strategy.  This concept applies in your everyday life, especially at work.  When we concoct a strategy to solve a problem, or for a plan, we must keep our eyes open to potentially changing conditions.  If we do not, we might miss something that makes our strategy inefficient or obsolete.  If we do pay attention, we can evolve our strategy to meet these new conditions and to keep our plan relevant.

Have you ever played Dominion?  Do your strategies evolve as you play?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Unexpected, but enjoyable, aspect of a game

A screenshot of when you start up the game
A screenshot of when you start up the game

I recently bought and started playing Elite:Dangerous.  I saw ads for this game everywhere, and I just had to check it out.  I went to the Elite:Dangerous wikia website to get an idea of what I can do in the game, and quickly chose my role; I was going to be a bounty hunter.  I went into this game with some preconceptions and was pretty much slapped in the face by what I got.  However, what I got is far more enjoyable than what I thought I was going to get.

After buying, downloading, and installing the game, but before I actually started playing, I tried out some of the tutorials.  They cover some simple things like flying around, landing, and even some combat.  I found the combat to be the most enlightening as that’s exactly what I got the game for.  However, when you get your first ship, the Sidewinder, which is free, I quickly found that combat in the actual game was very different than in the tutorial.

My "space-trucking" ship, the Type-6
My “space-trucking” ship, the Type-6

Your free Sidewinder has been outfitted with, pretty much, the worst of everything.  There’s a reason it was free.  So, when I eventually encountered another ship that was trying to destroy me, I figured, “Hey, I easily took these things out in the tutorial.”  Several deaths later and after talking to some co-workers about it, my eyes were finally open to the reality of the game; all ships, by default, have terrible equipment and you need to work your butt off to earn some space bucks so you can buy better gear.  Basically, I had to resort to “space-trucking,” as my one co-worker put it, in order to start generating money.  I was, initially, very disappointed; I didn’t get this game to buy and sell commodities.  But, if I have to do it so I can bounty hunt later, then I’ll suck it up and do it.

What I didn’t expect, however, was that I found “space-trucking” to be incredibly fun.  Sure it is tedious, but, for some reason, I didn’t mind it and actually enjoyed it.  Even though you are hauling goods from one space station to another, you get to see amazing sights as every system is different.  This gets turned up a notch when you get into rare trading which requires you to travel to far away systems which, at a minimum, much be over 120 light years away.  Depending on how far you can jump at once, you may end up visiting 10 different systems along your route.  If you don’t have a fuel scoop, you will get to explore those systems more as you will need to find a space station to dock at so you can refuel.

A picture of my Eagle, with a custom paint job, which I use for combat
A picture of my Eagle, with a custom paint job, which I use for combat

What all this “space-trucking” leads to is the ability to either improve your own ship or to buy another ship.  Each ship can only be upgraded so much, so there definitely will be a time when you will need to buy a different ship.  This allows you try out new things.  If you want to get into bounty hunting, you can buy a fighter ship.  If you want to explore the galaxy, there are ships better equipped for that.  Of, if you really like “space-trucking,” you can buy a larger cargo ship and continue delivering goods.  Currently, there is no limit on the number of ships that you can have, so you can have a ship for everything.  I do have plans to buy several more ships, but right now I am switching between rare trading on my Type-6 and bounty hunting with my Eagle.

Have you tried Elite:Dangerous?  If not, you should definitely check it out and let me know what you think by leaving a comment and/or sharing on Twitter.

Becoming more social part 3

I spent my fourth year of college on a foreign exchange program to Japan.  I was the first person from the University of Nevada, Reno to attend the brand new USAC (University Study Abroad Consortium) program to Hiroshima University.  It was arguably the best year I ever had in college and quite possibly the best experience, so far, of my life.  I had an extraordinary time there, learning Japanese, making friends, and exploring the beautiful country of Japan.  What I didn’t expect to experience during my exchange program to Japan was more tabletop roleplaying.

Image credit: http://www.risingphoenixgames.com/blog/tag/pathfinder-roleplaying-game/
Image credit: http://www.risingphoenixgames.com/blog/tag/pathfinder-roleplaying-game/

You never know what you are going to get when you participate in a large exchange program like I did.  I was one of forty two exchange students at Hiroshima University; so, as you can imagine, there were all different kinds of people there.  Unfortunately, most of the other exchange students, especially from the States, were more interested in partying and getting drunk all the time.  It made it incredibly difficult to tolerate hanging out with them.  And since we all lived in the same dormitory, it was very difficult to avoid them.  However, a few of us found a way to hang out together and away from the drunkards; we tabletop roleplayed.

I cannot remember how it all started, but we managed to get a group together and play our way through a few different systems.  We played Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition, Arcana Unearthed, and a couple others; one of which was a complete homebrew system where we had a lot of latitude on what and how we played.  It was always with the same group of people too, as we all loved roleplaying.  We used this time as a way to have fun and as a way to separate ourselves from the other exchange students.

The fun that I have roleplaying only occurred because I had experienced it in the States prior to coming.  Since living in a different country for a year can be quite overwhelming, the time I spent roleplaying was used to relax and not worry about anything.  During this time, my love of tabletop roleplaying grew and grew.  One of the reasons we kept trying out different systems is because we couldn’t get enough of it; it was just too much fun.

The fun that I had roleplaying in Japan is one of the fondest memories that I brought back with me after the exchange program was over.  My only regret is that I did not keep in contact with the friends that I had made through roleplaying.  Even though it has now been 11 years since my program ended, I still think about them from time to time, wondering what they are doing.  I’m going to make a promise to myself to try to track them down this year and reconnect with them.

Have you participated in an exchange program?  If so, where did you go?  Do you still keep in contact with the friends that you made there?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.