Maintaining sanity

Posted: August 15, 2010 in Off Topic

What keeps you sane?  In other words, what do you do in your spare time?  For me, there are several answers.  I read.  I watch movies.  I play Wii (we just got one, and I’ve been enjoying Lego Star Wars).  I spend time with my wife.  I listen to music, but that’s one I suspect is low on many music therapist lists.  When music is your job, it seems that you want to be doing other things on your time.

But the big thing for me, my passion that keeps me going – board games.

Now, let me point out right away that I’m NOT talking about Monopoly, Scrabble, Clue, Yahtzee, or any of those games you can find in your local Wal-Mart.  I’m talking about what are often called hobby games, designer games, Eurogames, or strategy games.

Growing up, I always liked playing games.  And, yes, that included Monopoly and Clue and the games I said I wasn’t talking about in the last paragraph.  I also grew up on cribbage – I would watch my father and grandfather play each other, and I picked it up so I go join in.

Catan (BGG, user pigeoncamera)

While living in San Diego, some friends introduced us to a game from Germany called The Settlers of Catan, which is all about founding a colony, collecting resources, trading with other players, and trying to earn enough points to win.  This was my first exposure to European style gaming, which often have small amounts of luck, elegant mechanics, no player elimination, very little (if any) conflict, high quality (often wooden) components, and relatively simple rules.  This is opposed to American style strategy games, which often have very involved themes, high amounts of luck, lots of conflict, plastic bits, and lots of rules.  As time went on, I eventually began to look into the wide world of gaming outside of the US.  This search led me to BoardGameGeek, the largest board game fan site on the internet.  They have a ranking list, and the #1 game was something called Puerto Rico.  #2 was a game called Power Grid.  I had never heard of most of the games in the top 100 (Catan was #31), and when I looked for Monopoly, I found that it was somewhere in the #4000 range.  I was surprised, and started looking deeper.  I was shocked at the number of titles out there, and I was surprised that most of the games had credited designers.  It makes sense when you think about it – authors of books often have their names bigger than the titles…why not have game designers credited on the front of the box?  So, let me go ahead and credit Klaus Teuber, designer of Catan, with my entry into gaming.

That brings me to now, where I have a game collection of around 80 games.  To you, that might seem large – to some of the people at BGG, that seems pretty tiny.  Some people may ask, how could you POSSIBLY need all those games?  How could you POSSIBLY ever have time to play them all?  I then look at their shelf full of old paperbacks, or their CD and movie collections, and I scratch my head and smile.

As music therapists, we’re always being asked, “Now, what is music therapy?”  And that’s part of our mission, to educate the masses about what we do.  It’s kind of the same with board games.  A lot of people see games as a childhood hobby.  It isn’t.  Many games have high levels of strategy that will challenge the adult mind.  So, as part of spreading the game love, here are five games that I really like that you may or may not have heard of:

Ticket to Ride (BGG, user Fawkes)

TICKET TO RIDE (Alan R. Moon) – This game came out in 2004, published by French and American company Days of Wonder.  The game is all about drawing cards and connecting cities across the United States with little plastic trains.  On your turn, you can either draw cards, play a set of identical cards to connect two cities, or draw new tickets that give you a goal for routes to connect on the board.  Points are scored for each connection made and each completed route – at the end of the game, the player with the most points wins.  It’s very simple, and fairly quick – you should be done in an hour.  There are other versions out there – TTR: Europe, TTR: Märklin, TTR: Nordic Countries, and TTR: Switzerland.

Pandemic (BGG, user basilmichael)

PANDEMIC (Matt Leacock) – This game came out in 2008, published by American company Z-Man.  It’s a cooperative game, meaning that players are not competing against each other, but are rather cooperating to solve a common problem.  In this case, you are trying to stop the spread of infectious diseases before they overrun the world.  Sounds pretty intense, huh?  It IS.  Every turn, more diseases pop up on the board, and you’re racing around, trying to prevent outbreaks and discover cures.  If there are too many outbreaks, or if there are too many disease cubes on the board, or if you run out of cards, everyone loses.  But if cures are discovered for all four diseases, you win!  It’s very fun, and the cooperative, rather than competitive nature, makes it all the more compelling.  An expansion called On The Brink added several variants, including a fifth disease and a bioterrorist.

A hand in Dominion

DOMINION (Donald X. Vaccarino) – This game also came out in 2008, published by Rio Grande.  It’s a card game, where you are trying to collect victory point cards before the end of the game.  However, it’s a deck-building game, where you’re going to be using resources in your hand to buy more money, actions, or victory points.  Cards you buy get cycled into your deck, so you’ll be using them as the game goes on.  VP cards have  no use before the end of the game, so if you buy too many too early, you will find it very difficult to do anything else.  There are 25 different actions in the base set, and you’ll only use 10 per game, meaning that there is a ton of variety from game to game.  Again, it’s a fairly simple game to pick up, and I always have a lot of fun with it.  There have been four expansions so far – Intrigue, Seaside, Alchemy, and the upcoming Prosperity.  Each has added more actions to provide even more variety.

Jungle Speed (BGG, user Terraliptar)

JUNGLE SPEED (Thomas Vuarchex and and Pierrick Yakovenko) – Jungle Speed came out in 1997, and is currently published by Asmodée.  It’s a speed matching game – players take turns flipping over cards, and when there’s a match, the two matchers must grab a totem in the center of the table.  Whoever fails takes the other player’s face up cards (the object is to get rid of your cards).  If you grab at the wrong time, or knock the totem over, or otherwise disrespect the totem, you take everyone’s face up cards.  You have to be careful – many of the patterns are very similar.  This game is really silly fun, and can be a great exercise in observation and patience.  There are expansions that add more cards.

Galaxy Trucker (BGG, user TunaSled)

GALAXY TRUCKER (Vlaada Chvátil) – This is my current favorite game (behind Cribbage).  Published in 2007, this game came out of the Czech Republic from Czech Games Edition (published in the US by Rio Grande).  It’s a three round game.  In each round, you’re building progressively larger ships out of spare parts (tiles), then flying them across the galaxy, trying like crazy to avoid obstacles like space pirates, meteors, or combat zones.  It’s extremely chaotic, but I love it.  The Big Expansion added more spare parts, more aliens, more obstacles, more craziness.  I have a blast every time I play the game.

There are, obviously, many more games out there that I haven’t talked about but that I think everyone should try – Carcassonne, Small World, Dice Town, Puerto Rico, Ingenious, Blokus, Kingsburg, Shadow Hunters, No Thanks!, and Coloretto, just to name a few.  But I’ll stop now…this is already my longest post since I started, and I’m not even talking about music therapy.  Oh well…it’s the weekend, and I’m maintaining sanity.  I really need to find a game group in the area.

Thanks for reading!  Ever since posting in several other music therapy blogs, my traffic has gone up.  Take a minute to visit of few of them – I have links at the bottom of the page.  And if you know of more I should be looking at, please let me know.  Take care, and stay sane!



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