Board Games and Metal Coins, An Obsession

One of my favorite sub-hobbies within the hobby of board gaming is to upgrade my board games with “premium” components. Sleeving cards, replacing resources, laminating player sheets, upgrading filmsy boards, making custom bits and custom boxes to hold bits, building foamcore inserts, and building full custom boxes for card games (check out my tutorial on creating graphics-wrapped card boxes.)

But the one thing I’m absolutely obsessed with is metal coins.

You wouldn’t think that something as simple as coins could have much of an impact on a game. They don’t alter gameplay at all, they don’t have any specific impact on the rules or a game’s implementation. But the atmosphere they add – for my wife and I, anyway – is *immense*. It’s something that a lot of people who game with us comment on, too. So many board games rely on economic mechanics and employ some sort of money to make their world go ‘round (the table). So adding that “realistic” feel and sound to the coinage used in a game is just a fantastic boost to the environment, and one that now drives an upgrade obsession for me.

I could’ve simply bought one or two sets of coins and used them as generic coinage for many different games, but that’s not how my brain works. Instead, my wife and I have been picking up specific, thematically appropriate coin sets. I’d like to share the coins in my collection, the games I’ve added them to, and information about where every set can be obtained (if they’re still available).

About a year ago, Reddit user FlakyPieCrust put up this post about the various companies who make coinage, and it’s an awesome primer. There will be some overlap with this article, but my purpose here is to share pictures and hands-on impressions of the coins I actually own.

NOTE: This article will not be an entirely exhaustive list of available metal coins. I detail the coins I have experience with personally, or the ones I haven’t picked up and the reasons why, but there are definitely still games I don’t include here. This article covers a lot, but I’ve included a few notations for games that were mentioned by Reddit users after I posted the article there.

I have pictures throughout the post, but if you don’t want to read the whole thing and just want to look at pretty pictures, here’s a link to the Imgur photo gallery

Anyway, on with the show…

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GAMES THAT INCLUDE METAL COINS

Games that already come with metal coins are generally “deluxe” or “collector’s” editions, but they’re worth checking out. These are not the only games (I don’t think) that have metal coins, but they’re the only ones I own.


Small World Designer Edition

The one that started it all for us. I could wax poetic about all of the components in this set, but the icing on the very substantial cake is the coins included. I mean, look at them. They’re gorgeous. They’re thematic. They’re heavy, and detailed, and oh so clinkity clink. I loves them. They’re mine. My preciouses.

These were my first exposure to the idea of having metal coins for a board game, and the ones that started me down this dark path. Obviously, these coins are difficult to obtain. The Small World DE was expensive to start (we paid $320 via Kickstarter), but now it goes for anywhere from $800 to $1500. It was definitely worth the $320 we paid… I’m not sure it’s worth what it goes for on eBay.


Tokaido Collector’s Edition

These are nice coins. Nothing too fancy, but they’re heavy, substantial, and pretty enough to supplement the beautiful artwork and theme of Tokaido. As of this posting, the Tokaido CE is still pretty readily available for about $100 and, in my opinion, worth it for the extras included. Also there’s a Deluxe Accessory Pack available for people who already own the standard edition of Tokaido, which includes the metal coins without having to buy the full CE.


Orleans Deluxe Edition

We snapped up a second-hand copy of the Orleans DE partially for the wood tokens, but also for the metal coins. These are almost identical to the Tuscany coins, except… I’m not sure what metal they’re made of, but they have a different sound to them than most of the others. Maybe a little tinny. They’re still metal, so they still clink, they’re just… strange. And I completely understand that you really just don’t give a shit. But I’m weird. And it doesn’t matter, because they’re otherwise fantastic.


Black Fleet

This one surprised me. Black Fleet is just a light, fun, pick-up-and-deliver game, but the components are absolutely great. The molded ships are awesome, and it came stock with these metal coins. They’re not as chunky as some of the others I’ll list, but that’s neither here nor there: The game costs the same as most others in its range, and it still came with metal coins! Kudos to Space Cowboys for that.


Brass Deluxe Edition

Okay, so here’s the one game I don’t own, but I have experience with the coins. They’re very nice. I’m not as big a fan of Brass as others, which is why I haven’t bought it yet, but there seem to be a bunch of the Eagle & Gryphon Deluxe Editions floating around game stores now. Here’s the rub: The box isn’t marked as a Deluxe Edition in any way, so you have no idea whether the copy you’re buying has the coins and double-sided board. Most stores will mark them as such, but I’ve read stories of people being surprised by it when they buy it. Weird. The coins can, however, be purchased ala carte on Amazon or the Eagle & Gryphon website.


Seafall

This one could’ve been listed in this section or the next, but as of this posting the pre-order bonus for Seafall is still in effect (check it out here). If you pre-order, they will include a set of upgraded metal coins for free. Which seems very worth it, because they plan to charge $40 for that same set of coins by itself after the pre-order window closes. That may seem expensive, but Plaid Hat Games is stating that it’ll be “over 100” coins, which actually puts this set into the bottom-end price range.

Obviously I don’t have any personal experience with these coins, yet, but I wanted to include this link since it’s appropriate for the post (and I put it in this section because I have already pre-ordered it, so technically I own it). If they look as good as the pictures on that pre-order page, I don’t think I’ll be disappointed in them. I’ll also note that the coins are relatively generic in design, so one could easily use these coins for a wide variety of games.


Other Games That Include Metal Coins

Dominion: Empires/Guilds/Prosperity/Seaside
Puerto Rico Anniversary Edition
Raiders of the North Sea
Die Speicherstadt: Kaispeicher
Vault Wars
Xia: Legends of a Drift System

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BESPOKE COINS

What do I mean by “bespoke”? I mean coins that are designed very specifically for a single board game, and built to mimic the design of whatever chipboard coins were originally included.


Viticulture/Tuscany

These are fantastic, large, weighty coins and worth the MSRP if you can find them for that price. When I originally wrote this post, these coins were becoming rather scarce. Due to popular demand, however, it looks like Stonemaier Games is re-minting these coins and selling them again. It looks like you have to pre-order them to get them, though, so you should get on that. Here’s a link to the pre-order campaign.


Scythe

Obviously I don’t actually have my copy of Scythe yet, but it will be coming with the metal coins in the picture above. It’s a Stonemaier game, so they ought to be identical in size, weight, and finish to the Viticulture/Tuscany coins. That link above will allow you to pre-order the Scythe coins in addition to the Tuscany ones.


Puerto Rico

These are fantastic, chunky, pewter coins, minted to look just like the cardboard coins in the game. I found these via random searching from this seller on eBay. They’re a great addition for anyone who loves Puerto Rico, and at $15.49 for 60 coins, they’re some of the cheapest I’ve found. A no-brainer, in my opinion.

There are metal coins included in the Puerto Rico Anniversary Edition that I listed in the previous section, but that version of the game is prohibitively expensive now and, in my opinion, these coins are actually better than the ones included with that edition.


Lords of Waterdeep

These coins are awesome. But holy hell are they expensive. You can get a set from The Broken Token for $55. For 60 coins, that’s only just under $1 each, which is really steep. But, Lords of Waterdeep is one of my all-time favorite games, so we knuckled under and got a set.

Now, however, Fantasy Coin, LLC makes a set of LoW coins that are equal in quality, and less than half the price. If you get two of this set, you get the same number and style of coinage for only $28. Ordering from Fantasy Coin can be a bit strange, depending on your timing, and I’ll go into more detail about that later.


7 Wonders

These are also distributed via The Broken Token, and cost the same as the Lords of Waterdeep coins. Again, buckled and bought some (this time I supplemented the cost with poker winnings, so that’s cool) because, frankly, they’re just awesome. They look great, they’re heavy and large, they’re (obviously) perfectly thematic. But wow. Very money. So dollar. Much spendy.


Other Bespoke Coins

Coins for Carson City
Coins for Caylus
Coins for Hegemonic (listed as “Futuristic Metal Coins”)

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FANTASY COIN, LLC

I received my first coins from Fantasy Coin recently, and I’m absolutely blown away by them. They’re thick, heavy, chunky coins with great designs and awesome finishes, and they’re surprisingly inexpensive for what you get.

Here’s the rub: You have to catch them at the right time. They do sell out of the sets they make, and then you have to wait until their next Kickstarter campaign for them to re-stock. Between KS campaigns you may find a lot of coins out-of-stock on their website. But it gets even stranger during their KS campaigns.

During their Kickstarter campaigns, you can contribute via KS to get the coins you want. Between the time the campaign ends and they fulfill orders, you can pre-order the sets via their website, but it’s a little confusing because pretty much everything on the site is listed as “Out of Stock”. This is what we did for our coins because we missed their KS, but it’s a really, really strange business model. Now that the campaign is over and backers have been fulfilled, the extras they minted are available for sale.

The beauty of their system, if you’re willing to wait quite a while to receive your pre-order, is that their prices are pretty fantastic. When we pre-ordered, we ordered enough coin sets to have our order discounted to $10/set, which meant the price was about 33₵ per coin. Which is absurdly low, actually, for the quality. Even now, outside the KS or pre-order window, their coins run $16.99 per set of 30, which is still a pretty ding-dang good deal. Anyway, take a look at some of our sets…


Caverna

These are Fantasy Coin’s “Dwarven” set. They’re beautiful.


Five Tribes

I was originally looking into getting a generic Arabic set for Five Tribes, but couldn’t find one in my price range. I think I did okay, though. These are a mixture of the “Serpent” set in silver and the “Elemental – Air” set in gold, and I thought they were great stand-ins for the Djinn.


Lords of Xidit

I love this game, and getting coins for it was not only difficult, but wildly unnecessary. It took a lot of searching through several companies’ offerings to find coins that I thought were thematic enough to warrant a purchase, and now that I have these side-by-side with the game, I think I made the right choice. These are Fantasy Coin’s “Paladin” set.


Yedo

Yedo is probably one of my all-time favorite worker-placement games. It’s an all-around gorgeous game, and deserved some nice coins to go along with it. These are Fantasy Coin’s “Feudal Japan” set.

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ARTANA

I picked up my first set of Artana coins from eBay after their first Kickstarter, and I was really pleased with them. Artana focuses more on pseudo-historical sets, but does have some more fantasy oriented ones as well. Their coins are really nice, if a bit smaller and lighter than the ones by Fantasy Coin. As far as I can tell, their coins are only available via Kickstarter (which they label “The Best Damn Gaming Coins Ever”), or via Backerkit pre-orders during their KS campaigns.


Akrotiri

The beauty of Artana’s pseudo-historical designs is that they go really well with pseudo-historical games. Have a game set in ancient Greece? Grab some of their “Ancient Greek” themed coins. And, come on, how much more thematic for Akrotiri can you get than those coins with the dolphins on ’em? Geez, they look like they were made just for this game.


Archipelago

These are technically part of Artana’s “Pirate Ship” theme, but I selected coins that were less pirate-y and more just nautical. I think they go really well.


Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Here’s the one set that’s not technically appropriate, thematically. The theme set is called “Early English Kings”, and I’m using them for a game set in mid-1800’s Bavaria but… you know, whatever.


Concordia

Same situation as Akrotiri, but in this case these are from Artana’s “Ancient Rome” line. Note: These Roman coins from Minion Games actually look closer to the coins included with Concordia, and are also an excellent choice for the price. We just wanted something a little more stylized, so we went with Artana’s coins.


Troyes

Game set in the Middle Ages? Artana’s “Middle Ages” theme has you covered. These might not be perfectly thematic since they’re a bit more Anglo Saxon than French, but no one’s ever going to care. It wasn’t until after I posted this article that someone pointed out these coins designed for Caylus that are a near-perfect thematic match for Troyes. I’m now contemplating buying these, and shifting the Artana coins to another game.


The Voyages of Marco Polo

These are the coins I originally picked up on eBay. These are part of Artana’s “Renaissance” theme.

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OTHER RANDOM SOURCES


Le Havre

For Le Havre, I just absolutely could not find good fake coins. So, I just picked up real ones. These are actual aluminum 1- and 5-Franc coins from WWII era France. Technically not the right time period, but who cares! They’re great! They need to be cleaned, though.


Libertalia

There is absolutely no shortage of “Pirate Dubloon” style coins available in both metal and plastic. They’re probably the most prolific style you can get. I picked up these coins from Amazon, and they’re awesome, and relatively cheap. About the same size as a quarter and they come in four different finishes.

Of note, these are the same coins Eagle & Gryphon Games sells for Empires: Age of Discovery, but they can be obtained cheaper and in larger quantities via the above Amazon link.


Suburbia/Panamax


Since these games both have a modern-day theme, I just used pachinko slot tokens I picked up off eBay. They’re almost identical in size and weight to quarters, and they look just fine for both games. Plus, anything’s better than those lame plastic coins that come with Panamax (yick). I also use these coins with The Gallerist, but they’re basically just a stand-in until I find something more appropriate.

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HONORABLE MENTION


Lord$ of Vega$

While not technically coins, these mini poker chips definitely fit the overall theme of the post. Unfortunately, these particular chips aren’t available anymore. Most of the ones you can find now are these ridged chips by Koplow Games. The Koplow chips aren’t terrible, but the ones I have are thicker, heavier, and feel more like real poker chips.


Patchwork

Buttons, duh. Buttons are pretty much ubiquitous. The real problem is getting buttons in small quantities with the same style. For some reasons, the most common way buttons are available is in giant packages of randomized styles, even when you’re trying to buy buttons of the same color. I mean, who needs that? You’d think if someone needs a bunch of blue buttons, they’d need a bunch of the same blue button. Maybe? I dunno. Anyway, you can either buy multiple packs of small quantities (like 2 to 10) at your local fabric or craft store, or you can get them in fucking ginormous batches on Amazon like this and this. The per-button cost on Amazon is obviously significantly cheaper, but who the hell needs 500 buttons?

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DISHONORABLE MENTION


Tokaido

I know, I already mentioned the Collector’s Edition, but before I had a copy of the CE, I bought these coins for my regular edition. They’re absolute garbage. They’re thin and flimsy and tiny (smaller than a dime!) and they don’t sound so great or feel particularly better than cardboard. And, to cap it off, they’re Chinese, not Japanese.

But, I paid $2.47 for 40 of them, shipped. So, I guess you get what you pay for.

If I were to order coins for a non-CE copy of Tokaido now, I’d either get the Deluxe Accessory Pack for their branded thematic coins, or Fantasy Coin’s Feudal Japan coins, like the ones we bought for Yedo.

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COINS I DON’T OWN (AND WHY)

There are a few manufacturers of coins that I don’t have any experience with. I’ll be honest, though, the main reason I don’t is because of their prices. I was willing to spend the extra bucks for game-specific coins for LoW and 7 Wonders, because the theming made it (sort of) worth the extra cost (I’ll be honest: I own and love those coins, but probably wouldn’t pay that price again. Maybe. I think?). Most of the coins below cost nearly the same (75₵-$1 per coin), but aren’t specifically themed for a board game.

In a lot of cases, getting enough coins for a board game involves getting multiple “sets” – as the manufacturers define them – so you don’t run short during play. With these manufacturers, multiple sets just end up being too damned spendy. That being said, the coins they make do look fantastic. The designs are really good, but they’ll need to come down in price before I’d be willing to buy some.


Legendary Metal Coins

The designs here are really great. I had contemplated getting a set of their Arabic theme for Five Tribes, but I couldn’t justify the cost. Even in bulk, at their cheapest offering, they’re still 70₵ per coin. Most games, in my experience, require 50-60 coins to ensure you don’t run out at higher player counts, and that rounds out to about $35-$48 for a set (depending on how you acquire them). That’s a little above my top end; half-again to double what I paid for the coins from Fantasy Coin and Artana.


Campaign Coins

Campaign Coins are really beautiful, and have the most “high fantasy” feel of any I’ve found. I actually considered getting sets from them for Lords of Xidit, simply because they match better thematically. However, at their cheapest, they’re about identical in price to the Legendary coins, so just out of my range.


Minion Games

Minion Games doesn’t have a wide variety, and they’ve got an odd mix of coinage. They only sell three different themes of coins, two of which are far too expensive, ranging from 70₵ to 90₵ per coin. Their third set, the “Roman” theme, though, is a fantastic deal at $17.99 (on sale) for 55 coins (I link to these coins above in my description for Concordia).


Never Stop Tops & Coins

Again, gorgeous, but expensive. :/ Not quite as expensive as some of the others here, but still just outside what I would consider affordable.


Shire Post Mint

Shirepost’s coins aren’t really viable for this kind of application. They primarily do licensed coins (Lord of the Rings, Kingkiller Chronicle, A Song of Ice and Fire, etc.), and they’re not built for bulk orders. They’re designed to be a novelty, and are wildly expensive, coming in at well in excess of $1 per coin. So, they’re cool, but not really worth it for board gaming.


Rare Elements Foundry

Rare Elements Foundry is one of the first companies that I ever encountered making metal fantasy coins. Unfortunately, they are ungodly expensive for the most part. Their coins run around $22-$25 for a set of 10, pushing them up to and even beyond Shirepost’s prices. Their coins are very beautiful, but not feasible in quantity. That being said, they do now offer this 100-piece generic fantasy set for $25, and that’s a price you can’t really beat.

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CONCLUSION

Of all the metal coins I’ve bought and still intend to buy, I think the best deals – the ones that balance quality and price better than any other – are Fantasy Coin, LLC and Artana. Acquiring them can be a little wonky because of their Kickstarter-based release model, but if you’re into coins and don’t want to spend a mint (ha), they’re the best options. Some of the individual coin sets (like the coins for Brass and Minion Games’ Roman coins) are also worth a look at the price, but Fantasy Coin and Artana just have a great range at fantastic quality for decent prices.

Coins are one of my all-time favorite game upgrades. They’re definitely not for everyone, especially for the price, but they’ve become nearly a compulsion for me. Luckily, almost every game I own that involves coins has been upgraded at this point, so I’m not as tempted by them at the moment. I love seeing the looks on players’ faces when we break out a game from our shelf and dump a pile of metal coins on the table alongside the game. Everyone that plays with them comments about how awesome they are, and I agree.

Thanks for reading, everyone, and happy gaming.

My Zen Place

If you follow me on social media at all, you know how into tabletop gaming I am. For those of you who don’t… Well… uh… I’m really into tabletop gaming. Over the years I’ve been a gamer, I’ve noticed a confluence of different aspects of my personality that have led me to being a sort of specific type of gamer. Today, I’m talking about how my collector’s mentality has affected my board-gaming hobby.

I grew up collecting things. Comics, trading cards, POGs, what have you. I’ve always been meticulous about caring for my collectibles. Comics are always bagged and boarded (and HOLY SHIT don’t ever open one far enough to cause stress lines around the staples), trading cards always in sleeves or binders, stored carefully away from any potential damage. As I’ve grown into board gaming, I’ve found my collector’s mentality not just creeping around the edges of the hobby, but taking it over full-force.

sleeving_01See, I can’t just buy a board game and play it as-is – especially if it includes cards of any type. Thoughts of drink spillage or Cheeto-fingers grubbing up the components… I just… I can’t even. The concept of “mint condition” is so deeply embedded in my psyche that I get the same ragey hind-brain reaction to someone gunking up a game component as I used to when I’d see someone bend a Magic card or break the spine of a book. Though there’s not much I can do to protect a standard game board or punch-out components, if there’s something I can laminate I probably will, and every single card in every single game goes into a sleeve. EVERY ONE.

If you’re not familiar, sleeves are simply small plastic pockets made to fit snugly around gaming cards to keep them protected from the elements. Originally they were made out of thin polypropylene – exactly like comic book bags – to protect baseball cards. When Magic: The Gathering popularized the concept of playing a game with trading cards, sleeve technology changed to offer better protection not just from dirt or moisture, but from the rigors of constant shuffling.

An Aside About Shuffling: In addition to sleeving every card I own, I even now play poker and other standard card games with high-quality plastic playing cards. I can’t stomach the thought of shuffling bare paper cards in a normal riffle shuffle anymore. They’ll wear out! Shuffling will warp them over time! They could get marked! DEAR GOD WHAT IF ONE GETS CREASED YOU FUCKING ANIMALS no it’s fine I’m fine

sleeving_03So, I sleeve all my cards. For many gamers, the downside of this is the actual act of putting decks of cards into individual sleeves. It’s not so bad when you’re thinking of a standard deck of cards. 52 cards? Meh. Even a standard M:TG deck is 60, so that’s okay. But what happens when a game has hundreds?

I played a ton of M:TG in high school and college, and the M.O. for most TCG players is to have a good storage solution for the bulk of your collection, and keep a few decks that are regularly played in sleeves. So, a Magic collector might have thousands of cards, but they’re not sleeving every single one of them.

That’s not really the case with board games. Each board game is its own, individual thing that has to be ready to go every time you pull it off the shelf. So, if you own a ton of games, you can’t just keep a certain subset of cards sleeved. If you (*I*) are going to sleeve any of them, you (*I*) have to sleeve them all, and the number of cards that come in a board game ranges from “almost none” to “Vegas casino”.

sleeving_02For example, we just picked up a copy of a card/board game called Trains and its expansion Trains: Rising Sun. Between the two boxes, there are over 1,000 cards. One thousand. Games like Dominion might have 300-500 cards in a box and 10+ expansions. That’s a damned lot of cards to sleeve. At last count, I have over 130 games on my shelves, plus expansions, and I’ve sleeved every single card.

And, you know what? I find the activity supremely relaxing. There’s just something about it… It’s not just the repetitive monotony, it’s the peace of mind. As compulsive as I am about the condition of my games, when I’m sleeving cards there’s a part of my psyche that realizes I’m doing my part to ensure that I don’t have to stress over those components anymore. I put on a podcast or a TV show and sit down at my desk or on my couch with a pile of cards and sleeves and just go.

The task itself is almost meditative. Time just floats on by, and before I know it I’m packing up a nice, protected, aggravatingly slippery deck of cards into a new game box, and making that game available for play (I mean I wouldn’t let people play it before the cards are sleeved what kind of monster do you take me for). I’ve even, more often than I’d care to admit, taken to cutting down some of the off-sized sleeves so they fit the cards better, and even this has become relaxation time for me.

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who would say that sleeving this many cards from this many games isn’t worth the money. It does, on average, add $3-$15 to the cost of a game (or, in the case of a game like Trains, more like $30). For me, just knowing that my games are armored against the terrors that gamers can inflict is worth Every. Solitary. Ducat. Knowing that 15 years from now, these cards will be just as playable and nice as they are now. Combine that knowledge with the zen-like trance I achieve while actually carrying out the task?

You can’t put a price on that.

Goals For 2016

Three years ago, I quit my job at Nintendo after nine years. When the opportunity came to leave and write full time, a burgeoning passion spurred by the ongoing work of my first novel, I couldn’t pass it up. I’d spend virtually every night after work for months cramming writing into what little time I could eke out, and the concept of being in control of my own work-flow and having exponentially more time to accomplish what I was already doing in my free time was… unfathomable.

After releasing Construct, I found myself drifting.

At work every task I was assigned was time sensitive, and I had a constantly shifting list of rolling deadlines. It was a driving force that helped me to maintain focus and determination. Without those clear delineations, my lack of focus became clearer and clearer as 2015 drew to a close and I failed to finish my second novel. At first, I wanted to finish it by the end of September. Then November. Then the end of the year. And as those deadlines kept slipping away, I presented myself with unavoidable evidence that my time-management skills weren’t as robust as my old resume would have one think, at least not without a boss looking over my shoulder.

I need challenges. I need tasks to complete. Preferably long-term projects comprised of a series of short-term tasks that I can check off as I go. So, for 2016, I’ve set myself a hefty list of goals to try and get myself into the professional shape I’ve desired ever since finishing Construct. Only one of these goals, technically, is directly related to my professional development. All of them, though, will require discipline to attain, and I’m hoping to channel them into long-term skills that will help me professionally, creatively, and personally.

GOALS #1 & #2: No alcohol or caffeine in 2016. These aren’t specifically “goals”, but rather omissions. These were both actually my wife’s idea, and I loved them, so we’re doing them together.

Most people, upon hearing this resolution, have the same reaction: Alcohol is easy enough, but HOLY SHIT CAFFEINE BUT HOW HOW WILL YOU HOW?! I’ve gone for a year without alcohol before, and as most people think it’s pretty easy. I’ve definitely gone more than a year without drinking soda, but I filled that caffeine gap with coffee and tea.

Which is part of the problem. I actually don’t know how much I rely on caffeine as a stimulant. Morning coffee, afternoon soda, and evening tea have become such an ingrained part of my life that I’m not honestly sure what will happen when I’m finally going without. I’m sure there will be some grumpiness and withdrawals, but I’m hoping it’ll help me find a better balance where I can start supplementing my energy in healthier ways.

Ideally, both of these will help with focus and clarity, and get my brain running at a better pace creatively.

GOAL #3: Read 50 full-length novels in 2016. I tried this challenge a couple of years ago and fell short. At some point toward the end of the year I sort of faltered and gave up, and clocked 43 reads that year. I had all kinds of excuses and rationalizations for failing the goal, none of which I will accept this time.

If writing is breathing, then reading is hydration. As a writer, reading is an absolutely essential part of my creative development. If I treat it solely as a throwaway hobby, then I’ll find all kinds of excuses not to better myself through books, and my writing will suffer and stagnate because of it. This goal isn’t so hefty that it’s unattainable, but it’s definitely hefty enough that I’ll have to carve out specific time to make sure I accomplish it. In doing so, I hope the challenge itself will help with my time management, and the reading will enrich me both personally and creatively.

GOAL #4: Read 50 comic book trades in 2016. I have a giant shelf of comic book trades. I’m a huge comic book nerd, but an embarrassing number of those trades stand unread, and I intend to correct that. It’s an art form that I absolutely love, and one that – much like reading 50 prose books – I hope will enrich me in a number of ways.

GOAL #5: A 20×5 board game challenge. My wife and I have always been board gamers. As kids we’d play the old standbys like Monopoly and Stratego and Clue, and in the mid ‘90’s, we were introduced to Settlers of Catan. For about six months straight, we played Settlers with a group of friends every Saturday until the wee hours of the morning. A year or so later, when we picked up Carcassonne, we were hooked.

Once we finally had a place of our own with space to play – and, more importantly, store – games, the rabbit-hole opened up and we ran through like madmen. We now have a dedicated gaming space in our home with over 120 board games, a collection that keeps growing in spite of that already huge number.

Every year on Board Game Geek, they post what is called a 10×10 Challenge. The idea is to combat the “cult of the new” by picking ten games from your collection and playing each of them at least ten times over the course of the year. We wanted to do a similar challenge, but wanted more variety, so we modified it by picking twenty games, and pledging to play each of them at least five times. At two games per week, it’s an attainable goal that I hope will make us more familiar with our collection.

My intention is to keep track of this challenge here on the blog, and to write a review of each of the twenty games in the challenge as soon as we complete the requisite five plays.

GOAL #6: Maintain a writing pace of 5000 words per week throughout 2016. This is my big professional goal. This is strictly drafting – not editing or revision – and specifically drafting fiction, not blog posts or other non-fiction. Maintaining this pace would put me at 260,000 words written for the year, or approximately two novels the length of Construct.

For a professional writer, this goal isn’t strictly ambitious. This is a pace maintained and frequently exceeded by many pros, and attaining this goal is an absolute necessity for me if I intend to make a go at an actual writing career. For the last third of Construct, my pace was more like 7-8k per week, so I think 5k is reachable.

My biggest hope for this particular goal is simply to develop some sort of routine. My failing as a writer, right now, is a lack of rhythm. If I can build a repertoire and maintain it, I’ll be able to start churning out the fiction that’s still in my head, and free up some space for… well, more fiction that’s still in my head. Hell, this blog post alone is almost 1,300 words, and that’s already one quarter of my weekly production goal, if I can apply this pace to fiction.

All in all, this will be a hugely ambitious year for me. If I can translate that writing pace into two actual book releases, I will triple my bibliography in one year and set me on a pace to legitimately call myself a professional writer rather than just some guy who self-published a book that one time. My other goals are meant to fill and balance the non-writing aspects of my life while fueling my creative and cognitive abilities.

This year is all about fun, ambition, and focus. Let’s do this.

In Memoriam: Bastion Matthews, 1999-2015

It’s been almost a week since my wife and I lost a family member, and I’m not okay.

Last Thursday, our cat Bastion passed away. He’d been struggling with a renal insufficiency (a problem with blood-flow through the kidneys) for a while, and had taken a downturn a couple of weeks ago. He’d lost weight and wasn’t eating much. Try as we might to get him to eat, we just couldn’t get him to take in enough sustenance. The day he passed away, I had made a vet appointment for him for the following morning to try to get him back on track. A few hours later, he was gone.

My wife and I were married in 1998, and Bastion had been a part of our family for almost that entire time. Early in our marriage, we’d take a trip up to Victoria, British Columbia for our anniversary each year (it’s also where we had our honeymoon). On our way to our first anniversary in 1999, we missed the morning ferry from Port Angeles, and needed to waste some time. So, on a whim, we stopped into a local pet shop.

bastion_7_smallWe didn’t really have any expectations at the time. We were just browsing. When we rounded the corner in the store to see two tiny, weeks-old kittens behind the glass of a play-area, we instantly fell in love. We asked to see them, and the moment we held them in our arms, we knew we were taking them home. Each of us picked one up, and we knew from the start that the one I held was “mine” and the one Christina held was “hers”. That little guy was Bastion, and I held his brother, Gremlin.

We bought them on the spot, but told the store that we would have to pick them up when we were on our way home from Victoria. We left them there, then headed out for our vacation. And we couldn’t stop thinking about them. We talked and talked about taking them home, about what we’d need to get and how we’d potty train them and how things around the apartment were going to change and on and on.

bastion_square_smallAlthough I already knew I was going to name “my” kitten something like Goblin or Gremlin (I even considered Kobold), Christina had no idea. It wasn’t until a couple of days later, while wandering through Victoria, that we came upon a beautiful little public market space called Bastion Square, and something just clicked with her. She’d picked her name. I settled in on Gremlin, and the vacation was instantly doomed. Now that we had names picked out, we couldn’t stand to wait the extra three or four days we had left in Victoria, so we cut our trip short and headed back to Port Angeles to pick up our kitties.

They were both freaked out by the drive, but Bastion was the loudest. He didn’t stop screaming for a single moment that the car was in motion (which ended up being his M.O. any time we put him in a car from that point forward). The closest to quiet he got was when we were on the ferry. Christina and I stayed with the car, and let them out of their little crate to explore. They wandered around the inside of the car and crawled all over our laps, Bastion still meowing his displeasure with the scary situation. We got them home, and our lives were forever changed.

Bastion’s boisterous vocal nature was part of him his whole life, and an indication of his clinginess. He was, without a doubt, the neediest cat I’d ever encountered, but that also meant that he was by far the most affectionate. Most people talk about cats being independent and aloof, and Bastion was the opposite. He always made you feel like you were the most important person ever, like he was giving you attention, not the reverse.

bastion_5_smallWhenever you entered a room with him, he’d stop whatever he was doing – even sleeping – to come to you. When you carried him on your shoulder (my wife’s right shoulder was one of his favorite places in the world), he’d nuzzle his head into the side of yours and be content to sit there for as long as you’d hold him. He spent most of his life upside-down, flipping onto his back in that goofball, uniquely kitty-cat head-turn flip maneuver that meant “Pet my belly!”. He wasn’t so much our cat as we were his humans, and he loved us unconditionally.

Which is why losing him is one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve had a lot of pets over the course of my life. My childhood was always filled with cats and dogs. But they were never, really, mine. When you have pets as a child, there’s a sort of mild separation or distance that, I think, is bred by the fact that you’re not wholly responsible for their welfare. I’m not trying to diminish any of my pets’ role in my life – I loved them all – but losing a pet that your parents are responsible for and losing one under your own care are wildly different experiences.

Neither of us expected this to be so difficult. The toughest loss I’d ever dealt with before this (aside from my parents) was my childhood dog Smokey. We picked up Smokey when I was in sixth grade, and he passed away when he was 12 years old. At that point I’d been away from home several years, and although I still thought of Smokey as “my” dog, that separation blunted the blow of his loss. I cried for a day, grieved for a while after, and then my life shifted back to normal.

Bastion, on the other hand, was a constant presence in my everyday life in a way that Smokey hadn’t been at the time he passed. Every morning, I’d wake up with Bastion curled up next to my pillow. All day, I’d take moments to give him and his siblings little scritches and love, especially for the last three years that I’ve been working from home. Every evening, he’d wander around our bedroom vocally declaring his displeasure with our attention being focused on books or sleep until we’d call him over and give him some cuddle time.

bastion_3_smallIt’s been tough to roll across little comments and in-jokes that Christina and I would have about our group of cats as a whole, now that Bastion’s missing from that group. We used to make jokes about “being surrounded by 3 Billion Kitties!”, where Midnight was half-a-billion, Bastion was one billion, and Gremlin was one-and-a-half billion (because of their relative sizes). We used to refer to the three of them as “Wee, Not-So-Wee, and FRICKIN’ HUGE!”, from an old Saturday Night Live skit with Mike Meyers and Patrick Stewart. We’d make comments about having “three kitties but only two hands” when they were all begging for attention at once.

I hadn’t really realized how much emotional support I got from Bastion until he was gone. That feeling of love I talked about earlier was an amazing force for self-esteem. It was almost impossible to feel down or angry or frustrated when Bastion was head-butting us in the face, or lying on his back stretching out his paws to us for a hug. If there were ever a moment when I was having a tough time and needed a buoy, he’d be there for me.

Our other animals have always served other roles in the family. Gremlin has always been the stalwart – yes, he loves attention and loves us back, but he’s got his own things to do. Midnight has always been the adorable little girl, and she definitely loves attention – but only on her own terms. Colt has always been the most empathetic of the lot, but that also means his emotions kind of mirror ours: if we’re happy he’s upbeat; if we’re sad, he’s sad too. Bastion was the light. He was always in a good mood, and always did his best to make sure you were, too. His loss leaves a hole in my life that will never be filled, and will take a long time to pave over.

This is why it’s so hard for me to understand anyone who utters the phrase “just a cat”. For us, pets are family. As much family as any other member. We allow ourselves an attachment, a love and deep connection, to our animals that makes them a part of our hearts. To not do so would seem pointless, and do both them and us a disservice. If not for that connection, then why have animals in your life? That connection makes for a terrible sense of loss when they leave us, and sometimes we feel like others look at us askance for grieving so hard. To those people, I say: You can fuck right off. But I digress.

For both Christina and I, Bastion is the first pet we’ve ever lost who we were solely responsible for. For me, that means I’ve spent every moment since he died feeling like I let him down. What if I’d been more diligent? Would he still be with us if I’d taken him to the vet fifteen minutes, or two hours, or two days, or a week earlier? Are all of these warning signs that I’m seeing in hindsight things I should’ve caught in the moment? How could I not have seen? Why wasn’t I paranoid enough?

That feeling of responsibility – and, frankly, guilt – indescribably magnifies the grief I feel at his loss. I’ve cried every single day since we lost him. I knew Bastion was getting old, and I didn’t expect him to live forever… but I did expect more time than we got. People can talk about his “long life” until they’re blue in the face, but it will never assuage that horrible feeling that we still could’ve (maybe?) had just a little more time with him. If only I hadn’t failed in my duty as his caretaker.

The only small solace we have is that we were with Bastion when he died. We’d just given him his nightly dose of medicine for his renal condition. He was weak, and we both laid down on the bed with him to give him our attention. We laid there petting him, hoping that he’d feel a little better. I worried about him, trying to decide whether he needed to go to the vet right then, happy that I’d made an appointment for him for the next day. Thinking I’d made the right decision.

I honestly believe that our presence – surrounding him with love – helped him decide it was time to let go. We rushed him to the emergency vet, but somehow I knew we weren’t getting him back. Before he finally passed away, we both had the chance to lean down with a hand on his side, pet him one last time, and tell him goodbye right in his ear. To tell him that we will always love him.

I have absolutely no insight on grief. I have no way to know how long I’m supposed to feel this way, or how to move past it, or if I’m over-reacting to his passing. I have questions that will never be answered, and all I can hope is that he enjoyed his time on Earth. That he wasn’t angry at (or worse, scared of) us for the times we scolded him or yelled at him or shushed him or swatted him. Whether or not the love we felt for him was conveyed, and made up for the times when we were impatient or frustrated with him. No one but him can tell us whether we gave him a good life.

But now, he’s gone. And we have to try and figure out how our life will balance out without him here. Colt is worried about us – you can see it in his eyes, in how he approaches us, in his posture. Midnight is still kind of aloof, but is looking for more attention than she ever has before, needing some sort of connection. Gremlin misses his brother. He’ll stand in the middle of the bedroom – their domain – and cry, just meowing and meowing until I come in and spend a little time to calm him down. He never used to do that.

And I’m stuck in a sort of constant state of mild panic about them. Gremlin’s diabetic, and Midnight has a cardiac consult next week for a heart murmur in addition to a milder form of the same renal issues that Bastion suffered from. Colt’s a little overweight, but in pretty good shape. But the suddenness of Bastion’s passing shot a spike of fear through my heart that leaves me manic, a knot of worry settling into my gut that won’t loosen. I question every little movement, every moment, wondering if it’s out of the ordinary or just another day. Wondering if I’m doing enough. Wondering if I’ll be able to take care of them.

I’m not sure if writing this will be damaging or cathartic. I know I wanted to write it, but I have no idea whether it will help. At this moment in time, I don’t think much of anything will. All that’s left to do now is to say:

Goodbye, sweet boy. We all love you with all of our hearts, and we will miss you forever.
bastion_6_small

TSP Ep. 100: Preacher – Our Final Episode!

preacher_coverEpisode 100 of Trade Secrets is now available! On our FINAL EPISODE, the TSP crew discusses the danger of slavish devotion to characters, the past five years of podcasts, and Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon’s seminal Vertigo book PREACHER!

The Trade Secrets Podcast crew would like to thank all of our listeners and guests for participating in the show over the last (almost) five years. This has been an incredible ride for all of us, and we’re glad to have been able to entertain you for so long. Feel free to post your thoughts for the crew on Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail us at tradesecrets@geekerific.com.

Subscribe to the show on iTunes or by clicking on the feed to the right, or download this individual episode HERE!

The Changing Taste of Tastes Changing

Tastes change. And you know what? That’s okay.

But it doesn’t always feel that way, especially in geek circles (and sports fandom). Changing one’s opinion on some aspect of geekdom is seen as a betrayal, something worthy of scorn and shunning. I’ve found this to be the case numerous times as my tastes have changed over the years, and have drifted apart from many whom I once called friends because that one unifying fandom no longer binds us.

There’s a drive, when you’re part of a community of like-minded individuals, to maintain ties with that common interest through thick and thin, partially to maintain some level of “status” amongst its fans, and partially to maintain relationships which rely on that mutual fandom almost exclusively. It’s hard, as one’s tastes inevitably shift, to let go of something that might be hoarding an inordinate amount of time that is no longer commensurate with the joy it returns.

I think it’s important to realize that sometimes, you’re just not interested in something anymore. You’re just not as invested as you once were, and while there’s a certain amount of disappointment that comes with that realization, the freedom that can come from leaving it behind can be exhilarating. It means opening up time and thought-space for something new.

When I was 16, I went to my first LARP. It was a transformative experience for me as a young introvert, flipping the script on my entire personality and building a number of friendships along the way. I played in various live-action games until my early 30’s, and built a cadre of friendships that, when I was much younger, I thought would be everlasting. It was a very difficult decision to leave the LARP I’d been invested in for over a decade. While I had built a number of relationships around the game, the community as a whole had become toxic, and my life outside the game just no longer felt like it had the space to maintain it.

Here’s what I learned upon leaving the game behind: The friendships that endured beyond it were – as expected – those friendships that didn’t solely rely on the commonality of the game. Outside interests and common mindsets led to lasting relationships, while the bulk of the people I once called “friend” drifted slowly to “acquaintance” or eventually – to use a popular song lyric – “somebody I used to know”. Applying this thought retroactively, I realized it’s why I’m not really friends with anyone I went to high school with. When the only common language you share with someone is an educational institution and physical proximity, graduating and moving away has a pretty strong sundering effect.

This dynamic also taught me that filling those spaces isn’t nearly as hard as it seems when you’re looking at the world at large from within that sort of community. Eschewing a hobby or interest that has brought one closer to other people can be a scary concept, especially if it risks the deconstruction of one’s social circle. That being said, I’m not sure maintenance of particular social circle is worth maintaining a hobby that no longer holds you in thrall.

After high school, I made new friends. After LARPing, I made new friends. After leaving Nintendo following nine years there… I made new friends. As interests and desires dropped away, new ones flowed into those temporarily empty spaces, bringing with them the communities of other like-minded folks. As I’ve entered new arenas, I’m inundated with a rush of new potential friends, eventually winnowing down that group to those with whom I share enough common interest to talk with regularly, and then again narrowing as I flow away from an educational institution, job, hobby, or interest to leave only those people whose Venn diagram circle overlaps with mine to more than a cursory degree.

All of this has been brought to the forefront once again by this year’s PAX Prime. Once a staple institution in my life – an annual pilgrimage to video gaming’s Holy Land – I’ve found myself in a sort of crisis of faith, as it were. I’ve attended all but two PAX Primes, and my excitement for the event had never waned – until last year.

I identified the feeling, this year, as a sort of PAX fatigue. There’s a certain sameness about it all that has the effect of dampening the endorphin rush that once accompanied the frenzied search for badges, the excitement of their acquisition, and the frenetic energy of the crowded show floor. It doesn’t help that my tastes have begun moving away from video games in general, so immersing myself in the loud, bright, in-your-face oontz-oontz of the largest video game convention in the country is maybe just not my thing anymore.

And I hate to use the terms “evolve” or “mature”. Those phrases imply an inherent superiority or rightness in the new mindset that doesn’t exist. People who still LARP aren’t somehow beneath me simply because I’ve moved on to other things. Video games aren’t childish or immature simply because my tastes no longer run toward them. A hobby is a hobby is a hobby, and although I might be able to attribute my shifting tastes to growing older, I try very hard not to ever say that I’ve “grown out of” something. I fucking hate that phrase, because it means that as an adult I’m not allowed to go back, or that there are certain things that are shameful to enjoy as an adult. And that whole idea can just fuck right off.

But sometimes, you’re just not into something anymore. Or maybe you’re just not into it at the moment. When we’re kids, the phrase “going through a phase” is bandied about as a way to justify or endure waves of taste that may not be acceptable to adults. But those “phases” are just a normal part of life, and don’t stop happening just because we grow up.

As I sit here, at home in the middle of a PAX weekend, contemplating the fact that this might be the last PAX I ever attend, I ended up reflecting on all of the phases I’ve gone through in my life. All of the things I used to love, and can still look back on fondly, but just don’t engage me anymore. It took me a while to come to grips with the fact that it’s not a betrayal or abandonment… it’s just that tastes change.

And that’s okay.

WorldCon At Ground Level

This last weekend, I attended my first ever World Science Fiction Convention. WorldCon, as it is known, is a traveling convention that’s been running for over 70 years, and hosts the Hugo Awards, one of genre fictions highest honors.

No, I don’t plan on getting into a debate about that.

Before I start, I’ll preface by stating I had an amazing time at WorldCon. I had loads of fun, met a ton of great people, and had a chance not just to meet, but to actually hang out with and befriend some of my favorite authors. I state this now because I may not be entirely positive about the convention itself in the coming paragraphs.

I’ve been to a decent number of conventions. I don’t go to a ton, but my staples for the last few years have been Emerald City ComiCon and PAX Prime in Seattle. I’ve been to GenCon five times (and can’t wait to get back), and a ton of smaller, regional conventions like NorWesCon, OryCon, SakuraCon, and Stumptown Comics Fest. I even went to a Star Trek convention when I was in high school.

If I were to try and come up with a hierarchy, I’m still not sure where I’d place WorldCon. I’m going to talk a bit about my expectations and disappointments first, mostly because there was so much good stuff this weekend that I’d rather get the negatives out of the way early and end on a positive note.

WorldCon/Sasquan was not a large convention. Someone told me the attendance this year was in the neighborhood of 4000. To put that into perspective, PAX’s attendance runs a little over 70,000, and San Diego ComiCon is almost double that. That was my first major surprise. While I wasn’t expecting PAX or ECCC levels of attendance – certainly not in the tiny convention center in Spokane – I wasn’t expecting the sparseness I encountered at the show. I’m so used to being packed into a convention with all the other sardines that the openness of WorldCon actually made it feel unnervingly empty.

I say “unnervingly” because WorldCon is, ostensibly, one of the largest and most important conventions for genre fiction every year. To see it so empty throws into sharp focus the very core comparison of SFF fandom to other, more pop-culture-y fandoms. Genre fiction is a big business, and yet the nature of its fandom doesn’t lend itself to social gatherings the same way comic books or video games or movies might. The relative size of the convention wasn’t all bad, but I’ll get to the positives a little later.

One of the strangest dynamics at WorldCon, for me, was how much of the floor space – and thought-space – was taken up by the promotion of other conventions. Of course, the primary hawking came from shows vying to host future WorldCons, but there was also a surprising number of other random conventions promoting themselves. Between people trying to get me to vote for their city as host and other small genre conventions desperately begging for my attendance, that part of the show floor began to feel like some weird convention circle-jerk.

I’m sure that this is just standard operating procedure at WorldCon, but it threw me off because you don’t see it as readily at other conventions (although it does happen). Here, it was such a significant and central portion of the show floor that it felt almost oppressive. I’m not sure if that’s an organizational issue, but it felt like the convention-hawking should’ve been made purposely less prominent than the dealer’s area and signature lines, but instead it was the central focus of the show floor.

When it came to organization, WorldCon was… less than stellar, primarily from an information standpoint, at least from a fan’s point of view. The website was downright terrible. While it was very easy to ask questions of the information desk, if information about events or locations hadn’t been poorly or unevenly disseminated in the first place, it wouldn’t have been nearly as necessary. Here’s a prime example:

George R.R. Martin’s signing was capped at 100 people, and they didn’t allow online sign-ups for the event. When we arrived Saturday morning, we heard there were already people in line for the 2pm signing, so we went down to check. There were, in fact, already 40 people in line, and the con staff said people had to stay in line to get into the signing. I had panels I wanted to attend that day, so based on that information I decided I didn’t want to waste my whole day in line.

After missing out on GRRM’s signing, I found out that the line was in fact not capped at 100. The staff (perhaps at GRRM’s direction, but I’m not sure?) capped the line at 100, but once the signing started, they stated that 400 signatures would be allowed, so new people could join and/or recycle through the line. And they never announced this information anywhere else in the convention center. In the end, they never even reached 300 people. So, I could have gone down after a panel I’d attended and stepped right up for a signature without any issue, but because of the (frankly) shitty flow of information and seemingly intentional obfuscation, I didn’t.

The handling of programming at WorldCon was downright strange. In speaking with several authors, I found out that the Sasquan staff determined virtually all of the placement of authors and industry professionals on panels of their own design, with little to no consultation with the professionals themselves. Wesley Chu was placed on a YA panel – having never published any YA books. Several popular genre authors chose not to attend the con at all because they weren’t “given” any programming – Brian McClellan being a prominent example.

This seems so completely backwards to me. At larger shows like PAX, only a portion of the panels and programming are created by the convention. These conventions open up a submission process well in advance where content creators can propose panel topics and guests, then the convention approves and schedules those panels. Professionals have at least some say regarding what panels they participate in. It seems so strange that a convention would not give professionals much, if any, say in what programming they participated in, but also that they wouldn’t give content creators the opportunity to populate the convention with programming.

That being said, I was able to attend some fantastic panels at this show. Panels are not usually a focus for me at conventions, but after I was able to get everything I wanted out of the show floor in my first two hours of attendance, I realized I needed to shift my mindset. I went to several authors’ readings – Elizabeth Bear and Brandon Sanderson among them – but the best panels were the ones involving the more in-depth discussions of the writerly arts.

On Thursday I went to a panel on world-building with Kay Kenyon, Matt Wallace, and Richard Kadrey that helped me immensely with that shift in mindset. Although in depth panels on writing were surprisingly few, it was this panel that made me realize they were there and re-evaluate my schedule of events.

I went to a fantastic recording of the Ditch Diggers podcast, where hosts Matt Wallace and Mur Lafferty ran an adventure, D&D style, asking authors Aliette de Bodard, Linda Nagata, Fonda Lee, and Kate Elliott to brave the Forest of Publishing, then wrapped up with a discussion with editor Lee Harris. I ended up at two other panels with Kate Elliott, one an individual lecture entitled Narrative Structure and Expectation, the other a one-on-one dialogue on world-building between Kate and The Grace of Kings author Ken Liu. Both were absolutely fantastic, and Kate Elliott handled some major technical difficulties at her lecture with WAY more grace than I would’ve been able to muster. My last panel of the convention was entitled Writing About Controversy, with M.J. Locke, Eric Flint, John Scalzi, and Mike Glyer. This was the only one I found only mildly interesting, since they didn’t really delve too deeply into the subject in any way that I wasn’t already familiar with.

Although the panel selection at the convention was a little lacking, in my opinion, I did manage to find some really fun ones to attend, which made my days at the con way better than I was expecting them to be right off the bat.

And, for most of the convention, I completely avoided anything that remotely looked like Hugo controversy. Not in a Neo-dodging-bullets kind of way, but as a boots-on-the-ground attendee, 79% fan and 21% author, it just rarely ever came up. In the grand scheme of attending panels and getting shit signed and hanging out with the community (shout out to the folks at Reddit r/Fantasy, who made my weekend fucking amazing), the worry over Puppy stupidity just never reared its head. It didn’t really seem to have much effect on the convention’s atmosphere.

Speaking of atmosphere (ba-dum-bum): Washington state is in the midst of one of the worst wildfire seasons in history, and even though none of the major fires are directly in Spokane’s vicinity, the sheer volume of smoke that sometimes descended on the town was staggering. On Friday, specifically, there were major air quality warnings. Downtown establishments had warning signs on their doors telling people not to go outside or walk major distances in the smoke which, at one point, was so thick that visibility was only about five or six blocks. It was an exceedingly strange experience, and reminded me a lot of films I’ve seen of downtown Beijing in the midst of their worst pollution seasons.

I ended up being forced to walk about a mile in these conditions (a long story about car troubles that I won’t go into), and I got a brief glimpse at what being a smoker would be like. No thanks.

Anyway, enough about Smo-Con.

On Saturday night I hung out with the aforementioned r/Fantasy crew at Guinan’s (a bar set up at the far front of the hall and named after the Ten Forward bartender from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and watched the livestream of the Hugo Awards with a crowd and a beer (okay four beers). The Awards ceremony itself was unflinching in its comedy about the controversy, and at times gut-bustingly – and unexpectedly – hilarious. Bob Silverberg’s bit had me crying I was laughing so hard. I was worried I was going to be bored by the awards, and that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

But, amidst all of that, the best part of the entire weekend were the evenings after the show floor closed. The very night I showed up, I ended up at dinner with a table of fellow authors that included Jay Swanson, Tim Ward, Jason Gurley, Mike Underwood, and Jason Hough. Jay was the most inquisitive at the table, and all of us had a really lovely discussion that ranged from thoughts on publishing to individual influences to the importance of networking. I’ve been saying for days that it was the best panel I went to all weekend, and I really wish we’d had microphones to record it.

Thursday night was Reddit r/Fantasy’s Drinks With Authors event, a meetup that the organizers were worried was going to be small and poorly attended because the Sasquan staff had expressed complete disinterest in supporting it. Over the course of Wednesday and Thursday both Del Rey and Angry Robot jumped on the hype train, both promoting the event and donating piles of books to the giveaway tables. What originally was going to be a 50 or 60 person event with a couple of authors ended up overflowing the meager space at Black Label Brewing and was attended by authors Megan O’Keefe (who, alongside r/Fantasy moderator Melissa Shumake, ran the entire show), Jason Hough, Wesley Chu, Ramez Naam, Gail Carriger, Kameron Hurley, Kate Elliott, Courtney Schafer, Randy Henderson, Mike Underwood, and Brandon Sanderson. And, hell, I’m sure there are some I’m probably forgetting.

Both nights, after dinner and post-con events, I hung out in different bars and bullshitted (bullshat?) with a bunch of authors and industry folks. This was really my first exposure to the phenomenon known as “BarCon”, a paradigm so common at these sorts of industry events that it has its own name. Oddly enough, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to get out of the larger conventions I’ve attended, and never been able to make happen. Getting people to go out to dinner or a bar after PAX or ECCC has been like pulling teeth, but at WorldCon, all I had to do was show up somewhere and I’d end up in a crowd of fans and industry pros talking about everything from writing to gaming to fashion to drinking.

On Friday night, I was a bit worn out from the frenetic energy of the BarCon atmosphere from the previous two, and ended up having an amazing, relaxing dinner with Melissa from the r/Fantasy table and authors Alberto Yáñez, Courtney Schafer, and Kate Elliott. This, to be honest, is still the highlight of my convention. I tend to enjoy quieter, more relaxing environs for social interaction, so even though it may not have been the best “exposure” in terms of “networking” (two phrases constantly thrown at me when I was debating whether WorldCon would be worth the money), it was by far the most interesting conversation and enjoyable part of my weekend.

We ended up all going our separate ways after dinner, and energized by the conversation I stopped by the bar at the Davenport Grand, the swanky hotel by the convention center that seemed to serve as both the BarCon jump-off point and late-night wind-down. I didn’t immediately see anyone I knew, so I sat down at the bar with a beer. Before long, I met up with Tod McCoy, a board member for Clarion West whom I’d met at a reading a couple of months ago. He invited me up to the Clarion West party, which was one of the few room parties at a convention I’ve ever attended that was genuinely fun. I was one of the last people out the door at almost 1:30am.

Saturday evening, as I mentioned before, was all about the Hugos. That had the effect, for me, of separating out many of the authors I’d been hanging out with all weekend because the after-awards parties were exclusive events, to one degree or another. That’s not at all a bad thing, though, because I spent the entire evening hanging with the crew I’d met from helping with the Reddit r/Fantasy table, and we had an absolute blast. It all started with a steady flow of beer during the Hugo ceremonies, then we ended up at a (sadly mediocre) barbecue joint just talking about the weekend until the wee hours. Melissa, Jodi, and Joel from r/Fantasy were my peeps for the entire weekend, and capping it off by hanging out, laughing, and drinking with them couldn’t have been more perfect.

If I sit down and analyze it, WorldCon was technically a mixed bag of an event. The convention itself ranged from okay to bad, with a few bright spots. What really made the convention interesting and fun was the people, and the after-hours activities. It’s a dynamic I’ve never encountered before, but when I really think back on the weekend, that “mixed bag” just feels like a humongous overall win. If it accomplished nothing else, WorldCon was an excuse to gather publishing industry folks en-masse, which made the weekend extremely fun.

Before, I probably would’ve never thought to travel to Kansas City for MidAmeriCon next year, but man, the allure of BarCon is pretty fucking great.

TSP Ep. 99: Trees

trees_coverEpisode 99 of Trade Secrets is now available! On our penultimate episode, the TSP crew discusses the Fantastic Flop, being an asshole for your fandom, and the Warren Ellis/Jason Howard slow-burn speculative sci-fi book TREES!

THERE IS ONLY ONE EPISODE OF TRADE SECRETS LEFT! That’s right, the show will be ending for good with episode 100. We’d love to hear from fans for our final show, so if you have a favorite moment, favorite book we’ve reviewed, or favorite episode of the show, please let us know by e-mailing tradesecrets@geekerific.com, and we’ll read your comment on the show!

Subscribe to the show on iTunes or by clicking on the feed to the right, or download this individual episode HERE!

It Is, After All, Just A Board Game

Today, while putzing around on Reddit r/BoardGames, the game Five Tribes came up as their “Game of the Week”. Five Tribes is a very fun tactical board game set in an Arabic-themed fantasy world around the time of the 1001 Arabian Nights.

There is a minor controversy (read: not actually a controversy at all) surrounding this game. If you’ve ever watched Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop, they did an episode on Five Tribes that addresses the issue: the original version of the game included Slave cards that were part of the game’s marketplace, and were used as a currency resource.

Thematically, the Slave cards fit the game alright, but many (rightly) found them distasteful. In subsequent printings of the game, Days of Wonder replaced the Slave cards with cards depicting Fakirs, lightly altering the cards place in the game’s theme without altering the game mechanics in any way. Overall, a positive change.

AND YET…

There is a vocal contingent in the board gaming “community” who are distraught by the change. Their argument – much the same as anyone who has ever used the term “politically correct” as a pejorative – is that the slaves were thematically appropriate and that Days of Wonder shouldn’t have “caved” to “pressure” by “sanitizing” the game.

As happens whenever the game is brought up in internet forums, this argument arose again in the r/BoardGames Five Tribes thread. I very nearly embroiled myself in an argument over the issue, but decided that my sanity and good mood weren’t worth the effort. I still have opinions jangling around in here, though, so here goes:

Within the context of the game, Slave cards are another type of resource or currency. They are acquired in a market alongside things like silk, papyrus, spices, and ivory. There are three ways they can be used in the game:

1) They can be “spent” to boost the power of Builders, earning a higher score for building. Thematically, the assumption is that the builders use slave labor for larger constructions.
2) They can be “spent” in conjunction with Elders to summon Djinn. Thematically, the assumption is that the slave is being sacrificed as part of the summoning process/ritual.
3) They can be “spent” to boost the effective range of Assassins. Thematically… well, fuck, I honestly have no idea how that fits thematically.

Fakirs, historically, are religious ascetics who, through their devotion to their religion, earn both power and authority directly from God. In a fantastical or mythological setting (like the one depicted in Five Tribes), they are powerful mystics whose devotion earns them God-granted supernatural abilities. Their inclusion in Five Tribes over Slaves alters the theme somewhat, but in a positive way.

Now, instead of using slave labor, Builders are calling upon Fakirs to augment their abilities to create even more grandiose architecture. Instead of sacrificing slaves to summon Djinn, Elders now enlist the help of the mystical Fakirs to use their powers to summon and control the Djinn. And instead of… doing whatever the fuck it is assassins might do with slaves, Fakirs lend their powers to augment the efficacy of assassins. This last one might be problematic for some people, but history and fantasy are full of religious assassins who believed themselves to be doing the work of God, and who were supported by both worshipers and clergy, so the idea of a Fakir helping an assassin isn’t too big a stretch.

So… yyyeaahhh… While Slaves may be thematically appropriate, they’re wildly insensitive and inappropriate in far more ways than solely the game’s theme. On top of that, their inclusion was off-putting to so many potential buyers that it was having a direct effect on the sales of what is otherwise an absolutely fantastic board game.

What’s worse, though, is seeing members of the board game “community” vehemently arguing that their removal was some kind of slight that ruined the game, and that their inclusion was a necessary component. Days of Wonder has no plans to reintroduce the Slave cards in future Five Tribes expansions, which one Redditor deemed “shameful”. Somehow, that’s more shameful than including a slaves-as-currency mechanic in the first place, or more shameful than wailing to the heavens that you don’t get to play with slaves in your game.

I guess.

Or something.

The Slave cards were an uncomfortable blight on an otherwise light fantasy theme. Their replacement has exactly zero effect on the game’s mechanics and, in fact, has a wildly positive effect on the popularity of an absolutely fantastic game. Vehemently arguing for the inclusion of Slaves is, quite frankly, GROSS, and makes you look like a nasty excuse for a human being. The arguments for thematic appropriateness of both Slaves and Fakirs weigh – at least for me – equally, so wouldn’t you rather be on the side arguing for positive inclusion rather than racial and cultural insensitivity?

It is, after all, just a fucking board game.

TSP Ep. 98: All-Star Batman & Robin

All_Star_Batman_CoverEpisode 98 of Trade Secrets is now available! On this episode, the TSP crew discusses Eddie’s German adventure, Luke’s conversion to Scientology, and the utter dumpster fire of ALL-STAR BATMAN & ROBIN: THE BOY WONDER!

THERE ARE ONLY TWO EPISODES OF TRADE SECRETS LEFT! That’s right, the show will be ending for good with episode 100. We’d love to hear from fans for our final show, so if you have a favorite moment, favorite book we’ve reviewed, or favorite episode of the show, please let us know by e-mailing tradesecrets@geekerific.com, and we’ll read your comment on the show!

Subscribe to the show on iTunes or by clicking on the feed to the right, or download this individual episode HERE!