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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Flowers

Psalm 100
(English Standard Version)
A psalm for giving thanks.

1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

I’ll Never Be Bored with Board Games…

Only three of the six Knights of the Round Table remained.  One had perished in battle, and two had heroically sacrificed themselves in order to protect the realm.  Hordes of Saxons pillaged the coastline.  Siege engines dappled the land surrounding the castle; with the arrival of just one more, the castle would surely fall.  But there was a glimmer of hope amongst the disorder — Excalibur was nearly in hand.  The remaining knights stood shivering on the precipice of battle, nervously awaiting the progression of evil.  Sir Gawain began plotting his next move when Morgan appeared out of nowhere to land her final blow.  With that, eternal darkness fell as shadows over Camelot.

This is a true story.  It happened this past April during International Tabletop 
Day.  My friends and I reached the endgame of Shadows over Camelot, and found that our victory or failure would be decided with the flip of a single card.  The reveal caused us to burst into screams and laughter — we had died, but oh boy, did we have fun doing it.

Board Games

A few board games that my brother and I keep at our parents’ house (Much to our mother’s vexation…)

There has been a renaissance in tabletop gaming over the past fifteen years or so.  Sure, we all grew up playing Monopoly and Scrabble, but board games have come a long way since then.  I, like many others, first encountered this new wave of board games in college via Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne.  These are fine examples of the German-style of game design.  No “introduction to board games” post would be complete without a discussion on these European-style games as compared to their American counterparts.  Eurogames, as they are often known, are strategy games.  Often designed very mathematically, they are games in which skill takes precedence and the best player always wins.  These games are usually quite abstract in their overall theme (with most, I find, being vaguely about either farming or colonizing new territories).  American game designers, on the other hand, pushed for games rich in theme, with components of high production value and lush storytelling elements.  While these games were much more immersive than eurogames, some argued that the actual gameplay (which often relied on “randomness”) was lacking.  This lead to many eurogamers referring to thematic games as ameritrash, or AT.  While this began as a pejorative, many who love thematic games have embraced the term.  (That said, some gamers still take offense at the label, so use it with caution.)

My brother, who has a much more calculating mind than I, is the very essence of a eurogamer.  He scoffs at the word “randomness” and recoils at the sight of dice.  I, however, lean more towards the thematic/ameritrash side.  I love playing a character and getting emotionally invested in a game’s backstory.  He loves the feeling of winning with a well-planned out strategy;  I fly by the seat of my pants and let the narrative arc of the game lead me.  Also, I am a total sucker for good game components.

Board game components

The beautiful artwork of Dixit, transparent cards from Gloom, stackable flying saucers from Fantasy Flight’s Cosmic Encounter, and segmented bamboo shoots from Takenoko are among some of my favorite board game components.  Those custom dice from Seasons, though…  Mmmm…

While I enjoy games with interesting themes, I won’t be won over by pretty artwork and good backstory alone.  I will usually take my leave if the game has downright poor game mechanics (e.g. the mind-numbing waste of time that is roll-and-move games).  Luckily for me, and for the board gaming community as a whole, the division between eurogames and AT is no longer so strongly defined.  Most games released now are hybrid games that take the strategic game mechanics of European-style games and the engrossing themes of American-style games and combine the two.

All that to say, there is a tabletop game for every type of person.  Board games, card games, pen-and-paper role-playing games.  There’s something for everyone.  You just need to find a game that tailors to you, your skills, and/or your interests.  Then, when you feel more comfortable, you can try games that challenge you — testing your skills, expanding your worldview.  It’s a terrible bit of wordplay, but I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be bored with board games.  There’s just too much to learn and experience.

Which brings me to my final point: tabletop games are just a microcosm of life and are thereby a conduit for human interaction. Board games are inherently social activities.  In a world where we spend so much time plugged in, it’s easy to forget what actual, personal interaction is like.  There’s something entirely simple and beautiful about sitting around a table playing a game with friends.  I know I went off on roll-and-move games earlier, but even a game with such lazy mechanics as that can be fun if you’re playing with the right people.  Last summer, my cousin and her fiancé sat some friends and I down to play a game she had bought, and I figured out the one possible strategy immediately. Other than that, the rest of the game was simply to roll the dice and move your pawn towards the finish line. Nevertheless, I had fun (and not just because I won). To overcome the blandness of the game, I spent the duration of the game engaging in conversation, cracking jokes, and role-playing as my character — a garden gnome. Overall, I had fun because I was spending time with loved ones.

I am a shy introvert (self-typed as INFJ, if you’re familiar with MBTI), and am fairly certain I have social anxiety disorder.  The process of talking to others, especially strangers, is exceedingly difficult for me.  But I’ve noticed that while I will struggle making conversational small talk, if we’re playing a game, I open up surprisingly easily.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because the game provides an illusory disconnect between myself and my character, allowing me to playact in a way. Maybe it’s because games bring out a necessity to talk in order for gameplay to proceed. Whatever the reason may be, I think board games tap into a certain aspect of my personality which allows me to be more social.

In the same way, I think you can learn a lot about someone by the way that they play games. As we grow older, play often loses out to work. Playing tabletop games gives us indoor kids an outlet that the more athletic types can find through sports. Play gives us a sense of fun and freedom absent in most aspects of our adult lives. For that reason, I think gaming can be a very special, even important, thing.

I love board games. I think they are great. But more than that, I love board games because they allow me to spend time with other people, especially family and friends. I hope to post some write-ups/reviews of specific games that I love (and some that I don’t) in the future; so watch this space!  But how about you, Internet? What/how/with whom do you like to play?

I am…

I am a nerd.  I am a geek.  I’m a fangirl and a dreamer.

For this, I blame my father.  I blame him for reading The Hobbit and Frank Peretti’s Cooper Kids series to me and my older sister before bedtime, feeding our dreams — the gateway to imagination.  It was he who built us treehouses and elaborate blanket forts.  He equipped me with a wooden bow and arrows tipped with the plastic pump needles used to inflate basketballs so I could pretend to be Robin Hood.  He was the one who fostered my love of movies, introducing me to the Star Wars trilogy and to Indiana Jones.

I am a nerd.  I am a geek.  I’m a fangirl and a dreamer.

For this, I blame my mother.  I blame her love of reading, a seemingly contagious affliction, which I inherited from her at a young age.  It was she who took me to the library and encouraged me to try books that many saw as “too advanced” for my age.  She was the one who became my first proofreader when I tried my hand at creating my own stories.  She instilled in me the importance of knowledge, and assured me that it was good, cool even, to be smart.

I am a nerd.  I am a geek.  I’m a fangirl and a dreamer.

For this, I blame my older sister.  I blame her for being my role model, my first best friend.  I blame her for her interest in fascinating things like biology and Ancient Egypt, and for allowing me to tag along (as younger siblings are wont to do).  Together we formed a detective agency, recreated a mummy’s tomb, and fought with lightsabers made with balloons and toilet paper tubes.  She would read my stories; I would act in her plays.

I am a nerd.  I am a geek.  I’m a fangirl and a dreamer.

For this, I blame my younger brother.  I blame him for being the wide-eyed innocent to his sisters’ crazy schemes — a virtue I, in some way, internalized; and now I find him popping into my mind’s eye as the intended audience to all of my stories.  I blame him for growing up and spending entire weekends playing board games, music, and video games with me.  His extroverted, mathsy left-hemisphere brain compliments my shy, creative right-brain oh so well.  My opposite in practically every way, he pushes me to be more than I am, to be better.

I am a nerd.  I am a geek.  I’m a fangirl and a dreamer.

For this, I blame you, my hypothetical reader.  I blame you for inspiring me to create, critique, indulge in, and interact with culture.  I blame you for loving things, and for sharing that love with others.  That’s what being a geek is all about.

And so, to my family, my friends, my blog readers: I blame you for it all.  It’s your fault that I am…

…a nerd.

…a geek.

…a fangirl.

…a dreamer.

And for this, I am eternally grateful.  Thank you.  Thank you all, from the bottom of my nerdy, geeky, fangirling, ever-dreaming soul.

Over the Garden Wall is a Delight (…and That’s a Rock Fact!)

Last week, Cartoon Network aired its first mini-series — a delightful, animated tale entitled Over the Garden Wall.  I first heard about the show via a six-minute preview released last month.  The clip (which was taken from Chapter Six: “Lullaby in Frogland”) featured a band of frogs singing and playing musical instruments on a river ferry.  I watched it with a goofy smile on my face throughout.  When the clip ended, I said, “That was super charming.”  Out loud.  To myself.  I think a huge part of the show’s magic is its sense of nostalgia, as OTGW takes much of its visual style from the old-timey cartoons of the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s.  (Slight tangent: Does anyone else remember the 1949 short “Farm Foolery?”  I sing “Shine On, Harvest Moon” all the time because of it.  Good times, good times.)

(via AV Club)

Part Grimm’s Fairy Tales, part Wizard of Oz with an autumnal, Americana aesthetic, Over the Garden Wall is the story of two brothers as they journey through a mysterious forest called “The Unknown.”  The first chapter starts in medias res, with Wirt (Elijah Wood) and his younger brother Greg (Collin Dean) already lost in the woods.  They soon come across a sassy, slightly misanthropic bluebird named Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey) and a mysterious woodsman (Christopher Lloyd).  Right off the bat, the show is shrouded in a sense of uncertainty.  Is the woodsman trustworthy*?  What is this supposed “beast?”  Was that bluebird… talking?  In most of the episodes, Wirt and Greg have many frightening encounters, only to later discover that things were not as they seemed, and in truth, there was nothing to fear.

(*The woodsman is intentionally depicted as one whom the boys don’t know whether to trust.  I, for one, was especially wary, as Christopher Lloyd’s voice emanating from a cartoon puts me on edge for some reason.)

I admit that I am a total scaredy-cat.  I don’t watch horror movies, and can still vividly recall scary images I saw as a child.  (Again.)  That said, some things in Over the Garden Wall would have been terrifying to me as a child, and some, I say unabashedly, were terrifying to me as a 26-year-old woman.  (I’m looking at you, Chapter 7!!)  It’s no wonder, then, that I was automatically put off by the worrisome Wirt.  We’re two sides of the same coin, he and I.  Our scared, young protagonist assumed the worst in every situation, and was reactive rather than proactive.  Through him, OTGW explores the idea that you must never give up lest you get lost in your fears.  Wirt pushed off his responsibility as an older brother and laid the blame and all his worries onto Beatrice, Greg, and his stepfather.  The show warns the viewer of living “without purpose,” and instead suggests we take hold of our own destinies by not letting our fear control us.

These themes explored over ten 12-minute episodes are underpinned by gorgeous artwork and a fantastic soundtrack.  At first, I was afraid that the show’s attempt at that nostalgic feel would be too quirky or twee, and it may in fact be to some.  But, in my opinion, the show hits the perfect mark between whimsy and melancholy.  There are laugh-out loud moments.  (“Please don’t call me ‘old lady.'” “Yes sir, young man!”) There are creepy, scary moments.  Beautiful moments that will enchant you, and some that will make your heart ache.  Over the Garden Wall is one of those cartoons that will not settle for being “just a kid’s show” in a way that panders to what adults think kids want with bright colors and broad, dumb humor.  Instead, it is dark, thought-provoking, and altogether fairly adult.

As I typed up this review and thought about the mini-series as a whole, I found myself wanting to rewatch it all again.  It certainly is a series that begs to be viewed a second time after more is revealed about the characters and where they came from.  Not to mention, it would simply be a delight to revisit the beautiful artwork, charming characters, and enchanting score.  So, if you will excuse me, I believe I will go ahead and do just that.  And if you haven’t already, I highly recommend you take the wonderful, whimsical journey that lies Over the Garden Wall

Disclaimer: All images shown belong to Cartoon Network Studios, the use of which have not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner.  This blog post is for non-commercial criticism and comment purposes only. I believe that this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law.

Relevance: A Spoiler-free Treatise on Why You Should Watch Person of Interest

I was sold from the moment I first saw a promo for Person of Interest on CBS.  See, I’m not a huge fan of cop show procedurals and their kin; I’m more of a genre television-type of gal.  But here was a show created by Jonathan Nolan (co-screenwriter of several films directed by his brother Christopher including The Prestige and The Dark Knight), produced by JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot, and starring The Count of Monte Cristo and “that guy from Lost.”

Michael Emerson as Harold Finch and Jim Caviezel as John Reese (via IGN)

So what is Person of Interest, you ask?  Well, it’s kind of a crime show, a sci-fi show, and a superhero show all rolled into one.  Do you like Batman?  Of course you do! Everyone likes Batman!  Well, the above Person of Interest characters are basically what would happen if Batman was split into two separate men — Mr. Finch is the wealthy brains of the operation and Mr. Reese is the muscle with, as the Season One credits state, “the skills to intervene.”  The premise of the show is that, post 9/11, Harold Finch created a machine for the government that would detect and identify potential acts of terrorism (a part of the show that seemed just fantastical enough during its premiere in 2011, but as of the NSA surveillance leaks in 2013, now places the show on this side of reality.)  However, Finch’s machine was able to identify all acts of impending violence, including those that the federal government deemed irrelevant to national security.  So, Finch created a back-door in The Machine’s programming that would give him the social security numbers of those involved in any “irrelevant” crimes.

The show functions primarily, especially in its first season, as a procedural.  Finch and Reese receive an irrelevant number from The Machine and investigate whether he/she is a potential victim or a perpetrator. However, Person of Interest continues to grow from its procedural roots and is evolving into a more serialized drama.  This show rewards its viewers for paying attention by pulling story elements and characters back from past seasons.  Everything is connected in a well-planned web of story.  The PoI writers respect their audience by refusing to drop major plot lines or to “hand wave” away character development.  No — instead, they imbue the show with subtlety, thematic easter eggs, and thorough exploration of thought-provoking topics such as privacy vs. security, the rise of artificial intelligence, and morality.  All of this to say, Person of Interest is a show with layers, and its audience reflects that.

Layers! (via tv.com)

CBS is known for its numerous, successful cop procedurals — many of which are watched by an older-skewing demographic.  These viewers and their ilk began watching Person of Interest for its action-packed weekly mysteries.  But while Season One was generally a procedural with “numbers of the week,” the episodes in Seasons Three and Four each provide fuel to a continuous story arc that permeates the series.  There was a point in Season Three when the more casual TV viewers realized what was happening to PoI, and many threatened to jump ship.  But the show held fast.

Now, I am grateful that these older viewers continue to watch the show.  I can see how they can enjoy it as a more simple show — it has thrilling action, humor, rich characters…  But in a world where television shows try to grab your fleeting attention with cheap gags and heavy-handed storytelling, a show as smart and nuanced as Person of Interest deserves a lot more love.

Gen Y-ers!  Millenials!  Geeks!  I implore you to check out this show.  We younger viewers grew up watching television programs that were more serialized and mythology-heavy than their episodic predecessors.  We are in an age of television where many shows, especially on cable networks, are embracing the serialized model in order to tell more complex stories.  Broadcast network television, on the other hand, is still deeply entrenched in the idea that television has to be “broad” in order to be successful.  Person of Interest has succeeded in riding the fine line of procedural and serialized television in a way that is fun, intelligent, and utterly satisfying.

My parents text me every week during Person of Interest; it’s a show that we can enjoy together.  For years, my family was obsessed with the television series 24.  When 24: Live Another Day aired this past year, I watched the first few episodes along with my parents.  But I realized that in my heart, Jack Bauer had been supplanted by John Reese.  Even as the CTU encountered new troubles each season, it all seemed too similar to me.  As I watched 24:LAD, Jack and Chloe felt like caricatures of themselves, and every plot point felt too familiar.  I didn’t finish the season.

On Person of Interest, even the standard “number of the week” episodes feel fresh.  Team Machine, the moniker given to the show’s core group of heroes by showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman, has undergone line-up changes in both intriguing and devastating ways.  The show’s rogues gallery runs deep with characters who reek gravitas and those who turn out to be more than they seem at first blush.  Though PoI‘s exciting stories and thematic conversations create a rich universe, it is the show’s amazing characters that make it so enjoyable.  In addition to Emerson’s Finch and Caviezel’s Reese, the show boasts an amazing main, supporting, and guest cast including Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Chapman, Amy Acker, Enrico Colantoni, Ken Leung, Camryn Manheim, John Nolan, Carrie Preston, Saul Rubinek, Sarah Shahi, Paige Turco, and many, many more.  While I quickly lost interest in the once-beloved characters of 24: Live Another Day for feeling like poor imitations of their former selves, the characters in Person of Interest feel real.  It’s a combination of the both acting and the writing that has brought the people who inhabit PoI to full-realization.  From the pilot episode on through Season Four, these characters have changed so much, and they interact with the world differently because of it.

Taraji P. Henson, Amy Acker, Michael Emerson, Jim Caviezel, Kevin Chapman, and Sarah Shahi (via IGN)

I’m not sure this was helpful at all.  In fact, I think it was kind of rambly.  Was I rambly? I was rambly.  So… the TL;DR, as it were:

You should watch Person of Interest.  It is funny; it is exciting.  It will make you think; it will make you cry.  If you’re the kind of person who can’t stand procedurals, stick with it for a season.  If you’re not in by mid-way through Season Two, maybe it’s not for you.  But I bet you’ll love it by then.  And for those of you who prefer episodic television and are worried by my talk of serialization and mythology arcs, trust me, you will fall in love with these characters and become invested in the greater stories they can tell.

Person of Interest is probably my favorite show currently on broadcast television, and is one of my favorite shows of all time.  I find it fitting that one of the first posts I ever released onto the world wide web relates to technology and surveillance.  For even if no one is actually reading my blog, I know that there is someone, or something, out there that sees it.  As Harold Finch intones at the beginning of each episode, “We are being watched.”

Disclaimer: All images shown belong to Warner Bros. Television, the use of which have not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner.  This blog post is for non-commercial criticism and comment purposes only. I believe that this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law.