Category: Reviews

life without internet – binge tv detox and family board game recommendations

Like an abused crack whore running away from her drug dealing pimp, I just wanted out. It’s been two weeks since I took the modem and cable TV box to the drop-off center for Comcast. If you have not had the pleasure of visiting Comcast’s drop-off center, it’s every bit as fun as the DMV with the bonus excitement of customers arguing loudly about their internet speed and the convenience charges on their billing statement. I wasn’t there to negotiate or argue. I was there to make a change…kinda like Ewan McGregor at the end of Trainspotting, but less ironical.

I knew I had hit rock bottom when I reviewed my viewing history on Amazon Prime Video. I had spent hours watching pawn shop owners haggle with customers over the price of antique Civil War weaponry and still-in-the-box Transformers toys from 1984. I had watched The Office Season 3 almost four times. My wife had watched every show and movie on the “Because You Watched Pride & Prejudice” recommendation list. We had a problem.

In all seriousness, our addiction to on-demand TV binge watching was not healthy. We noticed increasing tension in our family. The kids were fighting with each other, we were yelling at the kids, and my wife and I were arguing with each other. Anything that did not help nurture positive relationships needed to go. So, bye bye went Comcast….but then what?

I grew up playing board games and card games, and I love them (well, many of them). I played lots of Risk, Monopoly, Scrabble, Chess, Hearts, Stratego, etc. I also enjoyed the party games like Taboo, Guesstures, Scattergories, Pictionary, Balderdash, etc. So, I wanted to exchange our solitary TV watching time for family game playing time. Games are relational, educational, fun, and can build lots of valuable skills. All these great benefits wrapped up in activities we can all enjoy? Win! But…the problem is most of the above mentioned games would not be enjoyed by a kindergartener and 7 year old. And, I would take no pleasure in annihilating my 5 year old son’s armies off the face of the planet in a game of Risk.

Another problem is most children’s board games are awful. Some are ok for teaching kids valuable lessons – Candyland teaches colors and Chutes & Ladders teaches counting and how to deal with disappointment – but most are boring after a couple of plays. Also, I can totally kick my daughter’s ass at games like Ants in the Pants and Pick Up Sticks…I also dominate her at Hungry Hungry Hippos. To make things worse, many of the children’s games you find at retail stores are just cheap remakes of classics with the Disney Princesses or LEGO Batman slapped on the box and stickered onto plastic pieces.

So, I went on a mission to find good board games for our family using the following criteria:games

  • Gameplay and Replay Value
    • Are the rules clear?
    • Will we play the game after a few times?
  • Quality production
    • Are the pieces and packaging solid?
    • Is the artwork and design good?
  • Family Friendly
    • Is the game fun for kids and adults?
    • Do the kids have a chance to win?

It’s only been a couple of weeks, but so far we love family game time. More than the games themselves, we love spending time with each other, laughing, learning, and growing our relationships. Here are 5 great family games that I found and purchased. I’ve given a brief description of each game and rated them on a scale of 1-10 using the 3 categories listed above.  I encourage you to give them a try with your family, or come over and spend an evening playing with us!

Ghost BlitzGhostBlitz_clear_background

This game is played with a deck of cards and 5 game pieces that sit in the middle of the players. You flip the cards one at a time. For each card there is one object that either matches perfectly or doesn’t match at all. The first player to grab the correct object wins the card. The player with the most cards after going through the whole deck is the winner.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 8

The rules are well done and there is also a fun little story in the rulebook that adds depth and helps the kids get excited. There is a rule that you must give up one of your cards if you grab the wrong object. This made the game difficult for my 5 year old, so we exempted him from that rule.

Quality Production – 9

Nice wooden pieces, fun artwork on the cards, and a sturdy box. Again, the story in the rulebook is a nice touch.

Family Friendly – 7

I do have to put the brakes on a little bit to keep this game competitive, but with the rule tweak to help the kids, they are actually pretty fast at grabbing the right object. The kids love this one!

Animal Upon AnimalAnimal_Upon_Animal

Each player has a pile of 7 different animal pieces. You take turns rolling a die and stacking your animals on top of the big alligator piece. The first person with no animals left in their pile is the winner.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 8

This is a good dexterity game. The rules are easy, but sometimes it’s a little unclear how to keep going after a big crash. The single die has different sides that change up the game and result in a good variety.

Quality Production – 9

The wooden animal pieces in this game are excellent. This game will last forever as long as your dog doesn’t chew up the hedgehog and sheep pieces. Nice box and artwork.

Family Friendly – 8

Being a dexterity game, it is pretty easy for me to win against my kids. They still enjoy it and they get better every time. The pieces don’t fit together well, so stacking is challenging even for an adult.

Viva Topo!viva

Each player has a small family of mice. You roll a single die and try to get your mice around the board and into Cheesetopia before the big hungry cat makes his way around the board and eats you. If the cat is close behind, you can choose to forego Cheesetopia and hide in a safe house that gives you less cheese, or you can press your luck and hope the cat doesn’t catch up. The player with the most cheese wins.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 9

The rules are simple and easy to understand. The plot is cute. There is a nice little story to read to the kids before playing the game and it helps them understand the gameplay. Even though every replay is similar, it has enough variety and randomness from game to game that I imagine we will play this one all the time.

Quality Production – 10

The pieces in this game are simply great. The mice, cat, and die are wood pieces. The artwork on the board is very nice. It doesn’t get any better than this for a board game.

Family Friendly – 9

We definitely all enjoyed this game…a lot. The game mechanism for the cat is what makes this game great. As he gets closer, things really start to get intense! The strategy is a simple “press your luck”. My 5 your old doesn’t quite get the strategy sometimes, but he actually won the first 2 games we played, so what do I know?

Loopin’ LouieLOOPIN-LOUIE

Louie is a pilot that flies around in a circle wreaking havoc on each player’s chickens. Louie is attached to a battery operated swinging arm that moves up and down and has a swivel on the end. Each player has barn with 3 chickens roosting on top and they must be protected from Louie’s plane. Attached to each barn is a flipper that can be used to block Louie and spin him up into the air. Here’s video that shows the action.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 7

The rules are easy. The mechanism for the plane works great. The chickens work on a gravity system, so you only lose one at a time and the next slides into place. There’s not much to the game other than smacking your flipper kinda like Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Quality Production – 8

It is made of plastic by necessity, but it is quality plastic. It has nice stickers to liven up the pieces and make it colorful. It seems like it should last, even with rough play, but you just never know with battery operated and plastic stuff.

Family Friendly – 7

It is fun, but only for a little while. This does happen to be my five year old’s favorite of the bunch if that says anything.

The Magic Labyrinthfinal_magiclabyrinth71

The bottom half of the box is used to set up a maze with adjustable wooden walls. The game board is set on top of the maze (so you can’t see the walls). Each player has a wizard piece that sits on top of the game board. The wizard has a magnet on his feet and there is a metal ball the goes on the underside of the board beneath the wizard’s feet. As you move from square to square collecting magic symbols, you are in danger of running into a wall that causes your metal ball to fall. When this happens you have to start over from the beginning. The first wizard to collect 5 magic symbols wins.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 9

This is a remarkably well thought-out game. The rules are easy to follow. The setup of the maze is simple and can be changed every game for endless variety. Sometimes my son will slowly move his wizard and feel the ball starting to hit a wall and want to move back, so, we made it a rule that once you start moving in the direction of a new square, you must complete the move.

Quality Production – 10

This game is a delight to play. The design of the game board is innovative. The wizard pieces are solid wood. The artwork is truly fantastic. The artist is Rolf Vogt, and I would buy any game for which he did the artwork.

Family Friendly – 10

We all love this game. I would honestly play it with my adult friends, and it would be fun. The kids win just as much as we do. This one is destined to be a family classic.

the vonbeumerschutz – a beer by beer recap

photo3Yesterday, I participated in a backyard beer festival called The VonBeumerSchutz. It was also a sausage fest (innuendo intended). If I didn’t know anything about this gathering before going, it would have exceeded all my expectations for what a backyard beer festival could possibly be. The central event of the evening was a beer tasting contest. Each of the guests brought one of their favorite micro-brews to share with the other drinkers. By the end of the night, I tasted close to 40 different craft beers. Some were home brews, some from local breweries, many different flavors, styles, and colors. It was an excellent evening and you should check out the VBS Facebook page here.

The contest portion included a worksheet for taking notes and scoring all the different beers. After each of the 4 sessions, you would refer to your notes and vote for your favorite beer of that session. At the end of the evening, there was a final vote between the winners of each session to determine a grand champion. My friend, Marty, took the home the grand prize trophy for his excellent home brew. Here’s a pic of the champ.

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At one point in the evening, a few of my neighboring suds sippers peeked at my notes and made a couple of observations. The first being that I have no clue how to score beer. I know enough to know what color a beer might be when you tell me the style. I may have a good idea of how it will taste too…but that’s about it. I don’t know much about the brewing process or the geographical origins of certain styles. Other aficionados were noting the subtle chocolate, fruit, or nutty flavors and talking about the ‘finish’. For me, it was either “my belly wants more of that” or “that tastes like pure gasoline”. The second observation my neighbors made was that I’m a big smart ass. Rather than writing ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ for each one, I just wrote what was on my mind during each selection. So, just to affirm that I am a smart-ass weirdo, I’ve transcribed my notes for each beer at yesterday’s wonderful festival. Here they are in the same order I drunk them:

Hub Lager – Meh…wondering why I still can’t grow a full beard. photo2
The Bruery Saison De Lente – Either somebody near me is wearing funky aftershave or Deep Woods Off.
Marty Goss Home Brew (the winning beer) – Yum. Feeling less hopeless about our nation’s health care problems.
Great Divide Fresh Hop – Freshy. Makes me want to go do laundry.
Rogue Bragot – Hmm sweet…could probably get my kids to drink this before bed.
Lagunitas Brown Shugga Substitute – Yeah! Humming that D’angelo song.
Paradise Creek Sacred Cow Milk Stout – Smooth coffee…and I don’t have to poop immediately; bonus!
Elysian Dragonstooth Stout – kinda like the last one, with cigarette butts floating in it.
Laughing Dog Anubis Coffee Porter – Pretty good I think…too bad I still have ash tray mouth.
Rogue Farms Good Chit Pilsner – I love good beer puns! (I also hate coffee stand puns)
Huckleberry Harvest Ale – This won’t put any hair on yer chest.
North Coast PraQster – Smells like Copenhagen chewing tobacco…reminds of chewing during class in high school.
Home Brew – I would boil fish in this…I’d also drink more of it. photo1
Russian River Brewery Supplicant – I’m glad I didn’t bring a sour beer.
Grand Teton XX Bitch Creek ESB (my selection) – I’m such a homer…but it kinda sucks.
Ayinger Celebrator Dopplebock – I like the way dopplebock sounds when you say it…but it tastes like dopplebutt.
Iron Horse Irish Death – Bon Jovi made a Celtic album. Also a good beer.
Steam Plant Double Stack Stout – good for flavoring ice cream
HUB Survival 7 Grain Stout – Reminds me of dating a 3rd cousin…too complex. (for the record, I’ve never dated a relative)
Kona Big Wave Golden Ale – Yep…but any beer is good while eating mustard brats from here.
Paradise Creek Dirty Blonde – Wouldn’t take it home to mom, but I’d still do it.
Iron Horse Lagunatic – Good breakfast substitute.
Home Brew – Tastes like it was made at home.
Sound Brewery Monk’s Indiscretion – Oaky afterbirth.
Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ale – I’m glad we’re only sampling 1oz.
Nimbus Old Monkeyshine English Style Ale – Could shine a car too.
Maui Brewing Coconut Porter – Harry Nilsson was the American Beatle. Humming his coconut sonphotog.
No-Li Wrecking Ball – Great on pancakes.
Deschutes Black Butte XXV – This beer is James Toney circa 2006.
Beck’s Sapphire – I think sapphire is my birthstone. I wouldn’t drink this on my birthday.
Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA – Race Cars+Texas ranger+British = crap.
Harvester Brewing Gluten Free IPA – Like Ghostbusters, when they crossed the streams. (the hoppiest beer I ever had)
Lost Abbey Inferno Ale – Remembering the show Lost….shitty ending.
North Coast Brewing Old Rasputin – I wanna try New Rasputin…maybe it’s just as good and we’re wasting time. (MH joke)
Great Divide Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti – The hammer. Ready to go home now.

month of may

May 2013 was an amazing month for music. So much good music was released that my ear stomach is going to burst. It reminded me of a recent jaunt to the Dockside restaurant in Coeur d’Alene. It was my wife’s birthday and she wanted to have brunch with friends. When we walked into the room where the spread of food was laid out like an amusement park, one of our dear friends (who had never seen this kind of buffet previously) actually started weeping while having visions of the afterlife and a heavenly feast. I ate several pounds of breakfast meats, made to order crepes, an everything omelet, had 4 different flavors of mimosa, and many dessert goodies. It was almost too much.

My wife’s Dockside birthday brunch is to food as May 2013 is to music. It was almost too much. So many great albums were released that I have not had time to digest all the music I’ve consumed. For those of you who don’t keep up with new releases or if you were in a coma last month (maybe you had brunch at The Dockside), I’ve posted some of the best releases from last month below (4 major recording artists and 2 of my favorite local bands from Spokane).

Modern Vampires of the City
by Vampire Weekend
vw-1366657735
The first two albums from VW didn’t grab me. I couldn’t feel a connection between the music/rhythms versus the lyrical content and melodies. This album, however, knocks it out of the park.

Once I Was An Eagle
by Laura Marling
laura-marling-once-i-was-an-eagle-1368722617
I first heard Laura Marling a few years ago when she was singing with Mumford & Sons. I think about each of their most recent offerings. While a don’t like a lot of the choices Mumford and Sons made on their last album, I love just about every choice and risk Laura Marling made on hers. This might be the best album of the year.

Trouble Will Find Me
by The National
Print
Another brilliant record from one of my very favorite bands. It’s different than High Violet for which I’m thankful. To be clear, I love High Violet. I just prefer when bands take different directions and explore new musical avenues. This album will take a few listens to start catching all the nuances.

Random Access Memories
by Daft Punk
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One of the more hyped albums of recent memory. When the teaser came out, I pretty much crapped myself. I love the end result, although I’ve heard a few negative things from some of my friends. These particular friends simply aren’t ready for retro cyber disco jams made by robots from the future.

Off My Chain
by Cathedral Pearls
a2508638288_10
One of my favorite Spokane bands. CP wrote, recorded, and released these songs in the span of a few months as a DIY project. The songs have a congruency and intimacy that comes across nicely as you listen to the album as a whole. Caleb Ingersoll did a really nice job mastering these tracks. You can listen to and buy the album here.

Les
by Dead Serious Lovers
a3560053153_10
Technically, this album was released on April 30th, but that’s close enough. Another great Spokane band. This album is definitely worth your time…unique harmonic structures throughout, lyrics that tend to be sullen and sometimes cryptic but always poetic, and great melodic hooks. You can listen to and buy the album here.

the pantheon of great animated movies

If the internet is good for anything, it is good for having a list for almost everything. (See listverse.com). Top 10 lists can be definitive, but many of them are extremely bias and are mostly conjecture. We all tie a bit of our identities to the things we like, the things we think are best, and that’s why we’re drawn to lists. If we agree with the list, then our very lives are validated and all is right with the world. If we disagree with a list, then the author is either trying too hard to be a cool smartypants, or is an uneducated ass-face. So get ready to give me either high-fives or punches in the face as I present to you the first of my “Pantheon” lists of great movies.

A couple of quick notes:

  • There is no hierarchy or particular order in the Pantheon.
  • Each Pantheon will have 5 to 7 movies.
  • Each genre has its own Pantheon, and genres will have specific parameters (for example, “Jerry Maguire” is not a sports movie…which is a moot point because that pile wouldn’t be in the Pantheon anyway).
  • I have an open mind, and I’m willing to hear your arguments. I’m totally willing to bump something out of the Pantheon if you can make a good case. So, please chime in and make comments. Also, if your movie gets into the Pantheon, I’ll buy you an ice cream cone. Seriously.

First up, a genre very dear to my heart, Animated Films. I love watching cartoons with my kids more than they do…and yes, I did solicit their opinions for this list.

Akira – The landmark “Japanimation” film. If you’ve ever wondered who actually watches stuff in the “Anime” category on Netflix, it’s all those kids who watched Akira in the late 80’s and got hooked. I remember watching this when I was 10 years old. I’d never seen anything like it, especially when the first motorcycle gang fight against the clowns happened. This movie is in the Pantheon because it successfully bridged anime into an American sub-culture.

akira_james_franco

Pinocchio – There has to be a classic Disney film in the Pantheon. Walt Disney considered Pinocchio and Fantasia to be his masterpieces. I went with Pinocchio for the Pantheon over Fantasia because of the strength and timelessness of its narrative.

pinocchio-1940-04-g
Wall-E – Choosing a Pixar was tough too, but I landed on Wall-E for a few reasons. The film succeeds with basically no dialogue for the entire first act. It makes poignant political statements without being heavy-handed. Most of all, Wall-E reminds us of our creative potential as humans, and begs us to not trade beauty for convenience. Amazing!

Wall-E
My Neighbor Totoro – In so many modern children shows and movies, adults and children are pitted against each other. You often have a child protagonist and a mean, bossy parent or teacher (or whatever authority figure) in the child’s way of so-called happiness and freedom. My wife and I have tried to avoid these films (and there are many), and we have been delighted by the way most Miyazaki films approach family relationships. In My Neighbor Totoro, the parents and grannies of the world are loving and therefore loved by the children. The parents aren’t portrayed as obstacles, but as nurturers. Also, consider how fast-paced children’s movies are in our current ADD culture. Miyazaki films move at a different pace, and there is enough beauty, adventure, and mystery to hold any child’s attention.

My.Neighbor.Totoro.full_.34268

Beauty and the Beast – I love a good musical, and this one still makes me laugh and sing out loud. The story is classic and timeless, and has one of the all-time best villains in Gaston. You could argue that The Little Mermaid paved the way for Disney’s new era of animated films, but BATB is simply better and it solidified everything TLM started….and as far as “Disney Princesses” go, I’ll take Belle over Ariel any day.

if-you-give-trust-you-will-get-trust-beauty-and-the-beast-32448279-1920-1080