Sunday, May 25, 2014

Don't Know Much About History...

I never was much interested in history in school. Lifeless statistics and summarized events were never particularly appealing to me. It should have been though, because I love great stories and history is full of them, the fact they are real should have been all the more astounding. The thing is, the famous people were boring and the “this happened, then this happened, then this happened” is not the most interesting way to get information about an event.

Nowadays, I am enjoying history more and even reading a history book! Non-fiction! It’s crazy! I’m currently reading “A People’s History of The United States” by Howard Zinn, and it is opening my mind.

See, another thing about the history we learn in early schooling is that it feels so sanitized. We don’t learn the horrors or atrocities that were committed (unless they were committed by non-americans), only the end results. That’s why this book is really compelling. Zinn gives voice to the voiceless of the past. He tells the story of Columbus from the side of the natives, slavery from the voice of the slaves, and the industrial revolution from the side of the poor. He tells the truth about the “founding fathers”, who wanted the poor to revolt but in a certain way, without too much ‘property damage’. He tells the story about the Native Americans, being told to move again and again, always with more promises of being left alone that were never fulfilled. The story about the American elite pushing the poor to revolt but in a certain way, so that not too much property was destroyed, how the American elite took the land from the British loyalist and divided it up amongst themselves, making the revolution quite a wealthy endeavor for the elites who never had to risk their lives during the war. Zinn tells about the terrible conditions for the working poor throughout the beginning of America, how Unions were formed to fight 14-hour work-days and awful working conditions in factories. He talks about how Socialism rose out of this and was rather popular back in the day, because of how much the wealthy were taking advantage of the workers, in every setting and situation.

I’d never learned about how much class conflict there really was throughout America’s history. You really see why Unions are important and why they were formed in the first place. You also see how depressing the true story of America’s history is. The history of America is about the wealthy and powerful attaining as much wealth and power as possible, while giving the disenfranchised poor just enough so they will not rise up and revolt. It’s sickening to see how people treat each other. How the only consideration people seemed to have (and still do), is for acquiring more and more wealth. We are a nation, even a world, of ME ME ME ME ME. All that matters is me and mine, my stuff.

Zinn uses statistics and logical reasoning for his telling of America’s history, along with many documents written by those who lived during the period. Newspaper articles, speeches, letters, other historian’s research, etc. to tell the story of our history from a large variety of viewpoints. One paragraph near the beginning really stuck with me and tells you the kind of historian Zinn is.
“My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization…)-that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth….The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)-the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they-the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole….My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different...Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest...between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners...Thus, in the inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson, as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of Scott’s army, of the rise of industrialism as seen by the young women in the Lowell textile mills, of the Spanish-American war as seen by the Cubans….And so on, to the limited extent that any one person...can “see” history from the standpoint of others.”

I could go on. I’ve dog-eared many a page in this book simply so I can go back and find certain passages that I found myself really invested in. I love this book because it feels as though I am truly learning about the history of the United States, facing the past of what has been a country filled with violence and brutality but also filled with those who fight and rise for the betterment of their fellows often times against tremendous odds in dangerous situations. It’s depressing but enlightening, at the same time.

I am not yet finished with it, barely halfway through the large volume, currently reading about the early 1900s, Unions forming and the idea of Socialism growing. I am sure I will have more thoughts on it after I finish, which I will put up here. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about our nation’s history.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Board games

Recently I've begun getting into board games. I used to play them as all kids do, Monopoly and Life and Risk. There's a certain enjoyment about engaging in an activity with friends and family where you have to compete to achieve a goal and overcome a challenge using diplomacy or planning or whatever else. I really enjoy this type of thing. I enjoy socializing, being engaged along with others in an activity where you struggle and compete. It's why I enjoy sports. It's why I enjoy playing video games online with friends. Working together and just hanging out is fun. Talking out strategy, figuring out systems and moves, it's all fun. 

What is it about board games though? Why the recent interest? I've been thinking about it. I used to enjoy playing "split-screen" on console games on my friend's televisions, either playing against each other or working together to play through the game cooperatively. There's something about being in the same physical space as others, talking and joking around while cooperating or competing for some objective. Old classic board games had this and so did splitscreen video games. Problem is splitscreen console video games have faded away, replaced by online gaming, which just isn't the same, even with voice chat and all that jazz. As for "classic" board games...Well, to be honest, they all suck. Roll and move is a bad system for play since luck basically determines everything. Monopoly and life, whoever lands on the best spaces wins. Scrabble gets boring because it's just words. Not only are the old classic board games boring because their system of play is too dependent on luck or outdated, they have no theme. 

Theme is awesome. Theme is story, it's character, it's life, in a board game. Theme takes the games systems and uses them to provide a world you interact with, a setting you play in, a story you create with others. THEME! Monopoly? yay I get property and then jack up prices high so my friends can't afford rent? That' Life? Yay I get life....BORING! NEEDS MORE THEME! Why not play a group of firefighters desperately trying to save victims from a burning building? Why not play as scientists desperately trying to save the world from a disease by racing around the world to develop cures and build research stations? Why not play as a desperate band of investigators fighting monsters and trying to stop the Cthulthu from invading and destroying the world? What about a team sent to the desert to dig up an ancient city, only the helicopter crashes and you have to find ancient pieces to an ancient flying device to get you to safety, meanwhile trying to stay hydrated and not get lost in the sandstorm? 

Or maybe working together isn't quite your thing. What about playing as a family living in a quaint village, simply trying to make your family name more reputable than anyone elses, by traveling or rising up the ranks of the church or village council, or building crafts to sell at the market, meanwhile time always passes and the older folks of your family begin to die, forcing you to make choices about who dies where just to get the most respect from the village you can? How about playing as heroes from the Arabian Nights, traveling around the world having adventures and trying to be the most heroic and awesome, getting things like cursed and crippled or even becoming a sultan along the way? How about playing as Merlin and the Knights of the round table, attempting to perform quests but some of you are secretly working for mordred and sneakily trying to make the quests fail without giving yourselves away? How about a game about Ladies and Gentlemen where the Gentlemen go to work and try to get as much money as they can so they can buy things for their Lady, meanwhile the Lady is trying to buy the prettiest things and put together a nice outfit for the coming ball? Now imagine playing that game but having the guys play the Ladies and the girls play the Gentlemen? Doesn't that sound like fun?


You might have thought board games are for children but that's as true as saying video games are for kids, or comic books, or anything. It's all 'play', why label this category of awesome games as 'just for children'? How many drinking games do you play? I bet you could have just as much fun having a beer and playing a board game with friends as any drinking game. You might think board games are boring but that's ridiculous! There are so many out there, with so many different rules and themes, you are bound to find one you and your friends will enjoy. 

I got my entire family to play a game of Avalon, about Arthur's knights attempting quests while the minions of mordred, secret evil knights, attempted to make the quests fail. They enjoyed it tremendously. There was backstabbing, lying, deception, shouting, and glee. I thought the only person I could trust was my brother Josh, in one game, and at the final quest, for the final reveal, it turned out he'd been a spy all along. It was awesome. 

This is why I've gotten into board games and why I want others to get into them as well. They are just FUN. With friends! You get to fiddle with little bits, tokens and figures. You get to roll dice and play cards. Fun!

Here, watch this short video, it's kind of an intro-to-boardgaming-thing by a website that reviews, previews, and just generally talks about board games and the board gaming hobby.

For another cool video about how we are in board gaming's golden age, what with the variety and depth and sheer awesomeness of board games coming out, check this out:

Seriously, if you have a group of friends, get them together and try a board game. It's just fun, pure and simple. 

Want to hear about the games I've played? Alright, here goes, quick tidbits.

Arkham Horror is the first real board game I bought with a friend. You play a team of investigators trying to stop Ancient Horrors like Cthulthu from invading and destroying the world. You stop this by traveling around Arkham, fighting horrible monsters, gathering up clues, and trying to close dimensional gates. It's hectic, crazy, takes planning and teamwork, and is fun. The sheer amount of tokens and cards is ridiculous, as is the size of the board, but big complex board games are awesome and this is one of the most ridiculous. 

Village is a nice quaint board game where each player controls a family that owns a farm and spends time in the village. Time is spent as a sort of currency, allowing players to send members of the family on jobs and traveling across the world or ascending rank in councils or churches but time never stops and know what that means? People die. And you'll be planning for it, making sure grandma makes a couple wagons before she croaks, choosing an appropriate time so she gets recorded in the village record book rather than buried in an unmarked grave. That's right, you'll be picking and choosing when and where the oldest generation dies so you can get the most points out of it. It also means you'll be making babies. Well, the family you control will be making babies, so you can send them off to the village to do more things. It's fun. It's competitive but not too much, each player able to kind of do their own thing. 

Descent is a game where all but one of the players play heroic heroes fighting monsters, meanwhile the other lone player plays the overlord controlling the monsters and trying to stop the heroes. Fantasy tactical action at its best. 

Avalon is a game where your mother will get mad at you for asking if she's a spy, because she really is one, meanwhile you can completely trust your brother and it's revealed on the final quest that he was one of the spies all along. It's betrayal, lies, and deceit. You won't trust anyone after. There will be shouts of joy and horror at the same time. It's fantastic. 

Forbidden Desert has the players playing a team that fly a helicopter to a buried ancient city in the (you guessed it) desert, only the helicopter crashes and the team must attempt to dig up clues that point to pieces of an ancient flying machine that can get you to safety. Unfortunately, a horrible sandstorm messes with everything, the sand rises all the time and the sun beats down, making you thirstier and thirstier. You always think you have a chance while the dangers grow and grow until they overwhelm you, likely only a turn or two from escaping. Great co-op game. 

And that's about it, for now. I will continue to play more games and let you know what I think about them as I do. PLAY SOME GAMES