#tabletopthursday recap: ‘Lords of Waterdeep’

Michael rocking a swatch made by Judith Feist, which he won after a narrow victory in ‘Lords of Waterdeep.’

Last night, the Android Dungeon gaming group got together for our first gaming session of the new year, and we started the new year off appropriately enough: with a new game.

Our host and Benevolent Bearded Overlord Michael picked up “Lords of Waterdeep” (LoW) over the break after scoring a huge trade for the remainder of his Magic collection (and we all applaud him for getting THAT monkey off his back). You can get the full rundown on the game all over the internet, but here’s a basic rundown:

The game: LoW is Wizards of the Coast’s foray into eurogaming, meaning it plays like a eurogame but is themed behind their biggest title “Dungeons and Dragons.” As Julian put it, “you know the people who do the quests in D&D? These are the guys administrating them.” The game operates behind a straightforward worker placement mechanic that makes perfect sense to anyone who has played “Agricola” or “Caylus.”

Session recap: Julian had played this before, but otherwise, this was the first time playing for the other four of us. Our setup (and setup in general) was pretty simple and doesn’t take much time. Those of us who hadn’t played picked up the game pretty quickly.

The early rush in the game was toward buildings, with most of us seeing the benefits of expanding worker options and reaping any long-term benefits. I was shut out of first-player privileges early on and so focused on a couple quests. Since I was scoring quests and not building, I jumped out to an early lead.

As Adam built buildings (I think he had at least six by the end of the game), most of us tried to balance expansion through building with completing quests. I tried to focus on incremental victory point growth while working toward the hidden goals of my Lord (who scored bonuses from Warfare and Commerce quests) and getting the bonuses from the plot quests I’d managed to complete. Michael built up a sizable lead through one of his patented megaturns, completing a couple of big quests in round 5.

I managed some late-game heroics by seizing the Administrator and First Player for the next-to-last round, allowing me to gobble up plenty of meeples for a run on two fairly large quests. At game end, I’d managed to tie Michael, but lost by two points after we tallied our Lord bonuses. The game was closer at the end than we might have thought mid-game, which I think bodes well for end-game interest in future games.

Other things worth noting 

  • Earlier in the evening I attended an opening for an exhibition at the Plains Art Museum called “My Generation, Let’s Take It Over” and took a swatch from a participatory installation by Judith Feist. Audience members were encouraged to take one of the swatches and give it to someone they know, and I decided it would go to the victor of our game. Michael is rocking it there in the photo.
  • Pat joined us for the first time last night. He’s more of a video game guy and this was one of his first tabletop experiences in a long while. He picked it up no problem, enjoyed it, and made some great jokes (Julian: “What did Betty White do before ‘Golden Girls’?” Pat: “‘Silver Girls.'”). And here’s the kicker: he brought some tasty home-brewed mead. Welcome, Pat!
  • We briefly mourned the departure of Chris, one of the Android Dungeon’s founding members, last night. Chris is a web guy and began working remotely recently, so he’s taking the opportunity to go on a spirit quest couchsurfing in warmer climates. Oh, he’ll be back, but in the meantime we’ll miss his bickering with Julian, which is usually not at all awkward or time-wasting.

It was so cold outside today…HOW COLD WAS IT?


It was so cold that I was outside for 10 minutes and turned into ^this guy.

No, not really. But I did spend almost an hour getting our car started because our battery fused into a hunk of worthless plastic and battery goo. Then, the car started and, feeling triumphant, I decided to go to Target for cat food, because this Valhalla for heroes like me.

No, not really. Actually, I did see a few wights shuffling down Center Avenue. I could see they would have liked a ride, but there’s no way I was going to roll down the window and talk to them. I would have lost too much heat out of the car.

I do hope they found an elk zombie to ride on.

Thing of the day: a chat with the sun

It’s extremely cold in Fargo-Moorhead today. The schools are closed and a good chunk of life has ground to a chilly halt.

I’m working from home today as a result, and in an effort to put an end to this madness I had a quick meeting with the one entity that could really do something about it: the sun.

The sun was out doing his/her work and looks to be putting in a full day today, and in our talk s/he made it clear that s/he is doing all we can really expect him/her to do.

“Can’t you do something about this?” I said.

“You’re the ones with the wacky atmosphere,” s/he said. “And, if I were to turn up the heat just for your sake, I’d probably do some damage somewhere else.” S/he proceeded to tell me that it’s 91 degrees Fahrenheit in Rio de Janeiro, and is it really fair to them to heat things up just because of our polar vortex?

S/he also brought up axial tilt, saying “you’re not expecting me to claim having anything to do with that, do you?” When I said, “well, maybe,” s/he replied defiantly: “prove it.”

By this time I was losing all feeling in all parts of my body so I figured I’d let the sun carry the day (pun intended). The sun, by the way, is a rather decent enough heavenly body. A little prickly and maybe a bit bossy, but generally a good mass of incandescent gas and gigantic nuclear furnace to have around. Conclusion: don’t blame the sun, but also don’t expect it to really give a fig, either.

Thing of the Day: something my four year old said, and synesthesia


Earlier today, I had to share the following anecdote with my Facebook friends:

Last night, we watched the Doctor Who ep where Amy and the Doctor visit Vincent Van Gogh. Edie said “he paints what he sees!” I asked her what she paints, not really expecting so concise an answer:

“I paint what I think. I paint what I feel.”

I wish I could communicate the simple conviction in her voice. It was awesome.

In particular, Edie was responding to a scene in which Van Gogh emphatically shares his perception of the world around him and the many wonders of nature he attempts to capture with his painting. At one point, he talks about the sounds that colors make. I, in no way, have any reason to doubt the historical accuracy of Doctor Who, but I was curious to know if Van Gogh was, indeed, a synesthete. Turns out he might have been.

Synesthesia could be considered another wonder of nature. In sensing one piece of phenomena, synesthetes will involuntarily experience an additional sensation, meaning they might associate a color with a certain letter, or a color with a certain type of sound. They can literally hear color, or see sound. I find that trait enviable for some reason. Seems to me like I’m missing out on something if I don’t get a bonus sensory release when I experience it.

Moreover, I find it endearing that her interest was piqued by seeing an artist talk about painting on her favorite TV show and made a connection based on that. And, she’s a pretty good painter–easily my favorite artist.

(Image from ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ via Wikipedia.)

Artists at work

A couple weeks back, I wrote up a lengthy ARTSpulse piece (it also ran in the Forum) on how artists stitch together a living. For the article, I interviewed four artists who consider themselves professional/working, a distinction I allowed them to self-define. It was a lot of hard work – I had to arrange four separate portrait shoots and conducted half-hour interviews with all four artists, plus one other artist who bowed out of a final interview. But, it was a joy to write.

The aim of the piece was to dispel the idea, framed pretty well in the piece by McCal Johnson, that artists don’t work. Somehow, the popular notion of artist gets tangled up with notions that they are lazy, entitled, smug, or simply wasting all of our time with silly things that only mean something to silly people.

Market demands for their products and skills rarely pay all the bills, so many artists supplement their income with day jobs or teach. In some cases, that works really well for a given artist; it might provide them with subjects and challenges that reinforce their work. In other cases, it hurts; artists might not have the resources to attain their creative goals. That’s a shame, but it also might be an example of the limitations of market demand.

I don’t have any ideas how to create a way for artists to simply do what they do and make a living from it, and I don’t think that was the point of this piece. I’m no utopian, and I don’t think the connection made in the article to running a small business is inaccurate or at all unfair. Being an artist involves a substantial amount of risk and low return on that risk, like a small business. But, most of us setting out to open a small business aren’t fighting an uphill battle against a collective mindset that our enterprise is largely pointless or worthless. And that was the point: while you think they’re off in a coffee shop somewhere talking about Proust, a working artist is probably addressing envelopes, cleaning their studio, or trying to set up their own website.

At the root of what I love to do is, and always will be, curiosity. I love how it plays out across all human endeavor, but especially in creative endeavor. Hopefully, an article like this serves to convince people that the activities that creative people do have value and that, essentially, artists work just as hard as anyone else to create that value. Maybe even harder.

Women hold up half of the (comedy) sky

I finally took a few hours over this past weekend to watch the final season of “30 Rock,” a show I found absolutely delightful. The jokes were always top-notch, the characters quirky and subtly resonant, and the satire deftly wielded.

With the end of Tina Fey’s magnum opus on entertainment/television, class, and race comes questions about her lasting legacy and a broader question that gets discussed a lot nowadays: whether women are considered to be funny and begin to make advancements in the male-dominated comedy world of sitcoms, movies, late-night, and standup. It was a point of contention handled with the usual charm in the final season of “30 Rock” and is especially relevant with Carol Burnett being recently awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, presented by the Kennedy Center for the Arts. She is the first woman to win the award.

The question might be better framed thusly: whether women like Fey and Burnett are considered exceptions to the rule by the entertainment industry and whether their legacy will allow for better gender representation in comedy in the years to come. From that standpoint, I think we have more work to do. Funny women in entertainment seem to come with an mental asterisk, as if the men at the helm want us to assume that the show they’re putting on works despite the fact that it’s run by a woman or stars a woman … or, even worse, depends on that fact and their sole purpose is to fulfill some demographically unavoidable place at the entertainment table. That’s not going to cut it.

Tina Fey is one of my favorite funny famous people, a role model and hero of mine for her ability to turn phrase and equally play to the head and the heart, but funny women fill my personal life, too. My wife makes me laugh all the time. My sisters and I share a love of good-natured goofiness. My boss is incredibly quick and clever with a punchline. At no point do I ever think “these people are funny … for a woman.” I just laugh. And if you laugh because someone says something, they’re funny. Let’s hope that’s the legacy of Tina Fey, Carol Burnett, et al., and that we begin to see more opportunity play out for women in the years to come. Maybe in the process we can also stop asking ourselves the ridiculous question of whether women are funny or not.

Why I love to interview creative people

Yesterday, I posted this brief profile of Jackie Anderson on ARTSpulse. Jackie is an artist who spent more than three decades teaching art in Fargo-Moorhead, and over the course of her +50-year career touched the lives of countless students and members of the community. I’m one of them. Jackie has such an infectious positive attitude, and she’s wickedly intelligent and wickedly funny.

My interview with Jackie was about an hour long. Usually, 20 or 30 minutes suffices for an interview, but this was too much fun. She had sharp opinions and gushed on and on about her extensive (and enviable) travels, and you just don’t close people like that down. You let them talk.

The profile of Jackie capped off a busy, two-week stretch where I interviewed about about a dozen visual artists, musicians, actors, and gallery directors in Fargo-Moorhead for various stories. I can honestly say I enjoyed every single interview, and I think it’s because creative people are always interesting. They give a bit of verbal tussle every now and again, have sharp opinions, and generally appreciate the opportunity to talk about the stuff they do, making them easily quotable and a joy to talk to.

As I continue to find these great people to interview, I’m also working as hard as I can to provide interviews to match. I’ve been actively trying for a while now to get better at interviews, and I think they fall into the easy-to-learn, hard-to-master category. It’s a skill I admire in folks like Dick Gordon or Terry Gross. And as I work toward that, I’m thrilled that I get to do it with such tremendous personalities.

In praise of book art


For a recent piece over at ARTSpulse (and The Forum), I profiled Meredith Lynn, book artist and owner of Rust Belt Bindery. I took away more than just the story, though. I took away a big appreciation for book arts.

I’ve gotten to interview a lot of artists, and never have I ever been able to physically handle any of their work, but as I spoke with Meredith, she handed me book after book, letting me open pages, unfold them, and take slips of paper out of slender holders. This sense of tactility drew me in, and the novelty of the experience put it at odds with so many other creative endeavors I experience that, at one point, they began to seem so drab and lifeless by comparison. “Yeah, but I can TOUCH this,” I said to myself.

Books offer a feast for the eyes through images and text, just as any decent literary work or visual art piece should. But add in that extra dimension–that tactility–and they take on a certain enchantment because of that. Their pages whisper together in your fingertips, and maybe that whisper is telling you all about a past where you always got to hold beautiful objects in your hands and were maybe taught how to make them yourself as a matter of course. In these days of gifs and memes and precise installations in white cubes, that really means something.

Internet of the Day: Hot Dog Legs

Hot dogs or legs? YOU DECIDE.

Today, (with h/t thanks to Mike Rugnetta) I discovered the Tumblr Hot Dog Legs. The premise is simple: there’s a photo per post, and in each there’s two tubes of flesh protruding from the bottom. Be they hot dogs, or human legs?

Discovering a weird Tumblr (like, say, Extra Crispy) provides a feeling that, I can only assume, is akin to the excitement an archeologist receives when discovering something as yet unknown but mostly pointless, like the fact that ancient peoples preferred to part their hair to one side or the other.

FM Chamber Chorale comes together through enthusiasm and variety-filled spring concert (x-post)

Below is a recent feature I wrote up over at my dayjob blog, ARTSpulse, about the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber Chorale. I also got to take the fun photo posted with it and grabbed a snippet of video that I posted to the ARTSpulse Vimeo account.

This was a fun story to write. Michael Culloton, the Chorale’s newish artistic director, was a treat to interview. Athena Gracyk, a soprano with the Chorale, also granted a wonderful interview, and both Athena and Michael displayed a passion and drive for their work that I found inspiring. Also, anyone who knows me knows that I’m not exactly a vocal music type of guy. I like things like beats and ripping guitars. But it’s still easy to notice the training and execution it takes to make music like this happen, and that alone makes it worth hearing. I might just turn into vocal music type of guy yet.


Fargo-Moorhead Chamber Chorale presents A Choral Collage
Saturday, May 11, 7:30 p.m.
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd (4000 28th Street South, Moorhead)

It’s hot–about 80 degrees–in the choir rehearsal room at NDSU’s Reineke Fine Arts building, and the assembled members of the FM Chamber Chorale give Michael Culloton, their artistic director, an earful about it.

“What am I, the Laney’s guy?” he quips.

The group has a hearty chuckle, and Culloton follows it up by challenging the singers to use their imagination and think of themselves in a much nicer place, like a sauna or at the beach. Without missing a step, he then leads them through some of the trickier phrases in the group’s upcoming spring program, stopping them and dispensing instructions like “you’re coming down too quickly out of that note, but of course it can be more of a falsetto head voice because you can crescendo out of it into bar two.”

Athena Gracyk, second soprano for the Chamber Chorale, appreciates that approach.

“He has a very good sense of humor and brings a great level of enthusiasm and enjoyment to the practices. It’s very fun to work with him,” Gracyk said. “Chamber music can be serious business, but his approach to the music and his efforts has a lightness that makes the practices fun but makes us focus.”

That acknowledgement goes both ways. In this, his first season as artistic director of the 33-year-old organization, Culloton been putting the group through its paces with a wide variety of music in a hope to (forgive the pun) take their temperature and gauge their interest while creating quality programming.

“This is kind of a getting-to-know us time for the singers and I in our first season together, so I set out to do a variety of music from a variety of time periods. Now I start to see what they really love (by their reactions),” Culloton said. “I tell them to take out the Brahms piece and I can hear them get excited, I get to read the room a little bit.”

The Chamber Chorale will flex their talents with a spring program that features 500 years worth of material, from the Renaissance all the way up to the premier of a specially commissioned piece by saxophonist and Concordia College jazz instructor Russ Peterson. Along the way, the group will also perform selections from Schumann, Brahms, and Schubert, plus a set of Canadian concert music and folk songs. Gracyk said she is especially fond of Being Peace, the commissioned piece by Peterson.

“I love the intention of it and what it’s saying to our listeners, that we need to get along, we need to be peaceful,” she said.

As they get to know each other better, Culloton said he looks forward to the weekly rehearsals (climate controlled or not) with the Chorale and relishes the supplement it provides to his role teaching at Concordia College and to the doctorate work he’s currently undertaking at NDSU.

“There’s something to be said for adults who like to give up their time after they’re done with their work day and still come and sing for two hours. It’s a true, community-based ensemble,” Culloton said.

Image: Michael Culloton (foreground) runs the FM Chamber Chorale through a “frisbee-tossing” vocal exercise in the choir rehearsal room in NDSU’s Reineke Fine Arts building. Photo by the author.