Tabletop Tuesday - Utter Nonsense

It was a cold and snowy Saturday night when my regular game night group met up for a night of trying out some new games. One became an instant favorite, the other one not so much. This is the story of the latter.

Utter Nonsense is an ok game... it's just not for me. Or for the other three people sitting around that glass covered table. We played the “Naughty” version. Basically, the players are each dealt seven cards with very topical statements. This is my first problem with this game. A year from now many of those cards will seem so irrelevant or totally nonsensical. I like an evergreen element in a game. I want to be able to pick up a game five years later and play it.

One player acts as the judge. He or she plays a card that describes an accent that all of the players need to read one of their cards in. Then the judge picks one player as the winner. This was problem number two. Having one judge leads to picking a winner based on factors not necessarily based on gameplay. Artificially choosing a winner to keep the game going, or to appease a complaining player or whatever. Perhaps if all the players vote on which one was best the results would be fairer.

I think that perhaps my group is too old for this game and that a younger crowd might like it a little better. Actually, I could see this being pretty entertaining to watch if it were improv comics playing the game. I’ll say this my pirate impression is dead on. But my Donald Trump was a bad impression of bad impressions of Donald Trump. I was a little uncomfortable with some of the subject matter, especially in mixed company. I know that there is an entire generation of card games that pride themselves in outrageous language. But for me, it just didn't work.

The game has easy rules, and you can start playing as soon as you sit down at the table. I could see how people could really like this game. Perhaps in addition to us being too old (late 30s early 40s ... not that old), we were also to sober to really get the most out of the game.

Note: I was given a copy of Utter Nonsense to facilitate this review but all opinions are my own.


Let me AXE you a question

Like many days in my life, I was sitting behind my phone scrolling through Facebook, then I saw something magical. I had followed a video link and went down the rabbit hole. And there it was the most awesome video ever. 

Jason Mamoa (Khal Drogo from 9 episodes of Game of Thrones ...I refuse to call him Aquaman from the garbage fire that was Justice League) was in what looked like a place where you interrogate hostages. He takes a big swing of beer, then picks up an axe and hurls it towards a target on a wooden wall. Bullseye

I knew that I had to do that. 

I immediately searched for axe throwing places. Nothing close enough to make an hours worth of throwing worth the drive. I lamented. And then did what any sane person would do. I bought some throwing axes on Amazon. They were clearly too small for me(and what I would learn later, way too light). But I set up a target in the backyard, I threw a little. The kids threw a little. It was alright. 

Then a few days before thanksgiving this year, I saw a Facebook ad about a axe throwing place that was opening in Brooklyn. What! So I contacted them and I was invited over to the soft opening. 

After a lot of scheduling problems for interested “axers” I arrived at the Gowanus location of KickAxe on a snowy Saturday morning with three friends. We signed in and waited for our lanes to be ready. The waiting area was sort of a gentrified hunting lodge. But in a good way. Someone invested a lot of money to make this place look perfect I said to my friends. There was even a giant blue ox right outside. 

When it was our turn we went to one of the 10 or so axe lanes. The lanes which are two targets that are fenced in with thick artificial grass on the floor. And a large stump to hold the axes. We were given an “Axpert” to guide us. Though he was not allowed to throw, he gave us tips on how to stand and hold an axe. 

It's harder than Jason Mamoa makes it look. We were using estwing hand axes. It was very hard for me to throw them lightly enough. I had to switch to a one-handed throwing style. We started sticking some but it was infrequent and a little frustrating. A little bit into our session I asked if we could switch to the bigger axes that were in other lanes. And boy did it make a difference. The heavier head of the axe stuck in the wood like crazy. I'm glad to say my team (the troop 327 alumni association axe throwing team) won both games we played (30 and Moose). 

While they claim children as young as 7 can throw, I think it might be frustrating for them. My seven year old has a good arm, but I don't think he could throw an axe (even the lighter one) high and far enough, with the needed force to hit the target. A lot different than the “range” I made inbetween the swing set and the trampoline. 

It was so much fun. I can't wait to go back again and unleash my inner Khal.

Note: I went to the KickAxe soft opening and our group threw for free but there was no expectation of any reciprocation. All opinions remain my own. 


Leaving a legacy 

I was sitting in a dimly lit bar in Lower manhattan alongside several scout leaders. All of us had spent the day at our council’s Training Extravaganza, usually called TreX, and we were reflecting on a fun day of learning and teaching. It was on that stool with a cold beer in hand that I verbalized something I was thinking all day long. 

About eight years ago I took a Scoutmaster training course, even though at that point I had been a volunteer leader for about 17 years and my days as Scoutmaster were long over. But it was invigorating and recharged my battery. I soon joined our district’s training team. And it was great, our team was filled with people from that initial course and run by the guy who ran the course, a former biker/tattoo artist/lead singer nicknamed Hawk. He was, and is, a larger than life character and he got us to teach courses on cold Saturday mornings, on consecutive Wednesday evenings. But he never asked any of us to do things he wouldn’t. 

Was our training team part, biker gang, part cult and part a well organized group of knowledgeable volunteers. Yes. We used to joke that the only way you got out of the training team was in a box. But during the next few years I helped train hundreds of leaders, both in our district and council wide at events like TreX.

I was encouraged to take Woodbadge, which is an advanced leadership/management course. It was amazing and I wanted more. I ended up staffing the course two times. I hope to do it again. 

As I walked into the Borough of Manhattan Community College, where TreX was taking place on that cold frozen Saturday morning. I kept running into people who I had trained over the years. Most were taking classes but a few were instructing courses. I was teaching a course called Introduction to Leadership Skills for Troops. The room had about 17 young men and another seven adults, looking to take that knowledge back and run the course for their troops. I have taught this course for at least six years in a row, last year I taught it in front of nearly 50 people (this year there were two sessions of the course and our combined total was about 60 people). It's a pretty popular course, they were asking me if I was willing to do it again nearly six months ago. 

I imagined the cascade of influence that I have had over those people and then the influence they have all had on the young people who they are leading. And I thought back to my own scout leaders and trainers. And wow, its pretty overwhelming. 

So as I sat at that bar, next to someone I taught how to build giant fires. And across from newish scout leaders who were in the most recent Woodbadge course I staffed. We all talked about why we do this. One guy mentioned watching his son standing up to a bully. Another mentioned that there was no one else to do it. And when I was asked, why i did it all the training and etc. I thought about watching my son lead his den of his friends. And how much pride I had it in that. But it came out as “I don’t know it's just what I do.” Then I talked about all of the people over the years that I had trained and that is part of it, I am building a legacy that goes way beyond me and that I never will be (nor really desire to be) acknowledged. Apparently building better leaders is just part of who I am.

Note: Everyone who influenced me along the way John, Lee, Barbara, Tom, Miguel, another John, Joey, yet another John, Scott, Fred, Kris, Donna, Dawn, Gary and Tim (and countless others) you are all part of that legacy because without your part in this all I wouldn't be the leader I am today. 


Tabletop Tuesday - COBRA PAW

If there is one thing you need to know about my kids is my son loves cats and my daughter is so competitive she will cut you. So it was a natural fit when I brought home the game Cobra Paw.

Cobra Paw which if you just looked at the packaging you would assume it is some ninja cat themed mahjong game. In actuality, it is a speed and skill based matching game. A set of domino-like markers are spread out in the middle of the table, then dice are rolled. The dice have the same symbols that are on the dominoes when you see the same pattern come up you reach out with your paw and drag the corresponding tile into your pile. This goes on until all of the tiles have been claimed. But before this happens the games gets sneaky and cutthroat, players can steal tiles from each other's piles. All legal. Yes, there will be fights. Still all legal.

The game is very easy to pick up and like with a lot of matching games, older kids will overmatch their younger siblings. Which may frustrate them. Another nice feature is you can play the game one-on-one (very useful when you have a younger sibling pouting in the other room about the game being unfair).

Cobra Paw looks great and can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

NOTE - I bought my copy of Cobra Paw and was not influenced by anyone for this review.

A guide to scouting. 

Starting this month BSA councils across the nation will be rolling out the Family Scouting to Cub Scout packs. Basically girls will be allowed in the Cub Scouts. So there will be a lot of content produced by the media about it. And while most people who read those articles and watch those reports won't notice, there are many of us who immediately dismiss the work when there are inaccuracies in basic facts Here is a brief nomenclature guide.

Cub Scouts - A program for children from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Boy Scouts - A program for boys ages 11-17.

Venturing - A coed program for young adults ages 14 (13 if completed 8th grade) through 20.

BSA (Boy Scouts of America) - The national governing body that oversees the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and several smaller co-ed programs for older children.

Chartered Organization - A local institution that sponsors scouting in their community. They “own” the Pack or Troop.

Girl Scouts - A non related organization that serves girls from Kindergarten to the end of high school. Often abbreviated as GSUSA.

Pack - The top tier of a localized Cub Scout group.

Den - The smaller groups of age/grade separated groups of Cub Scouts in a Pack.

Troop  - The top tier of a localized Boy Scout group.

Cubmaster - An adult (over 21) who is the overall leader of a Cub Scout pack.

Den Leader - An adult (Over 21) who is in charge of a Cub Scout Den. Formerly Den Mother but now both men and women serve in this capacity.

Scoutmaster - The adult leader of a Boy Scout Troop, must be over 21.

Assistant Scoutmaster - Additional Boy Scout adult leaders, they must be at least 18 years old.

Senior Patrol Leader - The top youth (ages 17 and under) leader of a Boy Scout troop. Boy Scout troops are run by their youth leaders.

Eagle - The highest rank a Boy Scout may earn. A scout must earn 21 merit badges, and lead a service project before his 18th birthday.

Boy Scout motto - Be Prepared

Cub Scout motto - Do your best

Scout Law - A twelve point pledge that all phases of scouting use. A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

Scout Oath - All phases of scouting say the same oath or promise. On my honor, I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

As of January 1st 2018, Cub Scout packs will have three membership options.
Option 1 - Boy only Packs
Option 2 - Co-ed Packs with single gendered Dens
Option 3 - Girl only Packs.

Boy Scout Troops are not accepting girls at this time, but will be announcing their plan by 2019.

TableTop Tuesday - Zendo

I was so excited when my copy of Zendo arrived in the mail. I tore into the box and saw the array of multi colored pyramids, rectangular prisms, and what can be best described as pie slices, there were beads and blocks, and of course two instruction manuals. This was going to be way more complicated than I imagined.

I had lunch with my board game people, and I was telling them about the game. Someone suggested I watch a youtube video about how to play. So before I went out for game night I watched a few Zendo tutorials and I got the basic gist of it, but when they started going into complexities (book 2 stuff) I was just lost. But like most games from Looney Labs it makes more sense when you actually play it. So that's what we did, and it totally made sense. And was awesomely fun, and that was the opinion of people who earlier that day were throwing axes.

One player is the moderator (or teacher) and he/she draws a card that has a secret instruction for making a structure. They build the simple structure and a second structure that does not follow the secret rules. They mark the correct structure with a white bead and a black bead for the decoy. The players (students) one by one build a structure.they can ask the teacher if their structure is correct or they can ask all the players to take a poll. Everyone votes on whether the structure follows the rule. And all those who vote correctly get a guessing cube. The structure gets marked either way, and if the player has a guessing cube they can guess what the secret is. If the guess is wrong the moderator builds another structure using the secret rule. This goes on until one of the players figures out the secret rule.

Some of them are tricky some are pretty simple but its really fun. And yes I know that description of the game sounds insane. But it's way better experience than read about. Trust me.

The original rules to the game were published in 2001 by Kory Heath , who also wrote the game Werewolf. Looney Labs released a boxed set in 2003, but those are out of print. This latest version, removes the religious terminology from the previous editions. But that doesn't affect game play in anyway.

Another thing that is great about this game is that there is virtually no setup. The “setup” is part of the game. It is really fun and I will be including it in our game night rotation for sure. This is definitely an early in the evening game, while everyone’s facilities are all there because you do need to concentrate and think logically.

This is easily one of the top two or three games I have played this year. It is available now, go get it. No seriously go get a copy.

The structure with the white bead is correct. The one with the black bead is incorrect. Leave a comment with your hypothesis of what the secret rule is. First one to figure it out will win a surprise prize. 

DISCLOSURE: Looney Labs gave me a copy of Zendo to facilitate this review, but all opinions are my own.


The Punisher on Netflix

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I kept reading how amazing The Punisher on Netflix is. And having enjoyed a lot of the Netflix Marvel shows (Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist ... in that order) I decided to give it a chance. I can had never read The Punisher, Punisher War Journal or any of the other Punisher titles that Marvel would publish throughout the 1980s and 90s, so I had no frame of reference when I began to watch The Punisher as a clean slate. And I was not disappointed.

Having no preconceived opinions on the character and the universe, I was able to enjoy the show for what it is. This isn't a spoiler but, the show is really violent. You don't expect a guy called The Punisher to be someone who talks things out.

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The basic story is Frank Castle is a Marine Corp vet (now of deployments in the Middle East, as opposed to the comic book Frank Castle who got his PTSD in the jungles of Vietnam) who after the murder of his family, seeks revenge on all of those who were involved. This happens before the series and is often referenced to. Frank Castle died before the series began, at least that is what the general public is lead to believe.

But he was very much alive, living a low key life as laborer Peter Castiglione. He was waiting to find the last few people on his list. He then learns about a vast conspiracy that involved him, which forces him to come out from the shadows guns a blazing. Seriously.

There is a grittiness and tone that I haven't seen much on TV since the early seasons of Sons of Anarchy. Frank who despite his very violent nature is kind hearted and has a strong sense of morality that drives his every move. Frank is played by Walking Dead alum Jon Bernthal and he makes a seemingly uncomplicated guy, into someone you really care about. The show is really well acted and the other characters are full and as 3 three dimensional as you can get in 13 episodes.
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While this show exists in the main Marvel Cinematic Universe, and The Punisher appeared in episodes of Daredevil season 2, you can watch this show without having seen a second of any of the other shows and not miss a step. Which is what I did not like about The Defenders, since I didn't finish watching Daredevil I was extremely lost.

Not to be too spoilery, but the show ends in a way that there is a perfect setup for a second season, also while wrapping up this story perfectly. I know a show is really worth my time, when I finish binging it and am mad that I have to wait probably a year to see more.

Note: This is a totally independent review, I was not compensated by #Marvel or #Netflix ... but I'm open to working with them.


Tabletop Tuesday - Holiday Guide

With the holidays coming up, you may be at wits end what to get for one of your kids, a niece or nephew, holiday grab bag, nerdy friend or what not. So your pal Niel is here to help you. These are some of the games that I reviewed this year as part of my Table Top Tuesday series. They are all fun (for kids and adults). I haven’t been compensated for this list, it’s just a suggestion. So enjoy some non-screen time with those you love ... or slightly like this holiday season.

Great for little kids

Simon’s Cat: A really fun sequential matching game with adorably humorous cats.

Great for Bigger Kids

Snappy Dressers: A matching game featuring hipster sloths, deer and other well dressed animals.
Build or Boom: A race to build complex structures before your opponent can. And then blow up their structure.
Happy Salmon: A race to get rid of all your cards, not for the timid.

Great for Teens and Adults

Expedition the Roleplaying card Game: A great roleplaying game that you can play without reading hundreds and hundreds of pages of players guides.
Hanabi: A cooperative game where all the players work together to put on the grandest firework display.
Math Fluxx: The latest version of the FLUXX franchise. The card game with both no rules ... and a million rules.