If there’s anything that can be taken out of 2020, the year that may have finally broken us all, it’s that everyone had some hobby (or ten) that they just drilled in to. Everyone has watched more, read more, or done more stuff than they likely did in previous years (while still lamenting that there’s nowhere near enough time to do any of it – or just curling up into a ball and lying in bed, it is still 2020 after all).
When we started talking about the “best of 2020” series of posts, I kind of had an idea of what to put down for the most part. I kinda struggled with LEGO for reasons I’ve stated before which I won’t get into here. This post, for “the rest” was supposed to be a catchall sort of opportunity to talk about things we really got into this year that doesn’t necessarily fit in the format of this site (though I have always been encouraging the staff to feel free to write and post whatever they fancy). This post is the one I’m really struggling with.
Look, pardon my language, but 2020 was just an absolute shit year and 2021 isn’t off to a great start either. I’ve been taking lockdown quite seriously to the point where if L.A. County issues a new stay at home order, it really doesn’t change anything for us since we’re pretty much staying away from humans as much as possible. I gained weight, I’ve been become lazy, and I’ve pretty much buried myself in video games and trying to keep my kids entertained enough to distract them from the fact that we’re stuck at home for so long.
But it’s not all fire and brimstone. My segment in this post is first, but I’m the last one to contribute, so I cheated a little and read over what Eric and Nick wrote to see if I can get inspired. It helped a little, enough for me to focus in some of the new things I tried last year that I enjoyed. Like…
Cooking! Now that I’m spending more time at home and less time stuck in traffic whilst commuting to and from work, I decided to try and pick up cooking. I’ve seen those gifs by Tasty and thought you know, I can probably make this or that. And I have! There’s a calmness about all the prep work that I’ve enjoyed. It’s certainly analogous to building a LEGO set except you can’t eat the fruits of your labor with LEGO.
I don’t have a lot of recipes I’m comfortable enough making without reading over the steps again and again, but I’m slowly getting there. What’s most important is if my kids eat the stuff I make. And they do! Well, mostly anyway. I’ve been refining some of the things I’ve been making to make it taste better for them. It’s a process but one I can see myself getting into more and more.
I guess I should also mention board games. It’s something I’ve gotten more and more into. I’m trying not to do the same thing it that I did with LEGO, which is to stockpile them, but that isn’t going so well. That picture above is just tiny slice of the games I’m hoping to play with the kids some day, or some other adults even. COVID isn’t helping there. I had found a group of guys that I was able to board game with but haven’t been able to do so for almost a year now. Our Gloomhaven campaign is on indefinite hiatus, but someday, someday we’ll be able to finish that one up. And then it’s on to Frosthaven!
If you’re into board games, stay away from Kickstarter. And I mean that in the most helpful way. Kickstarter’s become a haven for designers to get their games funded and for board gamers to find a gem here and there. It’s great if you’re looking to support the designers directly, get in on some Kickstarter-exclusive perks, or find some new addition to your game library provided you can wait up to a year and half, maybe two, before taking delivery. I say stay away because it’s super easy to get caught up in FOMO there. It’s not something I can truly recommend. I’ve pledged to a couple of flops but thankfully I feel like I’ve gotten more winners than losers. Even then, I’ve dialed my Kickstarter activity way, WAY back but I made an exception for Frosthaven. Gloomhaven was born on Kickstarter and the game’s creator launched its follow up, Frosthaven, last year and I pledged my support to it on day one, no question.
So yeah, cooking and board games. I’m not sure if what I put down here is following the spirit of the headline prompt of “the best of the rest”, but they are what I’ve been getting into outside of the usual video games, LEGO, and media.
When quarantine hit, I learned how to juggle. I also wrote and directed my own film completely by myself, and drove myself to near insanity. I had to call it quits for my own mental health.
Later on, I bought a Xiao flute and a 70 inch longbow. You know, for fun. My main hobby this year was the same as always, playing video games. If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you’re probably sick of hearing me talk about them. So I’ll talk about some other stuff.
I have 145 books (as of last count) to get around to reading, and I wish I could say I really took the opportunity to sink into reading this year. But I didn’t, no more than usual. Still, I read two books I simply must recommend.
The power has one of my favorite concepts for a story. Take the present world, add something magical, and see how culture responds to it. In this case, young women (in the teenage range) discover they have the ability to shock people with their hands.
This has some consequences, but what I find fascinating is how quickly things change. Women, unfortunately, have historically been put in lesser positions of power in nearly every facet of life, and while things are changing for the better (slowly, but changing), having things immediately change, where women are now the ones with power, has such an incredible (and not necessarily good) effect on the world.
This book is brutal, but it does a wonderful job of exploring the positions and powers of sexes in our society.
On a lighter note:
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is one of, if not my favorite movie. But I’d always dismissed the books. I read them when I was a kid (3rd grade or so), and a lot of it flew over my head. I’d try every few years, and just get bored. Slogging through the poems, waiting for the Hobbits to stop wandering around, and wishing that Aragorn was as cool as he was in the movies. But, for some reason, this year, it really clicked with me. Maybe I just needed a fully immersive book in a world I’m very comfortable with. But I also found the writing incredible, compared to finding it boring in the past. The chapters are pretty bite-sized, and the poems / songs are actually really good. I even started singing them aloud, giving them a tune. I’d still say these books aren’t for everyone, and I’d probably still recommend the audiobooks read by Rob Inglis as the best way to experience them. But, hey, it was the book I needed in 2020, and I’m glad it’s there.
I was tempted to put on a bunch of stuff about masks, how we should all be wearing them, or how masks are the new socks (they are by the way). I’ve gotten a bunch of different masks to wear when I need to go out, and maybe I’ll just use them to sprinkle in pictures in the future. Instead, I’m going to focus on the stuff that’s been really dominating up my time in lockdown now that March is hitting day 320 or something like that.
I started my lockdown by making a pretty critical, but fun, mistake… and purchased myself a Resin 3D printer. So I’ve been able to spend a lot of time printing way more miniatures than I could ever hope to paint. Because I could only paint so many… and because, as I mentioned in my Zombicide post, I just love miniatures and miniature games, I did something exceptionally stupid. I decided to buy some Game’s Workshop Warhammer stuff again. Oh, and Star Wars Legion, and Marvel Crisis Protocol, and Fallout Wasteland Warfare to go along with all those Zombicide miniatures.
Because I am an idiot.
COVID, and being a responsible adult that thinks masks and staying healthy is important, means that I haven’t been able to get with anyone else to play any games. I’m working on building some 40k and Age of Sigmar armies, Necromunda gangs, and just painting up some troopers so I can put together Star Wars stuff and make blaster sounds. I’m going to try and cover some of this stuff in the future, right after I wrap up the other posts on Skirmish games, and show off my average at best painting skills. But 2020 has been all about the miniatures for me, more than it was video games or LEGO.
I have issues with Games Workshop as a company… their stuff is overpriced compared to similar goods (though it’s hard to argue with the quality and fidelity of it), they had been litigious wankers in the past in protecting copyrights they didn’t have, and generally just being pretty awful at communication and fan interaction. Yet the game itself was always fun, and the stuff is enjoyable to build in paint, and while their paint delivery mechanisms are awful (seriously, paint pots suck), the actual paint is pretty good and easy to find.
I’ve gone to my usual level of excess and extreme with it, not just dipping in to paint some models I like, but trying to plan how to play in bigger games. There’s a great community around here, and I’ve been needing some hobby I can get into. Plus, there’s a lot more support in the games now than when I played last (mid 00s), with skirmish games like Warcry and Killteam.
More than that, though, they revived one of my favorite games back when I was much younger, Necromunda. Yeah, they brought it back in 2017, but it caught my notice this year with the new lore and support. I wish I had the old box sets I had from the original game. I actually had two full boxes, a fully painted Van Saar gang, and a whole lot of backstory for my armies. I loved the games, and some friends and I had an absurd amount of fun with it.
A lot of these games I’m getting into again as a way to connect with some old friends, as well. My best friend growing up and I have lived on opposite ends of the country for over a decade, and we rarely get to see each other. This has been a way to reconnect, as he was the one who first got me into the hobby, and was my main opponent/victim back when we played in those earlier days. We’re still hundreds of miles apart, but this has given us something to connect with again. Eventually, we’ll meet up and play, assuming the world can stop ending.
Sure, a lot of this is mostly more games I won’t play, and more things than I have time to paint or play with… but right now, it brings a bit of comfort. Sometime in the future, I’ll decide to slim up the collection and sell a decent bit of it, but for now, it makes me happy. And while Games Workshop has been doing some weird things with their allocations to stores, I’m privileged enough to live in a place where there are plenty of local shops that I can hit up to find what I want (including multiple GW stores). Now all I need is time to paint, the ability to play, and some more restraint in buying this stuff.
I’ve also kept up my D&D habits, and tried to pivot to playing it online, which is something that I haven’t ever really done before that. I’d played maybe one or two games online before lockdown, but since March, my regular-ish D&D game, which I am the DM for, has been exclusively online. It’s very different, but still like sitting at a table in some ways.
That’s meant that I spend as much time trying to figure out how to build online encounters, writing notes, and finding art as I do actually writing adventures and content. Oh, and even though I don’t need them, I still get minis to use in games, try to work on building terrain, and generally enjoying the fun. Eventually, my games will be in person again, but this year has brought about a lot of changes and several of my players have ended up moving in the pandemic, so maybe this will just be how it is going forward.
It was such a weird year for D&D, though… from a product standpoint, it was pretty awesome. We got two setting books, Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (based on the wildly popular Critical Role) and Mythic Odyssey of Theros (a Magic: the Gathering setting). There was another hybrid Adventure/Setting book in Icewind Dale – Rime of the Frostmaiden, which was welcome, as the area hadn’t been covered all that much in recent D&D. The highlight, though, is Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, where D&D actually starts changing the game out of it’s iffy 70s roots (if only by a very tiny bit – their solution is basically “just make it up”).
I mean, I love D&D, but the very first homebrew rule at my table is that “inherently evil races are dumb.” Yeah, that exists in Warhammer too, but that game is also being drug ever so slightly into a more modern view. But in D&D, there’s something especially odious that the only dark-skinned race is nearly universally evil and craven, and has been so since it’s inception. I have my own theory on why that is, but not going to go into that here, but let’s just say that it’s stupid. Alignment is a stupid mechanic that should have been left out several editions ago. As a storytelling framework, sure… but the idea that morals, ethics, and decisions are confined to such a rigid structure is asinine. It hampers good roleplaying and creating rich characters.
From a legal standpoint… this wasn’t a great year for Wizards. They saw multiple lawsuits against their creators, including two stalwarts that helped define the genre, Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman (creator of Ravenloft and Dragonlance). That was the biggest one, but not only, as also went after partners that were producing goods for them, like Gale Force 9. They made some small token changes to more problematic settings, like Ravenloft, but they were minor and did little but just remove a few sentences from the book. Worse, they continue to sell a lot of the older stuff that is very, very, problematic.
The bigger issue, though, was the fact that a lot of ugliness about the company, and the product, came out… culminating with a Wired expose posted a the beginning of 2021 that details a lot of the issues. They were called out by their own writers and partners, including Orion Black, a writer that they basically pandered to and marginalized while ignoring any of the things that it’d take to actually improve. They’re big and lumbering, so some of that takes time, but it’s unfortunate to know the culture at yet another company that makes something I love is pretty rotten.
I don’t know how to fix that, but really wish I did…