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[Comments] (5) The Crummy.com Review Of Things: 2011 Edition: Man, too busy even for proper navel-gazing this year. Fortunately I already did a lot of the work for this post, so it's just a matter of... doing a lot more work.

First, the main course: Best of Crummy for 2011! Yeah, the main course is coming first. Because we're all busy.

Twitter update: Every year since my curmudgeonly 2008 post I've dreaded having to write this, but this was the year I started posting to Twitter. Fortunately, I've been able to launder most of my pithy, trite observations through a fictional character.

Reading: My records are a little spotty but I don't think I read more than twenty books this year. Of these, the best was On The Origin Of Species, which is still very readable and holds up pretty well for a biology book written by someone who didn't know about genes.

The Crummy.com Non-Public Domain Book Of The Year is Carrying The Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys by Michael Collins, an incredibly informative biography and which I probably should have read earlier for novel research. At the end of Carrying The Fire Collins says he could write a whole book on the year he spent post-Apollo 11 as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs during the Vietnam War. I would love to read that book.

Writing: On the other hand, I did quite a lot in 2011 to advance the cause of other peoples' reading. I completed, sold, revised and started serialization of Constellation Games. I completed three (almost four, but one needs a rewrite, so three) short stories. And, I worked four months for Findings.

Findings needs its own post, and I should have written that post in October, but in a nutshell, Findings takes the highlights and notes you created when you were reading a book on your Kindle, and copies them outside Amazon's ecosystem so you can share them, search them, and do work with them. For instance, that link I gave earlier to On The Origin of Species was not a useless link to a generic summary or storefront for one of the most famous books ever published; it's a link to my reading of the book, which is useful at least to myself.

With Findings you can also clip from web pages, and the last thing I did there was design a web service for them, so hopefully it can soon be made to work with software and readers other than Kindle. Findings solves a lot of the problems with the Kindle specifically, and with an ebook-based reading style in general. I'll definitely go into more detail later when I don't have a bunch of other aspects of 2011 to go into.

Audio: Best of newly subscribed podcasts: The Famicom Dojo podcast and The Dice Tower. The Crummy.com Album of the Year is "Princess Ghibli", an album of heavy metal covers of songs from Studio Ghibli movies. The new-to-me runners-up are also Japanese: chiptunes from YMCK and sample-based insanity from Plus-Tech Squeeze Box. Foo Fighters and Tally Hall also maintained their standard of quality with great new albums.

Video: I watch TV with Sumana, so I can't do anything more than echo her recommendations. Breaking Bad shows characters nerds can identify with doing horrible, horrible things. And The Dick Van Dyke Show is probably the most realistically-written sitcom I've ever seen. In web video, Noah Antwiler's "Counter Monkey" series of teenage RPG monologues, and Brad Jones' nostalgically obscene "'80s Dan". In between, the Something Awful translations of GameCenter CX episodes, which this year went from nowhere to having one of the translators get her fan art shown on the show.

Crummy.com Film Of The Year: The Muppets. All other films are disqualified for not being The Muppets. I run a tight ship.

Food: In 2011 a bunch of new restaurants opened up near my house! It was great. The best are Queens Comfort, Pachanga Patterson, and amazing surprise latecomer Butcher Bar, which is so new it doesn't have a proper website yet. Honorable mention to Sugar Freak for fried chicken.

In non-Astoria food: while working at Findings I ate a lot of good lunches from Chelsea Market (#1: quinoa salad from Amy's Bakery), and the burritos from the secret Chipotle were much better than any burrito I've had at any other Chipotle.

Games: Apart from "Minecraft" (Crummy.com Game Of The Year, honorable mention to Vechs' amazingly well-crafted "Super Hostile" series of Minecraft maps), a pretty lean year for video games. I didn't buy a 3DS, or any Wii games for myself. I did buy a lot of games in Humble Indie Bundles, but then didn't get a chance to play most of them.

I rediscovered a love of tactical games like "Frozen Synapse" and the "Tactics Ogre" remake for the PSP. But this was the year I decided I don't like JRPGs. "Radiant Historia" has a lot of really great ideas but the plot was generic and despite a tactical battle system, I only had to come up with new tactics twice. Both failures I place squarely at the feet of JRPG design. I bought two other well-reviewed DS JRPGs and was immediately bored with them. So, probably no more JRPGs for me, until they do more Paper Mario. Those games are hilarious.

Board games fared a lot better, as my gaming group tempered its tried-and-true conservatism with Pat's early-adopter enthusiasm. "7 Wonders", "Alien Frontiers", and "Pandemic" were the big newcomers, with strong supporting players like "Power Grid" and the surprisingly hilarious "Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers" (Crummy.com Board Game of the Year Because 7 Wonders Already Won The Spiel Des Jahres, It Can't Win Everything, Geez). "Dominion" and vanilla "Carcassonne" remain strong, "Quarriors" fizzled out early.

Next year: "A Few Acres of Snow", I hope? Also the Kickstarter reward games will really start getting to the table. If you live in New York and want to play board games occasionally, let me know.

And, looking into 2012 more generally: I can promise lots of cool Constellation Games stuff, since I'm already committed to or have already written it. Beautiful Soup 4 will leave beta. (It needs a little work and I need to write new documentation--but please use it now, it's already better than BS3 in my opinion.) There may be more REST stuff, and/or another novel. There will probably be more Month of Kickstarter-type experiments, if not a whole nother MoK. And more currently-secret projects to tantalize you, my friends and readers. Let's keep it going.

Want more? Here's Sumana's year-in-review.


Posted by Caleb Wilson at Sat Dec 31 2011 16:38

What aspect of "Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers" is hilarious? I'm very curious now.

Posted by Leonard at Sun Jan 01 2012 10:56

It comes down to theme. We play a lot of Carcassonne, and it's fun but because of the generic medieval setting the table talk isn't very lively. We don't live in medieval France but our lives still contain roads and cities and farms and churches.

Hunters and Gatherers is almost exactly the same as Carcassonne, but in a completely foreign setting. A caveman might reasonably say "You stole the fish out of my lake!" but when we say it, it's funny in a way that "You stole my road!" isn't. The setting turns everything that happens into a funny story. "I put down a farmer and you enclosed them inside a city" is drama, but "I built a fishing hut and you closed off the river" is comedy.

There are also ample opportunities for Futurama-style anachronism jokes. For instance, one game, every time someone turned over a lake tile containing fish, Pat would chant "Fiiiish lake!" I'm sure it was a reference to something, I don't know what, but over the course of the game this chant became the rallying cry of Animal House-style caveman frat boys.

"Dean Fussbinder, the Delta Phis seem to have built some kind of... fish lake." "We wouldn't be caught dead in your snooty fish lake, Throckmorton!" Etc. If you make anachronism jokes in regular Carcassonne you just wrench the setting into the modern day.

So, it depends on everyone being in the mood, but in modern culture the H&G tiles are inherently funnier: fish, mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, gold nuggets lying around in forests.

(I know they're not "cavemen" and the concept of "cavemen" has no scientific validity, that's just how we play it.)

Posted by Caleb Wilson at Sun Jan 01 2012 13:21

I can see that, cool. It gets me thinking, though, about funniness in board games. I can think of games with funny themes, but what about games with funny mechanics? The best examples I can think of are funny because they're chaotic (like Fluxx, I suppose, or my favorite, G.O.O.T.M.U., which involves a changing maze, in which it's almost impossible to make a plan, but still very amusing (part of the humor in GOOTMU might also come from how extremely cheap it looks--like something a sixth-grader might make at home out of cut-up cereal boxes)) but I wonder--could there be such a thing as a "funny" board game mechanic that isn't based on chaos?

Posted by Leonard at Thu Jan 05 2012 11:26

Well... humor happens when tension is resolved in an unexpected way. Any time this happens in Carcassonne can be funny depending on context: flipping a tile (fiiiish lake!), placing a meeple, completing a structure, or the final tally at the end.

So you could encourage a game to be funny by creating a whole lot of opportunities to build and resolve tension. That's why chaos is funny. I don't know if a mechanic could be funny in and of itself.

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