I’ve been playing Alto’s Adventure pretty much since it came out. It’s fun and cute and cheap, so if you’re looking for an endless runner game or just want to kill a few hours, well, it comes with my whole-hearted recommendation.
Wristwatches traditionally have only two purposes: keeping time and decorating your arm. Like most people, I stopped needing a watch to keep time when I got a cellphone. As a man not particularly given to stylistic flourishes, once the watch’s utility disappeared, so too did its presence. While my experience isn’t universal, it’s common enough among the young and affluent that Apple will need to do more than roll its proverbial helmet onto the field to win.
Compare the collection of watches Apple is promoting at Monday’s event with its two most recent devices, the iPhone and the iPad:
The unveiling of the iPhone was a watershed moment. It transformed the phone market by being massively better than other mobile phones. Critically for the iPhone’s commercial prospects, when it was released circa 2007 nearly everyone carried some kind of phone with them wherever they went. These phones became obsolete overnight. Though not everyone grasped the magnitude of the change immediately, the iPhone’s introduction sundered mobile phone history. Before the iPhone, only the wealthy, the gadget-obsessed, and the world of business valued the smartphone’s constant connectivity and programability. Post-iPhone, our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles found that the monthly expense of a data plan was suddenly more necessary than previously thought.
The iPhone was a perfect storm of execution, timing, and need. What of the iPad? It should not be surprising the iPad has been less prolific. Of course, the iPad has not been a failure. In fact, it’s done exceptionally well compared to the laptop industry and other, similar devices because it is a tremendous piece of hardware coupled with a compelling (though hardly perfect) software ecosystem. While not everyone needs a tablet, enough people are willing to replace or supplement their larger computing devices with an alternative that offers portability advantages and novel capabilities.
What then of the rapidly approaching Apple Watch release? Outlook not so good (at least if we’re using the iPhone as a yardstick). To succeed, Apple must convince watch-wearers that its offering is more stylish, more affordable, or more functional than what they already have or might otherwise acquire. This, however, is comparatively the easier task. To sate Apple’s own ambitions and the market’s expections, they must persuade non–watch-wearers that the phones Apple already sold them are no longer sufficient for half the tasks they were designed to accomplish. That is no small thing.
In the spirit of optimism, however, let’s try.
Identity. Today, we identify ourselves in myriad ways. Drivers’ licenses, social security numbers, credit cards, fingerprints and other biological indicators, passports, TouchID, etc. As technology continues to miniaturize and as our identities are increasingly connected to non-governmental sources, it makes sense for authentication methods to be integrated in smaller and smaller objects—today a phone, tomorrow a watch, a digital card, a bracelet, a tattoo. A watch isn’t identity‘s ultimate form, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be part of the transition.
Quantified Self. Provided an anti-technology movement doesn’t sweep the landscape, personalized health and data collection will continue to grow in importance and sensitivity. As with identity, an object worn on the wrist falls into the category of a good-not-great hire for this job. The sensors today’s Apple Watch ships with are certainly an improvement over the iPhone, but are they better than other wearables? Not particularly. Apple must hope that its strategy of integration and ecosystem overcome what is already—and will undoubtedly continue to be—stiff competition in the health and wellness space.
Communication. Does the Apple Watch eclipse your iPhone for receiving and sending information? Yes and no. A watch is more discreet. It is also less capable. It offers new ways to communicate yet runs the risk of erring on the side of cuteness and gimmickry. It justifies its existence by elevating notification to must-see status. You can tap your friends, draw silly pictures, and pick from pre-selected phrases and emoji. Is it revolutionary or merely Apple’s Nintendo Wii moment? A fantastic demo but frustrating and inefficient. Waggle for waggle’s sake. Only time will tell.
Price. “Starting at $349” is not a particularly difficult pill for much of the population to swallow. While not quite an impulse purchase, it easily qualifies as a gift or splurge under the right circumstances. What of the more expensive versions? The question of why someone would pay thousands of dollars for a device that will be obsolete in a few years has been raised frequently. I think I have the answer: Apple will offer a recycling program of some kind. Trade in your Apple Watch Edition, get a discount on this year’s model. Those that can afford the Edition model once but struggle to justify it multiple times can take advantage of the buyback program. Those whose consumption is more conspicuous will have no problem plunking down another five figures to stay current. (NB: Even if Apple chooses not to offer a first-party watch trade-in program, a market will form if for no other reason than the raw material value.)
It has proven nearly impossible to overestimate Apple’s fiscal success. Practically everything they touch turns to gold. Those that doubt Apple’s wisdom do so at their own peril. On repuation alone, the Apple Watch launch will certainly move a phenomenal number of units. The challenge will be bridging the gap between what the watch is today—truthfully a bulky and functionally limited device—and what it can become in the not-too-distant future as the underlying technology continues to mature.
The Internetification of things began long ago; Apple Watch circa 2015 is merely a milemarker on the road to an infinitely connected future. The Internet will not be denied its inexorable march to invisibility, burrowing deep into even the most pedestrian objects. The remarkability of a smart watch is a historical curiousity. I want to want an Apple Watch. Whether Apple’s vision for the watch comes to pass or its attributes are subsumed in our more general pursuit of wearable technology remains to be seen. For today, I can say that the Apple Watch is almost certainly not for me—though perhaps at half the thickness and twice the power, Apple and I will see eye-to-eye.
Before we dig in, a few things you should know:
Lords of Waterdeep can be played with up to five players. Support for six players would have been nice as one of us was required to sit out or team up with another player each game. There are fairly straightforward material cost and profit arguments to be made here for not including a sixth player in the base game, I suppose. Still, it’s a nice bonus any time a game that can be played with a certain number of people ships with support for that number. (Settlers of Catan and Dominion, for exmaple, start with support for four players and enable up to six with expansions. In contrast, Power Grid supports six out of the box. 7 Wonders—it’s right there in the name—can be played with seven people.) Each game took us roughly 90–120 minutes to complete not including setup and teardown (another 15 minutes).
Like all modern games, Lords of Waterdeeps hangs tight mechanics on a threadbare story. Maybe other people care for the contrived history of “Waterdeep” and the silly character names and artwork. I can take them or leave them. All games have a theme, this one is far from the worst. At the very least, some form of narrative helps turn lowercase “actions that help you and/or hurt competitors” into proper noun “Intrigues” and “the place you put your workers“ into “Buildings” that you own or send your “Agents” into. The “Lords” concept in particular needs to be further fleshed out. Lords were required to be played face-down during the game so other players didn’t know which types of quests were most advantageous for you to complete. Unfortunately, only one of the 10 or so available Lords had something printed on his or her card other than “Gain 4 additional Victory points by completing X and Y quests.“ The hidden agendas of the Lords had a lot of potential. Anything that can be tallied at the end of the game was available to be an agenda: Intrigues played, Agents controlled, total Quests completed, Gold collected, etc. Other games—again, Dominion—have done a much better job with this conceit.
Another area I found particularly frustrating was the lack of fluidity in the commodity market. Waterdeep allows for collection of money and multiple flavors of Agents, but aside from the Buildings, there is no standard way to exchange those resources for resources you really need. You can’t trade with other players and you can’t exchange them with the bank. When the cards aren’t in your favor (or you get nailed with a Mandatory Quest), it can really be painful. (This may have been exacerbated by playing with five players. In a game with fewer players, each round has many more useful turns.)
Because Waterdeep was so enthusiastically recommended, I definitely came in with high expecations—though not necessarily higher than normal. Nearly every game I find time to play is somebody’s game of the year, so Waterdeep was not more anticipated than Terra Mystica, 7 Wonders, Dominion, et al. Did it live up to the hype? Not really, though I can say that it was a lot of fun and comfortably sits in the upper half of games I would play if given the choice. The best part of any game is the first few games after learning the rules but before everyone knows the strategies. In that respect, we’re right in the center of the best part of Waterdeep. I expect we’ll easily get another 3-5 games in without being bored. We may even pick up the expansion to extend the life of the game.
Still, I can see the end coming pretty quickly. Having played more than a few Euro-style games, they all start to feel like remixes and variations on a formula. What does Waterdeep offer that Puerto Rico, Race for the Galaxy, and Terra Mystica don’t? Quests, Intrigues, and Buildings come up in random order, allowing plenty of tactical decisions while also preventing truly considered strategies. It’s the type of game that is engineered to come right down to the wire among experienced players. That’s a bittersweet gaming pill to swallow. It can absolutely be a blast to play with new or old players and it rarely requires your complete attention. Lords of Waterdeep is like the best of fast casual dining: consistently good without being terribly expensive. If you’re looking for the idealized form of skill and randomness in a tabletop game, however, Dominion is still the only three star game I’ve found.
This week in homeschooling: tabletop games.
Settlers of Catan. My oldest daughter (just turned six) and I played an abbreviated game of Catan.
That’s it. Although we have Catan Jr, this was her first real game of Catan. She managed her hand and decided (with a little help) when and where to build settlements and cities and when to buy development cards. I let her win a close one (6-5). Adult games are a lot more fun for adults, and with a little rule simplication, can be played easily by kids as well.
Skills: Resource allocation, card recognition, decision making
TTR is a great introduction to Euro-style tabletop games. I simplified our game by ignoring the passenger rule, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about having to work with a map of Germany. If you’re planning on playing with kids—or just don’t feel like learnign the names of German cities—get the original, U.S. version.
Scorekeeping in TTR is perfect for practicing basic addition. A scoring path runs around the outside of the board and a marker is used to keep track. Track segments require translation via an on-board key (for exmaple, a track requiring four pieces scores seven points) and tickets are in the single digits to low double digits.
Skills: map reading, simple addition, color/symbol recognition
Rummy was one of my favorite games to play with my grandparents growing up. If you haven’t played before, it’s a simple matching / sequencing game using a single deck of playing cards. It can be picked up in a few minutes by an adult.
Aside from holding the cards face up, this game doesn’t need much simplication. After a few hands, you’ll probably even be able to let everyone keep their cards hidden to make the game play as intended. Rummy is another excellent game for practicing basic math—in this case, counting by 5‘s and 10’s in both directions (anyone still holding cards when the turn ends must subtract those points from his or her score).
Skills: Counting by 5’s and 10’s, card recall, card recognition, pattern matching
By far the most difficult of the games we played this week, chess is still something that can be learned by a child. Compared with many of the Euro-games we play with friends on a regular basis, in fact, it’s downright simple. There are no cards to read, no rulebooks to consult. Each piece has a designated behavior with very few exceptions. The only challenge for Abby turned out to be the intracies of attacking and moving with pawns.
An adult versus a six-year-old is hardly a fair fight, but if you can de-emphasize the winning and losing and focus on learning the rules rather than high-level strategy, it can still be a lot of fun.
Skills: pattern recognition, behavior recall, coordinated movement
We backed Robot Turtles when it was a Kickstarter, but it’s been a while since we’ve sat down to play. Unlike the rest of the games we’ve played this week, this one is actually designed to be played by kids. There are suggestions right in the rule book for which rules to include for varying age levels.
Skills: decision making, planning, obstacle avoidance
Tabletop games make a lot of sense as teaching tools, especially for us. Our oldest daughter has seen us playing Dominion, Catan, Terra Mystica, and dozens of other games for years. One-on-one attention plus the chance to play adult games is a powerful motivator.
I have more to say about homeschooling, but it will have to wait for another time. For now, please take a look at the Homeschooling Resources page I’ve put together. (Work in progress.)
“What I Saw as an NFL Ball Boy”, Eric Kester
“I had a couple drinks and woke up with 1,000 nerds”, Paul Ford (via Austin Kleon)