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.

Monday

Settlers of Catan. My oldest daughter (just turned six) and I played an abbreviated game of Catan.

The rules:

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

Tuesday

Ticket to Ride Märklin.

The rules:

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

Yesterday

Rummy.

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.

The rules:

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

Today

Chess.

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.

The rules:

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

Tomorrow

Robot Turtles.

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.)

It’s heartbreaking that people can be so cruel: “Trouble at Koolaid Point“.

Kathy Sierra is one of the smartest people on the Internet and one of my heroes. Allowing people to bully and harass her is indefensible. Everyone loses.

Tilde.club is a thing from Paul Ford. (He’s ~ford on tilde.) It is “not a social network it is one tiny totally standard unix computer that people respectfully use together in their shared quest to build awesome web pages”. It is the antithesis of Twitter and Medium and Ello and Facebook and I love it. I won’t be requesting a membership. I’ll keep doing my thing here. But you can and maybe should.

I woke up this morning to a very sweet–yet–urgent summons from my wife: You have jury duty, she said. In 15 minutes.

It takes 30 minutes to get downtown in the best of circumstances. I’d be lucky to make it during rush hour in fewer than 60.

Decision time: was today an epic inconvenience—the holiday retail season is breathing down our necks and we have Serious Business™ to which we need to attend, or an adventure? I chose the one less traveled by.

Fast-forward to me standing in front of a disgruntled court employee. Why were you 45 minutes late, she asked. Traffic? I said tentatively. A partial explanation at best.

She let me in. I joined my fellow citizens. We sat and waited, not really having the slightest clue how this was all supposed to work. When would we be divided into the jurors and the not-jurors? Could we use our cellphones in the meantime?

The answer to the first question turned out to be somewhere near 10 o’clock. The answer to the second was yes, I think. I never really found out for sure. And the LTE was so slow it didn’t make any difference.

Rollcall began. I wasn’t sure whether I should be hoping to be picked or hoping not to be picked. What does it all mean?

Thirty or so jurors were named. I wasn’t one of them.

Those who had been selected were seated on the left side of the room, if you’re looking at the judge. The rest of us moved to the right side. One by one the selected jurors were brought to the front to be interviewed. If I listened carefully, I could almost hear the standard questions being asked.

Do you have any religious, moral, or ethical beliefs that would prevent you from sitting in judgment in a criminal case and rendering a fair verdict?

The selectee shifts in his chair, looking at the defendent.

Would you be more likely to believe the testimony of a police officer or any other law enforcement officer because of his or her job?

This time he leans in, offering more—much more—than a simple yes or a no. Well, I would have to hear the facts, of course, he explains.

Would you have any problem during jury deliberations in a criminal case discussing the case fully but still making up your own mind?

One by one, person after person.

Each prospective juror had filled out a questionnaire about all of this earlier. I guess the respective counsels wanted to hear the answers, to watch the body langauge, to see the favorability or unfavorability first-hand.

This went on for a while. You can be seated, number six. Number seven, please come forward. Number 13 was called. I finally got up to stretch my legs and hit the bathroom. I wasn’t sure if that was allowed, but others had moved around without rebuke so I figured I was in the clear.

When I came back a few minutes later, people were milling about. I asked the guy beside me what had happened. Four jurors were selected, he said. The rest had their papers returned and were told to hang around. Nothing was said to our side of the room. Ten jurors had been selected for this case yesterday. With the four selected today, that made the traditional dozen plus two alternates. So… we could go? Nobody knew.

We sat, mostly silently—though by this time you could hear the more extroverted chatting with their neigbors. At 11:30, we were granted a lunch break. Be back here at 1:30, they said.

I walked to Jimmy John’s. I broke out the laptop in an attempt to get at least a nominal amount of work done. The $9 per diem the state generously provides for showing up and the extra $6.80 stipend for gas wouldn’t even cover parking, let alone lunch and time missed on the job. Oh well.

An hour or so later I made my way back to the little corner of the courthouse we were assigned, Room 318. His Honorable So-And-So presiding. Or not really. He was there, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why his presence was necessary. Security guards were there also. Three of them. In case the alleged got out of hand or something. Surely the security couldn’t have been for the jury-to-be. We all passed a rigorous security screen just to get in the building. The metal detector was so sensitive I had to take my wedding ring off. That’s how I know we were safe.

Since I was early, I camped out in the vending area. Thank Steve Jobs for Internet tethering. Maybe they would call us all back into the main room at some point. Maybe they wouldn’t.

They didn’t. Around 2:15 a lady stopped in to let us know that as long as nobody requested jurors before 3 o’clock, we would be free to go, and just like that I was on my way home.

The process wasn’t efficient. It didn’t feel particularly civic. The people working at the courthouse seemed beaten-down. The whole experience was designed to be tiresome, or, I guess, not designed at all. In many ways, it’s a completely broken system. Yet I didn’t mind. My fellow juror candidates came from all walks of life. They weren’t excited to be there, but they seemed willing to do their part. Hopefully the accused gets a fair trial. I think he will.

People don’t pay me by the hour. I get paid when you buy our shirts. My wife doesn’t work. Not because I make a lot of money—I probably make a good bit less than you and definitely less than you think—but because we would rather forfeit that money than spend it to pay someone else to raise our kids. Aside from being paycheck-to-paycheck for the last five years while we try to get a business up in the air, my life really isn’t that hard. Was I happy to dodge the jury-duty bullet? Absolutely. I have work to do. I couldn’t help thinking, however, that a lot of people in that room lead more difficult lives, sacrificed more to be there today, and would, if given the choice, have traded places with me in a minute.

Danielle Fong: A Time for Urgency” (via Bret Victor)

What I Saw as an NFL Ball Boy”, Eric Kester

Why ESPN Pays Bill Simmons $3 Million Plus, Even Though His Traffic Is So Tiny, Nicholas Carlson

I had a couple drinks and woke up with 1,000 nerds”, Paul Ford (via Austin Kleon)

Motherhood around the world, Joanna Goddard (via Kottke)

Embrace the Irony. Lawrence Lessig wants to reform campaign finance. All he needs is fifty billionaires.”, Evan Osnos

Keeping the Lights On”, Tim Kadlec.