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Michael Godesky
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There's been a lot of discussion about whether Star Trek: Discovery is "real" Star Trek. And it's sad to see how much of those arguments focus on purely superficial elements like differences in the way the show looks compared to The Original Series. As a nerd, I understand nitpicking continuity. But to me, the core of what Trek is about isn't wrapped up in what the Klingons look like. I actually kind of like the more alien feel of the Klingons in Discovery, but nonetheless, it's not all that important. No, the one moment that really made me question whether Discovery still has the spirit of Trek was Burnham's decision at the end of the first episode. And now three episodes in, I'm still waiting for them to allay those concerns.

And it's not just that they're breaking Roddenberry's rule about members of Starfleet not being allowed to have conflict with each other. Star Trek has already broken that rule in the past, and at least in my opinion, it's been better for it. Rather, what stands out to me here is that Burnham, the show's primary protagonist, is not only committing mutiny, but doing so for the purpose of starting a war. As Captain Georgiou rightly points out, this goes against everything we've always been told that the Federation believes in. But it was also the way that the situation was presented to the audience.

This whole dilemma felt like something that I would more expect to see on Martin-Green's previous show, The Walking Dead. TWD creates these moments of dramatic decisions that it tries to present as being morally ambiguous without itself clearly taking one side or the other. Thus, it invites the audience to participate in the discussion about what the characters should have done while giving each side just enough to feel justified in their arguments. And if you're a network in an increasingly polarized culture, that's a great way to have a show that takes on important issues without alienating half of your audience.

The problem with this approach is that it feeds into a common and dangerous misperception that "fairness" means giving all sides an equal hearing. The truth is that some ideas are simply wrong and deserve to be called such. Which is the sort of moralizing that Star Trek was applauded for back in to '60s. It took clear stances on issues like racial discrimination, and it didn't hold back just because more conservative markets chose not to air the Trek episode with television's first interracial kiss.

A lot of the writing on the first couple of seasons of TNG is pretty rough, but one thing I do appreciate about those early episodes is how many of them don't actually have a physical threat to the Enterprise. The ship is powerful enough that they could take what they need any time. The real issue is whether they can still be what they say the Federation is about if they do things the expedient way. Thus, it turns what would otherwise be a story about a bunch of people fighting each other into a story that examines the question of what kind of people we aspire to be. Which is a rare thing that we could probably use more of on television.

And that brings me back to Discovery. Burnham's approach is the exact opposite of those early TNG episodes. She is willing to throw away everything the Federation values for the sake expediency. Not only that, but the show seems to want to invite this debate about whether she did the right thing rather than simply stating clearly that what she tried to do was wrong. I'm willing to accept this sort of edginess and hazy morality from The Walking Dead even at times when it feels forced because that is intended to be a grim show that depicts people at their worst. Star Trek is different. Star Trek is supposed to be the show that depicts people at their best and gives us something to aspire to. Again, we're only three episodes in, and so far, the rest of the show has been interesting enough that I'm willing to keep watching and see where this goes. But I hope that ending from the first episode isn't indicative of how the whole series is going to go. Because I don't think we necessarily need more Trek just for the sake of having another science fiction show to slap the Star Trek brand on. We need Trek to take bold moral stands like TOS did in the '60s. Otherwise, is it really Star Trek?

#StarTrekDiscovery
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The way This War of Mine: The Board Game works, you can actually play with pretty much any number of players, including a solo game where you just take all the actions yourself. It's not as much fun that way, but it works. So I thought I'd try running it a few times on my own just to try out different strategies and see what works. And... I actually won! But no one else was around to see me do it, which means that no one will ever believe me! Raise Mike's Misery by 1.

So anyway, what did I learn? Well, I actually feel a little bad now because I think I led my fellow players astray before. The strategy I had previously proposed I now see was wrong in two key ways. First, I said that we should start by going outside to pick up a fourth character so that we have a whole other set of actions to use. I still think that actions are the key bottleneck resource in this game, but I don't think that going for Visitor cards necessarily helps with that. It's hit and miss as to whether you even draw an Arrival, so we were wasting a lot of early actions just on that. Then when you do find an Arrival, new characters always start with some sort of status that reduces their number of available actions, which makes them only moderately useful in that respect. Meanwhile, that new person is now consuming even more of your food and water, which isn't always easy to come by.

The other thing is that after our first playthrough, I thought we were spending too much time on clearing the house and suggested that we should only bother clearing a space once we're ready to build a Fitting there. Sure, you get a few things from searching the rooms, but it's not a sustainable supply chain. That was totally wrong. I didn't realize just how much great stuff there is in the house. On a good day of searching, you could potentially find enough food and water in the house that you don't even have to go scavenging. And you often get way more wood and components from clearing rooms than you would by Poking About, which helps you get Fittings built faster. Clearing the house should be the focus for the beginning of the game.

So what did I do differently? Well, I didn't even go scavenging on the first night. Instead, I fed some of my Raw Food to two of my characters and let those characters sleep while the remaining character stayed on guard. That way, the two that ate and slept had their Hunger go down to 1 and had no Fatigue. So they then had all of their actions on Day 2, while the character who stayed on guard still has two actions at Hunger 3, Fatigue 1. So within the first two days, that's 14 actions dedicated just to clearing out the house and getting ready to build Fittings. And again, there's a good chance you'll find more food and water in the house for the next day.

I think you also have to think a little bit about order of operations to avoid situations where you have a character with another action, but they can't get to a room because the only things left are blocked by rubble and someone else is already using the shovel. I mean, in a pinch, you can always send them to Poke About, and that's not the worst use of an action. But you want to keep things moving along as efficiently as possible. In this playthrough, I removed the rubble at the top of the ladder on the top floor early on, and I think that helped because that's blocking everything on that floor. Once it's cleared, you can send people to start working in both directions.

The Workshop is still the most important Fitting in the game. You want to rush that as soon as possible so that you can start boarding up holes quickly. That's key to surviving the growing cold and the escalating violence of the Night Raids. And on that note, also get a Hatchet as soon as you possibly can. The Hatchet is amazing! After the Workshop, I would go for the Bed, the Chair, the Rainwater Collector, and the Steel-Reinforced Door. The Herbal Garden and its accompanying improvements sound pretty great for the possibility of producing Vegetables, Bandages, and Meds at home, but honestly, I ended up not really using my garden much. By the time I was able to get the improvements up, I just never had the ingredients to make much with it. But hey, I guess go for it if the opportunity arises.

So is this a winning strategy? I don't know. Maybe? I only lost one character, and even that wasn't due to any of his statuses. He was actually doing okay. I just got a random event that automatically removed him from the game. And that's the thing about this game. There's so much randomness that no matter how perfectly you plan, there's always the possibility that everything will just go straight to hell with one bad card draw or die roll. I actually got very lucky this time around on the Night Raid and Event cards, but it could have very easily gone the other way.

Anyway, I guess now I'm ready for hard mode... 😨

#thiswarofmine
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Spent most of yesterday futilely trying to win This War of Mine: The Board Game. It is one of the most emotionally devastating gaming experiences out there. But we also had one of the greatest in-game moments of my life, which is too great not to share. So our survivors are scavenging, and we come across all of this canned food. But it's spoiled, so we're risking illness if we eat it. It does have trade value though. So some of the players are like, "Let's take it all, find a place to trade, and exchange it for good food." And the rest of us are just like, "You bastards." On the very next card we run into the soldiers, who will just murder everyone if we don't give them 10 value worth of goods. So we're like, "Here! Have some canned food! Bon appetite!"

Someone said the game designers didn't expect us to exploit the text that way. I say this isn't a bug, it's a feature. This is exactly the sort of thing that people do in a war. And it may be not be right, but I have to say, after being at the soldiers' mercy for so much of the game, it felt pretty great to just that one time be able to turn the tables on them and deliver some much deserved poetic justice.

#thiswarofmine
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Some random game design thoughts.

One of the things that's interesting about chess is that there's a limited number of possible moves. And the options available to each player become fewer as the game goes on. Your choices are limited by all of the choices that were made before. Kind of like life in general, which is probably one of the many reasons why chess is so often used as a metaphor in stories.

But then you consider a game like D&D. In D&D, the player characters continue to grow infinitely more powerful the longer they play, and more abilities open up to them as they level up. Which can be a fun, satisfying power fantasy. But I feel like a lot of the trend in indie role-playing games has largely been a reaction to fact that this flies in the face of the way that most of us know the real world to work.

All of which made think about what it might look like if you had a tabletop role-playing game in the style of D&D with a power progression arc that's more like chess. There are a handful of games that do something like this already. Dread, for example, uses a Jenga tower. And so, the longer you go, the more unstable the tower becomes, and the likely it is that a character will die. Or Fiasco, where the outcome of each scene is determined by the die that's selected from a common pool, so that options for the outcome of each remaining scene narrow as the game goes on. But these are both very rules-light games. What if you wanted something with the strategic depth of a game like D&D?

Say you have a D&D style character who effectively starts off at Level 20. When you begin the game, you're as powerful as you will ever be, and you lose power as the game progresses. I'm sure there are more traditional gamers who would balk at this idea, but I feel like it might add a very interesting layer of decision-making. At each step, you have to make hard decisions about how you play your character. Then it becomes a game not just about killing monsters and taking their stuff, but about how much power you're willing to sacrifice to achieve your objective.
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I'm hoping to try out a game of Cryptozoic Entertainment's Almost Got 'Im at GASP Games Day today. Reading through the rules, I like the poker mechanic. It seems like an interesting take on social deduction games. But I can't help feeling a little disappointed. To me, the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Almost Got 'Im" that this game is based upon isn't really about the poker game, nor is it even about Batman's deception in posing as one of the villains, though that was a fun twist. What that episode was really about was seeing a bunch of great Batman short stories. So when I first heard the concept of the game, before I knew anything about the rules, I imagined something with a storytelling element such as in games like Once Upon a Time or Hobbit Tales.

Now admittedly that's my fault for expecting something out of the game that was never promised. But now I'm wondering if I can add house rules to this game that would introduce more of a storytelling dynamic. Maybe even something as simple as, you can tell the Dealer an Almost Got 'Im story for a chance to recharge a spent character ability. I don't know. What do you fellow gamers think?
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The irony of Donald Trump's campaign slogan is that I never really questioned whether America was great until it became clear that he would be the Republican nominee. And today I am absolutely ashamed to be an American. That's not something I say lightly. I've always believed that, despite a few vocal agitators who may claim to speak for us, Americans are basically good people. And yet half the country has voted for a fascist monster. This isn't a situation where a corrupt political party pulled strings behind the scenes to get their candidate elected. The GOP tried to tell us not to vote for him back in the primaries, and people voted for him anyway. And it's not a situation of a candidate lying to us to get people to vote for him. Trump was upfront with us from the very start that he is a racist, a misogynist, an Islamophobe, and a bully. And half the country voted for him anyway. There's no getting around it. The American people chose this.

I realize that not all of Trump's supporters voted for him out of hatred or bigotry. Probably even the vast majority of them didn't. But whatever their reasons, they voted for him anyway, and in doing so they voted to support his racist policies. They decided that their frustrations with "the system" were worth depriving millions of Americans who are struggling just as much as they are of their civil rights. What reason could they have that could possibly justify such a vote? So now whenever I meet someone, I have to wonder if they secretly want to see my friends and neighbors jailed or deported for no just cause. That's what this election has taken away from me.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that in a few weeks, once the shock of this has worn off, I'll be able to see things differently. But today, I don't even recognize this America.
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I've been thinking a lot lately about what could possibly make someone support a monster like Trump. And I saw a segment on CNN that I think offered some insight on this. They were looking at how Trump supporters are reacting to the news about his tax return, which the Trump campaign has been trying to spin as something that somehow proves Trump's financial genius. And the correspondent asked these people, "If Trump is a genius for not paying taxes, what does that make you?" And they said things like, "I guess I'm not as smart. I wish I could be as smart as Trump is."

I think this may be the most heartbreaking and infuriating thing I've heard in this entire election. These people have bought into the lie that people like Trump peddle--that financial success is directly linked to personal talent--so much so that they are blaming themselves for not being rich. They don't realize that the whole system is rigged in favor of people like Trump and that he was exploiting loopholes that are only available to the super rich like himself. They honestly think that if they were just smarter, they could be rich too. It was like listening to someone in an abusive relationship make excuses for their partner. And I think I realize now why many of Trump's supporters are so mean and nasty and why they can support a candidate who's so mean and nasty. Because like so many people who have been bullied for long enough, they eventually become bullies themselves.
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Well, now that I have to wait three whole weeks for more Walking Dead, I guess there's time to speculate about that cliffhanger. Anyone else spend a lot of time this summer thinking about who Negan killed? I feel like, from a purely narrative perspective, it has to be Daryl. I'm not saying that it will be Daryl. In fact, if we're making predictions, I think Daryl's popularity will continue to protect him. But it should be Daryl.

The other characters don't really work as well for a variety of reasons. First of all, for this moment to have the same impact as it had in the comics, it needs to be a fan favorite. Which narrows it down to a handful of people: Rick, Carl, Michonne, Daryl, Glenn, Maggie, Morgan, and Carol. And Morgan and Carol are safe because they aren't even there. It's obviously not going to be Rick or Carl. If it's Glenn, then that just makes an already infuriating cliffhanger all the more bizarre. Why make us wait six months and go to all this trouble to make it a big mystery just to reveal that it's the person we all thought it was going to be in the first place? If it's Michonne, then that's just terrible because you're basically fridging one of the most awesome and iconic female characters in comic books just so Rick can go crazy again. If it's Maggie, then basically everything they did in that entire episode was for nothing. I know a lot of people are saying Abraham. But that doesn't work because he's exactly the sort of character you would expect to die in a situation like this--someone they've built up just enough so that you feel sad when he gets killed off. Whoever it is needs to be more important and more unexpected.

So that leaves Daryl. And with Daryl, it actually makes a lot of sense for him to die here. Daryl's arc from loner redneck asshole to a central figure within the group seems like it's more or less complete. And I think partly as a result, he seems to have not had as much to do in the past season or so. Plus it would be a huge blow to Rick to lose one of his most dependable allies right before the war with the Saviors starts, and it would be really interesting to see how they adapt to that.

It's not that I have anything against Daryl. In fact, it's precisely because he's such a great character that his death would be so meaningful. And for such a beloved character, if he's going to die, why not give him the most highly anticipated death in the whole series?

If it's not Daryl, it will be a cop out that will prove that the show has lost its teeth. I mean, I'll probably keep watching anyway. But I won't be happy about it!
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One thing I really like about Marvel's Netflix shows so far is the way that they each seem to take a different approach toward exploring the same theme. Specifically the theme of trauma and its effects. Daredevil is very much about physical trauma, often focusing on how much pain Murdock can endure as his biggest strength. And the action on the show is very gritty and visceral to emphasize that. Whereas Jessica Jones deals more with the psychological effects of trauma. And I hope this is something they continue with Luke Cage and Iron Fist.

With Luke Cage, I can see the show being a very timely statement about the social aspects of trauma and the effects of trauma upon a community suffering injustice. I mean, I'm just a white guy, so maybe my opinion isn't that important here. But it seems to me that given the recent incidents of police shootings, just the image of a black man who is completely impervious to bullets should be a very powerful one. And I hope to see the show get into questions like, how does the world then respond to someone like that who they can't just shoot? And what responsibilities does Luke Cage then have to use those powers behalf of the community?

As for Iron Fist, I don't know. Maybe that one will have to do with mental/spiritual/existential trauma? I mean, there are a lot of possibilities.
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Trump said so many terrible and idiotic things on Monday, it's hard to pick out just one thing to focus on. But one thing to come out of the debates that I find particularly appalling is the way that Trump viciously attacked individual citizens. First he had that bizarre commentary on Rosie O'Donnell. Which is similar to comments he made about her during the Republican primary debates, and I thought it was outrageous and inappropriate then. I'm not sure why Trump thinks that Rosie O'Donnell needs to be a major campaign issue in this election. Then there's the whole controversy over his comments about Alicia Machado. And since then, he's been on interviews doubling down on his monstrous behavior toward her. Look, I don't really have much of an opinion one way or the other about either of these women. I understand that O'Donnell is a divisive media personality. But it's important to remember that, on top of that, these women are also human beings, and they're entitled to a certain degree of respect. And it's frankly appalling that a major presidential candidate would use a national debate as a forum for singling them out for mockery.

I know some people may be rolling their eyes because they don't like Clinton. I don't particularly like Clinton myself. I wish we could see a debate where Clinton was really challenged on her positions and that gets into the real issues. But we don't get to have that debate now because the Republicans nominated as their candidate a cruel, immature, thin-skinned man-baby. And so before we can get to any questions of actual policy, we're stuck on, "Is this a candidate who treats people with basic human dignity and respect?" It's pathetic that this is what we're talking about in regard to who our next president will be. This is basic Golden Rule stuff. It's something that most of us were taught in kindergarten. And yet, with Trump, he just doesn't get it. This is not the behavior of a leader. This is the behavior of a school bully.
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