In What Are You Playing This Weekend? we discuss gaming and such with prominent figures in the pop-culture arena. We always start with the same question.
This week, I bugged some of my favorite people from the A.V. Club mothership to share their weekend gaming plans. In the process, I learned there are people under 50 years old who play pinochle, the AVC folks are pretty plugged-in to the board game playtesting scene (if that really is a “scene”), and Josh Modell thinks he can beat you all at Words With Friends.
My interest in video games waxes and wanes, so I haven’t played a console-based game in quite some time, but I always have an iPhone game in rotation to keep me busy during my daily train commute, and for the past several months, that game has been the imaginatively named Pinochle. Why Pinochle? Well, because it’s the only halfway-decent pinochle app I can find, probably because most people who play pinochle are too old to know or care what an app even is.
But it’s my all-time favorite card game—a complicated, trump-based game with distinct bidding, meld, and trick-taking portions of each hand—and one I was raised on. Pinochle was the default event during family gatherings growing up, and learning the game was a sort of rite of passage among the Koski clan: I was indoctrinated early, serving as dealer to the adult games until I could grasp the complex rules—both official and “house rules”—myself. (The day I beat my grandpa, who had been playing for decades, was treated as an achievement on par with graduating high school.)
Since moving away from home, it’s near-impossible to find anyone who can pronounce the game, much less play it; many people assume at first that I’m talking about the similarly Midwestern, hard-to-pronounce euchre, which is basically pinochle for idiots. I’ve tried to teach others, but it’s tough to wrangle three other people—or even two, for the three-handed bastardization of the game that my family favors—so I have to content myself with the buggy Pinochle, despite the fact that the stupid computer doesn’t even know when to lead with a damn queen!
Our daughter loves the movies just as much as her cinephile parents could have hoped, but our autistic son finds them interminable and assaultive. (He once remarked that a movie is “a video that is too long and too loud.”) So it’s become Noel and our little girl’s designated bonding-time treat to go see a film, leaving my son and me to find common ground in the little white box of our Wii. He’s touchingly thrilled whenever someone in his family wants to play along, and is even willing to put aside his usual methodical, completist practice of playing four players himself and trying to figure out every character’s reaction to every possible game situation.
Archer’s obsessive Wii pastimes are the board game analogues: Fortune Street, the various Mario Party versions, and the garish Hasbro ports like Family Game Night. If there’s a board or game show mode in a title, like “London Party” in Mario And Sonic At The London 2012 Olympic Games or “Spin To Win” in Wii Party, he will give the rest of the gameplay only the most desultory look. But I prefer simultaneous play to the turn-taking that’s rampant in his favorites. And I love the salted-peanuts “just one more game” appeal of simple, quick competitions far more than the long arcs of tournaments or worlds. So I always beg to play Tetris Party or Bingo Party. I can’t explain why I love Bingo Party as much as I do. It’s simply addictive. I’ll keep punching numbers on my 90-number cards until I can’t see the numbers anymore, and then I remember that I ought to blink once a while to keep my contacts hydrated.
When his sister gets back from ParaNorman with Dad, maybe she’ll join us playing Dance Dance Revolution II. While Archer uses the control pad exclusively and updates us on which songs and play modes he’s achieved PFC (“Perfect Full Combo”), Cady Gray and I take turns using the dance pad and hoping our favorite songs will pop up on random. Last song of the session is always the Konami original “El ritmo te controla,” in which the stepping pattern delivers a satisfying Latin shimmy.
I will be playtesting Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Somehow, since I wrote about tabletop roleplaying for The A.V. Club, I’ve become a regular member of a couple of groups, and one of them is testing the new version of the game this weekend. I’m all but certain this will lead to everybody else creating robot vampire wizards (as in one of my other groups), while I’m just some regular guy named Steve, but I’m hopeful that the whole thing doesn’t turn into a character creation grind. The new “fifth edition”—out later this year, ostensibly—is said to be at once a return to the glory days of when the game was all about grinding out stats and a more simplified version of the game designed to gain new players. Considering I’ve only played the fourth edition (which is much reviled by much of the game’s fan base), I really have no idea what to expect, outside of orcs.
You picked the right week to ask us this question. I’m headed to GenCon in Indianapolis for a full-blown gaming nerd-out this weekend—my first time going to the convention. As far as scheduled events, I’m going to be playtesting some new RPGs and trying out a True Dungeon live-action role-playing event with friends. On the à la carte menu, I’m hoping to get in on some of the open board gaming and try some things I’ve never heard of—though I’m particularly looking for someone who owns “Sentinels Of The Multiverse,” which I’ve heard is a blast, but want to try before I buy. At night, I’ll be running a Free Fate superheroes game for some friends at our hotel, and another friend is going to run a Dread one-shot, which apparently is a horror game that uses Jenga for conflict resolution, which sounds brilliant. And my favorite party game, Werewolf (a.k.a. Mafia, Witch Hunt, Are You A Werewolf, Do You Worship Cthulhu, etc.) will be running virtually nonstop throughout the entire weekend. Basically, I plan to disappear into games on Friday and not surface until Sunday.
Since my son was born, I’ve pretty much given up video games completely, I’m sad to say. (I will make time for that new Resident Evil game this fall, though!) But I will continue to play Words With Friends at pretty much every waking moment, and even sometimes when I’m sleeping. I’m not as bad as I once was—my peak was 22 games going at the same time—but I’ve still got six or seven in progress at any given time. So that’s where you’ll find me, Gameological readers, this weekend and every weekend. My screen name is joshmodell, and I’m pretty good.
And now, we put the question to you. Tell us what you’ve been playing lately, and which games—video or otherwise—are on your playlist for the weekend.