11 Ways to Tell You've Got a Gamer on Your Christmas List

Family-playing-board-game-007We understand that having a gamer in your life can lead to confusion during the holiday season. Chances are you've found yourself walking into a store, or looking at Web sites you never knew existed, and are wondering if someone is playing some sort of elaborate prank on you. So we've taken it upon ourselves to explain some of the oddities you might be experiencing this year with that gamer in your life, and hopefully make this a joyous and bright Christmas for all.

So here are 11 ways to tell if there is a gamer on your Christmas list, and a little help in figuring out what exactly it is they are talking about, or would like under the tree this year.

deck-components1—They keep talking about "Deck-Building" but you're pretty sure you've never seen them pick up a tool...ever.

It's okay, you're not imagining things. They do like to build decks, but they're not referring to an overgrown porch; they're talking about cards. Deck-building games are all the rage these days, and chances are your gamer likes them. Games to check out include: Dominion, Ascension, and the DC Comics Deck-Building Game. Here are some other deck builders!

2 —They appear to talk in a strange, secret language that mostly involves random letters and numbers : RPG, CCG, LCG, d12, d6, etc.

Most trades/vocations/sub-cultures have a certain vernacular, and gamers are no exception. Here's a few quick tips to help decipher this code: G = Game, C= Card, and d = die/dice. So in the examples above, we've referred to Role Playing Games, Collectible Card Games, Living Card Games, and 12- and 6-sided dice.

iron die3—They make your kids roll a d20 for initiative to see who gets to open the next present under the tree.

In this case, you've got a serious RPGer in your life (See #2). Sometimes a roll of the dice can be a non-objective way to resolve a dispute. Just don't let them get carried away with modifiers, or equipping support items and spells. If you want to get on your RPGer's good side, a nice custom or metal set of polyhedral dice should do the trick... Just don't ever touch them, and whatever you do, don't roll them! Ever!

4—They often refer to playing with a hidden identity, being a spy, and/or a werewolf.

Chances are they're talking about the last time they played The Resistance or Werewolf, or some other game that requires them to hide their identity from others in order to win. You shouldn't be too concerned, unless they start wearing dark sunglasses even at night. Or unless, of course, you find multiple counterfeit passports in their underwear drawer. You may want to look into the newest sensation in this genre, "Two Rooms and a Boom." You can't buy it yet, but you could print and cut the cards from the DIY print and play files. Anyone who's ever gone through that process will surely appreciate the thought AND the effort put into that gift!

plush log

5—They repeatedly refer to a certain group of people they keep calling "Settlers" and can't stop making "wood for sheep" jokes.

A word of warning here: (this may come off as snobbish) but if this describes a person you know, and they claim to be a gamer, you could be dealing with a poser here. Settlers of Catan, while a fine game in its own right, is just a few clicks up from Monopoly in the "Oh, I like board games... I've played..." category. Regardless, there are plenty of iterations, accessories, and Catan-themed gifts out there, to satisfy the unquenchable thirst of any die hard Settlers fan.

6—They measure everything in mm (millimeters).

Looks like you've got a real miniatures/wargame fanatic on your hands. You've no doubt seen them more than once with their nose deeply inserted into a 2 inch—errrr...make that 5.08 mm manual for games like Warhammer 40K (pronounced 4DK for some reason), or hunched over a table meticulously painting the highlights into every knuckle  of their Eldar Bowman's fingers, or writing thesis-length back-stories for why that particular figure has a small grass stain on its left knee. You may consider getting this gamer some art supplies, like nice model paint, or fine-point paintbrushes. Or some financial counseling so they can move out of your basement.

warhammer_fb_larp_russia_by_ghunnar-d4t4uau7—They spend countless hours constructing foam weaponry and mastering their dueling skills.

These are classic tell-tale signs of a LARPer. (We'll help you out: "Live Action Role Player.") This form of gaming takes the stakes to a completely higher level by adding in actual, physical activity to the gaming experience. Many folks who LARP can be found in the woods on weekends camping out, battling nasty orcses, and looking rather stylish while doing it. LARPers generally appreciate any accessory, medieval garb, or foam weaponry that would go well with their character's taste or clan's colors. If you want to be more practical, some camping gear, and bug spray (aka magical mist of repulsion), comes in handy, too. A word of warning: Do not attempt to go all Pinterest and make your LARPer some "snazzy" cardboard weapons or armor; such things are frowned upon by this crowd.

8—They're always discussing "Streamlined Mechanics" but the guy who works on your car is some clumsy dude named Bill.

In the gaming world the term mechanic is used to describe the way a game plays, the actions a player can do on a turn, and the way game pieces or cards interact with each other in a game. Streamlined mechanics are a way of referring to a game that is simple to play and learn, without a lot of in-depth mechanics, or actions to slow the game play down. If your gamer is into games that are streamlined, you might want to check out some simple, but fun, games like Council of Verona, or Coup. Find Coup online here.

ZombieMeeples1a9—They have a mega hypochondriac obsession with the Measles. 

They're not obsessed with the Measles; they're saying Meeples. Meeple has been slowly usurping the terms Token and Pawn for some time now. A standard Meeple is essentially a wooden representation of a person. But of late we've seen everything from Truck-eeples (in The Great Heartland Hauling Co.) to Canoe-eeples (in Paradise Fallen) to awesome monster-eeples and adventurer-eeples (in Dungeon Heroes) and even Lincoln-eeples (albeit hat-less ones, in Pixel Lincoln). If your gamer likes trinkets and such, any of the games we just mentioned will add some unique Meeples to their collection. You can also find tons of customized/painted Meeples on sites like Etsy and Ebay.

10—They don't work in HR, but they're constantly bringing up "Worker Placement."

Worker Placement is an increasingly popular game mechanic (see #8) that involves placing Meeples into certain areas of a game board to perform a certain task or gain a resource to hurtle you toward victory. If you've got a worker-placement fan, they probably already have Agricola or Stone Age, but they'd love a copy of T'zolk'in or Viticulture to add to their collection. Get Tzolik'in here.

POLLOCK_1950_Lavender_Mist11—They repeatedly confess their LOVE of abstracts, but they've said they think Jackson Pollock is a hack.

While this may seem confusing, we're unfazed by this apparent dichotomy. Abstracts are once again a specific genre of games that are, well...non-specific. They usually involve moving random pieces around on a board until someone wins for whatever reason. Very rarely do they have a theme or any sort of story-driven explanation as to why you're doing what you're doing, but they are also generally highly strategic. If this describes the games your gamer is into, go grab a copy of The Duke, RIGHT NOW! Find it online, right here!

We certainly hope that this list has been both entertaining and helpful to you. If there's something we didn't cover, let us know down in the comments!

Don't forget to sign up on the right to receive our posts via email and check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. You can also download our monthly Podcast on iTunes!

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A Special Interview w/ Unicorn City Director Bryan Lefler

Tunicorncoveroday we’re once again playing a bit against type,  as we have a little sit-down with Bryan Lefler, Editor, Writer, and Director of the film Unicorn City, which is a wonderful and funny movie about gamers.

Bryan, thanks so much for taking some time to chat with us! Did we get all the credits right? Or did you have any additional roles/jobs on the film?

I’m going to correct you on the title of writer. I was a co-writer, having written the script with my brother, Adrian. My father, who was one of the executive producers, was instrumental in the writing process as well. He’s the one who would read our stuff, say that it didn’t make any sense, roll his eyes and say it was lame, and push for more weighty issues instead of making it all about people just fartin’ around in a forest.

When you’re talking about an independent movie you end up signing on for all sorts of extra jobs, whether you planned on it or not. I did storyboarding, concept artwork, and a myriad of other things.

So take us back to the beginning: What spawned the idea of Unicorn City? Were you a gamer growing up, or were you drawn to the genre because of the awesome level of geeky awkwardness within the gamer culture?

This is a multifaceted question so I’ll answer it in a kind of brain-barfy way.

The idea of Unicorn City didn’t just pop into our brains. My brother and I had been writing, or rather, trying to figure out how to write, for about 6 years. We had written about 3 scripts. The first one was awful. The second script had dark subject matter and we decided we didn’t want to go there. Basking in the dregs of society isn’t where we wanted to be for the next 2 to 3 years. We wrote another that was just way too big in terms of budget. When they say “don’t limit yourselves when writing” I think they’re smoking. My experience is that you have to have budget in mind. If you’re going to be low budget then treat it that way and embrace it.

So, we knew we had to do something very, very low budget. So low budget that we could finance it by mortgaging our homes...or at least convince my dad to mortgage his. Adrian approached me one day and said, “I got it. A modern day Don Quixote by Cervantes. It’s all about imagination vs. reality, but with gamers.” We grabbed that idea and started working on it. In the meantime I ran into a friend at the LA airport that Adrian and I went to school with named Cameron Dayton. We were catching up before our flight and I mentioned that we were working on a script about gamers. Cameron had a similar idea about the creation of a utopia and the title “Unicorn City.” We met up afterwards and worked together on the story until Cameron left Utah because he got a job with Blizzard Entertainment. At that point we all agreed to move on. Adrian and I kept writing for years after that, about 4 years to be exact, until we had something we felt comfortable in pitching. Writing is the hardest part of filmmaking. Everything else is cake when compared to writing.

In regards to whether or not I gamed growing up; no I didn’t. Adrian played some D&D for a while for not long. Whenever I had a spare moment I was drawing. When it came to Unicorn City Adrian and I joined a guild and gamed for about 8 months. However, even during that time I wasn’t interested in the gaming, or how the game worked, but rather in the people and the relationships around the table.

An additional aspect of myself is that I’ve worked in the video game industry for over 12 years, and still do. Many of those I associate with are gamers and are some of the greatest, most intelligent, and gentle people I know. When Adrian and I started in on the film we really wanted to break the stereotypes of who a gamer is. Everything we saw had them has nerds with glasses. When in reality we had friends in high school who were stars on the football team who gamed religiously. We had a lot of fun doing that and, oddly enough, it’s gamers who write us negative reviews because we busted some of those stereotypes. Kind of funny.

unicorn-cityYou’re an artist by trade, so how did you fall into making a feature film?

I’ve always drawn. My mother claims all responsibility for my talent because she allowed me to make a mess with my food. My grandmother, who is a neat freak, would be disgusted at the messes I would make in my highchair. My mom would say “Oh, he’s just

painting.” But I share a very deep love of illustration and film. I like to think I “make pictures” and qualify both under that definition.

In grade school I was set on working in the SFX industry. I loved Stan Winston, Dennis Muren, Richard Edlund, Phil Tippett and wanted to do what they did. I would go to the library and copy entire magazines of Cinefex and go over and over them. I realized soon that the director had the ultimate say in the decisions and grew to love the idea of being in charge of the entire story.

I drew and drew through middle school, high school, and when I went to college tried to double major, but the school wouldn’t let me. At BYU I minored in film because I could still get my hands on the equipment and not have to do most of the classes and then majored in illustration. Before leaving school I got a job working for a game company and I’ve been in the games industry since. I currently work for Avalanche Software in Salt Lake City, Utah. Disney is the mothership and we’re currently finishing off “Disney’s Infinity,” which is going to blow peoples minds. It’s a great game (shameless plug).

Some people are calling Unicorn City "Napoleon Dynamite set in a gamer’s world"; how do you react to that comparison?

It’s a compliment. The actual quote that we slapped on our movie poster we got from a fan at our second screening. We showed it at Gencon and after the screening a guy came up to me and said “...that’s like Napoleon Dynamite meets Monty Python’s Holy Grail...” We never had a Peter Travers or any top critic review our movie and give us a quote, so we used this fan’s and indicated that the quote is by “Some dude in Indiana.”

I don’t know if you are aware of this or not but I went to film school with Jared and Jerusha Hess and I was the storyboard artist and script supervisor on Napoleon Dynamite. I never set out to copy it, however there are things that happen in making low-budget that cast a similar glow. For example, you only have so many setups, you only have so much time, comedy plays best in the wide—in a Buster Keaton or vaudeville way. So I share many things in common, stylistically, with Napoleon Dynamite but in terms of story and character I don’t see anything that is really similar. Well, we also have a bus and Jon Gries. But if people want to say that about Unicorn City then go right ahead because I hold both films very dear to my heart.

Using the DM as the film’s villain is sheer genius, and Jon Gries’ portrayal of Shadow Hawk is so sinister I hated him through the whole film! So, be honest: This guy is totally one of your DM’s from the past, isn’t he...?

UnicornCity_still6No. Actually, he’s Shakespeare. Adrian and I made Shadow Hawk's alter ego as William Shakespeare and he’s never been able to fall out of playing that part. The only thing that slides in and out of character is Shadow Hawk’s accent—which I love. We thought it would be funny to have the DM think of himself as the greatest story teller and, of course, that would be Shakespeare. We even gave Jon hair and costuming that reinforced that; the facial hair and beard, pony tail, and those big, poofy shorts and tights during the battle of wits.

So typically when a film or TV show tries to inject “gamer” games or terms into the story, it might make some sort of Catan reference, but the scenes in the game shop have a pretty all-star selection of great board games. Did you have some input on getting your favorites in those scenes?

It wasn’t a matter of finding a favorite but a matter of finding a backdrop. Adrian worked tirelessly, writing tons and tons of emails asking for permission to show them. Most of the companies were very generous and allowed us to display their games.

maxresdefaultSo when we see the interactions between Voss and his brothers, are we really seeing a window into your relationship with your own siblings?

I don’t know of any relationship between brothers where there isn’t some sort of pecking order. Our neighborhood growing up was full of these types of familial relationships. You can pound that crap out of your brother but no one else can, and if they do you’d pummel their head in. It’s a really weird way that brothers say, “I love you.”

How were you able to walk the fine line of making fun of a culture, while also showing a great affection for that culture?

I think you do that by showing their pain. We’re all attracted to different things. What’s normal to one person is bizarre to another. I could have made a film about people who love fantasy football, or paintballing, or competitive knitting. It doesn’t matter. You show great affection to a culture by making them human and we know they’re human because we relate to their successes and failures. We all know what it feels like to fail and hurt inside. So regardless of what that person is suffering from, whether we think it’s bizarre or not, we’re still tapping into something familiar. If it’s Voss sitting up at night and looking over a miniature landscape and feeling alone and wondering if he even belongs on this earth, then we get it. As long as we’re treating his pain in an honest way. Making fun of something is easy. You just hold a microscope over a culture and not give their ups and downs and equal billing. It comes down to empathy for me.

Aside from some very mild language, and extremely awkward necking, the film is very family friendly—that is to say, there’s nothing overtly violent, sexual, or crude about it. What motivated you to keep the film clean? And how hard was it to maintain that standard?

It’s more difficult to make something that is kind than it is to make something mean. Just as it’s easier to tear down than it is to build up. I took making the film clean as a personal challenge and as a calling card. I had some issues with some of the actors wanting the film to be edgier and some other conversations about how it needed to be aged up, but I felt strongly in making it an experience that everyone in a family could enjoy. I wanted to label myself as a writer and director who embraces family. Interestingly, one of the actors that I'd had this “edgier” conversation with later came to me and basically gave me his genealogical pedigree of everyone he invited to see the film, from his parents to, aunts, uncles, grandma, and kids. He described exactly what I was wanting to achieve, which is that they all went to the movie and enjoyed it together. That’s how I remember films of the 80’s. They were fun for everyone.

The best was when I ran into Chris Metzen, Vice President of Creative Development at Blizzard Entertainment, at Pixar. I was there for my work and listened to a lecture he was giving with other heavy hitters in the game industry. At one point during his lecture he talked about gamers being like a family unit. Which was my philosophy going in to make Unicorn City. I saw gamers sitting around the table gaming as nothing more than a family sitting around the dinner table. They share stories, talk about personal issues, argue, eat, laugh, and enjoy each other. Well, I introduced myself and told him that I wanted to give him my film and that I thought he would love it. Before I could finish he cut me off and said “Unicorn City!!!” He had already seen it, loved it and then paid me the best compliment. He told me that he watched it with his kids and laughed through the whole thing. He said “...good for you, man.  Making a film that I could watch with my kids; that doesn’t happen very much anymore.  You should be proud of that...”

unicorncity4Did Wizards of the Coast not find the screenplay amusing, or was it easier to just allude to them without using their actual name?

We sent Wizards of the Coast a script to see if they would allow us to display their products on film.  The person with whom we were talking was interested and told us to get back with them when we were about ready for production. We did what they asked but when we tried to contact that same person they wouldn’t allow us to talk to them and then said “...absolutely no...”  So we made sure we didn’t use their products and made double sure we didn’t use their name. Then, in the middle of filming, we realized we never had given a name to the company that Voss wanted to work for. Devin McGinn and Adrian approached me in between takes one day and Devin pitched “Warlocks of the Beach.” I laughed so we went with it.

So what do you want someone to walk away from Unicorn City having learned—or felt?

I wanted people to feel good after having watched it. The visual in my head was people leaving the theater with a smile on their faces. I wanted them to laugh and have an experience that I had when I was younger. Which is seeing a film with the entire family and not feeling like you needed to go home and repent for watching the thing. Now that’s the ideological answer. I also wanted to make enough money that I could quit my job and make films full time, or at least have enough money to concentrate on one job. Making a film while you’re working full time, supporting a family, have church responsibilities, work with the scouts, and have a bunch of fruit trees is excruciating. I would have to work on it after 10:30 pm until 1:00 and then get up at 5 am and get another hour and a half in. I did that for years through the writing, then pre-production, and then the post-production/editing phase. I never wanted to do that again, but I will be. Why? Because sitting in the back of a theater and listening to people laugh is an addiction I’m happy to have.

Will there be more films in your future?

I sure as heck hope so. I’m working on other ideas currently. I think I have one that will be a lot of fun.

A sequel to Unicorn City, perhaps?

I don’t see one in the near future, but who knows.

Or are there other stories you want to tell?

I’m dabbling in stories from Western to Science Fiction. I really would like to try all genres, minus horror and porn.

5-questions, 5 words to answer them (okay, you can use a phrase if it’s appropriate):

Favorite RPG race/class combo?

Clarbadong. Just made that up.

Favorite seven-letter word?


Favorite science fiction television show of ALL TIME!?

Greatest American Hero, Voyagers, or Star Trek

Favorite vacation you’ve taken?

My family kidnapped me from going to work one day during a very stressful time.

Favorite minor character in a major film?

I have a few that come to mind:

Argyle in Die Hard

Blain in Predator

Hudson in Aliens

Skinhead (Elias Koteas) in Some Kind of Wonderful

Anthony Qunn in Lawrence of Arabia (not really a minor character)

Bryan, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today!

Unicorn City is currently available on Netflix instant streaming. You can also get your own copy of the film on Blu-ray and DVD on Amazon right here!  You can also find more about the film at UnicornCity.com, and on Facebook.

We really enjoyed the film, and the sincerity in which the gaming culture was handled. This film has a lot of heart! And it's funny!

Thanks as always for reading our little blog; if you like what's happening here please subscribe over on the right. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube! [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_V7BZy-dCyc&w=560&h=315]

When We Last Left Our Heroes...

Well it certainly has been a busy week for us here at TOG! We've had lots of exciting news, an interview, and we've got a TON of stuff in the works behind the scenes! We started the week off with a few deep thoughts about the LARP community.

Stay on Target... Or at least go to Target to grab some new titles or a few clearance gems!

We also learned a little more about the wine making community in an interview with Viticulture designer Jamie Stegmiaer.

Thursday we kicked off a new weekly feature: Kickstarter Weekly with news about the Purge: Sins of Science Kickstarter campaign.

And we brought you a heads up of the Halloween Freighters add-on for Ticket to Ride.

We are always so glad to have your support, and thank you as always for joining us for another week here at TOG! The next few weeks will be chock full of game reviews, a TON of interviews, Kickstarter info, and of course up-to-the-minute news from around the gaming community!

LARP - A Tale of Two Realities

by Jeremiah

Having mostly kept my gaming habits to those that are confined to the table top—with the exception of the occasional video game and a very short stint as a force adept Trandoshan smuggler in the Star Wars Role Playing game—I'm writing about LARPers from a place of non-experience. However, because I have never taken part in this over the top form of gaming, it also doesn't mean I'm here to bash it. I personally find it fascinating.

What is a LARP? LARP is gamer speak for Live Action Role Playing; it is exactly what it sounds like. Players enter into gameplay and play the role of a character who has certain skills, abilities, allegiances, etc. etc.

Why do people LARP? That is a great question. The more I've peered into the world of LARPing the more I've found this question has no easy answer. There seem to be a few common threads that tie all LARPers together.

  • Acceptance—Folks who just haven't fit into most social circles in the "real" world can find friends and "family" within the context of LARP
  • Creative Outlet—For some it's painting, and others it's songwriting or sculpture. And for some it's the creation of a character or navigating through campaigns as a character in their LARP of choice.
  • Escape—For many it's a way to escape the daily grind of the rat race—a way to escape it all.

What do I think of LARP? The initial knee-jerk reaction, even around most hardcore gamers is, "Wow, those people are nerds!" I then have to remind folks that we're sitting at a table intently a) building fictitious empires, b) battling fictitious monsters, or c) competing for control of a fictitious land that's represented by a small piece of cardboard. Mr. Pot, it's time to put down the phone, Mr. Kettle knows full well what color he is. When I look at LARP as a whole, I think of it as a deeply intense Paintball battle scenario (something which is much more "socially acceptable" these days) or something akin to a civil war re-enactment without the tedious binds of historical accuracy, combined with improv theatre.

Would I ever participate in a LARP? My answer is a qualified: no. Every element of LARP I find extremely enjoyable: intense competition, immersive gaming scenarios, all things theatrical, and so on. There are two main factors as to why I will most likely never get involved with a LARP. Time and money. From everything I've seen, heard, and read about LARP it's pretty time consuming— taking up entire weekends at a time, and the cost of the gear can be a huge deterrent. Personally I have enough things in my life draining time and money from me, and my family and I simply cannot afford to entertain the thought of investing more into a gaming situation than I already do. Perhaps when my children are older, and my wife agrees to join in on a quest, the Isley family will take the LARP community by storm.  Until such time I say: LARP community, you have my support, but not my sword!

The Nerdist channel on YouTube has just wrapped up their first season of the new series called "Realm of LARP", a documentary, or as they call it a "Reality" series, that follows a group of 5 LARPers—one of whom is a Seventh Day Adventist—through a full campaign, giving a behind-the scenes glimpse along the way.

Also the independent film Darkon is an intriguing look at a LARP community in New England that battles for control of the "DARKON" realm...

So where do you land on LARP? Have you experienced it first hand? We'd love to hear your stories! Leave 'em in the comments! Thanks so much for reading!