My World’s On Fire, How ‘Bout Yours?

I keep thinking I need to post, and then I don’t have anything to post about, and then suddenly I have everything to post about, and I have no idea how to articulate any of my thoughts on any of it.

I’m super behind on everything in life right now, from emails and photos and housework and personal projects to the day job and even this journal. And the world continues to sink deeper and deeper into despair every day, which doesn’t exactly give me any motivation to start making progress on any of it.

I guess instead (and in an attempt to make progress at least on the journal part) I’ll just say we did a cabin trip last week to the Adirondacks with friends, which marks the most serious indoor activity with others since the pandemic started (and, other than my mom visiting a few months ago, the first time indoors with others for longer than about a day). Five of us found a rather nice (and very well-equipped) cabin by a lake that made both an excellent home base for hiking/kayaking/outdoor activities, as well as a place for me and Mark to not do those things and instead spend our days playing board games. Assisted by nightly COVID testing, all of us seem to have gotten out of it without getting sick, so I continue my streak of avoiding getting COVID, even as more and more friends and coworkers are falling around me.




Given the way things continue to go, I’ve been having the nagging thought since then that that week might be the last time for the foreseeable future that I’m truly happy. And I really don’t know what to do about that.

Meal Kit Updates, Games, Pandemic, and Thou (or really Moi)

We’ve been getting a meal kit every week or two for quite a few months now (since before my summary of meal kit experiences post), and now that the novelty factor has worn off a bit, and I’ve gotten at least three boxes from each of Dinnerly, EveryPlate, Martha Stewart, and Hello Fresh, I think it’s time for a small update.

First and foremost: The lack of in-box recipe cards from Dinnerly has proven to be somewhat of a pain. It’s remedied by printing them ourselves, but it’s still an extra step that involves copying files to the computer hooked up to the printer. I’ve also encountered a couple recipes from Dinnerly now that seemed extremely poorly thought through, including a lentil-based meatless loaf that was the first meal kit meal I had to throw out. So I think a bit of the “this is the cheapest of all the meal kits” has really started to show.

Along those lines, the second cheapest, EveryPlate, has not suffered from the “bad recipe” problem, but instead has fallen victim to the “these are not interesting recipes” problem. There’re been many weeks now where I’ve looked through the recipe selections and nothing stands out to me as something I want to make and eat. There’s only so many times you can toss potatoes in olive oil and bake them, or so many ways to chop onions/garlic and cook with orzo/rice, or so many times you can season a chicken breast and pan fry it.

On the other hand, I’ve grown increasingly fond of Martha Stewart and Hello Fresh, despite their higher prices. One thing I’ve found from having had 6 different meal kit company subscriptions over the past 5 months is that many of them will send you “come back and try us again” savings, so I’ve been cycling through these to never pay full price for any box. From that standpoint, Martha Stewart and Hello Fresh have been significantly more worthwhile.

Of the two, I would call Martha Stewart’s meals more unusual (but slightly more expensive) while Hello Fresh’s are a little more straightforward while remaining interesting.

So I think, given discounts exist, I’d probably recommend Martha Stewart or Hello Fresh the most, even though I still think these kits are not worthwhile at full price. We’ve generally settled on each “for four people” kit making 3 servings for the two of us, although some of those (for example the plum/ginger pork below) require a supplemental second dinner afterward.

In entertainment-y life, my new gaming laptop kicked off some semi-regular video gaming nights thanks to Austin. We worked our way through a few games like Biped, Escape Room Simulator, and Moving Out. We also got into a couple more open-ended games in Unrailed, Risk of Rain 2, and Don’t Starve Together. The latter, in particular, has been nice because I’ve managed to get Ben and Steve and Seth involved as well. I think I’m finding that my video gaming life is really driven by a desire for social activity over anything else, which is perhaps unsurprising given the pandemic.

Along those same lines, however, I’ve grown strangely sick of trying to wrangle people for activities, which in many cases have meant they just… don’t happen. The Among Us groups I was running last year fizzled out because people stopped attending after RSVPing or expressing interest, making larger games difficult. General non-Thursday (virtual) board gaming has fizzled out because people generally don’t seem to be interested. I think maybe this is the pandemic again just lowering my threshhold for dealing with “less than super straightforward” stuff in my life… normally I’d love arranging events. I just haven’t felt it for the past many months.

That leaves just the regularly-scheduled recurring stuff: Thursday virtual board games, Sunday night Jackbox, and monthly virtual get-togethers. At least those are nice to have.


Speaking of the pandemic and my life… I think the best way to describe my mental state at the moment is “I’m tired”. I’m tired of feeling like I’m the only person taking the risk of disease seriously still, with everyone else going maskless everywhere and filling gyms and attending conventions and taking international vacations. I’m tired of variant after variant because people can’t do their part when needed to lower transmissibility. I’m tired of trying to figure out where my “acceptable” risk levels are because the world’s continuing on without me whether I like it or not even though I’m terrified of getting sick due to my increased health risk and the prospect of long covid.

It’s honestly hard to see anything positive in the future at the moment, either politically (hooray the far left is going to make us lose congress again this year and set us back another couple decades!), ecologically (hooray climate change is accelerating and we’re all going to burn and/or drown and/or starve!), societally (hooray divisions between people have never been greater such that even a pandemic couldn’t bring us together!), socially (hooray I still feel weird seeing people for non-outdoor/non-virtual activities because the pandemic is a thing!), professionally (hooray I feel stuck in a rut and burnt out work-wise and don’t know what to do about it!), or creatively (hooray I haven’t really been interested in photography or card game design in years now!).

At least my personal/romantic life continues positively. It often feels like it’s the only thing that is, these days.

I just wish I could find things to do in the rest of my life that make me feel even a tenth as fulfilled as and that I care about even a tenth as much as that. Maybe that means “I’m apathetic” is a better descriptor than “I’m tired”. Maybe I’m both.

Maybe hanging all your happiness on one other person is a terrible idea, and ultimately fairly unfair to them.

Maybe I just don’t have the energy to care, these days.

So life goes, I suppose.

Card Games and Board Games and (Keith) Bares, Oh My

I’ve been on a bit of a defunct TCG kick lately, purchasing several new defunct TCGs and doing a bunch of card sorting. Things I’ve picked up include the Bleach TCG, the third starter I was missing for the Young Jedi TCG, the Power Rangers TCG, Force of Will, My Little Pony TCG, Dicemasters, Highlander TCG, Epic Battles, and some more Star Trek CCG and VS system. It’s also made me revisit (and reorganize) a lot of the TCGs I already have, such as .hack, Buffy, Megaman, Hecatomb, World of Warcraft, Fullmetal Alchemist, DBZ (CCG, TCG, and new Panini CCG), Yu Yu Hakusho, X-Files, Neopets, Simpsons, UFS, Lord of the Rings, and the Star Wars TCG (by Wizards, not to be confused with the CCG from Decipher).

Behold, my sorted and labelled collection!

I’ve also been dumping starter deck card lists (at least for the games with fixed starter contents) over at randomjunk, mostly so I can reconstruct decks in the future if needed. Some of them (like .hack) required quite a bit of reconstruction (since I didn’t want to open new, unopened decks to confirm), so I hope I have it all correct.

In any case, it’s interesting how TCGs have changed over the past decade or so. Some thoughts in no particular order:

  • A lot of the older games are much more low-frills: the starter deck boxes contain little more than the deck and some rules and are often sized exactly for the contents, and the games usually don’t require components other than the cards themselves. Newer games have dice and tokens and counters and come in huge boxes with plastic inserts that have to be discarded. (Power Rangers and Force of Will are particularly bad at this, but World of Warcraft also comes in huge cases which are at least functional.)
  • A surprising number of starter decks are not actually tournament-legal decks. World of Warcraft is especially bad at this (would it kill you to give us a full 60 card deck rather than a half-sized one?), but things like Buffy, Star Wars’ theme decks, and Power Rangers also offer starter decks that are less than the necessary number of cards.
  • Many games have two-player starter deck variants, which is nice, but those almost always have fewer cards than required for a legal deck. (See: Young Jedi, Star Wars TCG.) Still, I blame this less than the above, since you’re not forcing each player to buy a deck to play.
  • It’s interesting how TCGs went through a “starters must be randomized” phase, and then split into either theme decks or semi-randomized setups. Star Trek, X-Files, and Highlander are good examples of games with starters that are actually not only not tournament legal, but are often outright not playable out of the box due to the randomization. Some games then turned to preconstructed decks, often with randomized selection or portions of decks in opaque boxes (such as Bleach, Buffy, World of Warcraft, DBZ [both CCG and TCG], and Yu Yu Hakusho), while others took a more consumer-friendly approach of preconstructed decks indicated by the box (such as Simpsons, Megaman, .hack, Fullmetal Alchemist, Neopets, VS, and UFS) so you could select which deck you wanted.
  • Duplicate cards are an expected part of any starter, but some games take this to an extreme. I think Decipher’s 2-player starter decks (Young Jedi, Austin Powers) are especially egregious examples of this, but even things like the Star Trek 2E Starters duplicate cards for no good reason between decks (and even between decks in different expansion sets).
  • I wish more games did the “starter deck” rarities, especially across all cards in a starter deck. It’s extremely frustrating to open boosters and get a “rare” that you already have a few copies of from a starter (the DBZ TCG was particularly bad at this, with both the decks having two copies of one card as the only rare), but WoW does this too. Huge kudos to things like DBZ Panini for having only starter-rarity cards in their starters, but thanks to things like Megaman and .hack for at least trying via starter-only “rares”. (Alternately, randomizing only the rares works too, like LoTR or Buffy.)
  • I wish more games would include a booster pack or two in the starter deck. It’s a good way to give a taste of the collecting and customizing experience to newbies, but also increases the value of purchasing multiple starters. Bleach and WoW are probably the top here (two boosters per starter) but other games like Terminator at least make an effort.

I keep thinking it could be fun to start a blog/podcast/youtube channel on defunct TCGs, giving a general summary of their format (starter randomization, thoughts on packaging and collectability), gameplay, history, and my thoughts on the game. But like most things, I’ll probably never find the time to do it.

It’ll also be interesting to potentially try out playing some of these in the future. Which is actually a reasonable segue into the next subject…

We’ve started in-person games again, albeit outdoors (on our backyard deck) and with a very small number of other people at a time (1-3). Still, that means photos has gotten its first update with photos since the pandemic began (the last galleries, despite being posted in August, were from a February trip).

This is mostly thanks to Ben, who was in town for an unexpected visit. We hung out and played some games on the deck a couple of times (including some of my new pickups from the pandemic, such as Shadows in Kyoto), and it felt okay enough that we had Keith and Austin over for some more serious games this past weekend. I think we’re not ready for games (or generally groups of people visiting) inside the house yet, but outdoors seems fine.

We also had lunch at Emiliano’s with Keith (sitting outdoors, of course), which was our first restaurant meal with someone else since the pandemic started.

Baby steps :)

Games Games Games

As mentioned in the last post, I have four standing gaming sessions a week (if you include the work one). If anything, this pandemic has been better for playing board games with friends, albeit virtually, than life beforehand. Maybe that’s part of the reason I never feel like I have time to do anything, but at least the relaxingness is good?

We started out at the beginning with our old favorite BrettspielWelt. The last time we used it (years ago) it was a downloaded java client that was reasonable. Now it’s a more web-based interface that is mostly clunky to use, although it seems to be decent enough.

But then someone (Austin?) suggested moving to Tabletop Simulator instead, and that has been a much better experience. Greg describes it as a physics engine that happens to play board games, which makes for amusing interactions sometimes, but there’s nothing like flipping the table when you lose a game. It also fixes a lot of the tedium of playing normal board games, even for non-scripted games, by simplifying things like shuffling.

The Fairfax group has started a weekly Jackbox games session, thanks to Tim, and that’s been a blast. Drawful 2 is one of our favorites, and we’ve gotten maybe a little too good at drawing some of the prompts.


Work introduced me to the joys of Codenames online and Broken Picturephone (AKA Eat Poop You Cat), and that has been pretty spectacular too.

Lastly, we’ve been (more recently) playing board games with Mark and Sharon (AKA my San Francisco crowd) via Board Game Arena. It generally feels like a much better version of BrettspielWelt, with (somewhat) more usable interfaces and clearer game instructions. Its main downside seems to be that a lot of the popular games and critical features (like multiple players from the same IP address, AKA in the same household) are gated behind a paywall. Fortunately Mark’s membership takes care of that for us, so it’s a pretty seamless experience.

I’ve also been taking my first forays into tabletop RPGs with Patrick and David (from high school), somewhat via Roll 20 but mostly just via Google Meet. Patrick DMed a great introductory game for us with the Lasers & Feelings system, which was simple enough for me as a beginning, and also let David’s experience with other RPGs guide us through. We’re looking at starting another campaign soon, but in the meantime, I’ve been putting them through more Jackbox.

In addition to *all* of that, thanks to Tabletop Simulator requiring me to actually make a Steam account, I’ve also started playing some of my old backlog of Humble Bundle (and other) games. I finished up West of Loathing in a few days, had a period of Cities Skylines destressing, and found a great way to “cheat” in Cook Serve Delicious 2 to get huge perfect days and unlock content (serve only sliced turkey breast or brisket, plus one side, with max prep stations). I’ve also been dabbling again in some older games like Mini Metro, World of Goo, A Virus Named Tom, and Girls Like Robots.

More recently, I’ve been playing Overcooked 2 with Austin where we’re nearing our goal of 3-starring every level in the game and all its expansions.

So I guess the nice thing about this whole pandemic, at least, has been keeping in regular contact with many people who are not physically close, since (other than timezones) it makes no difference whether someone is physically in the same city as you. Having regular contact with (old) San Francisco people, high school people, old Tartan people, the Fairfax group, and other Pittsburgh friends that have moved away has been pretty great. I think I’d still gladly give it up for the world to not be so screwed up, but hey, silver linings?

Locking Down Pittsburgh

I feel like I should be writing in here more given the historicness of everything happening right now. But mostly I’m just tired and want things to stop being so terrible. And it’s only like week three or whatever.

In no particular order, recent things: Consistently passing Expert+ on Beat Saber, started playing board games online via Tabletop Simulator, been consistently getting out of the house for at least a 30 minute walk every day, been cooking frequently and succeeding at only making one grocery trip every 1.5-2 weeks, been feeling utterly weird at work despite always being WFH and therefore theoretically unaffected by any of the office closures and such, tried 2-player Letter Jam and it was terrible, been even more bewildered at how people can still think Trump and Republicans have people (much less the “common” working person)’s interests at heart, been photographing signs for various closures and interesting things as a result of Coronavirus/COVID-19.

So because I am bad at writing, here’s some of the photos I’ve been taking from the past week or so.