Photosynthesis - title

Blue Orange is a company that has released a series of very successful board games that are geared towards children, and which feature educational themes. My girlfriend and I came across some of their games in a kids' hobby store while on a family road trip last year. The game that stood out the most on the shelf was a new release called Photosynthesis, a game about players competing to grow a small forest. The box art and pictures on the back made the game look very pretty, and its educational theme about the life cycle of plants intrigued us. So we bought a copy and held onto it until our kid's birthday in the fall.

The game is recommended for ages eight and older, and is easy to dismiss as just a "kids' game", especially given its status as "edutainment". However, this game is more complicated than your standard kids' fare. There actually is some strategy involved, and the game runs for about 90-minutes. It's not a random dial-flicker or dice-roller like Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, or other such Milton Bradley / Hasbro / Parker Bros. games that make up a kid's board game shelf. It also has deeper strategy than the children's version of Carcassone (which our kid also has). This game (along with most of Blue Orange's catalog) is definitely geared towards family night, in which people of all ages are playing.

The game board is very pretty once multiple trees of different colors are placed.

A vibrant forest

This game's components certainly are pretty. The trees (and everything else) are simple cardboard cutouts, but they are printed on some thick and sturdy cardstock. Production quality is pretty high for a kid's game, and that high quality is always important when you're playing a game with kids, as it means the game will last longer before falling apart. All the colors are vibrant and attractive, and they all mix together very well when the trees are all clumped together on the board. I'm not particularly keen on the blue evergreens, which look very unnatural and kind of out of place. Maybe Blue Orange could have gone with more of a blue-green color? Or maybe red, as in "redwood"? Ah well, it's not a big deal. Maybe the blue trees are an homage to the company's name. The game looks very pretty, in any case.

The gameplay is pretty simple and elegant. Each turn, sunlight comes from a particular direction on the board, and any trees that are not blocked by an adjacent tree (e.g. the tree is not "in the shadow" of another tree) collects sunlight points for the owning player. Each player then spends their sunlight points to plant new seeds on the board, or to grow existing seeds into small trees, to grow an existing tree from small to medium or medium to large, or to let a large tree die. When a large tree dies, it creates new soil, which is awarded to the owning player as victory points. Trees in spaces further from the edges of the board score more points.

The sun moves across the board each turn, providing sunlight and shade to different trees.

Each round the sun moves around the board, casting different trees in the shadows of other trees. Medium and large trees also collect more sunlight, cast longer shadows, and can collect sunlight if partially-obstructed by smaller trees. So where you put the trees, and how tall you let them grow, will determine whether they will get sunlight, or if they will block other players' trees. You also have trade offs between planting more trees or growing your existing trees. Your own trees can also block your other trees, so you have to keep that in mind when you are placing or growing your trees.

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At the end of April, our family's beloved cat, Gynx passed away. My father found him lying dead next to the curb outside the house. There were no apparent signs of injury or trauma, so we don't think he was hit by a car. Perhaps he had a heart attack or a stroke? Because nobody was there to witness it, we'll never know for sure.

My sister took it particularly hard. She had just fed him his breakfast 20 or 30 minutes before my dad found him outside. All seemed well. Just another routine morning. My how suddenly things can change...

She was hit hard with grief, and felt responsible. "If only I hadn't let him outside", she said. But it wasn't her fault. She had no way of knowing. He could just as easily have passed inside the house.

Our cat Gynx died this month after 20 happy and loving years.

Yes, I do wish that we could have had some warning. One of my friends once lost an old cat who had become ill. She got to hold her cat and pet him and make him comfortable as he slowly passed and breathed his last breath. If I were a cat, that's how I'd want to go: comfortably resting in the lap of my beloved human. I wish that Gynx could have had that as well.

But as I said, none of us can feel responsible or guilty. We can't have known that his time was coming. He was healthy and active right up till the end. We all worried that someday he'd go outside and we'd never see him again, and over the years, it became harder and harder to let him go. But he loved to be outside, so keeping him locked inside would have just made him miserable and stressed, and probably only accelerated his demise.

A life worth celebrating; not grieving

I've written about the loss of pets before on this blog. Back in 2014, Nipper, a tortoise that I had since I was about 7 or 8 years old died after apparently becoming trapped in her burrow. The following year, I also lost my baby tortoise Koopa to some kind of tragic accident. Like with Gynx, I have little-to-no idea what actually happened, since I wasn't there to witness the event itself. The sudden and tragic loss of those tortoises was gut-wrenching and depressing, and I grieved very hard, and for a very long time.

I was much more prepared for Gynx's death than I was for the deaths of my tortoises Nipper and Koopa.

Though Gynx's death was also sudden, it was not altogether unexpected. Gynx was 20 years old, which is very old for a cat. I had thought cats only lived for 15-ish years, so I had spent the past 5 or 6 years thinking that Gynx's time could come any day now. I didn't expect for him to hit 20! So when his time finally came, I think I was emotionally prepared for it -- had been for a long time, in fact. I knew that phone call from my mom, dad, or sister would be coming eventually, and when it came, I knew what it would be.

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This year's holiday season saw a fundamental shift in the way (and reasons) that I buy games. I bought a gaming console as a gift for a child. This Christmas, my girlfriend and I bought our 7-year old a Nintendo Switch (and also managed to get our hands on an SNES Classic). For the first time, I'm not buying games and consoles for myself anymore; I'm buying them for my proxy-child.

My game and console purchases aren't just for me anymore...

I guess I'm old now...

This also means that I now possess my first Nintendo console since 10-year-old me replaced my old NES with a Sega Genesis...

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As is the case with many kids who grew up in the 80's and 90's, I played many hours of Oregon Trail in the computer labs in elementary school. Some teachers even had to limit how many hours students could spend on that game, so as to make sure we were also playing the other math and language games available.

Now there is a tabletop card game adaptation of the original computer game. It's exclusively available at Target ... and apparently also on Amazon. It retails at $15, but I always seem to see it on sale for $10 or $12. So it's an inexpensive little game.

My seven-year-old proxy-daughter picked out this game for me as a birthday gift. She recognized it from the TV show Teen Titans Go!, which has an episode in which the characters act out the original computer game (and all die, of course). When I asked her what the Oregon Trail is, she responded "Everyone got dysentery.". So I asked if she knows what dysentery is, and she responded "It's where you poop to death." I guess the show has some educational value after all...

More an emergent narrative than an actual game

The game is simple to play. Each player is given a hand of trail cards and supply cards, and there's a stack of "Calamity Cards" that serve as the main challenge for the game. Players take turns playing a trail card from their hand or a supply card. The selected card's trail end must match up with the end point of the trail on the previous card in order for the card to be played. Most trail cards will require some kind of resolution. Some are river fording cards that require the player to roll a die in order to allow the party to proceed past the river or suffer penalties. Some are calamities that require drawing a card from the calamity deck and resolving its effects.

Most calamities can be countered with supply cards, but snake bites and dysentery are instant, unavoidable deaths.

Most calamities are unfortunate effects that require a die roll or a specific supply card to be played. If the effect is not resolved in time, a penalty occurs -- usually the death of the affected player. Some calamity cards (such as the snake bite or ubiquitous dysentery) will even kill a player outright, with no chance to avoid death.

The objective of the game is for the party to successfully pass 50 trail cards to travel from Independence, Missouri to Willamette Valley, Oregon. It's a purely cooperative game, so if any one surviving party member makes it to Oregon, then the entire group (including the dead players) wins the game.

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Monday, July 24, 2017 07:30 PM

Singing along with another Beatle!

in Music | Travel | Family by MegaBearsFan
Paul McCartney concert
We got to see Paul McCartney perform live in the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa.

This past weekend, I got to cross something off my bucket list. My girlfriend and I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa to see Paul McCartney in concert. I had already seen Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band perform in Vegas, so seeing Paul means that I've completed my collection of surviving Beatles.

Sir McCartney is currently touring the United States as part of his "One on One" tour. Unfortunately, his only California tour date conflicted with some travel plans that my girlfriend already had, so the next closest city was Des Moines, Iowa. So we flew out to Des Moines for the weekend, and took the opportunity to visit with my sister, who lives a couple hours away.

I became enamored with the Beatles when I was in college, so being able to have seen both Paul and Ringo in the flesh is very gratifying. Now if only they'd tour together...

Paul McCartney concert
Paul performed a ukelele tribute
to George Harrison.

I think it goes without saying that the concert was fantastic. It may not be John, George, and Ringo, but Paul's current band is pretty good in their own right. The concert opened with "A Hard Day's Night", and the setlist was made up of half Beatles tunes, and the other half being solo material and songs from Wings. One song was even from back before the Beatles were "the Beatles", as Paul performed "In Spite of All the Danger", which was written while Paul was part of The Quarrymen. In addition to playing with the band, Paul also performed a handful of solo pieces, such as "Blackbird" and "Yesterday" (as part of the lengthy encore).

I wasn't expecting to hear anything written by George Harrison or John Lennon, but Paul did play a ukele rendition of Harrison's "Something" as a tribute to his departed friend. It was very sweet...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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