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My 2018 Recommendations

Many bloggers write a “Books I Read Last Year” or “Recommended Movies” post at the end of the year. Frankly, I think most people do it because other people do it and because they’re really easy to write. It’s a total cop-out for generating content.

In fact, it’s such a good cop-out that I’m going to do it, too. It’s still a nice way to review the past year and share what I did. Here are the some things that I loved from 2018.

Book: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

Recommended by The Splendid Table

This book actually changed the way that I approach cooking. I have followed many recipes. I have read about the science of cooking. However, I never really thought about how to compose a dish from scratch. This book made me think about cooking as something I could always innovate on.

Also, the illustrations are delightful.

For those averse to the written word, Samin also has a Netflix miniseries where she touches on many of the same ideas.

Board Game: A Fake Artist Goes to New York

Recommended by my friend Ben

I love social deduction games like The Resistance or One Night Ultimate Werewolf. I also have no problem lying to my friends’ faces. However, I get that not everyone is into that, so if that’s you, you should play this game instead.

In this game, everyone except the one “fake artist” knows what the secret word is. To play the game, each person draws a single, potentially very complicated, line on a shared piece of paper. Based on that information, the fake artist has to guess the word, and everyone else has to guess who the fake artist is. As such, the fake artist has to try to draw something related, and everyone else has show that they know the word without giving it away to the fake artist.

A bonus is that you don’t even have to buy the game: you can play it with just pen and paper and the rules linked above. Try it out!

TV Show: Disenchantment

Futurama is one of my favorite TV shows of all time: it’s funny, touching, and very geeky. Disenchantment is Matt Groening’s new show with a similar feel and many of the same voice actors. Swap a princess in for the delivery boy and fantasy tropes for sci-fi references, and you have Disenchantment.

I don’t think I quite like it as much as Futurama and might not give it 5/5, but it’s my favorite TV show from the year.

Video Game: Portal 2

Played with Julie

Before you strip my PC master race membership, I finished the Portal 2 single-player adventure several years ago. However, it was only this past year that I played through the co-op. Since Julie has been playing Overwatch, her FPS skills have improved considerably, and we blasted through it in two or three evenings.

I highly recommend this game as a two-player co-op puzzle experience for couples or gaming buddies. It is easier for experienced FPS players, but in most puzzles, you can interchangeably have the more skilled player take the hard task.

Book: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Discovered on Julie’s bookshelf at her parents’ house

I’ll just steal my Goodreads review of this book.

You might say that it’s a children’s book, or that it’s language is too old, or that it’s too silly. Those are probably all accurate, but it’s still a fantastic read for adults. It’s clever in some obvious ways but probably more in others that I want to go read the Sparknotes to figure out.

If you haven’t read it as an adult, just do it. It’s short, it’s fun, and it’s referenced extensively in popular culture. Totally worth the effort.

Web Series: Critical Role

Although I have been watching for awhile, I have to put a pitch in for Critical Role. They just started a new campaign at the beginning of this year, and it is delightful. As Dungeon Master Matt Mercer explains, Critical Role is a show where “a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors get together and play Dungeons & Dragons.”

They play for about 4 hours every week, so there’s a lot to catch up on, but it is so much fun. It’s the best introduction to show what D&D can be, and I credit this show with proliferating D&D today.

Board Game: Captain Sonar

Played with my cousin Ryan

I just played this game last week, so I suspect there might be a recency bias, but maybe this game is just amazing.

Captain Sonar is real-time, team-based Battleships: each team of four is the crew of a submarine, and you yell out commands to try to find and torpedo the other submarine.

This game is pure chaos, and it’s brilliant. This is Battleships, so you have to gamble and guess where your enemy is. It’s real-time, so there’s urgency to make decisions quickly. There are different roles, so no one can dominate the strategy. And because there are two teams communicating and working together, everyone is yelling while listening. I love it.

Book: Crucial Conversations

This book is different from the rest of the list because it isn’t entertainment, but I had to add it.

This book is a classic in business reading, and many people think it’s some combination of obvious and useless. However, I got it from the library when I had important meetings at work, and it helped me think differently to make the most of those meetings.

I have mixed feelings on self-improvement and business reading, and yet, many of my five-star books are in those categories because they actually changed my life. Find the good ones, I guess

Video Game: BioShock Infinite

Seven years ago, I watched this trailer:

And I thought it was the coolest game ever, and I had to play as soon as possible. Except my computer couldn’t run it, so when I got a new computer a year later, I had forgotten all about it.

Earlier this year, I picked up the game and immediately loved it. I loved the setting, story, art style, and gameplay. I loved it so much that I could only play about twenty minutes at a time because it was so intense.

And then about a quarter into the game, I got hooked and finished the last ten hours in two days. And then I spent another hour reading explanations about the plot and backstory. And then I spent another hour ranting about the game to Julie.

Short Story: A Non-Hero’s Guide to The Road of Monsters

Part way through the year, I had finished several, long, sci-fi and fantasy novels, and I was disappointed. I enjoyed reading the books, but afterwards, I felt kind of empty because there was no lasting impression on me.

When I was at the library picking up another book, I saw an anthology of the best sci-fi and fantasy short stories from 2017. I picked it up for a change of pace, and I was immediately hooked.

In a sci-fi novel, the author can spend a long time building up the world and trudging through the plot. In a short story, the author needs a really good premise to hook the reader that this is something different. And there’s no time for filler: you immediately get to interesting consequences of the world, which are often very topical, too.

I don’t remember which anthology I picked up, and this wasn’t my favorite story, but it is still a great payoff for a short read.

Tabletop Game: Fiasco

Gift from my sister-in-law Emily

As I have gotten more into tabletop role-playing games, I realize I’m more interested in the role-playing than the game. Fiasco takes that preference to the extreme as a form of structured improv.

You start the game by setting up characters and plot elements for a small time caper of regular Joes with big ambitions (think any Coen Brothers movies). Then, you act out scenes as your characters hurl themselves towards their often amusing demises.

I played it at a convention where we thought we had a murder mystery as scientists in Antarctica but ended up as members of a penguin cult. Watch Wil Wheaton play it on TableTop to see how else this game can go.

And that’s it for me! Let me know what your 2018 favorites were and if you have any suggestions for me!

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