As many of you may know, I love to play some board games. But if you invite me over to play Monopoly, Life, or Clue, I’m likely to decline. These games have been part of our lives forever, and are a mainstay of retailers shelves. In the past two years, however, you might have noticed a new type of board game starting to make it onto those shelves. Games with strategy. Games that require thinking. Games that don’t rely nearly as much on luck.
There are three, specifically, that I’ve noticed becoming more commonplace, and they’re the games that I’ve been pushing on my friends and family for a number of years now.
Ticket To Ride – possibly my all-time favorite, this game pits you against up to four other people in a race to build train routes around the United States. On each turn, you have to decide if you want to acquire more trains, build a train route between two cities, or take on more “route goals” to complete before the end of the game. A game usually takes about an hour, and each turn can be impactful on the outcome. Definitely worth trying.
Settlers of Catan – Settlers is probably the first modern board game I played, and it definitely got me hooked. Tons of strategic options, limited interaction with the other players (other than the occasional turf war or trade), and lots of options on each turn. Do you buy a settlement? Trade with another player? Maybe you deploy a soldier and screw up someone’s resources? Another great game I’d play any time.
Lords of Waterdeep – another very strategic game, Lords of Waterdeep has definitely become my wife’s favorite game. You have a collection of workers that you can place on the board each round, and you gather the resources from that placement. These resources help you complete your quests, but can also provide you with additional quests, “intrigue” cards which generally just give you a bonus, or money. You use all of these things together to gain as many points as you can, and the winner is declared after 8 rounds. Definitely one of the best ones out there.
I’ve got an entire closet of games that are similar to these: rich strategy, player interaction, and multiple layers. If you’ve played the ones I’ve mentioned, here’s a few others that are a bit more complicated, but totally worth checking out:
- Eclipse – explore space, gather resources, upgrade your fleet, destroy your enemies.
- Killer Bunnies – chaotic and crazy card game for a larger group. funny and strategic.
- Lemming Mafia – put the fix in on a race to the finish as a “don” of the lemming mafia.
- Pandemic – a cooperative game where you work together to cure diseases around the world.
- King of Tokyo – as one of several horror movie monsters, smash your opponents to take over Tokyo.
- Dominion – you build a deck of cards that helps you acquire more cards, which help you win the game.
- Castle Panic – another cooperative game, you defend your castle from an onslaught of orcs and goblins.
Geocaching, pronounced like the title above, is one of those activities that I’ve been doing for a few years now, but it seems every time I mention it to someone, they’ve never heard of it. So now you’ve heard of it.
The basic idea is simple: people have hidden small “caches” all of this great planet of ours. It’s highly likely that there’s a dozen or so within a mile of your house. They’re all hidden in publicly accessible areas, like parks or parking lots, but you’d never find them unless you were looking for them.
“What’s in a cache?” you might be asking yourself. Sometimes, they’re so small it’s just a roll of paper to add your name to a list of people that have found it. Other times, it might be a collection of small toys or coins. You’re generally expected to bring something new to add to those boxes, and remove something of your choice. In either case, they’re usually well hidden, and not obvious unless you’re looking for them.
Of course, there’s a website to find them all: http://geocaching.org.
In some cases, they give you the GPS coordinates for the cache, so you can go directly there. In other cases, they make it a bit trickier, and require you to solve puzzles to determine those coordinates. (I spent most of an afternoon at a park in Atlanta hunting down a 14-step puzzle, only to discover that the final destination had been removed, but that’s not common.) I recently made a trip to Wheeling, WV, and I completely forgot to look for a cache or two. Just within a few square miles, I can count over 50 caches! Next time.
This is an especially fun way to spend some time with your kids. The time to find a cache is generally pretty short, and if you plan it out, you can spend a few hours tracking down 5 or 6 of them at once. Use your phone, or some GPS device however, because without some GPS tracking tool, this would be incredibly difficult.
The best part of this geocaching game is that it’s free. I think you can look up 5 caches per day from the website at no charge, and if you want to go crazy (it happens), you can buy full access for $30 a YEAR. It’s very affordable.
How Time Warner Is The Worst
Yesterday, I decided to see if I could get a better price on my internet and phone bill than I’m currently getting with Wide Open West. I went to Time Warner’s website to look at pricing, and they had a really compelling price on the services I was looking for.
I currently have 30MB down / 3MB up for my internet speed. That, plus a home phone line, costs me about $90/month from WOW. That seemed like too much, especially considering I would like a much faster “up” speed.
Time Warner was offering on their website 50MB down / 5MB up for $65/month, with another $10 for the phone. That would save me $15 a month, and dramatically increase my speeds. As a household that exclusively streams all of their entertainment (no cable), and I work from my home, we need a reliably fast connection.
I decided to call them, because the website had a bunch of questionable sales tactics, like saying the price is $10 for phone for the next 12 months but not mentioning what it would regularly be.
Reason #1: I couldn’t get a clear price on their website.
Once I called them, I waited a few minutes on hold and navigating their awful menu system only to arrive at a person that was clearly not provided all of the information they just asked me to enter in the menu system (zip code, phone number, etc.) After deliberately skipping past his screening questions, like “How many devices do you have connected to your wifi?” I finally started telling him what I wanted. (He was audibly surprised when I told him that I have more than 20 devices connected. That’s a low estimate.)
Me: “I would like the Ultimate 50 internet option, bundled with the Digital Phone service.”
TWC: “One moment while I calculate your price.”
(Three minutes later…)
TWC: Your total, before taxes and fees will be $89.83.”
Me: “The website seems to suggest the price would be lower.”
TWC: “Oh, you looked at the website? I can give you those discounts.”
Reason #2: They deliberately tried to rip me off, assuming I was uninformed.
Many minutes later, he comes back with a price that should have been about $15 less. It was $4 less. When I asked, he mentioned (did I mention English isn’t his first language?) that this also included the cost of a modem, which is $8/month.
Me: “Can’t I just use my own modem? I already have one.”
TWC: “Oh, you have your own modem? Absolutely. I’ll remove that from your bill. It’s now $82.99.”
Me: “Shouldn’t it be $8 less than your last price? It’s not.”
TWC: “No sir, the fees change when you have your own modem, so it’s not exactly $8 less.”
Me: “OK, whatever.”
Reason #3: I can’t get a clear price on the phone, either.
Me: “Are there any other costs that I need to be aware of?”
TWC: “No sir, this will be your total monthly charge each month for the first 12 months.”
Me: “What will the price be when your discounts expire?”
TWC: “Sir, I do not know that answer to that, but we will send you an email before they expire letting you know what the price will be at that time.”
Me: “That might be the worst possible answer I could have heard.”
TWC: “I’m sorry, sir. We don’t know what the prices will be 12 months from now. But they will be higher without your discounts.”
Reason #4: They offer discounts, but can’t tell what the price will be when they expire.
TWC: “OK, so your monthly bill will be $82.99, and you have a one-time installation cost of $79.99. How would you like to pay for that this evening?”
Me: “$80 for installation? What are you installing? I’m using my own modem, my own router.”
TWC: “Oh, I’m sorry sir. I can get you a discount on the installation as well. It is now $59.99.”
Me: “I’m still not paying $60 for installation of a service that I then pay you for monthly. That’s ridiculous.”
TWC: “Sir, for any home that has not had Time Warner service in the last 24 months, we have to send out a technician to make sure that everything is set up properly.”
Me: “And you expect me to pay for that? What happened to the cost of doing business?”
TWC: “I’m sorry sir, $59.99 is the lowest I can offer for installation. Which credit card would you like to use for this?
Reason #5: They charge you a large sum of money to make sure their hardware works.
After this final exchange, I informed the sales rep that I would like to cancel any and all services that we had been discussing, politely said goodbye, and hung up the phone in disbelief. I’ll stick with what I’ve got.
How is Time Warner Cable even in business?