Thursday, January 30, 2014

Midwinter Postmortem

Just wanted to do a little post mortem on the rest of my experience at the Midwinter conference in Philadelphia, which I rather criticized in my last post.  Overall, the experience was very positive and helpful, and again, I don’t blame ALA for the problems I pointed out last time.  LGBTQ literature, while important, is still very niche, and it is up to those of us with a stake in the benefits its existence provides to see that our organizations and publications reflect our need.  Onward!

My experience in Philadelphia was very food oriented and very game oriented.  The food part had little to do with actual conference happenings--it was most thanks to the Reading Terminal Market and the very good taste of my local friend Brendan--but I did attend one of those “What’s Cooking at ALA?” sessions on the exhibit hall floor, goofy as such things are, and had a great time.  The one I hit was pizza-based, hosted by pizza expert, tour guide and box art specialist/record holder Scott Wiener, who was very engaging on the subject for ten o’clock in the morning.  He coached the small but enthusiastic crowd on proper pizza technique (I now know how to avoid tip sag) and cooked us up a pie to sample while waiting for him to sign free copies of his book on pizza boxes for us.  I liked his signature line style--he had a ready stream of questions for each of us that ensured non-awkward interaction and gave the impression  of complete personalization.  Mine was “What’s your least favorite pizza topping?” to which I quickly answered “black olives,” so he drew me a black olive with a no-smoking sign through it.  What  a sweetheart.

A more unfortunate floor experience came when I accidentally got a book signed by Cal Thomas before I realized he was an archaeoconservative homophobe.  I would have felt bad snubbing him, though.  (I have to snicker at “the Queen Latifa” and “Ellen Degenerous” though, but seriously, stop shouting in all-caps, Cal!  We can hear you.)

But games!  You know I love games, dear readers, and their potential for library use and enrichment.  I attended two sessions hosted by the GameRT (Game Round Table--there’s a group for every interest at ALA!) in general, one by the Game-Making Interest Group in particular.  Got some great ideas on how to host a board game program at a library, particularly one focused on introducing seniors to “modern” board games.  There’s research to be done here, folks!  Also a great description of a really fun-sounding murder mystery event out near Seattle.  I would love to hold such a thing.  It all goes to show that there’s a world of possibility for the incorporation of existing games and game-like behavior in libraries, and there’s an audience and a purpose for it.

The game-making event was more generally informational, which was great in its own way.  To my pleasant surprise, the best practices that the facilitator mentioned were provided by Mary Broussard, librarian at my alma mater!  She bases her pointers off the success of her anti-plagiarism game.  Very cool to hear about Lycoming College in a non-alumni setting.  The Game-Making IG is in need of more active members; I don’t know, should I volunteer?  (If you’re interested in the best practices, other game making resources, and coding self-help that was mentioned at this session, dear readers, please let a blogger know; otherwise I shan’t trouble you.)

The president’s program was also a great time, and got me on to a new-ish organization that I hope to involve myself with at some point.  The Harry Potter Alliance aims to use the power of fiction, and the enthusiasm fiction inspires, to tackle real-world problems.  I’m overjoyed, because I’ve long felt that fandom generates a lot of energy that is--well, I won’t say ‘misdirected,’  because a lot of creative stuff comes out of it, and we don’t have to judge people for simply enjoying anything and never taking it further.  But I will say that with all that energy in the world, it’s good to have an alternate outlet for it towards issues of social justice and need.  The organization’s founder gave a very inspirational speech, if annoyingly read directly from paper (he had been sick and had probably not had enough time to prepare; still, the parts where he went off script, either for humorous or passionate effect, were the most worthwhile parts of his two-hour talk).  I encourage all of you involved in fandom of one ilk or another to check out HPA’s website and think about getting involved, especially as their very grassroots campaigns have begun to branch out from strictly Potterverse flavors.  (What kind of social problems could the Game of Thrones fandom address?  Several funny answers spring to mind, but war refugee relief would be a good, serious one.)

There were a few other bits and pieces, but those were the highlights for me.  All in all this was a lonelier experience for me than ALA Annual was, lacking my buddies Esther, Natalie and Bryan (missed you guys!).  But special thanks to the aforementioned Brendan, as well as Natasha and Alicia, for being stalwart dinner companions and makeshift innkeepers, and to librarians Matt and Cheng, friends who I met up with along the way (sometimes unexpectedly) to make the between-session time pass more pleasantly.

Now, on to Vegas!

Friday, January 24, 2014

ALA Midwinter Update

24 January 2014
Frigid Tundra (Philadelphia)

After an arduous journey by amtrak-coach during which all possible indignities were thoroughly experienced (a seat partner in the last third of the trip!  A power outage-caused hour-plus delay!  Old jerk bonhomie train conversation!  Blatant hat-head!), I made it to New-York City and thence, this morning, to Old Philadelphia, where ALA is holding its midwinter hibernation stretch.  A much-needed Indian supper was had at Reading Terminal Market before I plunged into the conference...

...where the session I was aiming for was canceled, the exhibit floor doesn't open 'til 5:30, and these young librarians playing Librarians Against Humanity don't seem open to outsiders inviting themselves in.

So I made my way down to the ALA store, where, after a few glimpses through some indexes to determine the quality of the publications (thanks, Dr. Nesset!), I noticed something distressing.

Very few of the books published by ALA and available right now have anything to say about the experiences of LGBT patrons and employees.  Indeed, by my best estimate, not a single book available at the ALA store is focused primarily on this demographic.

Now, did I look through the index of every book in the room?  No.  Nor, I'm sure, did I see the title, spine or cover of every available publication.  I very well could have missed something.

And there were a couple of signs of LGBT presence in our professional thought processes.  Two books on kids and young adult services, admirably, possessed some glancing mention of LGBT needs.  So there's that.

But all these things serve to underscore several points that are rather unfortunate:

1.  ALA (and by extension, librarians) are still thinking primarily in terms of LGBT youth when they think about LGBT people at all, ignoring millions of people with critical needs and wants.

2. If there are more books on this subject currently available, the ALA store at this conference did not do a good job featuring them; none of the out-facing books had anything to do with writings on the LGBT experience.

3.  As a publisher, ALA displays a lack of consistency in classifying and indexing LGBT-focused passages, which may have led to my missing any more such passages than I found; in the books that did feature some indexing on the subject, they were indexed under different terms, with less than exhaustive cross referencing in all cases.

4.  Assuming I didn't miss anything due to (2) and (3), few ALA writers are interested in addressing this demographic's service needs in a long-form format.

I point no fingers; a publishing concern can't control the topics submitted by its writers in more than a rudimentary way, and convention staff can't feature products that aren't there.  There could be more control exerted in indexing standards (how hard would it be to adopt a consistent form across ALA publications?), but if there isn't huge interest among the professional body to address these topics in book form, there won't be any published products.

Which means those of us librarians so concerned need to address this lack.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Boarding Pass: Game of Thrones: The Board Game: Feast for Crows Scenario; or, That's a Lot of Colons

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game: A Feast for Crows
Fantasy Flight Publishing
Expansion design: Jason Walden
Core game design: Christian T. Petersen

Longtime readers of my blog will no doubt remember my longtime overwritten post reviewing the Game of Thrones board game from Fantasy Flight.  As a bit of a coda to that post, I’d like to bring you a much more bite-sized review of the the “Feast for Crows” scenario now available to play with the core game.

What I so enjoy about contemporary board gaming is that it’s not a static pastime--so much of each game evolves.  That’s true of each experience of playing a particular game, since the depth of strategies available make for a different universe of possibility each time you grab your favorite cardboard treasure chest and let the bottom slowly de-vacuum suck from the top and plop with the utmost ceremony onto your playing table.

In the olden days, every game of Monopoly was essentially the same--everyone would try to get Boardwalk, somebody would be stuck with the purple ones, no one would buy the utilities, et cetera.  Not so with these ‘pro’ board games.  Nothing is set in stone with them.

But in addition to all that, the games themselves evolve--as in the constellation of components and rules that make up potential gameplay--through expansions, new editions, and what Fantasy Flight has termed, for this game at least, ‘scenarios.’  With these, you have new options to spice up your enjoyment of the core game, add a little variety to the proceedings.  And for a game based on a property as changing and alive as Game of Thrones is, that’s definitely a welcome opportunity!

FF has released two such scenarios so far, corresponding roughly to the events and circumstances of the most recent books in the series, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons.  The former, as least, introduces new game concepts that make for an even more authentic Thrones experience of intrigue, back-stabbing and military conquest.

How so?  Well, unlike the basic GoT game, which was a basic territory control game (“first player past a certain threshold wins”), FfC bases its victory condition on the fulfillment of various objectives--each player (or “House”) has a basic objective that they can try to honor every round, plus a hand of randomly-drawn cards offering up additional goals that can be cashed in once and only once.

What’s neat about these cards is that they recognize that the objectives will be easier for some houses than for others, and score you appropriately.  If House Stark is asked to control a territory that’s more or less already in its sphere of influence, it might only get one victory point for that; but if faraway House Baratheon happened to have drawn that card, it might score two or three points for fulfilling its objective.

And since you can never be sure what objective each player has in hand, you can never be quite sure how close to victory anyone is.

This scenario also asks you to swap out the original game’s first “Westeros” deck of round-altering circumstance cards for a new one that plays with the objective mechanic.  Thanks to these new Westeros cards, you might have to swap objectives with another player, have the option of rejecting a too-tenuous objective, and more. The other nice revised rule is that the “supply” mechanic occurs once each round--a process that was subject to random “Westeros” draw in the original version, leading to oversized armies for some and choked-off resources for others.  Now things are much more dynamic, with new armies entering the field every round even as others are forcibly disbanded--but with another supply opportunity coming up every round, no one period is too damning or overpowering.

Perhaps most fun for those of us who love the books and TV show is that the FfC scenario introduces a new faction that was left off the original map: House Arryn.  That means new House cards modeled after the most prominent characters to help you out in combat; their art alone is worth the price of admission, but the way their various special skills shake up the game is not to be sneezed at. Sadly, there is no little Lord Robert making his porridge fly, but one can always hope for the next revision…

To make the game even more thematically appropriate, I did a little experiment and used the House Stark deck from the Dance with Dragons scenario during one FfC game.  It would be too spoilery to get into why the basic deck no longer really works thematically, or whom you can find in the DwD version--but if you’re all caught up with the books you’ll want to try this out.  I didn’t notice the balance to be off at all, and doing it this way will make you feel so much more canon-comfy.

The Feast for Crows scenario is a fun alternative to the basic Game of Thrones game.  It’s designed for four players, so gameplay is faster-paced--perfect if you want a Thrones night but don’t have 8 hours to set aside.  The presence of concrete objectives actually makes for authentic-feeling diplomacy sessions, if that’s the way you play--everyone’s gunning for something, sometimes conflictedly so, and you never know for quite what, so deals get made and broken with much more consequence.  And it’s just fun adding House Arryn to the mix.  If you already own the core board game, this is a must-add.

Excitingly, Fantasy Flight offers this scenario as a print-on-demand commodity, so go get yours now!