Thursday, December 20, 2007

To Every Thing, There is a Season ...

It's two and a half years now since Coldfoot sent me an email asking if I'd like to contribute to a new group boardgaming blog that he was putting together. I'll admit to being a bit passive aggressive about that initial invite, because I was feeling very busy at the time.

I was obsessively working on a CCG design for a game based on the Stargate: SG-1 TV show. It didn't end up going anywhere, but it sure took up a lot of my time in July and August of 2005. I was also writing scripts for some comic books (though actually the script that was on my desk that Summer was for Castle Marrach #2 which didn't get produced either, as my very reasonably priced and high-quality artist ended up too busy to make a longer term commitment).

Nonetheless, after sitting on Brian's email for a few weeks, I finally mailed him back--just in time, I suspect--and told him I'd be happy to be on board, but could only commit to writing every other week.

On August 1, 2005, Coldfoot announced the group and listed the initial lineup:

Blogger and game reviewer extraordinaire, Shannon Appelcline

Israeli blogger, game commentator and most recently game designer, Yehuda Berlinger

The gaming mom from America’s heartland, Mary Weisbeck (Sodaklady)

Game store owner and Gaming’s “Manly Man”, DW Tripp

Strategy guru and author of some of the most referenced game articles ever written, namely the Puerto Rico strategy guides, Alex Rockwell

The wargamer you either love or hate, but who will always leave you asking, “Did that make sense?” Robert Wesley (Grognads)

He doesn’t write a lot, but IMO he is the best game writer out there, Joe Gola

And, myself, the mildly-retarded blogger from Alaska.

Well, it's now December, 2007, and earlier this year, somewhat to my surprise, I realized that I was the final member of our initial group still blogging at Gone Gaming. It immediately put me into a thoughtful mood, considering all the other writers who had come and gone, and also made me wonder about what the future of the blog would be.

You see, the heart of Gone Gaming, to me at least, was Coldfoot and Yehuda--two of those original bloggers, now gone. I've been here the longest, and I hope I've written some articles that everyone enjoyed, but it's never been my baby. It was Coldfoot and Yehuda who put the initial organization into the blog, and who kept it rolling. In their absence--or perhaps just due to the passage of time--we've slowly been winding down.

Don't get me wrong. We still have terrific people posting now, and we all do what we can to keep the blog alive, not just with our own postings but also in finding guest bloggers and new blood. However no one's had that organizational zeal to go out and find an entire slate of writers--like Coldfoot did originally--and like I suspect Yehuda could have if he wanted to, given his organization of the Gone Gaming awards that we ran for two years.

It's not just us. There seems to be a general trend which has resulted in a lot of the gaming blogs disappearing over the last few years. I don't think it's because of any weakness in the core business of gaming--though the US economy is clearly weakening, and entertainment dollars often take the first hit. Instead, it seems to be a weakness in blogging itself. Some people have moved on to podcasts, while others have just disappeared altogether, perhaps because blogs no longer have that sparkle of newness that they once did. I miss the Gathering of Engineers and Chris Farrell's blog and the Best of Board Game blog, all of which have vanished in the last year or two.

And that brings us back to this blog. Through some combination of staff loss and general decline in board game blogging, Gone Gaming has shrunk too. We're still publishing regularly, but with more gaps in our schedule than ever before.

The Future of Gone Gaming

This is the point where you're probably expecting me to announce either my retirement or the retirement of Gone Gaming, and let me say ... not quite.

A week or so ago W. Eric Martin of Board Game News wrote us, noting that he too had lost some writing staff lately, and asking if we'd be interested in merging Gone Gaming into Board Game News.

I think we were all somewhat reluctant to let Gone Gaming go as an independent site. As I said in one of my letters, where before we had two sites, offering the potential for two new columns every day, now we'd have only one. But, honestly, we hadn't met that potential for a while. So we all talked, and we agreed: as of January 1, all of the remaining Gone Gaming writers will be moving over to Board Game News.

In a week or two's time, you'll find everything that you used to read here over there. We're going to port the old articles of the remaining authors, and Eric is also going to create a special Gone Gaming category, so that you can read just the GG blogs if you want. But BGN also features regular columns from other great writers, as well as the best interviews and industry news in the business, so hopefully you'll take a look at them too.

In the meantime, make sure that you stick around and read Gone Gaming through the end of the year, as we'll have return visits from as many of our departed columnists as we can get to write.

I'm really happy to have Gone Gaming go out as an independent site while we were still strong and full of regular, high-quality posts. Knowing that we're going to see the return of lots of old friends in the next couple of weeks makes me feel like I'm at the finale of a roleplaying campaign which ran its full course. In the end we get to tell our final stories and wrap up our lose ends, because we actually planned for an conclusion rather than just letting the game trail off.

(And even better, we've got part two of the campaign all ready to go, with a launch immediately thereafter.)

So that's the news on the future of Gone Gaming ...

My Year in Writing

Even before we got to talking about the BGN/GG merger, I'd been thinking about the 29 months that I've been writing for Gone Gaming, and wondering why I'm the last man standing from the original group. That was going to be my original topic for this column, a retrospective on the year and the blog.

In any case, for me personally, I'm still around because I'm a writer. I can't help it. I write. Constantly. Almost since I got on the net, I've contributed to it. In 1991 I began writing campaign logs for some of my roleplaying games. In 1994 I created an online 'zine called The Chaosium Digest, which as often as not was full of my own writing. In 2000 I began writing a column on computer game design. Last year I tried my hand at a history of the roleplaying industry. I suspect there's one or two million words worth of my writing publicly available on the Internet.

The question was thus never if I'd stop writing, but rather if something else would come along that interested me more that writing about board games.

I'm sure that'll happen in time, and it was actually a very serious threat this year, because it's been one of my most productive writing years ever. I expanded my history articles into an almost-complete manuscript of an RPG history book, before things fell through with my initial publisher (200,000 words). I simultaneously wrote a book on elfs for Mongoose Publishing's RuneQuest, which has since been published (60,000 words). I wrote 7 or 8 articles for Knucklebones magazine (20,000 words), a couple for Tradetalk magazine (5,000 words), four articles for Signs & Portents magazine (14,000 words), 25 articles here on Gone Gaming (50,000 words), and 50 reviews for RPGnet (100,000 words). In all, I suspect I flirted with a count of half-a-million words for the year.

It's been a busy year. Just like that year when Coldfoot first asked me if I wanted to write for his new blog.

Sounds like a pattern.

My Year in Gaming

Fortunately, I still found plenty of time to game amidst all that writing (though I'll admit to turning down some gaming opportunities early in the year, when I was going full-bore on two books intended for professional publication). I've logged 294 games to date this year, compared to 414 last year, and I've still got a few more game nights scheduled.

However, it's also been a year that's seen some changes in my gaming habits.

This is the year in which I decided that I didn't have to own every board game I liked. I think it's a milestone that every board game player eventually hits, as they glance through their shelves, realize how many of the games they never play and that playing a friend's copy of the newest hot game is probably good enough.

Notre Dame is the last game that I actively sought out a copy of (and couldn't get because it was out of print). I think On the Underground was the last game I actually bought. (Though, keep in mind that I still get some review copies, which helps to satisfy the new game urge.)

This is also the year in which I started getting rid of games that I actually like. They're just games that I like less and are less likely to play, so why should I have them continue to clutter up my house?

(Actually, I speak prematurely, because I haven't gotten rid of them yet. I've just packed them up in a box for an auction next Spring at EndGame.)

On the gaming front, there was very little that thrilled me for most of the year. The Pillars of the Earth is the only game from early this year or late last year which has had any staying power for me ... and that might be because I don't get to play it much. Notre Dame was the next game that really caught my attention, but I still haven't purchased a copy of it.

However, this fall has been looking better. Race for the Galaxy has gone onto my usually-want-to-play list, and I suspect that I'll be even more excited when and if the supplements come out. I initially said that I felt like I didn't need to own Race for the Galaxy because I already had San Juan and Glory to Rome, but I'd increasingly like to get a copy.

Brass and Cuba are two more games from this fall that I've liked quite a bit. They've only gotten one play each, and they're generally longer and more intricate than I tend to like in gaming ... but those single gameplays really got me thinking.

I'm really happy to see a few different games that get me excited again, because it tells me that spring was just a poor crop of games, not that I'm losing my interest in Eurogames in general.

My five and dime list isn't quite finished up for the year, because of those aforementioned remaining game nights, but generally it looks much as it has in previous years: pretty scant, because I'm much more likely to play a lot of different games than anything in depth.

Lost Cities (12 plays) was one of just two older game that I really kept playing this year, and that's primarily because my wife has had some renewed interest in the game. The other was Ingenious (5 plays), thanks to my dad buying me a copy last Christmas. (I've also played the computer version of it a ton, and should really review it.) My games of Magic: The Gathering (6 plays) were entirely so that I could write some reviews that required testing out a lot of decks. It's a fun game, but I doubt I'd go to the trouble of playing it otherwise.

New or new-to-me games took up the rest of my five-and-dime list.

Tichu (7 plays) is a game that I quickly came to adore, but it's no surprise because I really like card-climbing games. Gang of Four was a favorite long before I ever tried out Tichu.

Ubongo (6 plays) got all its attention early in the year, and seems to have died out since. My last nickel of the year should be Descent (5 plays), as we've got a game scheduled for Saturday. It's a bit surprising for such a long game to appear as a nickel, but it's because my roleplaying group likes it, so it's gotten some play there, especially when we were in-between campaigns this summer.

That's pretty much been my year in gaming.

And this is Shannon Appelcline, writer and gaming guy, signing off. I'll see you all next year in Gone Gaming at Board Game News. Have a terrific holiday, and make sure you stick around for all the great columns we've got scheduled before the end of the year.

(+2,232 words.)


Fraser said...

(+2,232 words.)

It's funny, I really liked the piece Shannon, but that last little bit is the thing that really brought the smile to my face.

Thanks for all your contributions past, present and future.


Coldfoot said...

Yes. I also enjoyed your articles over the years. See you at Boardgamenews.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to see you go. Thank-you everyone for your great contributions.
I read via RSS, and BGN only posts the first paragraph, so it is unlkely I will click through to read the full article in the future.

Anonymous said...

Shannon and Co.,

I discovered Gone Gaming about a year ago, and the dwindling number of posts in the past few months has really been noticeable. I'm glad to hear you guys are moving to a new place, rather than just shutting down completely. Best of luck at BGN!!

On a purely selfish note, I'm saddened by the move. My employer's firewall blocks BGN, but not Gone Gaming (go figure). Now what am I supposed to do? WORK!??! Blech.

MrHen. said...

Strangely, when I read about the merger, my first thoughts were, "Crap, and I just found this place!" After thinking about it more, I realized that the name does not matter as much as the writers. I am glad that the posts will remain alive and well, no matter where they are published.

Shannon Appelcline said...

Yup, if anything it'll keep the writer's alive longer, since we'll be part of a larger community of writers and readers ...