October is a busy month. It’s one of the most intense months of the year at work. The Vikings season is in full swing. It’s my mother-in-laws birthday. We host a Halloween party, and the dozen or so trees in our yard drop a cubic ton (or two) of leaves for us to clean up. Somehow, in the middle of it all, was a bountiful harvest of gaming.

I consider my core group of gaming friends my “Mora” group. Which is kind of funny, because only two of us are actually from Mora. I’ve known Casey since I was a sophomore in High School. He introduced Adam to the group. Joey is one of my fraternity brothers. And Jake came to the group through a mutual friendship with the Rogue Hippo. There are a couple other members of the group that come and go, but the five of us are almost always there when we gather for board gaming every couple of months.

This month, we played Western Legends, Scythe, Quarriors and the Dark Souls: The Card Game in one awesome, 14-hour session. Amid the typical Kickstart-fueled, wiener-infested banter, we shared one of the most memorable moments in our gaming history.

I was contemplating how best to subvert the law in Western Legends when Jake thrust his hand in front of my face. There was something dry and crusty in it, and he asked the only logical question, “Is this a poop, Tom?”

I’m only 16 months into the whole parenting thing, but I have a sibling and a number of friends with kids. It never occurred to me (pre-or post-fatherhood) that something on their floors would be poop. Like there are turds lurking in every nook and cranny.

When you are in the middle of a deep, strategic thought, that kind of question can be kind of jarring. My first thought was whether it’s a poop or not, I don’t want that in my face. Followed closely by why would he pick that up, if he thought it was fecal matter?

I told Jake to just throw it away. And as an afterthought I added, “And maybe you should wash your hands before you touch Adam’s game again.”

It turns out the substance in question had been a small bit of refried black beans that had fallen (or been flung by my willful child) to the floor and hardened. The beans are gone, but the question will live on, in infamy.

If I were to rank the games we played in order that I would most like to play them, it would be:

  1. Scythe
  2. Western Legends
  3. Dark Souls the Card Game
  4. Quarriors

And I make my friends play Quarriors nearly every time we get together. It was an excellent day of gaming.

A little later this month, I achieved something in Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes. I have been playing this game nearly daily for at least a year and a half, and I finally secured one of the best characters. Yay, Rey!

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You can say that phone games are dumb, and I wouldn’t disagree with you. But I have JTR, and I’ll crush you to goo in the Grand Arena.

What’s New at OiO?

Episode 17 of Outside is Overrated – Harry Wizards, Chapter One

In the latest edition of the podcast, Tom and Phoenix discuss a pair or Harry wizards – Harry Potter and Dresden. The charming couple – Tom and Phoenix – discuss details from the first book featuring each wizard, as well as screen adaptations of each.

Rogue Hippo Reviews Joker

First Impressions – Fire Emblem Three Houses (Switch)

Final Fantasy Update – 10 for 10?

October brought the 10th entry in the Final Fantasy Challenge. I hadn’t played this game in 17 years, and was excited to fire it up again on Switch. My recollections of it were largely positive – and 10 hours in I’m happy to report it’s still fun to play today.

Similar to IX, it boasts one of the most annoying characters in the history of the series – Wakka. The blitzballer is an island native who takes in the main protagonist after he washes up on shore. The world of Spira is tormented by a giant monster who is continually killed and reborn. The main character, Tidus, is sucked out of his home and thrown 1,000 years into the future. Through Wakka he meets a young summoner and agrees to accompany her on a pilgrimage to defeat the monster.

There are several threads connecting Tidus’s world to his new surroundings. The biggest is blitzball, a sort of underwater soccer minigame that Tidus was playing when he was abducted. It’s a major part of the culture in Spira, and what Tidus knows as the blitzball sign for victory is a form of prayer in Spira.

Final Fantasy X changed the formula from previous entries in several ways. Equipment management was streamlined. Instead of equipping a weapon and multiple pieces of armor that all affected your stats, you have one weapon and one accessory. Both give you basic stats, like Icestrike (adding ice affinity to your attacks) or HP +5%.

Traditional leveling was also gone. Instead of gaining levels, you gain sphere levels that allow you to move around the “Sphere Grid.” Most nodes on the grid give you a boost – strength, hit points, magic points, evasion etc. These nodes are unlocked by spending spheres dropped by monsters. It creates an illusion of player choice, but I didn’t see many alternate paths in my time with the game. It did give a nice drip of gradual improvements that had me constantly wanting to do one more fight to see if I could get to the next node.

In combat, you could swap characters in and out freely. For me, this made me feel like each character had particular roles to fill, and each fights was a puzzle. For instance, you might need Wakka to cast darkness on a fiend so it didn’t one-hit kill the summoner, then you swap out Tidus for the mage to blast someone with an elemental weakness and then bring in Auron to wail on a heavy foe. Each character who participated in a battle is rewarded with experience.

The biggest change was a major one for the series – voice acting. While we take it for granted today, this was a major innovation. At times, it could be annoying, like when you attack an armored enemy with Tidus and your other party members each tell you to leave those to Sir Auron. Most of the time though, I thought it was real boost for the series, and gave the cinematics a weight that was impossible previously. Some of the highlights for me were Tidus spending quiet moments talking to the summoner.

Final Fantasy X is another great entry in the series. The main character may be the most stupidly-dressed protagonist ever, but he has a lot of heart. It’s going to be a hard call to decide which title to go back to first after the challenge is over.

#BoycottBlizzard

Blizzard is one of the most iconic video game developers in the industry, and they made waves earlier this month by banning a leading Hearthstone player for saying “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time” during an interview. The player was banned for a year (later reduced to six months due to public backlash) and stripped of his tournament earnings. The streamers that were interviewing him were also fired.

The ban led to online protests, a trending hashtag on Twitter and a number of reddit and twitter users posting screenshots of themselves cancelling World of Warcraft accounts. In addition, Blizzard employees staged a protest and politicians took to Twitter to condemn the action.

I have a couple of thoughts on this issue. I am a proud American, and I love that in our country our speech is protected. I respect that the player took a stand and tried to raise awareness on an important political issue, and that Blizzard employees risked their jobs to show their displeasure over how the situation was resolved. However, when you use someone’s platform, like Blizzard’s, to push a political agenda – there are consequences for those actions. If the player had been on Jimmy Fallon, it would have been up to the network to weigh the risk of offending a foreign power before deciding whether or not to allow the content out into the world.

People say it’s all about money and they are right. I’m sure Blizzard’s Chinese audience is worth millions of dollars, if not billions. Blizzard is a publicly traded company. They have earnings levels to hit. If they get shut out of a huge market because one of their users pisses off a government who controls media within their borders, people are losing jobs. The talented game designers from this American company would be the ones to get laid off, as Blizzard restructured to balance their books.

I’m not saying that Blizzard is right. They had to do what made sense for them as a company. I don’t know how gaming is regulated, if there is anything legislators can do to keep pipelines into other markets open. The Washington Post recently posted an article about the difficulty companies face enacting social change in nondemocratic countries.

Hopefully the notoriety the player received from the situation will help him find opportunities to cover the gap until he can compete again. I also hope that by not offending our Chinese overlords Blizzard can keep moving on Diablo IV, so we don’t have to wait another decade to get our hands on it. Whenever it lands, we’ll be here to talk about it.

Until next month, stay inside kids!