Board Game

This is Red November

Red November is a board game published by Fantasy Flight Games where players take on the role of Gnomes on a submarine who have one hour to keep their steel casket away from the dangers of fire, flooding, suffocation, missiles, overheating and, obviously, a kraken, as they wait for help to arrive.

Gameplay is relatively simple: as your Gnome, you perform actions which take an allotment of time – opening a door and moving into another room, for example, is one minute, where something more complicated like rushing into a room engulfed by flame with nothing but a fire extinguisher and prayer may take considerably longer – all in an effort to remain afloat.  Events pop up with unfortunate regularity as Gnomes scuttle about, events which are often negative in consequence (the aforementioned suffocation and kraken), which traditionally lead to Gnomes getting drunk on grog, passing out, and finding themselves at the bottom of a three mile trench.

Red November is a healthy mix of luck and strategy, and great to play with a group of friends as a “filler” in-between more lengthy games.  Players are forced to plan accordingly, rolling dice to try and accomplish life-saving tasks while deciding what dangers to focus on and how much time to allot in their efforts (too much time spent fixing a leak may see four fires spring up, where too little time might lead to failure and flood).  In these moments, November is at its best, when oxygen is low, one Gnome frantically working to open a barricaded door, another panicking in the boiler room without a tool box, and a third having just opened the latch to the outside where he/she will swim to safety, leaving their fellow mates to die horribly.

This luck can be a double-edged sword, however, as games are wildly inconsistent.  Some days aboard the submarine are relatively quiet where others are roller coasters of pain, items drawn not remotely matching the task at hand with dice being equally disruptive and obstinate.  I prefer planning which leads to victory, a sound strategy always being worth more than a failed roll in my mind, though I do understand moments in life exist where chance will keep that missile from hitting or cause it to veer wonderfully south, and there’s nothing any of us, as Gnomes, can do about it.

Recommended for 1-8 players who like grog, absurdity, and drowning.


This is The Tiger’s Wife

My wife and I were on our way through Connecticut, traveling north to Maine when a friend of hers recommended we have lunch at a diner near Union called Traveler Restaurant.  The restaurant doubles as a used book store, dog-eared and yellowed copies of books you’d expect to have been donated lining the shelves for customers to pick over while waiting on their food to be brought out.  With every meal you’re allowed three free books, which is how I ultimately came across Tea Obreht’s novel The Tiger’s Wife (along with War of the WorldsThe Time Machine and a decidedly not bad halibut sandwich).

I’m going to be vague on the actual elements of the story so as to not give anything away, even though the book came out in 2011 leaving me well outside the statute of spoilers.  If you want a synopsis, I’m sure there are plenty to be found using The Google.

I carry a certain bias with first-person narrative, but Obreht’s use is perfect, The Tiger’s Wife being a wonderful example of what I find important about oral tradition, how narration and story-telling have the ability to transport and engross far better than other venues.  Though the overall plot fluctuates between tight and disjointed, I found myself caring less about the story as it continued, wanting more to simply spend time with the characters, to hear their strangeness and the certain impossibilities of their narratives.  The story is at once simultaneously mundane and fantastical, ordinary people placed alongside a deathless man, shape-shifting bear, and deaf girl impregnated by a tiger, and it’s in the weave of those elements Obreht shines.  She does a wonderful job pointing to the extraordinary in people, the hidden narratives we ourselves keep locked away.  And while some are very real struggles, others are seeming above ourselves (or themselves, in this case), unique only to us and our history, those curious quirks which, when compiled, have long shaped us into who we are.  I was struck how some of these absurdities were true to those telling them, altered, perhaps, by time, but true still, leaving me to wonder what, in my own life, I embellish when reminiscing.

I’d recommend Tiger for the language alone.  It’s a beautiful read if not a wholly satisfying one.  Even after finishing there are still loose ends.  I suppose if I’m taking a cue from what I got in reading, that the way to understand ourselves is to understand our history, then I could make the argument the Narrator is still living and, like in life, not everything yet written or tied away.  This is an excuse, sure, but a potentially legitimate one, in keeping with theme.