We are in Your Social Mediaz!

Just a quick update/proclamation:

The blog has been so warmly received in only its first month of existence that I decided to broaden the experience and add a few interactive features on various social media outlets. There are now separate pages dedicated to the Care and Feeding of Nerds on both G+ and Facebook. You can now receive G+ updates by going here and adding the page to your Circles. You can accomplish the same on Facebook by visiting our page and 'liking' it.

You can also follow us on Twitter @nerdycare

We're also on Pinterest @nerdycare

The Pinterest account will feature photos of nerdy undertakings, costumes, and all the recipes from current and future posts.

I can't thank you guys enough for taking interest in this little corner of the interwebs. This experience has exceeded even my wildest and most optimistic dreams and I look forward to what the future has in store for us!
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A Cosplayer's Manifesto

With less than three months remaining until Gen Con 2012 preparations are now in full swing. Flights have been booked, hotel rooms reserved, and the oft-stressful process of event registration has been concluded. Whew! This leaves just the costume to finish. My endeavor to become a Jedi for a day got a significant boost in the form of this early birthday present:
Forget diamonds; lightsabers are a girl's best friend
 The costume currently stands at about 40% completion, though the pieces that remain, particularly the headdress, will definitely pose a challenge. But, for me at least, that challenge is a large part of what makes cosplaying so much fun.

Contrary to popular belief, not every cosplayer you see walking the convention halls is "just in it for the attention." Are there con-goers who bought their costumes off-the-rack and the extent of their efforts was to retrieve their credit card from their wallet? Sure. Are there plenty of attendees who choose outfits that are, shall we say, quite generous in the quantity of flesh left exposed in order to attract as many gazes as possible? Of course. Will you occasionally ask a topical question of a cosplayer only to find that he/she has no clue what you're referring to because they have only a rough idea concerning the character they're supposed to be cosplaying as? Definitely. Are those cosplayers all cosplayers? Absolutely not. Of course there's no statistical data available on cosplayer demographics, but I'd argue that the aforementioned individuals make up only a small percentage of those who choose to attend a convention in costume. (curse you lack of mathematical proof!) Still, the pattern of derisive judgment or inherent skepticism remains. Why?

Part of this is simple human nature: we, as a species, like to judge or bifurcate a given situation into stark categories. The motivations for this can be manifold and deep-seated and, ostensibly, vary correspondingly with the individual passing judgment. Part of this is also our reaction, as cosplayers, to this behavior. For us, it's not a ploy to garner attention from our fellow con-goers. It's an avocation, a fabulous hobby, a way to get the old creative juices flowin'. Since it's something near and dear to us, we tend to perceive inquiry from outsiders along these lines:

R-squared = 0.973
The vast majority of humanity likely reacts similarly when the subject of their adoration is called into question. It's what we do. Still, it's not as though this prevents us from making and donning costumes. If anything, knowing that this skepticism exists can help us define or refine exactly why we do this at all.

As mentioned above, part of the appeal is the actual process of making the physical costume pieces. Inherent to this process is a certain amount of designing, brainstorming, and plotting (and sinister finger-steepling on occasion). Of course, each nerd attempts to realize his or her cosplay in different ways, but, for me, the preparation work almost always soaks up the lion's share of the time I put into a given costume. The inspiration to become a given character for a day often strikes without warning (probably akin to a creative burst in any other medium) but I have a few base guidelines that I make every effort to adhere to in my cosplaying:

1) I only cosplay as characters from properties that I am personally familiar with
If I haven't read the books, seen the movie/series, or played the game then I will not mimic a character from said property. Active creative processes aside, an enormous portion of what makes cosplaying fun is getting to pretend to be a character that I've developed an attachment to. If you're going to spend considerable time and resources bringing a specific figure to life it certainly helps if you like the character.

2) I myself try make as much of the costume as possible.
Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, almost everyone now has access to a number of venues from which you can procure readymade costumes. Wholesalers and generic retailers exist alongside specialist sites that offer custom work and individual artisans. Many are genuinely awesome and several can be excellent resources of both products and costuming knowledge (as experienced when I procured my lekku from the lovely Pam). I don't hold anything against con-goers who buy their garments off the rack, as the talented individuals who produce said wares assuredly deserve the business, but that's not a route that I personally take in my cosplaying if at all possible. As mentioned in Point 1, I make every effort to make my cosplaying an extension of my existing affection for a series/character. Building the costume to become a character is part homage and part fangirl so actually creating pieces with my own two hands seems like a natural transmutation of that enthusiasm.

3) I take pains to make each costume as accurate as possible.
I'm well aware of the audience to whom I'm presenting a costume and I, too, am an obsessive fangirl. We nerds don't garner our reputation for nitpicking and microanalyzing for nothing. While some characters allow for a measure of creative license (i.e. a heroine from a book that has yet to be adapted for the screen) many more are derived from media that provide a pretty exact image to be copied. Furthermore, as a fellow nerd, I appreciate the expectations and emotional response that my con-going brethren may have concerning a given character. One of the most rewarding parts of actually wearing the costume is witnessing someone's thrilled reaction upon seeing their favorite character come to life. I bear a deep respect for that. I owe it to the character, the character's creator(s), and everyone I may encounter at a convention to do justice to the costume. The common, and profoundly true, mantra amongst cosplayers regarding this is, "You do it right or you don't do it at all."

4) I remain as gregarious and accommodating as possible while in costume.
The attention that accompanies the wearing of a costume can be a double-edged sword. After several hours of picture-taking and being on your feet, it's only natural to get tired. The stereotype of nerds as socially awkward and/or demanding, ravenous fans does occasionally hold true (more on this subject can be found here). Neither of these is a valid excuse to break character or be snippy. The Golden Rule is always applicable, even when your feet are killing you or your think your masseters will be sprained if you smile just once more.

That last point touches on that controversial notion of attention. The key differential that this post hopes to establish between most cosplayers and actual attention whores is this: for most cosplayers, the attention garnered at a con is participatory recognition, not showboating. Is it nice to get attention for your costume? Of course. Much in the same way that you enjoy being recognized for completing a song/poem/novel/painting/sculpture or finishing a road race that you'd trained for. For most cosplayers, actually walking the floors of a convention is the culmination of months of work.

And I have at least two more months of construction ahead of me! Best wishes for a wonderful holiday weekend!
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NomNoms! Game of Thrones Inspired Trenchers

At this point it's no secret that George R.R. Martin's epic "A Song of Ice and Fire" series has succeeded "The Lord of the Rings" as the fantasy property du jure and, akin to the latter title, a host of 'companion' products have cropped up in the wake of the former's surging popularity. To be sure, the crossover of the saga from tome-like books to HBO series is both accredited with and to blame for the legions of new fans and the significant alterations made to the source material in order to win/keep said fan base (whether or not this is the price we, as nerds and consumers, pay to see our favorite stories and characters realized outside their original medium will probably be fodder for a future post). While I'll admit that I contribute to that stereotype of nerds-as-nitpicking-fanboys/girls, I know I'm not alone when I say that the show has gone off the proverbial rails and has arguably entered into the pantheon of nerdy shows/movies that bear resemblance to, but are fundamentally divorced from, their source material.

Given that context, it's especially refreshing to see 'companion' products that cleave to the original text and the upcoming book A Feast of Ice and Fire holds itself to the highest possible standards of accuracy. An amalgam of medieval manuscripts and the luscious, often mouth-watering descriptions of food in the books, A Feast of Ice and Fire aims to bring the Westeros dining experience to your kitchen, minus the bloodshed. You can check out the blog of the authors, which documents the painstaking efforts taken to make the cookbook as authentic as possible (and won the blessing of Martin himself).

While I'll definitely try several of the recipes featured in A Feast of Ice and Fire, I also wanted to share my own attempt at re-creating some of the food featured in the source books. This meal is more time-consuming than difficult and at least half of the cook time is inactive (just waiting around while the stew simmers). It's simple, hearty food that will warm you to the core, regardless of the approach of Winter.

Difficulty: Intermediate
Availability of Ingredients: Common
Gadgetry: None
Feeds: 2-4 nerds
Time Till Noms: 1-2 hours

Required Equipment: A large pot, a medium-sized pot, a sharp knife, a cutting board, a colander
Optional Equipment: A garlic press

1 pound [0.45kg] stew beef
2 medium-sized carrots
4 medium-to-large potatoes (or parsnips/turnips)
3 stalks celery
1 medium onion
1 bottle of dark red wine
5-6 medium mushrooms
1 crown of broccoli
Salt & pepper
3-4 cloves of fresh garlic
At least a teaspoon of the following spices: oregano, parsley, cumin
A pinch of red pepper flakes or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 Tablespoon of oil
*Trenchers → see prelude notes

Prelude: Trenchers are technically large hunks of stale bread used in place of plates. You can still attempt this (I'd recommend cutting a loaf of Italian bread lengthwise and leaving the halves to 'ripen' in the air for a day or two) but, if you don't have the time or inclination to wait for your bread to go stale, feel free to use fresh bread or bread bowls.

This meal cooks slowly enough to allow for the prep work to be done in stages. I'd recommend reading through the descriptions below and arranging your ingredients accordingly (cuts down on potential stress once the cooking gets going).

Stage One (A Game of Thrones): Wash your potatoes and cut them into 1/2 inch [1.27cm] pieces. Peeling them is optional, though I'm a nutrition nerd and usually leave the peel on. Fill the medium-sized pot with cold water and add a few ice cubes, then add the potato pieces. Knead the pieces in the ice water for 30 seconds or so, then drain with a colander. Why? As soon as you cut into the potatoes, the carbohydrates inherent to the tuber start reacting with the oxygen in the air (and the potatoes will turn a pink or brown color). The ice water stops the reaction and will cause the aerated potato to slough off, leaving you with the tastiest possible starches. Refill the pot with cool water, add the potato pieces and a few solid shakes of salt. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and have the potatoes simmer in the background while you tackle stages 2-4.

Stage Two (A Clash of Kings): Add the oil to the large pot and raise to a medium-high heat. As the oil warms, dice the onion, peel the garlic (and dice if not using a garlic press), and chop the celery and carrots. Once the oil has come to temperature, press or add the garlic, stirring gently, then add the diced onion (and thank the Seven for your fingertips). Sauté the onion and garlic until both are just beginning to turn gold, then add the celery and carrots. Immediately after adding the celery, begin cutting the stew beef into 1 inch [2.54cm] pieces if necessary.
Almost ready for celery/carrots when it looks like this
Stage Three (A Storm of Swords): Once the garlic/onion mixture has begun to brown and the celery goes slightly translucent add the beef. Sauté the beef until no pink surface area remains. As the beef is cooking, add the herbs listed above, including several hefty pinches of salt, so they get the chance to express all their essential oil goodness.
Try the wine (if your noms look like this)

By this point there should be very little moisture left in the pot and the ingredients should require a little coaxing to move around. Add the wine (taking care to keep your face clear of the pot while doing so). I recommend using at least 2/3rds of the bottle, then estimate how much more you'll need in order to cover the rest of the ingredients that you'll add later. It's perfectly normal to need the entire bottle to ensure sufficient coverage for your ingredients.

Stage Four (A Feast for Crows): Let the stew simmer rapidly, just a hair under active boiling if you can, for at least 30 minutes. In the meantime, check your potatoes (poke 'em with a fork and see how hard they are). If they're at all soft, turn the heat off and drain with a colander. Return the potatoes to the pot they were cooked in (move the pot away from the heat source though) and cover to keep them warm while the stew continues to cook. If they're not, let them continue to simmer until they are, then follow the preceding steps.

During this time (post potato-poking), chop up the mushrooms and broccoli and add them to the stew. Fans of more al dente broccoli should wait until the stew is nearly finished to add this cruciferous veggie.
That's some stage 5 stew you got there
Stage Five (A Dance with Dragons): Let the stew simmer for another 15-30 minutes (your rate of evaporation will vary), then add the cooked potatoes and broccoli if you're the aforementioned al dente aficionado. Stir regularly for the next 3 minutes or so, letting the starches from the potatoes thicken the stew. If the broth is not thick enough for your liking, then add flour a tablespoon at a time in 30 second intervals until the broth thickens. Note: there will be more evaporation between the time you turn off the stove and the actual consumption of the stew. It's best to err on the side of caution and add too little flour (since you're going to add more starches once the stew is served in the bread) than to toss in too much.

Once you've adjusted the broth, turn off the heat and gather your trenchers (or trencher substitute). Ladle the hot stew into the trenchers and WOOT, you are done!


You just list 'dark red wine'...what kind of wine are we talking about here?

Ideally, a cheap red that lists 'beef' or 'lamb' as a good pairing on the back of the bottle. I've tried this recipe with a couple of different varieties but found that merlot works best (specifically Kenwood 2009 Merlot). It's worthwhile to browse your local package store and look over the labels, as the wine is the foundation for the stew itself. Key words to look for on the labels include 'earthy', 'full finish', and 'medium' or 'full bodied'.

While we're on this train of ingredient thought: what kind of onion/mushroom/spice blend did you use?

As with all my recipe posts, I try to allow for a certain amount of wiggle room with the ingredients. This serves the twofold purpose of permitting substitutes as necessary (in case you're allergic or don't care for a particular ingredient) and encouraging a degree of experimentation. Cooking: it's Science!

That being said, I tend to use a yellow onion or 2 large shallots and crimini (or baby bella) mushrooms for this recipe. That's merely because I try to get a deeply savory, earthy flavor out of this stew. Changing out these ingredients, and the wine, can result in several different flavors and I hope you'll have fun playing around with this recipe.

AH! I used an entire bottle of wine and there doesn't seem to be enough liquid! What do I do???

Add chicken, beef, or even veggie broth if you have some on hand and you're in need of liquids to amp up the broth. Use warm water only if you absolutely do not have any broth of any sort available.

Wait just a nanosecond...I don't remember there being any broccoli in A Song of Ice and Fire!

There's mention of cruciferous veggies in the various books, but not broccoli specifically. This recipe is meant to try and match some of the foods presented in the books as closely as possible with ingredients that you could easily procure at your local grocer. The potatoes in the recipe would more likely have been turnips/parsnips in Westeros and make a tasty addition to the stew if you decide to tackle them (they're prepared the same way as the potatoes).

Best of luck on your feasting endeavors!
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Nerd Life: Once and Future Gamer

It's not exactly revolutionary to say that intellectual properties once relegated to the purview of nerds are now de rigueur in nearly every form of mass media. We're living in the midst of the Nerdissaince where comic books become blockbuster fodder and tome-like fantasy novels morph into lavishly budgeted TV series. Though there are myriad theories as to how and why this came about, these courses of inquiry ultimately bring us to the conclusion that the popularity of nerdy lore is cyclical and each such geeky heyday leaves a distinct, indelible mark on popular culture and society as a whole. While this samsara has wrought many positive developments for individual nerds (you can list 'jedi' as your official state-recognized religion in some countries!) it has also been a font for greed, specifically of the corporate variety. This post, the first in our series influenced by guest contributors, chronicles the issues that legions of gamers currently face and details what it may take to give legitimate voice to those disenfranchised by gaming's surging popularity.

Despite the recent release of major, highly anticipated titles, the future of videogames is murky at best.  Very few names have come to market in the past six months that haven't met with fan backlash on a colossal scale. Anytime an industry or property becomes accepted by a mainstream audience there is bound to be conflict between the original fan base and the nascent band wagon crowd. Once the province of a segmented, intensely demanding, but loyal demographic, the industry is no longer being pushed forward by a clear, dominant force/genre. An observer peering in from outside would probably see this as just another facet of the Nerdissaince, that an increasing number of individuals are reaching out for the gaming experience and game developers are responding in kind. Though this would be an accurate assessment there are other trends, behaviors and tactics at work here that are rapidly re-shaping the gaming experience as a whole.

The gaming industry has become enamored with the notion of testing the limits of just what their infamously fanatical customer base is willing to tolerate. In an attempt to maximize profitability, they are packaging less and less with the initial release of a given game, then charging for 'downloadable content' that may have an enormous impact on the game itself and, correspondingly, a player's experience of said game. This is understandable to a degree; these companies have a right to want to make money but the reception has been...less than favorable (there's a reason why EA was crowned 'Most Evil Company in America') While it's a company's fundamental goal to turn a profit, it's our job, as knowledgeable gamers, to convince them to make better products if we're dissatisfied with what we've been given. We do that not by going on incoherent rants in various forums, but rather by exercising our free will in the free market.

Aside from the most casual consumers (e.g. non-gamers purchasing on behalf of a gamer who will buy pretty much whatever is recommended to them), the most significant segment of the market is comprised of the so-called 'Generation Y': those of us who grew up in the Nintendo era and now have substantial disposable income.  This cohort can be decomposed into two subgroups: The casual bros and the nostalgic nerds. The former want Madden, Call of Duty, and Halo BUT they also just want the operational simplicity of insert disc, start game. They don't want to deal with the trials and tribulations that are intrinsic to PC gaming (rife with compatibility issues), which is why we see the above titles offered primarily on consoles. 

The latter are those individuals who had previously made gaming a nerdy pastime. Highly cognizant and covetous of those titles that formed the basis of their gaming experience (and, by extension, gaming as a pastime) they tend to desire MORE complexity, not less, and are thus far more willing to endure the headaches that come with PC gaming. (see Crate Entertainment's retort to Diablo III: a more substantive game already featuring additional complexity even while still in development) These nerds, once the lifeblood of the industry, are now arguably the minority and are being eased towards the back of the proverbial gaming bus. However valid our complaints may be, we undermine ourselves as a group with our apathy, laziness, or simple willingness to drink the Kool-Aid when it's being passed around. We will bitch and moan but don’t stop buying their games.  Bottom line: we don't rock the boat nearly enough to enact change the ONLY times we win concessions in our favor anymore are on major crossover titles (e.g. Mass Effect and The Old Republic).

What we're seeing is a schism between the casual gamer and the 'real' gamer. If the latter truly wishes to be a force for positive development in the industry, he/she will gradually drift to outlets like Kick Starter and independent projects to get what we want made. (see the incredible example of this from the guys at Goldhawk and their attempt make an alternative to Firaxis' upcoming remake of X-Com) Think of it like this:  people who love food, serious gourmands, don't waste their time protesting the food at McDonalds. They hunt down the small mom and pop Italian restaurant in the North End or favor a local deli. We, as an impassioned demographic, have to do the same when it comes to our games. It takes the time and effort, sure, but wouldn't we rather vote with our hard-earned cash and possibly foster change than feed into the stereotype of blustering, whiny fanatics?
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Cosplay: The Making of a Jedi

It's funny; every semester seems to have a certain inertia to it. The first several days following the incept of hard-won freedom are almost always met with confusion by both my body and mind. This duo, still entrenched in study mode, are convinced that I should be doing something, specifically something pertaining to academia. It may take up to a week to convince myself that I am not, in fact, procrastinating, that there's no pre-labs or paper-writing to be done, and that it's perfectly alright to relax. Fortunately, the blog is here to absorb my post-finals antsiness and the timing for both the conclusion of the semester and this particular post couldn't be better.

This past weekend was a confluence of nerdy awesomeness on a scale rarely seen, even in the midst of our modern Nerdissaince. We had the release of the Avengers (which was astoundingly good and may have driven home the nail in the coffin of my loyalties to DC), Star Wars Day, and Free Comic Day. I would gush on about the sheer brilliance of the Avengers, but everything I'd mention has already been covered here and here by the nerd news pros. The movie will merit several viewings to say the least.

So it was: ([the Avengers + Free Comic Day]*Star Wars Day)^spring semester being over = pretty damned near perfect. With all this awesome fleeting about, I was completely unprepared for things to get even more squee-worthy. On Saturday, the first real piece of my costume for Gen Con 2012 arrived!

Some quick background may help clarify that last bit. My year is effectively bifurcated, with each approximate half orbiting a particular convention: either Gen Con or PAX East. Though the boy and I have plans to expand our convention repertoire, ideally to include at least one incarnation of Comic Con, our itineraries for 2012 and 2013 are comprised of just those two events. Honestly, even if it weren't for the specter of grad school constantly looming overhead two conventions a year would still be a solid limit.

Why? I find the 4-8 month interval between conventions (this period varies year-to-year) provides just the right amount of time to plan a costume, procure materials, and construct the components while also allowing for a period of trial-and-error AND not draining my checking account simultaneously. As of late though, my planning period has expanded considerably and my cosplay syllabus now extends into 2014 (if that whole apocalypse thing doesn't go down in December).

Even though I'm constantly thinking of ideas for potential costumes, it's probably 3-6 months of actual physical work to go from brainwaves to the convention hallways with the majority of the construction taking place in the final six weeks. Furthermore, as I get more costuming experience under my belt, I find myself wanting to take on increasingly elaborate pieces which, in turn, tend to take more resources to pull off. This year's costume will be my most ambitious to date.

You may recall my use of the phrase 'cosplay Padawan' to describe those long-ago days of playing make-believe and my current goings on are the work of a 'cosplay Jedi'. Well, this metaphor is going to morph beyond the figurative in only a few months. In honor of this year's release of Star Wars: the Old Republic (that and I'm just obsessed with Star Wars as a whole) I'm going to cosplay as Aayla Secura at Gen Con 2012. 
Defending the Galaxy until the passing of Order 66
The hows and whys that comprise the cosplay selection process will be the subject of another blog entry. This post is the first in a series to document a costume-in-progress.

Once I figure out who or what I want to attempt to mimic via costume I start gathering as much visual and canonical information about that individual as possible. From there, I'll brainstorm several different ways to pull the costume together and target which pieces will likely take up the most time/resources or would otherwise prove most challenging (though it's often the piece that I think will be 'super easy' that ends up being the biggest pain in the ass).

For Aayla though, it's fairly obvious which piece is going to be the biggest challenge: her lekku (the head tentacles). After perusing the notes of quite a few professional and semi-pro cosplayers who've done a twi'lek costume, I found there are really two tried-and-true ways to pull off lekku convincingly. The first, and more common, route is to sew a pair of lekku from nylon or cotton knit. Summer over at Complete Wermo's Guide has an excellent tutorial on how to make your own lekku from fabric. Some cosplayers will paint their fabric lekku with a few layers of liquid latex which will make the tentacles feel more life-like, but will also add weight to your headpiece.

The second method for lekku creation is to cast a pair with latex. The eponymous Pam of Pam's Twi'lek Creations has become somewhat famous in the cosplay world (and rock star amongst the 501st and their ilk) for pioneering the technique for casting lekku from latex.

These two ladies helped guide my research considerably (they are both incredibly nice) and led me to draw the following conclusions concerning each type of lekku:

Inexpensive, easy to transport, can take a fair amount of abuse
Highly reusable, very durable, lifelike, can hold their shape for prolonged periods
Less realistic, limited range of available colors/textures, limited reusability, may lose their shape after hours of wear.
Expensive, require some gentle handling for transport

It ultimately came down to a question of reusability. If I'm going to invest time and resources into a costume piece I'd like to get several uses out of it if at all possible. This, and the fact that I've wanted to be a Twi'lek since I was maybe seven years old, led me towards the latex. Fabric is definitely the more viable option if you're handy with a sewing machine, aren't particular about color availability, or only plan on being a Twi'lek once or twice.
Pam's UltraCal mold for makin' lekku
After several long, but fun, discussions with Pam, she agreed to cast a 'rough' set of lekku for me, which is what surprised me from the floor of our sunroom on Saturday morning. The casting process takes 3-4 weeks and is completely dependent on the meteorological conditions in Pam's part of California. After Pam's cast dried sufficiently, she boxed up the lekku and sent them my way. As mentioned, the set she sent me were 'rough', (i.e. directly from the mold), and I've spent the past few days trimming off excess, sanding down the surface, and stuffing the actual tentacles with foam so they now hold their own shape. The bottom five inches were filled with tiny polystyrene pellets, which keep the tips in the right shape. The middle section of the lekku is just plain nylon pillow stuffing, which allows for flexibility while maintaining the overall structure The top curve (where the lekku would join with the skull) are filled with a polyfoam compound. (It's the same stuff used inside car seats)

My sanded and stuffed lekku
Now that the base of this crucial component is all set for the time being (painting and finishing the lekku will take place a few weeks from now) I'll move on to the clothing portions of the costume. It's off to a good start though! Only 99 days until Gen Con!
First test run!

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Game Review: Fealty

With finals complete and this semester in the record books, I can roll up my sleeves and get to some serious postin'.

And this post is to cater to the gamers.  I present to you, Fealty! 
Fealty comes to us from the good people at Asmadi Games, the guys behind We Didn't Play Test This At All  (which, they totally do) and Win, Lose, Banana. The basics break out as follows:

Number of Players: 2-4
Approximate Playtime: 15-40 minutes

The game combines some of the best facets of older strategy games, namely the point-capture aspects of Go and the piece variety/versatility of Chess, while keeping overall playtime brief via a strict turn limit. Unlike most such strategy games, Fealty can accommodate more than two players and has two distinct options that allow for difficulty to be easily scaled based on the quantity and experience level of said players (board size and piece options). It's fun, it's fast, and it gets the old neurons firing. I won't recap the entirety of Fealty's rules, but the elevator version of the game is as follows:

Players first select a representative color (blue, yellow, red, or purple) and a correspondingly colored deck of nine cards. There are two complete decks of nine cards for each color, the Missives deck and the Suns deck, but only one such deck is used at a time and players choose between them via consensus before the start of the game. Each card within the deck provides critical information concerning the abilities of a token denoted by a name and number that matches that on the card. The constraints outlined on each card will allow players to decide how and where to place the corresponding tokens on the board with the ultimate goal of capturing as much of the latter as possible.

The selected decks are shuffled, then placed face down before the individual players. Players draw a hand of three cards from the top of the deck, which then present three different options for play. After inspecting the cards, players will decide which token they would like to place on the board by selecting the corresponding card from the three available in their hand and placing it face down in front of them. Once all players have made their choices, all selected cards are revealed en masse and the matching tokens are placed (order of placement depends on the individual cards revealed). Once each player has placed one token a new card is drawn from the top of the deck (bringing the player's hands back up to three apiece) and the process is repeated. After eight such rounds, the board is then systematically divvied up between the players in accordance with the abilities of each token placed. The player who captures the most territory wins.
Layout for the two-person version of the game
It may take a practice round or two before you are comfortable with A) the basic abilities of each of the nine tokens and B) how those abilities synergize with the overarching rules of the game to present viable strategies for winning. It's recommended that new players begin with the simpler Missives desk to help speed the familiarization process along and that's some advice that I heartily echo. Though the game can be easily picked up the jump in difficulty between the Missives and Suns decks is marked so your best bet is to stick to the Missives until you're ready for a fresh challenge.

The variety in available terrain (there are several different board conglomerations) combined with the abilities of the individual pieces and the element of semi-randomness (which cards get drawn and in what order) makes for a very high degree of replay ability. Games tend to be very fast, so it's easy to get multiple matches in a short period of time. That being said, the sheer quantity of possible play combinations occasionally causes a bit of confusion as to who is entitled to what territory. The FAQ in the rulebook addresses most, but not all, of these situations (which can be an opportunity to create some kick-ass house rules). Also, though Fealty is designed to be a quick play, 4-player games can often exceed the 40 minute mark so it may help to set some guidelines about turn length before the start of the game.

Overall, an excellent choice for strategy enthusiasts!
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