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Open World Exploration in Games

Thursday, December 2, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

I love open exploration.

This fact is actually relatively newfound information for me. I have always enjoyed RPGs and the “exploration” they offer - by that, I always meant whatever new world tidbit or experience I had as I progressed through a linear storyline. 

But as open world exploration started to permeate several different game genres, I found myself finally at a place where open-world sandbox and RPG intersected: Skyrim.

As far as my immediate recollection goes, Skyrim was the first for me. My love for the thrill of a wide open world with endless possibilities that I could experience at my leisure was only further cemented when I played Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While at times I missed having a tight and linear story to follow, the allure of being able to go wherever and do whatever I wanted during a game was becoming stronger.

Open-world exploration is far from a new concept, but as I said above, I was far less aware of it until it strongly intersected with my preferred game genre. The primary downside for someone like me who is a very story-driven gamer is that the story often needs to take a bit of a backseat in an open world game. The emphasis is all on exploration and the freedom of choice. There are, of course, exceptions to this - Mass Effect, for example, balances plot and exploration fairly well - but in general the focus has to be put more on one or the other rather than both.

If we’re looking at open-world exploration in genres outside of RPGs, then 4X is absolutely one of the biggest proponents of this idea. Games like Stellaris or the Galactic Civilizations series put emphasis on exploration - heck, it’s literally one of the very foundations of what makes up 4X as a genre (which stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate, in case you were unaware!). 

I have often said that I find the more administrative side of 4X games to be daunting for me personally. While that still is largely true, I’ve found that I’ve become more comfortable with it as I’ve spent more time playing.

I realized recently that what really excites and compels me about these games is finding out what’s out there. I frequently forgo the important stuff - like managing my governments, oops - because I am so wrapped up in sending my vessels out into the galaxy to find out what’s lurking beyond the fog of war.

In a game like GalCiv, there’s just so much out there to encounter, from new worlds to colonize, to drastic events that might alter the course of my entire civilization (I’m sure it’s completely fine to accept those genetic enhancements and implant them in my people!), to encounters with pirates or other enemy civilizations who are tired of my nonsense. It’s always a good feeling when I’m able to decimate a pirate fleet - we’ll call that revenge for the numerous times they used to beat me up before I finally figured out what the heck I was doing.

The thing about exploration in 4X games is that it is also unfettered. I can go out and do as much as I want and explore as far as I’d like - though, certainly, there are some consequences for not being careful! I find it really interesting how the exploration in GalCiv actually becomes a part of the story you tell, along with the kinds of interactions you have with other civilizations, the ideological choices you make, and so on.

Is exploration a favorite aspect of gameplay for you? Do you love open world games? Share your thoughts with me!

Thankfulness (AKA: A Sappy Post)

I get to do this once a year on paper, but I feel it year-round.

Thursday, November 25, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

The weather in Michigan has started to turn colder, though for the time being we've dodged any real abundance of snow (I know, I know - I just cursed us). As we enter into the holiday season, I find it impossible not to reflect a bit on how fortunate I am to have become friends and share so many experiences with my inredible colleagues at Stardock.

The last two-ish years have been a bit strange, to say the very least. The pandemic forced us all into remote work and kept us from seeing each other for a long while - but, we managed to get around the loneliness by holding frequent online game nights. One night, we even organized a trivia competition, which turned out to be quite a lot of chaotic fun.

Since we've added several remote coworkers to our roster lately also, we still find time to run online game nights so that we can spend time with them, too! Of course, I'm not sure how effective it is as a team building activity when you're betraying each other in Among Us for hours on end...

Anyway, as vaccines started rolling out, we slowly and surely started returning to doing things together in the office. Our first big in person event was - surprise, surprise! - a board game night in our studio's cafe. It was the first time I had met a lot of our new hires at the time, and the energy in the room was joyful and excited as we got to connect with each other in person for the first time in ages.

What followed was a slew of other fun activities together - it's almost like we crammed a year's worth of gatherings into the month of October alone! Our annual chili cook-off was hugely successful and ended with us trudging back to our desks with bellies full of chili and smiles on our faces. The competition was fierce, but only three of us could take home the coveted prizes while everyone else plots on how to overthrow us next year.

We also had a trip to a local Cider Mill for some cider and donuts - plus a really toasty bonfire! - followed by our big Halloween party at the end of the month. Everyone here at Stardock loves Halloween and our array of costumes this year definitely didn't disappoint!

We may have burned the candle at both ends that day, since later in the evening we held our first ever Stardock D&D night. Most of us didn't leave the office until close to 1am - but it was more than worth it. Our adventure went off without a hitch and everyone had an amazing time.

We have a short break for Thanksgiving today and tomorrow, and then it's back for a couple of weeks so we can wrap up projects before our holiday! Stardock will be closed from December 24th - January 2nd so we can have a little vacation before we start ramping up for all of the great stuff we've got planned for 2022. 

I hope your holiday season is safe and filled with joy. Thanks for reading!

What ho, a quest? It's a Stardock D&D Night!

Thursday, November 11, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

I have long known that I work with plenty of people who love games - that's not news to me, and if you've been reading these blogs at all, it isn't to you either! What did surprise me, however, was just how many of my colleagues actually love Dungeons & Dragons and other table-top RPGs.

About two months ago, we were coming off the high of having a fantastic in-person game night. Raeann - a member of our amazing operations team - said in one of our chats "Stardock D&D night, when?", two of us game masters (GMs) raised our hands, and the rest is history.

What commenced after that conversation was about 6 weeks of careful planning and plotting. We could have just grabbed any old module and run it, but we had grander ideas in mind. I pitched the idea of running a Stardock-inspired adventure, Jacob (the other GM) suggested we run two tables and play with some cross-table meta stuff, and we went running from there.

The three of us met frequently to design the adventure, which is called a "one-shot." This means that the entire thing, start to finish, should be contained within a single night of play. We had 12 of our awesome coworkers sign up and split them into two teams of six. Since we had a mixture of experienced players and people who were brand new, we hosted a character creation night at the office to get everyone prepared!

Each encounter and aspect of the adventure was designed to be evocative of life and culture at Stardock in some way. The brave adventuring parties were sent to investigate some strange going-ons at an ancient temple. When they arrived, they discovered that the temple was devoted to a six-headed dog god that we called Astracanum ("Star Dog" in Latin). We have an amazing dog-friendly culture here and we know our players were delighted to see some of their beloved dogs referenced in the game.

The mid-boss fight was actually designed after the little Roomba that vacuums the carpet downstairs in the "pit" - which is the nickname we have for where most of our developers sit. It is affectionately called "Doomba" and is known for causing minor inconveniences like running into people's desks or pulling their headphones out of their PCs.

The players also had the pleasure (some of them would tell you misfortune) of interacting with Yargen the Goblin, an NPC that, I will admit, Jacob and I didn't really want to include at first. In the end, Raeann's insistence that he be added won out and Jacob and I had to admit that we were wrong to have ever been in doubt. The interactions our players shared with him were hilarious and only added to the greatness of the game.

The final fight was against Ceresa, the Fallen Enchantress - who, lo and behold, was twisting and shifting the dimensions between worlds and trying to merge one world into another in order to invade it with undead armies. If you've been playing our games for a while then you'll know exactly who she is and why this was an exciting surprise to everyone at the table.

Because I can't help myself, I wanted to make props for this adventure - and thankfully, Raeann and Jacob were both on board for doing so! I think the potions that Raeann and I made turned out perfectly. We filled them with Gatorade and luster dust, which meant they were 100% edible and that our players could drink them when they used them - which they did!

      

We had so much fun crafting together - and Jacob even took the first test drink of our concoction. Success! Our players were beyond delighted when these hit the table.

The adventure was designed to run simultaneously so that both groups would unknowingly interact with each other to solve some certain puzzles. Eventually, they figured out that the mysterious "person" they were communicating with via the magical tablet was the other party, and there were definitely some antics that ensued after this discovery. Their actions at each table even affected the final boss - we had designed her with a dimensional rift ability that allowed us to zap players to the other table for the duration of the fight.

One of the benefits of running the game on the day of our Halloween party was that the game masters sort of got (and stayed!) in character. After about 13 hours in that wig, though, I was more than ready to rip it off when I got home! The game ended at midnight and I didn't get home until probably close to 2:00AM, but it was absolutely worth it.

In all, everything went off with barely a hitch. Our coworkers had a blast and the three of us are immensely proud of ourselves. We are definitely going to do some more D&D in the future - just probably not quite as elaborate as this. 

Are you a table-top role player? If you have any fun stories to share, I'd love to hear them!

 

Stardock's Halloween Spook-tacular!

Thursday, November 4, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

We absolutely love Halloween here at Stardock! Frankly, there are a whole bunch of us who will jump at any excuse to dress up in a costume and have fun - Halloween just happens to be the time when everyone else is doing it, too.  

Our operations team here is amazing and they always make sure that we have everything we need to have a good time! They played Monster House on our big TV downstairs and had lunch catered from a local company - everything was absolutely delicious. We all forgot about work for a little bit as we admired each other's costumes, threw a few jokes back and forth, and fueled up on the delicious goody bags filled with sugary sweets that were provided.

We had some pretty fabulous costumes this year and it was so hard to pick our contest winners! But, these four people ended up going home with our coveted trophies:

Most WTF? Costume: Derek as Cousin It
Scariest Costume: Jay as Cosmic Horror Astronaut
Funniest Costume: Cari as a Magical Unicorn
Most Original Costume: Nathan as a Cthulu Investigator

Later that evening, after our work day was done, we held our first ever Stardock Dungeons & Dragons night - which is a whole different blog that you can look for later! In all, I was at the office in costume for somewhere around 13 hours that day, but I don't regret a single second of it. I definitely couldn't wait to get out of my wig, though!

What did you do for Halloween this year? Share some stories and pics with us!

 

Stardock's Cider Mill Trip!

Thursday, October 28, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

I am in a unique and wonderful position here at Stardock in that I genuinely enjoy spending time with my colleagues. Many of us spend time outside of work hours playing board games, slaying monsters in Dungeons & Dragons, or critiquing new and popular films out at the theater together. 

Once in awhile, our amazing operations team plans an outing for us so we can all get out of the office and enjoy some teambuilding activities. Autumn is widely celebrated in Michigan as cider season, and since we are blessed with so many beautiful apple orchards here we're lucky enough to be able to go and enjoy all of the fun that goes along with it.

What does "fun" look like at the apple orchard? It comes in many forms, but in the case of our trip it was a hay ride, a trip through a corn maze, and then roasting marshmallows and eating sugary cider donuts around a toasty bonfire. You can check out a video of our cider mill trip here if you like!

If you're unfamiliar with the concept of a corn maze, it's pretty much just what it sounds like: several paths are made in a corn field at the end of the corn harvesting season and people are turned loose within to find hidden stations. When you reach a station, you punch your card with the associated symbol and then enter it into a drawing for a prize later. 

After the tractor picked us up again, we headed back to our bonfire pit. We had an hour or so to just relax and visit with one another while we roasted marshmallows, drank delicious fresh-pressed cider, and devoured cinnamon-sugar cider donuts - a beloved delicacy here in Michigan!

After we sugared ourselves up, we headed home so that we could start our weekend! The first thing I did when I got back (aside from flurry-cleaning my house before my company arrived) was put some cider in a pot on the stove and heat it up with some mulling spices. It's one of my favorite treats for when the weather starts to turn cold! If you can get your hands on some good apple cider, you should absolutely try this - my recipe is below.

Kristy's Mulling Spice Recipe

  • 3-4 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 whole nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup star anise
  • 1/4 cup dried orange peel, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons whole allspice
  • 3 tablespoons whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon crystalized ginger, finely chopped (add more ginger for a bit more zip!)

Combine the cinnamon sticks and nutmeg in a plastic bag together. Smash the bag with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer to break them up into smaller pieces.

Combine the contents of the plastic bag with everything else and mix well. Store in an air-tight container. You can also opt to separate the mixture into small cheesecloth pouches or pre-made teabags, but I prefer to just toss it all into the cider loosey-goosey.

To make mulled cider:

Add 1-2 tablespoons of the mix to about 3 or 4 cups of fresh cider and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and let simmer for about 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and pour into mugs. You can strain out the spices if you prefer, but I usually leave them in.
I also like to add fresh orange slices, cranberries, and/or apple slices if I'm feeling fancy.
Add a splash of bourbon or whiskey if you're of age and feeling spicy! 
These spices also taste absolutely delicious when combined with a bottle of red wine and heated up over the stove.

Are you a cider mill fan? Tell me about what kinds of autumn traditions are alive in your area!

Stardock's Chili Cook-off!

Thursday, October 21, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

I am a lover of soups, stews, and chilis.

The very second the weather dipped below 60 here in Michigan, I popped my head out the door and bellowed "SOUP SEASON!"

...you think I'm exaggerating or being dramatic, but I'm not. My friends (and my poor neighbors) will attest.

Anyway, I'm not the only one who loves this time of year around here! Fall sees all sorts of fun activities popping up at Stardock, from visits to Cider Mills, to Halloween costume contests, and of course also chili cook-offs. We missed out on pretty much all of these things last year, so we're hitting 2021 with a vengeance. 

Last week was our annual chili cook-off, and we brought our best offerings to share with our coworkers and appeal to their better judgments. Some people even teamed up and took to google to find the ultimate recipe for the competition! We had a lot of delicious chilis to taste that day.

Our six competitors were:

  • Bacon's The Bomb Chili - Traditional style red chili with ground beef and bacon
  • Chili.lua - Dark chocolate chili with stout and beef stew chunks
  • Dance Magic Chili - White chicken chili with green chiles, cream, and cumin
  • Verde Chicken Chili - Chicken chili with green chiles
  • Winning Chili - Traditional red chili
  • M-34 Chili - Dark chili made with beer

After vigorous taste testing (and some precarious balancing acts trying to get all the tasting cups back to our seats!), we voted via a QR code that Raeann, our one of our brilliant members of the Operations team, set up for us. A dramatic drumroll or three later, we had our winners!

Debbie's Bacon chili came in at 3rd place, followed by Max and Jacob's dark chocolate chili. Their medal is being beautifully modeled by Scherzer, one of our resident office doggos. My white chicken chili took 1st place, and the trophy is now nestled on my desk next to several other Stardock prizes and mementos I've collected through my years here.

We do cook-offs occasionally here, and it's always fun to see what different tastes and experiences everyone brings with their cooking! Some of us bring tried and true family favorites, while others do some online research, find one that looks good, and gives it a whirl. Every method is valid and delicious - I'm looking forward to whatever our next cook-off is going to be!

Do you have a favorite chili recipe? Have you done cook-offs at work or with friends before? Tell me about it!

Top 3 Software I use to keep my PC organized

Fences, Groupy, and Start10/11 are the real MVPs

Thursday, October 14, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

If you know me, then you know that the idea of me writing about any form of organization is a ploy of comedy in and of itself. Still, as all over the place as I am with just about every aspect of my life, that doesn't stop me from trying to be more organized.

I spend quite a lot of time at my computer, both for work and for leisure. Beyond a few very important things, I don't really have much of a system for where I put documents or shortcuts - they just sort of get lobbed on the desktop as a problem for future Kristy to swear over while she tries to find wherever the $*#! she put that really important program she needs right now

Obviously, this isn't very efficient, and is certainly more than a little frustrating. I've gotten a lot better about this in recent years, and I admit that the primary reason for that is the software I started using when I came to Stardock back in 2015. A few programs in particular have defined my workflow over the years, and I'd like to share a brief overview of them with you. Let's take a look!

Fences

This program seriously revolutionized how I manage my Windows desktop space. I use it both at work and at home, and whenever I find myself trying to navigate a PC without it, I feel a little bit lost. I run two monitors at home and actually have them split for work and play, just so I can find what I need more easily. I talk about it a bit more in a blog here.

If I didn't have two monitors, I would probably use the "pages" feature in Fences so that I could swipe between my personal leisure apps and my professional work programs. I also take a lot of screenshots, so being able to double-click on the desktop to hide all of my icons is super convenient. Most of all, though, I just love how I can make categories and then sort items into those fences based on setting specific rules pertaining to them. If you haven't made use of that feature, definitely make sure you try it out!

Groupy

Where do I even begin with Groupy? It was honestly a program that I had no idea I needed until I had it, and now I can't live without it. Not only is Groupy a huge space saver, but it also lets me sort my work into categories, which is really important for what I do. Because I'm on the marketing team, I have my hands in a lot of different projects at once, sometimes bouncing between multiple different titles within a single day. Groupy helps me keep them all apart.

When I stream, I love being able to group Xsplit, my Twitch channel, my Discord, and any other notes or websites I might need for the game I'm playing onto one monitor while my game takes up the other monitor. I then set a hotkey and use it to tab between them easily while I'm streaming - I don't know if I can ever go back to not having this app! If you want to read about it in a little more detail, you can check out a blog I wrote here.

Start10/11

I held onto Windows 7 as long as I possibly could before I built a new PC for myself and had no choice but to move onto Windows 10. The thing about change is that we all tend to resist it at first - I think it's a fairly natural thing! - and then eventually fold over into acceptance when we realize that maybe it wasn't so bad after all. In the case of Windows operating system, this seems to be a very cyclical thing - and I know many of us are experiencing this very emotion with Windows 11 right now!

When I got to Stardock, the IT team asked me if I would like Start10 installed on my computer. When they explained to me what it was, I absolutely said yes - and then was overjoyed to see the return of my familiar and favorite menu style. When Microsoft announced Windows 11, we launched immediately into developing Start11, which I currently have installed (along with the new OS) on my laptop. Start11 not only helps me restore my favorite versions of the Windows menu style, but also extends that to support a bunch of new menu ideas like the concept of pages and minimalism.

The newest update to Start11 released today, actually - if you're a Start11 user, make sure you try out Release Candidate 2! 

Those are my top 3 organization apps for my Windows PC. What are some of your favorites and how do you use them to keep yourself organized? Share with me!

Windows 11 updates: better than Windows 10? It appears so!

Thursday, October 7, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

If you're a Windows user, then you've definitely had this happen before.

You're playing or working, deeply engrossed in whatever it is you're doing, and then suddenly your computer alerts you to a Windows update! Or, in some cases, just shuts down and decides to update right then and there. It's obnoxious, it's frustrating, and now it's hopefully a thing of the past.

Windows 11 launched just a couple of days ago and Microsoft had been telling us quite a lot about their new OS leading up the launch, including providing details on how Windows 11 intends to deliver seamless updates that will be 40% smaller than those of Windows 10. These updates are supposed to take place with a lot less frequency, which means they shouldn't interrupt what you're doing - a bonus!

According to Microsoft, Windows 11 will have fewer feature updates than Windows 10 did, with a single feature update released every year, much like Apple's annual macOS updates. In order to achieve this, Microsoft has made some quality-of-life improvements to Windows 11's updates.


Image credit: Microsoft

When a new patch is available and you go to check for updates, Windows 11 will compare the contents of the new update with what's already installed on your PC. That way, it will only download the necessary parts of what you need, which makes the size of the update significantly smaller and way more efficient.

Windows 11 users will see their updates downloaded automatically when they aren't actively using their PC thanks to a new version of Microsoft's AI and machine learning software. Although there's a lot about upcoming Windows 11 updates that are great, it should be noted that the updates won't necessarily be faster. You will still have to restart your machine after an update and stare at a blank screen while it implements for a bit. 


Image credit: Microsoft

Microsoft launched Windows 11 just two days ago on October 5th and will continue to roll it out gradually over the next few months. If you're planning to make the move over to the new OS and want to jump right into customizing, make sure to check out Start11 and the other great programs in our Object Desktop suite, many of which can still be utilized on Windows 11. 

Did you download Windows 11 yet? Tell me about your favorite features!

Stardock Game Night!

Thursday, September 30, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

In news that shouldn't be especially shocking: we really love games here at Stardock.

This extends beyond just PC and video games and well into things like board games and tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. I've definitely talked about it before, but I also have a fairly sizeable board game collection at home. Before the pandemic, I used to bring games in fairly regularly and have game nights so that my coworkers and I could enjoy playing some together.

Earlier this month, we held our first in-person game night in over a year. About 22 of us showed up to play games and eat Italian food that Raeann (one of our awesome HR peeps) and I prepared. Throughout the pandemic, there were several new hires at the studio who have all been working remotely like the rest of us, and many of those people whose faces we hadn’t yet seen in person drove in to share some home cooked food, play a few games, and indulge in some good old-fashioned comradery.  


Raeann and I went downstairs after work and made
garlic bread, mostaccioli, and salad for everyone!

This is the largest game night I've ever had at Stardock, and I loved it! Normally we'd average between 8-10 people and would have to break out games like Codenames or Avalon in order for us all to play together. There aren't too many games that can comfortably handle 22 people, so I brought a selection (two large Sterelite tubs worth!) and encouraged everyone to pick whatever they wanted to play.


Everyone fueled up on pasta before we got to the games!

After we stuffed ourselves full of carbs, we broke off into groups and started in on our first games for the evening: Codenames and Secret Hitler. I was finally Hitler for one of these games and I couldn't get anyone to make me chancellor, which was super disappointing! I guess I just don't look innocent enough.

We continued to flip between games throughout the evening; below, I'll give a quick rundown of each game and what they're like so you can check them out for your next game night!

Obscurio

This is one of my favorite co-op games! In Obscurio, you're playing as a wizard who is in possession of a magical grimoire and is trying to escape the evil wizard's library. One of your companions has been enchanted by the wizard, though, and is actively working in secret to try and trip you up and force you to pick the wrong path, thus trapping you in the library forever.

One player plays as the grimoire, who gives clues and tries to guide the players to safety, while up to six other people can play as the wizards, with one hidden traitor among them. As gameplay progresses, the wizards must find ways to work around traps that make the grimoire more difficult to interpret, all while wondering just who exactly among them is in cahoots with the wizard. It's an exciting game that relies heavily on teamwork and abstract thinking, and is very much loved by most of us here at Stardock.

Codenames

Codenames is a team game of secret words and deduction. Two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 field agents, but their teammates know the agents only by their codenames. In this game, two teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. To do this, the spymaster will give their team a one-word clue in hopes of getting them to guess the correct word on the board - but be careful! If you don't choose your clues wisely, your team might end up picking the codename of a rival agent, a civilian, or an assassin, which will instantly end the game and give victory to your rivals.

This game is fun and challenging - and it feels like it changes and is different every time depending on who's on your team and who is playing as the spymaster. It's a relatively inexpensive buy and can accommodate a larger number of players, so I definitely recommend keeping it on hand for impromptu game nights!

The Great Dalmuti

This game has been around for a long time - I remember playing this at the hobby shop in high school! - but it's still one of my favorite games to break out in a group of people.  This light and easy card game can play up to 7 players and honestly, the more the merrier! The goal is to empty your hand first, a feat that is much easier if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the position of being either the Greater or Lesser Dalmuti, a ruler who can tax the best cards out of their peons' hands.

This game requires players to shuffle seats - we also used silly hats! - whenever their position changed. Our table was constantly roaring with laughter, and because the game is so easy to teach we were able to get up and playing right away, so we got several rounds in before we moved onto our next activity.

Secret Hitler

We love social deduction games here at Stardock. I keep telling Derek that maybe betrayal and lies doesn't make for the best team-building activity, but that doesn't stop us.

Secret Hitler is a dramatic game of political intrigue and betrayal set in 1950's Germany. Players are secretly divided into 2 teams: liberals and fascists. Known only to each other, the fascists must coordinate to sow distrust and install their cold-blooded leader, while the liberals must find and stop the Secret Hitler before it's too late.

Each round, a player takes the mantle as president and must propose a chancellor for election. Working together, they enact a law from the deck, but the chancellor could be forced into passing a law they don't want to pass depending on what their president gives them! Because all laws are viewed in secret, the players only have the president and chancellor's word to go off of, which can spread a lot of chaos very quickly.

If the Secret Hitler is ever elected chancellor after 3 fascist laws have already passed, the fascists automatically win. If the liberals manage to pass 5 liberal laws before this occurs, they win. The game is fast-paced and chaotic, and hits the table, along with the game Avalon, quite often at Stardock gatherings.

Dead Man's Draw

Look familiar? This game is honestly one of my absolute favorites in my collection because it is so easy to teach and everyone who has ever learned it has had an absolute blast! We have a lot of new Stardock blood here now, so I thought it was more than appropriate to introduce them to our only physical board game.

In Dead Man's Draw, you push your luck trying to score the most points by trying not to bust as you flip cards over out of the deck. If you ever flip up a suit that you already have in the lineup, you bust and don't get to score any cards for that round, so be sure to know when to stop! 

Each suit has its own special ability, ranging from blowing up or stealing an opponent's card, protecting previous cards in the lineup, or even forcing you to flip over 2 cards whether you want to or not. The gameplay is fast paced and easy, and I know that the new Stardockians really enjoyed the game as much as I enjoyed teaching it!

Well, that was our game night in a nutshell! What are some of your favorite board games, and have you played any of the ones above? Tell me about it!

Meet Moxie - a Social Robot for Kids!

Technology is cool.

Thursday, September 23, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

I am constantly amazed by the things technology has evolved to do.

If you’d told me 15 years ago that we’d move past dial-up internet and have the sheer amount of information at our fingertips that we do today, I’m not sure I would have believed you. Honestly, I still hear that AOL dial-up tone in my head sometimes - is it just occasional nostalgia, or am I going a little nuts? Probably both.

Anyway.

People are always finding new ways to make technology work for us, and especially for kids, who have grown up in a time unlike any we experienced as children. From online schooling, to the first ever FDA-approved video game treatment for ADHD, and now Moxie, a robot designed to help kid with social-emotional learning, technology continues to find ways to make life a little easier.

A couple weeks ago, this advertisement appeared in front of a YouTube video I was watching:

Initially, I was like “WTF?” and about to click through, but then I paused. I worked with kids for a long time before coming to Stardock, and something about this tugged at my heart and made me watch through the end.

I know that technology isn’t the answer to everything; in fact, there are definitely times when I would advocate for less screen time for kids and so on. But, I have also been the teacher in that classroom with a kiddo who struggles to connect with their peers, or who just doesn’t feel safe or comfortable advocating for themselves and their needs.

Moxie is presented by a start-up robotics company called Embodied and is designed to “help promote social, emotional, and cognitive development through everyday play-based learning and captivating content.” Now, it’s not like the idea of these social robots is new, but this one is different.

Unlike other social robots, Moxie specializes in one thing - emotional development - and keeps its interactions focused there, rather than trying to be an over-generalized robotic friend. By having short 15-20 minute interactions with Moxie daily, kids will be able to lessen that interaction and hopefully apply what they’ve learned to other social relationships.

The short daily interactions provided by Moxie are supposed to help aid in learning communication skills. From Embodied’s website:

“With Moxie, children can engage in meaningful play, every day, with content informed by the best practices in child development and early childhood education. Every week is a different theme such as kindness, friendship, empathy or respect, and children are tasked to help Moxie with missions that explore human experiences, ideas, and life skills. 

These missions are activities that include creative unstructured play like drawing, mindfulness practice through breathing exercises and meditation, reading with Moxie, and exploring ways to be kind to others. Moxie encourages curiosity so children discover the world and people around them. 

All these activities help children learn and safely practice essential life skills such as turn taking, eye contact, active listening, emotion regulation, empathy, relationship management, and problem solving.”

Personal feelings on efficiency aside, this technology is really cool. It could really help some struggling kids out, or it could just get thrown on the pile of failed attempts - it’s hard to say right now.

What do you think about a robot like this? Share your thoughts with me!




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