June 15th, 2015

Taking our online test for a spin

car-522411_1280My driver’s license was earned when Red Toad was tree lined and spooky, drag racing was still possible past Craigtown and my 11 year old brother would drive a tractor to school if he missed the bus.  Back then, driver’s ed was offered to all 10th graders as a regular class, and I can only guess, forced on the teacher who drew the short straw.  As most of us had been driving something since our feet could touch the pedals, the class tended to drift away from traffic rules to the best way of jacking up your Bronco. Now with a 15 year old who thinks tailgating happens only in parking lots, it’s time for a reality check—for both of us.

And what an eye opener the MVA Practice Tests proved to be.  As the older, experienced driver, I attempted the free, online permit practice test first.  The 40 question, multiple choice test provided immediate feedback on my questionable answers.  In my defense, for questions such as the distance in feet you must keep between your car and a stopped school bus, “a bunch” was not a choice.  My son kindly pointed out I could access the Maryland Drivers Handbook right from the site if I wanted to study before retaking the test.  Failure in our house is not an option.

CCPL’s Driving-Tests.Org also has practice for CDL and motorcycle tests. For even more practice in both English and Spanish, you can go to the Maryland MVA’s online driver test tutorial. They even have apps for Android and iOS!


Tags: , ,


May 19th, 2015

Why Board Games Are Back

board-game-529586_1280I’m not a long-time lover of the hobby but I fell hard and fast for it recently. By total luck, right now happens to the most exciting time to be a board gaming enthusiast. When most people think of “tabletop” games they think of either casino gambling, antiquated board games like Clue or Monopoly, or worst of all, the fantasy dice games from the 1980s, often stigmatized as being played by Middle Earth-loving, Dungeons & Dragons outcasts. Well, that’s changing. A lot of cross-pollination has been going on recently, putting us in a new golden age of social table games.

For me it started a little over a year ago. On a total whim, I was in Christiana Mall and picked up a strange and clever-looking game: Forbidden Island—a cooperative game where the players work together to collect treasures on a sinking island. I was summarily swallowed alive by this new world of what is now called “modern tabletop gaming.”

Wil Wheaton of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fame is exhibit A. He has over one million Youtube subscribers for his weekly internet show “TableTop” where he plays card, dice, and board games with B-list actors and internet celebrities. Exhibit B is the spike in sales. Since 2012, annual industry-wide sales have gone up 10-20% by major companies, and attendance at gaming conventions have increased by thousands. Some of the reason for their success is sheer business—brilliant designers making fresh games. These companies have a broad spectrum of games appealing to diehard-gamers and non-gamers alike. Some are inexpensive, easy-to-learn, 30-minute family games while some are hundred dollar behemoths taking hours to learn and hours to play.

But why is this blowing up now? Exhibit C: I think there is evidence accruing that people are tired of their technology. Friends who only see each other on Facebook and social media are beginning to quietly revolt. Humans are social animals, and rather than spending hours playing XBOX or texting each other, there is a movement gaining momentum for in-person gaming. Tabletop gaming scratches that itch for families and friends alike.

For proof, I urge you to go to Barnes and Noble or Target and just look at how retailers are responding to the evolution. Games that were never carried 5-7 years ago now pack the shelves. Instead of just Apples to Apples and Risk, retailers are now carrying elegant, creative games with quality components, knock-out artwork, and unique game mechanics. You’ll find games like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Zombicide, Sheriff of Nottingham, King of Tokyo, and Sushi Go!

If you’re a geeky adult, or have kids over eight, you should consider reaping the benefits of this new golden age. And if you want to try to win one of these games, attend the 4th Annual all-ages sci-fi and fantasy event “Magic, Space, & Swords!” this August for your chance to go home with one of these boxes of fun. Don’t forget to check out “The Dice Tower” on Youtube for weekly reviews, or boardgamegeek.com for industry news, trends, and ratings.

Lastly, Mr. Matt, that’s me, will be exhibiting family-friendly card games at the Library Con on Saturday June 6 from 10am-12pm at the Perryville Branch. Come play a sample game!


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,