Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Although I do my best to live life like a sort of screen-lit cave troll, shunning all sunlight and human contact in favor of video games and online dog videos, loneliness and Vitamin D deficiency do occasionally force me out into the “real” world to interact. As it happens, one such annual occasion is rapidly approaching: My improv community’s annual July 4 Sloshball game. For the uninitiated, Sloshball is basically kickball, with two important rule tweaks: 1. You most always have a beverage (alcoholic or non, although given that we’re talking about improvisers in their mid-20s to mid-30s, the former is much more common than the latter) in one of your hands, and 2. To advance from second base to third, you have to finish whatever you’re drinking and grab a new one.
The knock-on effects of these rule variants are numerous. Most notably, catching becomes a real clusterfuck because most of the people doing it are now one-handed and drunk. (Beer-soaked T-shirts are a common casualty of a Sloshball sacrifice play.) As a connoisseur of awkward yelling, it’s also a real treat to see the mixture of drink and competition bring out the beast in my normally “yes and” prone friends; there’s nothing like a couple of comic geniuses screaming at each other at the top of their lungs over a contested call as the rest of the community watches, blissing out on barbecue food, camaraderie, and sun.
Playing cards with friends is not only a time-honored holiday tradition for me, it’s practically sacrosanct in our home. And among the card games that garner our time and commitment, euchre stands tall above the rest. If my significant other and I go too long without a serious sit-down session of the game, we start to get antsy, like kids waiting for Christmas to arrive. But the reason euchre works so well as a card game for celebrations and parties is the same reason that some criticize it: Namely, it’s relatively easy to play. “Simplified bridge” has always been the way I describe it, and the label fits. It’s a four-person game that revolves around deploying trump cards in response to bets. But unlike bridge, there are only five hands per round, solely face cards are used, and the average game rarely takes more than 90 minutes or so.
For hardcore card-game players, euchre often gets mocked for its lack of seriousness, but that strikes me as a failure to understand the social nature of the game. This is a game built for drinking. You can get as involved in the odds and evaluations of the cards as you want, and the game will reward your painstaking analysis. But you can also half-pay attention while drinking a beer and recounting a lengthy anecdote, and not miss a beat. It combines the simplicity of Hearts with the ambition of Bridge, and creates the perfect middle-ground. And the mental satisfaction of a win provides a charge not unlike a successful online multiplayer campaign—you and your friends can hang out, talk shit, drink, and still pull off a victory. It’s not unusual for us to spend an evening going through three or more games, switching up partners and detailing lengthy explanations of how hands could have turned out differently. The fun of the how is almost as enjoyable as the game itself, and in the middle of a boozy Fourth Of July celebration, it’s nice to have a pastime perfectly suited to sitting around a table, bluffing, throwing cards, and being able to continue regardless of which drink you’re on.
I have a confession to make, Gameologinauts: I never finished Wolfenstein: The New Order. I suffered through the opening hours—which I admit are necessary for setting up the rest of the game as a subversion of boring World War II shooters, but they still play out like a boring WWII shooter—got to the better parts, and just fell off for one reason or another. Like pretty much anyone who isn’t a internet Nazi sympathizer, I am intrigued by the debut trailer for Wolfenstein II, specifically the way it depicts how Nazis might exploit Americana and the country’s deep-seated white nationalism to placate a potentially rebellious citizenry. (Sound familiar?) With the sequel’s release not too far off and Machine Games going to great lengths to redefine Wolfenstein with a strong, cohesive narrative spanning multiple games, I’m feeling the itch to get back into B.J. Blazkowicz’s boots and tear through some Nazi scum. The only question now is whether I pick up where I left off… or trudge through that prologue again. Either way, it should be a pretty damn American way to celebrate July 4th.