Issue 21: Weezer's Blue Album as board games
It's one of my favorite albums of all time, so for some reason, I'm turning each track into an iconic board game.
Hello! A happy Monday morning to you — I hope the day finds you well.
Rather than the usual fare — if there is such a thing in this little newsletter — I’m instead opting to go a slightly different route. I’m turning one of my favorite albums into gateway board games, of sorts. It’s Weezer 1994 classic, Weezer, better known as the Blue Album.
But before we get there, some housekeeping, as always:
There’s at least a slight easing in the pandemic coming as we speak, but it’ll be even more important to have some patience as a result. Don’t forget that you can play games online. And even after this is all over, don’t forget! It’s such a blast.
I’ve got a lot of thoughts on the board game industry that don’t necessarily make sense for this newsletter. I wrote last week about the acquisition of Plan B Games by Asmodee for Meeple Mountain. It’s a topic that really fascinates me, and that’s increased now that another hit game in the form of Azul has gone over to the Asmodee portfolio. Private equity is a weird thing and it makes me deeply uncomfortable, so I am feeling pretty skeptical about the future. Here’s hoping my skepticism isn’t played out.
Is there anything you really think I should be writing about that I’m not? Tell me! Maybe I’ll write about it. You never know.
One of the first albums I truly grew to love as a teenager was Weezer's 1994 Weezer, which I am always surprised to realize two things about.
First, it comprises less than 7 percent of their album output to date, which is jarring when I remember how excited I was for their third album to release. Those demos entranced me, and while I don't know that The Green Album lived up to anyone's hopes or expectations at the time, it's stuck with me in some interesting ways. (This piece is, of course, about The Blue Album.)
Second, it predates — and not by a not insignificant margin — most board games I know and love. It was that realization that set me on a bit of a weird path. I wanted to pick a board game corresponding to each song on the album. It's a pretty widely accessible pop album, so I've opted for games that fit that thought. Also, all of them came out after the album was released. The closest is Carcassonne, which came out six years later — or, in other words, one hiatus, two albums, and one canceled concept album later.
1 — My Name is Jonas
Weezer's debut album starts off with a high-energy, enthusiastic anthem, and you need a game that fits the mood if you're going to start this off right. It should be something quick and exciting — but it might also be nice as a worker placement game, with that anthemic line, "The workers are going home" echoing throughout. How about Stone Age? It's a worker placement game that's a good family weight, and it plays reasonably quickly.
2 — No One Else
With a driving rhythm, "No One Else" never really slows down, and it never really speeds up. It's a little like driving on a highway of relationship jealousy. That emotion can be gathered into the game we're looking for — but importantly, it's probably a negative relationship trait, so let's chop the analogy off there. Instead of being about personal jealousy, let's make this about resource jealousy, knowing that we are intentionally departing from the analogy. Let's look for a game that has you holding on to things as long as you can. It's got to be a game that's very direct as you compete for control. Let's go with Small World, a great area control game
3 — The World Has Turned And Left Me Here
Things slow down here, and while you can't really take a breath until the last track on Weezer, it at least slows down enough for you to get your bearings. As a song about loneliness, our game choice should be one that's reflective of the feeling. It shouldn't be one with a lot of player interaction. How about Splendor? It's a smart game, it feels clever, especially the first time you play, it catches the eye, and it's probably the best game in the first half of this list. You know, just like "The World Has Turned And Left Me Here," which is absolutely the best song on the first half of this album, and I won't hear anything to the contrary.
4 — Buddy Holly
"Buddy Holly" is a massive, breakout hit; it's the song that launched Weezer to early fame, even if they didn't quite capitalize on that fame for many years. I'm going to go with Dominion, as it's the game that introduced the deck-building mechanic to enthusiasts, and it's a mechanic that has had some real staying power over the years, even if the original can sometimes feel a little overplayed. It's still a fun song, and it's still a fun game.
5 — Undone (the Sweater Song)
So, "Undone" is not the most exciting song, but it's memorable, and, most importantly for our purposes, it starts with a party scene. Let's pick a party game that's also memorable, even if it's not always the fast-paced game you might be thinking about when you invite everyone over. Monikers is my pick, because it's a smart game, it does get you involved as a group, and it will stick with you for a long time.
6 — Surf Wax America
This one was pretty easy for me, in part because there's no direct comparison to surfing that I've played — I know there are a few surfing games, but none of them have really hit a level of popularity where I've heard about them, at least not before looking them up just now. My pick is Santa Monica, a pleasant tableau-building game set in Santa Monica, California, and I understand that most surfing is done at the beach. (I mean, where else would you do it? The pool? I think not.)
7 — Say It Ain't So
"Say It Ain't So" sits between a slacker anthem and a deep, meaningful rock song, and it's hard to find a game that fits both the lazy feel of the verse and the anger of the chorus. It's also just a little rough around the edges, and that's part of its charm. It really is a difficult balance to strike, but I think I've found it: Carcassonne. It's a game that can be laid back, and it's a game that can really heat up as the game goes on in some ways that you might not expect from the outset. It's also a breakout sensation, and "Say It Ain't So" was one of the three major hits to come from this album.
8 — In The Garage
This is the song about band leader Rivers Cuomo's teenage years, and it's well-established that he was into games like Dungeons and Dragons. We could just choose D&D, but let's go a little further here. How about something with a great dungeon crawl, a whip-smart design, and an ability to captivate all those who come across it: Gloomhaven.
9 — Holiday
A game about going "away for a while"? An accessible song with great harmonies? I can't resist going with Ticket to Ride, and even though Cuomo sings, "Don't bother to pack your bags / or a map / we won't need them where we're going," I've picked a game with a large map. The bridge of the song, with its stripped down vocals, drums and bass, is a great representation of those rounds in which everyone's just snagging cards from the top of the deck, too.
10 — Only In Dreams
"Only In Dreams" is long, thoughtful, and powerful. It starts slowly, but it picks up steam midway through and only lets go at the end. There is nothing quite like a game that can manage that pacing, and while I was tempted to look for a game that really honed in on the 'dreams' part of the title, I've instead opted for something a bit heavier than, say, Dixit or Mysterium. I'm going with Root, which has produced some really stunning mid-game turnarounds in my plays. It's a game that does start slowly, but when it builds, it keeps you focused — even as it slows down again for the second verse, because you know that powerful chorus is not long behind. The guitars start amping up, the vocals come in heavier, and the chorus comes in even stronger the next time. It really is such a great song, and Root really is such a great game.