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Stop drinking? There’s an app for that!

Back at the beginning of 2019, I decided to take a break from drinking alcohol. I didn’t have a bad New Year’s Eve that ended with me waking up in a foreign country or a disastrous Christmas where I found myself naked and covered in ornaments or anything like that. No, I just wanted to get healthier.

I’d found for the past few years that drinking was just taking too much of a toll on my mind and body as I grew older. The odd hangover when I drank too much had turned into headaches whenever I drank anything at all. I developed strange heart palpitations that my doctor said were probably caused by alcohol. I was getting bloated and uncomfortably heavy. I was frustrated with my constant mood swings. I wasted way too much time on drunken midnight descents into 1990s concerts on YouTube.

As the father of a couple of young boys, I worried about the toll of all this and something happening to me that deprived them of a functional father, or a father at all. Leave aside for the moment they were often the reason I drank….

So I decided to try to stop drinking again, at least until I could shed some weight and get healthier. I’d tried a few times in the past and been reasonably successful — I’d gone a few months here, six months there, etc. But there was always some social event or another where I felt it was time to take a drink, and then the cycle started up again.

This time I decided to try out a new app I’d read about on reddit’s Stop Drinking subreddit: NoMo. I downloaded it in early January and started using it, and I 100% credit my year of sobriety to the app.

It has a number of features that are useful. One I quite like is you can track how much money you are saving. Simply check your bank statements to see how much you spent on booze the year before, enter that number into the app, and it’ll tell you how much money you’ve saved each day by not drinking. I’ve saved the price of a holiday trip to another country in one year — that’s right, I was drinking away a vacation each year.

You can also connect with other people for support and that sort of thing, if that’s what works for you. I’m more independent myself, but do whatever works for you.

The feature that works best for me is the app keeps track of your sobriety streak — how many days you’ve gone without a drink. That alone is the thing that has stopped me from drinking many times over the past year. There’s always been some occasion or another where I’ve been at a party or event where there’s a table of open booze bottles, and the thing that’s stopped me from drinking is that streak. I’ve actually pulled out my phone, checked my app and thought, “Nah, I don’t want to break my streak of 157 days of no drinking just to have a beer or shot of rum.”

The effectiveness of this really struck home with me when I was on holiday in Iceland with some friends a few months back. We were staying in a hotel that had an executive lounge that offered free booze every night — good, expensive booze! What better excuse to have a drink — I’m on holiday in Iceland, and they’re giving away excellent drinks for free. I can just take a short break from sobriety and have some fun! I didn’t, though. I didn’t want to break that streak on the app. And I honestly didn’t want to have a drink, either. I liked the way I felt sober and I continue to like the way I feel sober. So I passed and went to bed early and got up early the next day and wandered Reykjavik and went for hikes and had a lovely, inspiring time that I still remember.

I’m not one to be an evangelist about sobriety or anything else. But I’ve been open about my reasons for not drinking and I’ve been pleased with the changes over the last year — I lost 35 pounds, I’m more fit, I’m happier and more level, and I feel I’m much better equipped to deal with stress. Many people have asked me about my experiences and what’s been working for me. It’s clear a number of my friends and acquaintances have their own struggles with alcohol and are thinking about taking a break. So I thought I’d mention the app and my own experiences here for those who are interested.

After all, it’s the start of a new year. What better time to transform yourself into that person you want to be?

Stay strong and have compassion for others but most of all yourself.

Peter

King of Tokyo: Or how I learned to stop worrying and love my extra head and poison quills

Do you like movies about giant monsters smashing puny cities and their even punier inhabitants? Do you like board games? Do you like the idea of snorting strange little green cubes for bizarre power-ups like extra heads and poison quills? Then you’ll love King of Tokyo.

Promo copy for the game:

Play mutant monsters, gigantic robots and other monstrous creatures, rampaging the city and vying for position as the one and only King of Tokyo!

Sounds like good, clean, silly fun? It is. I’ve played King of Tokyo many times and it’s become my go-to game (although Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert are still close seconds). It’s fun, it’s quick and every game is different thanks to the card and dice mechanics. Best of all, it’s simple without sacrificing strategy and tactics. In fact, you have to think through a strategy for your monster based on the random dice rolls – and that strategy can change quickly as you move about Tokyo.

The premise. You’re a horrible monster who wants to make Tokyo your own little sandbox of destruction and, well, destruction. That’s not a problem, given you’re a fearful creature such as the deranged Space Penguin, the malicious Cyber Kitty, the reptilian Gigazaur, the Godzilla-esque Mecha Dragon, the alienated Alienoid and the not-at-all-infringing-on-copyright-giant-gorilla The King. The problem is all the other monsters want to make Tokyo their own. The only choice is to fight it out.

The battleground is simple. A small board with a rendering of Tokyo in flames, and a red circle on the map to mark the home of the current King of Tokyo (plus another circle for Tokyo Bay for games with 5-6 players). The battle rules are also simple: roll six dice marked with various numbers and icons that allow you to attack, heal, earn energy cubes to buy special powers or collect victory points – first one to 20 wins! There’s a surprising amount of strategy involved in the dice rolling part of the game because you’re actually allowed three rolls. After the first roll of six dice you can reroll any number of them to build toward a goal for that turn – and the same goes for the third roll. So let’s say you’re badly wounded (all the monsters have limited health). You roll six dice and get three hearts, a 1 and two energy symbols. You keep the hearts and reroll the other dice and get another heart and two energy symbols again. Now you keep the four hearts, which is pretty good for a heal, and roll again because you’re pissed off about being wounded and don’t want to spend your time collecting energy. Two claws – great! You heal and wound your enemy!

The strategy can go any way you want. Maybe you want to collect energy cubes so you can buy cards that give you special powers – like the zombie costume that allows you to keep playing even after you’re dead (death normally results in a loss for you, but not always), or the wings card that allows you to escape Tokyo without taking damage.

What’s that? Escape Tokyo? But isn’t being king of Tokyo the point? Yes, but it’s not that easy. Some complicating factors: When you are in Tokyo, your attacks affect everyone outside of Tokyo. Yay – massive, wrecking damage! Also, when you’re in Tokyo, everyone’s attacks from outside of Tokyo affect you. Boo – massive, wrecking damage! On the plus side, you earn two victory points every turn you occupy Tokyo, so it doesn’t take many turns in the red circle to win the game. Victory is mine! On the other hand, you can’t heal when you’re in Tokyo. Death! Sweet, sweet death….

The games usually feature monsters stomping in and out of Tokyo, savaging their opponents and getting savaged, retreating to heal, then charging forward all over again. Thanks to the cards, every game is different – oh look, Space Penguin has an extra head and a robot suit while Mecha Dragon has poison spit and a giant brain….

If you ever get bored, there are plenty of expansions – I have the Halloween pack for King of Tokyo, which features two new characters, Pumpkin Jack and Boogey Woogey, plus evolution cards and new costumes. I also have King of New York, which adds to the basic game by introducing buildings and army units to be smashed by the monsters – and six new monsters!

I’ve played King of Tokyo with adults and young adults, who like the game just fine. My life being what it is, though, I rarely get out of the house for fun so I end up playing with my sons, 8 and 3. The eight-year-old loves the idea of wrecking cities and blasting his dad to death. The three-year-old just wants to roar and smash things. We play special rules with him, where he is only allowed to attack and heal and forget the strategy stuff. That makes him a real force of destruction – just like in real life, but with fewer trips to the ER.

So if you’re looking for a new game, check out King of Tokyo. Destroying the world hasn’t been this much fun since that book I wrote.

Keep calm and send the barbarian in first

My pal George Murray has written an essay for The Walrus about rediscovering Dungeons and Dragons in middle age and oh my God we have led basically the same life.

Things changed a couple of years ago, when I turned forty-three. I was well past cool by any stretch of the imagination. My wife and I had a ridiculous spread of four children between us, ranging in age from six to sixteen. Try finding a Friday night movie everyone can agree on. So I said, “What about a game?”

And suddenly, I was back. I unboxed my archives of maps and notes, all of it carefully annotated in a fourteen-year-old’s attempt at calligraphic hand. Drawings, stories, rules, maps; it was all there, waiting. And to my surprise, everyone loved it. Even my wife. The former track star was now an elven assassin. In fairness, she played mostly out of love for everyone at the table, but she played and had a great time. We all did.

Odd fact I just realized: when I play paper-and-pen RPGs I almost always play warriors, but when I play video games like World of Warcraft I almost always play mages or other ranged classes. I don’t really have an explanation for this other than maybe I’m antisocial and like to keep people at a distance?

It’s that time of year again

My latest newsletter is out just in time for the end! The end of the year? The end of the world? We’ll find out soon one way or another!

Anyway, you can subscribe it to it here. Check out the archive to see what you’ve been missing. Make your own newsletter! It’s really that easy.

New Year’s resolution: No more getting in fights with strangers

Oh, to be young and scrappy again.

A jabberwocky made of meat and pain

My son recently convinced me to buy Bears vs. Babies, the new game from the creators of Exploding Kittens.

It wasn’t a hard sell.

The official description is it’s a card game where you build monstrous bears who eat horrible babies, which is more or less accurate.

I could tell you that you can build many different types of monsters, not just bears, who must do battle with various baby armies – land, sea, sky.

I could tell you that you win by defeating babies worth the most points – because just like life, not all babies are born equal.

I could tell you that you can mess with your fellow players by forcing them into fights against baby armies when their monsters are not ready, dismembering their carefully crafted monsters with devilish tools, or even switching their monster heads with your own. (In the game, not in real life. Although there don’t appear to be any rules preventing you using your real-life head.)

I could tell you that it’s a quick but ever-changing game, bound to appeal to people who like Munchkins and Cards Against Humanity.

But all I really need to tell you is that in my first game I created a jabberwocky made of meat and pain who sucks at dancing and I saw myself reflected in this game.

Buy it now, before the baby armies attack.

-30-

Today was my last day in the newsroom of The Province and Vancouver Sun. It’s time for me to move on. It’s been an amazing 13 years working for the papers, and I’m so grateful to all my colleagues past and present who took a chance on me and let me do all the crazy things I’ve done. I miss and will miss all of them.

I’m proud of all I did to help deliver some of the biggest news stories of the decade to the public, just as I’m proud of all the books columns and profiles I did over the years. I’ll miss talking about all the talented writers out there!

I think what I’m most proud of in my time at The Province, though, was writing The Province Cares columns, where I made a real difference in the lives of struggling families. Many of these people were going through tough times and continue to struggle every day. I am humbled by their strength and courage. I hope to move forward with the same grace in life that they have shown me.

Now on to the next chapter!

 

Breathe

Not a bad day today. I wrote a few words and got a hike in. And ate pizza! I don’t know how I’ll be able to top it tomorrow. Hopefully with more words and more pizza.

Don’t go into the woods today

Discovered on my bike ride today. A sign? Or a warning?

Breathe

I’ve submitted the manuscript for my new book, Has the World Ended Yet?, which is due out this fall. My sixth book! Now I’m waiting for the edits. And taking the time to be present in the world again instead of my mind. I love the writing life, but sometimes you have to close the computer and just step outside and breathe again.

And breathe.

And breathe.

(The photo is of Pitt Lake, one of my favourite places in B.C. You should visit it. There is enough clean, mountain air for all of us.)