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How Riot Games’ board game Tellstones weaponizes memory



If you want to absolutely demolish your relationship in less than ten minutes, play one game of Tellstones.

Let me explain.

Sunday night, my wife Jen and I sat down to play Riot Games’ new tabletop offering. We neatly unfolded the royal blue play area, took out the weighty and well-crafted playing pieces, and learned the rules: players take turns placing, hiding and swapping seven stones, until eventually someone boasts “I KNOW ALL THE HIDDEN SYMBOLS” which leads to one of three responses and eventually points being awarded. Three points, or one correct run of naming all the hidden stones wins the game. This definitely falls into that “easy to learn, difficult to master” sweet spot– especially when you’re playing your wife, who is ultra convincing and extremely nefarious when it comes to board games.

No more than six minutes into the game we were accusing one another of blatant cheating and resorting to pot shots about memory loss. Each boast felt like an admission of intellectual superiority, and each bluff a confirmation of said intellectual superiority.

After I lost, I voluntarily left the room, needing a moment to calm myself after the travesty of justice that just occurred.

As I paced back and forth in the bedroom, my pride wounded and my dear wife cackling triumphantly in the living room, I asked myself: how can one simple game like this provoke such a reaction? Sure, I don’t like losing, and plenty of board games are rage-inducing, but this hit different. What gives?

“It terrifies me because it’s working with a mechanic that is not well loved,” explains Chris Cantrell, Creative Director for Riot Tabletop.. “Play tests have backed this up – I think when I forgot my memory kind of growing up, it would usually happen in high stress scenarios like a test that I didn’t want to forget and so I associate forgetting my memory and stuff like to something very frustrating. It feels very vulnerable. So when you lose at this game, it feels very personal in a way that, if I were to lose at tic tac toe, or Yahtzee or whatever, ‘you out rolled me’. Alright, whatever. But if you beat me with a memory game, it feels like you’re almost inside my head a bit.”

So THAT’s why I was malding when I lost — or at least what I’ll blame it on.

Tellstones, which releases Wednesday, is Riot Games’ second tabletop offering. Cantrell worked on the first, Mechs vs. Minions, after starting with League of Legends and mobile game Blitzcrank’s Poro Roundup.

“It was a group of us that had never really made a board game before anything like that, but we played tons and we knew what we liked and so we just tried to make a game that we’d be really proud to own. I don’t think we were really expecting it to kind of take off or go anywhere.”

After that project, Cantrell worked on Legends of Runeterra. But board games were always in the back of his mind. So was the idea of a simple but significant game about memory, bluffing and callouts.

If Mechs vs Minions is “a big, brawling, huge, silly cooperative” game according to Cantrell, Tellstones is the opposite in many ways: tiny, sleek, a competitive brain burner.

“I came up with the core of Tellstones in an evening and it hasn’t really changed much since that night,” said Cantrell of creating the game. “Like we’ve added art and what not, but the six basic rules of like how to play and kind of how to balance it off of each other, that hasn’t really shifted since 2017.”

As the story goes, Cantrell was attending Gen Con 2017 in Indianapolis and couldn’t sleep. He decided to go pick up his attendance badge at the 24 hour station and on the back was inspired to think about creating the game. At first, Cantrell thought that another game on the market might already have the same premise. Once that was clear, the next hurdle to jump in his mind was the notion that the game was too simple.

“It was a really difficult thing to kind of look someone in the eye and say, hey, um, this is a completed game …” Cantrell said. ” It’s such a silly problem as a game developer, but it is a very simple game and I think there are versions of this game that we could have named ‘seven cards’ and sell it for a dollar and it might feel overpriced. It really had a lot of interesting challenges, due to the nature of its simplicity.”

One of the ways Cantrell decided to differentiate the game was quality – working with manufacturing partners to use top grade materials that are scratch resistant to create a tabletop game that not only lasts long, but also looks and feels good. The term used internally at Riot was “heirloom quality”.

“There are versions of this game that we could do with cards or with cardboard,” Cantrell said. “We built them and we’ve explored them and other versions with superplastic fits, and they would just get scratched after a bit. We were looking for something that had a weight, a heft to it. If you were going to buy it, you’d feel proud of it. When you’re done with the game, you don’t want to throw it away, it means something when you pass it down to someone else. It doesn’t mean it has to be worth like millions of dollars or anything like that. But, you know, giving it to your kids when you’re done, you know passing it on from generation to generation. That’s the type of pride in craftsmanship that I wanted it to be able to warrant.”

Like many other games with 2020 release dates, Tellstones also fell prey to the challenges presented by the pandemic. But COVID proved to be only a minor setback to the launch of the game, particularly when compared the size and scope of the game to one such as Mechs vs Minions.

“The fact that (this game) was so much smaller, ideally in like in my head, that means that I’d be able to turn around a lot quicker, but with COVID and the changing geopolitical landscape and what not, it’s taking longer to get this into player’s hands than we’d like, but in hindsight, makes me glad that we went with something much smaller and streamlined,” Cantrell said.

For fans of Riot Games lore, Cantrell says there are definitely more tabletop offerings on the horizon.

“It’s something that that Riot is heavily invested in. We’re really committed. We’re excited about the different ways that we can explore our world and our IP and different ideas and designs that excite us. I think I think at its core we’re a group of gamers that just try and make games that we’d also like to play. We see tabletop gaming as a growing space where people connect socially in a world that’s increasingly feeling more and more disconnected.”


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


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