Saturday, 30 November 2013

Bad Lieutenant

Friday, and I realised the next three nights I'd be home alone, bar the gentle snoring of Stanley and Joe upstairs. I quickly despatched some desperate texts and managed to wrangle two people to play with me - GNN linchpin Andrew, and Matt, who has been tempted to join us for some time but until now unable to.

It was not exactly a baptism of fire. We didn't start with Brass - I don't have it, for a start. And I don't remember it. But Lords of Waterdeep, whilst being friendly to the newcomer, offers enough depth to feel like there's something going on beneath the surface. Matt might be new to GNN but he's played his fair share of games - Samurai and Cosmic Encounter were mentioned - and quickly got up to speed.

Unfortunately for him he picked up the Lieutenant quest. Normally that'd be a good thing, but the Lieutenant has history with us of being a little too effective, and Andrew was not about to let Matt get him operative early in the game. Matt's cubes became targeted as Andrew began a series of intrigues down at the docks, and whilst he forwent helping Matt out I became the grateful recipient of a bunch of intrigue by-products.

Andrew was going for his big-scoring quests, and surged into an early lead. Matt was trying to recruit the Lieutenant but became side-tracked with other, more achievable targets, and didn't actually recruit him until the end of round four.

consider yourself placated

I was smiled on by fate. The first quests I completed were Plot Quests and gave me cubes and money whenever I picked up Fighters or Rogues. Andrew and Matt both built buildings that gave both resources. And I had a Lord who rewarded Warfare and Skullduggery Quests - which in the main require fighters and rogues. Though I only managed one big mission I accrued a series of small ones, and picked up 48 points at the end of the game. Matt also had concentrated on the bonus missions, and skipped past Andrew into second for an impressive debut second place at LoW:

Sam 227
Matt 194
Andrew 192

As has been said many times - except by Adam - it's such a good game. Once you know the basic premise - complete quests - almost everything else pretty much explains itself.

It was still fairly early, so we decided on Medici as a reasonably short game. A few years back this got played a lot but Andrew and I were both a bit rusty on the rules. For those not in the know, the idea is you go down to the docks three mornings in a row and try and maximize what you're picking up from the ships unloading there. Similar to Ra in that you can play it safe or push your luck; either can end up the winning strategy depending on what the luck is - for both you and others.

a shipment of toilet brushes were thrown in the sea

Matt and I began well and after rounds one and two we were fighting over the lead while Andrew lagged ten or so points back. But in the final round I was out-savvyed by both and ended up with a free set of junk - I was lucky to scramble past Matt in the final reckoning, but we both stared open-mouthed as Andrew cut a swathe through the docks, picking up most valuable boat and beating us out on the colored bonuses on the board:

Andrew 156
Sam 119
Matt 111

Matt unsurprisingly was more enamored of Waterdeep than Medici, and though I like some things about Knizia's boat auctioning, I was surprised we played it so much once upon a time. But I guess that was before Joe and I lost all self-control over games purchasing...

Nice to see Matt and hopefully, now he sees his name on the leaderboard, he won't be able to resist joining us one Tuesday soon!

Adam 2 2 2 1 3 10
Andrew1 3 1 3 3 11
Gonz1 1 3 5 2 12
Sam2 1 3 1 5 12
Chris1 1 3 4 5 14
Joe4 2 3 3 2 14
Quentin4 1 1 5 3 14
Matt3 2 5 5 5 20
Hannah2 5 55 5 22
Steve2 5 55 5 22
Anja3 5 55 5 23

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Cloudy with a chance of meeples

Tonight’s GNN title comes courtesy of Sam who came up with it as we were driving to pick up Joe. Sam looked at the clouds in the sky and wondered if it would snow tonight. Hey presto, a mere three minutes later, we chuckling over Sam’s clever pun.

We three arrived at Adam’s in time to watch him finish cooking his supper, and while he ate his risotto, Sam, Joe and I played Biblios. It was an odd game, with plenty of church cards that allow you to adjust the values of dice. More often than not, we just readjust those dice that another player had just adjusted. Joe and I expressed our bemusement at how Sam could afford to discard cards to pick up money during the auction round.

It worked, though. Sam is still (mostly) Mr Biblios. My plan to win three dice had to be revised down to making do with one. Joe, too, ended with a soliatry cube in front of him. A sterling performance from Sam.

Sam 11
Joe 3
Andrew 2

By now, Adam had eaten, and we pondered our next game. We had a tower of seven or eight games to chose from, but our minds kept wandering back to Joe’s Railways of the World in Sam’s car boot. We couldn’t resist it, and in less time than it takes to feed a guinea pig, Sam had popped out and brought the game in.

We went for the UK map since it’s perfect for four players and for Adam’s table. The board was seeded with cubes for each city, and that’s when things started to go wrong. There were no sweet spots, no easy winnings around a particular city. The cubes couldn’t have been more awkward if we’d chosen them on purpose.

Joe began by taking the Hotel London card, hoping to pick up some points on other people’s shipments. Or did he? We all stayed well away and before long he was building his own South-East network, keeping the home counties, London and Kent all to himself. Maybe that was his plan all along.

Adam clearly had the baron that gave him the bonus for least amount of bonds. It’s either him or Joe who gets this whenever we play. No one knows why. He played like a skinflint all game, building small but profitable links in the Midlands. Sam started big on bonds, and I wondered if he was going back to his bad old ways of spend high, score low. But no, he was going for a network that included two point-scoring links.

I went for easy pickings, keeping my engine upgraded one more than I needed. You see, I had had Joe’s RotW for a week, and I’d played a couple of games solo (rules: no cards, but see how high you can score in ten rounds) and I’d also made a network and tried to work out exactly where I had been going wrong. I realised that it was foolish to spend too much time on low-scoring links, even if they were already built.

But surely the main appeal of Railways of the World Great Britain is the opportunities it affords each player to insult various parts of the country. Carlisle came in for some stick, as did Joe’s express route from Ipswich to Bournemouth.

Joe lagged in fourth from early on. I made a slight faux pas when, after Joe had completed a route for bonus points, I noticed how far behind he was. “Has anyone added on Joe’s bonus points?” I helpfully asked. They had. He really was that far behind.

I got a huge stroke of luck when a card came up with a bonus for delivering to Hull, since I had that city (City of Culture 2017, by the way) all to myself. I cut a swathe down through the spine of England towards Bristol to complete my baron’s bonus. Sam had Wales all to himself, and Adam exploited his network to it’s maximum.

At one point Adam fell into deep thought for a long time and, at the end, he shipped some goods using part of my network. That must have hurt. He did this twice, giving me two points. And the final scores were:

Andrew 57
Adam 55
Sam 49
Joe 44

My first win on RotW, and it felt good. I had tamed the beast! Although it was only 10.10 on the clock, the game had exhausted us. We finished up at an unusually sensible time, and we took Sam’s games back to his car and chucked them in the boot. Not Railways, though. That was privileged enough to share a back seat with Joe. As it should be.

On the form table, little changes

Adam 2 2 2 1 3 10
Gonz1 1 3 5 2 12
Sam3 1 5 2 2 13
Chris1 1 3 4 5 14
Andrew1 3 3 3 4 14
Joe4 2 3 3 2 14
Quentin4 1 1 5 3 14
Hannah2 5 55 5 22
Steve2 5 55 5 22
Anja3 5 55 5 23

And on the mothly division, Adam still remains top of Points, Points Ratio and the Medal Table! He’s well on his way to the treble as we enter the final month.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

One wonders...

Friday night, and after a lengthy settling routine involving bribery, threats, stair-climbing and much cavorting from little people in superhero/princess pyjamas, we (myself and Sally, Katie and Mark) finally managed to get the children into bed.

This protraction isn't great from a games perspective for a couple of reasons - firstly, everyone is slightly jangly and nearing exhaustion. Secondly, to deal with the jangling everyone (bar Mark, who's driving) has drunk themselves to a point of post-Wallace cogency.

Bearing all that in mind, and remembering that Joe had had success - against the odds, I felt - with it in the Berger household, I broke out 7 Wonders. It's easy, right? You just play a card and pass your hand on. Or cash that card in. Or use it to build your wonder. But remember, you need the correct resources to build your wonder (or indeed a card) so you need to get those from somewhere. Maybe your neighbour. (Not your non-neighbour) But you have to pay 2 coins. Unless you've built another card which means you pay one. Also remember the military, and the fact the science cards are scored by squaring the amount of them you have, and that the cards are revealed simultaneously and card rotation switches between rounds.

And then of course there's chaining buildings together. And each wonder's special ability. In fact, the more I attempted to convey the rules, the more I realized that it's actually quite a lot to get your head around first play, and the bafflement on Paul Jefferies face came flooding back to me when I first tried to explain it.

The best that can be said about it was that it wasn't too long. I think if we'd played it an hour earlier, I might even have been able to coax another try at it. Mark said he was getting the hang of it by the end...

Anyway I nabbed first place from Mark despite his strong showing on guilds:

Sam 48
Mark 46
Katie 44
Sally 30

Which means I stay top of the occasional KMSS leader board, but Mark leapfrogs Katie into second on the most recent result rule. I don't think I can take much pride in those '1's though, as I force everyone to play a new game almost every time.







Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Longest Half an Hour

Tuesday, Joe's house. After a Tuesday night (last week), Thursday night, and all day Saturday and Sunday, we'd finally managed to break Andrew, who couldn't face playing any more. Adam had no such qualms, and with Gonz to join us later Joe suggested setting up Trains as a starter for ten. After that, it got confusing.

Firstly I (Sam) somehow read "Trains" as "Railways" and anticipated Railways of the World. Then Quentin showed up unannounced - a delight for us, but Trains didn't play five, so we needed a rethink. Adam and Gonz were both delayed, so Quent, Joe and I went through a protracted and frankly unnecessary discussion, as having reached a choice of two we could agree on, we couldn't make a final decision on the other's behalf.

The games in question were Steam and Spyrium. Steam is the brother of Railways, but having sold it to us Joe started to go curiously cold on it. Gonz of course hates anything to do with trains, so voted for Spyrium, as did I. Adam and Quent both voted for Steam, and Joe's casting vote went on Spyrium, as it would be "a bit quicker".

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Rewind back to me staring gobstruck at "Trains" and realizing that any train-based words for me now spell "Railways". It's only just gone seven, and finally starting on Spyrium is an hour and a half away. With Adam and Gonz delayed Joe and I played The Duke, which is like acrobatic chess on steroids. There's an 8x8 grid around which you move your pieces, trying to catch your opponent's Duke. When a piece is moved, though, it flips, and now has a new set of movement capabilities. For some reason Joe's tankard seemed thematically appropriate.

How we dreamed we'd be as children

After a cagey opening I took the game to Joe and got myself in a strong position. But in a Hollywoodesque reversal of fortune I managed to box my own Duke in, giving Joe a simple victory.

My Duke shoots himself in the foot

It's a game that is growing on me. You can learn as you play, and although it's quite thinky (and long) it's not thinky enough to feel heavy.

There was no-one here yet, so we then played Elf Fest. And I must say mastering the taxing game management afforded by the game of the night Spyrium is all very well, but nobody moves an elk across a series of disc-shaped wooden islands quite like I do. I won.

Just out of shot are nine small grey thingies

Back to Spyrium. This had its debut at Novocon so the rules were fresh in Joe's mind, meaning we'd have a speedy game and time for something else afterwards. At least, that was the plan. However Gonz and I both found it hard to get our heads around the game early on, and all of us had our moments of taking our time and working out what the best possible move might be.

There's some delightful elements to it - I like the risk factor in weighing up when to remove workers and when to keep placing them. And the money-collection mechanic is pretty neat for the same reasons. However when your workers are left high and dry - as Adam and Joe were early on, and I was in the last round - it can be quite frustrating. Not knowing what else to do at the start, I tried to take an extra worker as early as possible and push myself up the income track. That meant I could see what everyone else was doing and try and mimic what appeared the best ideas.

Joe was finding it hard to build buildings, Quent was finding it hard to raise cash, and Adam and Gonz - despite the latter's professed bafflement - seemed the likely eventual winners to me. After lagging behind everyone for three rounds I managed to catch up, but the final round stumped me and I stagnated. Joe produced an electrifying surge of 30 points over the final two rounds, but as we suspected it was between Adam - with his incessant minor point-scoring - and Gonz - with his large collection workers getting him valuable buildings - who fought for first place, Gonz emerging victorious:

Gonz 65
Adam 63
Joe 60
Quentin 59
Sam 52

Opinion was divided. Quentin loved it. Gonz, despite winning, was less enamored. I was cheesed off with my plans being accidentally sabotaged by Joe in the final round (I think I could have managed third place), but up until that point I think I was enjoying it - I certainly felt a little more forgiving this morning than I was last night, anyway.

But it was certainly longer than half an hour though - it was now 11pm and talk of a light game to finish off with did not re-emerge, as we collectively exhaled after a tense couple of hours.

Adam 2 2 1 3 1 9
Gonz1 1 3 5 2 12
Sam5 2 2 2 1 12
Chris1 1 3 4 5 14
Joe 3 3 2 2 4 14
Quentin4 1 1 5 3 14
Andrew3 3 4 4 5 19
Hannah2 5 55 5 22
Steve2 5 55 5 22
Anja3 5 55 5 23

Monday, 18 November 2013

Novocon for the soul

Our fondness for squeezing as many board games into one cottage in the country has not happened recently. Instead, Anja and Steve have kindly offered to recreate the experience over a weekend


Thanks to the appalling traffic on the M3, Chris couldn’t make it to Sam’s beforehand and had to go straight there. Due to some confusion over house numbers, he knocked on a stranger’s door before realising that the overall ambiance of paint pots and discarded ladder, this probably wasn’t the right place. He called Sam for further directions while people from inside the house stared at him. Obviously, Chris’ “Weekend Bailiff” look had unnerved the locals.

But he found the place, then me, Sam and Gonz arrived, followed by Adam and Hannah. We were ready to play!

We split into two groups. Four of us (Sam, Adam, Chris and Anja) chose Macao. The rest of us went Waterdeeping. For the first time in ages, I wasn’t black or purple, which meant I kept looking at the wrong players on the board for the opening rounds. I went for my previous tactic of only going for big scoring quests, while Gonz did the opposite, picking up small quests by the dozen. Steve relied on Intrigue cards, which he would gaze at longingly.

Hannah couldn’t get an engine started, and my quests scored big during the game, but low during the final bonus stage. Gonz, already in the lead by the final round, shot off into the distance, and Steve crept up on me right at the end.

Gonz 178
Andrew 131
Steve 131
Hannah 103

Then Jon arrived! The people on Macao didn’t seem anywhere near ending, so as Steve went off to do fatherly things, we began a new game, La Guerre des Moutons, otherwise known as Wooly Bully. This puzzle-ish game of tile placement requires that each player tries to build the biggest possible field with their sheep in. You have to match the sides of the tiles you put down, plus there are wolves in neighbouring forests who can ruin your flock, or hunters who can kill the wolves.

At the start of the game, no one knows who is which colour. Jon said this meant you could bluff as to which colour you were. As such, I began by trying to make people think I was yellow and helped build that field. Before I knew it, Hannah had completed it, and it was large enough to win the game for her. So much for bluffing. I could’ve equalled her, but I couldn’t find the right tile for the final space. Gonz stole the win from Jon by putting down a wolf in a nearby forest just at the last minute.

Hannah 18
Andrew 12
Jon 5
Gonz 3

They still hadn’t finished on Macao, so with Steve back at the table, the five of us went for 7 Wonders, with the Cities expansion. After my last dismal showing, I wasn’t confident but at least it wasn’t all new to me. My strategy was to get money and rely on my neighbours having lots of resources, and it seemed to work well. I got The Palace and some very nice black cards. Hannah and Steve built huge armies, at which point Jon got a dove token rendering him immune to attack and forcing Steve and Hannah’s massed ranks to combat each other instead. In my imagination it was a terrible battle of blood and revenge. In truth, it was mostly Steve sighing in disgust and picking up a “-1” token.

Andrew 73
Gonz 69
Steve 67
Jon 53
Hannah 45

By now the other table had brought their epic Macao session to an end after over two and a half hours.

Adam 65
Sam 47
Anja 44
Chris 42

After this, my notes get confused, not helped by the batteries in my phone running out, so no photos to help me remember what happened after what.

Cube Quest was broken out. This game is a simple knockabout contest, and we at GNN Towers are slowly realising we’ve been playing almost every rule wrong. This time, it was the role of the medic cubes to be clarified. Now we were playing by the real rules Steve beat John 2-0, and then Chris and Gonz shared the honours 1-1. And Adam beat Sam in a deeply thoughtful strategic game. Anyone looking at them would’ve assumed it was chess, but in fact it was Hey That’s My Fish. Adam 49, Sam 43.

Chris tries to flood the midfield, while Gonz goes for fast wingers
Even in Cube Quest, cultural stereotypes shine through.

Also around this time, Sam regained his title of Mr Biblios as he took first in a four-played game. Sam 7, Adam 4, Gonz 2, Chris 0.

Anja and Steve went into the kitchen to prepare dinner, we split into two. Chris, Gonz and Jon went onto the dining table to play a Discworld game, Ankh-Morpock. Chris won. In fact, he didn’t realise he’d won until two rounds after he’d actually done it. He finally worked it out just as Gonz was going to declare his own victory. Jon came third.

While this game carried on, the other four of us went for 7 Wonders sans expansions. This time, I failed to get going since the wonder I had, Stonehenge, was a bit rubbish, frankly. Hannah came second, to her delight, and Sam had two high scoring guilds to push him into first.

Sam 66
Hannah 53
Adam 52
Andrew 46

After this, Hannah and I played Mr Jack. I won the game but Hannah found it so stressful that she went home afterwards. I have that effect on women.

Finally, after food, people began their final game of the night. Adam, Sam, Anja and Steve went for a new option New England. The rest of us discussed and debated and finally settled on Spartacus. I’m not a fan, but it was either that or more discussion and debate. At least I wouldn’t have to learn any rules.

It was slightly better than before. Gonz’s rule of the loser of the first initiative roll goes straight to the middle of the board sped things up and avoided the humiliating sight of one gladiator chasing another one around the edge of the arena.

I’m still not a huge fan, though. The card game bit reminded me of I’m The Boss, and the fighting bits were just like the wars in Risk. It’s possible to win without winning any fights at all, which Gonz achieved.

Gonz 12
Andrew 11
Jon 10
Chris 9

On New England it finished,

Adam 37
Sam 36
Anja 35
Steve 21

We went home, tired but happy and very well fed.


Today, Chris went home after he, Sam and Adam all played some Sunday football against the amusingly named Bathelona. Sam couldn’t make it today, and nor could Gonz, but Joe was able to escape from his lovely family for three short hours.

In attendance was myself, Joe, Jon, Anja, Steve and, finally, Hannah. When Joe and I arrived, Jon, Steve and Anja were giving Kingsburg a go. It was quite pretty, but hard going. Mostly because of the many interventions of baby Luther, who was not being the little angel he’d been the day before.

While they finished their game, Joe and I played Agricola: All Creatures Big and Little. Joe had recently been practising, honing his skills against his young daughter. And it showed. He glided through the game, twice picking up six lots of wood in one fell swoop, while I was left picking up scraps he left behind. He won 44-30.

When Hannah arrived as we were nearing the end of the game, she told us that Sam, Adam, Chris et al had lost 7-1. Adam would be along soon. He probably needed some time to himself. He had, however, won man of the match so that should have cheered him up.

Then the guys at the big table decided to give Kingsburg another go. Now they felt confident of whizzing through it at the sensible pace. Hannah, Joe and I played a new game, Spyrium, from the maker of Caylus. This game of putting pieces down and then picking them up again doesn’t sound great, but once you get going, it starts to make sense and it’s quite fun.

Hannah got the hang of it first, powering past us with two technique cards that gave her cheap buildings. So many, that Joe was pushed further and further to the corner of the table.

Hannah 75
Joe 67
Andrew 62

Our game ended as the game of Kingsburg finished and, now that Adam had arrived, we were ready to change partners, as it were. The two games of Kingsburg ended:

Anja 35
Steve 25
Jon 20

Steve 36
Jon 35
Anja 34

The winner of the second game was effectively chosen by a roll of a die at the very end. They could have saved all that time, and just said “1, 2, or 3, I win” right at the start.

Next, Steve and Anja went to start work on food and Joe returned home to force his kids to learn things. The four of us remaining decided on Power Grid: Jon’s favourite game. We chose it while he was out walking the dog, and you should’ve seen the look of joy on his face when he came in. It was like Christmas!

While we played, Steve and Anja found enough time to play three rounds of Cube Quest, with Steve winning 2-1.

As for Power Grid, I had a better idea of what I was doing, but it seemed awfully similar to last time I played it: Hannah didn’t have enough money to power all her cities and Jon spent way too much money on a power station and then sat there in a daze, saying “I shouldn’t have done that.” Adam showed us his blister. I’m sure that didn’t happen last time, though. I would have remembered that. It was quite a monster, and it explained why Adam was walking around on the heels of his feet, waddling along like a penguin with a magnificent beard.

At the end, Adam, Jon and I all built and powered 17 cities in the same round. It came down to the money tie-breaker. However, I had only one single note in reserve. Personally, I think this shows efficiency and good planning and therefore I should have won, but the rules said otherwise.

Jon 17 cities and £26,000
Adam 17 cities and £15,000
Andrew 17 cities and £1,000
Hannah 15 cities

After this, we all sat up at the big table and ate a lovely roast dinner. It was just after nine when we’d finished and cleared away the dinner things, so we decided to wind down with a quick game of The Resistance.

I say “quick”, but I mean “agonising”. This is a bunch of gamers who love discussions, and boy, does it show. The spies were me and Steve, and we were sitting next to each other. To make it harder, I had to start. First, I sent in innocent Jon, and we succeeded. Then, Steve sent in himself, me and Hannah. Another clear round.

Steve’s choice of sending in two spies seemed to work wonders as now everyone thought we were innocent. Unfortunately, too innocent, since both of us were sent on the third mission, too. We both put in fail cards. And now the discussions began.

The main debate argument in our favour was that Steve sent me on a mission with him, and a spy wouldn’t send another spy on a mission in case they both chose “fail” and blew their cover. The argument against that, from Anja, was that Steve may not have known what he was doing.

The whole game rested on how clever we thought Steve was. What should have been a jolly game of bluffing and guessing suddenly came very close to us dissecting exactly what we thought of our friend. Adam was the leader on the critical round, and he had to chose. He asked each of us our opinion. I simply said what he’d said earlier, thinking if I agreed with him, he’d send me. He did. But not Steve, thankfully.

I put in a Fail card. My cover was blown, and there was no point in hiding it. Now it was just a case of who the last spy was. Hannah thought it was Steve, so the rest of them went on a successful mission and the evil government was overthrown.

By now it was half past ten, and Jon had to get back, kindly giving me a lift most of the way. The crisp November aired filled our lungs as we stepped outside after two days of farming, quests, revolution, building, trading, and sheep. What a world we’ve built for ourselves!

On the division, it’s all about Adam, as he tops the table in Points and Points Ratio and also on my silly two-player division as well. This guy has to be stopped somehow. Maybe he’s trying to fit as many wins as he can into the time before he becomes a dad and he has more important things to think about.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Once bitten, thrice die

No, that’s not the name of the next James Bond novel. It is in fact the sad fate of Joe this evening. But more of that later. When I arrived, the place was packed, due to a talk (probably about bicycles) upstairs. Good job I got my order in early since the cue at the counter didn’t go down for about half an hour. I mean, it’s nice that Roll For The Soul is getting popular, but we have games to play.

We (Adam, myself,Gonz and Joe) began with Hey! That’s My Fish. This caught the attention of two women sitting on the next table, and they asked what it was. Joe explained, and I silently wished that we were playing something with a slightly less absurd name. Still, they seemed interested, but they had wine to drink and choir to go to, so they politely declined Joe’s invitation.

After that (I won, hurrah!) a guy called James joined us for some Las Vegas. Joe went to get a drink, which left little old me to explain the rules. I did okay. Certainly, I think he got the jist. It was every bit as exciting and tense as you’d expect from Las Vegas. During the four rounds, Lady Luck flitted between us. She ended up in Joe’s lap, after some rolls by his opponents meant that they tied against each other, giving him first place in a couple of casinos without doing anything. This was enough to give him the win.

By now the crowds had thinned out and we moved onto a bigger table. James left us, and Katy arrived. We decided that Ra was the best five-player option we had with us. Gonz thought it was Agricola, but he kindly agreed to play a game that previously he’d been appalling at. We explained the rules to Katy, who seemed most excited about the opportunity to go “Raaagh!” every now and again.

But do not be deceived, she understood well enough what she had to do. And so did Gonz. His previous defeat was now a distant memory as he picked up exactly what he needed to avoid losing points, and more besides. Adam sat in the corner, apparently sulking, but in truth he was slowly building up his monument collection. Joe scored no points, overall, in the first two rounds, and I too found myself floundering.

In the end, Adam’s huge metropolis was enough to steal first place from Gonz by a single point. Katy was amazed that she came in third, with Joe almost equally amazed that he managed fourth, with me in last.

Then we decided on Incan Gold as a lovely way to end the evening. Another game that Gonz had been bad at the last time he played it, but again he didn’t veto it. Of course, this means we’re duty bound to play Agricola soon. I draw the line at Farmers Of The Moor, though.

And this game is what gave us tonight’s blog title. Joe sailed close to the wind, hanging on in temples until he was alone, at which point he was usually killed by a snake. Three times that happened to him. Three times! I don't know what the odds of that are, but Joe defied them!

Gonz and Adam never quite got going either, but Katy came second after being the only one to get a relic. I managed first thanks to a nice (but unintentional) bit of psychology. There were seven or eight gems to be collected for whoever left. When we placed our cards face down to decide to stay or go, Adam said something that made me state with confidence “Adam’s leaving.” This made Joe reconsider his choice, and he changed his card. In the end, the only one leaving was me! How I chuckled as I collected my gems on my way out and left the rest of them to the snakes.

And that was that. There were fifteen minutes more on the clock, which is barely enough to set up most of the games people had brought. We left Roll For The Soul as the people slowly returned from the talk upstairs.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Cubist Panting

In what's shaping up to be a bumper week of games Chris found himself Bristol-bound again, and we took the opportunity to break out Cube Quest.

After an initial salvo of plays that rivalled anything in terms of impact on GNN, Cube Quest has returned to the shelf. It was as if somebody turned the harsh fluorescent lights on during a Freemason's goat sacrifice and everybody suddenly got a bit embarrassed and shuffled off home.

But now it was back. The silliest game we know - and what's more, Chris had never played it before.

He was dazzling

And what's more what's more, we've been playing it wrong! I realised something was amiss when Joe sent me the link to the review on Shut Up and Sit Down. Initially I thought they'd missed a line in the rule book, but on reflection I wondered, who would be more likely to get the rules wrong? Two games journalists who make carefully conceived and edited games podcasts, or a terminably fatigued man with a history of rule-getting-wronging? 

So. We played it right last night - and the correct rule about release rolls is this: after flicking, if your piece lands in your opponents territory "right-side" up, there is no release roll. It just stays there. However if the piece lands "shadow-side" up, then it is removed from the play area and rolled. "Shadow-side" up, and it's out of the game. "Right-side" up, and it stays in play, but is returned to your castle.
It's better.  We both set up somewhat defensively and had issues getting our pieces to engage with battle. But after some serial suiciding, Chris took a pot shot with a plain old grunt and smacked me off the board.

We moved on to Castle Dice, which is something of an enigma. Last week Joe especially was unmoved by it, but Andrew and I have enjoyed a couple of two-player games, and my kids keep demanding to play it all the time. Often first thing in the morning. And on Sunday, my mum (playing with me and the boys) broke the habit of a lifetime when instead of disdaining any game that isn't Scrabble, she actually suggested I bring Castle Dice with me next time I come to visit. I'm still reeling from that.

Chris hadn't played this before either, but if you're not coming of the back of an intensive Railways workshop it moves along at a fair old lick. By the time round three came he was up to speed, and we took a break to go off and play football.

*intermission music*

Then we came back and Chris beat me 12-10. It would have been nice to get one more game in but by this time it was nearly eleven, and Chris had a long drive home. I'd be interested to hear Chris' take on a game that continues to divide more people than a cardboard Russell Brand. 
Until tonight then!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Everyone's a tinner, babe, and that's the truth

GNN tonight saw two errant sheep safely back in the fold, namely Quentin and Gonz. The rest of us sheep (me, Sam, Adam and Joe) were just grateful to have some new faces to look at.

We began with a big six-player game, Kakerlakenpoker. This game of bluff (simply hand a card to your opponent face down, tell them what it is, and if they can prove you wrong, you lose) is simple but also somewhat lacking. Adam simply sticks to the least-risk strategy of looking at the card and passing it on. Like always using the low leg sweep in Way Of The Exploding Fist on the ZX Spectrum. Sure, you win, but there’s no fun. Plus he always handed his card to Quentin who, after a couple of early bad guesses, was in last so he never challenged and handed the card on to someone else, leaving Adam safe.

I, meanwhile, found that everyone believed whatever I said which was annoying because I was always telling the truth. I started lying (and also, I started giving the card to Adam, since he never challenged) which helped a bit, but not enough.

Sam / Joe

After this, the six of us split into two groups of three. Gonz, Adam and Joe went for Castles of Burgundy since, according to Gonz, it didn’t take that long. Quentin, Sam and I chose the perennial favourite, Tinners’ Trail.

We shared Sam’s kitchen table and got to work. Quentin had played before, but got a quick rule refresher and before long, we’d begun! In the first round, Sam made the mistake of helping Quentin. Something he would regret later on. But otherwise, I started appallingly, having to pretty much write off the first round as a mistake. Copper had bottomed out at a miserable £2, and only tin was worth it at £5 a piece.

I came back into it in the second and third rounds, and by the fourth round, I was hoping for a more bouyant copper market to carry me to a decent score. Quentin, though, wanted both tin and copper to collapse, since he already had a commanding lead but no resources left. As it was, copper fell right back down to £2, but tin was back at £5 again. My plan was hobbled, but could Sam catch Quentin?

In the end, he couldn’t quite find enough. It was a close game and although last is still last, I feel like I almost came first. Sam must be kicking himself he ever gave friendly advice to Quentin.

Quentin 105
Sam 104
Andrew 99

It was a great game and we all sailed close to the wind in terms of cash balances. Twice during the game, all three of us were at £0 in our reserves. Given the prices available, I doubt we could’ve done much better. It’s impossible to tell.

By the time we’d finished, Castles of Burgundy was still slowly grinding its way through round three. We considered another game to fill the time until they finished, and chose Biblios. It had been a while since I’d played this game and, again, Quentin needed a reminder of the rules. And, again, this proved to be a mistake.

Like before, it was a close game, but with Quentin going for the higher valued brown dice, he scraped a win on a tie-breaker

Quentin 5 + browns
Sam 5
Andrew 4

Phew. After another close-run competition, we sat back exhausted and looked over to see how Castles of Burgundy was doing. They were just about to begin the final round. We stayed to watch. After all, after such a marathon, it seemed wrong to say goodbye as they were entering the final straight.

But it seemed clear that Gonz was going to win and judging by Joe’s dejected demeanour he was not expecting to snatch second from Adam at the last minute. And that is how it turned out. The game ended with everyone’s brain fried and Joe insisting that it’s a lot more fun as a single player game. Which it is. Gonz said he felt sad when he tried to play board games solo, but I reassured him that after a while you get over it.

Gonz 204
Adam 186
Joe 168

After this, Sam was keen for another six player game. Then Quentin left, and Sam suggested a five player game: Contract Whist? Or No Thanks? This second option got Adam’s attention, and Sam went next door to get it. While he was out, we all put our coats on. Sam came back in, taking off the box’s elastic band in readiness before he noticed there wasn’t the desire to keep playing. Especially with Roll For The Soul on Thursday and then Novocon on Saturday and Sunday. We set off into the crisp November air, our gaming thirst quenched.

For a couple of days, at least.

Adam rises to first on the form table, and Quentin leaps above me, despite still having a red five weighing him down.

Adam 2 1 3 1 2 9
Sam2 2 2 1 3 10
Joe 3 2 2 4 2 13
Gonz1 3 5 2 3 14
Chris1 1 3 4 5 14
Quentin1 1 5 3 5 15
Andrew3 3 4 4 5 19
Hannah2 5 55 5 22
Steve2 5 55 5 22
Anja3 5 55 5 23

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Every whist way but loose

Sam had some free time this Saturday and, with Everton drawing 0-0 with Crystal Palace, he wasn’t about to waste it on reading and re-reading football reports on the internet. SO we met up for a quick game or two. At first we had a look at Sumeria, a new game picked up for cheap second-hand, but the cardboard bits still hadn’t been un-popped. That’s as close to pristine as a board game gets.

It wasn’t designed for two, but we had a go, anyway. It’s like a mini-Taj Mahal. Winning iin the top three areas gives you the chance to pick up tokens. Collect sets of these to win. But by entering an area, you can push it up the list, so that it may become one of the top three areas, displacing others as it does.

It’s okay. Very hard to tell. It clearly isn’t for two, since the order of areas doesn’t move around enough. But it showed promise. Sam won by 50 something to 30 something.

After this was Lords of Waterdeep. An old favourite, and one that I did terribly at last time. And I got that sinking feeling early on again, as Sam immediately picked up the Lieutenant, effectively giving him an extra go each round.

I went into panic mode which, it turns out, is the correct mode to play LoW in. I pretty much ignored my bonuses and instead went for more quests than Bilbo Baggins on crack. I was helped by completing the quest that allowed me to use an area already used by opponent, somewhat lessening the Sam’s numerical advantage.

Sam obviously had the lord that gave him a bonus for each building, so I was even more keen to put a distance between him and me on the score-track, since I’d been paying no attention to my own bonuses. I managed to pick up 50 points in round seven, and then I breathed a huge sigh of relief as the new quests in the last round all needed money: something Sam had none of. In the end, it was close, but I kept my nose in front.

Andrew 181
Sam 170

Then we had a little under half an hour. An akward amount of time, especially with the few games we had to chose from, so we went for Contract Whist. Sam decided to make it more interesting with a pound stake.

It was a lot of fun. There’s a reason why these old games haven’t disappeared, and I think I appreciate the clever balance of risk and reward in Whist even more now that I’ve played some Eurogames.

Especially since I won, 73-43. Or, in other words, £2- £0. Oh ho ho ho.

And so the evening ended, and as Sam set off, I still had the tune in my mind of that eighties power ballad that we changed the words so it was a little more... about anal sex. I'm not proud of it, but that’s what board games, beer and Saturday nights will do to a man.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Code Red

Paul arrived this week with armfuls of reduced halloween goodies which ensured for an evening of sugar filled craziness. What better way to compliment statements of "Have you eaten a brain yet?" than a bloody rampage in cardboard and plastic form which is Nexus Ops. This week I suggested that we played the King of the Hill variant which meant that occupiers of the centre hex (The monolith) can opt to take a victory point rather than two energise cards (Special bonus cards). James was unsure, preferring the game in its purest form, but agreed to give it a try.

After all of the initial exploration of tiles had been performed James' surge through the middle in a hope to reveal warrior pieces proved fruitless and instead placed a few of the much coveted refineries on his stretched out forward line. Paul pounced and won a quick succession of battles with his red army to set up a nice line of victory points. It was a counter attack that neither I or James could react quickly enough to and when Paul lumped his best piece (A Rubium Dragon) on the Monolith and James' attempt to dislodge him failed the writing was on the wall. The next turn Paul executed what he referred to as his "Bastard move" and attacked James' home base to reach 12 points after completing a special mission.

Checking back over the game the King of the Hill didn't really add that much. Only 3 points where taken and it did seem to finish the game just as it was getting interesting. I could have happily played on for several more rounds.

Paul - 12
Chris - 5
James - 3

Next up was Revolution! making a quick return. I totally sucked at it last time and my abilities hadn't improved in the interim. Suffering again from choosing the same roles as either James or Paul and losing out completely, I ran out of steam, whereas Paul and James seemed to have it all worked out. James' strategy this time was to extend as great a lead as he could around the scoring track and leave the buildings largely to Paul and I. Suddenly, after counting up the difference and checking the building totals it seemed impossible to catch him. However James wasn't so sure and to his credit didn't listen to my inadvertent sandbagging as the end result was closer than it appeared.

James - 180
Paul - 166
Chris - 129

I was pretty dismissive of the game after getting walloped at it for the second time and after some reflection feel I was a little hard on it. My main gripe is that I can't establish a cogent strategy, which is my fault not the game's, as Paul and James don't seem to have the same problem.

There was just enough time for Hey thats my fish, the kids game that's more suited to my skill set. And so it was that I managed to stay on the board long enough to hoover up the remaining fish and score a small victory..... I'll take them where I can.

Chris - 39
Paul - 30
James - 25

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

All the world’s a gauge

This Tuesday evening started a little earlier than usual. With a pre-arranged game of Railways Of The World: Great Britain on the agenda, we were keen to get started. Sam picked me up at 7, and we set off for Joe’s, texting him that we were on our way.

He wasn’t standing outside, so we parped the car horn. After few seconds he appeared, still chewing a mouthful of food, clearly still having his supper. We pulled over and waited for him. We felt a little guilty while we sat in the car. I mean, even though we’d arranged it, perhaps being this early was testing the patience of Joe’s family too much.

But then Joe got into the car, all doubts were banished and we were off again! We arrived at Adam’s house and as walked up his garden path the signs weren't good: The lights were all out and, as we discovered, when we knocked there was no reply. We stood around, trying to not look like feckless layabouts, and hoped that he hadn’t gone to my place. Maybe we had arrived too early after all.

But after a few minutes, a light from inside turned on. Hope! We knocked again, and there he was! Adam, with a bushy-beard and sparkling eyes, looking more like a Beatrix Potter character with every passing day.

We set up the game, and then Hannah arrived, so she decided to play too! Everything was falling into place. Thank goodness we set off early.

Adam got into an early lead with some choice bonuses, and Hannah, too, made good use of the London hotel, to add extra value to her south-east network. I went for Scotland at first, but found myself cut off, so I started again in South Wales. I was the first to deliver to Bristol, and I was disappointed that there was no bonus for being the first to deliver to the home city.

Sam turned his back on his past strategy of piling on the bonds, and instead played like a puritan. He tussled with Adam around Liverpool, and lorded it up in the Midlands.

Joe spent a lot of the game in last, rubbing his face in anguish, and complaining whenever it was his go. But he came good towards the end. Not enough to trouble the leading pack, but enough to save his blushes.

In the end, it was right down to the wire, with Hannah’s baron netting her a bonus, while Adam’s didn’t, but in the end Hannah cursed her five bonds to Adam’s two, dragging her back into second.

Adam 71
Hannah 70
Sam 59
Joe 50
Andrew 42

After this, we decided to try the new face on the GNN scene, Castle Dice. Previously, this was a light and pleasant way to spend forty-five minutes. But tonight, with four players who were used to the thoughtful ponderings of two hours of RotW:GB, it stretched out to double that.

Joe and Adam both reserved judgement on the game once we’d finished, but they seemed to enjoy it. A bit. They sort of tip-toed through the rules. The game had quite a different feel to it than before with  some long pauses before turns were taken. A couple of times, I wondered what they were thinking about, and maybe I was missing something. Obviously so, since I came last again.

Sam 13
Joe 11
Adam 10
Andrew 7

With two lengthy games, we made sure that even if we arrive early, we sure as hell don’t leave early!

Sam1 3 1 2 1 8
Adam 3 1 2 3 2 11
Joe 2 4 2 3 2 13
Gonz5 2 3 2 1 13
Chris1 1 3 4 5 14
Andrew4 5 3 4 3 19
Hannah2 5 55 5 22
Steve2 5 55 5 22
Anja3 5 55 5 23
Quentin3 5 55 5 23

Monday, 4 November 2013

Castles upon Castles

Today Sam sent out the call for a brief two-player of his new game Castle Dice. Already a huge hit with the youth of today, how would the elders of society take to it. At first, I wasn’t keen but Sam kept mentioning he had beer, so I was finally persuaded.

Castle Dice, a little bit Scripts and Scribes and a little bit Roll Through The Ages. Dice rolls give you resources, that you can spend to activate cards that get you more resources. Meanwhile, barbarians come along after every building round (since the sight of scaffolding sends them into a fury) to remove resources, unless you have guards.

After the dice are thrown, they are all put into the middle where players take turns in picking the dice/resources they want. Thus, if your luck with these little fate boxes is lacking, you can rely on others to roll what you want.

It’s fun and fast moving, plus it’s remarkably easy to learn. I’d love to play it with four, and with cards hidden. As it was, we played everything out in the open to help me learn the rules. And learn them, I did. I got busy with buildings and their victory points with barely a glance at the market.

Andrew 12
Sam 7

After this, we thought about a shortish game, a little under an hour. 7 Wonders was considered, but perhaps a little overplayed of late? Instead we went for A Castle For All Seasons. Last time we played, Adam pointed out that it was just a case of “whoever gets the unbuilt buildings bonus wins” and it was sort of true again here. Sam got two men in that bonus area, and got the win.

Sam 67
Andrew 49

A Castle For All Seasons is an odd game. When it works, it all seems to run smoothly, like a well-oiled bicycle. But one mistake, and it’s as if the chain slips off. The only way to get back on track is to stop completely, and by that time your opponent has sped past you.

But after that I was away. Sam made toast under the grill and I stepped out into the brisk November air. Until next time... which is a whole twenty hours away!

Duke-ing it out

Following on from Sam’s post about Castle Dice: I like games which involve short-term, tactical decisions (unless I'm really in the mood for grand strategy). I think it’s one of the reasons Brass remains a favourite, despite it’s length and complexity. You have to form an overall strategy, sure; but you also have to respond to the changing situation on the board - and be opportunistic. 
At least that’s the way I play - then again I don’t often win . . .

This weekend I tried out the ultimate in tactical abstracts -The Duke; a chess-like game where each piece's possible moves are depicted on them, and pieces are added to the board as you play. 

The Duke - it's got wizards!
I'm not a huge chess fan, preferring the mixture of luck and skill, not to mention theme, that modern euros offer, but this is getting such buzz on the Geek I couldn't resist. It's also really beautifully produced, with lovely wooden tiles for the pieces.

The great thing about this game is that rather than having to commit a huge number of rules to memory, you can see exactly what your pieces are capable of just by looking at the board, so the cognitive load is very gentle. You only have three pieces on the board at the start, the eponymous Duke, and two footmen. The goal is to kill your opponent’s Duke, and on your turn you can move one of the pieces on the board, or take a new one from the bag at random (there’s a lovely risk/reward at play here, since the piece you draw might save you, or block you in and hasten your demise).

Possible starting positions
The twist is that each piece is double-sided, and once moved must be flipped; the reverse side offers a variation on the movement/attack capabilities. This might seem like it requires a lot of stuff committed to memory, but you can always have a peek at the piece or consult the player aid, and actually lots of the pieces reverse-sides have a logic to them, so you soon get the hang of it.

My girls are unwilling gamers, to put it mildly; a tendency I put down to a combo of wilful dad-bating and an understandable disdain of rules-learning.  So my sell for this to Bea was ‘it has no rules!’. I had to change that to ‘you don’t have to learn any rules’ after she started counting on her fingers as I was explaining the game. Bea and I played two games, and she won both.

Brown's duke is running out of options
I then played once each with Martha and Matilda, and won both of those. I wouldn’t say any of them loved it, but that really shouldn’t detract from the game itself; it’s an incredible achievement that all three of them were willing to give it a go at all. I look forward to playing against some more willing opponents soon - a great lunchtime, teatime or Roll for the Soul-time two player, and bound to turn the heads of any chess players passing by . . .

Sunday, 3 November 2013


Rainy Sundays are good for card-sniffing. We'd broken out new purchase Castle Dice the day before but played with simple, almost completely made-up rules, like a cow-and-poultry Scripts and Scribes. But both Stanley and Joe said they wanted to play the whole game and, I have to say I'm impressed, they sat patiently and learned it.

And then played it three more times, once with the visiting Mark and Peppa.

Pork chop!
It must have been nearly called Slightly Silly Agricola, as that's kind of what it is - Agricola crossed with Stone Age perhaps as there's quite a bit of dice-rolling. Over seven rounds everyone is trying to build the best castle, and to do this you generate resources through the dice-rolling, and use the resources to build parts of the castle. They come in the form of cards, but there are host of character cards too, to add variety and flavour, and many of these generate "villagers" for you who bring their own little bonuses and assistance.

It's really quite moreish - the appearance and learn-as-you-play aspect makes it nice for the kids but there's definitely room for strategy, and even some spicy screwage if you take a dice you don't really need to stop someone else getting it. Oh and there's animals and barbarians too! And you can stop the barbarians by scaring them off with a pork chop.

We've had a great laugh playing this and I think it's a bona-fide kids/GNN cross-over. Like Cube Quest but with dice instead of Grunts. Mmmmm.