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.


  1. You,sir, are a poet!
    But I disagree about spartacus: I send one of my female slaves for a epic fight in the arena!
    Thank you for the invitation, host and hostess.
    I had so so much fun collecting sheeps, flicking cubes and disc-worlding.

  2. Great write-up Andrew, thanks. And thanks of course to our hosts and everyone who made it a fun time.

    I'd like to rectify one small thing in the chronology - my game of Hey That's My Fish against Adam was at the tail end of Saturday night - when I could barely keep my eyes open! That doesn't mean I would have won otherwise - far from it - but it makes me feel slightly better about it.

    I think Macao is best with 2 or 3 and I believe New England, if anyone could be persuaded to play it again, would be vastly improved with everyone putting a cube of their own colour on their plots of land. A very simple addition making it much more user-friendly. The black markers for showing where you intend to develop are possibly the most pointless addition to a game I've ever seen.

    I hoped to return on Sunday after the traumatic football but my leg was feeling the trauma even more than my brain... sorry to miss out on the Resistance. I would have liked to taken part in deconstructing Steve...

  3. Great write-up Andrew, you are like a modern day Homer! I particularly approve of the title. Thank you Anja and Steve, and sorry I could only partake so sparingly.

    I liked Spyrium so much it was my game of the con!

  4. Epic write up there Andy. I was stuck on the M4 actually! behind, it turns out, transporter a 100 meters long was carrying 650 tonne thingy to a port at 4 mph. No wonder the motorway was rammed.

  5. Yeah, the friends who we're coming to visit us on Saturday were stuck behind the same thing...

    My comment about game of the con was facetious of course, but Spyrium was quite good and not too brain-melting.