Nobody can surpass Paul's commitment to gaming - every other week he travels from Croydon to Bracknell to join Chris and James at the table. So the least Andrew and I (Sam) thought we could do was make the effort to trundle along the M4 and join them - the last time we made the trip was nearly three years ago, and another attendance was long overdue.
The games began in the car, as Andrew and I played our still-unnamed word game we devised about a quarter-century ago in Maidstone. In turn each player says a letter, and the first person to end a word (4 letters or longer) loses. But you can't say any old letter as your opponent can challenge, and if you don't have a word to back your choice up, you lose. Equally if you challenge and your opponent does have a word, you lose (Andrew challenged me on CRESC) We played first to 6 victories and it was a close-run thing:
(if you play it on a table with scrabble tiles you can insert letters in anywhere, which is a much harder challenge - you might insert a Z into HP, making HZP, thinking your opponent will never think of cHutZPah, only to find they stick an N on the end (making HZPN) and are thinking of scHiZoPhreNia)
We arrived at the Smith's abode where Jacqui, Ashton and Ava were waiting for us. Ostensibly they were watching Enchanted, but as I'd brought them a little present of a game (the crazy-lookin' Galapa Go) the focus quickly changed and we ripped open the packaging. Then we saw there were 12 pages of rules and we packed it away again. However it looks quite easy after all.
Chris arrived having collected Paul from the station, and after a while catching up (I know! Talking!!) Paul, Andrew and I played a game of Hey That's My Fish with Ashton. Ashton knew the rules, but that didn't necessarily mean he was going to follow them like some brain-dead sheep. However, despite threats to fly his penguin over the ice floes, he stuck to the games established parameters, and not only that, pulled off a (joint) victory.
Then Paul suggested we try Samurai: The Card Game. We weren't averse to the idea and it has a certain similarity to its chess-ish big brother, in terms of scoring and winning. And also in terms of being very thinky and abstract.
Paul won his first game of his newest purchase: always a good feeling.
Jacqui then served up a delicious bolognese and berated herself for overdoing the dough balls. It was all great Jacqui! Then there was ice cream and finally, like Victorian gentlemen retiring to the lounge to discuss matters of the world, we played a game whilst the Smiths put the children to bed.
Only the game was Max the Cat, a children's co-operative. As a team we were trying to get three little creatures - a bird, a mouse, and a chipmunk - from the back door to the safety of the garden tree. Potentially spoiling the fun, and alerting young players to concepts such as peril, death, and grieving, is Max. He's chasing them all the way and if he catches them they get devoured.
Fortunately as a team we also had three treats with which to tempt Max back to the house whenever he got too close to the wildlife. Thanks to the treats - and to Paul's canny idea to let Max go past his prey via the shortcuts on the board - we got everybody to safety. Thanks, fellow doomed mortals!
Then Chris returned, James joined us, Bristol and Bracknell truly merged, and we cleared the table in time to pillage the Incan Temples, like the exploitative bastards our forefathers were.
I bailed out early on the first round and watched in horror as loads of gems came out. Then I cackled with glee as most of the others died under a hail of falling rocks. James picked up an enormous cache in the second or third round which made him chip leader. I kept jumping out early which meant I finished the game safe, but of course Incan Gold really rewards - unless it kills them first - the risk-takers:
After this we wanted to play something a bit weightier. Paul, enthusiast that he is, was pushing for Ticket to Ride, but it was only really me getting onboard with him. Chris mooted Lords of Waterdeep and despite Andrew and I playing it the night before, we agreed. It's never a trial playing this game.
In contrast to Monday's game I got off to a flier and managed to keep in either first or second place until the end of the game. Again I began with Lord-unfriendly quests but for whatever reason I managed to get a good thing going on - playing a lot of intrigue cards and completing a few relatively low-scoring quests. Chris was pushing for the lead all the way as Andrew and Paul seemed to struggle James was playing a dark horse/unlit mule type of game, not seeming to do that much before suddenly hurling a load of wizards back into the city/plastic bowl and completing a high-scoring quest.
Despite being hit with Mandatory Quests twice by Chris, I grabbed a win:
We'd breezed through the city of Waterdeep in no time and so without further ado we broke out 7 Wonders. Although the Bracknell crew know the game well, as with the previous game, playing with five players was a novelty to them. But there are no rule changes, just some new cards, so we jumped right in. I had the wonder which allows you to build discarded cards for free - which always seems really exciting until the moment you discover a load of abandoned bricks and a compass.
On the other side of the table Paul was building a strong military and Chris was cussing him out. James was specializing in blue buildings and Andrew seemed to be doing a bit of everything. The game ended and we were unsure who was on top - I thought it was me or James, James thought it was me. It was actually James, but nobody realized how well Paul had done until the final count-up:
It was now 10.20 and Paul's train left at 11pm. What to do? As I went to the loo they debated, and I was surprised to find on my return they'd plumped for Medici. In half an hour?? Paul said there was a later train if necessary, and we started throwing stuff into the sea like renaissance merchants were prone to do.
Back when GNN was young - pre-blog - we played this A LOT. Then it lay fallow for a while, but it's seen the table a good deal in Bracknell, I believe. Thematically it's kind of nonsensical, as one would presume even in the infancy of trading, merchants would go down to the docks with some kind of mental shopping list and not just take whatever comes off the boat - but as it's a Reiner Knizia it inevitably plays well. I nabbed the gold on round one and scored the best boat. Then I subsequently concentrated more on the colours - specifically red and blue (or cloth and dyes). James and I shot ahead of the others and then James edged ahead of me and up along the score track. And he would have most probably stayed in first place had I not pulled out two jammy tiles at the tail end of the final round - a blue 4, and the gold again.
They say not to sell your soul to the devil but it's working out ok for me.
There was just time for a coffee and another brief chat before James headed for home and Chris drove Paul back to the station. By this point I was a little tipsy, but I still managed to push Andrew all the way in a quick game of Hey That's My Fish:
And then Chris returned. It was only about half eleven and at that hour, what else is there to do but play 7 Wonders again? So we did. This time my wonder encouraged me to go for sciences, so after some cussing out of the sciences, I did.
I don't think any of us played our A-game at this point to be honest, and I was certainly approaching the development of my civilization with a laissez-faire attitude. However my scientists took advantage of this fiscal freedom and went for it in a big way, scoring 40+ points for me in the green buildings. Sadly I cocked up my last move, otherwise I might have pipped Chris at the post:
It was nearly pumpkin o'clock, so we called it a night, and Andrew and I only returned to games in the loosest of sense on the return journey when we attempted to name all the USA states. We missed out seven: Conneticut, Maryland, Nebraska, North Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin and Oregon. It's harder than you think… I mean, I can't help thinking Maryland is totally made up.
But then I guess they all are.
Thanks to Chris, Paul and James and not to mention Jacqui and the kids for having us. Hopefully next time will be before 2017.