Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Four Tribes. Five Days.

Five days in Dorset with four families - Joe's, mine (Sam), our friends Tom and Hannah (plus Theo and Esme) and Alison and Simon (plus Elliott). It's something of a tradition now, as this was the third year running we piled into a rambling 1930's house and indulged ourselves in fine wine, fine food and of course, games.

It's only really myself and Joe who are committed gamers, but Tom, Simon and most of the children are at least intrigued, and often keen. It was amazing to watch how young children will pick up a game very quickly, whereas some of the adults will start to glaze over, defeated, as soon as there is a third or fourth rule.

I'd brought along a few games and Joe a few more. We both had a new purchase with us - Istanbul for me, and Machi Koro for Joe. Both were big hits.

Image courtesy JackyTheRipper

Machi Koro is a game of dice and cards. Thematically each player is building a city, and they grow from their initial two cards (Bakery and Wheat Field)) by generating money to build more buildings (or other things, such as the curiously un-urban Forest), which beget more money, which beget more buildings and so on. The first player to build four specific landmark buildings - Radio Tower, Train Staion, etc - wins. Personally I didn't get on with it. A series of rubbish dice rolls and consistent strategic ineptitude on my part in three attempts all ended with me soundly beaten and somewhat frustrated. But I was the sole voice of dissent, as Joe, Tom, Simon and the kids played it serially over the five days to much appreciation. I think Tom usually won.

Istanbul won the Kennerspiel des Jahres, the award for the "Gamers Game" this year, apparently seeing off Concordia in doing so. I don't know if it's the better game, but it's certainly more accessible. It's slightly reminiscent of Five Tribes in layout and movement, but any similarities end there, as the game moves much faster and finishes much quicker. Each player is trying to be the first to get a number of gems - 6 in a two-player game, 5 with more. Everyone has a merchant they move around the variable set-up board, dropping off assistants to do tasks in worker-placement style. You can try and generate money and buy gems, or pay for them with resources. Getting certain in-game bonuses or extras will also get you a gem. Key to the game is movement - you can only do the action of a building if you're dropping off or picking up an assistant, so you can't go scattergun all over the place.   I played this as a two, three, and four player and enjoyed them all - admittedly I won them all, but Tom never played it.

 Image courtesy Kenneth Hiew

Cube Quest was also a big hit, particularly with the kids. Big Joe and I spent a good deal of our time searching for cubes behind or under furniture as the flicking velocity increased. It's a great leveller, Cube Quest. I won a few games - but I also lost to both Little Joe and Stanley, and Stanley defeated Tom (Tom!) with possibly the Flick of the Trip - a two-mat sniper-style hit on Tom's King.

Little Joe prepares for battle

Possibly the biggest hit, though, was a variation on many party games which Alison introduced: one by one the adults chose a book and read out the title, and blurb on the back. Then everyone wrote their own opening line to the book in question, and they were all (including the real one) read out. Points are awarded for a correct guess and for anyone who guesses your own faked effort. I won this game narrowly but it helped me massively that, being only fairly drunk in a room full of paralytic people - courtesy of some extremely strong margaritas - I had my wits reasonably about me. I have never seen Joe as drunk as during this game. I'm not sure I've seen anyone as drunk as Joe during this game. He fell off his chair three times, went outside for a mysterious 'walk', and fell asleep upstairs during the last round whilst the children - still up to witness events - regarded us all with appalled, yet justified, disdain. The game definitely benefited from our inebriation though, as well as an impressive collection of 1950's literature on the house's bookshelves - titles including The Swish of the Curtain, The Houses Inbetween, Destination Unknown - and best of all Gently Sahib, the story of a tiger killing someone in a sleepy England town and poor old Detective Gently assigned to investigate. Our own investigation of the novel itself featured a fleeting appearance of Sausages and Mash, the game of reading out sections of a book and turning any words beginning with S or M into 'sausages' or 'mash' - or variations thereof. No-one - or maybe everyone - is a winner with this venture.

Our rival to Simonen

Other games were played - Dominion, Fauna, Camel Up and X-wing (basic version). The latter three were curiously flat: Charlotte admitted Fauna had never lived up to its first play when there was hysteria over the Bushy-Tailed Gerd. Though we played to the end nobody requested it again. I had a disaster, finishing stony last and embarrassing myself by thinking Balearic music came from Central America. Music and geography - not my specialisms. I tended to focus on the map and not guess at length and weight that much. Personally I really struggle with weight once you get beyond a pound - I've realised I measure weight in terms of cheese.

Dominion, and Elliott's leg.

But Fauna was probably the success of the non-successes; Camel Up was okay but it lacks the immediacy of something like Cube Quest, and actually is a tiny bit fiddly rules-wise for something that plays in 20 minutes. X-Wing I really need to learn the proper rules to, as the base game - played by Elliott and I - is fairly dull. I'll bring it along to GNN and let Matt teach me! Trans Europa also saw the table at one point early on, and the eerily prescient event of Tom winning happened. I think apart from Fauna and Cube Quest he may have won every game he played.

Take It Easy got played a couple of times, with Joe beating me in a two player, and I'm not sure who won the group game. Probably Tom. Wizard also made the table, although I only witnessed a small part of the game which was Theo going for every single trick in two subsequent rounds. Tom won.

Simon won Dominion (Tom didn't play) in a tie-breaker with Elliott, who had a bit of a crazy week overall. On the second night he fell out of a tree and broke his leg in two places. He spent a night in hospital and then returned with his limb in a cast and recommenced gaming, albeit more statically before. As someone who can generate a few days' worth of complaint about a split nail, I take my hat off to his calm stoicism throughout the whole episode. He also - pre-break - beat myself and Theo at Raj, when I picked up two minus cards thanks to the boys tying on lower bids. A late surge when the boys were left with low-numbered cards was not enough to catch up. Oh Raj! Why dost thou forsake me so?

There were also several games of Top Trumps, both Stan's several-years-out-of-date European Football Stars deck (Tom beat Stan) and Joe's Transformers version. I now know that Optimus Prime travelled to Earth after thousands of years in search of the Allspark, only to find his nemesis Megatron awaiting him. Poor Optimus.

Vegas, and the crossword

We didn't spend the whole time at the table. There was walking and beaches and Lyme Regis and football and cycling and even mushroom foraging, leading to the discovery of the Shaggy Ink Cap, which is non-poisonous unless eaten with alcohol, or even (apparently) combined with potent aftershave. Simon already knew this, as he recounted the fact that Georgians tried to cure alcoholism by feeding the afflicted with the shaggy ink cap, and thus supplying them with non-fatal yet lingering hangover symptoms.

We didn't need mushrooms for that.


On the last night we played (Las) Vegas (Tom won) early in the evening, and Joe's plan for Lords of Vegas as the main event were stymied by lengthy meals and lengthier chat, including Joe himself coming up with the tagline for the relaunched Soda Stream: Force Air Through It! He did still try and push Lords of Vegas through, but at 10.40pm, my shying away from it dissuaded others. Sorry Joe. Instead they played Long Shot, the game of betting on plastic horses. In fact that's what he, Tom and Simon are playing now as I write. All that remains to be seen is who finishes second behind Tom. I'm going to bed.


  1. Apart from the hospital visit, that sounds awesome. Well done to Joe on his levels of inebriation. He needs to bring that kind of form to Tuesdays.

  2. That book game is a bit like Dixit. But with books.