The year began with a bang. That bang being the sound of Marieke pounding her fist on the table and yelling “Five pounds!” at every auction for a mine during an epic attempt by Sam to get some drunken non-gamers to play Tinners’ Trail. A valiant effort, somewhat doomed, but at the very least we got an excellent blog post out of it. Film rights are available.
If that wasn’t eventful enough, the next meeting (held one afternoon) saw Sam take his youngest boy off the A&E after he fell out of the car (when it was parked). Joe and I played Steam while we waited for news, and happily, he was okay.
In terms of games, the aforementioned Steam made an appearance as did Russian Railroads. Sutter’s Mill came and went. Sentinels of the Multiverse got a first play, and I suspect it’s still lurking in Joe’s cupboard. Meanwhile, Bracknell went all seasonal on us with their Gingerbread-themed version of Carcassonne.
The month ended with Martin teaching me and Sam a valuable lesson in Railways of the World, as he crushed us both with his audacious big-spending technique.
This month found us at the cusp of a new wave of art, as Bruxelles 1893 came to the table. This Frankengame mixes together a number of different game mechanics, but after an arduous game between me, Sam and Joe it was sent off in a trade.
This month saw us hitting the heights of sophistication, with the dice arena Das Exclusive making another appearance for a game of Las Vegas with whiskey and, later on, Love Letter was accompanied by After Eights and, again, whiskey. And if that weren't enough, how about the decadent luxury of an automatic shuffling machine?
Raj arrived and stayed, Caverna got played once and, criminally, hasn't been seen since and Kingdom Builder, after a long time in the wilderness, suddenly came back to the table in both Bristol and Bracknell. Fauna was a smash hit at Roll For The Soul. And two games linked to famous authors flopped about unimpressively in front of my eyes like dying fish, Discworld, and A Study In Emerald, although other people seemed to like them.
We had long discussed the idea of a Game of the Month, in which a game gets played regularly for a few weeks. This would avoid the flitting about from one new game to the next, without ever getting to grips with any of them. Russian Railroads was the first one pulled from the hat, and so we dutifully played several games of this steam-themed abacus.
Colosseum made a triumphant comeback to my delight! And then made a slightly less triumphant return a week or so later, where its Roman showbiz attractions couldn't hold the attention of a relative newbie. Philistine!
Fresco was a simple Eurogame with artistic pretensions. Quantum proved to be a winner, one of the few games at GNN at the war-game end of the spectrum. And Industry appeared in Bracknell, thanks to The Works and its occasional clear out sales.
It's all about the jolly holidays in April. Joe squashed eight games into two small boxes for his vacation (or should that be “playcation”? A ha ha) while me and Sam met up with Paul and Chris, plus Stanley and Ashton for a weekend of one game after another.
New games were Ice Flow, Splendor, Vegas Showdown (I'm sure that Joe is trying to rebuild downtown Las Vegas in board game form), Port Royal (a big favourite until Martin broke it) and Igloo Pop (Should be played all the time).
And who could forget Stack, the game of rolling lots of dice and then placing them one on top of the other. Such larks! We never actually played it, and Joe only bought it because it was a pound for a lot of nice pastel coloured dice.
This month began well, with Sam and I regaining some pride on Railways of the World, reversing our previous standings against Martin.
Meanwhile, Pergamon was this month's Game of the Month with its promises of “spectacular archaeology”. I love this game, especially the method of distributing funds which has a nice gambling feel to it. Plus, it doesn't outstay its welcome. And Adam and Hannah's baby Arthur made his first appearance at a games night. Didn't play anything, though.
In Bracknell, Smash Up found the appreciative audience it lacked in April, when it was played as a final game at our games weekend. Maybe we were too tired to appreciate its charms at the time, but since then, it's become something of a regular.
But outstanding new arrival of the month had to be Kings of San Quentin. This uniquely illustrated (possibly by actual inmates, Joe guessed) card game recreates the gang warfare and tense paranoia of San Quentin prison. The artwork was a triumph in naive art, and the game itself wasn't too bad either.
A quiet month. 1812 The Invasion of Canada (the hilarious strategy game) and Mission Red Planet both reappeared on the GNN radar.
New arrivals were Sail to India, Beowulf: the Legend, Concordia, Avalon, and Amerigo, the space guzzling game of exploration and cube towers. And almost the complete opposite of Amerigo in terms of size – Havana – got its first play. A neat slimmed down version of Cuba.
And that was about it.
Gonz returned to Spain for educational purposes, but the GNN juggernaut trundled on. Just about. It slows down quite a lot in summer. And Bristol became Bracknell, as Sam and I joined in with a Bracknell evening for once.
Martin convinced us to play Palaces of Carrera again, and then he won it again.
There were debuts for Hollywood Blockbuster and, finally, for Sigma File: a game from the 1970s, where sophisticated gentlemen outbid each other for control of spies as they ferry an attache case around the out-of-date version of the world and politically incorrect names for the spies from various countries. Also Metropolys and Lost Valley got their first plays.
We hit 500 posts in August, which was nice. And I won five games in a row, which was even nicer! And Adam came back to GNN after paternity leave, which was even nicer still. And all of this was in the first week! Pleasant surprises were set to continue as Paul and Chris from the Bracknell Bunch made it to a GNN evening (separately). And then I won at No Thanks! Truly, a month full of marvels.
Impulse appeared on the scene. It confused me at first, since it looked like a points salad: do a little bit of everything and you'll do okay. But it's not: choose if you want to trade, plan or fight, and do that best while defending yourself. Like a board game equivalent of the 8-bit computer masterpiece Elite.
Terra Mystica also arrived in Bracknell and Bristol. At least Bracknell played it (twice!). In Bristol, Sam and I had barely got all the pieces out of the board before we decided our time was better spent elsewhere.
Takenoko, Camel Up, and Lewis & Clark also made their debuts.
Tonight our Bristol-Bracknell enclave struck out in its next phase of total global overlordship, when Chris visited a gaming group in Reading.
The Morrison tribe played Poker, with a last-card finale that you wouldn't have believed if it had been in a film.
Five Tribes arrived on our shores, and what a brain-melty game it was. Ys also returned to the limelight, to a positive welcome and vague plans to play it again real soon. It hasn't been seen since. Race to the Rhine was played and was enjoyed right up until its rather dismal end.
But the award for best new act went to Red7, a fun and simple little card game. Meanwhile, best new comedy was Cards Against Humanity, a rip-roaring journey through our most depraved thoughts, brought to light by the magic of flashcards.
Shamefully, though, the ugly side of GNN's pack mentality surfaced this month: Steve was on the verge of his own Perfect Five, having won four games in a row, so we chose a game that was (a) new to him, (b) mostly random and (c) easy to pick on a player if they were winning. It was Age of War, and Steve came third. I still feel guilty about that.
Biblios has been a favourite at GNN for two and a half years. Imagine our surprise, then, when Martin told us we'd got a rule wrong. It turned out that the tie-breaker was gold left in your hand, and not left-most die wins.
Meanwhile Mutineer, not played at all for two and a half years, made a reappearance. I can't remember much about it, though, except that no one mutinied.
Nefertiti was a new game, and got positive vibes.
Another Perfect Five slipped through a player's fingers this month. This time it was Martin who fell at the fifth hurdle. He can't complain, like Steve, that the fifth game was chosen to thwart him since it was Kingdom Builder. He was just one point short of the win.
Further afield, Chris dabbled in Keystone and told us all about games from Essen. Sam bought a new deck for Timeline, turning a game that I'm confident in into a game that I have very little hope with. Google Datacentre Manager was also finally played after weeks of being suggested but never accepted. That name lacks a certain pazzazz.
But Greenland was the highlight of the new games. Silly and baffling all in one, there is plenty of going with hunting, religion and beaver pelt fads to be dealt with. A unique gaming experience.
Istanbul and Mexica were two new games to our band of gamers. And Hyperborea made us all flinch with it's fantasy stylings.
No such style problems for Wir Sind Das Wolk (or Wind In The Willows, as Sam calls it) which recreated the rise and fall of the GDR and the FDG. This game is played out on a map with cubes, octagons and cardboard pieces. Very sensible.
Sam began a new and exciting hobby of box customising, with some custom-made in-box separators for Hyperborea and a drastic approach to Take It Easy, slicing it down by a third.
The month ended with a huge three-day weekend. From Cube Quest to Greenland, all manner of games were won and lost. Especially interesting was Sons of Anarchy, a game where boardgamers get to pretend to be all rough and tough, with their own biker gangs.
Also worth remembering was Martin's dash for the last bus mid-game, and then his dash back again when he realised he had ten more minutes and could finish the game. That's true dedication for you.
Ah, December. How could we forget December? Especially since it's still here.
Quantum came back in fashion in a big way. Alien Frontier, too, suddenly popped back onto our table. As did Lewis and Clark. Olympos arrived on the scene and got a guarded response. But none of this compares to Potato Man. Just saying the name is fun! It's a tense but frustrating trick taking game with potatoes on your cards. But look out for the evil potatoes! Ho ho. Just typing it makes me smile.
And that was our year. And what a year it was: one of fun, friendship and the occasional humiliating defeat. Here's hoping for even more next year.