Sunday, 1 March 2015

It's only Rockleycon but I like it


Andrew and I (Sam) arrived at Rockley cottage in mid-Somerset first, and sniffed around the place finding it to our liking. Talking later with Chris and Paul, we realised we’ve been doing these weekends away almost every year since before the Millennium. Once upon a time we camped and played cards, but when Chris stumbled on Settlers and El Grande, there was a sea change toward a place with a roof and a table. This year we found ourselves in the village of Edington, and after pondering the finality and intractability of the passage of time, we broke out Castles of Mad King Ludwig and started building rooms.

Chris and Paul were new to this game of haphazard construction but picked up the rules very quickly – it’s such an intuitive game. Paul was last to be Master Builder, but shrugging off this economic hobbling and swiftly began accruing a shedload of money. He sped off up the scoretrack, never to be caught, though Andrew gave it a decent go. Chris was sidetracked by a bonus card for getting all types of rooms, a bit of a red herring bonus if his (and previous) experiences are anything to go by.

Paul 123
Andrew 109
Sam 97
Chris 89

After all that building we were pretty hungry. I started making a chorizo stew whilst the other three played the longest game of Red7 in the history of games of Red7. I cooked stew and rice and we ate it as the game went on hold.

They continued afterwards, promising the game was nearly over for several rounds whilst I entertained myself – and occasionally the others – playing Sausage and Mash with Agatha Christie.

Eventually Chris ended the game with his first victory of the weekend:

Chris 44
Paul 31
Andrew 29

Keyflower was next on the menu. This Chris’ current favourite and he was keen to show it off to Andrew and I, having played it in Bracknell and Reading Boardgame Social. He’s explained it better elsewhere on the blog, but essentially each player is building a village by bidding for hexagons to add to their existing settlement.

However as well as using meeples to bid for the card, you can also elect not to bid on your turn but to use the action on the hexagon instead. The winning bidder gets to keep all the meeples that have used that hexagon’s action, and it’s this delicate balance of getting stuff versus losing meeples at the game’s heart. It’s also a multiple-paths-to-victory game, and a bit of a head-scratcher. There’s plenty to mull over, but we played it with reasonable pace and I pulled off a surprise debut win:

Sam 64
Chris 63
Andrew 60
Paul 56

Next up was Take It Easy. Everyone loves this game for its thematic possibilities that have evolved from our original rhyming-couplets convention, combined with its ability to drive you crazy. Paul began with an unbeatable calling theme of James Bond gadgets, which he sustained brilliantly over the 21 tiles placed. Andrew followed this with a wistful take on things he missed from his childhood, and I did animated characters. I can’t remember what Chris’ one was. The scores felt almost secondary, but it was Chris again with a convincing win:

Chris 649
Sam 587
Andrew 583
Paul 550

By now it was nearly ten and we’d been playing (or learning rules) for the last six hours. When I suggested Alien Frontiers I didn’t expect two newbies to bite, but Paul and Chris were keen – or at least amenable. Rules-wise it’s pretty simple next to something like Keyflower though, so going through the rules only took ten minutes and we were away. I can’t remember much about it to be honest – toward the end my eyes were starting to feel a bit furry but with some luck from the dice I did enough to pull off a win:

Sam 9
Andrew 7
Chris 6
Paul 4

I was ready for bed, but those crazy guys tempted me to stay up for one last game: Kakerlaken Poker. I think everyone has played this by now and there are fairly diverse opinions on it. I think it’s great, personally, though I usually do really badly. Maybe something about my sleepy state made me more aware of when Andrew was lying.

Sam: Fewest cards
Paul: No pairs
Chris: One pair
Andrew: Loser with three of a kind!

A very enjoyable start to the weekend came to an end and we reeled off into bed. I recall it being funny anyway. It’s Saturday now and my main recollection is thinking “Shit, I hope Chris doesn’t bid on that hexagon for making gold” in Keyflower. But the others assure me it wasn’t all like that.


Andrew here. The day began with Sam and I driving through the rain (perfect weather for board games) to the neighbouring village Bratton in a hopeful search for real coffee. In fact, they did stock it and Sam came out of the shop with a packet of filter coffee and freshly baked croissants, ruefully saying “Village shops aren’t the same as they used to be.”

Once we were back, we struggled with the cryptic crossword. Paul rose from his bed and we decided that the best way to get Chris to join us was if he heard the noise of happy gamers vigourously enjoying themselves. However, the best we could come up with this early was That’s Life.

Andrew 26
Sam 18
Paul 1

It was Paul’s first game, which goes some way to explain his score. Our plan worked, though, and Chris came down halfway through the game. Once a coffee was put down in front of him he was persuaded to join us in another game of That’s Life.

Andrew 24
Sam 17
Paul 13
Chris 12

After this, we cleared the table for the first of our big epic games of the day: Colonial. A huge epic of a game, taking in a vast swathe of history that lasts centuries. And that’s just reading the rules!

Ho ho.

Sam talked us through the rules, and we looked perplexed and puzzled. There were rebellions and war, diplomacy, and even the chance to abolish slavery. And that was just while reading the rules! (Oh, that joke never gets old)

But seriously, we decided to play a shortened version (up to eight prestige points instead of ten) but we explored as much of the game's options as possible. Sam got hit by a rebellion (thanks to me) and a war (thanks to Paul) but, thanks to never having got into debt, Sam was able to end the game the moment he got eight prestige points.

Sam 8
Andrew 6 and some debt
Chris 6 and more debt
Paul 4

But it was very much a training game. Paul deliberately did odd things, just to see what happened, and Chris deliberately had terrible luck when rolling dice just to entertain us. In fact, his fortune with the dice was so bad that when he finally succeeded in exploring Australia we all applauded.

It was a good game. At least I enjoyed it but then, I do like a game with a bit of a narrative to it. It felt weighty, with its nicely illustrated map and its themes of empires rising and falling. Not sure when we’ll get the chance to play it again, though. It certainly needs some sort of player guide, too.

Then we had lunch of sliced meats, cheeses, potato omelette, burningly hot quiche and dips. This was all to get us in the mood for Amerigo, another epic to stretch us to our limits.

It was new to Paul and Chris, and neither Sam nor I had played in a while so the game was dotted with confusion of the rules. I can’t honestly say it was a madcap bag of laughs, except when someone put a healthy handful of cubes into the top of the tower and only three dribbled out of the end. This happened more than once. Oh, how we laughed.

I exploited a new scoring rule that Sam and I were previously unaware of, scoring well for settlements on completed islands. It was enough to nab me the win.

Andrew 211
Sam 185
Chris 172
Paul 168

Then we went for a walk down to the local farm shop where I bought some local micro-brewed beer (as if we didn’t have enough alcohol already) and then we set off for a brief walk through some of Edington’s finest footpaths.

As we wandered past farms, we imaged the knowledgeable conversations we could have with the farmers thanks to our expertise in Agricola.

“You know, if you fence that field in, you could keep twice as many horses in there.” And “I see you’ve got a stone farmhouse. What other improvement did you get when you built that?”

Then, as it was threatening to rain again, we returned to the cottage, took turns having showers and our next game was another AP-laden Eurogame: Castles of Burgundy. In my notes for this evening, I wrote that CoB is “the fun game of having a plan and then forgetting it by the time it gets to your turn.” Sam went crazy on bonuses for shipping, and got a comfortable win. I came last, behind two newcomers to the game.

Sam 199
Chris 184
Paul 165
Andrew 163

After an excellent curry made by Chris, we decided to play something that was a bit more fun: Incan Gold! Chris was the big winner here, staying on in the first temple by himself, and getting a 9, an 11 and a 17 all to himself. A just reward for his cooking skills.

Chris 68
Andrew 54
Sam 31
Paul 6

By now, the cryptic crossword had bothered Sam and I so much that we even texted Joe, who kindly lend a hand to a particularly annoying clue. As for the games, we chose Raj as a similarly light yet tense way to pass the time. Sam won the first two rounds, but after Chris commented on how well Sam was doing, his game collapsed and he fell back into third.

Andrew 58
Chris 47
Sam 39
Paul 33

Following this, we chose 7 Wonders. A perennial favourite that we’ll still be playing in the old person’s home where we will surely end up. I went for sciences, but it wasn’t enough to beat Chris’ smorgasbord of decent scores across many categories.

Chris 61
Andrew 55
Sam 52
Paul 44

The evening was progressing nicely. We had no appetite for a big game, so we ploughed on with more simple yet tortuous games. No Thanks was given a couple of turns.

Andrew 16
Sam 32
Paul 39
Chris 75

Sam 23
Andrew 32
Paul 48
Chris 63

And then Kakerlaken Poker was dragged out again, with Paul trying to pass off most of his cards with the joyous cry of “It’s a kakerlaken!” It didn’t work.

Sam 1 pair
Andrew 2 pairs
Chris 3 pairs
Paul 4 of a kind

At five to ten Paul had a hankering for a game of Castles of Mad King Ludwig, and since our bedtimes were flexible, we were amenable. I got shitty bonuses, made all the more annoying by me throwing away a bonus card that scored money and I ended with over 50,000 marks.

Sam 120
Paul 102
Andrew 98
Chris 85

And we ended with Timeline, the general interest edition. I can’t remember much about this at all.

Paul 0 cards left
Chris 0 cards left
Andrew 1 card left
Sam 1 card left

Finally we went to bed. Just as I was putting my head down, I got a text! Sam had just realised an answer on the cryptic crossword.


Early morning, while listening to an old pirate radio broadcast I’d found on the internet, Chris and I played Biblios. It was close, and I entered the auction round with barely any money at all. I managed to win, though, thanks to Chris not pushing me on an auction for an “adjust two dice down” card. If he’d taken it instead of me, the result would have been very different and I’d be alive today.

Andrew 8
Chris 5

Sam and Paul came down from upstairs, and they blearily looked at the quiz in yesterday’s Guardian, unable to face the cryptic again. Instead we went for a light breakfast followed by a light-to-medium game of Istanbul. My recent form on this game has been nothing short of shocking, but when I got a “Use Sultan's Palace twice” bonus card my strategy was already decided for me, and it worked.

Andrew 5
Sam 4
Paul 3 + cash
Chris 3

With time pressing, we finished what was left in the fridge while playing Tsuro. And what an exciting game it was as we all ducked and weaved, trying to find a quiet corner to see out the game while the other players pick each other off. Paul and I were face to face on one square. I couldn't kill him and survive, so I put down a tile that sent us both around the board... to the same square somewhere else! Amazing scenes. But then we were stuck and both died on Paul's next turn, leaving Sam alone on the board.

1. Sam
2= Paul
2= Andrew
3. Chris

Our last game was Verflixxt! Or That's Life. We played it through twice using all the tiles. The first game ended as

Sam 31
Andrew 15
Paul 6
Chris 2

Then in the second game, Paul requested that all the clovers be right at the end. So we put the guards on the largest minus numbers instead of on the guards (otherwise it would have been impossible to play). Chris quickly sped off, hoping to get to the clover tiles first. It looked like a good idea at first, but he couldn't quite get enough clovers to make it work.

Paul 20
Andrew 13
Sam 12
Chris -8

And with that, games were packed away and cars were loaded up.

Chris departed for home and while Paul was having a shower, Sam and I tried a lightning fast game of Trivial Pursuit (house rule: roll two dice, may move either value or the combined value) and Sam was winning six cheeses to four when Paul came down and it was time to end the weekend once and for all.

Good show, chaps. A great occasion. I'm already looking forward to the next.


  1. Sounds great! I just played a 2-hour long solo game about the conquest of the Navajo...

    1. Any other weekend, and I would've been jealous.

  2. Good write-up Andrew. I too found Amerigo a bit hard-going. As I said on the journey home I think this was partly the extra rules we discovered, which made the reasonably-intutive game slightly less so. It's also a major faff to get up and pack away. Whilst I'm a Feld fan I think Castles of Burgundy and Macao are preferable.

    Colonial was good. The rules did feel like it was going to be too much but we were picking up speed the longer we played. It felt like a cross between engine-building and good old-fashioned war!

  3. Sounds great guys. I played a bit of Mr Jack Pocket with Pasc up in Beverley, and a lot of Tigris & Euphrates on my iPad on the way up and back :)