Thursday, 16 July 2015

To be the Master, you Must Earn It

Thursday rolled around, and Martin and Ian made their way from Easton, having generously agreed to relocate from Martin's house to incorporate myself (Sam) and Hollie.

We started at 7.30 and Little Joe (watching) and Stanley (participating) joined us for a couple of rounds of In A Bind, the game of contortionism, never more starkly contrasted with reality than when my wife turns up with a camping proposition midway through and everyone - holding their anatomies in a smorgasbord of unnatural poses - pauses to listen to our summer vacation plans.

I was out first both times - first off I charitably reached over to assist Stan, and a card fell off my shoulder. Second time I can't even recall distinctly, just a general falling away of any sense of control. Despite having to hold a card in a sweaty armpit, Ian held on for the win in the first game:

1. Ian
2. Stanley
3. Martin
4. Sam

elbow up, finger down, card on neck, card under chin

Whilst in the second game Martin was so in control he even kept turning cards after everyone else was knocked out:

1. Martin
2. Stanley
3. Ian
4. Sam


We'd hit 8 o'clock at this point so I took the kids upstairs to bed; reading half a chapter of Moominvalley in Midwinter to the boys. I have no idea what happened downstairs - when I returned there was no game set up so I can only assume conversation had taken place. We put a stop to that with a quick game of Ra whilst the returning Hollie freshened up, prepping for her second games night in her debut week.

In the first round there wasn't a whole lot of Ra - I pictured him/her/it in a recliner watching daytime soaps whilst we made merry on the Nile. I was sure everything would change soon and followed my previous tactics of grabbing the basics - civs, pharaohs - and getting out. But Ra was still at home, now watching repeats of Heartbeat on BBC4, and Martin made hay while the sun shone, as it tends to do in Egypt. Ian seemed to stagnate, suffering with the arid air.

I'd picked up the highest bidding tile and was so determined not to suffer the highest-tile-curse (that of being unable to bring oneself to bid) that I picked up a few tiles rather expensively, when - as Martin pointed out - I could have added a tile to them. As round 2 closed out I was concerned about my lack of monuments, whereas the others - Martin in particular - seemed to have a healthy crop.

A decent third round wasn't enough  for me, as Martin consolidated his strong position with a heap of lovely monument tiles that scored him a whopping bonus at the end. Meanwhile Ian's monuments saved him from the ignominy of finishing with less points than he started with:

Martin 59
Sam 48
Ian 19

Hollie had watched the last round of the game did not seem deterred, so Martin broke out Zendo, the game of guessing the rules. Multiple pyramids of three sizes (and three point values) and five colours sit in the centre of the table. One player is "Master" and secretly chooses a rule from a deck of cards to implement: using the pyramids, they show one layout (or koan) that matches the rule (it has the Buddha nature) and one that doesn't. Rules might be a simple as Koans always include one green pyramid or as crazy as Koans must have a small black pyramid on its side, or  all pyramids in the koan must have a collective point value of seven.

Play moves clockwise, and on your turn you propose a new koan then either ask "Master?" and the current master will tell you whether your koan has the Buddha nature or not - or you say "Mondo" and Brian Wilson sashays into the room.

I am the Master now

OK that doesn't happen. If you say Mondo all the non-master players guess as to whether the just-built koan is 'of the Buddha nature' or not - if they guess right, they get a guessing stone and on their turn, they can guess the rule. We - with some difficulty - figured out the rule each time, but we were playing the easy and medium rules. Some of the expert rules were pretty insane... prime numbers... points divisible by three... we stayed on the path.

Red cube shame: Not of the Buddha nature

And being the master was tricky, because disproving a guess involves making a new koan - either one that matches the guess but not the rule, or the other way around. Hollie found being the Master so tiring she actually went to bed - all our good work with Lords of Waterdeep, undone by one fell Buddhist abstract puzzle!

I was quite pleased I guessed Ian's rule - it took a few stabs but I realised we were focussing on what was present in the approved koans rather than what was absent. I managed to identify that the blue pyramids were in all the non-Buddhist koans and the rest, as they say, is history. (No blue pyramids, at least one green pyramid)

With Hollie beaten by the challenge of being Master, we packed Zendo away and finished off with Love Letter. And something of an epic Love Letter too - you may not be surprised to hear that Ian won, but it wasn't straightforward. He picked up two easy rounds and then I won one. Then I won another. Then Martin said he would win three in a row, and he won two. Then Ian won again!

Ian - 3 cubes
Martin - 2 cubes
Sam - 2 cubes

Classic Love Letter. If only it had been around when they were making It's a Knockout. I bet Kevin Keegan would have been awesome.


  1. Conversation? Pah! Ian and I played IceDice, which uses the same bits as Zendo. Nice explanation of Zendo btw. Technically it's the "Buddha nature" not Buddhist.

  2. Cheers folks, good games. Not my best game of Ra, think I took a few too many small small auctions, should have let them build a bit more.

    Zendo was great, though quite brain burny. I'd just suggest sticking to easy rules in the future!

  3. IceDice was a push your luck game. You roll two dice. One has 5 colours that match those of the pyramid pieces, the 6th side being a wild option. The other dice has the sizes of pyramids, small medium or large.

    You roll both dice, and pick up a piece of that size or colour. You can roll again and pick up further pieces, or bank those pieces and pass the dice to the next player. If you roll the same colour twice you go bust, and lose the pieces you'd just picked up, but banked pieces are safe.

    You can steal the other players banked pieces if the correct dice / colour combination is rolled, I think.

    First player to have three complete sets of pyramids (a set being the three sizes of pyramids in one colour) wins.

    Something like that, anyway.

  4. realistically one can't stagnate in arid air I guess...

  5. IceDice sounds like a Knizia game...

    1. It basically is - it's almost exactly the same game as Simply Ingenious, which Joe donated me a copy of that he found in a charity shop.