It was just myself (Sam) and Andrew at my place for our semi-regular Thursday gaming. I mooted some biggies - Caverna, Eclipse... but maybe still worn down from his cough, Andrew didn't bite. Instead we began with Battle Line, Reiner Knizia's classic and slightly poker-esque game of combat.
Eight pieces (flags) are laid in a row across the table, and players are dealt a hand of seven troop cards. These have a value of between 1 and 10 and come in six colours. On your turn you simply play a card in front of a flag of your choosing, then pick up a card. Once both sides have played three cards to a flag, armies are compared and the strongest claims the flag. The strength of the army is where the poker similarity comes in, with straight flushes beating three of a kind beating flushes beating straights beating card-high.
As soon as someone wins five flags (or three adjacent) they win the game instantly. And added to the troop cards are the tactics cards, which mix in some rule-breaking or bending. They can turn a flag in your favour, but obviously if you're picking up tactics cards that's one less troop card in your hand. Very clever, very Knizia-y. Andrew's first play too, and he liked it. I claimed two narrow wins.
Next we broke out Railways of the World, and set up Mexico. I decided to throw caution to the wind in terms of bonds and just plough ahead whenever I took a fancy to bid, build, or upgrade. As a result I surged into what looked to me an insurmountable lead - I was up in the twenties with Andrew back on four points. I had fifteen bonds, but Andrew had nine. Surely this was a done deal.
But back Andrew came, steadily shipping goods and picking up points from me courtesy of his two trade depots. Before I knew what was happening he was in the lead, and still had fewer bonds. At this point Andrew - he realized later - should have done everything to end the game, to complete a most unlikely comeback. But Mexico continued to see a lot of railroad activity, and as Andrew's shipping options ran out my more powerful train delivered goods across the western seaboard, shunting me back into the lead. We ended with me on 19 bonds and Andrew 18. We both completed our Barons (most track; most money) and the game ended with me safely ahead again. I didn't note the scores, I think it was 48-56 or something.
Packing Railways away, we both noted how easily everything seemed to fit in the box. "We're so experienced now" Andrew remarked. Being a regular discoverer of random games elements on Wednesday mornings, I looked around the kitchen nervously. "Have we missed anything?" I said, but it appeared we hadn't. Our putting away of the game was almost as successful as our playing of it. More so, in a way.
It was just gone 10pm now so we wanted something short and sweet to wrap things up. I brought out the hit of the Highlands holiday (Stan and Joe both love it) Gobblet Gobblers. This is a twist on noughts and crosses that looks like plastic tat but is actually a rather strategic challenge. Your goal is to get three of your 'Gobblers' in a row, but any Gobbler that has been placed on the 'board' can also move to adjacent squares. And because they come in three sizes, larger ones can jump onto smaller ones and effectively take their place.
As well as placing and movement, there's also a memory element of remembering what's underneath bigger Gobblers, as once you lift one up you have to move it. In one game that's no challenge, but in several, played after a few glasses of wine... it is.
We won a few games each and then called time. Andrew headed off and I inserted Railways back into the cupboard, stopping once again to sigh contentedly at the collection. Maybe I've reached some kind of inner peace, having foregone the current maths trade and elected not to buy anything from the games shop in Glasgow, after an extended period of obsessing over finding and playing new games.
Back in the kitchen, I spotted the bag of cubes from Railways on the table.