Monday, 7 November 2016

Novocon Fun!

Only days after a large chunk of GNNers had spent a weekend away playing games, it was the turn of the four aging war horses of GNN to stagger out of their stables and stare, confused and short-sighted, across the green fields of this great nation.

Luckily, it was raining, which meant it was perfect gaming weather with no temptation to try “going for a walk” to distract us.

Sam and I arrived first, at about two thirty and I was impressed by how much like home it felt. Especially because the tablecloth was the same kind as the one in Sam’s kitchen. Sam got the fire going, made coffee and cheese on a bagel. I offered him a pickled egg for his efforts. He couldn’t finish it and would later insist that it gave him a headache. Then we spent about twenty minutes popping and sorting the various pieces for A Feast For Odin. It already looks like a beast of a game.

Then Paul and Chris arrived, and once they’d sorted themselves (and we noticed we had three copies of Love Letter and two of Istanbul) out we sat down for our first game at exactly 3.48pm! Then we had our first drink at exactly 3.58pm!

The game that accompanied our first tipple was Cosmic Run. It was Paul’s first, but it’s not the most complex game, so after a few rules clarifications, he was away.

With four players, there’s more time between turns for planets to be hit, and more emphasis on getting cards and crystals: two things I didn’t do very well. I didn’t land on any planets, either.

Paul 69
Sam 66
Chris 58
Andrew 52

After this, we were all hungry enough for Sam to start on an early supper while the other three of us tried Paul’s own creation: The Seven Bridges Of Königsburg. This is a game of demand and supply, where deliveries happen on the five islands of Königsburg according to the roll of the dice and the wishes of the player. On certain rolls (double six and double one) you have to move, and you can never cross the same bridge twice. There were a few rule tweaks to be made, and there’s something in it. It just needs a bit of pepping up.

We finished it while we ate Sam’s Chorizo and Prawn stew with rice, and it ended:

Chris 34
Andrew 26
Paul 23

Now it was the evening proper, we felt like something heavy. A challenge. We went for Nations. Not the simplified dice version, but the full epic game, taking in the entire sweep of human history. Not necessarily in the right order, though: I had built my first factory as Paul was finishing off Machu Picchu.

There are a lot of rules and icons to get your head around, and at first I didn’t enjoy it at all. But over time it started to click and by the end I was using my resources pretty efficiently. It was too late, and my mostly pacifist philosophy was proven to be the least successful social model to follow. Meanwhile, military-minded Sam did far better, starting several wars that cost Chris and I several victory points each.

Checking the rules

Sam 39
Chris 37
Paul 28
Andrew 26

It also gave us our first schoolboy-sniggering joke of the weekend when Paul placed a meeple on a card, innocently saying “I’m going to stick him in the aqueduct.”

After this epic, we went to the complete opposite of the scale, with a rousing game of Push-It. Chris sped into an early lead thanks to two two-pointers, and the rest of us couldn’t catch him, although it was close at times.

Chris 13
Paul 10
Andrew 9
Sam 8

There was still time on the clock, so we finished on an old familiar, El Grande. It took no time at all to set up and get started (if you don’t include the hiatus for cheese and crackers) and with only a couple of rules references (due to vague wording on the cards) we glided through the game effortlessly.

It was close after round one, but in round two Chris opened up a lead and, just like Push It, he couldn’t be caught. Sam and I tied for second.

Chris 104
Sam 89
Andrew 89
Paul 80

With that we were ready for bed. I shacked up in the games room, with only the dim glow of fading coal to keep me company. And the lights from the fridge, TV, clock etc.

On Saturday morning, I got up at 6.30 and pottered about a bit. Sam soon joined me at 7ish and we went for a walk in the crisp clear country air.

On returning, we sat down for a quick two-round game of Take It Easy. Sam’s subject for calling in round one was “Trees” and he even did it in alphabetical order. I chose “comics and magazines I read as a kid”. Sam had a nightmare second round (116) allowing me to steal the win.

Andrew 276
Sam 259

After this Paul and Chris emerged and while they busied themselves with coffee, showers and talking, I entertained myself with a swift solo game of Tiny Epic Galaxies. I won, defeating The Rogue Galaxy 13-12. Ha!

By now it was ten o’clock and time for the first four-player of the day: Heck Meck! Chris introduced it by reminding that his wife usually beats him thanks to some amazing good luck. However, I think Chris’s own bad luck might contribute too.

Sam 8
Paul 3
Andrew 1
Chris 0

It was quite a long game, with people preferring to steal off each other when they could rather than risk another roll and a better score. It was almost strategic.

This was followed by a journey to the nearest town for some supplies, and then back for the quick crossword (completed) and a brief sighting of a drowsy wasp in the kitchen. And I took a closer look at the strange carving in the garden, which was both phallic and vaginal at the same time.

The next game was Magnum Sal, suggested by Sam since it was a game that had sat unplayed in his cupboard for about two years. This game is set in the salt production industry of fourteenth century Poland, so I can’t imagine why it’s not grabbed our attention before.

It’s a worker placement game, as you seek to make chains in the mines to carry out salt mining. I found it quite combative, as new opened sections of mine would get quickly invaded by the next player, and if you had a bucket, it was possible to move water in your section to a neighbouring section. Chris’s early surge into a lead mid-game faded away as his orders for the king were taken by other players, and Sam surged from distant last into a close second with a profitable final round.

Paul 84
Sam 81
Andrew 69
Chris 33

We tried to work out the meaning of the icons on this card from Magnum Sal. We came up with "Touch the bottom of a cube. Touch the top of a cube. Stop touching the cube!"

This was followed by food: a wide range of cheeses and meats with bread. With a couple of tomatoes, as today’s vague gesture to healthy eating.

Then we went for a walk in the nearby nature reserve. In the fading country sun, it all looked so lovely that every few seconds seemed like an opportunity to take a photo. Chris and Sam saw a deer, but Paul was more transfixed by the trains that sped by occasionally.

Back home, there was a quick game of Perudo for money, and Sam won four whole pounds!

After this, I chose Eclipse as the next game. The epic game of space explosions is a favourite of mine, and perfect for a Saturday evening, before supper, about the same time that Dr Who is on. A bit longer than Dr Who, though.

Paul got a rules refresher, and played with great gusto, helped with a 11-power hypergrid source that he won in a battle. I went for my swarm of wasps strategy which I don’t think has ever won, but is lots of fun to play. Chris and Sam were both aliens, and Sam went heavily for research. He completed two tech tracks which we hadn’t quite understood the full implications of. One minute he was a plucky underdog, having a go at the Ancients in his sector, then Chris attacked him and within a couple of upgrades Sam’s ships had transformed into death machines of fear, bristling with guns and hulls.

In the final round, Sam also pushed into my area, since I was distracted by my attempt at attacking Paul’s ships in Chris’s central hex. Another impressive endgame from Sam handed him another win.

Sam 35
Chris 29
Andrew 22
Paul 20

Andrew and I (Sam) also did the Igloo Pop challenge

This was followed by a nice little parlour game that Sam introduced us to, in which someone chooses a book, reads the publicity bumf on the back to everyone, and then the other players secretly write what they think the opening sentence might be. Then these are all read out, along with the real sentence and people have to spot which one is the genuine article. Points are given for correct guesses or if someone guesses your sentence.

It was lots of fun, especially on one occasion when the real opening sentence was considerably worse than anything we came up with.

Sam 4
Chris 2
Andrew 2
Paul 2

After this little non-tabletop distraction, we got back into geek mode with Roll For The Galaxy. I haven’t played it before, but I remember being daunted by it when I shared a table with it a GNN evening.

It took a while to get around the rules which aren’t exactly intuitive, but I entertained myself by giving myself a difficult tile to develop right at the start, to see if I could do it before the game ended. I just about made it. And it game me lots of points, too, giving the impression that I was more involved than I actually was.

Chris 30 + dice tie-breaker
Sam 30
Paul 24 + dice tie-breaker
Andrew 24

Finally, Paul tempted us to stay up for one more game of Push-It. In the early stages it was pretty close at 4-3-3-3, and I remarked it showed that we were either evenly matched, or the whole thing was just random.

But then Chris pulled ahead and Paul sent the puck off the table while I proceeded to score no more points at all. It ended

Chris 11
Sam 8
Andrew 3
Paul 1

And so to bed…

Sunday morning, and I was up first again. Slightly cloudier outside, and colder but still nice outside. People slowly stirred and so our first game (sans Paul) was No Thanks! at about nine o’clock. We were all hoping for the final card to fit onto our runs of cards. It was the nineteen, which nobody wanted. So it just collected more and more coins until it was worth picking up.

Sam 43
Andrew 44
Chris 47

When we were all four together, we dug out Cosmic Run again. This time, only a little rule refresher was needed at the start. This time I went for planets, with a little side-dish of cards. It all ended with all of us rushing along the five-of-a-kind planet which was the only one left, finally getting to the end before it exploded. If that’s a good thing.

Andrew 61
Sam 54
Chris 52
Paul 44

After this, people did the shower thing and the rest of us played short games. Paul, Chris, and I played Love Letter, first to two. Chris’s one point came at the end of a remarkable round where I knew he was the Princess for three turns but couldn’t get him out.

Andrew 2
Paul 1
Chris 1

Then there were a couple of games of Cube Quest.

Paul 2
Andrew 0


Sam 2
Paul 1

Finally, with everyone clean(er) we set up the “long version” of Lords Of Waterdeep, ie the one with all the extensions. Paul stunned us all with an epic piece of AP on his penultimate move, as the rest of us were able to go to the toilet, get a drink, etc before he made his move.

In the end, his final moves were pretty good, but he said he thought he could’ve got another twenty points if only things were different.

Chris slightly over-prepares for a quest

I went skull-heavy, while Paul and Sam were the most noble of us. Or, at least, the best at getting rid of their skulls once they’d got them. But Chris showed why they almost call him “Mr Waterdeep”:

Chris 167
Paul 166
Andrew 147
Sam 141

Then we went for a walk in the rain, complete with rainbow.

Once we’d returned, Sam taught Paul how to play Scythe while Chris introduced me to Cartography. After a shaky start, my knowledge of Go held me in good stead and I won the second game handsomely.

Meanwhile, on the big table, Scythe was up and ready to go. Paul was yellow, Chris was white, I was black and Sam was red. While I got an early lead, Sam came charging up, getting to four stars and then ending the game with his next go by attacking Paul. Truly, it is the way of all things, that a student must one day defeat their teacher. But Paul didn’t win. Sam did, and then used Paul’s oil to upgrade for his sixth star.

Sam attacks his own protege

Although I had more territory and stars than Chris, his exemplary housekeeping meant he had plenty of money in the bank, which added to his paltry end of game bonuses ruined my hopes of a runner-up place.

Sam 77
Chris 42
Andrew 38
Paul 19

There was room for one more before Paul had to go and get his train. It was 7 Wonders, and I remarked it must make him nostalgic, playing this while keeping half an eye on the clock. Chris’s military might and high scores across the board meant the winner was never in doubt.

Chris 62
Paul 54
Sam 46
Andrew 38

And with that, Paul was off into the night, heading back to Clapham Junction.

After we ate Chris’s meal (made for four, but the three of us finished it off) we leapt back into gaming with Terraforming Mars. Chris said he liked it, but it was a bit long for what it was. I didn’t understand what he was talking about, it had always flied by for me, but tonight I understood. We began at eight and finished at half ten. Two and a half hours for three players is a lot.

The game itself was notable for people pushing up the temperature really fast while not putting down any city tiles. Chris had loads of titanium, but seemed unable to get titanium-feulled cards from the deck. Oh, how we laughed. By the end, it was a very populated Mars, with nine cities, an active volcano, lots of greenery and a commercial centre. You know, somewhere for the bank holiday shopping.

My sudden leap up the score chart with victory points on cards (24 pts) wasn’t enough to get out of last, but at least saved my blushes.

Sam 90
Chris 83
Andrew 71

We followed this up with a trio of small games. I won at Love Letter:

Andrew 3
Chris 2
Sam 2

And then Chris won his first ever game of For Sale:

Chris 72
Sam 65
Andrew 62

And finally my luck deserted me on Heck Meck as I went for three rounds without rolling a single worm. Sam was a clear leader midway through the game, but luck can go down as well as up, and Chris managed to overturn some of his recent poor form in the game.

Sam 6
Chris 6
Andrew 3

Finally, it was time for bed. Except for Chris, who sat down with a cup of coffee. Crazy.

Monday morning was a leisurely mostly Sam-less affair, as he had a lie in. Chris and I read rule books, with me taking on A Feast For Odin as my morning read.

After a while Chris and I decided to have a little game of Agricola: All Creatures Great and Small. It’d been a while for both of us, but Chris pig farming prowess made him look set for the win. In fact, that’s how we first counted it up. It wasn’t until afterwards when I was grumbling (good naturedly, I hope) about Smith’s way with a pig that he reconsidered that he might not have had fifteen after all.

We checked the photographic evidence, and he decided that he can’t have. This gave me a win, after a recount:

Andrew 45
Chris 44

Finally Sam woke up at 9.55, meaning his hopes of setting off at 10.00 were pretty much over. For our last game we chose Raj, the fun game of bluffing and accidental telepathy. It ended:

Sam 65
Chris 52
Andrew 27

All that was left was to tidy up and fail to find the recycling bins and we were away! Thanks all for a lovely long weekend.


  1. Gosh, what a weekend! Hard to choose a favourite game, but nice to play some old faves amongst the new stuff and break up the cube-pushing with walks, crosswords and the odd silliness of the book game, which is just great.

    Something Chris said after Eclipse got me worried that I may have inadvertently cheated, trading currencies at 2:1 rather than the 3:1 ratio I should have done. I don't know if it's paranoia+mid-game-alcohol-levels, or something that actually happened though. If I did do it I'd only have lost two points off my tech score, I think.

    The cabin is a great location for gaming too: shop nearby, plenty of walks from the door, a fire... shame it's not bigger for a mahoosive GNN weekend again! That's been too long...

    Oh and as well as the tomatoes we also had broccoli on sunday night. I think that balances out all the smoked meats and cheese.

  2. Great write up Andrew! It was really weird the slow dawning realisation in that Agricola ACBAS game that something was off with the score. Sparked by Andrew's comment it festered in my mind counting and recounting until I came to the conclusion that, Bollocks, I'd miscounted!!!

    Great venue as well. Table was on the thin side for gaming but we coped admirably.

    Next year it too far away!

  3. Great write up, and what a lovely sounding weekend, chaps. But you didn't play Odin, despite it being punched and learned... aargh!

  4. Andrew only read 2/3rds of one of the three booklets! It basically needs a weekend all to itself.