Friday, 4 November 2016

Octocon Fun!

Friday 28th Oct

The annual GNN-and-friends away-weekend, this year dubbed Octocon for reasons relating to the phases of the Earth orbiting the sun, began last Friday, and finished on Monday just gone. And it's taken me all week to write it up! Just in time for the next GNN-related outing, which I'm sure we'll get to hear about much more swiftly.

I (Joe) picked up Katy at 4pm friday on the dot, and with a car loaded with games (mostly mine - Katy's collection of three games fit snugly in a single hand (without a bag)), set off towards Ilfracombe, to meet up with Hannah, Adam and Arthur; Anja, Steve and Louie; and Jon. 

We all arrived within half an hour of each other, our home for the weekend a pleasing top floor apartment in a converted cinema. Next door was the Masonic temple.

Our home for the weekend.
And just at the bottom of the road was Lidl. But more important than either of these was the entrance to the tunnel beach, visible from the windows.

Whilst Steve and Anja settled Louie, we five played the inaugural game of the weekend - Pairs.
I went bust in 4 of the 6 rounds, reaching a final score of 10pts. Katy raced to the win with Adam in second.

Katy 21
Adam 18
Hannah 12
Joe 10
Jon 9

With Steve and Anja now in attendance, we thought we'd have a quick 7 player game while Jon's jacket potatoes finished cooking. Incan Gold seemed like the perfect choice.
We played my recently acquired version, the new edition of the original game Diamant (confused?). Katy said she preferred the treasure from the original, whilst I think these new shiny rubies and diamonds are more . . . treasury. No one can argue with the new stay/go cards though - no ambiguity here, and consequently no gimmes for players who play the wrong card. The chests for storing your treasure are more robust than the tents, and don't look like chocolate wrappers, something that has often disturbed Sam in the past. Seemingly the only downside to this new edition is the absence of zombie ladies. They have been replaced with boring old spiky logs on ropes. Poor show. But a fun game with or without zombie ladies, and one which I won. Note the mid-pack, all separated by a single point, and then Steve. Sorry Steve.

Joe 26
Adam 19
Katy 18
Anja 17
Hannah 16
Jon 15
Steve 5

After dinner, the mooting of which games to play began in earnest, except there was really only one choice - tonight we would finally get to play Captain Sonar! Except Hannah bowed out, so we had 6 rather than the optimum 8 players. This meant captains took 1st mate duties too. I suggested we might try starting turn by turn, but by the time we'd been through the rules we thought it might be best to just go for it. Katy and I were radio operators on each sub, Jon and Steve captain/1st mate, and Adam and Anja engineers. A few rule clarifications were necessary, but I must have overlooked the rule which said do not put Anja and Steve on the same team. My job as radio operator (radiographer as Katy kept calling it - that's a different board game I think) was relatively simple, and I kept out of the way while my captain and engineer came to blows over the correct etiquette for imparting information between them. Meanwhile our opponents merrily hunted us down and blew us out of the water. We might have been able to limp away had it not been for my helpful advice earlier, involving leaving a blaze in the engine room to blow itself out rather tackle it (metaphorically), which meant we were already compromised.

There was much discussion afterwards, and Jon as the other captain seemed particularly proud of his teams coordination - Adam won extra points for his submariners beard. I want to play again with the full 8 now - and would have no hesitation in suggesting we hit the ground running with the simultaneous game. But it will be a rare evening where we get 8 players and only 8 players. Here's hoping.

Katy/Jon/Adam 0 damage
Joe/Steve/Anja 4 damage

The night was relatively young but we had all had a long drive, so we finished off with a few games of Rhino Hero, which we kept calling Super Rhino - he eventually got called much worse things due to his superpower seeming to be creeping around buildings looking through windows. I can't say the scores need recording in their entirety, but here you go:

Katy 2 cards left
Adam 3
Joe 4
Steve 4
Anja bust (knocked over a bit of the building)
Jon bust (ditto)

game 2
Adam 1 card left
Anja 2
Steve 3
Joe 3
Katy bust
Jon bust

We then played For Sale:

Anja 49
Katy 45
Jon 42
Adam 41
Joe 36
Steve 34

And went to bed. Apologies for the lack of pictures - my phone was charging.

Saturday 29th October

Mornings start early when you have young children, and we were most of us up and about around 8am. Among the tea and coffee, toast and cereal and episodes of Peppa Pig, that unsettling feeling of 'when are we going to play a game'  crept in, and before long, Jon and I sat down to Paperback. This is a recent favourite of mine; having played and loved the iPad implementation, I tracked down a copy for sale, and it was a big hit with Charlotte and Bea during our break in Polruan at the beginning of this half term. It's essentially Dominion with the added fun of making words. Which, if you like making words, is a lot of fun.
Jon took to it like a pro, but my experience with the game won out, and I won. But I can't remember the scores.

Before the weekend began, I had promised Katy that I would swim in the sea, and so we all set off for the Tunnels Beach, leaving Adam to cook and listen to Test Match Special. Swimming happened. Here are the photos to prove it. The sea was much warmer than recent dips in Henleaze lake, but I was immediately very cold on emerging, and headed for home, leaving the rest of the gang to enjoy the sea air.
pic by Katy - the tunnel to the beach

In the tunnel

Great photo by Steve

Back at the pad, and warmed up, Adam and I talked cooking and crossword until the others returned. Anja and Steve treated us to a smorgasboard of cheeses, salads and crusty rolls, aided by their own and Jon's extremely fine homemade chutneys and pickled beetroot. "But . . . games", I hear you mutter. "Where are the games?"

Qwixx proved a decent dice-chucking filler over the course of the weekend, and in its inaugural outing we had an unusual 3 way tie for the win:
Jon 43
Anja 43
Joe 43
Adam 38

Anja took Louie off to see a friend, Arthur and Hannah had a lie down, and Katy took herself for a stroll (NOT a hike). We men settled down to the first big proper game of the weekend - Scythe, which Jon had brought. 

We had all played before, either with Sam or Jon, so we were up and running fairly swiftly. It was my second game, and I'm still getting to grips with it. Both of my games I have pushed for my upgrade star, and it seems to me it's one that inevitably takes most of the game to complete - I feel I should have had other irons in the fire whilst that was going on. I did focus on keeping my popularity on the up, and combat was eschewed by all for most of the game. But Jon was consistently dropping stars, and inevitably we began to bump up against each other on the board. My paltry power did me no favours in the ensuing clashes, and I lost an important hex to Jon. Adam then chanced his luck with a double fight against Jon, but made a tactical error. He dropped a lot of power on the first fight and won, leaving the second battle Jon's for the taking - and Jon only needed one combat star to end the game. And so it was. I was convinced I was staring at fourth place, but the tie-breaker gave me the silver. However, a look at the scores reveals the sad truth - we were all very much in Jon's shadow.

Jon 63
Joe 37 (most pieces on board)
Steve 37
Adam 36

Steve wanted to play Scythe again straight away! But I had agreed to go with Katy to check out the state of the sea at high tide in prep for Sunday's swim, so the others packed it away while I nipped out.
Katy's pics of Ilfracombe

Damien Hirst statue.

On our return, we found Carcassonne with the kids in full swing. But the game had slowed down, and Jon offered to double up on a game of Qwixx with Katy and me. It was a different story to the earlier three-way tie:
Jon 73
Joe 70
Katy 56

When it finally finished the scores for Carcassonne were:
Adam & Arthur ~90
Jon ~70
Steve & Louie ~65

We all settled down for supper, Hannah and Adams delicious lasagne, and a particularly lovely looking salad.

And they made a crumble with custard too. It was all very tasty. Young 'uns were bathed and bedded, and we debated the evenings games in various ways. Anja suggested first, second and third preferences on post-its, Adam countered with 'push the one you want to play towards the centre of the table'. Katy picked up Castles of Mad King Ludwig and took it over to the coffee table, which settled the matter for Jon and Adam, who joined her. I know nothing of the shenanigans, but the scores were:

Jon 124
Adam 123
Katy 115

Meanwhile I introduced Steve, Anja and Hannah to Isle of Skye. I really enjoy this, and am always intrigued by the way the scoring tiles interact, as well as the consistent agony of how to price your tiles. I can't remember precisely what went on, because we were also drinking, but in the end, Hannah won handily:

Hannah 54
Steve 49
Joe 43
Anja 35

Not the most fascinating pic
We played a quick game of Qwixx while Ludwig was played - in fact I think we played it whilst they scored Ludwig. I will refrain from Martin-esque comment on the significance of that.

Joe 61
Steve 59
Anja 56
Hannah 51

Qwixx remained on the table for a 5 player game whilst Katy and I stepped out for a breath of unfresh air, and Jon added to his burgeoning roster of wins:

Jon 72
Hannah 64
Steve 57
Anja 56
Adam 35

After that, Hannah called it a night. Did we even moot Captain Sonar at this point? I think we didn't, it was getting on. But we somehow decided on Dream Home and Thurn & Taxis as the next games on the table.

Thurn & Taxis finished:

Adam 30
Anja 22

Dream Home is a new acquisition of mine, and I'd played a couple of games with my girls in the days before Octocon. I nearly didn't bring it with me, as it's pretty light fare - Ticket to Ride with less strategy kind of light. But it's pretty charming, and was the perfect weight for the time of night and gently fuzzed brains available.
Each player starts with an empty house, and over 12 rounds kits out their home with rooms, scoring points for a two card kitchen, a three card sitting room and so on. At the end there are bonuses for functionality - a bathroom on each floor and a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom - and for a complete roof. There are a few unique rooms, including a games room with real games which we all fought over (except we had nowhere to put it), a sauna and a pantry.

Jon won (again!), but there was a tie for second, and Dream Home has a very cute tie-breaker. You scour the rooms of your home for hidden children (does that sound weird?).  Steve had more children secreted in his home than Katy (yeah ok, it's weird):

Jon 44
Steve 37 (more hostages)
Katy 37
Joe 34
Katy's dream roof
After that it was approaching midnight. Adam had vowed not to set foot out of the house, and he and Jon played a couple of games of Patchwork whilst the other four of us took the air again.

Jon 19
Adam 2 

Jon 12
Adam 2

We returned, everybody was pooped and we all went to bed after a very lovely evening.

Sunday 30th October

The clocks went back during the night, and because this means nothing to small children, we were all up bright and early with an extra hour of gaming to look forward to! In the event, I can't say we made the most of that opportunity - games were not even mooted until lunch had come and gone - but it's quality not quantity that counts (that's patent nonsense, I realise). I had promised brunch, which we decided should be called lunch because everyone was already eating breakfast. Steve, Anja and Louie had to head back to Bristol, so after a round of jolly farewells, the others set off to get some air (fresh this time) while I prepped Shakshuka - a favourite recipe from the Ottolenghi book Plenty, involving stewed peppers, tomatoes and eggs. And spices.

Brupper was served at 12 noon on the dot, and our minds turned to games. But also swimming in the sea. 
Hannah and Adam settled Arthur for an afternoon nap, and then they and Jon debated what big afternoon game to tackle. Waggledance won out, and whilst they got cracking, Katy and I played Patchwork. 

It was Katy's first game, but Jon is a master of rules explanation, and she seemed set to wipe the floor with me, getting a fime button economy going from the outset.
However, one of Jon's bits of advice was 'don't bother going after the 7 button bonus tile - take it if you can, but it's rarely a game winner'. I thought this was sensible advice, but in the closing stages the opportunity arose for me to complete a 7x7 square and take the bonus, and I took it. And I won by a point. 

Joe 15
Katy 14

Katy and I left the Waggledancers to it and hit the sea. We chose a different beach, one that had been closed for a wedding the day before, and clambered into the fairly calm waves over a very rocky shoreline. I suggested swimming out and round the rocks to the beach we had swum from on Saturday; Katy was sensibly more cautious. We had been in the sea for about 10 minutes when the swell picked up considerably, and we looked back at the rocky shore to see quite large waves crashing on to it. We wondered how to get back without being dashed on the rocks, and a Radio Four news report began playing in my head, worrier that I am. 
We headed in, and after a few big waves with a nasty undertow, the swell subsided again and we clambered out. A little scratched and bruised, and cold, but essentially safe.

These photos by Hannah are from the previous day, just because there were to many to post at the start. And also so that you can't see the fuss I was making about some little lapping waves.

Steve looks vexed by our idiocy.
When we returned, Waggle Dance was in full swing, but paused while Arthur was settled. Katy had a bath and a nap, while Jon explained the precarious tension with the current gamestate to me. I didn't properly understand. As the game resumed I chewed away at Saturday's crossword, which was pretty chewy, and the final scores were:

Hannah 7 (fewest dice)
Adam 7
Jon 6

Katy returned from her nap and began prepping curry for the evening, and while Hannah kept Arthur entertained, Jon, Adam and I played Isle of Skye. This means that only Katy didn't play IoS this weekend, and didn't on the subsequent Tuesday fixture either, opting for Scythe. Isle of Scythe. Hmmm.
I did quite well for the first few rounds, but Jon and Adam both jumped ahead in the final reckoning, and the final scores were:

Jon 71
Adam 62
Joe 58

Curry continued to be made, with some discussion over the-rice to-naan ratio;. With Arthur happily imbibing episodes of something CBeebies-ish on the tablet, we four played TeamPlay. Hannah thought it would be funny if she and Adam were on the same team; Adam was willing to give it a go. As it turned out, they pipped Jon and I for the win - it was a great game. We also inaugurated a fun way of revealing the scores. One team plays a score card, then the next team plays score cards until they're in the lead, then the first team play more score cards etc etc. It was nail-biting! And that's from someone who could have drowned earlier the same day. 

Hannah and Adam 29
Jon and Joe 27

The Bombay Mix was so fine it had to be eaten with a spoon.
We stopped for Katy's curry, and delicious it was too. Jon and I had pledged to leave no naan behind, so we went back for seconds and thirds. And there was still an untouched pan full of curry on the hob. Katy cooked for 12.  We all enjoyed the benefit of the clocks going back - it was only 6pm, and the lovely evening of games stretched ahead. 
Hannah tactfully suggested Adam could bath Arthur alone if he liked; and while he did, we four played Dream Home again. Jon won. Again. And no need to go searching for hidden children.

Jon 42
Hannah 38
Joe 37
Katy 33

Adam joined us, and we somehow alighted on Colosseum as the big five player to play next. It's apt that we played it since Jon and I had both brought it - this may be the only game that was in evidence twice for the whole weekend - and it's also a GNN favourite that has been long absent.
Only Katy hadn't played, and whilst it's not complex there are phases, and lots of bits. Jon did some more expert explaining, and we settled into putting on fabulously camp shows in ancient Rome.
For the first three, perhaps four rounds, Katy stormed ahead of us all. Adam had pointed out the pitfall of this (that the last place player gets to take one of your tiles), but equally, Jon pointed out that this meant +3 points for each winner podium accrued. As we who have played before know, in Colosseum, you're only as good as your last show - meaning the show you put on in the final round. And everybody (except me) had a little something up their sleeve. Katy looked on in dismay as first Jon, then Hannah, then Adam leaped ahead of her on the scoreboard. I did the decent thing and languished in fifth place, despite my three star performers.

Adam 89
Hannah 82
Jon 81
Katy 71
Joe 61
many Gandalfs

Caesar's in town. And he's brought a friend.
Colosseum remains a firm favourite of mine, but it is long with five, and I was dismayed (more dismay) to see how time had flown whilst we fiddled while Rome burned. We discussed Lords of Vegas, which Jon had been keen to try for several years, but felt a five player game would be too long, so we decided to introduce him to Midnight Party instead.
It's reputation may have been overplayed, as it wasn't the raucous scene that's lead to it's being banned in several households, but then we were playing with five and the knowledge that a small child was sleeping close by. We played three rounds, and Jon showed us all how to escape from ghosts. I accrued what may be an all time losing score, over seven times the winner and double the next worst score. Ahem.

Jon -10
Hannah -24
Adam -29
Katy -33
Joe -71

Octocon was drawing to a close. Hannah and Adam bowed out, but those of us without present children struggled on. Katy was still using the words 'Lords' and 'Vegas' quite a lot, and it may not have been much later than 9.30pm, (the current benchmark for how late LoV can be broken out) - but it would have been a learning game for Jon, and that tipped the balance. We settled into a gentle game of Land Unter. Or Turn the Tide, as less cultured folk like to call it.
I can't remember much about the game, and it's not one that provides a big narrative apart from the threat of drowning sheep, but Katy beat us both, and boy did she let us know iot. No I'm kidding, she was magnanimous. Actually I can't remember either way; but I feel sure the event wouldn't have gone unremarked.

Katy 10
Joe 2
Jon 1
More scintillating photography!

And yet more...

Were we ready to call it quits? Nearly, and if one person had but the other two had kept playing we'd have gone out with a real whimper - but we were all up for a quick and very silly game of Kakerlaken Salat. This is part of the same family as Kakerlaken Poker, but the similarity is only cosmetic. It's more like Dobble in terms of gameplay, with players trying to rid themsleves of a stack of cards. When you place a card you must name the vegetable in question. Except if it's a repeat of the one underneath you have to name another. And if you play a cockroach card, it forbids the naming of a certain vegetable. So of the four vegetables you may find only one is nameable, and if you hesitate, or name an illegal vegtable, you have to take the stack of cards. It's fun and very silly, and the perfect end to a spiffing weekend of games.

We all woke early on Monday, packed up and scooted without so much as a single die or meeple hitting the table (we did nearly finish the crossword with a little help from Google for the difficult last few clues). But as Katy and I discussed on the drive home, there are always more games to be played, and three evenings of gaming just leaves you wanting more. Thank you to all involved, it was huge fun, and I'm already looking forward to next years con. Septicon? Decepticon.


  1. Excellent write up, thank you Joe. It just makes me want to play more games right now! Maybe next time it will rain so I'm more inclined to stay in and make the most of the gaming time. I still think we should have a Bristol gaming weekend before the end of the year; it would be fun :D Thanks all involved x

  2. Great write-up Joe. Sounds like a cracking weekend too! (Save for near-death water experiences... ) Sorry I couldn't be there this year. Stan was gutted to miss it too! Bristol game weekend sounds good to me.

  3. Thanks for the write up Joe. I could only think of one thing missing: me getting stuck in the bathroom, and Adam, Steve and Arthur rescuing me. Steve by climbing out of one skylight and in through the bathroom one. I can't remember which game I caused a 30 minute interlude in though.

  4. Thanks all - my god how could I forget the bathroom incident! Was it in the middle of Scythe? We ended up taking the mechanism out. And there was a gas ring that couldn't be turned off once it was on. The place was deathtrap, I now realise.

  5. Great write-up Joe! I added in scores for Thurn & Taxis and Carcassonne (I think I got them right, we'll see if Anja disagrees...)

    I really enjoyed Quixx, Colosseum, Waggle Dance and Patchwork, and I don't think I played a dud all weekend (once we got past Pairs...) Loved the food, booze and company too. Thanks for organising Jon!

  6. Thanks Ad for putting those scores in. I didn't play a single dud either, though it occurs to me now the only new game I played was Captain Sonar! Not sure there were many brought that I've not played apart from Waggle Dance, though.