Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Can't Stop Shan't Stop

This week's GNN meet happened at Joe's cosy home. The six of us gathered around Joe's green felt table were Joe, Sam, Ian, Katy, Andy and me. Vague plans were suggested that we all play together, but instead we split into two groups.

Joe, Katy and I chose the Japanese themed card game Honshu. Meanwhile Sam, Andy and Ian broke open Ulm, described by Sam as a typical Euro game of gaining prestige in medieval Europe. It even came with it's own cathedral.

Honshu was substantially less ambitious fare. It's a trick taking, set collecting, city building game. Despite the three-pronged attack on our gaming senses it's quite a simple game. Each card has a number and a piece of the city on it. There are twelve rounds and in each round, every player plays a card face up. The highest card wins and that player may take whichever card they liked the look of and add that to their city with the proviso that it must overlap (or underlap) with another card.

There is a hint of other games in there. A bit of Between Two Cities. A smidgen of Isle Of Skye. But overall was quite a gentle laid back game, apart from the last minute panic from Katy when she realized she wasn't doing very well. This panic, as it turned out, should have been scheduled earlier:

Joe 61
Andrew 55
Katy 49

It was nothing to do with Japan, though.

On the other half of the table, Ulm was proving to be a bit of a steep hill to climb. In the early stages, I saw Ian shaking his head while laughing to himself and at one point it almost seemed like the game might be abandoned. Sam asked that it be given ten more minutes and apparently in that time it showed enough of its charms to convince people to last until the end.

Watching them play, I must admit it was one of those moments when I had a glimpse of what we must look like to non-gamers. The board was baffling, with a grid of 3x3 counters that shuffled around seemingly at random. There were boats and shields and icons and that cathedral which seemed to make Ian particularly angry, as he considered it to be, frankly, unnecessary and unhelpful.

But we had finished Honshu and we're pondering another game. Someone mentioned Botswana, but I didn't fancy it. It did, however, remind me of 10 Days In Africa so I asked Joe to dig it out. It was new to Katy, so she listened to the rules explanation with the same expression you might have if you were listening to a salesman you suspect is trying to steal your money. She had become increasingly concerned with her lack of form, and she didn't think this was the game to put things right.

And so it was. It's a game that doesn't encourage a great deal of banter so Joe and I tried to pep up our descriptions of winning journeys by building a narrative round them in the vocal style of Cary Grant. "I woke up in Morocco with no idea how I got there. All I knew is, I had to be in Somalia in ten days."

We played twice, with the second game happening at Katy's request, once she understood the rules.

Andrew 10
Joe 9
Katy 7

And then...

Joe 10
Katy 6 (wins on fewer transport tie breaker)
Andrew 6

Finally, Ulm finished with the scores at

Andy 53
Ian 45
Sam 37

Since we were all together again, there was a little talk of a six player. But instead we reorganized into new groups of three. I was lucky enough to have another of my suggestions brought to the table, and Sam, Joe and I played Can't Stop. Andy, Ian and Katy got busy with Port Royal.

Can't Stop was a cautious affair, with all of us keen to get counters on the board rather than push our luck. But as I took a 2-1-1 lead, with one row just one space away from completion. When it came to Joe's turn, he decided he had to go for it and, amazingly, he did. He finished two more rows to snatch the win.

Joe 3
Andrew 2
Sam 1

Since Port Royal was still ongoing, we brought out Land Unter. This trick taking game where it's usually better to not take a trick, had Sam baffled. We played through a single round while Port Royal ended.

Ian 12
Katy 11
Andy 5

At this point Ian and Andy left and we ended our fledgling game of Land Unter and began afresh with Katy on board. Katy won this game, which cheered her up considerably (or was it the ginger wine) now that her run of bad form was over and that there was one game that she could rely on to get her a win when she needed one.

Katy 10
Andrew 8
Sam 7
Joe 3

After this, we set off home. The division, with only two meetings left until the end of the season, looks like this.


  1. Ulm did have charms! They took a while to come creeping out though. The heart of the game is the curious grid-shuffling, which is actually very simple. The faff around it was what slowed us down, as yet another game determined to be language-independent ended up suffocating under it's own iconography.

    The cathedral made Ian cross because it seemed to be a microcosm of this fiddliness: round markers slot into it, with symbols on them microscopically small - a tragic irony considering Ulm's church is actually the biggest (or tallest, at least) in the world. And it's a church, not a cathedral! I'm surprised Gunter never made it as far as the Wikipedia page...

    But as we discovered the mechanics of the game are very tactical and we all - even Ian, who at one point seemed on the verge of going to his room - agreed we'd like to play it again.

    I liked Land Unter too, once I figured it out. Still did terribly though!

  2. (by the way Andrew were you still bevied when you wrote this?)

    1. I did it on my phone at work. Is it full if mistakes? I'll check it later.

    2. Barry Took is mentioned at one point...

  3. Thanks for the write up Andrew and apologies again for my moaning, still under the weather, next week I'll be jolly as you like... as long as we play Land Unter at least a couple more times :D

  4. I see I've emerged into the points ratio lead without even turning up!

  5. Nice to play 10 Days again. I think the winner should have to describe their journey in the longest, most drunk and tedious way possible. "Cairo!"

    It was a fun evening, and I drank too much. Thanks all.

    1. Yes they should; sorry for not indulging you more on that one, maybe next time!

  6. And extra kudos to Andrew for doing the write-up by phone!

  7. I quite enjoyed Ulm. Once we'd got past the over-engineered Ulm Minster, the too-busy board and the need to flick back and forth between two rules booklets. I definitely want to give it another go before I forget how it all works.