The Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers

Beer and Boardgames at the White Lion. "It's not F-ing Monopoly, alright?!"

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Friday May 29th - Lots to fit in!

Ben Bateson
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I anticipated being a bit bereft of players this week, due to the Expo, but ever-reliable John signalled his intent to turn up, and I was also in possession of a Facebook message arrived from Suzanna, hinting that she may indeed be coming too, and might even arrive with an accomplice.

John, Becky and I started with FITS, the Tetris-on-a-board game that I had picked up in exchange for a charitable donation at the excellent Hereford NSPCC day a few weeks before. Despite it being horribly derivative, there are plenty of interesting decisions to be made as you progress through the boards, and I have to confess that I'm really enjoying playing it, despite not having been anywhere near winning - or, indeed, scores higher than zero - thus far. John's imminent victory also drew the attention of some passing patrons, who looked keen enough to go out and buy a copy: good luck to them I say.

We'd almost come to the conclusion that Suzanna wasn't going to arrive by the time we reached 8pm, when Suzanna did in fact arrive with a young man in tow. The man in question turned out to be the very charming and modest Mike. He had played a few bits and pieces before, and it certainly didn't take him long to get to grips with Airlines Europe, playing out a pitch-perfect opening few rounds and launching an early attack on the Abacus shares. His strategy seemed sound to me, and I was almost as disappointed as he was to see him limp home in last place. Becky has some sort of supernatural affinity for this game and won YET AGAIN, beating JP into second and Suzanna into third.

The City is a game I enjoyed sufficiently back in February to go and purchase a cheap second-hand copy. It comes in German, for remarkably there is STILL no English edition, which Suzanna a bit of a leg-up, because she is at least semi-fluent in Deutsches-Sprech. The rest of us made do with the player aids and my dinky little individual score markers (gold paperclips FTW!). It's a RftG-super-lite which can be played in ten minutes flat, and we all were enjoying ourselves enough to go around again. I think John won the first game, and I had high hopes for the second before Suz pinched it from under my nose with a string of villas.

Our closing choice was club-favourite Too Many Cooks. In my sagely wisdom and with nearly 30 games under my belt, I dropped a few hints into the rules teaching for the benefit of Suz and Mike:

1) You don't need to score a lot of points to win. Winning scores are usually no higher than 20.
2) Don't leave your No Soup card until the last round.
3) Don't be concerned if you get left behind on your first play.

Well, I might as well have said 'don't stick your nose into a crocodile' for all the attention we paid that guidance. I gambled on leaving my No Soup until last (although I did score the maximum 5 points off it), and Suzanna won her first game with a massive 23 points, with Mike and Becky only a couple back.

So much for strategy advice...
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Sun Jun 7, 2015 11:23 am
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Friday May 22nd - Any Old Lion?

Ben Bateson
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Anyone publicly claiming a birthday always has the right to pick games at the White Lion, and this week was Norm's. It's always good to see him as he undergoes a modicum of domestic turmoil, and he had also pledged to keep his more extreme worker-placement tendencies at bay.

Having paid a goodly sum for a rare copy of Colosseum, Norm was dead keen to open with that one, and we dealt out the bits and pieces while Tony overcame a shed load of photcopier paper on the A40. It was still there at 11pm - looks like the Ross-on-Wye police station's stationery spend will be unexpectedly low this year.

Tony approached Colosseum with maximum pessimism, although it seemed inoffensive fare to the rest of us. He grumbled his way through the opening round and remained gloomy until the second negotiating phase when my jaunty Chas'n'Dave impression (see blog title), replete with full cockney rasping 'Badadada DAH DAH' coda, wrung a smile from his unwilling lips. Once we'd all got stuck in, it was far from clear who was going to win - my prediction of John/Tony being utterly wrong as Becky swept the game from under their noses. My only noteworthy feat was putting on five different shows, but it wasn't enough to get me out of dead last.

Tense finishes aside, I tend to agree with all the criticisms of Colosseum - ie. it's not Princes of Florence, and I'm actually a little baffled as to how Kramer let two such similar games get to market. It's not all terrible: I like the scoring system, and negotiation games always scratch an itch, but it's nowhere the equal of PoF.

I thought I had Norm's second choice pegged, but he forewent Libertalia for a full-on 5P Snowdonia. We played base-game with the added spice of several promo engines, and the game started with several sunny rounds - the board was bereft of rubble before the end of the fifth!

Norm had his eye on big Surveyor points, which probably wasn't the way to go given the weather, and Tony played for the 'big bonus' track-laying cards but pulled up short when Becky competed. I happened across plenty of stone early, built a lot of valuable station spaces and made full use of both '2 iron ore -> steel bar' contract cards, forgoing the wasteful foundry. Combined with my early purchase of 9-point Snowdonia and filling nearly the entire summit station with my cubes, and it made for over 100 points and a fairly easy win. I'm on a bit of a roll at Ross with Snod now; I think I've won three of the last four games, and thrown the other one away with a last-round brainfart.

There had been much joshing earlier in the evening about a closing game of Dobble - simultaneously Norm's favourite game and Tony's least favourite - but Boydell took it in his stride and nobly acquiesced to some closing rounds of Spot It. Wonder of wonders, he won the first game, and a smile permeated his beard for the second time that night (well, third, after Norm suggested playing Snowdonia, but that was more of a smirk). Two rounds of Hot Potato later, and I'll be blowed if Tony wasn't actually enjoying himself! No doubt he'll deny any recollection of this at a later date.

Most of the closing rounds of Hot Potato were three-way ties, but - especially so in this case - it proved to be the playing that was overridingly important.
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Mon May 25, 2015 8:55 pm
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Friday May 15th - So Sushi Me

Ben Bateson
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We welcomed a new gamer to the club this week in the shape of Suzanna. She's played a few games, and judging by her Facebook page is a Cube Quest fan, so this can only be a promising start!

Tony had pulled out Sushi Go to start: a neat little drafting game, which was only marginally threatened by Tony burying his nose in the rulebook when it would have been quicker just to look at the scoring system on the bottom of the cards. It was swift and enjoyable, a good gateway for Suz, and John won. Tony tends to mimic the effects of a mild coronary every time I profess to like crowdfunded games these days, but I think the last few months have proved an important point: you are more likely to find a slimline, small-box card game of excellent standard on Kickstarter (cf. Harbour, Elevenses, Eggs & Empires as well as Sushi Go) than some overblown, under-tested big-box nonsense.

With a typically awkward six-player contingent once Bill arrived, we devolved ourselves in two direction. Suzanna got her introduction to Guilds Of London - lucky girl, a sneak preview of this year's big Essen hit - and did well to beat Becky to second place (behind Tony, natch) while John and Bill joined me in trying out Amyitis.

Amyitis is one of those games that I have had on the shelf for way too long. Like all Ystari games, it has a uniquely bad and illogical rule-book which puts me off teaching, and it was a bit of a slog as I had to mirror Tony in pulling apart lumps of prose. The childish comment about 'camel tokens' from across the room didn't help either, but we eventually got underway.

ONCE you have got started, it's a remarkably straightforward game of timing and some baffling area control, the bafflement mostly being cause by the speed at which the temples turn over. John took to the role of gardening well (unsurprisingly for a Plant), I did much irrigation for 2 points a pop, and Bill - lacking a banker for income - devoted plenty of attention to palace upgrades. The fact that he pipped me for the Level 5 palace indicated I was probably trying to spread my wares too thinly, but I did snaffle up the 10-point Gardens tile for a spirited comeback. As it turned out, I might have done better by waiting for a turn, because Bill won by a solitary point, with John dossing around some way back. We all had positive impressions of the game in a 'not too often, though' sort of way, which is fair enough.

A quick filler of Tsuro notwithstanding (Suzanna-Tony calamitous draw), we had 7 Wonders all set up to finish for our 6P end-of-night treat. Or so I thought. Tony and Becky between them had made a godawful hash of something as simple as 'dealing cards', so I left them to reboot the whole game while I bought another beer. Second time around, they got it right, but it didn't stop me from making a bit of a bollix of playing Babylon side A, ignoring Science cards that I really should have and optimistically trying to compete with Suzanna to my right on battle cards. Tony and John tied this game out with 58 points apiece, and - as is only right and proper - we re-dealt (under MY supervision this time) for a second go.

This time, I had the Colossus (not my favourite Wonder), and although I acquitted myself a bit better - Lighthouse plus full-house battle points plus a cheeky 13 science points - it was nothing compared to Suzanna, who deservedly won her first game at the club with a massive 60-something points; everyone else trailing way back in the 40s.

Well done, Suz, and I hope we see you again!
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Sun May 17, 2015 2:10 pm
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Friday May 8th - Stichy Stichs

Ben Bateson
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Tonight we welcomed Surya and Miryam on one of their occasional club visits, and much merriment was had of GOTWs number 497, 498 and 499 all sharing the same table. With a seven players expected, Surya had prudently brought along Sticheln in all its mind-melty convention-twisty goodness. Bill and Becky both learned the hard way with big negative scores early on, and Becky methodically redirected her strategy towards 'beating' Dave's club-record low score, a target which she achieved with some ease over three tortuous rounds. Myself, I flirted with negative scores, but was pleased enough to scrape enough for third place behind Surya and Miryam.

Six-player fare was unlikely to sustain us for the whole evening, so we split into a three and a four: Bill, Becky and I for a diverse trio of games, where JP and Tony got stuck into Roll for the Galaxy with our visitors. I don't have any details on who won 'Roll', but it was clearly good enough that they played three games.

First up on 'Table 2' was perennial favourite, St Petersburg. The first round treated me miserably, giving Bill the best two 'Start Player' tokens, dealing me a miserable 6+7 craftsmen (we always play the very first craftsmen round 'switchback' style to negate luck, but it didn't work in this case), and giving Becky an opportune Observatory. Things were looking bleak. But I levelled-up big time with aristocrats, and managed to delay the final round by leaving just one card on the green and blue spaces in order to maximise the cashing in. But Becky was gaining fast and with a massive cash advantage she nearly swept the board on the last two rounds. The final score? A near-miraculous 132-point tie! Bill was some way behind, just breaking into three figures, but it was one of the most intense St P sessions any of us could remember.

We moved to Biblios next. My opening hands were worryingly short on scoring cards, but I chose to go 'Big Money' and tough out the auction phase. No joy! I got outbid by Bill for a couple of key cards, overspent on the church cards (in retrospect, I should have ignored them altogether) and between us we ceded a remarkable four out of five categories to Becky. You're NOT SUPPOSED to be able to win four out of five categories at this game, and I'm still trying to work out what sort of trickery she employed. I will have to eat my words after sneering at John for scoring zero points, for I managed exactly the same.

To finish, a lively game of Braggart which drew alternate envious glances and puzzled stares from the 'Roll' table. The undoubted highlight was Bill being caught in the Queen's bedchamber, by the King no less, but still managing to gain employment in the Royal Court nevertheless. But he couldn't cope with some vanilla-type cardplay from me. Eschewing Liar and Ploy cards, I managed to clock up a sizable victory.

The Rollers were still carrying on with their third game as we left. I can only assume it is quite addictive.
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Sun May 17, 2015 1:37 pm
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Friday May 1st - The Life of Pi-deck

Ben Bateson
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Another 'classic 5' night, but with Dan always a little steady on arrival, there was Tony time to dole out King of Frontier again and slowly start recouping his money's worth. Leaving aside the flimsy player mats and the fact that it is all in Japanese, I found it to be an engaging cross between Puerto Rico and Carcassonne. I couldn't for the life of me draw any stone-producing tiles though, and that kept me out of the running throughout, content just to feed my cities. JP trumped that, though, with a big field and a big city and razed the VP pile in short order for the win.

Dan had overseen the end of the game, and Tony pulled out Eggs & Empires before any of us could protest. Sure enough, the inevitable happens, and Becky beat him 46-44-x-y-z. I'm pretty sure I was the y and Dan was the z. But Becky has something of a miracle-working streak when it comes to this game and by my reckoning has won five out of her six plays to date.

John aquiesced to a main-event Agricola very gracefully, and in fact did himself proud with a three-way tie for second place. Dan's cards were shuffled all up together, so we drafted and I landed on a workable little Pi-deck combo: the Wounded Soldier (get 2 Food every round but 1 less resource from accumulation spaces) and the Marriage Counsellor (if you have fewest Family Members pay 1 Food every round for a guest token). Very sensibly, my Marriage Counsellor also advised going to the pub a lot: I built the Tavern early on and abused it for twenty points! Combined with my 'kitchen showroom' selection, my bonus points totalled 30 of my final score of 31! It was dead last, but a blast of an alternative strategy to play, and I was only one Family Growth away from joining the three-way tie (Tony's opportune stealing of the Ock/FG space in about Round 7 didn't help my case either). Of course, the one downside to my strategy was that I was leaving too many rich pickings open for Tony, to my left, and he ran away with things slightly, operating an unusual (for him) no-baking strategy. All in all, a thoroughly rich Agricola experience.

We closed with an excellent round of Too Many Cooks, and remarkably for a 5P, scores were very close right into the final round. Here John managed to make a mess of things as usual, playing a No Soup card and showing us his hand. He went on to lose by a single point to yours truly: very much an advertisement for the old adage of keeping ones cards close to the chest.

We finished relatively early: Becky and I with an early appointment at the Cardiff Games Day on Saturday - for more of which, see here.
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Mon May 4, 2015 3:17 pm
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Friday April 24th - Potty Training

Ben Bateson
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With Becky crying off due to extreme tiredness at the last minute, it left us with five old hands this week, and it left Tony yet again carrying his pile of games for 4 straight back out to the car, muttering bizarre oaths and incantations.

Bill had brought along a game that I very much liked the look of in the shape of Colt Express, and after a typically meandering Bill rules explanation (much of which had to be repeated for Tony was by now starting to glaze over), we dived in. It's all very straightforward fare, really: even John was able to play at a good uptempo pace as he edged out Dave in the first game and Bill in the second.

There's a lot to like about Colt Express: the 3D train, the compact playing time, the fast gameplay (the game is positively better if you whip up the pace), the opportunities for storytelling and the outright hilarity when something goes wrong (Dave spent much of the second time wandering around the back of the train waving his fists in the air and trying to steal imaginary gold). I believe everyone enjoyed it very much; certainly the unanimous vote to play a second time was evidence enough.

Because we were in 'lighter' territory mood, I offered up Cyrano next - the Balderdash-poetry game having plenty of people to the creative, educated minds around the table. And John as well. Dave set a bit of a precedent by giving his first poem a title(!), which led to a good ten minutes ribbing at his expense before he even got chance to read. Tony's poems were witty, mine were rude, Bill's were erudite and John's were just downright weird. The best I can find, rooting through the used scoresheets, is Dave on 'Gastronomy':

Some foodies talk a load of bile
Because if you're coeliac
Eating normally is a trial
It's vitamins and minerals they lack


A second game was AGAIN demanded, but this may have proved to be an error. Succumbing to 'dry pen' syndrome during the very first writing session, Tony got all frustrated, snapped his pencil in half and walked off for the evening. We called Cyrano - it doesn't really work with less than 5 anyway.

Instead we finished with very much our game du jour, Harbour. It was an excellent layout tonight, with a little bit more control than usual over the resource market. I snapped up a couple of valuable buildings early, but the Tax Collector was an ever-present threat and my game foundered on those 22 points. It was Bill who came through at the last minute, building a fourth cheap building to snatch the game out from under the nose of John.

A great illustration tonight of how the best games don't need to be the most complicated.
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Sat Apr 25, 2015 9:29 pm
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Friday April 17th - Lol-a-palazzo

Ben Bateson
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For the first time this year we were ousted to the 'rear dining area' (read: back room) by marauding diners. I had a tasty candidate list of games for five, which was a good job given Tony yet again turned up with a stack of boxes marked 2-4P.

Waiting for Bill, we dealt out a quick Eggs & Empires, and to no-one's great surprise, Becky continued her winning run from last week and JP continued his losing run from the same. It doesn't feel quite right with four - only two cards in the middle - but is an excellent reserve for 5-6 player ultra-fillers.

Becky and John both had an inclination to play Airlines Europe, and Bill also turned his fancy towards it (although he does tend to get it confused with Jet Set for some reason). Bill did get somewhat distracted with 'persuade Danny the dog that there's a dartboard' antics (it's better not to ask), and dropped well back quite quickly, with two unprofitable airlines. It was clearly going to a tight finish between Becky and John, the former preferring wide and uncritical diversification and the latter somehow managing to squeeze out a couple of Abacus shares late on under pressure. I built the Yellow airline up to maximum revenue but didn't quite have enough subsidiary stockholding to back it up. And Tony? He managed to convince himself from the outset that he wasn't going to enjoy it, and managed a low level of sub-grumbling self-pity throughout. His subsequent claims that is is an inferior game to Ticket to Ride are ridiculously unfounded.

The final tot-up gave Becky a dozen points over John, and as a reward for Tony (for not throwing a complete wobbly), I let him select the next game. Wisely, as it turned out, for he chose the delightful and perennial favourite: Princes of Florence. Much dog-related punning ensued while dishing out the Doges (woof!) and indeed the Labs (woof woof!). Becky, on a two-week non-stop winning streak, randomly selected the start player. It turned out to be herself, so I asked Tony to re-draw. He drew Becky again, so the fates were clearly decided tonight. I seem to have been fourth or fifth seat every time I've played this for the last year, but I wasn't unhappy to pick up a cheap-as-chips Prestige Card on round 1. When a second one joined it in short course, that more or less determined the course of my game. Unfortunately, I'd picked the wrong two, as Builders flocked to my palace and I failed to pick up the third freedom after a mad rush on freedom-buying in Round 3. A couple of rounds later, Becky bought her third jester and it was pretty much over, despite Tony's best efforts and a near-brush with John's recurring misogynistic Tourettes.

I think it was about this time that we came up with the basic concept for Roll For The Harris, a game that will definitely never see the light of day.

To finish, a trio of Coloretto, and - remarkably - not won by Becky (one suspects that she was feeling lenient towards John and Tony by now). We played the far superior 'grey' scoring for once, and it brought many an agonised decision and perhaps some less than dignified behaviour from yours truly - destined to come flat last in nearly everything we play this month.
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Sun Apr 19, 2015 10:08 pm
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Friday April 10th - Enough to Thurn one's stomach

Ben Bateson
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All our horological stars seemed to align this week as EXACTLY the right number of people turned up at EXACTLY the times promised. Organising games is a doddle under these sort of circumstances.

We started with fillers-for-five, awaiting Dan's 8:15 arrival, but more importantly to prevent Tony continuing his extended diatribe on his gastric troubles (a tin of baked beans was involved, and that's as much as I wish to share). He was equally happy, as it turned out, to teach us how to play the jolly little Eggs and Empires: Becky and Dave both seemed to pick it up pretty quickly, Dave gaining an unerring ability to sneak the last blue card from every tableau and Becky winning the first two games outright. This led to some exceedingly unchivalrous conduct from JP which - again - is perhaps best not related

I can't remember who won the third game, my memory having been obliterated by the worst case of 'winning badly' I have encountered in quite some weeks. You might need to refer to Tony's blog for details.

While you're there, make sure you don't miss the expert post-mortem of the game of Botswana that follows, from none less than Botswana grandmaster-in-waiting, Matt Green. It might have been advanced for Tony, who demonstrated the need for more remedial work: some of the opening rounds were spent teaching him the difference between elephants and rhinos, and how to count up to six.

Unfortunately, my French Zebra gambit was less than successful from fifth seat, but I did achieve a flamboyant comeback with no less than 50 points in the last two rounds. It was only good enough for third place, though, Becky was on a roll and had pipped Gentleman Dave by a single point in the final reckoning. John scored a hilariously bad 8 points in the final round to subsume Tony and make a hat-trick of 'completely last'.

Dan arrived promptly on the final reckoning and we split for two tables of three. Tony has been keen to share Deus for some time, so he whisked Dan and JP off to a side table, while Becky Dave and I briefly pondered Keyflower before instead settling on Dan's copy of Agricola, which he had conveniently brought along. There were some ugly looks from the confirmed Agricoholics on the other table (Tony's ugly looks persisted throughout the game, although it's often hard to differentiate from his normal expression), but we ploughed on nevertheless (see what I did there?).

A lot of 3P Agricola games are notoriously food-poor, but there were very few problems today as Dave got up and running on a grain engine and I abused the Seasonal Worker. For a while it looked like Dave might threaten Becky for second place as her planned combos didn't come together, but he foundered a bit late on, trying to do all his baking on a Fireplace rather than shelling out on a nice shiny oven. By this time, I had all my fences built and a full-blown ranching operation underway, and took a rather embarrassingly large victory with 47 points to Becky's 30-something and Dave's not-quite-twenty. Very different to the last time we played, when I got all of 6!

We'd played at lightning speed, certainly beating Deus to the finishing post, so Becky suggested Thurn and Taxis and sportingly even agreed to teach it. Unsurprisingly, it being one of her favourite games, she was in control throughout, although Dave did come through well on his debut for second place.

Tony, Dave and Dan had by now moved onto King of Frontier (Tony still desperately trying to justify the metric-crapload of money that it cost him), so we just had time for a closing For Sale. Tony likes this little charmer with 5-6, but to my mind, it's absolutely best with 3. Becky won this one too: in fact the placings were identical, but the scores were a lot closer: 72-71-67. A good evening for the lady wife, all things considered.
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Sun Apr 12, 2015 12:59 pm
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Friday April 3rd - A Small Resurrection

Ben Bateson
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Regular Ross-on-Wye followers will know that we generally celebrate Good Friday (or, indeed, as many Bank Holidays as we can) with a double-length games session and dinner courtesy of the White Lion's restaurant menu. So it was with much anticipation that I somehow squeezed myself into the cramped car park, pulling up alongside a jovial Norm and Keith.

While waiting for any extras to turn up, we had a browse of Norm's wishlist (conclusion: buy Steam and maybe CV; don't bother with the rest), and he mentioned that he was also pondering Splendor. "That's fortuitous" say I - still beer-free at this early juncture - "I have a copy in the bag!"

At that moment, Paul wandered in for his first visit in quite some time, and that set us up perfectly for an opening game. So Splendor it was, and Norm caught on pretty quickly, winning with a good spread of Level 2 cards. His opinion pretty much mirrored mine in the post-mortem: it's nice, but we can't understand what is so special as to get everyone wetting themselves with excitement about a fairly routine game.

Bill, too, had by now made his appearance. I had something of a shortage of 5P games, expecting to be smaller tables of 3-4 all day, but we did have the good old fall-back of 7 Wonders, with the added advantage that no-one required any teaching. Paul launched himself in admirably, given that he hadn't played very much, and indeed finished a solid second in Game 1, behind Norm's collection of science points. It's almost forbidden to play 7W only once, having got it out the box, so we re-dealt for a second effort, with much accompanying grumbling as everyone had to randomise seating and therefore shift their drinks, mobile phones and assorted other accoutrements. Game 2 went heavily my way, with no less than four Guild cards, and I didn't even use my Colossus to best effect, losing both battles in the final round. I still ended up with a 50+ point win nevertheless.

The 7 Blunders variant is much in vogue at Ross-on-Wye at the minute, and rather than dip a toe into the clumsy and prolonging 7 Wonders expansion, we were happy to play the 'Go For Broke' version as a finale to the early-afternoon session. Paul looked to have a march on us early on, but always managed to trip across one buildable card, whereas Keith tended to score even more than when he was trying to win. Norm and I both went 'big resource', which is always a gamble, but both ushered them home for 27 points apiece and a high-scoring tie (where 'high-scoring' is a bad thing, natch).

Tony and Benedict had made a pre-prandial appearance as the game drew to a conclusion, and Tony passed some typical 'expert' disparaging remarks about inferior variants. I suspect in this case that 'expert' equates to 'not having played the variant'. He proudly pulled out his new copy of The King of Frontier. While this looked like a perfectly fine game, it seems to have been another case of gamer-cred triumphing over common sense, as it seemed to have cost him about £60 and came with player mats that looked like they'd been run off on an Epson deskjet printer. Despite Tony winning two in a row, Paul and Norm both looked to have enjoyed themselves, and it's one I'd like to try too.

Meanwhile, Bill Keith and I went in for Vikings. This remains a personal favourite of mine, and I've never been disappointed by it. It was an unusual game with lots of odd Vikeeple distributions (lots of reds early, greys late, and barely any blues at all), and Keith adapted well in his first game, building up an adequate defence against pirate ships that never really materialised. This was largely because I'd nabbed them all on the last round, using a big monetary advantage, and putting faith in my mass of boatmen to win. It wasn't to be. Bill had played a frugal and penny-pinching game, and most critically recruited enough fisherman from the pitiful assortment on offer. Therefore, the final 'feeding' score-up saw him overhaul me for a thrilling win.

We moved onto the quick crowd-pleaser that is Port Royale, although the game opening was somewhat tainted by Bill's negligent shuffling, meaning we drew our way through pretty much all the ships first and all the people second. Having indoctrinated Keith into the proper way to pronounce 'Pinasse', we had much merriment and Barquing (woof!) on the way to a narrow win for Bill from the Start position; we could do nothing to prevent it on our 'extra' turns.

Dinner seemed imminent, Becky had arrived, and the KoF table had switched to an optimistic game of Harbour. Tony insisted they'd be finished well before the food arrived, but of course they weren't and the poor serving girl had to negotiate plates of pies and steak in between cards and the 'pirate' meeples that actually look a lot more like Krusty the Klown.

With Becky, we had a much more suitable 'dinner-surrounding' game in mind, and the low-footprint Love Letter provided much merriment, not least when Keith managed to accuse me of being the Countess on the very first turn. Who accuses the Countess, honestly? In between a sublime steak and a bread-and-butter pudding, I managed to overcome that problem and claim what I believe is my first ever Love Letter win.

Harbour managed to be polished off at more or less the same time (Tony claiming an unfeasibly large final score), and with JP arriving and Bill and Paul on their way (amid claims the two were coincidental) we had a good reshuffle for two tables of four and some proper meaty Euro-fare for the evening session. Keyflower was preferred by Tony, Benedict and JP, along with me of course. Becky had insisted that Norm and Keith bring Rococo so that was where the other half of the table settled.

Keyflower, as ever, was brilliant. Benedict went heavy-meeple and John built an impressive wood-storage engine. Tony dabbled here and there, but mostly made an inconvenience of himself in fine gaming tradition (not least by dropping a green man on my transport tile as winter opened). Somehow, Benedict's pay-off failed to materialise, even with his 10-meeple surplus, and he trailed behind a thriller of a first-place battle. Pushing my available resources to the limit, I somehow managed to upgrade everything in my vast and sprawling village without my premium transport tile, and 64 points was a couple ahead of John, and only a few up on Tony.

The Rococo table apparently played out to an equally thrilling end. I leaned over and asked Norm who was going to win as they started the final count, and he admitted it was too close to call. Despite Becky apparently occupying most of the roof, Norm managed to remain undefeated at dress-making.

The Boydells were also leaving, and we were in danger of shedding people faster at 8 o'clock than we had gained them at 2 o'clock. JP and I had time for a quick filler of Elevenses, but disappointingly it didn't seem to work very well with 2P at all. And we were back to five again, which limited our options somewhat. Norm, though, had brought along a treat that we hadn't enjoyed for far too long in the shape of Small World.

My Alchemist Halflings were free, and a reasonably solid opening choice, although they paled alongside Becky's (sitting fourth) Seafaring Skeletons, which did much damage early on. Norm went into decline early, allowing his Spirit Wizards to keep scoring, and picked up some devastating Dragonmaster Ratmen, which were scoring him ten points or thereabouts and earned him a sharp backlash from John's Hill Amazons and my second race of Heroic Trolls. I had planned to take the Trolls through to the end-game, but I was still eyeing up cutting Norm down to size and there were Cursed Gypsies on the tableau amassing money. Keith by now was on a roll with Imperial Goblins and had wiped out my peacefully declining Halflings, so I declined the Trolls early and pinched the nine coins on the Gypsies, nursing them out of trouble for the final few rounds. It was during these rounds that Becky scored massively with some Bivouacking Leprechauns and Were-Homunculi (taken in round 8, the latter was absolutely devastating). It was too close to call, although I wasn't surprised to see Norm nick it by a few points, but there was very little in between the final scores.

JP concluded the game with a short rant on why the last player was at a disadvantage and completely failed to accept a valid mirror-argument that the first player(s) are equally disadvantaged on the opening rounds. A quick glance at the fora hereabouts should set him right, anyway.

Buccaneer was our next choice as we entered the fillers-and-chillers section of the day. Despite his rantings, John played extremely coolly and clinically and pulled down an absolutely massive win, unaffected almost entirely by the inevitable Long John Silver impressions from Norm and Keith. I came off particularly badly in one mutiny and ended up dishing over most of my personal fortune to Norm.

Phew! And we weren't quite done. For what is a day of noise, chaos and excellent food without a sweetener in the form of Dobble? After a quick dig at Becky's non-existent croupier skills, John made absolutely no impact on this one. Norm and I traded early rounds before Becky got her eye in and won enough to make her the nominal victor of the session. Even Keith managed to take down a round of Hot Potato towards the end.

For those concerned with such things, my Extended Stats page reveals Good Friday to be the best day of gaming so far in 2015, and sixth best on the all-time list!
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Sun Apr 5, 2015 9:05 pm
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Friday March 27th - Harbour No Doubts!

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
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With Wendy on a promise to arrive, Tony threw an unassuming quick filler on the table to start. But it turned out to be so much more than just a quick card shuffler.

Harbour is a Le Havre-lite: a game where you manipulate the prices of the four commodities while collecting enough to ship. The action system is directly pinched from Le Havre (place your single worker on one of your buildings for free or pay another player to use his), and the fact that the game is derivative is one of the few criticisms I can level against it. Harbour feels distinctly more streamlined and less fussy than its inspiration, and the fact that it comes in a small box for under £20 makes it highly recommendable. Indeed, it was so recommendable, that JP, Bill and I all went home and bought our own copy! I can't pretend that happens every week.

With just enough decisions to make nothing obvious, Game 1 brought much head-scratching, especially from Bill, but found John mercifully free of his usual analytical spasms. He bought up a cheap building near the end to edge me out by only a resource or two.

Tony then introduced us to the custom abilities on the OTHER side of the home card, and this is really what provides the step up. With Wendy looking unlikely to arrive now, we played a second game, John winning much more comfortably, and then basked in discussion of what is proving to be an early contender for 'find of the year'.

I can honestly say it's been a long, long time since I played any new game as good as Harbour, and it's proof that even the fetid, dank and dangerous Kickstarter coal-mine occasionally turns out a diamond. Copies are at Board Game Guru for a smidgen over £15, and I strongly recommend you investigate - you might even get a free copy of Scandaroon with it!

So, our short filler had taken a tad over two hours, and we offered John free-pick of the assorted mid-length games that make up our typical fare. He chose wisely: Furstenfeld was probably our last 'find' before tonight, and it is rapidly becoming a favourite. We have virtually Dan from playing it, but luckily he wasn't around, so the skill gradient was a little bit flatter.

Bill and I both found ourselves with unpalatable opening hands, and much grumbling accompanied the need to put cards on the bottom. Tony looked to have struck gold early, with an efficient Town Hall/Lab combo sifting the best cards out of his deck. I went for 'big barley', and reaped a couple of lucrative rounds out of the office. Surprisingly, that was about as good-heavy as anyone got, and the prices at all four breweries crept upwards throughout. John overhauled Tony by means of brutal Scavenging (I think he finished with a deck of 7 cards) and he looked all set for the win with a big pile of cash. But it was an unassuming Bill who erected two palace buildings in two rounds and brought the game to a halt while everyone was distracted looking at John's board.

With barely 15 minutes remaining, a ferret around in our various bags failed to produce Braggart - the only thing we had deemed to be sufficient closing material after two such fun games. So we wound our merry ways comfortably before closing time. But we could never claim not to have had our fill of the fine fare on offer.
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Sun Mar 29, 2015 9:48 pm
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