The Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers

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

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Friday November 20th - Mum's the Word

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
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After my exploits at Midcon last weekend, it was back to normal at the White Lion this week. In fact, it was almost a little sub-normal, for without JP, Suzanna and many of the regulars there might have been something of a dearth of games-players. Thankfully, my mother was visiting for the weekend: a perfectly adequate gamer in her own right, she made up the quartet with Becky, myself and Tony.

First up was Glass Road, the latest in my line of 'games to get enthusiastic about'. I had had an excellent introduction to it on the Friday of Midcon, and was pleased that it seemed to roll out very well amid the RoWBGers. It should have been a bit of a no-brainer, to be honest, the short play-length and condensed Rosenberg mechanics make it highly suitable to our general style. I most liken it to an hour=long Ora et Labora with a great card mechanic tacked on.

With a bit of prompting from myself, then Mum worked herself into a good Forestry-and-Wood engine, Tony went for the highest scoring buildings, and Becky put together a massive series of Ponds. But I had comboed together a great 'discard tiles from your private offer' set of blue tiles and had the run of resources in the endgame to score my first win. Both Tony and Becky are keen to see more plays, so that can only be a good thing.

Trying to keep things relatively light tonight, we moved onto a Boydell Classic, Totemo. I still rate this as by far the best of his designs (Snow-what, now?), and was pleased to demonstrate the Bateson opening (plonk a 2-scoring cube on the opening rainbow, score 5 and give someone else the problem). It developed into a really awkward board - one colour (purple) being almost entirely absent until the endgame. And Tony, yet again, failed to beat me (this is an event as traditional and unstoppable as Hallowe'en, Christmas or the first round at the White Lion including two bags of pork scratchings). Although that didn't mean I was victorious, oh no. Becky managed to sneak clear with a couple of rounds to go, and I couldn't do a thing to catch up.

Reducing Tony to conniptions of incompetence was clearly going to a theme of the night once we got stuck into Dixit. Despite a worrying buttocksy-theme running through the game, Mum and I had our usual level of intuition going on and threatened to leave the rest behind, especially as Tony went about five consecutive rounds failing to guess the correct answer (no mean feat when there's only a choice of four). Becky threatened a late surge, but I held her off for the win.

Tony's latest squeeze is the delightfully-illustrated and frankly rather barking Pi mal Pflaumen (or, in the Yorkshire translation: "Pie'n'Plooms"). He seems to be under the impression that I dislike it, but in reality I find it an entertaining if overly unstrategisable card game. Certainly, Mum took to it well enough, enjoying a joint victory with - again - yours truly. I was rather threatening to run away with things tonight.

Codenames to finish, as is often the way. Becky, as usual, explored the boundaries of what was actually acceptable in this game, leading to much complaint with clues like 'Woolly Mammoth' and 'London Underground' (both ruled illegal by me). Justice was served and Ma-and-son beat her in her round as the cluemaster. In the return tie, we ALMOST picked up a four-to-finish to snatch the game from under Tony's nose, but justice was served and we went away honours even.

I suspect Codenames, if not Dixit too, might be appearing under the Christmas tree in my mother's house...
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Sun Nov 22, 2015 8:48 pm
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Friday November 6th - Brewing up a Storm

Ben Bateson
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We had nominal replies for eight players tonight, but at the appointed 1930 hours, only the 'usual' contingent of Tony, JP and the Batesons were in attendance. Knowing Mike/Helen and Ed/Suzanna as not renowned for their punctuality, we set about a couple of fillers with gusto.

Pi mal Pflaumen was first, and an opportunity for me to experience Tony's plums first-hand. I quite enjoyed the semi-blind bidding and set collection, although a freakishly good card draw on round 2 felt a bit off-kilter. My pun about Becky's use of the 'Pi' cards being "somewhat irrational" met with a satisfactory array of groans (at least from those that understood the joke), and the title is crying out for an English translation into solid Yorkshire working stock: "Ey oop, lads, oo's in for Pi 'n' Plooms?"

With still no sign of the younger quartet of gamers, we moved onto Sushi Go, marred only slightly by Tony's - ah - culturally-insensitive pronunciation of the word 'nigiri' during rules explanations. I had a solid first round, but floundered towards the end, especially being deprived of the precious puddings which cost me a 6-point penalty at the final count-up. Becky won, we think, sort of probably. There were some counting issues...

Mike and Helen were now in attendance and Tony was itching to play Minerva. I was keen to try it out too, but not wanting to leave three reluctant learners together, I suggested Mike become the third player while I re-hashed Furstenfeld with Helen and Becky. We made a brisk start, with only minimal rules reminders required, and I had just gotten stuck into a solid Crane strategy when Ed and Suzanna FINALLY arrived, meaning - with the Minerva players showing studious indifference - we had to reset for 5P. Still, one of the beauties of Furstenfeld is that it's really not hard to teach; Ed soon latched onto a 'big production' strategy, and Suzanna was Scavenging with abandon. But, for once, my deck had actually harmonised with what I was trying to achieve, and I first used the market to capitalise on a barley shortage, followed by a highly convenient Tour Guide, to ease in my sixth Palace building for a relatively stress-free win.

About midway through, raised voices were heard from the Minerva table. This normally means that either John has broken the game or something amiss has happened with Tony's rule-teaching. It transpired the latter was at fault this time, and Tony lasted for one grumpy game of Roll for the Galaxy before stalking off, as he has a tendency to do when people dismiss his latest pet game.

The Essen re-hash of Res Publica 2230AD was high on my wishlist this year, and this table of five seemed as good a place as any to break it out, although my meandering rules explanations met with scorn, not only from Helen (who was more interested in hooking back up with Mike [as if she never sees him at home...]) but from a neighbouring table of Drunk Old Fools, who offered such wonderful insights during the setup as 'looks horrible!' and 'is it anything like Cribbage?'. Still, once the card exchanges and interactions were sorted out, we found a pleasant and simple trading game underneath that even Becky's limited-tolerance-for-sci-fi couldn't really overcome. The girls probably played a bit too nicely-nicely, which meant easy pickings for the rest of us, and I finished my final planet segment just marginally before Ed was planning on doing the same. I have a soft spot for Res Publica - the old version (Drunk Old Fools - 'Old? Old?! I was playing dominoes in the 1970s!') was my first proper Euro and I think the reprint has done a great job of bringing it up to scratch.

Helen gratefully escaped (I suspect a similar sci-fi phobia to Becky) to oversee Mike's second game of Roll for the Galaxy against JP, and the three of them subsequently instigated some uproarious High Society fun. In fact, so much fun was had that at closing time they set up a second game including one of the Drunk Old Fools as a fourth player! I didn't find out what the dramatic conclusion of this one was.

Ed, Suzanna, Becky and I filled up the remaining half-hour with a grittily good game of San Juan. Suzanna started exploiting a great building combo early, so we knew it wasn't going to take long. I had dealt myself the Monument-combo, so had to stolidly grit my teeth and say 'not building' every time Suz - to my right - took the Builder, while using Councillor for some desperate deck-filtering. But it worked out OK in the end, and I won by a solitary point over Suzanna's mass of cheap buildings and Ed's Chapel.

Five great games tonight, and eight for the group as a whole - Tony might have had a bit of a huff, but I enjoyed every one of them.
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Sun Nov 8, 2015 12:40 pm
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Friday October 30th - The 'burbs

Ben Bateson
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I had hankering to properly break out my new copy of Suburbia this week. All my previous plays seem to have been in too-cosy 'home settings', so I was looking for proper cut-throat interaction. I was in for a treat!

Becky clapped her hands with inexplicable joy at the tedious Voyages of Marco Polo, so I left her to it, merrily destroying a table of Tony, Bill and John. I had the far more interesting assortment of Benedict, Ed and Suzanna: they lapped up the rules teaching and the fiddly hex-interactions and were each pushing their own agenda pretty quick. I shot out to an early lead on the traditional money-engine, overtaking Ed, who went stubbornly 'big population' early on at the expense of his finances. For a while, it looked like Benedict's airport-and-restaurant empire would triumph, and if the game had gone on longer I think it might have. But the 'trigger' tile was at the very top of the C Stack, and endgame-scoring hit us in the teeth. Suzanna, on a flat zero with her building-site of a plot, made the most of it, picking up 55 points' worth of bonuses, but it was Ed who won, overhauling me (I scored precisely nothing from the bonus tiles, and there's a lesson to be learned there) at the very death for his first ever win at the club! And more were to follow...

Benedict took a brief sojourn to my games bag, and returned clasping Codenames, so we organised a rotating schedule whereby everyone could play with everyone else. I don't remember it being a classic session, being distinctly mismatched with both Benedict and Suzanna (Suzanna's preamble: "Don't give me any clues about sport! Or films! Or cars or planes! Or pop music!"), but managed to salvage a bit of pride when cluing for Ed, a game which gave rise to the notorious conversation from our opponents:

Suzanna: Did you actually read ALL these cards?
Benedict: No...

I don't remember it being a classic session, but Ed might debate otherwise, being by far the highest scoring player at the end of the rotation.

During my pre-session email, I had mooted about playing 'something scary', for it was nearly Hallowe'en. When, from across the room, I heard Tony offering to 'pop his plums on the table and have people deal with them', I couldn't possibly envisage anything more terrifying. But it turned out they were just playing Pi mal Pflaumen, the latest Matthias Cramer offering, and one for which they had enough time for two rounds (going the way of Tony and cardgame-afficionado Bill).

Our choice of Scary Game was the barkingly ludicrous Terror in Meeple City. It started slowly, with some ponderous setup and teaching accompanied by snorts of 'Pah! Dexterity game!'-like derision from the neighbouring table. But once we got stuck in, pretty much everyone made the journey across the pub to watch the destruction. I believe everyone had plenty of fun, which is pretty much the objective fulfilled, and although the final score was probably of secondary importance, I also claimed a victory by a narrow margin over Ed and Benedict. After spending the opening portion of the evening building up little suburbs, it was kinda fitting to spend the end portion knocking them all down.
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Sun Nov 8, 2015 11:21 am
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Friday 23rd October - Planters' Punch

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
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With just Dave and JP expected tonight, it felt like a cosy old-style evening around the fire for the RoWBGers. Shame we were thrust into the chilly back-room and too stubborn to make our presence felt by the warm fire.

Never mind the pure temperature, for the games were more than adequately warming tonight. I hadn't even gotten back with my first pint by the time JP had started scattering Codenames cards all over the table. After a short pause to rectify Dave to an agreeable learning position, we launched in and Dave was more than credible in his first game. I struggled repeatedly over the word 'Grace', though: surely one of the hardest in the whole game. Only Becky was able to understand my breakthrough 'Lighthouse:3' clue ('Tower' + 'Sound' + 'Grace'), and I found myself in the unprecedented position of wondering whether my wife was actually any good at this game.

The reserve match did Dave equally proud, until Becky dropped an outstanding clue for her final three ('Depression:3' = 'Wind'+'Sink'+'Poison'), and left us out in the cold. No complaints against that sort of clueing, though.

Warming to the task, Becky and JP produced Santiago de Cuba. This is infamous as the 2P game at which I cannot beat Becky, but she seemed delightfully out of her depth in the full 4P version. I went for the VP-money exchange early on, giving myself enough money in the first circuit to buy out the entire game. But there was some lovely synergy on the tobacco -> cigar and sugar -> rum conversion tiles which gave John and Becky a way back in. Dave went all 'plantation owner' on us, but critically ran out of money in a finale which saw him positively giving points away to his opposition. John had this sewn up by half-a-dozen points or so in the end.

I had a guilty hidden-agenda for tonight, and it was in order to get Urbanization played (the full story involves a ridiculously constrictive A-Z challenge and a hold-all that is starting to split at the seams), so I was pleased when John waved it about in the air and proclaimed 'I fancy this as the main event'. And a real main event it was too. Urbanization has been justifiably repelled around here due to some dodgy Kickstarter ethics from Queen and a truly terrible rulebook, but I had sensed there was something else underneath. Sure enough, our inaugural game was plagued by rules 'interpretations' and queries, but Dave competently overhauled John and I within inches of the game end by building a veritable city of admin buildings, only to be eventually beaten by Becky's 'big grain' strategy. 'Next time we play...' was a common mantra upon re-boxing, and I can't help but feel we've discovered a hidden gem here.

Brazenly finishing my agenda, I positively demanded a couple of shivering final rounds of Elevenses at the death knell. Ponderous though John was, we managed to speed through another couple of rounds for Becky's benefit (and tick off another awkward A-Z game, more importantly!). What's more, I appear to have won that one, when all's said and done! Makes a change...
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Sat Oct 24, 2015 1:14 am
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Friday October 16th - Castles in the Skye

Ben Bateson
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Bright and cheery from Essen did Tony come. He had a stuffed bagful of goodies and games for us to try out. With some uncertainty as to the exact numbers tonight (would Helen & Mike turn up? Would they bring their mysterious 'other acquaintance'?), then I persuaded the others we should start with a filler, rather than diving headlong into Inhabit the Earth.

So Tony turfed out Sandcastles for us. Although Bill and JP seemed unusually slow on the uptake with the rules, he assured us that playing a timed version was better. Unusually for my Luddite self, I had brought my iPhone tonight, and kicked off the requisite 15-minute timer.

I'm no fool. I know the best way to play timed games is to take points little and often. And this I did with aplomb, cheekily beating Tony in a three-robber opening move and rapidly completing two- and three-square castles with little regard for the bonus cards. Unfortunately, JP and Bill were no so-minded and spent minute upon minute of agonising lip-licking decision making in choosing which card (of three, mark you, THREE) to play. Inexplicably, about ten minutes into the fifteen-minute game, this convinced Tony to completely change his mind about the victory decisions he had previously dictated, and instead inset the end-of-game card to a Coloretto-norm of '10 cards up from the bottom'.

To say I was mildly outraged with this would be a mild outrage. I can forgive the 'accidental forgetting of game-end rules' syndrome (qf. the legendary 'don't worry about these green cards' first play of 7 Wonders). I can forgive the misinterpretation of bad rulebooks (to whit Lancaster and most of the Key series). But changing the game end victory conditions two-thirds of the way through? Let's just say I was a little aggrieved....

Sandcastles ended with a soulless JP win and an even less soulful Tony Boydell skulking off home, which has to set new standards at Ross for filler material. But Lo! Mike and Helen were shortly to arrive!

We were two-thirds through a consolatory Isle of Skye when they turned up, and asked enough intelligent questions during round 4 (of 6) to be fully up-to-speed by the game's end. Given that I'd won with an embarrassingly high cow-fuelled total, it seemed right to deal out a full 5-player second game. It was an absolute corker by any standards, with bonus tiles rewarding a huge variety of features, and it was a layout that Mike played very neatly indeed, scoring some 20 end-game points to overtake John for the win.

I had the vague hope that Spyfall might be about right for our relatively-novice gamers, but I might have reckoned without the wine-factor. As Helen got increasingly verbose, the game became a little too informal and probably a bit lopsided. Two or three rounds were over in embarrassingly short order, but it might just be a case of lack of practice. It was probably one of the more slapdash of Spyfall sessions that we're ever likely to play, but it's not to say that it wasn't great fun, which more or less validates the game in itself.

We closed off with a duo of High Society, the bidding game that makes everyone go 'Oooohhhhh', when they find out what the hidden end condition is (eh, Tony?). The first game was over relatively quickly (in Helen's favour), but the second went Bill's way after an opportune mid-game buy and an agonising final count-up. Although we'd only been on the relatively light stuff all evening, this took us past 11pm and chucking-out time.

Let this be a lesson to all those who kick Sandcastles in your face...
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Sat Oct 24, 2015 12:34 am
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Friday October 9th - Rustling Camels and Hijacking Blimps

Ben Bateson
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The title, this week, being courtesy of Becky midway game 2.

With most of our regular gaming crowd being away spending masses of money at Spiel, it was just a cosy trio of Becky, myself and John this week. Clearly unimpressed with this, Ian the barman gestured us upstairs to the optimistically-titled 'restaurant'. But we were not to be shunned - we had an evening full of treats in store!

With all the new goodies expected next Friday, this week's theme was 'old favourites', although two of them were comparatively new favourites really. We started with Through The Desert, a unreservedly good choice in terms of gaming potential but an unreservedly poor one for playing in the dingy far corner of the restaurant. The game was fairly peppered with comments along the lines of 'is this a blue camel or a green one?', and I will charitably blame this for John and Becky's failure to prevent me roping-off an embarrassingly large corner of the board and winning very comfortably.

By the time I returned from the bar with a celebratory pint, Becky was unpacking Airships, the clever little dice-engine game that we have been recently reviving during home-games. John had half-memories of a previous game, and picked things up quick enough, although he made some rather eccentric decisions during the game, ending up with only five points, nearly 20 behind me, who had built two Zeppelin bits and forced the game to a close before Becky's engine could catch up. Perhaps because of this rather poor score, John talked us into a rematch, and there was no stopping him this time, as he steamrollered his way through the subordinate airships, leaving me this time on a rubbishy single-figure score.

One game that seemed 'just right' for this trio was Concept, and it wasn't too difficult to fudge together some 3-player rules. But one thing we discovered quickly is that Concept with only two guessers is HARD! It is so easy to get suckered into a sort of anti-groupthink whereby it's impossible to think of a pink animal on kids' TV or the word 'light' from a day/night bit of cluing (for such were two of our embarrassments). But we struggled to an end and Becky claimed a nominal win.

I don't think Concept is QUITE as engaging as it could be, but this is mostly down to the unevenness of the clues: too many seem to rely on objects, phrases or sayings, when I'd prefer the more Charades-like reliance on books, films and TV programmes. But this is perhaps a personal thing, and an obvious offshoot of the fact that the game needed to be internationalised. It does still work for John and me and Becky, despite tonight's frustrations.

Isle of Skye is definitely our 'new old' favourite, and we have played it well into double-figures since its release just a few months ago. Tonight's was a thrilling and very high-scoring game, focussed on tile-arrangements (columns and squares) and money. Valuations, therefore, tended to the extreme, with John being somewhat miserly while I was pushing for upwards of 8 coins for most tiles in the last three rounds. Little good did it do me; Becky relegated me to third with one of her trademark endgame-scoring rushes, leaving her tied with John. By the dint of the tie-break rules, John just about won by a single leftover coin.

And we still had time for a sixth game, as John poured scorn on those who mock him for playing slowly. We opted for the delicious (if somewhat chromey) Zooloretto, and were all pleased to find I had taken some previous efforts to keep the cluttered box (my Zooloretto box contains Aquaretto and an assortment of expansions) sorted and the requisite two animals already removed and bagged up.

John was threatening to run an indoor zoo at one point, with five animals in his barn, while it was looking fair sailing for me, with three breeding pairs. But I stumbled over something of a kangaroo surfeit late on and didn't have quite enough cash to get rid of them (really - how heartless is this game, sometimes? Getting rid of animals because there's no room?). Thus, for the second time, I finished third behind John pipping Becky for first place.

Six great games in an evening. Essen? Who needs it?
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Sat Oct 10, 2015 6:54 pm
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Friday October 2nd - A half-century and still rolling

Ben Bateson
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We're in the middle of 'birthday season' at the White Lion. John was celebrating a significant figure tonight, following Becky and myself a month ago, and I believe Tony's is up before too long.

So, John was allowed free reign over the games tonight, and I received a bizarre pre-games email instructing me to bring along a list as diverse as Concept and Kapitan Wackelpudding. I chucked in a few 3-4P makeweights just in case we had peculiar numbers, but it turned out that we didn't need any of them.

Wendy was on a promise, albeit a little tardy tonight, so we started with a swift Roll For The Galaxy. Fresh from my executive instruction at the hands of the co-designer, I happened upon a rather tasty development engine (-1 cost for Reassign developments and the 6+ tile that both rewards for building them and lets you recycle the developers for free), and although my game bogged down while I built the necessary pieces, I had enough to comfortably beat John, who accelerated the end game with a bunch of cheap tiles.

Roll is a really smart game and the blend of second-guessing, dice-placement and combo-making works really well with our group, with none of those three mechanics overpowering the others. It plays very sharply in half-an-hour or less, and I imagine we'll be continuing to play an awful lot of it. I'm certainly won over. Wendy watched the last half, asked some smart questions and is probably as knowledgeable about the rules now as any of us.

When John gets to choose the games, then his creaky old copy of Cosmic Encounter is never far away. Despite some edgy comments from Tony about John's ability to teach the game, he launched into teaching it to Wendy while I sought solace in more beer (it never has been my favourite game). Luckily, Wendy strongly defies the 'female gamer' stereotype, being heavily into deviousness, conflict and downright nastiness. It's why she gets on so well with us. She picked out a demon special ability in Virus and quickly rendered John's Zombie Mutants immobile. My Spiff power (crash-land on planets if you get killed as the attacker) kept me up to about four bases consistently, and Tony started off strongly with Vampires before throwing a little strop after being Edicted off a planet by John. He soon woke up when he realised he was within reach of winning after all (how shallow...), but none of us could do enough to beat Wendy in a Virus-charged final battle.

John's final choice for the evening was a classy act indeed, and one of those games that I don't get to play anywhere near often enough. The tetris-tile-laying-cum-stock-holding Arkadia was his choice. I feel I should be better at playing this Dorn classic than I am, but generally speaking I can't hold a candle to John, who seems to win without fail. This time, I made a final-round misjudgement which scuppered me, failing to sell in my gold seals for 4 apiece when they only earned 2 in the final reckoning. It probably wouldn't have seen me overhaul John (who would have played his final turn differently if this were the case), but it would at least have been close! Wendy got off to a bit of a slow start and Tony specialised a bit too much - neither of them were quite in the reckoning.

I suppose it was only just that the birthday boy got a celebratory win at the end of the evening.
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Tue Oct 6, 2015 8:46 pm
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Friday September 25th - Jest ye not, Madam

Ben Bateson
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At the risk of completely exhausting Codenames completely before our Christmas party, Tony and I teamed up against John and Becky for starters. Tony's work-mode for Codenames is now established: on his turn as the spymaster, he will sit in brow-furrowed silence for hours on end, but on everyone else's turn, he walk talk merrily and incessantly on any subject he sees fit, thereby rendering any coherent thought process obsolete.

This, at least, was my excuse for coming up with clues like 'Dick:3' ('Pole' + 'Rod' + 'Whale') and 'Fray Bentos:2' ('Ketchup' + 'Port' - I'm not even sure whether Fray Bentos IS a port...), but miraculously, some of my blather remained lodged in Tony's hyperthalamus until the endgame, when he solved a club-record 4 clues to snatch the game out from under Becky's nose.

Dan, by now, was in attendance, so we had a 5-hander with which to approach big-boys' gaming. And what finer place to start that with Princes Of Florence, a game that (quite unusually) reduces all three of the 'cynical trio' (John, Tony and me) to gushing praise. Remarkably, Becky didn't draw start player, but she did get a plushy second position. As usual, I was plum last, but seeing the Profession cards not being bought with their usual haste, I pondered on whether it was possible to win with a Profession-denial strategy.

Turns out that it's probably not.

John earned a thoroughly-deserved victory with a forest-based map and some concurrent professions. Becky was only a point behind, her Jesters and a mis-reading of a Prestige card not being quite enough, and I brought up the rear by some distance; despite having five professions out, I made some poor auction decisions (why didn't I get that second builder?).

Tony was being called away a little early, but he still had ample time for Isle Of Skye - the other one that we're in danger of overplaying if we don't ease back. The scoring tiles were most unusual, nearly all biassed towards completed regions, which made the tiles that already came with enclosed regions something of a premium. This is clever in itself, because on many layouts these are the weakest tiles. Leastways, Tony drew a lot of them, and priced them accurately, which was good enough for him to win. Again, I came a miserable fifth, and I was starting to think I should have stuck to Codenames.

My luck was in! I suggested a couple of light fillers after Tony left, but John and Dan were dead-set on playing Codenames again. Whoever was playing with me tonight was assured of a win, but John did me most proud by guessing 'Wings:2' ('Band' + 'Jet').

Gaming addendum 1

On Saturday, I took a short trip down the road to visit CastleCon, one of the oldest informal gaming conventions in the country. I played some good stuff with some great people, but nothing was better than being introduced to the Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition expansion by none other than Tom Lehmann himself. I mean, how often do you get an internationally-recognised designer teaching you one of his own games?

Gaming addendum 2

Becky and I tried the 2-player variant of Codenames on Sunday, with a target-score of four or more. On Becky's third clue as the spykaster, she clued 'Nutella:2', NOT BLOODY REALISING that 'Chocolate' was one of the words on the board! She swiftly conceded this, and we turned the cards for my round as the spymaster. I shortly contrived 'Moist von Lipwig:3' as an excellent clue for 'Gold' + 'Suit' + 'Angel', but unfortunately Becky had forgotten who the character was, despite having read the book AND listened to the audio book AND seen the TV film. She assumed he was an assassin, pointed to 'Poison' and - ironically - promptly got us assassinated on the very first go.

Codenames for 2 comes highly recommended. If you're considering divorce proceedings.
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Sun Sep 27, 2015 4:06 pm
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Friday September 18th - Blue Skye Thinking

Ben Bateson
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Fearing for a repeat of the previous week's number problems, I loaded the games with a veritable gallimaufrey of boxes. There would be no shortage of choice this week!

The initial table was of 5P, with perennials John and Tony joining us, the latter with a serious Benedict in tow. I broke out a (fully complete) Isle of Skye before anyone could object, and stuttered through the rules explanation - in short, set secret prices for Carc-like tiles which will score according to four preset (and randomised) criteria used in different permutations each round.

There's nothing terribly original to Skye, but it puts some well-trodden mechanics to good use, being attractive, deeply interactive, requiring many good decisions and all wrapped up in 45 minutes or so. Everyone really enjoyed themselves, but few more so than John, who left everyone else in joint-second place on the final reckoning. This is one that we're going to get plenty of plays out of, I'm sure.

Suzanna and Ed (thankfully sans onesie) had now arrived, so one half of the party had to take to the back room (thankfully vacated after televisual troubles had left the White Lion bereft of rugby). Ed and Suzanna were both taught Snowdonia, and from what I can tell both performed admirably - Suzanna continuing her run of brilliant debut performances and Ed breaking his duck of finishing dead last in everything. Most amusingly, they consigned the game's designer to a miserable fourth-place finish, which is always good for a hoot.

John, Benedict and I attempted a first-play at Canalis. For tony's benefit, I shall attempt a brief synopsis of the rules:

Four rounds of 7 Wonders-esque card drafting are carried out. Each card lets you either build something or finagle around to get a few extra money, points, or another card. The key to the game is scoring industrial buildings, which have to be connected - via adjacency or canal - to their required resource, some workers, and the harbour. You have three end-game missions for extra points: one public, two secret and a special ability which you can use throughout. The whole thing is set in the world of Tempest, which was a great idea in theory, although apparently less so in practice.

Well, it's certainly different, and there isn't half a lot to think about. It was a learning experience for us all, and we played quite a few rules wrong over the course of the game. But Benedict showed some good gaming chops by loading up heavily on money early on, expecting there to be a combination of buildings and missions that would reward him being very rich. And he was right, too, cashing in two of his endgame bonuses for a significant win. 'Play again, but not too often', was our shared conclusion.

With Snowdonia still dickering to a close, we had time for a chirpy few rounds of Love Letter, which rekindled our shared love for the simple deduction (and, in Benedict's case, the high-quality cardstock). Then we all joined back up and opted for a big teams-based event at Codenames. Suzanna and Becky (aka the worst poker faces known to humanity) were teamed with a long-suffering Tony, while Ed joined the three of us to guess at John's clues.

Frankly, I could have had a team of dozens and not worked out what John was banging on about. It turns out that 'Threadneedle' was not a clue for either 'Bank' or 'London', and after successfully matching 'Chicago' to 'Skyscraper', I opted for 'Fire' (Chicago Fire being the resident MLS team), and promptly got us assassinated.

In the reverse match, I was thankfully in fine form. I was particularly honoured to be able to clue 'Spitfire: 2' ('Fighter'/'Pilot') on Battle Of Britain memorial weekend, and I nearly got away with a great coup with 'Wet: 3'. John actually replied "3 Wets", but wasn't brave enough to point to 'Band'. It was a Sweet Little Mystery nevertheless.

Benedict's spell as Spymaster baffled everyone and got us assassinated in short order.

Tony and Benedict had to go and rescue Boydell Junior Senior, Freddy, from some engagement or other, but they were kind enough to leave us their copy of Cockroach Poker. Flicking through the rules took me but a minute, it was explained as 'Perudo with cards', and we got underway. Ed got trapped next to poker-expert John and lost inside barely a heartbeat in the first game, and - if we'd played the leading rules correctly - Suzanna should by all rights have lost the second. Both Ed and John were heard to mutter 'this makes poker look like a kids' game', and they weren't wrong - we all hat teeth-chatteringly, hair-raisingly nervous moments, which surely marks the game out as a success.

A much better week this week, then. Five excellent games and Tony losing at Snowdonia is never to be sniffed at.
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Sun Sep 20, 2015 9:30 pm
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Friday September 11th - Sorry love, wrong number

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
Ross-on-Wye
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It is a frequent whinge from this games organiser that things are very difficult to arrange when the anticipated number fails to materialise (or, more bafflingly, multiplies into more than the anticipated number). And tonight was a classic instance. I'd packed bags full of games for 3-4, expecting either 6 or 8 to turn up. As it turned out, Mike and Helen never made it, and Ed was sat on his settee in a onesie (man, I hope he reads this...), so we were five before too long, and scrabbling around in the various oollections for something that would accommodate five, AND be to the pleasing of the discerning trio of John, Tony and Bill.

It wasn't too bad to start, for Suzanna was a little delayed and I had a new copy of Codenames begging for some action. Tony took an absolute age in his first game as the Spymaster, and then had the temerity to bang on endlessly while I was trying to think about some really hideous words. Sharp words nearly ensued, but Suzanna was by now present.

I sensed a grand opportunity to christen my new copy of Isle Of Skye, and embarked on a brief beer-fetching mission while the others unboxed it. Unfortunately, it would appear that my enthusiastic unwrap-and-punch session earlier in the day had neglected to return the all critical 'bag of tiles', so Skye was quickly re-bagged and there was some considerable chin-stroking and umming as we tried to work out what COULD be played, never mind what we actually WANTED to play.

I enthused on the merits of Show Manager when Bill opened his briefcase, although I had some underlying doubt that it would be good enough for John or Tony. Sure enough, both found it rather sterile, and Tony expressed some ongoing dissatisfaction with incessant rendering of showtunes. Regardless of the Codgers and Hammertunes from opposite, I rather enjoy the minimal decision-making element to this game, and was pleased enough to come out with an array of second-best-shows. Overall, we probably should have played Lancaster instead.

John enthuses about Las Vegas on a regular basis, but again I saw the shadows of disappointment ring Boddle's eyes when I skimmed through the rules (let's face it, there aren't many). Truth is, I'm not really sure about its validity as a game with 5P either, and it definitely went on for at least 20 minutes too long, especially because Bill had sharked his way into an impregnable lead.

John made things a little easier for us with an early departure (precipitated by an early morning, not by the mediocre gaming), so Codenames came back out again for a second spell. Suzanna and Bill proved not to be at all on the same wavelength as myself and Tony; she getting him assassinated in round one, and then scratching her young head in puzzlement at his learned, rustic clues in round two.

So, Codenames. I don't think it will ever be the end-all for social deduction (I certainly prefer the improvisations and freewheeling nature of Spyfall), and there's a nagging sense that you're not really advancing on - say - Taboo or Scotland Yard. But on a day when everything else was distinctly underwhelming, it provided two solid bookends to the evening.
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Sun Sep 20, 2015 8:47 pm
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