The Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers

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

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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
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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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Friday March 20th - Oriental Express

Ben Bateson
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We were veritably crammed into our corner of the White Lion this week, with a rowdy 40th birthday bash in the back room and a more refined 'ladies dinner' behind us in the restaurant. Still, Jacqui had managed to do a grand job of reserving our usual table, and we had a rare turn-out from Gentleman Dave to look forward to.

Dave, JP, Bill and I warmed up with my new copy of Splendor, which was basically the result of an Amazon recommendation and my fundamental weakness at being offered cheap board games. I LIKE Splendor rather than love it, but you can't deny that it's a good example of value-added publishing by Asmodee. Replace the tactile poker chips with paper money and would everyone else be wetting their pants about it? I think not.

JP got a couple of lucky card draws early on and quickly built up enough cheap resource-producers to ensure the result was never really in doubt, and this is the big problem I have with the game (well, other than it being a blatant St Petersburg knock-off): runaway leaders are almost universal and you could call the game way before the end. I suspect Splendor is at its best with 2, and we need to try out some home-game experiments to that effect.

With the arrival of Dan (tonight - like me - drinking beer on a spousal-lift-home promise), we upped our aim to 'games for five', and the excellent Chicago Express. As usual, I failed miserably to understand the table-think and strategy of this game, and saw my two share-holdings comfortably devalued early on. A two-horse race between Dan and John emerged, but John rather shot himself in the foot by wildly overbidding on the Wabash Cannonball shares, not realising that Dan was planning an endgame too soon for him - John - to actually build anything worthwhile. Consequently, Dan wrapped up a rather comfortable win. I think we won him over with Chicago Express, his dislike of train games evaporated by the short play-time, unfussy choice of actions and, of course, the dials.

Tony had roundly slagged off China the week before (how dare he!), so we took the advantage of his absence to break out this deceptive little Schacht game. My 3-2-1 rules explanation brought form Ted Rogers explanations and sufficient suggestion that Tony might actually have taught the game better than I was doing. Right from the off, Dan was again humming his approval of the simple mechanics and tense decision making, although I found it all a little bit uncompetitive with five players, which is at least one too many. The lack of competitiveness didn't stop me accruing a pretty number of emissary points and winning with Dave and Bill trailing in my wake. Dan was wayyyyyy behind but still enthused about the game afterwards. Looks like we'll be playing this one again.

With three games down, it was barely 10pm and we still had time for a couple of short finishers. First was Unexpected Treasures, and yet another implementation of the group's favoured 'try and work out what everyone else will do' mechanic. This one didn't feel quite as tight or as much fun as Libertalia or Eggs & Empires, and the thief really puts paid to any planning you can realistically do on a turn. As is often the case, John out-thought us on our first play, but his usual trend is to out-think himself on future repetitions and we expect his winning form to decline.

Dave was almost planning a retreat, but when we plopped High Society on the table to round off the evening, he acquiesced with not-too-reluctant 'Well just ONE more, then...". He promptly went on something of a spending spree and Becky (by now sipping a lemonade and waiting for the end of proceedings) and I exchanged several raised eyebrows at the amount being spent on the 1,2,3,4 and 5 cards. I slammed a generous £36,000 big on the 10 when it came up, but John to my right was slowly amassing treasure and forced me to overspend to buy the 9 as well when it came up late game. My hopes of Dave's extravagance letting me sneak a win were unfounded, and I found myself in the ignominious 'disqualified' position. While Dan somehow contrived to score negative figures, JP crowed over yet another win - apparently his first ever at this oft-played game.
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Sat Mar 21, 2015 6:47 pm
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Friday March 13th - Spanish Chicken and Egg-Fried Rice

Ben Bateson
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THIS week, we were definitely a fivesome, and even perennial tardy gamers Bill and Dan were reasonably punctual, which allowed us to have a full run at a bona fide classic - nearly twenty years old, god help us. I was already unpacking El Grande when Tony arrived, and the board was completely set up and ready to go by 7:30. I was pleased to set up camp in central Neucastilien (why-aye, mon) and set about spreading my caballeros thinly for second- and third-places, while playing what I merrily called the 'c*nt tactic' of picking as many action cards as possible that forced cubes back into my opponents provinces. Dan was unusually slow off the mark for him, but he soon overhauled John who - for a while in midgame - looked like he might have been trying to play something else. Bill quietly clocked up points from little-favoured Galicia, and was threatening a proper run at Tony's lead which never really materialised. He also realised (possibly four years too late) that Tony and I very rarely offer very good in-game tactical advice (let us not forget the 'Coloretto incident'). I made the strongest effort at overhauling him but still came up ten points short. In truth Tony strolled this one and his lead never really looked under threat. Damn him.

Tony had rather amusingly come into possession that Thursday of his Kickstarted copy of Eggs & Empires, given that he had spent most of the week whining about Kickstarter games that never arrived. The rules are more or less self-explanatory, which is a good thing, and there are plenty of opportunities to laugh at assorted misfortunes (especially when they are made by the game's owner, as was showcased by our first game). But it became clear quickly that E&E is really only a slimmed-down Libertalia (or possibly a BraveRats for 6P). John proved rather too good at this, and got positively self-congratulatory during game 2, which was sufficient incentive to put it away and find something else to close out the evening.

During an interlude at the urinals, John remarked that Tony's Kickstarter purchasing strategy did rather resemble a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, and it's hard to argue with that. Let us not forget this is a man who roundly castigated crowdfunding during an open forum at the UK Expo a few years ago. Having said this, in terms of shocking behaviour, he's unlikely to oust the year that he spent giving away free copies of Scandaroon.

Bill manfully contained a cringe when Tony proffered Chinatown to finish. He is not the world's biggest fan of valuation or negotiation games, which is a pity because the rest of us bloody love them. He didn't seem to start too badly, either, doing some solid exchanges with JP which left them with a large block of buildings each. I was forced to spread my assets a bit more thinly, but wasn't too unhappy when John offered me enough real estate to complete my florists. Tony, meanwhile, was getting involved in all sorts of share-schemes, and I particularly like the deal he struck with John which gave him $40,000 a round, guilt-free. Dan couldn't really get up to speed with the whole thing and pronounced himself unimpressed, thereby no doubt getting him into Bill's good books.

In a squeaker of a finish, I managed my first ever Chinatown win with $1.14m over Tony's $1.10m, with the rest some way behind. We finished the evening, as we so often do, with chatter of upcoming designs. Dan has thoughts about a certain bit of mathematics which has also crossed my mind in the past as being a good candidate for games design, so you could be seeing a playtest report soon.
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Sat Mar 14, 2015 3:30 pm
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Friday March 6th - Staying Home and Knitting

Ben Bateson
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Seeing as Tony is dropping none-too-subtle hints for me to update the blog, I suppose I'd better oblige with a trademark quickfire double, bringing all the news from the last fortnight.

Stuffing my bags with games-for-four, I had unfortunately neglected the 'Norm factor' and Keith's accompanying presence meant we were actually five-players and somewhat restricted with our options. Still, we had some fine morsels still remaining: Lancaster and Snowdonia being very much top of our 'to-play' list. Norm briefly waved Last Will in my direction (yawn), followed shortly by Yardmaster. But I remembered the miseries of a few weeks back, and my dismissal of it as 'an inferior Scandaroon' brought a tear to old Tony's eye.

So, it was Lancaster to kick off. Everyone apart from me had played it 'maybe once', and in Becky's absence I had to re-hash the rules from scratch, pleased for once to make sure we got all the phases in the right order from round one. Lancaster's long-term strategy is peculiarly driven by groupthink: sometimes the laws or the French wars matter very little, depending on the choices that are made early on. The opening exchanges were heavily county-dependent this time around, and I resorted a couple of times to going back to my castle and playing with my tapestries (hence the blog title). The laws made a real impact in rounds 2 and 3, much to Keith's chagrin, as they put him significantly out of the running. But it was Norm who had learned best from Becky (the long-standing master of Lancaster) and pulled together a 'full house' of nobles for the whopping 36 bonus points and a win. Tony and I had been long-time leaders and only trailed Norm by a couple of points in the final reckoning; there was much discussion in the post-mortem of how we could have swung it.

The setup for Snowdonia included some acquiescent grunting from John (I don't really think Snod is one of his favourites) and the typical drawing of the player to my left (today, Norm) to start. After the preliminary 'last player problems' grumbling, I popped one of my labourers on the 'surveyor' space before we even started, and indeed there he remained throughout Round 1: I offered Tony the opportunity to share the space in an attempt to prove it wasn't underpowered, but he declined in favour of a Contract Card, oddly enough.

Norm was hot off the mark in picking up the first train, but I soon joined him with an excavating train. Other than JP picking up a token 'prototype engine' late on, that was all the dabbling required in the train market, as Tony was attempting an unfeasible Contract Card combo, and Keith and John were determined to build everything in sight between them. I plugged on with my excavation efforts, and soon had enough rubble to fill three contract cards. With a couple of other bits and pieces and a surveyor at the summit, it was enough for a hundred and twenty-something points and a rare victory over the game's designer.

It is something of a tainted victory, however, as Tony will now use it as evidence in perpetuity to deny any further complaints about the last-player-problem. I, however, point to the Puerto Rico-type effect of having John placed to my right. No? Worth a try...

Having learned my lesson from last week, I already had a fresh pint in hand when Becky rolled up for 'collection', and manage to convince her that my evening wouldn't be complete without a final game of Biblios with John, Keith and Norm. It completed John's evening, anyway, with a much-earned victory after his previous miserable showings.
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Sat Mar 14, 2015 3:01 pm
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Friday February 27th - Rules of the House

Ben Bateson
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With only a sketchy idea of how many people were due to show up this week, I stuffed the games bag with all sorts of small bits and pieces. An initial turn-out of JP, Wendy and Keith promised to be adaptable to all sorts of variety, so I kicked things off by tossing my new copy of The City onto the table. Thankfully, everyone professed to a little smattering of German (that's what the board game habit will do for you), and I promptly taught them what was what (literally), before again teaching them what was what (metaphorically) thanks to the skilled tutoring I had picked up from Richard the week before.

John was on the verge of picking our next 4P game when Bill wandered in, and we ditched it in favour of I'm The Boss: The Card Game, the rules which I had been caught perusing at the start of the evening. Initial teaching and the first two rounds fell flatter than a Dutch pancake, and we were hastily in discussions about packing it in before John picked up the manual and pronounced that we'd been playing a key rule wrong (this was, indeed, the rule that we were contemplating 'fixing'). I blame the ambiguous phrase "The cards from this deal are discarded" - if only someone had said "The cards PLAYED DURING this deal are discarded" then I might have read that paragraph a little more carefully!

Now fully equipped with the full instructions in how to play, we re-booted the game for another go. Wendy took positive delight in being mean to people, slightly playing against the 'women gamer' stereotype, and emerged an easy winner, some £300,000 ahead of John in second place with Bill and I on a joint-last total of £120,000.

Do I think that ItB:tCG will solve all the game group's filler ills? No, not really. But as a swiftish session of one-upmanship and meta-gaming it was certainly more than tolerable. Even without my dumb interpretation of the rules, there is still far too much card-draw luck, though.

That had all taken rather longer than I had intended, so we moved forward with the quick-ish games and into a pet favourite of Johns: Kingdom Builder. Neither Keith nor Wendy had played before, and thankfully we dealt a fair beginner-ish set of tiles, including Gardens, Farms, Towers, Crossroads and Barracks (I'd have done without the Barracks if I'd been choosing a beginners' setup, but it was random draw). I was about to distribute some strategy wisdom, but the scoring cards were Families (score 2 points for each 3-in-a-row), Merchants (join up the hexes) and Citizens (build a big village). All of this tended to discourage the normal Kingdom Builder advice, so I abandoned the strategy tips and let the beginners get on with it. And bloody well they did too! Wendy created a huge, tentacled village in the middle of the board that connected up a whole bunch of stuff, leaving Bill in second a mile behind (Keith being a very creditable third). This could easily be the best Kingdom Builder debut I've ever seen, and - unusually for me - I took a photo. Note the appalling beer-induced photography, and Bill upholding the RoWBGers tradition of putting his gurning face behind the gameboard.



With Keith yawning his way into departure, it looked like we had time for a club favourite. Too Many Cooks is probably our favourite card game and - with Wendy winning most other stuff tonight - three of us fancied a bit of revenge. I ploughed into my seasoned re-tread of the rules, Wendy nodding away but marginally before the opening round I was dragged out of the pub by Becky, who had returned yawning from the theatre and not even partial to a J2O and a game of 'Soup'. I am only a man; I wouldn't dare disobey. In an act of (very) minor disobedience, I logged a play on BGG anyway, and I'm hoping Bill will now fill in the gaps on how the evening ended.
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Sun Mar 1, 2015 8:30 pm
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Friday February 20th - Cornish Muddler

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
Ross-on-Wye
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Occasional visitor, one Richard Clyne, dropped by tonight, having celebrated half-term by packing his daughter off to France and going on a Grand Tour Of Games in the meantime. As a warm-up exercise, he introduced us to The City and promptly took us to town (see what I did there?) by hoarding a whole bunch of very good cards. I found the game pleasing, even despite the puzzling lack of an English-language edition and some apparent shuffle-luck. It was certainly appealing enough for me to stumble onto the Internet when I got home and order my own copy!

Dan, our perennial latecomer, had by now arrived and with a shortage of games for 6, a split into two tables was preferred. This was effected by an impromptu dragging-around of the pub furniture and the creation of a 'monster table' with Tony, Richard and Dan playing Agricola at one end in an ill-advised experiment with the Pi Deck. Richard tried a bizarre clay combo (Why he would do this in a 3P game is beyond me) along with Spars, but when building corner shops didn't work out (this is a British joke), he built lots of clay rooms to finish dead last. Dan edged Tony for the win.

Meanwhile, JP and Bill joined me in Tinners Trail. This is a game we really enjoyed once previously and have mysteriously failed to put on the table again. This turned out to be a real error, as tonight's game was full of intrigue, excitement and jokes about 'having a man'. It looked like we'd let John in a little bit early (note to self: do not let other people have cheap mines in Round 1), but I carried out an exemplary bit of mining in Round 3 and bought up some high-priced shares as John was finding his operations all tapped out. Nearly all of our Prospect phases resulted in finding ponds and swamps without much mining potential, which worked really well for the player count, focussing us on the more productive regions. My only complaint with 3P is that there isn't enough competition for the VPs on the share-ownership table, but otherwise this scaled down from 4P very effectively. Ultimately, John reaped too much advantage from Round 1 for me to catch him up, but the 127-112 scoreline was a lot closer than I was predicting. Bill didn't really ever get up to speed (he struggles with auctions, poor chap), and finished well down on 59.

A brief re-shuffle resulted in Hurricane JP attacking a New copy of Orleans (see what I did there?) with Tony and Richard. Tony enthused about it as a 'bag-builder', to which my only response was "so...it's like Dominion with a bag, then?" Laid out on the table, it seemed to have more bits and chits than could conceivably be useful, and the game plodded on past the time when Becky arrived back from the theatre to pick me up, so I didn't even get a post-mortem on how well it played.

One game that is known to always play well is Puerto Rico, and that's what Bill, Dan and I attacked hungrily at the other end of the table. Dan, to my left, started off on an alarming crusade of Crafting, but Bill wasn't interested in Captaining for VPs and instead built a range of buildings (Bill builds buildings yet again...), finding unusual purpose for the University to populate them all. That left me with a bunch of Corn to ship, and although I did so efficiently (only rotting two goods all game) and later supplemented it with Coffee income, my 51 points was good enough for a flat last place. Dan, as he will when he gets into gear, cruised away with this one, finishing with a whopping 64 points. Proof, if proof were required, that frequent Crafting does work. Well, it does with 3P, at any rate.
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Sun Feb 22, 2015 12:32 pm
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Friday February 13th - Paint Your Dragon

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
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Friday 13th is never unlucky when there is a high standard of gaming available at the Lion, and this week was a particularly fine example.

Becky was planning an early finish tonight, and it only seemed right to indulge her request for Princes of Florence. This is a game that is so high in the group's estimation at the minute that it would have a reasonable claim to have toppled Agricola, Modern Art and Libertalia as 'club favourite'. Unlike last week, it seemed most people were favouring a 'middle of the road' strategy, although Tony's collection of six professions were looking good for victory for a long time. He had reckoned without Becky, though, who was hoarding fully 15 points' worth of Prestige cards, and overtook both JP and myself to finish on 50 points, the same as Boydell.

Tony has a peculiar personal rule when it comes to tie-breaks, in that he only gives them any credit when they allow him to win. Therefore, I feel quite justified in pronouncing this session a draw, despite the fact that Tony may just have had 200 florins left over.

With Becky yawning her way home, we already our second game scheduled - one I've been wanting to try out for a long time - in the shape of In The Year Of The Dragon. Like a lot of Felds, it turned out to be relatively simple, with a bunch of unconnected phases and a puzzle in how to get the most points. There is a sadistic element too, with most of your carefully constructed buildings and hired employees being gradually eradicated by the game (which, I suppose, is actually a lot less sadistic that having your opponents do it). I ploughed off into an uncomfortable early lead with cheap VP-earning dragon talismans, but was shortly overhauled by John who had unerring control of the Player Order track during the midgame. It became apparent rather too early that JP was going to romp to victory, although a last minute charge from Bill who (rather appropriately it seems) had been quietly building temples full of endgame-scoring monks.

Tony raved about ItYotD, falling short only of using the weasel word 'elegant'. While ultimately not unhappy with the game, I didn't think it lived up to my expectations, and it just felt like yet another Feld Point Salad, despite the fact that Tony was trying to claim it wasn't. The 'punishment' aspect felt no more advanced than Notre Dame, and that remains my go-to game of choice. One thing I DID like, although it's hard to say how intentional it is, was the integration of the mechanics with the theme: with a rudimentary caste system and a semi-Communist approach to recruiting and housing your workers, there is no denying that the game really does feel very Chinese.

My much-awaited Harbor Expansion had arrived for Machi Koro during the week, and everyone was happy to wind down gently from two very thinky games. Although The Harbor, and particularly the improved layout rules, have radically improved our 2P home games, it was somewhat slow with 4, and a lucky run of 10s for me led to an anti-climactic finish amid (ludicrous) calls of 'broken!'. I think I'd like to be tinkering with Machi Koro as it evolves (particularly as the next expansion comes out), and welcome suggestions for house-rulings.
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Sun Feb 22, 2015 11:48 am
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