The Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers

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

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Friday July 22nd - Isle be a Monk's Uncle

Ben Bateson
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It's a rare occasion when the weather is so gratifyingly warm that one feels obliged to turn up in shorts and sandals. Tony wore a pair of Crocs a couple of weeks ago, and I remissly neglected to record the fact for posterity and/or pisstaking. Tonight was most definitely 'summer gear' temperature, though, and three of us arrived attired in various degrees of British ineptitude.

Due to various reasons, I also had my phone with me, so you get photos this week as well!

Parking my car round the corner in the road intriguingly called Fisherman's Reach (surely I'm not the only one who thinks this sounds like a sexual position?), my first act was to proffer Gary a crisp £20 note in exchange for the copy of Paperback he procured for me about a month ago at the Expo. Although I've no doubt Becky's eyes will roll at another word game, it looks charming stuff: a direct combination of BuyWord and Dominion. Gary, like Becky, isn't the wordgame player, so it stayed safe in shrink tonight.

We had a much more tempting 3P offering in the bag in the form of Ora et Labora. After spending an arduous 35 minutes being taught this by one Mr Clyne, the rules are actually simplicity themselves, and I dispensed them to John and Gary in ten minutes flat, forgetting only one or two important ones (notably the bit about the Prior). But it didn't really disadvantage anyone until we remembered a few rounds in. The question "do you want to be French or Irish?" brought the response from John: "does anyone actually ever answer 'French' to that question?" and off we went.

Despite having to explain village scoring at least three times before we built the first ones, both John and Gary managed a decent economy. John bought the Spinner (a pet favourite of mine) and Gary exploited getting into stone. I was struggling for money throughout and resorted to paying off Gary's monks to do most of the work, a job made easier when I built the distillery. I was pleased to erect a Hilltop Village at the end, but it still left me seven points behind John in a low-scoring game. Everyone pronounced themselves satisfied with the game, but as Gary said, there's far too much to think about to ever take it seriously. Perhaps that's the hidden genius to the sprawling Rosenberg games such as this and Caverna.


We cut the peat and scatter

We'd also got finished well inside two hours, which gave us time for a decent mid-length game before Gary was done. John took on the challenge of teaching him Roll For The Galaxy. Or rather, he plonked RftG on the table and I took up the mantle of teaching it to both, also throwing in the Ambition expansion because that was how I learned the game.

Gary was quick on the uptake and quickly building a military culture, working hard to squeeze out a strong 6-development early on. John managed to better this, building his second 6-pointer around midgame and cruised to a whopping 70 points. My board was heavily geared towards consuming goods, and I tried to exploit a succession of good blue dice. Unfortunately, 'Explore' actions were few and far between and my economy (and building supply) dried up while I was hoarding chips. I don't think I've ever played this one with three before - it was tough!


The neatest dice storage in the Galaxy.

Gary scarpered with aliens and friars on his mind, and John and I finished by celebrating Isle Of Skye's Kennerspiel victory. The broch scoring tile is one of the most lucrative in the game and I exploited it heavily in a low-scoring game which I funded with plenty of whisky barrels and setting prices that were tantalisingly out of John's range.


I forgot to take an in-play photo of this rather pretty game. Tony's better at this sort of thing.

Two of our 'must play more often' games tonight. It's a shame one of them is only any good with 3P. And that John always wins at the other.
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Sat Jul 23, 2016 7:56 pm
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Friday July 15th - Hey! That's My Pub!

Ben Bateson
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We returned nervous from holidays as our erstwhile congenial hosts, Jacqui and Dave, had taken well-earned retirement (well, earned in Jacqui's case anyway, after Dave admitted that he did nothing but slob around all day) and we found ourselves re-bidding for tenancy of the White Lion under the unknown faces of John and Lee.

So, as soon as we returned from holiday, I hastened down to the pub to make sure that we were still assured of a table that evening. Not to worry, John is not only a canny marketing man who wasn't going to reinvent the White Lion, but he had also turned the back room into 'clubs and societies central', with some nice wingback chairs and everything. It was business as usual!

Tonight, we had guest visitors in the shape of Steve (who masquerades as username=stevepwalker on this site) and Alex (who masquerades as username=Alexjrc on this site) as well as the familiar faces of Tony (who masquerades as a blogger) and John (who just masquerades). Six players meant two tables and increased difficulty on loading the games bag, especially because most of my games are being packed away in preparation for moving house. But we managed to extract just enough value from what we had and I taught Steve (and re-taught John) A Castle For All Seasons as Tony set up Caylus for Alex's edification (remarkably, he'd never played before). But before they started, a trial of Tony's latest design project, and a completely different theme for the game hitherto known as Danse Macabre.

Castle for all Seasons, as always, was unexpectedly tense, and when Steve remarked halfway through: "This is a MEAN game", I knew we had him hooked. Making an unwise decision to get out of the trader market altogether, I finished dead last trying to build a money engine, while Steve went on to pip John in a typical close finish. The unglamorous theme puts a lot of people off, but I heartily recommend Castle - the role selection mechanic pre-dates Concordia and Libertalia by some way, and it's short, fresh and full of important decisions.

It was looking very much like a role-selection sort of evening, so we broke out Steve's copy of Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers. It didn't really work with three though, and met hefty scorn from John, so we put it all away hastily before one of his trademark eruptions and moved onto something much more engaging: Harbour.

It's been a long time since we had Harbour on the table, and I was beginning to doubt whether it would stay the test of time. But this was a great session, probably with the game's optimum player count, and some real puzzles among the available cards. Ultimately, I wound up a resource or two short for another purchase when Steve triggered the game end, and he beat me by half a dozen points or so.

With the other table still chugging away, we went to the bar for refreshments, and in passing I eyed up the Caylus board. Tony's temporary last position belied a big pile of resources, and it was looking likely that he would go on to challenge Becky, who was unusually giving the castle short shrift. But it was not to be, Becky held him off at the end by a decent margin.

John had busied himself setting up Hey That's My Fish, and today it proved a remarkably transparent game for me as I racked up my first multiplayer win...well...probably ever. The 3P board is a tough one with nine penguins, which made me especially proud.

One Caylus was done, we still had adequate time to reform the whole sextet for the typically uproarious buccaneering of Libertalia. This is every bit as good with six as with fewer players, and the opening round was an excellent opportunity (especially with no fewer than five cursed relics on the Tuesday) to ease Steve and Alex into the shenanigans of the Merchant and the Brute. Cunningly preserving my Brute for round 2, I took a big chunk out of the scoreboard with an opening-week 26, but Becky started to overhaul me after a successful mutineering spree and after I mishandled my Captain (oo-er) later on. Her invitation to 'do her with my sword' was too good to pass up. Meanwhile, Tony - unusually for him - was less Robert Newton in Treasure Island and more Keanu Reeves in Speed 2 and couldn't make an impression. For the first time in recollection, Becky and I tied outright with Steve and John not too far behind.

Thanks to the new regime at the White Lion for letting us stay on - here's to the next six-and-a-half years!
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Sat Jul 23, 2016 6:36 pm
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Friday July 1st - It's not the taking part that counts...

Ben Bateson
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Cast asunder this week were we, in the White Lion's poky 'restaurant': really just a converted barn roof with the attendant sundries of flaky mortar and cobwebs. While the rest of the pub enjoyed Wales-Belgium, we were martyred on the cause of board games.

But what better cause can you think of?

Tony had espied the kooky 1655: Habemus Papam, and fancied chancing his arm at becoming Pope. It was not to be: some inspired bribery from Becky ripped out his best Cardinals, and I brought Louis XIV's political influence to bear, assuring my own election. As you might have guessed from the blog title, it was all one-way traffic to and from the victor's rostrum tonight.

I thought Tony's description of 1655 as 'old fashioned' was a bit odd, but it's a game that will happily fill a niche with the club and will probably make a great tag-team with that other 'wacky gem-bidding game' of ours, Fiji.

Tony's contribution to the evening was Broom Service, which had debuted very successfully a fortnight earlier, and went down equally well with both John and Tony. Despite some initial mobility problems, I quickly started hoovering up stuff in the profitable top-right corner of the board, aided by some particularly Brave decisions at the right time. Of particular note was the round which allows you to take 1-5 cards and adjust your score accordingly: with the others preferring the raw victory points, I took four cards and took over 20 points from the round through proper deliveries. Broom Service's cross between traditional trick-taking play and Glass Road-style bluff is right up my street: is there a World Championship?

It was barely 9pm yet, so we had time for another good-sized game. Tony says he doesn't see enough Inhabit The Earth although we've played it a fair few times since last Essen. Indeed, in retrospect, it looks like every occasion has been sans Boydell, which might explain his need to get up to speed. Like last time we played, it was claustrophobic and low-scoring, with the first deck nearly making it through the second shuffle before anyone proceeded to region 2. I had some sort of epiphany at this point that the Deck 3 would be nearly worthless, and concentrated all my efforts on fulfilling three good Deck 2 goals. It was just enough: despite the fact that Tony and Becky provided the two finishing moves, John and I were contesting the lead, and I pipped him by a mere point. It's proof of how clever this game is: by no means do you need to advance your animals to the end to win.

Tony was on his semi-regular yoof-deliverance run tonight, which left JP, Becky and me to pick out a closer. We almost had time for two, so I proposed Risk Express, knowing full well that John would go for it even if Becky wasn't keen. Turns out I was wrong, and Becky quite liked it too.

Just a word of praise for Risk Express (at least partly to annoy Tony, if nothing else): this is a really, really clever game. If you're inclined to think about probabilities at all, then the maths becomes gradually apparent to you during the first play, but it's balanced with all that's best about dice-rolling: a tense and fun finish to every turn without unnecessary swinginess. Compare and contrast with Twilight Struggle, a game that encapsulates all that's worst about die-rolling in which a single unlucky roll can rob you of the entire game. Risk Express has pretty much had a 100% hit rate, and like all the best Knizias, you can even drip some oddments of storytelling over it (I love the Middle East territory, which is so thematically right despite being based purely on numbers). This is the game that cements Knizia's reputation as Master Of The d6.
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Sun Jul 3, 2016 10:19 am
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Friday June 24th - In Which Tony Wines

Ben Bateson
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I have gotten into the habit of checking with Tony whether Benedict will be tagging along for gaming, as the extra personage is likely to affect our game choice for the night. Of course, this week I forgot, and Benedict was along rather unexpectedly, even for his own dear pater.

Tony had mitigated the lack of planning by bringing Notre Dame, Benedict's first play at this most venerable (and by far, best) of the Felds. He made a pretty good stab at it, as well, despite being too over-protective of his rat-track and not cashing in on all the cubes in the park. I, too, was playing 'heavy park', helped no end by John and Becky passing me good VP cards. John took on most of the heavy building of the cathedral, while Becky and Tony warred over the messages. It was a good diverse range of strategies, and my succumbing to the plague, coupled with Tony's unerring ability to turn up the 4-point messages, gave him a few points in it at the end.

That had all taken barely an hour, so I volunteered Viticulture as our main event of the evening (much to the chagrin-in-absence of Dave and Norm, I'm sure: they kept bringing it and failing to get it played). An awkward rules reading masked the fact that the game is relatively simple, and once we'd had our fill of 'cock' jokes (rooster? I think not...), some inexperience all round allowed Tony to leap out to a rather unassailable lead.

Viticulture seems to sit in the vacant 'gentle Worker Placement' slot for our club, particularly compared to our ruthless games of choice: Agricola, Caylus, Keyflower, Lancaster. I'm impressed by the strong theme of the game, and unworried by the rather swingy visitor cards: there is enough going on here for everyone to be gently developing their own strategy. It's also quite nice that there is no over-riding need to 'breed' extra workers, which is the downfall of too many other WP games (yes, even Agricola). I think Viticulture will remain a stayer because it is close enough to an 'experience' game, while still retaining the pretence of competitiveness that we need at the club. And, thinking about it, that's rather unique.

After last week's success at Knit Wit, we were keen to up the ante, and everyone was primed for what I call 'proper party game competitiveness', where a whole fundamental part of the game is to mock each other's answers, and indeed try to squeeze the most outrageous answers possible past the censorship of your opponents. Unfortunately, Tony has short shrift with this sort of thing, and suffered a massive sense-of-humour failure when we denied him the opportunity to explain that 'truffle' and 'magic mushroom' were completely different things. As is often the way, the sense-of-humour failure was far more comical than the actual game itself, resulting in a manoeuvre I haven't seen since my brother was four years old and swept a whole game of Monopoly onto the floor in a sulk after landing on Park Lane. It was pointed out that this sort of thing would have been far more impressive had he done it with the multitudinal wooden components of Viticulture.

It's hard to come up with any disagreement in Codenames, however, even if John is playing. We played two lop-sided games: the first resulting in Benedict out-cluing his father when playing the agent for Becky and myself (it did not help that Tony proferred 'Pissing: 2' TWICE as a clue), and the second was yet another feast of John's cluing ineptness, opening with 'Flying: 2' when 'Ghost' and 'Eagle' were NOT among his spies. I took advantage with some steady but erudite 2-cluers, which were all pleasingly and faultlessly interpreted by Tony. On a wavelength indeed.
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Sun Jun 26, 2016 1:21 pm
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Friday June 17th - El Grande Day Out

Ben Bateson
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With one of Gary's sporadic visits bolstering our 'regular' numbers, there was an opportunity to load up with those few treasured best-with-five games. They are a peculiar niche in the collection (I don't think I've ever played Princes of Florence with LESS than five), but all make for a thoroughly exciting experience on their turn.

Tonight's choice was El Grande. I'm in something of a minority in thinking that this is pretty effective with 4P as well, but whichever way you look at it, there's no doubt that Kramer's first great game deserves its reputation as an all-time classic. We have a creaky old first-edition German copy, liberally dolled-up with English paste-ups and player mats. And we don't play it anywhere near enough. Indeed, this was Becky's first game (as well as Gary's), but the rules are really a breeze and we were up and running in no time at all.

Gary faltered at first and never really caught up, and some rather questionable decisions saw John leap out into an impregnable lead. It's games such as this where the chinks start to show: several overt kingmaking episodes, and a leader problem (only exacerbated when John was allowed to 'retrieve' his 13-card) that never went away. It wasn't quite disappointing, but it was an insight into how game designs have been improved over the years.

Gary had enjoyed 7 Wonders sufficiently at his last visit to go out and buy his own copy, which had sat somewhat dormant until he found enough people to play it with. Well, here was the opportunity! It is a running in-joke at Ross-on-Wye that we can NEVER segregate and deal all the cards out properly on the first go, which Becky did nothing to dispel. When the smoke had cleared, I had wound up with the Mausoleum and a Marketplace, so my set-in-stone strategy was to see what other people were chucking away and build a strategy around that. As it happened, this was Science cards (again?!), but I also chucked in a crafty red card which earned me too many points against a pacifist Becky and John. The net result was a strong 63 points, enough for a comprehensive win (I think my nearest rival was at least ten behind).

No-one ever plays 7 Wonders JUST ONCE, right? I sloped off to the bar for a pint and on my return found myself squeezed between Tony and John with a very tempting Alexandria in front of me. Wonders that give me free/cheap resources are hands-down my favourite, and seeing a big clump of green cards in my hand made it easy to discount that as a strategy route. I ended up with a very bits-and-pieces board, with three different guilds earning me 21 points, second only to John who had played a HUGE final card that eclipsed me completely.

Gary had to withdraw early, for reasons not explained, so I pressed my case for Tony to crack open his in-shrink copy of Knit Wit. It is a game already featuring strongly on my wishlist, and I had no reason to doubt it would disappoint as a later-evening not-quite-closer.

In brief, Knit Wit is Scattegories with Venn diagrams: an exercise in latitudinal thinking that requires you to identify items that are simultaneously 'Historical', 'Square' and 'Blue', without coinciding with any of the other players! It was quite tricky with 4P; heaven alone knows what it would be like with the full complement of eight! We played two lively games and very much enjoyed them: Knit Wit looks to be firmly ear-marked for the Christmas Party, where it might have to compete with all the other light confections similarly lined up.

Our numbers dwindled further as Tony had to go on youth-trafficking duties, and as we cast about for a 20-minute finishing game, Becky rather unexpectedly volunteered BuyWord, in an effort to redeem herself from the previous week. This she did with some success, overhauling John into second place, but I fear that my experience with word games might prove somewhat over-competitive in making this game a group favourite. I love it to bits, but if I keep winning, I suspect no-one else will...
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Sun Jun 26, 2016 12:29 pm
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Friday June 10th - Losing One's Marble

Ben Bateson
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It was looking like a case of 'same old gamers' tonight, but a late email came through from Anne and thought-we'd-lost-him-to-studentdom Sam promising attendance. This didn't stop Tony unpacking Imhotep before they'd even arrived, so I honourably devolved to a second group of three, storing up the rules I'd already been taught, which turned out to be useful later.

I plonked Vikings on the table for the edification of them both. It's a game that Becky and I rate very highly, and it certainly caught the imagination of Anne, to the extent where she was giving me strategy advice in Round 2 and winning rather comfortably at the end. Sam got rather caught up in a low-economy opening (only 3 yellow Vikings in the first three rounds!), and although I managed eight overfeeding points, I couldn't overhaul Anne, who had played a rather good starvation game.

Meanwhile, Imhotep had polished off two complete games and they still had time to loiter around waiting for us to score up. It was very well received by all three, given the uproar that greeted John pipping Becky for the win in the second game and preventing her completing a double. We plumped for a bit of a switch-around, helped by the fact that a second available table meant we needn't all squeeze around the six-seater.

Tony, Anne and I went for Broom Service, which turned out to be a delightful combination of Elfenland and Glass Road that fully deserved its KSdJ, despite some grumblings around here about the theme and (wrongly-)perceived lack of weight. It gave me a great opportunity to out-think Tony, being seated to his right, and everyone obliged by picking three out of four identical cards to start, giving me a nice kicks-tart to what turned out to be a very comfortable win. Tony and Anne were comically bad at time, which also helped.

I like Broom Service a lot. The event cards are cute little mini-goals, and the cardplay in some ways feels even better than Glass Road, which is our current go-to screwage game. We didn't get as far as the advanced game, but I imagine (just like Vikings, in fact), there are plenty of legs without it. And what other game allows you to pronounce to a crowded bar: "I am a BRAVE weather fairy!"?

As Tony explained Imhotep to Anne, I sauntered off to the bar, comfortable in the knowledge that the rules had been ingested at the beginning of the night. And, for once, I was right: it's a disarmingly simple game with plenty of juicy interaction. I was presented with a whole bunch of statues early on, and only a small misunderstanding on how the Burial Chamber scored prevented me overhauling Anne, who was in charge of the Obelisks.

Tony had plugged Imhotep strongly tonight - three games just for himself - and there seems to be a lot of buzz around this year's SdJ nominees which there hasn't been for a couple of years. Although I'd tried reading the rules in advance, it looked on the surface to be very average. But I was wrong! I found Imhotep to be a very intelligent game, with fun back-stabby interaction and a good play length, and it would be a worthy winner. However, some of my turns were lacking in genuine decisions (particularly when last to play), and I can only imagine this is a worse problem with 4P. On the whole, I think Codenames is the better.

While we were ploughing our way through award-winners past and future, John, Becky and Sam were road testing Ominoes (not good, was the conclusion) and Lanterns (better, apparently). Tony had to retire for some youth-fetching duty; Becky and John were not really enamoured of my closing-game suggestion of Between Two Cities (shame - I thought that had gone down well, but apparently not) and suggested (yet again!) Wizard as a closing exercise. This was meat-and-drink to Anne, who is a seasoned Bridge player, and both she and Sam challenged the lead at points. But John pulled clear towards the end, especially after a costly three-trick shortfall from yours truly.
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Sun Jun 12, 2016 6:01 pm
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Friday June 3rd - Cardinal Sins

Ben Bateson
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Unlike the ENTIRE REST OF THE BLOODY COUNTRY, we had foregone the opportunity to baa our way up the M5 and attend the UK Games Expo this weekend. I'm no fan of being hawked games by harangued designers and like my gaming to happen in peaceful and un-hectic surrounds, so the convention circuit doesn't really appeal. JP shared our diffidence, and we were joined by Welsh Phil, on one of his occasional excursions across the border. Phil's group play a lot of heavily thematic games, so it must be like some sort of gentle Euro-bliss when he makes the hop to Ross-on-Wye.

We got stuck straight into the beefy stuff: John popped Inhabit The Earth on the table, and Phil - like everyone - picked up the rules by degrees, leaving the chaos of a Movement phase very much until last. It was an odd game, no-one managing to get any decent working combos into play, and I was almost completely bereft of any bonus tokens. I went instead for some solid end-game goals and watched Becky abandon VP cards completely and sweep two boards on the same turn (first time I've seen that happen). I'd figured she won by a mile, but the final scores of 29-26-26-25 pretty much suprised everyone. A remarkable session for all sorts of reasons.

During my excursion to the bar, John seized the plush velvet bag of Buyword, to some consternation from Becky (she doesn't like word games, and might not be thrilled to learn about the copy of Paperback coming back from the Expo...). I thought this is one where some mild dyslexia wouldn't hinder her too much, as the word-making needn't be completely competitive, but she was still lukewarm on it. John struggled with some difficult letters in both games we played, but Phil and I found it much to our liking as we won a game each; I suspect his drawing of a U with the Q in the second game helped, though! Buyword is very much 'my' sort of game: a deft cross of valuation and wordsmithery, so I hope I shan't lack for opponents.

Time for someone else to choose one? I had recently acquired a copy of 1655: Habemus Papam, upon the recommendation of Matt Green of it being a barking-mad bidding game with the bountiful goal of being elected Pope. Well, how can you not try a game with that sort of recommendation?

True to form, Habemus Papam was indeed barking mad. It's a 'sealed fist' bidder where everyone gets a prize, and has some quite sweet thematic touches such as cardinal old-boy networks, an untouchable future Pope, old fogies popping their clogs, and shady French politicians trying to manipulate the whole thing with wodges of cash. The latter proved very much to John's liking, and he hit second place without even recruiting a single Cardinal! Phil managed to get himself elected Pope - who says a trip to Ross is without its rewards? On reflection, the only problem I have with the game is that it's too madcap to try and build any sort of long-term strategy. But there are good compensations in the theming and storytelling, unusual in a small box such as this.

To finish, we celebrated Tony Boydell's success at the Expo (Guilds of London sold out before lunchtime Saturday!) with a run at his favourite game (snork!), Wizard. Phil turned out to be a seasoned card-player, so had no trouble with the Oh Hell gameplay, but John and Becky's enthusiasm for the game was offset by some tricky hands around the 5-10 mark. Indeed, I had sprung off to a rather embarrassing lead, and even a self-imposed 20-point penalty (for cocking up the dealing in Hand 12) didn't put me under threat. John managed to squeeze himself out from the ignominious negative-point range so further tantrums were averted.

A very civilised evening, all told: some slightly off-centre choices of games proved good for the crowd. And a pleasure to see Phil again, especially after subjecting him to the nightmare that was Himalaya last time...
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Sun Jun 5, 2016 12:11 pm
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Friday May 27th - Patronizing? Moi?

Ben Bateson
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Unperturbed by the lukewarm reception afforded to Dominare last week, I broke out the final of our Tempest games, Patronize. It turns out that Tony has 'previous' with this game, so there wouldn't be any nasty surprises. With JP rolling in on the dot of 7:30, we were a table of four again, and Patronize made a perfect warmer-upper, given its 15-minute playtime and brain-engaging complexity. Indeed, in stark contrast to last week, where Tony slogged for 140 minutes to score three points, here you can score nearly fifty just by playing four cards!

Patronize did indeed go down well with all, and John and I split the two games we played (the former after some convoluted mathematics, admittedly). I can see it making a good double-bill with Love Letter.

Another series which flames our various hearths is the Key series; Becky and Tony have had a persistent urge to play Keythedral again, and things looked grim as Tony promised to encore his recent 'teach it verbatim from the rulebook' performances. Thankfully, we could just about remember enough of the mechanics to piece it together without a Tolstoy-esque rendition, and actually Keythedral is a damn sight less complex than I remember. Time has been kind, looking at the torment that is the Keyflower rulebook.

It's also a lot less high-scoring that most games - another timely effect - and the final result was a squeaker between John and I, he finally taking it 14-13-x-x. I've been somewhat lukewarm on Keythedral in the past: the spacial aspect to the fields is frustrating and, with 2P, downright brutal. It was the same problem as with Key Market - you spend too long blocking each other to really gain anything of any strategical importance. Having said this, it was a fairly efficient process with four, and I don't think I'd turn down another game, especially given that it came in comfortably - and unexpectedly - under 90 minutes.

With 45 minutes on Tony's personal clock, he wanted to try something that was a little bit heavier than the usual filler territory (it was only 9:30, after all). Becky and John got all enthusiastic about Wizard, the Oh Hell variant that appeals to - well - three of us. Tony gritted his teeth for about eight rounds before griping so sufficiently about his inability to play that Becky felt the need to abandon proceedings before crockery was thrown. I suppose it is a founding tenet of the club that we never force anyone to play a game they don't want to play: however, it never occurred to anyone to say this before we started, rather than midway through...

Becky's 'win' at Wizard gave us incentive to break out something she tends to be hopeless at. Codenames is usually a reliable bet in these circumstances, and so it proved as a rejuvenated Boydell and I won both legs with minimal fuss. JP and Becky never really clicked on any level: she not recognising an Archaeopteryx, and he over-thinking some vagaries, to the extent that I was cruelly deprived of a rare 'Chess:5' clue when John mis-stepped onto one of our assassins before it was my turn.

Tony humphed his way into the gathering dusk, and - instead of re-igniting Wizard as we had threatened - we played a very civilised closing stanza of Divinare. In a storming final round, I took out three out of four boards to overhaul Becky for the win. Meanwhile, John was the veritable model of how to lose gracefully as he watched his score sink beneath zero in round 2. Which was nice.
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Sun May 29, 2016 9:41 pm
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Friday May 20th - Tempestuous Times

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
Ross-on-Wye
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With Becky shying away this week, I sniffed an opportunity to extend our run-throughs of AEG's Tempest games (scorecard so far - Canalis is interesting but weird; Courtier is compact and sweet; Mercante is unintuitive but grows on you; Love Letter is a classic as we all know), and started swotting up on the Dominare rules. It looked pretty sharp: some El Grande-type area control hybrid with a card tableau, and our other visitors (Tony, Dan, JP) were easy enough to talk around to its charms.

Teaching was a damn sight easier than Mercante, but Tony's brain seemed yet again to be slightly closed to new ideas, and Dan had to assist me in hammering home some elusive concepts such as cardinal numbers and how many sides a playing card had. But we dived in eventually, to a vague undertone of grumbling from - whom else? - Tony that he couldn't combo any of his cards.

Dominare proved to be pretty much everything I expected, perhaps a little high on the chaos scale, but territories were soon established and being defended. I was particularly impressed with the way the theme had started to make sense and integrate with the game itself a little bit more. But, bigods, was it long? It went past the two-and-a-half hour mark thanks to some extended thinking times from nearly all concerned: at least part of the beauty of Courtier and Mercante was that they were wrapped up in well under 90 minutes. Imagine how long-winded it would be with six. But it was well received by John and - particularly - Dan, the latter referring to it as 'exactly his sort of game', and I wouldn't be averse to a re-run. Tony, perhaps a little understandably, resented having to play for 140 minutes for a reward of only three points, so I doubt he'd be involved. But, at this length, it's not a 'game night' game, anyway. I eventually wound up the winner after successfully wrangling my Round 7 (and therefore most powerful) actions, something which the others failed to do.

Tony was being called away early tonight, so I had to sympathise a little that he didn't get anything else to play: especially given that we were in possession of a much greater card-oriented area control game. But his failure to grasp some of the essentials of the game was entirely his own doing, so he doesn't quite get all the sympathy.

Tony may have left, but - like some bizarre Boydellian poltergeist - his grumbling somehow remained into two closing games that usually go smoothly. Isle of Skye was all lop-sided and Dan proceeded to a very easy victory. And Port Royal, normally a bastion of japery and Pinasse-jokes was approached with brow-furrowed concentration and it all went to the luck of a captain card when I won.

So, yeah, something of an oddball night. But Dan and I could well play Dominare again.
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Sun May 29, 2016 8:55 pm
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Friday May 13th - Love Letter's Up Where We Belong

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
Ross-on-Wye
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One of the perils of a Friday gaming group is that, once or twice a year, you run into the dreaded Friday 13th. But this particular one proved unlucky only in the sense of being unable to find a parking space, and it was much to my amusement to watch Boydell loop around the carpark and apparently disappear out of view back down the road.

Gary had come with 'An Agenda' this week: he wanted to play 7 Wonders and/or Stone Age. Being closely involved with Norm, he has a sparse education in the classics, Norm preferring to buy things that are new, sparkly and - inevitably - not very good. 7 Wonders certainly met with my approval, no less because we were looking like being that terminally-tricky six people tonight. Becky made sure we didn't forget Stone Age, either.

Yet again, some nameless soul (OK, it was Benedict) made a godawful hash of dealing out the 7 Wonders cards, and as usual it was left to me to rectify, still trying to educate Gary in the fine points at the same time. But eventually we were up and running, and my Wonder (Babylon) steered me heavily towards a science strategy. My 38 Science points couldn't contend with Benedict, though, who more or less redeemed himself from the shuffling disaster with a full-house of war victories aligned with a fair few Blue points.

The house rule for 7 Wonders is 'once you've gone to all the effort of getting it out, you have to play it a second time', so we re-randomised with a few expansion wonders shuffled in. This resulted in my getting Olympia, and I was intrigued by the B-side, particularly the 'buy brown goods on both sides at discount' first Wonder stage, which I built with haste. It was a fruitful move: with the cards dictating that again I go Green, I was able to supplement a few Blue points and keep ahead of Benedict's military to my left for the final two ages. Benedict had fallen from grace with a 'JP' score of 29, but I had a whopping 68 for my first 7W win in absolutely ages!

John, unexpectedly, has rediscovered his love of Stone Age, and he and Becky hustled Gary off to the backroom where it wouldn't offend Tony's eyes. Benedict gladly acquiesced to a game of 'new edition' Agricola, which gave me an excellent opportunity to reprise my 'Hollow' larks. Never gets old, I swear. Anyway, I dealt myself an absolutely shoddy selection of Minors (which didn't sit happily with my Braggart - sadly castrated in the second version) and a couple of decent Ocks. In fact, we all managed a Day Laborer Ock, Benedict using his Cottager on the way to first family growth. Unfortunately, he learned to his cost the perils of 'growing too early', and had to take a couple of begging cards around the fourth harvest. Tony, in contrast to me, had a hugely powerful combination of improvements. I muttered halfway through that I'd do well to get within 5 points of him, which turned out to be somewhat prescient, an unusually high-scoring game going 43-38-somewhat fewer, in his favour.

With only a smattering of minutes before the Boydells had to be back on the road, Benedict got all enthusiastic about a quick session of Love Letter. It's not at its best with 3P, but it remains the best of the microgames nevertheless, and much deft deduction (and, I'm sure, dumb luck) led to Benedict's victory. It also intermingles nicely with our on-off project to play all the Tempest games (update: copy of Patronize arrived this week!).

The Neanderthals emerged from the back room, John glowing with victory, and Gary - quite correctly - took the view that Stone Age wasn't really worth buying on its own merits. He was very enthused about 7 Wonders, though, so that's a decent 50% hit-rate for the evening. The four of us spread out around the table and played Glass Road. It's one that neither Gary or John are quite up to speed at yet, and the game wasn't helped by being virtually over at the end of Round 2 (at which point Becky had five buildings and was looking like a shoe-in). But, between the three males, it went right down to the wire, with only a couple of points separating us. Perhaps there is some substance in our unofficial mantra: 'never play Becky at a late-night filler'...
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Sat May 14, 2016 7:16 pm
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