Memory lapse: Pithy reports on every game I play

It may be of no interest to anyone but me, but hey - at least I can nerd out on these stats in years to come while remembering some great (and not so great) gaming days, nights and experiences.

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Some news

Chris Marling
United Kingdom
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Board Game Designer
Microbadge: Empire Engine fanMicrobadge: Armageddon fanMicrobadge: Pioneer Days fanMicrobadge: Europe Divided fan
Just in case anyone is still subscribed to this thing...

I am still writing pithy reports of every game I play - I just post them in my 'plays' section now, as they'r easy to find when I need them:

My 'real' blog is going from strength to strength too, with more posts and more readers and more reviews and and and... its here now:

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Fri Jun 5, 2015 11:20 am
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2014 - The best of

Chris Marling
United Kingdom
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Board Game Designer
Microbadge: Empire Engine fanMicrobadge: Armageddon fanMicrobadge: Pioneer Days fanMicrobadge: Europe Divided fan
Happy new year!

Part 1
The best new, and new to me, games of 2014 - plus a few stinkers.

Part 2
My best gaming experiences, both holidays etc and individual plays, of 2014 - plus most played games and a look at both 2013 and 2015.
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Sun Dec 28, 2014 5:28 pm
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That's all (for now) folks

Chris Marling
United Kingdom
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Board Game Designer
Microbadge: Empire Engine fanMicrobadge: Armageddon fanMicrobadge: Pioneer Days fanMicrobadge: Europe Divided fan
Due to other commitments I'm having to stop doing a few time consuming things - and unfortunately this blog is going to be one of them. If things quieten down a tad I'll return to it later, but for now I'm calling it a day.

If you enjoy my writing, please check out my 'proper' blog which I will be continuing:

Cheers, and thanks for the kind words and support over the past few years.
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Wed Nov 5, 2014 10:14 pm
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September 2014

Chris Marling
United Kingdom
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Board Game Designer
Microbadge: Empire Engine fanMicrobadge: Armageddon fanMicrobadge: Pioneer Days fanMicrobadge: Europe Divided fan
September 1
Bora Bora (Chris, Zoe)
Another great game of Bora Bora, played with the correct rules (we think!) for the first time after last July’s cock up on the end game fish scoring. This time I won fair and square, with the proper rule actually helping me; Zoe had to spread out early to complete some of her green tiles, leaving me to come along and push her huts out of two five-point spaces for essentially a 20-point swing. She also did her usual trick of failing to complete all of her cards in the last round, leaving me to win 162-143.

September 2
Unpublished prototype x3 (Cambridge Playtest Group)
We kicked this week’s Cambridge playtesting with a game of Brett’s Lettery (see what he did there?); a clever mix of bingo and word games which seems finished and a sure-fire pick up for a publisher. My music box game went down well, but again it’s the shut the box bit that’s working well while the rest is a little fiddly. There are also concerns the theme may not play well with publishers, but for now I’m sticking with it and seeing if some more tweaking and simplifying can’t make things work. Finally we tried a brand new deduction game from Brett and Matt – the least said of which the better. It’s fair to say it’ll back to the drawing board, or worse; I guess it’s nice to know that even these guys come up with duds sometimes lol.

September 3
NEW Royal Palace (Chris, Zoe)
I received this in a trade for Cuba and after one play am very much happy with that decision; while I liked Cuba, I can see this becoming a two-player favourite. The game sent a little longer than expected (close to two hours), but I expect that to come down as we learn all the tiles/cards. But we were both thoroughly engaged throughout, with the worker placement and area majority aspects working really nicely together in a non-confrontational yet both tactical and strategic way. We seemed very close throughout, me going for tiles with benefits early and enjoying them later while Zoe stuck with big points throughout. Unfortunately Zoe tried something a bit different in the last few turns, moving a few pieces out of the place/move spaces and paying the penalty. The final scores were 113-103.

September 4
Eight-Minute Empire: Legends (Chris, David, Zoe)
It was nice to have David Thompson over for an evening of gaming and I set this up to get the evening going. I’m still undecided on Legends, although I’m now fairly certain the square (not T-shaped) set up and with three players is the game’s sweet spot; there’s competition for areas, while having enough rounds for decisions to feel meaningful. It was super close on the board but I managed to get slightly better points off of the cards for a win on 18, three ahead of Zoe and David.

NEW Allegiance (Chris, David, Zoe)
I finally got to play David’s Allegiance game and it didn’t disappoint. He was interested to see how it played three-player and I thought it went really well. It’s a pretty simple and quick playing game with each player deciding as they play who they’re going to put their muscle behind; the church or the thieves’ guild. The choice of whether to show your hand early, bluff, or keep your cards close to your chest is up to you – but the winning player can only come from those who back the right horse. It was intriguing and quick to pick up; I think it will definitely find a publisher in the current climate of hidden traitor/information style games being so popular. It has that interactive, tense feel while playing very differently. In a first for David we all back the thieves, but as Zoe and me predictably stabbed each other repeatedly in the face it let him come through for the win.

Copycat (Chris, David, Zoe)
David had mentioned an affinity for deck-builders but not for Dominion, so as I designer I thought he’d be interested in this fun litter euro that steals from Dominion and many other classics. I had a terrible second to fourth round period, watching as the others hoovered up all the ‘extra worker’ cards and the other favourites. Resigned to my fate I instead concentrated on the straight VP spaces and pulled out a strong lead mid-game, expecting the others to come through later. But as they squabbled over extra card and doubling spaces I continued going solely for VPs and by the time they turned their buying into VP engines it was too late. I won a very odd game on 98, with Zoe and David on 72 and 75. I finished the game with nine cards…

Unpublished prototype (Chris, David)
Before David went home I quickly showed him (via a sound thrashing – I think I lost one health) my little War!Drobe game. I’m starting to think it would be nice to get a version with some artwork on to take to Essen, but I’m not sure I have either time or the right contacts to do it. We’ll see.

September 5
Royal Palace (Chris, Karl)
A weekend visit from Karl and Ann saw Karl arriving a bit early, so we snuck in a few games before the ladies arrived. This one was new to Karl but it didn’t stop him winning 107-94, with me failing with the same strategy Zoe had tried earlier in the week. I’ve not given up on it yet – I just need to stick with it, rather than starting to flail around a little aimlessly about half way through!

NEW Province (Chris, Karl)
Karl had brought this little two-player Kickstarter game along, so we tried that next. I lost 7-5 and my overriding impression was the same as usual with a Kickstarter game: meh. It was fine, but I could see little to no replay value and it was clear who was going to win from about half way.

Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation (Chris, Karl)
Province had put me in the mood for a ‘proper’ smallbox building advancement game, so we broke out Uruk. It ended up being very high scoring, with both of us getting a good engine going, but one screw up from me (remembering I had to remove a placement stone after a god card had triggered – just in time to miss buying the last one on that card) saw the game slip away 31-25. Such a great game.

Terra Mystica (Chris, Karl)
Taking another step up the box weight scale, we finished the afternoon with a civ builder; and my first win of the day (120-118). Karl hadn’t played, so we just did the beginner setup (he was witches, me nomads). Karl went sanctuary first, me my stronghold, which saw him gain early leads across the board. But a late temple charge saw me claw back enough on the temple tracks to just overpower him at the last.

Eight-Minute Empire: Legends (Ann, Chris, Karl)
Zoe was too knackered to play anything by the time she got home, but Ann just about had a game in her – and promptly won. The game was new to them both but it didn’t stop me flailing into a dismal last place on 14, with Karl on 20 and Ann 22. Unfortunately Ann always believes Karl when he’s bemoaning his fate and spent the last turn taking points from me instead of him; if she hadn’t, it would’ve been close. But it just ended up throwing another warning light up about the game, which both of them thought was ‘OK’.

September 6
Endeavor (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
A winning start to Saturday saw another late surge leave me on 60, with everyone else within five points of each other in the 40s. I’d manage to make everyone forget about me by not making any impression on the board, before getting quite a lot of routes down in the final few turns while others squabbled amongst themselves. I’d shipped into quite a few areas but also left it late to grab many cards, again making people think I wasn’t much of a threat. Had I done any of this deliberately? Of course not, but hey – beggars can’t be choosers.

NEW Goa: A New Expedition (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
I’d specifically asked Karl to bring this one along, so felt a little guilty about half way through when I realised I was pretty bored. I quite enjoyed it at first, but it soon became quite the procession of very similar joyless turns. I can certainly see how it would’ve been a revelation a good few years back but I can’t quite see why there was such a clamour to get it back in print? I’d say it was of its time. Karl won on 50 (I didn’t get the rest of the scores, but Zoe and Ann weren’t far behind).

Acquire (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
Next came a typically different game of Acquire; I love how (in my limited experience) no two games of it really are the same. This time I got to place a good half of the initial hotels and was the first to run out of money before the first few merged; then got hosed as they all went against me. Zoe had several real 50/50 decisions to make but had an absolute nightmare getting any profit out of them; with Ann finally winning on $54,700 (next best was Karl on $41,000).

NEW Nicht die Bohne! (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
To end the night we played a game that’s been sitting on our shelves for a lifetime after I’d picked it for Zoe as a gift. She’d played it once at Eastbourne and loved it, but by the time I found a copy at Essen she’d forgotten how to play it and the English translation I had was pigeon English at best. But determined to play it, we persevered. It turned out to play very easily and despite getting one small rule wrong (yes Karl, blah blah) it was an awful lot of fun – I’m surprised it doesn’t get more praise. The game is all about trying to get other people to take your cards, while leaving the ones you want for you; but as there’s usually several of you after the same cards, and the worst cards are really, really bad, it isn’t is easy as it sounds. Top fun and highly recommended.

September 7
The Scepter of Zavandor (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
We started Sunday with Scepter – a game I hadn’t previously played with more than two players and probably won’t again. More players simply added to the playtime and didn’t seem to make the auctions much more interesting, which was a shame. Karl won on 62, while I pipped Ann to second by a point on 55. I still really enjoy this as an engine building experience, but it will stay as an occasional two-player game for Zoe and me now (and may even go on the trade list).

NEW David & Goliath (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
Karl had also brought this old trick-taking filler game along and while I thought it was OK (I even won on 54) it didn’t generate the fun Nicht Die Bohne! had the night before – or the tension Parade did next. I’d play anytime, but it wouldn’t make a top 20 list of trick-takers.

Parade (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
I’d really enjoyed my first play of Parade, but that had been two years earlier. Id decided then that while I like it I probably wouldn’t get to play it much, so hadn’t followed up on that play. This time I really enjoyed it again; it’s just refreshingly different to other fillers. That first time (November 2012) I’d won on 6 points and said I was never going to trust a game I won first time. This time I won on 7 points, so it’s clearly a game of skill and I’m clearly the champion…

September 8
Unpublished prototype (Chris, Matt)
Matt popped over for a visit and a run-through of Frontiers, before its latest trip to playtesting the next day. We talked through the usual raft of minor changes and then got pretty much a full play in. It’s edging closer, but I’m not sure it will be ready for showing at Essen. One small change could really make it now – or it could take loads more little tweaks. Ah, the joys of testing.

September 9
Unpublished prototype x2 (Cambridge Playtest Group)
Got a good test of Frontiers in and identified a few small problems; but the test seemed to go well generally, so quietly optimistic. Also had a chance to play Brett and Trevor’s ‘was a dungeon now’s a heist’ game. It’s now prettier, with slightly different scoring, but it’s just as good as before. Top stuff.

September 12
Unpublished prototype x3 (Ann, Chris, Karl)
An evening visit to Karl and Ann on my way home from Brighton – who were good enough to suffer my prototypes! I came very last at Frontiers but the game was the winner, hopefully, thanks to lots of good feedback (not all of it bad) – and we played a full game too. Before Ann got home I also managed to whoop Karl at War!Drobe twice – the first time trying out some soon aborted new rules, the second vanilla style.

NEW Coin Age (Chris, Karl)
Hmm. I guess you have to applaud games with very few components (I’m a bit biased...) that work as smoothly as this, but really – where is the spark here? I guess not really liking area control doesn’t help – and nor does quite enjoying 8-Minute Empire (which does have some game). One play and done for me, but if you like area majority games you can fit in your wallet (not a genre brimming with choices) it’s worth a look; personally I'd rather go to iOS if I have this limited a space to play in, or go to a different game if I had a tad more room.

NEW Okiya (Chris, Karl)
This one was totally new to me – and surprisingly good. The game is incredibly simple, and I’m not sure it has too much replay value (so I won’t be purchasing it), but there’s plenty to admire on one play for so few components. You’re essentially taking turns to take pieces, trying to get four in a row (or a square of four); the twist is each tile has two attributes and the next player has to take a tile that matches one of them. I expect this could get incredibly AP, with the outcome calculable from pretty much the first move if you had the time, but played in the right spirit it was a pleasing diversion. To coax us into playing fast, Karl didn’t think much at all about his initial placement – and promptly lost.

NEW Revolver (Chris, Karl)
I’d heard really mixed reports about Revolver and while it has been near the top of my two-player wishlist for ages I’d never pulled the trigger. It was great to finally play it and I really enjoyed the game (beating Karl is always good), but unfortunately I don’t think it would be a game Zoe would like. Clever mechanics though and really smooth play – I certainly hope to play again in future.

September 14
Ra (Andy, Carl, Chris)
We had an old school Tuesday, on a Sunday, which was really nice. We started with a typically ‘different from every other time’ game of Ra in which I managed an unlikely looking win on 54 (Andy 41 Carl 37). I sent all out in the final round on things that clearly worked for me but could’ve been better, leaving the guys to fight it out with loads of time left. But a crazy spate of red Ra tiles shortly after I’d signed off meant my early gamble paid off.

Race for the Galaxy x3 (Andy, Carl, Chris)
Next was three good games of Race, which ended with a win apiece (me on 53, Andy on 64, and Carl beating me by a card on the tie-break on 53). We played with everything in from the first set of expansions and saw very different strategies win each time – Andy even managed a ‘green’ win! It also saw me score 53 or 54 in all four games in the day; super weird.

September 16
Unpublished prototype x3 (Cambridge Playtest Group)
I started the night with another pretty successful test of Frontiers with George and Johnny. It really needs balance now before we move forward, so Matt and me will sit down next week and have at it. As for War!Drobe, another attempt at adding the ‘x’ factor failed miserably. Both tries have simply made me think I like it as it is, so if I can’t find a publisher to bite at Essen I will find me some art and get it online as a print and play.

September 18
The Rose King (Chris, David)
We started the evening with a quick game of this two-player abstract classic. It was David’s first play but unlike many he took my advice about holding off on the battle cards. I took an early lead as he got the hang of things but he stormed back midgame, only for me to eek out the win after one or two little mistakes from my opponent. Still love this game though – highly recommended if you can find a copy.

NEW Switch and Signal (Chris, David)
I’m not the world’s greatest co-op fan but I really enjoyed our play of Switch & Signal; a game I hope David can find a publisher for at Essen. It feels like a solo game in the same way Pandemic does – there are no hidden traitors or semi co-op moments – but it’s simple to learn, cleverly realised, ramps up the tension and really draws you in. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

NEW Quest for the Open Tavern (Chris, David)
Unfortunately things didn’t go quite so smoothly with Quest, an asymmetrical two-player ‘bluffing’ game. The theme didn’t fit the very abstract mechanisms, while the decisions simply weren’t very interesting. There’s definitely a game in here, but this isn’t it! Thankfully I made very similar criticisms to another of the Cambridge Playtest group, so David will be taking a few steps back on this one.

September 20
Manila (Chris, Donna, Paul, Zoe)
A weekend visit from Paul and Donna kicked off with a fun game of Manila; a game new to them both. Paul (104) started slow and steady, making small gains – then started taking risks and it all fell to bits. Poor Donna (82) didn’t get out of the starting traps, while I had about three really good rounds to finish on 149 – which was still miles behind Zoe who led a charmed life to finish on 188.

Cherry Picking x2 (Chris, Donna, Paul, Zoe)
We followed that with two games of Cherry Picking, which I’d asked Paul to bring after enjoying it last time I was over there. I really enjoyed it again, although Zoe wasn’t too keen; I’ve borrowed it though, to see if it she might like it two-player. Donna won an amazingly tight first game on 56, a point ahead of Paul with me just two more points back. But I totally nailed game two, winning on 71 ahead of Paul on 63.

The Boss (Chris, Donna, Paul, Zoe)
It was getting late, so I suggested The Boss; a game I always remember as simple, but that is actually massively thinky (sorry Donna!). That said, Donna won (with me in second) so I don’t think she can have too many complaints. I’d never seen three players locked out of Cincinnati before either. Talk about easy points in the final round!

Nicht die Bohne! (Chris, Donna, Paul, Zoe)
After the success we’d had playing this with Karl and Ann we tried it once more; and it was a hit once more. Again it was probably more thinky than anyone needed at this time of night, but everyone making stupid mistakes simply added to the comedy mayhem. Zoe won with a ridiculous 95, with me in second back on 52.

September 21
NEW Potato Man (Chris, Donna, Paul, Zoe)
A sunny Sunday began with optimism – before Potato Man brought us back to earth with a thump. On the plus side, it gave Paul his first win of the weekend; on the downside, everyone except him hated it (and even he wasn’t overly enthused). It may be better with fewer people, but with four it was terrible; we spent more time shuffling than playing as hands ended very quickly, while the right card to play was either obvious or a total guess. Really poor.

Maori (Chris, Donna, Paul, Zoe)
I seem to either play Maori well or absolutely terribly; unfortunately today was most definitely the latter. We had a volcano in one corner from the start. I spaffed all my shells early, while not picking up any extra boats – then repeatedly got stuck in volcano corner, much to the amusement of everyone else. I finished on a pathetic 22, while Donna pipped Zoe by a point to win on 45.

Nefertiti (Chris, Donna, Paul, Zoe)
We finished the weekend with Nefertiti – and once again I failed to cover myself in glory. Donna took an early lead, selling a few sets of three to get some great points, but Paul made a strong comeback and a classic last round move (forcing a trade to give himself a large set of a high scoring card) saw him win on 114 ahad of Donna on 103. Donna may not game as much as the rest of us, but she owned the weekend on three wins!

September 23
Unpublished prototype x2 (Cambridge Playtest Group)
I really wasn’t much in the mood for anything, as I was really tired and on the cusp of being ill, so unfortunately couldn’t offer much in the way of enthusiasm or positive feedback for either Jen’s rock, paper scissors meets chess-style abstract game or George’s skirmish game. Sorry chaps.

September 25
Cherry Picking (St Ives Board Games Group)
As we knew a few more people were expected, we started with a five-player game of Cherry Picking. It went pretty well and everyone seemed to pick it up after a few rounds, but I don’t think anyone else really took to it. Unfortunately I think I’m going to be in a minority that really get the charm of this one, although at the same time no one has been openly hostile after playing. I took a pretty solid win.

NEW Firefly: The Game (St Ives Board Games Group)
I had so wanted to like this, but having read the rules was expecting the worst – but as a Firefly fanboy I simply had to try it. Oh my, what a stinker. This game is absolutely terrible. And it is such a tease! The cards, the money, the plastic ships and the missions all ooze theme, but this is actually worse than your average high street roll-and-move game – yes, seriously. It is so luck dependent it makes Ludo look like Chess in comparison, while the time it takes the game to play you is ludicrous; you’re not doing anything. Mind bogglingly awful.

Nicht die Bohne! (St Ives Board Games Group)
Last time out, the combined scores of this were more than 200. Tonight the winner scored 5, second place was on 2 and I tied last on -1. But man, it was an absolute blast. Pretty much all the -1 cars came out in the first few rounds and it was maximum screwage; by the end at least one colour no one could score on, while another only one person could – and they sure as heel weren’t going to get any of them. If this had been a physical game, no one would’ve left the table under their own steam. A proper good laugh.

NEW BANG! The Dice Game (St Ives Board Games Group)
We finished the night with a seven-player game of the new dice version of Bang. I’d enjoyed playing the original Bang but hadn’t considered buying it; and I feel the same way about the dice version. Seven felt like a good number (I don’t think it would work well with many less) and it was a fun experience; I was the Sheriff and it came down to a one-on-one with the last outlaw, but we good guys were severely depleted before then and it wasn’t much of a fight. I’d always happily play either version, and this is the slightly better version, but it hasn’t convinced me I need to own a copy.

September 27
Ticket to Ride Map Collection 1: Asia + Legendary Asia x2 (Chris, Morph)
Morph popped over for a few Saturday night tipples and a chinwag, so we dragged out the best two-player Ticket to Ride board I have so we could play with minimum fuss. Unfortunately I needed to pay at least enough attention to realise I was being totally blocked at both Xi’an and Macau; leaving me in a hopeless mess and on the end of a heavy defeat. Thankfully I turned it around in the rematch, although a close game was decided by the exploring Asia bonus.

September 30
Unpublished prototype x3 (Cambridge Playtest Group)
A great night of testing – one of the ones I’ve enjoyed the most in a long time. We started with a reiteration of a game Brett bought along a long time ago; he’d revisited and simplified the idea and it worked brilliantly right off the bat. It’s a simple game of shifting items (and yourself) throughout a round, trying to set yourself up to score points, but there’s just the right amount of options each time. At the other end of the table Matt went through a test of Frontiers which is getting ever closer; it seems to be simply a case of balancing now (if only that were easy!). Trevor had brought along a simplified version of my shut the box game we’re going to work on together and while the scoring didn’t work tonight, the simple version showed a ton of promise. Finally we played a fishing game Brett and Trevor had come up with, but it lacked quite a few somethings. I’m sure it’ll be back, bigger and better.
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Wed Oct 1, 2014 10:30 am
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August 2014

Chris Marling
United Kingdom
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Board Game Designer
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oops! A bit late..

August 3
Merchant of Venus (Andy, Carl, Chris, Howie)
Shame on us for this being the first MoV play of the year! It was fun as always, despite Howie looking as if he had the win in the bag from very early on thanks to a couple of well placed IOU opportunities. Andy and me both got to around $1500 by the time he’d got over the line, but it was never really in doubt – although the game’s just fun to play despite the outcome. I always seem to underestimate the value of drives; only one relic one came out, also for Howie, and using a cargo space for one when there re no real ‘fare’ opportunities around seems risky before upgrading your ship – something Howie didn’t even bother doing.

August 4
Maori x3 (Chris, Zoe)
Maori is a game we play rarely but very much enjoy; although we’re both quite happy just playing it every now and again (one of the advantages of having a decent sized collection now). Tonight we ended up playing best of three after Zoe had a nightmare first game where I strolled it 42-28. Zoe just edged the rematch 40-39, so we had to have a decider – which I then edged by a point, 43-42. The last game was especially satisfying, as Zoe chose to spend her last shell which left me in a position to leave her one short of the move she needed to finish her second lua – which would’ve won her the game for sure.

August 5
Unpublished prototype x4 (Cambridge Playtest Group)
I took my ‘shut the music box’ game to the pub for its first outing and the four-player game went well. We played two full rounds and it was generally well received, with lots of useful feedback for small tweaks thrown in for good measure. I then got to play Carl’s very cool abstract rolling/flipping game made with a 3D printer before giving Trevor’s monkey game a go two-player (which worked better than expected with a very simple dummy player). Finally we played Trev and Brett’s great little ants/dice/push your luck game which really is feeling strong – both that and the monkey game really deserve publishers and are feeling finished. Hopefully I can get some tweaking done to my game before it gets another outing on Friday evening with a potentially tougher/more experienced testing crowd.

August 7
Concordia (Chris, Zoe)
While Zoe enjoys this one, I think strategically it’s still a little bit beyond her at the moment – and in fairness she has played less than me. Tactically she plays well, using her turns efficiently, but aiming at the end game isn’t quite there. I’m not much better, but better enough to normally eek out the win. Today I won 148-125, with the difference me collecting three of the orange cards and getting all of my colonists on the board for a 36-10 point swing. I still really like the game, and really enjoy it two-player, but I feel the way we play is far from optimal; next time I’m going to try something a bit different and try to end the game earlier – at the moment pretty much everything is on the board by the time it ends.

August 8
Unpublished prototype x3 (Brett, Chris, Trevor)
Managed to meet up with Brett and Trevor for an extra prototyping session as I new I wouldn’t be around on Tuesday. Got another play in of my ‘shut the box’ inspired euro which went very well; I’m totally pleased with the shut the box element, and the theme integration, but the rest need a bit of polish and simplification. Feeling very positive about it though! Had a second go at Brett and Trevor’s new dungeon dice game that puts similar on-market versions to shame, but still can’t get into their other dice rolling game – I think it might just be me, but I can’t see the fun in trying to roll 1 then 2 then 3 then 4 then 5 over and again no matter what other clever ideas they put on top of it. But other tests have gone well, so finger’s crossed its better than I think.

August 10
20th Century (Carl, Chris, Howie)
I wasn’t sure what Carl in particular would think of this one, but it went very well in the end. It was right up Howie’s street as he loves tile placement games, while you could tell Carl enjoyed the immediacy of it and the bidding side of things. Carl was a bit over ambitious at the start though, going big and never quite getting into position to clear enough rubbish and skulls to score points (59). I went the other way, being a little under ambitious and finishing with a solid 72 – but Howie took a comfortable win with 90 after an improbably looking last minute clean up act.

Blueprints (Carl, Chris, Howie)
We had time for a quicker game afterwards, so I broke this out. I hadn’t played it for ages and it was new to the guys, so I saw if it could keep up its 100% “it’s pretty good, I enjoyed it” rate. And sure enough it did. While the game continues to fail to wow anyone it’s a great filler, being intriguing and just thinky enough to keep the brain burning – plus there’s plenty of dice. This game came down to the finest margins, with several cards being won on the tie rule of dice colour. But you wouldn’t know it by the scores, with Howie doubling my score of 7 on 14 (Carl was one point behind me).

August 14
Händler der Karibik (St Ives board gamers)
We stretched this to five as an opener while we waited for more people to show and it coped fine; in fact it was the best end to this game I’ve had. David needed two points to win, but with Chris needing just one point and with a bunch of money he had to go for the two-point card – and he bust. I go next, sitting on just seven points and a gold; out of it, I just take a two gold ship. Chris goes and draws two black ships in a row – unbelievable! Back with David, still needing a two-pointer; and he busts again. Back to me; I draw a three-pointer costing six gold, then four different coloured ships – one of which is three gold. That gives me the six gold I need for the three-point card and the win. Awesome

NEW Formula D (St Ives board gamers)
Next we had a seven player game if this classic, using the basic rules. I’d played a PC version with a few players and no one had really enjoyed it, so I’d never picked it up; but in ‘real life’ and with plenty of players to jostle with it was great fun. At various points I found myself in a share of the lead then right back in sixth place and looking out of it with one corner to go. Luckily two of the lanes in the bend were congested and everyone bunched in behind, unable to move to the outside lane as they were already in the corner. I was just far back enough to be able to move into the lane, and had enough health left to go up a dice and cruise around into second but a dice up. It gave me enough edge to take the lead into the final role and yet another unlikely, flukey win – but I’ll take ’em when I can get ’em! A great night, although I think I’ve used my luck up for the year.

August 16
Unpublished prototype (Chris, Zoe)
I made most of the changes suggested by Brett and Trevor for my ‘shut the box’ game and played through a few rounds with Zoe. The changes seemed to work well, but the action order needs a little work – not a problem to redo it before Tuesday when the game should again get a sterner test. I’m feeling confident I can get this into shape before Essen though, which takes the pressure off of finishing Frontiers with Matt before then. I’m hoping that will be done too, but it can be tricky finding time we can both work on it.

Power Grid (Chris, Zoe)
It had been a criminally long time since we’d played Power Grid, so it was nice to dust it off for a game. We were obviously rusty and getting a really annoying robot didn’t help! Especially when we conspired to let it get some great plants while we fought over the same resources. It was not a good day at the office… The robot was buying any cheap fuel it could while buying the most expensive plant it could – and we were getting to choose the cities it built, so were obviously stitching each other up where possible. This kept it in the game until the end as we scrapped away and in the final round it powered 17 cities – as did Zoe. Luckily I powered 18.

August 17
NEW Nexus Ops (Andy, Carl, Chris, Howie)
This had been hanging over me for more than a year; a game Zoe had played that I hadn’t! Howie owned it and was happy to bring it over, so the four of us sat down for a game. I was the only one who hadn’t played but it really is simply stuff. I was aggressive from the off s start player and (with the help of a few free spiders) powered into the central space. Oddly the others mostly turtled for about four rounds, letting me build a healthy stack of cards while I niggled at the players to my left and right a bit too. By the time they woke up I had eight points on the table and a relatively easy four-point combo in my hand; I just needed about three turns to make it happen. Things went my way (there was plenty of luck involved of course) and I ended up with the win. A fun game, but not one I’ll be seeking out to own.

Blueprints (Andy, Carl, Chris, Howie)
Both Howie and Carl were keen to revisit Blueprints after last week, so we introduced it to Andy. He had a terrible first round, scoring zero and putting him out of it; he did OK in the next two rounds but Carl got the edge thanks to two golds – which alongside two purple cards and a bronze gave him a solid 11 for a strong win.

August 18
The Scepter of Zavandor (Chris, Zoe)
Like Power Grid a few days earlier, it had been too long since we’d played Scepter. Zoe got the rubies guy and me the knowledge guy, which didn’t go so well for me. She powered up the ‘free cards’ track then the ruby track, while fumbled up the ‘free dust’ track before finishing knowledge. Unfortunately when diamonds came up I couldn’t compete in the auction (I’d got emeralds) so I had to belatedly grab rubies myself – but four turns of that put me out of it. Zoe took three sentinels to my two for a comfortable 61-47 win.

August 19
Unpublished prototype (Cambridge Playtest Group)
A nice evening as always, with another successful play through of my music (shut the) box prototype. I’m going to try to get it onto a board for next time, but that may be a bit ambitious as it’s something I haven’t done yet! Then played Darren’s fun and thematic game of medieval court intrigue; but it really needs some work. I’m hoping this can be polished into something great, but it’s definitely in the early stages. Finally I got another game of Trevor and Brett’s dungeon delving push your luck game; now with pointless player powers. I hope they drop them, as they didn’t seem to add anything to what is already a great little game.

August 20
NEWEight-Minute Empire: Legends (Chris, Zoe)
I’d enjoyed the original in Paros and Matt had been good enough to pick me a copy of the sequel at GenCon (thanks Matt!). It certainly adds a little extra intrigue to the original; although I’m not convinced it’s much of a two-player game. It was fun, and I look forward to playing it more, but it definitely loses something with less competition for the cards. I won 16 to 13, winning comfortably on the board while Zoe clawed a lot of points back on the card bonuses.

...then followed a week in the gaming black hole that is my father’s house…

August 27
Eight-Minute Empire: Legends (Chris, Zoe)
After a long day’s travel back from Devon, all we could muster was a quick game of this – which had made the trip too, unplayed. Again I took a narrow victory (22-19) but it was an odd game; we both got into pretty solid positions early and didn’t really have much reason to move or compete. Instead we were waiting for scoring cars to come out, snatching what we needed when we could. I think two-player might work better on a smaller map, so maybe we’ll try that if the same thing happens again. Next time we’ll go four pieces in a square rather than T pattern to see if that helps.

August 28
Coup (Chris, Dan, David, Julian, Zoe)
I WON AT COUP! Who wants my copy? I’m never playing it again! I’m terrible at this, but drew two captains and just drew money for three rounds while everyone else committed hara-kiri. It ended up with two of us on one life with one of my captains left – so I was just stealing Julian’s money, leaving him nowhere to go as it was too late to bluff me.

Eight-Minute Empire: Legends (Chris, Julian, Zoe)
Julian soon got his revenge. He spent the game bemoaning his lot, saying he was going to come last because he hadn’t moved his people – then managed to move loads in the last two rounds to storm back into contention. Him and Zoe ended on 17 (with me on 14), but Zoe had spend all her money (typical…) so Julian won on the tiebreak.

Manila (Chris, Julian, Zoe)
We closed the night with a classic game of Manila. Julian played the first race slow and methodical, thinking through every move, while I placed with abandon – and then got the exact dice rolls I needed to hose him into oblivion. The game needed it as it would’ve dragged on forever with an AP player; but instead we moved on from there at a steady click. I was ahead throughout, but annoyingly a really even spread of boats got home meaning any advantage I had on the cards soon waned. It ended up incredibly close, with me just squeaking home on 150 ahead of a gutted Zoe on 147.

August 30
Eight-Minute Empire: Legends (Chris, Davina, Morph, Zoe)
Another day and another slightly frustrating play experience. With four you only get eight cards, which seems barely enough to get going and if you get starved of a certain card type there’s little you can do about it. I got picked on early (three of four ‘kill’ moves) and just couldn’t get going, while the ladies let Morph set up camp on the highest point scoring board unchallenged. He won comfortably, with me back in third cutting a frustrated figure. But despite this, I still se the good in the game. I shall persevere.

Navegador (Chris, Morph, Zoe)
Morph suggested this, having gotten it for his birthday, and I was happy to refresh him on the rules (he’d played once back in June in Paros). Zoe did something a bit different turn one, getting a worker then going for a second ship builder. I went the explore/factory route but unfortunately Morph started to do the same – but I felt I had the better of him so persevered. I did but it was only good enough for second, as Zoe proved the old gaming adage that doing the thing no one else is doing can often win in eurogames; she won by a mile on 118, with me back on 92 and Morph 78.

August 31
NEW Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game (Andy, Carl, Chris, Howie)
I’d only had an hour (hungover) to read the rules, so this could’ve been smoother – but its testament to the game’s simplicity how ell it went. We played through the suggested debut short scenario and won in three turns (of six) at a canter – but things could’ve got dicey the next turn (as zombies wee building up fact) and I think we got lucky with our character mix and dice roles. The games seems to mix elements I appreciate from BSG (a game I really don’t like) and Arkham (a game I do like, but can do without the length, constant rule clarifications and fiddliness) into a smoother, shorter experience. We all enjoyed it, so it’ll certainly see more table time.

Eight-Minute Empire: Legends (Andy, Carl, Chris, Howie)
I managed an unlikely one-point win (12-11) over Howie, with Andy and Carl on eight. But it was all down to grabbing the card with three islands on and doing everything I could to stop other people getting a foothold there; I got practically nothing on card bonuses, which almost scuppered me. The game continues to frustrate, not being quite satisfying at any player count so far. I’m going to stick with it, trying the extra bits and bobs next, but I wonder if it will ever quite be the game it feels like it could be.
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Sun Sep 14, 2014 7:02 pm
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July 2014

Chris Marling
United Kingdom
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Board Game Designer
Microbadge: Empire Engine fanMicrobadge: Armageddon fanMicrobadge: Pioneer Days fanMicrobadge: Europe Divided fan
July 1
Unpublished prototype x3 (Cambridge Playtest Group)
A nice evening playtesting largely revolved around playing two dice games from Brett and Trevor, both of which were born from their previous dice/tile pearl diving game. The first ant themed one was fabulous; I cam last and still had a great time throughout. This seemed pretty finished to me, but then I say that a lot and then see the games totally transform a few weeks later! The other I also came last in, but was left totally cold by – luck upon luck, which really doesn’t do it for me. Finally I got in another play of War!Drobe, to little effect; I just need to get the rules up to scratch and get it out there now.

July 2
Unpublished prototype (Chris, Paul)
And there was me thinking the rules were finished. They were, except I got one rule totally wrong: no wonder it seemed so easy to simplify them; back to the damned drawing board. At least guinea pig Paul learnt the game from the rules with no problem, even if there was one glaring error…

Race for the Galaxy (Chris, Matt)
Next it was over to Matt’s for a couple of games. While we waited for Brett we had a quick game of Race, as Matt hadn’t played with the cards from latest expansion Alien Artefacts (we didn’t use the orb). We both started out military but while Matt diversified I stuck to my guns and it paid off, a few lucky draws letting me forge ahead to a quick 50-points and the win.

NEW Freya's Folly (Brett, Chris, Matt)
Brett kindly read through the rules of my recent bargain purchase, Freya’s Folly, while we finished Race. We were up and running in no time and personally I really enjoyed it – although the others weren’t quite as keen. Did the win help? Sure, but I’ll try and get it played again this weekend to see if it was a flash in the pan. It’s a game that’s light on rules but long on decisions, with clever – and sometimes nasty – play being rewarded (but then I would say that). And at £4.99 on BoardGameGuru I’m thinking right now that I got a solid bargain.

July 5
Freya's Folly (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
Ann and Karl visited for the weekend and after a gameless Friday evening we started early Saturday with my second dwarven folly of the week. Despite the terrible box art and lowly BGG rating it went down well with everyone, if it did run slightly long – not a big surprise for the first play for three people. I’m really warming to it, as there’s plenty of both screwage and meaningful decisions in with the randomness. While I’d class it as a family game it does seem to take people a bit of getting used to, but I think that’s credit for doing things a little differently rather than being overly complex. I’m counting it s a solid keeper for now.

Sail to India (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
We moved onto the rather brilliant Sail to India, which I enjoyed every bit as much as I had the first time – while loving the component upgrade AEG has given it. I rather telegraphed by mission to go for churches by taking the scoring tile before actually getting any churches, but still managed to come in second behind the much more experienced Karl. This will definitely join my collection at Essen.

Blockers! (Ann, Chris, Karl)
While Zoe pootled off to pick up some lunch for us all, I taught Karl and Ann Uptown. It was a tense and close game enjoyed by us all, with my late charge for a single area scuppered at the last hurdle by Ann, who I ended up drawing with on two areas and five stolen tiles (one ahead of Karl). It was great to see more people enjoying this clever little thinky abstract.

NEW K2 (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
After a wander around town and a great Turkish meal, we headed home fat and happy – and proceeded to try and climb a rather tricksy mountain. Maybe I was tired and full, but it just didn’t really do it for me. The luck seemed to override the decision space a little too much and despite a creditable second place on 15 points the game fell a little flat. Perhaps it was the odd way the weather came out, letting Karl camp at the summit for the final few turns, but if that’s the case once it can happen again. I’d play again for sure, but it’s definitely not a game I’ll be seeking out.

July 6
Bora Bora (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
Both Zoe and me had wanted to try this with more players, and Ann and Karl were happy to learn, so we gave this new Feld favourite a try. It ran very long but was a lot of fun, with agonising decision s all the way. I had a nightmare start wit tough tiles and never really seemed to have a chance; especially as I had to get female tiles to do my bonuses and they kept leaving me in last on turn order while it mattered. Zoe took a commanding lead but had a terrible final round, failing one tile completely and losing the associated bonus – leaving her third after it looked like her win. I actually managed to get all of my huts out which gave me a good final round haul, but I still trailed Zoe (150) by six on 144. Ann did particularly well on the priest track and it served her well, winning on 167 ahead of Karl on 154.

July 10
Love Letter (St Ives BGG)
Today marked the first meeting of the St Ives board game group, and very nice it was too. The six of us kicked off with a quick round of Love Letter, before moving onto the main course.

NEW Letters from Whitechapel (Dan vs St Ives BGG)
While six is probably far from being the ideal number for this, I still enjoyed my first attempt to catch the ripper. Although the ladies of the night probably weren’t quite as impressed, as we were thoroughly thwarted every night by Dan – an experienced murderer, it seems… great game though. In fairness by the end game we new roughly where his hideout was, and he did look a little nervous, but managed to get through our rather ropey net and claim victory. Good game though.

July 11
Unpublished prototype (Chris, Paul)
A weekend at Paul and Donna’s started with a quick teaching of War!Drobe to Paul, who enjoyed himself – I’m really happy with the feedback I’ve been getting on the base game, so now need to try and work harder on the extra cards.

Freya's Folly (Chris, Donna, Paul)
I then taught Freya’s Folly, which would’ve gone better if it had been a bit more colour blind friendly! It meant Paul struggled throughout and pretty much gave up, letting Donna and me fight it out for the win. But experience told, with me grabbing the win on 103. Three play in and I’m really enjoying the game – but three straight wins may be helping! And a bit of experience certainly seems to be going a long way, which is also a good sign for longevity.

NEW That's Life! (Chris, Donna, Martin, Paul)
Martin arrived and I duly dished out his first thrashing of the weekend thanks to this charming little dice-n-race luck fest. It’s clever, simple and quick and I got ridiculously lucky – while Martin’s sweary levels reached predictable heights as his went the other way. I took the win on 26 points, Martin barely deserved the wooden spoon on -9…

Port Royal (Chris, Donna, Martin, Paul)
I sadly missed a clean sweep after a terrible showing in Port Royal. The slightly amended rules from Handler der Karibik mean engine building is now a much more viable strategy; something I only realised half way through. Martin narrowly beat Donna, with Paul and me failing to get going at all.

July 12
NEW Cherry Picking x3 (Alec, Angus, Chris, Martin, Paul, Rocky)
This was the first of a five-new-game day – and all but one of them winners. Cherry picking is a charming filler card game that played really well with four, five and six players (without adding length to the game, which always a bonus). It’s an easy to learn and play set collection game but has enough original twists to make it worth seeking out; I enjoyed it a lot more than Abluxxen, for example. Highly recommended, despite Martin winning all three games – the last one pipping me by just a point (I think I came second twice).

NEW Quantum (Alec, Chris, Martin)
While I can see the charm in Quantum, and it’s certainly a clever game, this play ended up awful. The ship actions and special cards are neat, it cleverly encourages you to attack each other from the get-go, and you always feel you want just one more action each turn. I was having a great time early on, but a series of events left us pretty much at stalemate. I got bored and threw the game just to make it end – not good. However, I can believe this is a rare occurrence (two experienced players told me this and I had no reason not to believe them) and I’d be happy to play it again.

NEW Five Cucumbers (Alec, Angus, Chris, Martin, Paul, Paul A, Rocky)
Another simple trick taking game and another one I enjoyed a little more than Abluxxen. Apparently very close to a traditional Swedish card game, ‘five gherkins’ is incredibly basic – there’s only one suit, in a trick taking game – but there’s no lack of tension and laughter. I’m not sure how long it will be fun for, as I’m not sure there’s too much depth of strategy here, but as the best card player amongst us (Rocky) won it I’ll defer to that fact to give credit where it’s due. It also had the issue of player elimination, but despite that I’ll grab it if I see it.

NEW Camel Up (Alec, Angus, Chris, Martin, Paul, Paul A, Rocky)
Oddly the one disappointment of the weekend was the only Spiel de Jahres nominee. It seems to have everything you’d need to make a fun racing/betting game but it fell really flat – and this was a group who would’ve found the joy in it, if any had been there. It wasn’t awful – it just wasn’t really much fun. A definite miss and I’d go for Manila over this every time.

NEW Lords of Vegas (Chris, Martin, Rocky)
Unfortunately I had to leave early, but managed to cross this off my ‘must play’ list before I did – and wow, what a great game. It was always one I’d thought I’d like from the description and it was every bit as fun as I’d hoped. There were some hilarious swings and unlikely dice happenings, creating an experience somewhere between Acquire and roulette – which perfectly suits the theme. I started slow, got incredibly lucky and bounced into first place, before finishing a creditable (if totally fluky) second behind Martin. This shall be mine!

CV (Chris, Zoe)
After making it home, and before the footie, we had a chilled post-dinner game of CV. It’s the perfect game for relaxing, as it’s a very simple push-your-luck mechanic but the art is amazing and it tells a fun story. Of course you don’t really care who wins… but I did. You know, for the record. Largely thanks to nailing six relationship cards. Not that I was counting or anything.

July 14
Unpublished prototype (Chris, Zoe)
I decided to go fish around some traditional games, Feld style, to see if any old and crusty mechanisms jumped out at me – and one did. I don’t remember ever hearing of Shut the Box, a game you can still apparently play in some casinos today. After a lot of fiddling around I managed to turn it, again Feld style, into an action selection/stocks game about being A&R men in the music industry. The first play went way better than expected and we actually finished it. There’s a bit to before I put it in front of the Cambridge group, but I think by next week I can have a pretty good prototype ready to go.

July 15
Unpublished prototype x4 (Cambridge Playtest Group)
Had fun with an action selection tower building card game, then with Jen’s clever rock-paper-scissors abstract tile game, before getting in two games of War!Drobe and trying out two newer card sets – learning a good bit about both in terms of balance. A good, if too short, evening – we really need to find a pub that doesn’t kick out at half 10. Barbaric!

July 16
Tikal (Chris, Zoe)
I tend to be better at games we haven’t played for ages, and this was no exception and in fairness it’s better with four, but we still had fun – until after the third scoring when Zoe realised the game was pretty much up. I edged ahead 20-14 then 65-48, before Zoe saw she’d placed her second tent too early and given me the chance to make quite a bit of the board very hard for hr to get to. 127-115 turned into 200-178 for a pretty solid victory.

July 18
Jambo (Chris, Zoe)
This is a game Zoe has never got great at, largely because she can’t be bothered to read a lot of the cards so just dumps them! But she’s getting better and only my getting a second market earlier probably won me this game. Despite that small advantage she still got past 60 first, but I was in a good spot and won out 76-63. Creeping over the line like that is always a risky move.

Unpublished prototype (Chris, Zoe)
Zoe hadn’t played War!Drobe in its latest iteration, so we had a quick game – more to make sure the latest print off was all in order. It really isn’t her sort of game – but at least it’s short 

Can't Stop x2 (Chris, Zoe)
We then played two games of the Can’t Stop (on another player’s piece) variant, which is probably my favourite. I edged the first game, but Zoe totally thrashed me in the rematch. I still love this game but am tiring of it with more than two, as the downtown can get a bit dull.

July 19
Freya's Folly (Chris, Davina, Morph, Zoe)
An evening at morph and Davina’s started with Freya’s folly – and a very decisive end to my winning streak of the game. Morph sent all his dwarves in as a team but he got going a few rounds after the rest of us had started going a different route. He also used his powers well, a thief to screw me over, then finished things fast – and won on 78, about double the scores of Zoe and Davina. I was a round shy of nailing two cards to give me a similar score – but ended up on about two points! Nightmare.

Alhambra (Chris, Morph, Zoe)
Revenge was swift in arriving though, thanks to a good game of vanilla Alhambra – for me anyway. I managed to nail the purple and blue buildings throughout while also getting second in most other colours at the end, finishing on 150 ahead of Zoe (127) and Morph (111). It was an unwieldy looking lump with a rubbish wall throughout, but it did the job!

July 20
NEW Priests of Ra (Andy, Carl, Chris, Howie)
My 10th ‘new to me’ game of the month turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Andy bought it in The Works sale as I already own Ra and it’s one of our most played/loved games; but we had no idea this was going to be this similar. It’s no surprise there are big overstocks of it; it’s a set of expansion tiles for the original, rather than a different game! That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it; it was just like playing a variant of Ra, which was no bad thing. I didn’t get to grips with scoring until too late though, coming dead last on 39. Andy beat Howie by 10 to win on 72.

The Boss (Andy, Carl, Chris)
The Boss is one of those games I love but just don’t play enough. It’s funny; I moan about games with oversized boxes, but they do tend to get played more – this little box just doesn’t get noticed. I started well enough, scoring six in the first two rounds to take a lead but while running out of extra dudes – and getting locked out of Cincinnati. Andy was also locked out, giving Carl some free points in what turned out to be the third and final round. Worse still he nailed Chicago – and nine points! Unheard of, but a great four-point win for him from about three behind.

Bora Bora (Chris, Zoe)
We’re enjoying this oddly high interaction Feld more and more; in fact it might currently be my favourite of his offerings. Zoe started like a train but I slowly reeled her back in, being about 20 points behind as we came into final scoring. Unfortunately for her she’d made the same error as in our previous game – failing to complete all of her green tiles at last hurdle. She ended up with no six-point bonuses, while I nailed two; all green tiles and all huts out, plus the 36 points of fish bonuses that goes with it. This let me overtook her comfortably, winning 167-144.

July 24
Take 5 (St Ives Board Gaming Group)
We started the second meeting of the St Ives board gamers with a few rounds of this as people slowly trickled in thanks to bad traffic. I won the first round on 0 and the third round with 5, so a pretty good showing. By the end we had seven people, so split into a three and a four.

The Manhattan Project (Chris, Chris F, David)
Organiser Chris had said he’d love to play Manhattan Project and I was happy to teach. David had played a few times before and it went the way of experience, with me hitting the 60-point target the round before David would’ve done the same (and I was start player, so super close). I went full uranium and won with five buildings; there was no use of espionage or bombing, largely I think because it was close and no one had particularly amazing buildings to take advantage of. Fun as always.

For Sale (Chris, Chris F, David)
Chris also hadn’t played for Sale, which I’d packed as emergency filler, so we gave that a go too. Again it was both fun and close, with some crazy wins in the second half (I think both a 14 and 15 were won with properties under 10). I just about won, but largely because David was waiting for the second 15 to use his 30 – but it never arrived.

Empire Engine (Chris, Chris F, David)
With a few minutes left I also popped Empire Engine out of the bag and taught it to the guys. It went down pretty well and I managed a third win in a row, edging it by winning the soldiers bonus with just three! Not the most violent game I’ve played…

July 26
NEW 20th Century (Chris, Zoe)
I got this one from The Works for £10 after hearing good things about it. Someone had posted two-player rules on the Geek so we gave them a go, more to learn the game than really thinking it would work well. The version worked OK but was problematic for two reasons; the obvious one of boring auctions, but more significantly we only saw about half the tiles. This was frustrating, as a lot of the more interesting ones didn’t come out at all. On a more positive note, I enjoyed the mechanism and Zoe enjoyed it more than she usually does an auction game, so for now it’s a tentative thumbs-up. Another good sign was that it was close despite us taking very different paths; I ended up winning by having a few more science than Zoe, ending 51-41, and would’ve lost the tiebreak as I had one more garbage cube.

July 28
Navegador (Chris, Zoe)
Another day, another close Zoe-Chris game; this time my birthday present from her that we hadn’t played since I got it – five weeks earlier! No idea why, but it was great to finally get it to the table. Our only previous game had been four-player in Paros and it was definitely a little more fun with more, but we both still really enjoyed it. The game went right down to the wire and I had no idea who’s won – but I just managed to edge it 131-129. While I still like Hamburgum I’m not sure there’s much need to keep it in the collection as this really does feel better across the board; but I’ll give it a few more plays before deciding.

July 30
Cuba (Chris, Zoe)
Yet another day and yet another crazily close game – again decided by just two points! This time it was 83-81 and again I wouldn’t have wanted to bet on it going into the final round. We normally buy too many buildings and this time we both only added three to our boards; making a big difference to our scores, as last time we were both in the high 60s. I’ve cored a little higher before (88) but I think this was Zoe’s best score to date. But the amount we play (about once a year!) I don’t think we’ll ever get good at it; and to be honest, I don’t really mind.

July 31
Unpublished prototype x2 (Chris, Matt D)
As neither of us could make the Tuesday meet up, matt and me got together to give the latest version of Frontiers a try. We played half a game and much of the gameplay now feels solid, but then I’ve said that before! Lots of numbers need tweaking but this is the closest we’ve been to a satisfying game. As Matt is off to GenCon next week I also took the opportunity to run through a game of War!Drobe with him (which he of course beat me at), as he has generously agreed to put it in front of a few publishers. Finger’s crossed…
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Sun Aug 3, 2014 6:54 pm
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June 2014

Chris Marling
United Kingdom
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Board Game Designer
Microbadge: Empire Engine fanMicrobadge: Armageddon fanMicrobadge: Pioneer Days fanMicrobadge: Europe Divided fan
June 3
Unpublished prototype x6 (Cambridge Playtest Group)
A good night of playtesting started with a good look at Matt and my new game, Frontiers. The basics seemed solid but we soon agreed the prototype needs more tweaking before it’s really playable; hopefully next week, as it’s pretty close. I then managed to get three games of War!Drobe in with Sarah Woodrow (of Chompy Chomp Chomp fame) which went really well, before trying out a new design from Matt and Jen’s yak breeding game – no danger of that theme getting old!

Empire Engine (Chris, Sarah)
While waiting for others to finish after War!Drobe, I introduced Sarah to Empire Engine. I thought for a while she was going to become the eleventy-millionth person to beat me on their debut, but I just managed to pull ahead in the final few rounds. But more importantly, she liked it.

June 4
Rialto (Andy, Carl, Chris)
This was a good close game, despite Carl being miserable throughout; we won’t be playing this one again, despite Andy and me both really liking it. I wasn’t sure who was going to get the win, but made a terrible error in the final card choice and got no gold – meaning I couldn’t use any buildings. Andy used his to the full and got up to 62 points, leaving me second on 58. The first round was very odd, with no one getting any bridges – so it made the scores a little lower at the end with a couple of very weak zones (typically the bridge that wasn’t placed was the 6-5).

June 5
Pizza Box Football (Chris, Zoe)
This mismatch went from funny to annoying to abject to funny again. Zoe scored on five of her six first-half possessions, including four touchdowns, for a 31-0 half time lead. I gave the ball away three times, two fumbles and an interception, for the worst possible start. Every time I had QB pressure (three times) I rolled a 2 or a 3; Zoe rolled 11 or 12 in the same situation four times for gains! The second half was a lot less embarrassing, with Zoe only getting the single TD in the third quarter to extend her lead to 38-0. I actually won the fourth, managing to slot home two field goals (despite being ‘…and goal’ twice, once even going for a fourth and two and failing to get over the line) for a 41-6 humbling. In fact I didn’t get over the half way line with ball in hand until the fourth quarter – and that first time was a turnover: I only drove into Zoe’s half once from a kick off return, very late in the game. But funnily enough, despite many swears, I still had a good time. Stupid game.

June 8
Unpublished prototype (Chris, Matt D)
Matt popped over with the modified Frontiers prototype and by Jove; I think we’ve got ourselves a game. Despite having to make quite a few alterations as we played, we got through a whole game and scored it without too many hiccups. We’ve both got a bit more work to do in the next couple of days, but it should get its first public airing on Tuesday. Exciting!

Can't Stop (Chris, Matt D, Zoe)
We had a bit of time to kill before Matt’s bus, so we filled in this rather large hole in his board games played CV. We all failed miserably to get anything in the board the first time around, which lead to some pretty conservative play afterwards. Zoe took a two point lead but we both pegged her back by one before I nailed both the 12s and 2s in consecutive rounds to get the win.

Rialto (Chris, Zoe)
As I’d set this up to take some pics for my review, I left it on the table and had a game with Zoe. It was a bit cheaty for me, as I’d played a few days earlier and Zoe hadn’t played for ages, and I won out 86-72 (but still nearly blew it; I’m really prone to missing little details with this game – such as using yellow and blue tiles at crucial moments!). It was fun though and I’m always a bit surprised Zoe likes this one. It also plays surprisingly well with two (though not as well as with more) and we comfortably got it played in under an hour too.

NEW Bora Bora (Chris, Zoe)
Matt was kind enough to lend me Bora Bora, as I was running out of recent games to review and it was one of the few recent Felds I hadn’t played. Our first game left me with mixed feelings. It’s definitely a point salad, like Trajan, which I don’t really like; but then I enjoyed the concept in Castles of Burgundy. The difference for me there was that the spatial element made the scoring make sense – something I didn’t feel as much with either this or Trajan. However I did enjoy the challenge this game offered, but more as a puzzle than a game – interaction seemed minimal, with the copious god (read ‘get out of jail free’) cards making screwage close to non-existent. There’s enough here to make me want to hit my ‘five games so I can review it’ threshold, but beyond that? I doubt it.

June 10
Unpublished prototype x3 (Chris, Dave, Jen, Matt)
Matt and me had an early run through of Frontiers before the other guys turned up; at which point we had a first four-player game with Jen and Dave. They were both pretty baffled and it became clear there was a little too much going; something they both alluded to at the end and we both agreed. Luckily there’s plenty of room for simplification without spoiling the good bits, so it still felt like another step forward for the game. Afterwards we had time for a quick go at Matt’s card drafting microgame which is now really good – I’d be amazed if it doesn’t find a publisher by the end of the year.

June 14
Bora Bora (Chris, Zoe)
OK, so this is why playing a game more than once makes all the difference; my first-play Bora Bora assumptions were very much altered. Yes, it’s a puzzle; but once you know what to look for there’s loads of indirect interaction. Dice placement can get really nasty, while being in poll position to take an early green tile can be absolutely crucial. I made a couple of poor errors and – despite going on about maximising a few areas at the start of the game – failed miserably to do so. Zoe won 158-155 and pronounced she likes it a lot, so perhaps it will be joining the collection after all.

June 15
Endeavor (Andy, Carl, Chris)
We hadn’t played Endeavor for ages, which certainly levelled the playing field as everyone tried to remember what the hell to do. Oddly though I think we played with a lot of cohesion, everyone taking a bit of the slavery card pile to stop that battle happening and then sharing a small number of shipping tracks. There was only one attack the whole game, but it was still a lot of fun and very close; Andy winning on 60 ahead of Carl (55) and me (54).

Manila (Andy, Carl, Chris)
This is a game I love but rarely do well at – but today I had a stormer. It helped that Andy and me were dealt the same cards, with poor Carl getting two greens. Some early wins for us both meant we controlled the harbour master and green was largely left at home, seeing Carl well last on 34. White was chosen every round and got home on but one or two of them, making for a pretty short game in which greens shares were worth zip and brown only five. I scored well on both white and blue, giving a final haul of 152 to Andy’s 130.

French board game holiday, outside Auffay, June 20-24

June 20
Unpublished prototype (Chris, Tom)
I stated at Tom’s the night before we left, and we managed to get in a quick game of War!Drobe on the train over there. I won, and Tom didn’t seem overly enthused, but hey – a play’s a play! The light sabre is the only problematic card, as its so overpowered, but the probability of it lasting more than one turn is so small (if you play OK) that I don’t really see it as an issue. I think it’s about ready to pop off to some publishers – so fingers crossed…

June 21
NEW Linko (Chris, Lloyd, Paul Ag, Tom)
The ferry wasn’t out of Newhaven before the first game was on the table. I’d heard good things and enjoyed our play, but don’t think I’d seek it out in future. It’s a nice hand management game, where you’re trying to get rid of all of your cards – hardly a new and exciting idea! It does it well, with an interesting twist, but does it bring enough to the party to stand out? Not for me. We played four rounds, and I did OK in three of them and terribly in the last, letting Lloyd overtake me and leaving me fourth. I can’t remember who won – sorry!

NEW Welcome to the Dungeon (Chris, Lloyd, Paul Ag, Tom)
This was, thankfully, the first and last Japanese hipster game I played all week – quite a feat, judging by the amount that hit the table. It’s kind of pushing your luck, kind of bluffing, kind of pointless really. Paul won by being the only person not to die, because he didn’t push his luck very much – and so didn’t have much fun in the dungeons. So he was the winner? Right. I went out first, giving me a chance to go for a wander around the ferry – so I think I was a winner too.

Lady Alice x2 (Chris, Lloyd, Paul Ag, Tom)
I really like Lady Alice, but it’s a lot better when you play with the right rules. The first attempt was an unmitigated disaster (not recorded); Paul misread his card on the second, so we got to the end totally confused and exasperated, while the third game was just about fully legitimate (I think). But it was still fun throughout; it’s such a fresh and clever mix of deduction and bluff.

NEW I'm the Boss! (Adam, Chris, Lloyd, Paul, Paul Ag, Tom)
I’d never played this game of who shouts loudest, but had a good time doing so. It reminded me of Chinatown and left me with the same feeling; I kind of enjoyed the experience, but feel no need to play it again. I did pretty well – I think I came in second – but it relies on skills I’d rather not have, which leaves you feeling kind of dirty at the end of it!

Perudo (Adam, Chris, Lloyd, Paul, Paul Ag, Tom)
I’m always up for this classic party game, and managed to win it on a one-dice-each shoot off with Paul Ag: I called three, he thought I was lying, I wasn’t.

NEW Larry (Adam, Chris, Lloyd, Paul, Paul Ag, Tom)
Utter utter shite, made slightly bearable by much hilarity at just how bad it was. How did this make it off the play-test table?

Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation (Adam, Chris, Paul)
We closed the night with one of my favourites, and the only ‘proper’ game I’d brought along – a great way to cleanse the palate after Larry! It was a really close game that went right to the wire, with Paul only put out of it by a nasty disaster near the end. This is definitely one of my favourite games and it’s really sad that the push to get it reprinted seems to have disappeared; I’d highly recommend anyone that likes civ games and card games to track it down.

June 22
Unpublished prototype x3 (Chris, Lloyd)
I managed to get three games of War!Drobe in with Lloyd, who was much more taken with it than Tom had been. He ended up winning 2-1 over three games and even described it as ‘charming’, which I’ll certainly take.

NEW Crossboule (Adam, Chris, Lloyd, Paul, Paul Ag, Tom)
We played three outdoor games on the trip – this and two games of the brilliant Molkky (which I’ve since ordered). I won all three games, making me undisputed outdoor games champion of THE WORLD! I thank you.

NEW Port Royal (Chris, Paul, Paul Ag)
Calling this a ‘new’ game to me is a little disingenuous, as I’ve played Handler der Karibik a tonne – but as this has its own entry, I guess it counts. Unsurprisingly it played out just like the original, and while it was very tight going into the endgame I managed to pull off a tight win. I’m certainly still very fond of this clever little card game, although there may be a little too much luck for everyone’s tastes; you can have a bad run through no fault of your own that leaves you out of the game, and it plays a little too long for that to be OK. But I like it despite that failing.

NEW Speculation (Adam, Chris, Lloyd, Paul, Paul Ag)
While this stocks and shares game had a certain charm, it was a little too dry for my liking. For me it lacked a spark to really make it tick, and while I’d play again at a push it left me pretty cold; another of those games that has a clever mechanism but not much personality attached to it.

NEW Amazonas (Chris, Paul Ag, Tom)
I liked the look of this family friendly euro and it played out pretty well. It has a nice mix of route building and hand management, played just under an hour and had just the right amount of decision making – but somehow it didn’t really quite click enough with me to want to play more. I think I was spoilt recently with Africana, which I liked much more and that falls into the same weight category. And with boxes of Ticket to Ride already on my shelves, along with Felinia, this wouldn’t find a place.

Modern Art Card Game (Adam, Chris, Lloyd, Paul, Paul Ag, Tom)
I’d played this once before, but that had been the bidding version; this was the more recent ‘Duckomenta Art’ version, which has brilliant art, while I preferred this ‘non bidding’ version to the original. I really need to add this one to my collection. I also managed to win on 86 points, just pipping Lloyd into second on 84.

NEW Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie (Adam, Paul, Tom vs Chris, Lloyd, Paul Ag,)
Utter twaddle – but really great fun. If you’re going to make a ridiculous minis game, then this is the way to do it: buckets of dice, loads of stupid characters and a very simple rules set. I ended up with a giant robot that did pretty well before being taken out by a dragon; my samurai managed to hold up a square that kept the dragons grounded for much of the game, but did little else; while by intrepid general got dealt a massively flukey blow early on and never landed a punch. In the end we were soundly beaten, but who cares? Good times.

NEW Manhattan x2 (Chris, Paul, Paul Ag)
This had been on my ‘need to play’ list for ages and now, after two great plays, is firmly on my wishlist too. It’s a simple area majority game with terrible artwork, but unlike Speculation for me it totally delivered o the play experience too. You’re constantly in each others faces, with the ebb and flow adding real excitement throughout. So good we played in back-to-back and it lost none of its charm on the second play through; I could’ve happily kept going.

NEW New World: A Carcassonne Game (Adam, Chris, Lloyd, Paul, Paul Ag, Tom)
And I wish we had kept playing Manhattan – because then I wouldn’t have had to suffer this horror. While Larry the night before had been ‘car crash’ funny, this was ‘go to sleep weeping’ sad. How can you take this much of the essence out of a great game like Carcassonne, keeping barely anything fun while adding randomness and terrible, terrible graphic art decisions? I really wanted to stay up and again cleanse the palate, but this was just too depressing. Everyone just slopped off to bed – but otherwise it had been a brilliant day’s gaming.

June 23
NEW Blue Moon Legends x3 (Adam, Chris)
Quite a few games of Blue Moon had been played and as a game that had been on my want list for some time, I was eager to get in on the action. It turned out to be an engaging two-player combat game, but despite enjoying the plays it was now disappeared from my wishlist. Firstly I don’t think Zoe would really enjoy it, but more importantly it didn’t quite scratch the CCG itch enough to make me want to explore it further; Hearthstone is quite happily fulfilling that role right now. After a fluky debut win, my Flit were comfortably dispatched by Adam in a 2-1 defeat.

Unpublished prototype (Adam, Chris)
Adam was good enough to be my third War!Drobe guinea pig of the week, and he also enjoyed our game – so Tom is clearly wrong

NEW Skull King (Chris, Paul Ag, Tom)
This is basically Wizard, which is basically Contract Whist. Both add tiny alterations to an already brilliant game, which frankly didn’t need them. This was fine, but I’d much rather play the original with a standard deck of cards.

NEW Pelican Bay (Chris, Paul Ag, Tom)
I’m normally won over by a good tile-layer, but there was just a bit too much going on spatially for me to really connect with Pelican Bay. While the artwork is beautiful it really impaired my ability to see my best move and by the end I was left frustrate and a little underwhelmed; which was a shame, as under the lovely art there seemed to be a good game obscured from my view.

NEW Walnut Grove (Adam, Chris, Paul)
I’d heard this was mean, and so it proved – especially as I apparently managed to pick out a random selection that made the game about as difficult as possible. Paul and I drew the same starting board, which happened to leave Adam in a strong position to pick up the only two worker huts. It was pretty much downhill for us from there, although my score ended up respectable and Paul nearly caught him at the end. It’s a solid euro, though I’m not sure I need to revisit it – but certainly wouldn’t say no.

NEW Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery (Adam, Chris, Lloyd, Paul, Paul Ag)
Alongside Manhattan, this was probably my highlight of the week. I’m a sucker for the exploration theme, enjoy worker placement and revel in a small but significant bit of area control and conflict – and this ticks all those boxes with a big fat red marker pen. From not having considered this at all, it’s now near the top of my wishlist. Paul won the game by a single point on 70 from the plucky young debutant (yes, me).

June 24
Race for the Galaxy x2 (Adam, Chris, Paul)
This was one of very games I’d probably played more than my peers on this trip, so it was good to get a win. Adam won a strong first game as his brown produce/consume engine got up and running fast and didn’t benefit anyone else too much in the process. I got a quick win in the second game, nailing a rebel military tableau in double-quick time before the others could get anything going.

NEW Hanabi (Adam, Chris, Paul Ag, Tom)
Yes yes, I know – I couldn’t quite believe I hadn’t played it either. And it was very intimidating going into a game with experienced players who knew each other’s tactics – was I going to blow it for everyone? Turned out I did make one error, but it was near the end and was only the difference between 23 and 21 points. As for the game, it’s brilliant; so simple, so original, so captivating. I can’t believe I didn’t pull the trigger on it at Essen last year when I saw it as cheap as four euros…

NEW Tammany Hall (Adam, Chris, Lloyd, Paul, Paul Ag)
I’d heard a lot about Tammany Hall and wanted to play it, but wasn’t expecting to enjoy it. However it turned out to be great fun, becoming my third highlight game of the week that involved area majority; certainly not something I would’ve predicted. It’s a very in-your-face game, like Manhattan, but both have that quality of the conflict being inevitable – and therefore more palatable. Tammany is the more complex game, but enough so that it becomes confusing – and the mayoral powers add a fantastic catch-up twist. On the downside a miscalculation by Mayor Paul in the final dishing out of positions seemed to gift Adam the game; but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment. I did OK for my debut, but felt cleverly managed throughout.

NEW Expedition: Northwest Passage (Chris, Lloyd, Paul Ag, Tom)
My final highlight of the week was this clever tile-laying exploration race game; a mix that makes sense and works really well. There’s a bit of Tikal in that you have a bunch of actions to do every turn, and are laying tiles to will a grid and try to get yourself bonuses by picking things up first. But there’s also push-you-luck tied to a clever weather mechanism, forcing you off of your boat and onto your sled as you try to race across the board – and then back again. I don’t feel the need to pick it up, unless I see it cheap, but Expedition is a very good game indeed. I also won, noodling along behind Lloyd on the way west and then breaking for home and just pipping Tom on points on the way back.

Empire Engine x2 (Adam, Chris, Lloyd, Tom)
I knew Adam and both Pauls hadn’t played Empire Engine, so they gave me some slack on my birthday and agreed to a game. However they both ended up bailing out half way through the game to go and rescue Joan, who was cycling home from Paris, leaving Tom and Lloyd to step in. Tom ran away with it, but Adam had enjoyed it enough to play again and Lloyd wanted a full game. It didn’t help him though, as I won the second one.

Unpublished prototype (Adam, Chris, Lloyd, Tom)
Adam also had a prototype with him, Golden Age, so we gave it a play next. Lloyd was mercilessly cruel to it throughout, but it wasn’t far from being a strong little area majority microgame. He’s trying to keep it to 18 cards, which could prove tricky, and I’d be tempted to suggest he goes beyond that restriction to guarantee it works. I’ll certainly be interested in seeing future iterations.

Dixit (Adam, Chris, Lloyd, Paul, Paul Ag)
This ended up being my last game of the trip and while I really like it, it fell a little flat. I was probably too tired to really get into it, and definitely was for the ribbing I got for being slow, so it just fizzled into something to get through. No fault of the game though, which is truly excellent with the right crowd and at the right time.

June 26
NEW Blockers! (Chris, Zoe)
At £1.99 on BoardgameGuru I couldn’t pass this up – and thankfully it turned out to be excellent, with Zoe approving to (and beating me well in our first game). This is a really clever little abstract where you’re trying to make as few groups of your tiles as possible in a Sudoku-style grid. It’s hard to make it sound interesting, but if you like puzzly tile placement games this should definitely be on your radar.

Take 5 (Chris, Zoe)
Zoe was contemplating what games she might be able to take on a trip with a few of her students, so I suggested this little classic. She had only played once and couldn’t really remember it, so we played though a few rounds to refresh her memory. It’s a game I really like, despite its random nature, but Zoe isn’t so keen – and it certainly doesn’t shine as bright with two players.

June 28
The Rose King (Chris, Howie)
A few people popped over for a few belated birthday drinks, and with Howie arriving first we had a quick game of my favourite two-player abstract. It was hardly a birthday treat though as he racked up a 16-tile area that, despite me having the judge card advantage throughout, simply couldn’t break down.

Stone Age (Chris, Howie, Morph, Steve)
With Steve being very new to modern gaming, having only played Ticket to Ride to date, we tried to step it up a notch for him. It proved more of a leap though, especially as he was very tired, and I’m hoping it hasn’t put him off for good! It’s an odd one, as many see it as the gateway worker placement game (no, I’m not buying bloody Waterdeep) – but Morph remembered he had a similarly difficult time getting his head around it the first time. Anyway, screw those guys – it was my birthday and I won hehe.

Lost Cities (Chris, Zoe)
Despite the other having headed home, I was determined to get one more game in – and Zoe was kind enough to indulge me in a round of Lost Cities. It’s a game she has gotten into her head that she’s awful at, but I think it’s the kind of game that just gives out that vibe to all the players because it’s so tricky to score points unless you get super lucky. This actually turned out to be very close in the end, but I just pipped it.

June 30
Kingdom Builder x2 (Chris, Zoe)
Why oh why am I so awful at this game! Game one was an unmitigated disaster; after laying about 10 of my cubes I had zero points (yes, I counted). It didn’t get much better and Zoe doubled my score by probably playing about averagely. Thankfully she was sympathetic to my pleas for a rematch, and I did win that one – just. Sympathy? Probably, but I’ll take anything when it comes to Kingdom Builder. The second game was odd anyway; we were scoring majorities in areas – which we split, predictably – and then also for both water and mountain adjacency; so we scored on pretty much every tile. There were five points in it at the end, which was largely me getting next to one more castle.
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Tue Jul 1, 2014 1:32 pm
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May 2014

Chris Marling
United Kingdom
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Board Game Designer
Microbadge: Empire Engine fanMicrobadge: Armageddon fanMicrobadge: Pioneer Days fanMicrobadge: Europe Divided fan
May 2
Copycat (Chris, Zoe)
I’ve played Copycat quite a bit more than Zoe, and for a change I didn’t let an advantage make me complacent. I managed to pick up a couple of six-point VP cards and doubled them two rounds in a row for a comfortable win – which made up a tiny bit for the thrashing I’d had from Andy and Carl the previous week. But not much!

May 3
NEW Unspeakable Words (Chris, Hunts Games Group)
I popped along to a new semi-local games group for a short visit, and jumped in on this just as I arrived. It’s basically crap: a very basic card version of scrabble with cute Cthulhu art on terrible card stock. Use hand cards to make a word; roll under its total score on a d20 or lose a life; first to 100 points wins – but if you lose five lives you go insane. It ain’t rocket science, but was actually quite good fun – and while the cards were awful the little plastic Cthulhu bits used to keep your score were super cute.

May 4
Puerto Rico (Chris, Zoe)
A really nice evening’s gaming started with only my first, and Zoe’s second, game of Puerto Rico this year. I concentrated on points for shipping while Zoe get a good money engine going, which ended up making it really tight in the end. Zoe nailed three of the four-point buildings but it wasn’t quite enough as I won a really nail-biting game 55-52. I really like it with the official two-player variant; I always think the workers are going to run out really fast, then they slow down after half way and it goes an extra turn or two than I expect.

Terra Mystica (Chris, Zoe)
We followed that with Terra Mystica, both of us choosing races we hadn’t tried before: me Dwarves, Zoe the Halflings. Unfortunately for me one of the bonus tiles was the expansion one that gives VPs for shipping, so Zoe upped it just to get the points knowing I wouldn’t choose the tile! The dwarven power didn’t seem that useful in a two-player game either, although it did help me get biggest city in the bonuses at the end. It was an incredibly close game and I totally blew it in the final round; we had a priest left each, but I had an action left to do something else with. I did that, letting Zoe use her priest – and claim the three-step bonus on a one track we were level on. That secured it for her, and she won 99-97. Arse!

May 6
Unpublished prototype (Chris, Zoe)
I’d read a thread on BGG from a fellow On Board Games listener who’d come up with an idea fro an expandable P&P microgame, so thought I’d give it a shot. It was interesting, mixing deduction with majority control, but was too swingy for our tastes in its current form. There was certainly enough there for them to stick at it though.

NEW Monopoly Deal Card Game x2 (Chris, Zoe)
I’d read this was better than you’d expect, so seeing it in a charity shop for £1.50 I thought it was worth a go. The box looked tatty, with the obligatory charity shop sellotape all over it, but in fact the cards looked unused. And it turns out to be a pretty fun little filer game too; set collection with plenty of back-stabbing and take-that action. No, it’s not rocket science but then that’s hardly what I was expecting. With the right crowd and a short amount of time to fill, this will certainly fit the bill. Both games were crazy swingy, but fun, with us ending up one apiece.

May 8
Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation (Chris, Zoe)
This is a game I really like but am not very good at; while Zoe thinks she’s not good at it, struggles with it a little (it can be counter intuitive) but forgets she plays well. I thought I had a good thing going on with the coinage/cog wheel combo, but Zoe hit back well with the ziggurat and earthenware pipe to come from behind with by Gibil. Then, with a round to go and with me tapped out on cubes, the volcano hit – leaving me one action and Zoe six (as I’d been first player). She won it 27-26 in a great finish.

May 11
Galaxy Trucker (Andy, Carl, Chris)
Finally got around to introducing the guys to this and it was an instant hit. We played it very light, as it was only my third game too, using the starter set for the first ship and not taking the option to look at the cards coming up. But it wasn’t like I needed to give them a head start – they totally schooled me, with Andy winning on 76 and Carl second on 53. The less said about my 38 the better…

Galaxy Trucker (Andy, Carl, Chris, Howie)
The guys enjoyed it so much they opted for a second game when Howie arrived. Again the new guy did OK and this time it was Carl who had a nightmare, finishing on 25. Howie made 39, Andy 45, but I reclaimed a little dignity with a win on 50. I don’t think Galaxy Trucker is a game I will want to play every week, but I’m really glad I now own it as it is great fun and totally different to anything else I own (I guess that’s the Chvatil magic at work).

Nefertiti (Chris, Zoe)
I hadn’t played this for ages and have no idea why; it’s a real favourite – even two-player. We’d both forgotten a lot of the subtlety and kept closing markets before having those crucial guys in place who get you the coins back after the big buys. This meant all the markets ended up filling with cash while we scrabbled around trying to pay for things with fresh air; a very odd game saw the last three or four turns end with us not being able to afford to buy when winning a market! I got a great early sale of four of the same item for 64 points and Zoe couldn’t quite claw that back, with the game ending 93-82. Next time, we’ll play better!

May 13
Unpublished prototype x2 (Cambridge Playtesters)
Started the night with a good chat with Matt about two game ideas we’re hatching, before having a group chat with a new guy Jon about a public speaking idea he’s working on. Also had a quick game of War!Drobe with Matt, as he hadn’t played the ‘nearly finished’ version; before having a second attempt at his and Brett’s co-op; which is fun, clever, but for me just a little long and samey. I’m sure they’ll address both these points though, as it’s very nearly a cracker.

May 14
Ra (Andy, Carl, Chris)
I’d taken Rialto along to play but it was a really hot and busy day, so by the evening we were too zonked to play it. But Ra worked perfectly and really perked everyone up. It was, as always, a surprisingly different game with the first round being over in minutes; I think we scored 3, 4 and 5 points respectively as the Ra tiles flowed freely! I had a blistering second round to open a lead, but with more than ten Nile tiles I was very much a one trick pony. The others concentrated on me not getting a flood in round three, while Andy sneakily got all eight monuments in the melee – giving him the win on 56 ahead of Carl on 46.

Felinia (Andy, Carl, Chris)
Suitably perky, but still not enough for Rialto, we played Felinia for the first time in a while. In fading light we soon remembered why it can frustrate; while the game play is fun, some of the colour/graphical choices are bizarre at best and downright unplayable at worst, especially in bad light. But with a bit of swearing we got through and I do really enjoy the way it plays. It ended up being very close, with Carl and me finishing on 43 points (Andy 41) but me winning the tiebreak by a single coin.

May 15
Ticket to Ride (Chris, Liz, Steve, Zoe)
We’d first played Ticket to Ride with Steve and Liz more than a year ago, and it was ridiculous we hadn’t gotten round to a follow up until now – we certainly won’t leave it another two years! Luckily they remembered most of the rules so we got going pretty quickly, but it was more about the social side than the gaming (I think our one game took about three hours lol). I had a pretty good game in second place, getting up past 100, but Steve won it comfortably (didn’t record the scores).

May 18
Stone Age (Carl, Chris, Howie)
It’s always great to get Stone Age to the table, especially on a lazy Sunday afternoon after a night on the booze. Despite a serious hangover I won it on 164, with Howie pipping Carl to second by a point on 116. Very low scoring, with no one really nailing a particular a strategy, and we ran out of tiles with a lot of cards left in the stack, but that meant it was really close throughout.

May 20
Unpublished prototype (Chris, Karl)
I introduced War!Drobe to Karl at the start of a nice afternoon gaming. I wasn’t sure if he’d like it, as he hadn’t been keen on Empire Engine at first, but thankfully he thought it was fun; I now just need to get the rest of the cards finished and into testing, but it doesn’t look like I’ll have time before Paros next week. But still, more positive vibes can only be a good thing!

NEW Morels (Chris, Karl)
I’d wanted to try Morels (now Fungi) since its release, as I’m always looking for nice two-player Games for Zoe and me. While I enjoyed Fungi, and think it’s a clever little set collection game, it really didn’t grab me. It’s one I’d be happy to play but certainly don’t feel the need t own; I’d much rather play games I already have such as Jambo, Rosenkonig, Lost Cities or Jaipur. For various reasons I don’t think this is quite in the same class as those titles. Karl won comfortably, 60-37, as I tried to finish sets I had in my hand rather than really looking at the points values – big mistake!

NEW Targi (Chris, Karl)
Targi, on the other hand, is in that class – but I’m still not sure I need to own a copy. I love the way it plays; it feels fresh and original, with great opportunities for blocking and clever play – but also for risk taking and riding your luck. I do agree with Karl’s observations though, which are probably what’s keeping me on the fence; it does play a little long for what it is, especially as the decision space doesn’t change much throughout the game. However for a small box title it packs an awful lot of punch and would be great to take on holiday, for example. I liked it a lot, but will try and play Zoe online to see what she thinks before committing. Our game was tight most of the way, with Karl playing well while I kept up by flying on the seat of my pants! Unfortunately my luck ran out a little near the end, letting Karl take 44-34 win as he finished his grid while I had two spaces left to fill.

Trip to Alea Apartments, Paros, Greece

May 23
Unpublished prototype (Chris, Matt)
Me and Matt drove to Heathrow early and booked into our over night hotel. While sitting in the bat waiting for the others to arrive we snuck in one game of War!Drobe. I’d hoped to play once with him with the original set of cards then try out the others, but this turned out to be our only game of the weekend – too many other choices!

May 24
Ticket to Ride: Europe x2 (Chris, Matt, Morph, Zoe)
The majority of Saturday was spent travelling, but on beautiful ferry ride to Paros we did play two games of TtR. I wouldn’t normally count digital games in my plays, but we couldn’t play a game on the windy deck and it was four of us around the table passing the iPad with all the usual banter going on, so for me it counted. I didn’t note the scores down, but it was a win each for Morph and Zoe.

May 25
NEW Airlines Europe (Chris, Matt, Morph, Zoe)
I’d watched a few videos of this online the week before and it proved very simple to teach; especially to people familiar with both Ticket to ride and Acquire. I won on 81 just ahead of Zoe (79) and Matt (78) in a very close game. Everyone enjoyed the experience, but I was the only one who really took to the game, so I don’t think I’ll be buying a copy.

Empire Engine (Chris, Dimitris, Matt, Zoe)
One of our hosts, Dimitris, joined us for food and then games on our first evening on the island. He was generous enough to show interest in my game so I was of course happy to teach it to him. Dimitris won on his debut by a point from Matt, largely because he second-guessed Zoe three times in a row early on for a great start and carried it home. He also said he’d buy a copy when it ‘officially’ comes out, hopefully at Essen, so hey – it was a sale too (although I’m sure I’ll give them a free copy).

Lords of Waterdeep (Chris, Dimitris, Matt, Morph, Zoe)
This was on Matt’s ‘want to play’ list, so we broke it out next. I’d played this worker placement by numbers effort before, so set it up while Dimitris explained the rules to the others. I didn’t record the scores, but I won – which is the important thing, of course. The game played out fine and was reasonably entertaining, but I still don’t get what any of the fuss is about; it defines average.

NEW One Night Werewolf (Chris, Dimitris, Matt, Morph, Zoe)
Having heard some buzz about this little time waster, and as Dimitris suggested it, we played our first ever game of Werewolf. As someone who hated BSG and can’t tolerate Resistance, I was pretty sure I’d hate it – but it only last 10 minutes, right…? Dimitris won, as the only werewolf, and was really the only winner. It was 30 minutes (including explanation) of my life I won’t get back.

NEW Koryŏ (Chris, Matt, Morph)
Dimitris was heading home and Zoe sensibly went to bed, but Dimitris taught us one last game before departing – leaving three of us drunk and tired playing Koryo. I was sold on the core mechanism (if you have the majority of a card number you get an advantage, and you add to your tableau over several rounds) and the game creates some interesting decisions and situations, but I was left feeling they had come up with a great idea but a poor game. It all came down to the final round, with me just pipping Matt after Morph and him and had traded blows to hand me the victory. But it never felt satisfying; you couldn’t build an engine and while some clever play was possible it relies too much on king-making and luck. However, I have no doubt a much better game will come out using this clever card play mechanism.

May 26
NEW Krosmaster: Arena (Chris, Matt)
As Zoe and morph started the day slow, Matt and me took the opportunity to learn this cutesy skirmish game that’d been on both of our lists to play. We had fun, probably played half the rules wrong, and I just came out on top in an enjoyable match-up. I’d happily play again some time, but despite loving the bits and enjoying the gameplay I don’t think I’d play it enough to invest – especially as I’d want to get all the extra characters too.

Biblios (Chris, Matt)
I also took the opportunity to teach Matt Biblios; I had only played once before, years ago, and was also interested to see how it played with two. The answer was not so well, as choices were less interesting and the bidding pretty dull. Matt won solidly, 12-8, as I didn’t realise there were more than one of each high card in the game. Oops.

NEW Navegador (Chris, Matt, Morph, Zoe)
If you’d asked me before the trip what I expected my gaming highlight to be, it would’ve been this – and it was. Only the third Gerdts game I’ve played and the third I’ve loved, and with more plays this could be my favourite. It’s gone right up to the top of my wishlist – and not only because I just pipped Matt by two points to win on 88. Morph and Zoe had their own battle, with Zoe claiming third by a point on 66. In the first round I was convinced lots of ships was the way to go – and then as everyone overtook me I gave up on that idea and went with factories; I think I only bought four ships all game.

May 27
Elfenland (Chris, Matt, Morph, Zoe)
I’d wanted another game of this old classic, as I’d played once before in different company and enjoyed it, so set it up for the afternoon. I had a good time playing it again, but as with airlines Europe the others enjoyed it but weren’t wowed – but I’ll still probably pick up a second hand copy at Essen. I had a great opening two rounds, getting a lead, but got terrible luck in round three and was pegged back. I just managed to go the furthest in the final round though, winning a really tight game on 16 ahead of Matt on 15 and the others on 14.

NEW Cyclades (Chris, Dimitris, Matt, Morph, Zoe)
In the evening we were again joined by Dimitris, who taught us this classic – it seemed rude not to learn a game set where we were! None of us are really aggressive gamers, or into area control, so it was a pretty level playing field; and with much of the game being about role selection and bidding, it didn’t seem quite so fighty as similar games. Going towards the end the game was incredibly tight, with everyone poised and in position to win during the final two rounds. I pulled off a great jerk move on Dimitris just in time to stop him winning, and Zoe completed the two metropolis goal the next round to move into a winning position – just in time for me to invade her and steal the win from under her nose. It was really satisfying, but it’s still not a game I want to won.

May 28
Biblios (Chris, Matt, Morph)
We tried Biblios again, this time three-player, with Matt proving (as I had against him) that a little knowledge is dangerous. I won on 8 ahead of Morph on 6 – with Matt back on 1! Again, while enjoyable, the game didn’t really shine as it had when I’d played it a few years back. I guess there have been an awful lot of clever, tight little games coming out in recent times and the enthusiasm I’d had to buy this one has gone. I didn’t hate it by any stretch, but it just fell a little flat.

Ca$h 'n Gun$ (Chris, Matt, Morph, Zoe)
This was another game I’d played once ages ago and enjoyed – but unlike Biblios, I still had a lot of fun with this silly little filler. The game went down pretty well with everyone, even though they’re generally proving not to be ‘filler’ type people – none of my regular groups are, really. But of the short, lighter games we played I think this went down best of all – but I’m not willing to pay £30 for it. Zoe proved to be the most crooked amongst us, winning on $120,000, a full $20,000 ahead of Matt.

NEW Eight-Minute Empire (Chris, Matt, Morph, Simos, Zoe)
This one really surprised me. Both gimmicky titles and ‘Kickstarter’ are big flashing red alarm bells for me, so I’d shied away, but our other host Simos offered to teach us it – and I’m really glad he did. I was expecting not to be impressed, but it packed just enough into a small box in a quick time to really impress me – and with the promise of an even better experience from the newer version, Legends. You’re immediately worried bout your very limited resources and how to expand your empire, but everyone is in the same boat (sorry) and there is a surprising amount of strategies to employ. Matt edged out Zoe 11 to 10, with the rest of us all finishing on 9.

Ticket to Ride: Europe (Chris, Matt, Morph, Simos, Zoe)
After we’d been to Alea two years previously, we’d gifted them a copy of ticket to Ride as we couldn’t believe they didn’t own it. Dimitris had played and not really enjoyed it (he likes meatier games), but Simos hadn’t played – so we taught him. It was an incredibly tight game at five players, with the area around Essen ridiculously fought for throughout, but it made for a fun – if tense and frustrating – game. I was sure I was doomed, but the cheaty stations came to my rescue and I finished my big ticket on the last round – to beat Morph by a point rather than coming last!

May 29
Glen More (Chris, Matt, Morph)
Following my theme for this Paros trip, I taught another game I’d played once ages ago, enjoyed, and wanted to try again. I very much enjoyed it again, although the end rushed up on just when I wasn’t expecting it – handing Matt won a comfortable win on 51 to my 30. Morph only scored 18 but went a totally offbeat way that may have worked

May 30
NEW Dungeon Petz (Chris, Matt, Morph, Zoe)
I’d played a game of this online, but played pretty much randomly without properly learning the rules. Learning this from the rulebook, and teaching it, was an absolute pig and took ages – and I think Morph and Zoe’s scores reflected that! Matt was really enthusiastic about it though, and loved it, so at least he had a good time. I’d expected to become a fan, but despite loving the theme, genre and style it fell a little flat for me – there just seemed to be a little too much going on. I won on 61 ahead of Matt on 57, which are probably awful scores; we both managed to sell one pet at a reasonable price and do pretty well in all the exhibitions. Zoe managed to keep her playful veggie pet ‘Eric’ (her name, not the game’s) alive throughout, although he finished with a cage full of poop and six misery tokens. She should not be allowed to keep pets! She finished on 8 points…

NEW Incan Gold (Chris, Zoe)
I’d heard so many good things about this game (and its predecessor), and we’d played so many good Moon games, I set this up with Zoe to check it out while we waited for the others to come back from a meal out. We set it up, played a game (with a dummy player) and boy, did it seem to suck. In the first two temples a pair of hazards came up before any good stuff – and the same happened in temple four. Temple two was OK, with us all getting out with a similar amount of treasure, but as we could all remember what the other had it made temple five completely predictable. If one ‘run’ can be like that, so can more – so we gave up on it and put it away again.

NEW Tumblin' Dice (Chris, Zoe)
Our holiday ended with this really nice dexterity game. It’s more like darts than a board game, but I really enjoyed it – a great change of pace and fun way to end the evening. Zoe and me both started terribly, but I got the hang of it a little quicker and pulled out a big lead. But once Zoe got into the groove she pulled right back at me, but I had enough of an advantage to hold her off for a 308-237 win. I look forward to the rematch, but I fear it won’t be until our next trip to Paros – which can’t come soon enough!
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April 2014

Chris Marling
United Kingdom
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Board Game Designer
Microbadge: Empire Engine fanMicrobadge: Armageddon fanMicrobadge: Pioneer Days fanMicrobadge: Europe Divided fan
April 4
NEW Escape from Atlantis x2 (Chris, Zoe)
My fantastic dad found this 1996 Waddingtons version in a charity shop for £1; beyond some selotape/price sticker damage it’s in mint condition. I realise its not the best rule set, but it was great fun all the same – despite getting my ass handed to me in the first game (6-3) and drawing the rematch (8-8). The first game was a nightmare; we both put a lot of people on the outer layer, not realising how many whirlpools were out there. Carnage! But, importantly, fun carnage. I thought I had the second game, with my last guy nearing home, but first Zoe moved his dolphin away and the next turn got diving sea monster. Yeah, she’s that lucky.

Notre Dame (Chris, Zoe)
I decided to try something different and tried the hotel strategy. Either I’m awful at it, or it’s a terrible strategy. Zoe zoomed around in cars and put a couple of cubes in the park, before solidly handing me my ass (again) 68-48. It’s such a brilliant game and I look forward to heading back to a more familiar strategy next time.

April 5 (Table top Day)
Carcassonne (Chris, Kath, Megan, Nick, Zoe)
As chance would have it, Table Top Day coincided with a visit from friends we don’t see often enough; Nick and Kath, plus their 12-yer-old daughter Megan. We’d taught and given them a copy of Ticket to Ride when we’d last visited and it has happily become a regularly played game for them – so we introduced them to another couple of classics. Carcassonne went well, with everyone soon getting the hang of the basics and me taking the win by showing them, at the end, how fields work!

Maori (Chris, Kath, Megan, Nick, Zoe)
Megan seemed to lose a bit of concentration for Maori, but still enjoyed herself. I think Nick and Kath probably enjoyed this a little more than Carcassonne, but Zoe and me still came out on top – just. We both completed our board (on the easiest level of play), but her two completed leis gave her enough to pip me by seven (on 64). Megan was four tiles down thanks to some uncompleted islands, but the other guys only had one blank and weren’t far behind us.

Cards Against Humanity (Chris, Kath, Nick, Zoe)
With Megan packed off to bed and the adult beverages flowing, we broke out Cards Against Humanity. It had the desired effect and much hilarity ensued; the only downside is having the US print-and-play version, which has a lot of cards we don’t understand in it (brands, people etc). Next payday I’m going to have to buy the UK edition. Despite having to dump a few cards, it was a great end to a fun night.

April 6
Love Letter (Chris, Nick)
Unbelievably Nick and me were up first, so I introduced him to Love Letter while we had the first coffee of the day. It was good fun and we both got into it, with me eventually winning 7-5. Sure, there are meant many meaningful decisions but the occasional ones mean more because of it – while the odd crazily lucky guess keeps the laughs flowing.

The Castles of Burgundy (Chris, Zoe)
Despite us not playing this that often, it’s slowly becoming a favourite. While it may epitomise the ‘point salad’ Feld game are often criticised for, there’s a lot of interesting and subtle play to be had here – and while it may appear fiddly, once you get used to the gameplay it zips along at a satisfying rate. Castles of Burgundy is also really good two-player and proved so again tonight; this was the first time we used the flip sides of the player boards and it was in the balance throughout, but I managed to complete an eight-sized building area late on to move out to a 194-173 point win.

April 7
Unpublished prototype x2 (Chris, Zoe)
Version 1.3 of War!drobe got its first outing tonight after a major overhaul. The playtesting group had picked some seriously big holes in the last version (all of them fair) so I’d had to rethink large swathes of the play; mainly trying to focus on the decisions being more meaningful, while slicing away some unnecessary complication. I think I’ve succeeded at both goals, but whether I like what’s left remains to be seen. I’ll try to refine it a little more after work tomorrow, and then unleash it on the playtesters again tomorrow night.

April 8
Unpublished prototype x4 (Cambridge Playtest Group)
A good night at the prototype group, with four games played. First up was a second play of Brett and Trevor’s pearl diving dice game; it’s had some changes, still shows promise, but the changes haven’t quite solved its problems yet. Next up we played Gort – a crazy first time design from a guy (name forgotten – sorry!) who only has history in the ‘classics’ – Monopoly, Cluedo etc. It was interesting to see a game that had everything wrong with it in terms of design; every idea ever was here! Combat, D&D, trading, taxing, deduction- you name it. Thankfully he was very open to ideas in stripping it back and if he takes it down to a trading/deduction game it could be great. I got some good feedback on War!drobe (it’s better than it was, and I know what needs doing next) before playing Trevor’s very fun monkey game; it’s bound to find a publisher.

April 9
Race for the Galaxy x2 (Andy, Carl, Chris)
The Wednesday group hadn’t met for a few weeks, so we went back to the old favourite for our first session. Scores were low and no one really got anything going, but it was still a fun session. Carl won the first game on 50 as Andy (41) and me (34) failed to get military hands going and Carl hovered up all the bonus tiles, as well as getting away on prestige from round one. I thought I had the second game as I really did race a military strategy, but the two best cards Carl could possibly have drawn fell to him in his last two turns and saw him win by six on 41. Next time!

NEW Pocket Imperium (Andy, Carl, Chris)
I’d wanted to play this Good Little Game for ages, and had finally printed it and remembered to bring it along. It’s a fantastic PnP microgame (which should be going to Kickstarter for a commercial release some time soon) that attempts to recreate – as the title suggests – the classic space 4X games. There’s a central nine-card grid, with each card having several planets on it. Each turn players pre-program the order in which they’ll play their own three cards (explore, expand, exterminate). Everyone flips their first card simultaneously; and you want to be the only one who chose a particular action, as if you are its more powerful. So, if only you choose expand you’ll get three ships – but if everyone chose it, you’ll get one each. Once everyone has played their three cards, there’s a scoring round – in which each player chooses one of the nine cards in the centre to score. This can of course reward you spreading yourself thin – but then you’re prone to being picked off. I’m not explaining it very well – just check it out! It prints on a couple of bits of paper and only needs you to borrow a few cubes from another game to represent the ships.

April 10
Snowdonia (Chris, Zoe)
Another outing for the new test expansion, and this time the rules changes seem to have been a big success. We’ll have to give it a few more games, but as a two-player it really clicked this time; in fact it might’ve been my favourite play to date. Although that was helped by some fluky card/weather combos giving me a big win, 109-60. Can’t really talk about the new mechanisms, but suffice it to say they’re different enough from the other versions to feel fun and new, but not more ‘out there’ than any of the other extra card sets to date.

Unpublished prototype (Chris, Zoe)
The dwarven beer game is dead – long live the cowboy game! We’ve kept the key dice/worker mechanism but stripped the board element, which was a bit by-the-numbers. We’re working instead towards something purely card driven, but its very early days. On the plus side we played through several rounds and it generally worked, although it wasn’t balanced enough to bother playing to the end. It’s certainly got my brain juices flowing though; here we go again!

April 11
NEW Utopia Engine (Chris)
This turned out to be a great solo print and play game that I’ll definitely give another go; and hopefully get a bit closer to beating it! It’s purely dice driven, but while there’s obviously luck there is also plenty of ways to mitigate it. It’s a lot deeper than you’d think for a dice game too, while it’s just a few sheets of paper to print, two dice and a pencil. If solo PnP games are your thing I expect you’ve heard of it – but if you haven’t, get you to a printer immediately! Great stuff and plays in about an hour – I was thoroughly captivated. Final score,

April 13
Terra Mystica (Chris, Zoe)
This time we did the full random set up; Zoe was Auren, I was Chaos Magicians. I fell behind early as I concentrated on getting my terraforming cost down to one, and then concentrated on getting my first town via the temple route. It was a really satisfying game and I can really see our improvement as we go – but the game isn’t getting easier, as better play just opens up even more options. Our scores were much better this time too, with me edging it 123-114. We shared the cult tracks two-two, while Zoe edged me on settlement size, but I did better on getting VPs via bonuses.

April 18-21 LoBster-con at Eastbourne
Twilight Struggle (Chris, Martin)
Our second game of this absolute classic went a little smoother than the first, while it’s clear that there’s an amazing amount left to learn. Despite not having looked at the game since November we were soon up and running, which pays testament to how simple the underlying principles are – but oh my, what depth! We really are scratching the surface. I played Russia again and apparently that’s easier when you’re new to the game. It clearly must’ve helped as I won, but some lucky card draws didn’t do me any harm either. We made it into the first turn of the mid war and I’m sure it would’ve gone longer – if five coring cards hadn’t come out that round, two of which I’d nailed in the early war. Game over, just.

Love Letter (Chris, Zoe)
While Zoe and me waited for John to finish a game I thrashed her 4-1. Pure skill, obviously; I didn’t just keep flukily guessing who she was. We played with the AEG ‘limited’ edition artwork, which I’m sorry but its crap – give me the naff Tempest edition any day. And AEG got the ‘7’ card right too, in my opinion.

Händler der Karibik (Chris, Keith, Sam)
A nice quick game was needed, so I taught this little classic to a few people. It went down well (as ever) and Keith took the win. It was great to see this (and the newer version Port Royal) getting a lot of play over the weekend, especially as lots of different types of gamer seemed to enjoy it. It would be good to see a copy in the box at LoB.

NEW Russian Railroads (Chris, John B, Zoe)
I’d asked John to bring this long and had been looking forward to it, as there’d been quite a bit of buzz since its Essen release. I’m also a fan of thinky worker placement games, so what could go wrong? Unfortunately, as with Lewis & Clark, I found myself underwhelmed; the game was both pretty and clever but ultimately more a puzzle than a game. Sure, I can see that experienced players would be blocking etc but by hen you’ll be bored of the limited strategies on offer – and it’s not like there aren’t good blocking worker placement games out there already. I’d play again, but certainly wouldn’t purchase it.

NEW DC Comics Deck-Building Game (Chris, Gabe, John B, Zoe)
To close the night, John suggested this light deck-builder. Ascension didn’t really need anything to make it irrelevant, but it got this anyway – a much more fun and balanced version of the same concept that also adds the only original bit of Thunderstone (the monster pile) and improves on that too. Even though it totally makes both of those games pointless to me, I still feel the need to own this fun little time waster – which tells you all you need to know about the other two games… John pipped Gabe (who moaned throughout, which made this narrow win for John all the funnier) with Zoe and me way back, but it was fun to ply so we didn’t care.

April 19
NEW Le Havre (Chris, John B, Karl)
Finally! Saturday began with John B and Karl helping me tick off the biggest hole in my game playing canon, Le Havre. Caverna and War of the Ring are the only games in the current BGG top 20 I haven’t played in some form. In short, brilliant – and nothing like Agricola; it’s now top of my wishlist alongside Twilight Struggle. It’s just my kind of game – interesting decisions every round with short turns and pleasing arcs for the short lived engines you build. John pipped Karl by two points (155-153) with me back on 133. I’m not sure what I did wrong to finish 20 behind – it didn’t feel like I had – but I’m looking forward to improving. It was also Karl’s first game and he didn’t think he’d like it much – last I heard he’d already bought a copy!

NEW Keyflower (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
This was another I’d been keen to try, but it didn’t go down quite as well as Le Havre. We had a lot of fun and the design is really clever, but the overriding feeling at the end was there was a little too much chaos throughout to really get a handle on what was going on. Lots of things that may or not come up, or you might be able to use, making it very tactical – but with very early strategic decisions possibly going totally to waste beyond any of your own control. I’d like to play again, but won’t be seeking it out. Karl nipped in and beat Ann by a single point on 69, with me on 62.

The Downfall of Pompeii (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
After a brain-burning start learning two medium euros, we gave our brains an hour off with this favourite. Karl’s Keyflower win probably saw him picked on a little more than he deserved, leaving him on 6, me on 7 and the ladies enjoying a draw on 8 (they had the same amount in the volcano too). Still a brilliant family board game and one of my favourites.

NEW Metropolys (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
I’d been intrigued by this game and had heard good reports, so Karl happily taught it to Zoe and me. It turned out to be a really clever concept but the art and 3D pieces made it all but unintelligible to me by about half way through. The board became cluttered, paths weren’t obvious and I just got a little annoyed with it all. It’s the kind of game where one accidental bad move can hand someone else the game, which always frustrates ands annoys me – especially when it’s mean cocking it up! Karl again pipped Ann by one point, much to her amusement… Not one I’d like to play again, unless they make a version that looks totally different.

NEW Himalaya (Ann, Chris, Jeff, Karl, Rich, Zoe)
We closed the night with another new – but thankfully light – game, taught by Rich. It was also nice to get a game in with Eastbourne organiser Jeff; maybe this means he won’t introduce himself to me as if we’d never met next time, as he has at each and every Eastbourne I’ve been to so far! Anyway, the game seemed fun but six was definitely too many people – I’d like another go with three or four. Karl bagged another win, this time in the flukiest way ever – winning two sudden death tie-breaks for being equal last, then winning on overall points. Odd but fun.

April 20
NEW Bremerhaven (Chris, Ian, Paul, Pouria)
This probably wasn’t the best game to start Sunday with; a heavy, thinky three-hour euro I’d never heard of. However it turned out to be really good and if I thought anyone I knew would play it with me semi-regularly, I’d pick up a copy. Alas, no chance. Ian taught it well, tried to do opposite things from the rest of us, but Paul made it a really strange game by massively over bidding on things in strange ways. He also won a card that seemed really overpowered, meaning he didn’t really have to play the game the rest of us seemed to be playing to win; he got a bank and won on the profits. He played well though, and deserved the win; and it was nice to see a game that could be played in very different ways. I hope to play again sometime.

Race for the Galaxy (Chris, Kester)
This was my second game of Race with Kester, and it was a very close one. I don’t often play two-player but do enjoy the game as it really whips by with two experienced players. This was a classic match up, military vs production. Kester almost ended it one round – and I would’ve won – but sensibly kept things going into a final round. Despite me having a couple of nice multipliers he just edged it, 42-40.

NEW Hawaii (Ann, Chris, Donna, Zoe)
I’ve only previously played Hawaii online and just didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Some really raved about it, which made me rally against it – more because I didn’t think it was above average, rather than because I hated it (which I didn’t). Playing for real didn’t change my opinion; it’s an average action selection game with nice components. It was a nice game played with nice people, with Zoe grabbing a debut win on 98 thanks to hammering the shield bonuses. I mustered 80 having chosen a strategy early that was largely scuppered by expensive actions. If Zoe wants us to buy it I won’t object, otherwise I’ll be OK playing in future if others want to.

NEW New Haven (Ann, Chris, Karl, Zoe)
I’d asked Karl to teach this and after bout 15 minutes felt incredibly guilty for doing so; it was an unfeasibly dull experience and I was having a terrible time. For some reasons people’s turns seemed to last forever and when it came to my go there really weren’t any decisions to make. It was a shame as on paper it looked like a game I should love – tile-laying is normally a win for me. But no, this really wasn’t fun at all. On the plus side, it’s another game off of my wish list.

April 21
NEW Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island (Chris, John, Ronan, Vica)
My last game at Eastbourne turned out to be an epic – and an epic fail on our parts. But it was also one of the most fun games of the weekend. Ronan taught us the rules well, but unfortunately we got totally bummed by one terrible card shuffle. We had quite a lot of negative cards in the mix coming into day four, and we managed to get all of them (about five) happen in a row. It was too much to come back from and as the weather started hitting we didn’t even make it half way. However it was great fun and I’m really looking forward to playing again some time – it was probably the most enjoyable co-op game I’ve played.

April 23
Copycat (Andy, Carl, Chris)
Carl was absolutely determined to beat me at Copycat, and he did – but unfortunately Andy beat him in the process. I actually had a nightmare, coming second whenever I really wanted to go first and coming up one short on money in most of the early rounds. I was pretty much out of it by half way and didn’t buy any III cards at all, managing to scrape to 88 mostly on scoring as hard as possible rather than taking cards. The last round went to the wire, with the whole of Andy’s stripped down deck putting him up to 106. Carl could’ve won it, but was relying on a lucky draw in the last round. He didn’t get it, ending on 97.

April 24
Ingenious (Chris, Zoe)
I love this two-player but you really have to concentrate throughout. I had a bit of an edge across the scorecard going into the final stretch, but one bum move from Zoe let me close out the colour she had to score on to win – after which she conceded.

Empire Engine (Chris, Zoe)
This was a great game that started in truly weird fashion; we did identical thing three rounds in a row. Once we did separate it stayed incredibly nip and tuck, and when we showed our hidden scores at the end it came down to a single yellow cube deciding it in my favour.

April 26
The Rose King (Chris, Zoe)
Another day, another close one – this time with the winner reversed. A series of impossible situations saw me forced to use most of my hero cards early. Zoe ran out soon afterwards, meaning a tight game eked itself out as we slowly ran out of stones. Zoe ended up edging an incredibly close game 144-138.

April 27
NEW Brass: Lancashire (Chris, Zoe)
I got this in a trade for Troyes, another game I enjoyed but didn’t really go down that well with my regular gaming friends. Brass was very much a selfish purchase; I’ve played online and absolutely loved it I realised it might not get much play, but Troyes wasn’t either and I really feel Brass is a classic. And, weirdly, Zoe took to it in our first game – while she didn’t like the lighter euro with dice… I’m going to give up predicting her tastes now! This was vey much a learning game – it’s so different playing for real – and I’m sure we both played terribly, but Zoe less so (160-141). I’ve only ever played two-player and while covering up some sections of the board was a little annoying we soon forgot about it and it played really well. Neither of us really went for a ‘strategy’ and did a bit of everything, except neither of built any ships. I’m really looking forward to exploring this one more; but then I keep saying that! Note to self: must buy less deep games now.

April 28
Unpublished prototype (Chris, Zoe)
War!drobe 1.4 got its first outing tonight before heading to Cambridge Playtesters tomorrow. It seemed to play well, but I’m not sure if all the chaotic fun has been drained out of it. Is what’s left what I wanted? If anything it is playable; hopefully I can reinsert the fun if required! We’ll see how it goes down tomorrow night, but I’m not overly hopeful.

April 29
Unpublished prototype x3 (Brett, Chris, David, Jen, Trevor)
Had a selfish night of prototyping, only playing/watching my own game. But the good news was it went down really well; so much better than before. I played Jen first, who had played twice before and mostly confused; this time she enjoyed herself. Both Trevor (who’d suffered them all!) and David (first timer) played, also giving the thumbs up, before Brett – who (rightly) savaged the first edition – also seemed to be impressed. One more set of tweaks before the next Playtest session, then I think I can think about upgrading the artwork to something ain to what I’ like it to be. It’s amazing how games can go from broken to solid with what seems like a small change.

April 30
Le Havre (Chris, Rich, Karl)
After Karl and I learnt Le Havre a few weeks ago, Karl bought a copy – and we played our second game tonight. Rich joined in to beat us this time, having played a few more times, and it showed. But it was great to see someone playing very differently, showing some more interesting moves I probably wouldn’t have thought of. Both Karl and me both improved our scores from our debuts, which meant I was still 20 or so behind him (188) on 160, with Rich the clear winner on 220. At the moment I’m losing my way around half way, as I haven’t memorised all the buildings options yet and find myself making stupid moves (taking three wood, for example, when a building offering wood and money was open to use). But I’ll get there.
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Thu May 1, 2014 12:27 pm
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March 2014

Chris Marling
United Kingdom
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Board Game Designer
Microbadge: Empire Engine fanMicrobadge: Armageddon fanMicrobadge: Pioneer Days fanMicrobadge: Europe Divided fan
March 1
Bruges (Chris, Zoe)
Game five and I think I’ve finally decided that this is a keeper. Yes, it’s all over the place in the luck department and yes, it takes as long to set up as it does to play. But it’s also charming and interesting and thinky and varied and sometimes nasty too. Today the cards were on my side and I ran out the 55-40 victor. Pre game I’d decided to go for canals – I laid two. That sums the game up in a nutshell; almost purely tactical – which is also why I love Race for the Galaxy so much.

March 2
Unpublished prototype (Chris, Zoe)
I’ve been working on a simple and silly combat game (War!drobe) for a while. I’ve now gone for a two-player 18-card microgame format, figuring if it goes well it can very easily be expanded to any number of cards and perhaps players. I’ve simplified it somewhat since the early drafts and it seems to be better for it, along with introducing a few linked items after initial feedback from Matt. I think it’s ready for playtesting on Tuesday – fingers crossed! For the record, Zoe thrashed me…

March 3
Can't Stop (Chris, Zoe)
Just a quick game tonight, with Zoe choosing Can’t Stop. She pushed her luck a few many times and failed, meaning I could ease my way to victory. There were a few scares, with her looking likely to score both the 2s and 12s, but I won it 3-1.

March 5
Copycat (Andy, Carl, Chris)
This has become one of Carl’s favourites – so much so that he bought his own copy. We played it for the first time tonight but unfortunately it didn’t bring him luck; he got a good extra worker/card discard thing going on but a little too late to really turn it into points. Andy and me both went for a bit of everything and it was insanely close. I was a point behind going into the final round and beat him by a point in it, meaning I won the tiebreaker with us both on 94.
I also introduced the guys to War!drobe which again seemed to work well. I didn’t list it as a play, as I just observed. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to playtesting the night before with it, but this was pretty positive – hopefully next week.

March 6
Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar (Chris, Zoe)
We were tired and hadn’t played this since August – and boy did it show! We were both terrible, but Zoe was slightly less terrible and beat me with the incredibly lame scores of 50-40. We simply didn’t get any strategies going, or gain any momentum – at half way we’d both realised we were going precisely nowhere. Neither of us even managed to score a monument! I had the better of it on the temples, but Zoe nailed four skulls which gave her the edge. So embarrassing.

March 7
Unpublished prototype x3 (Chris, Morph)
We played three drunken games of War!drobe and despite losing all three, Morph enjoyed himself. Let’s see what the playtest group thinks on Tuesday.

March 8
Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar (Chris, Zoe)
Let’s try that again! I got things going on a bit this time, finishing with a more respectable 83 points. However, 24 of those were uncontested wins in the temples at both the mid and end game – yes, conversely, Zoe didn’t get things going on at all, finishing on 37. She went down the bonuses for buildings route, then promptly lost focus and didn’t build any for half the game. It started coming together late on but it was too little too late, showing how important it is to focus. I went up the bonus corn track and did pretty well on both temples and buildings, just nailing two monuments. I’m still convinced I’m rubbish, but this was a step in the right direction.

Unpublished prototype (Chris, Zoe)
Gave War!drobe one more play with Zoe and things still seem good. I have grand ideas for lots more cards, but can’t decide what to do – perhaps pitch it as expandable, make it a bigger deck from the start, add more players etc. The game is light but there are decisions to make and most games seem to be pretty close, as ell as pretty quick – maybe 10-15 minutes, which seems right for a light microgame filler. Again, I’ll wait for the much harsher feedback I’m expecting later this week.

March 9
Bruges (Carl, Chris, Howie)
This was Howie’s debut, but as a fan of glory to Rome and Race for the Galaxy he was soon up to speed. It was an odd game where no one ever got away, e had a lot of low dice and in fact no one suffered a disaster penalty. Carl looked to be in the strongest position in every respect except end game bonuses, which almost saw Howie and me catch him – but not quite. Carl won on 51 ahead of me (49) and Howie (48) in a super fun and close game. Bruges is still going up in my estimations; this game I had some terrible luck in the colour of cards available to me, but I’m embracing that more now and if anything it adds to the game.

March 11
Unpublished prototype x2 (Chris, Matt)
At the playtest group I played two games of War!drobe with Matt and observed three other games. While it played out OK the general consensus was close but no cigar; the decisions weren’t meaningful enough, while there was a little more complexity than the game’s lightness deserves. These seemed like fair comments, but there was enough positivity that I’ll be back to the drawing board on it with gusto – hopefully in time for next week’s playtest session.

Empire Engine (Chris, Darren, John, Matt)
We’ve been thinking this week about possible individual player powers that could spice up the game as a variant, as well as an idea for a team variant for four players. The intention was to try some of these ideas out tonight, but as Darren hadn’t played we had a vanilla game – and then it was time to go home. Fun though, and it helped us think about other ideas for the variants. For the record, I was last by a mile (a bit tipsy by then) while newbie Darren pipped John by a point. It was nice to get John playing the finished version, as he’d been a great help during initial playtesting.

March 12
The Mines of Zavandor (Andy, Carl, Chris)
The first attempt at this game two weeks earlier had hinted at an interesting game, so I chose it on my week to give it a proper go. It started out OK, but by the end it had got a little dull; the choices didn’t seem to be, well, choices while there was a little too much luck and not enough trading – if you suggested a trade for something, you were just giving away that you were bidding for it. The blind bid on four auctions at once was interesting, but again got dull by the end. Overall, while I’d play again and didn’t hate it, this is one I wouldn’t mind forgetting. For the record, I beat Andy to the win by a point on 45 – so it wasn’t me being a bad loser.

March 14
Macao (Chris, Zoe)
Zoe had beaten me at Macao last time out – a game she always claims she’s crap at. This time I got my revenge with a good win, but as always it could’ve been different. I managed to get a card out in round 10 that let me take an extra cube per dice; which consequently let me clear a bunch of cards I would’ve got penalised for. I’d got some good money cards in early, so had been clocking OK points throughout, leaving me on 76 to Zoe’s 47.

Reiner Knizia's Decathlon (Chris, Zoe)
We don’t play this push your luck dice favourite of ours often enough – and weirdly, despite it being luck and dice, it seems to be one I have the hex over Zoe at. It proved the case again, as despite being way down at half way I came back for a narrow victory, 203 to 198 (not great scores). It was all down to Zoe having a nightmare in one of the jumps, scoring zero, which let me catch up most of my deficit – then I got a really lucky run at the end too, rolling a string of fives. But win or lose, its always fun.

March 15
NEW Twilight Imperium: Third Edition (Andy, Carl, Chris, Howie)
We’d bought this for Andy’s 50th back in November, but finally managed to get it to the table for our first game. We’d all watched some videos but not played before, so things went painfully slowly – then we’d all expected that and weren’t in a rush, so no worries. At 5pm people were talking about staying until 10pm to finish, but I kept quiet as – if things went my way – I though I could have it finished in the next turn, turn five; yes, five. I was second in turn order, but Howie (in fourth) had stiffed Carl (in third) so he missed his turn on the Imperial card – meaning I had my second 2pts off of it in turn five. We’d voted ourselves 2pts each on a politics card in round one, giving me six, I’d completed two of the common goals – and at the end of round four, I completed my secret objective. I couldn’t quite believe it and it could’ve been so different. I needed six tech planets to win, and luckily had six within two hexes of my home world (I’d been dealt five!). In that fourth round, as I claimed the last one I needed, I had Andy and Carl on my borders – but neither attacked. In fact, no one attacked anyone in the whole game. I get the feeling this wasn’t your typical game of TI3… and we probably got half the rules wrong. But I still won!

March 18
NEW Africana (Chris, Christof, John, Karl)
This was my first and favourite game on a rare trip down to London on Board. Its very light but is definitely the best Michael Schacht game I’ve played to date, despite enjoying the likes of Coloretto and Richelieu. It’s a light family/gateway game, but there’s interesting decisions every round. It might now be fun forever, but its definitely gone onto my wishlist. It was the first game for all of us and Karl definitely ‘got it’ first, winning by a comfortable margin – but I snuck a creditable second place.

NEW Qwixx (Chris, Christof, John, Karl)
I might have thought this was fun back when I was 12, playing games in my grandparents caravan in the New Forest. Aah, happy days. For me it was like bingo, but with an illusion of choice. It reminded me of a game I like, Finito!, which somehow ranks a full half point below this on BGG; has the world gone mad?

NEW Domaine (Chris, Christof, John, Karl)
This was an enjoyable enough area control game, which I’d play again, but it’s really not my genre and I wouldn’t seek it out. I figured things out too late to be in contention but it was fun to watch the to and fro, with some really swingy moves keeping it interesting to the end. A solid game, for sure.

Empire Engine (Chris, John, Rich)
Rich had expressed an interest in Empire Engine and I’d wanted John to play (despite his hatred of microgames), so cajoled them into a quick game. It was super tight, with each of us winning a colour, but Rich won it by a point 17-16-16. Rich seemed to get into it,. John yawned a lot and I had won – I’ll count that as a win!

March 19
Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts (Andy, Carl, Chris)
Only our second game of AA and I’m still enjoying it, but then I’ve won both times. This time I mostly ignored the orb but got a crazy good (and fast) development/card gaining tableau going on. I won fast on 60, with the guys having no more than eight cards down (and 34 and 25 points). I got a lot of luck in the cards, but was happy with the win. I’ve decided to record these plays as Alien Artifacts now, as the game feels so different to the original.

March 21
Snowdonia x2 (Chris, Zoe)
Two more plays of the planned new expansion, with more tweaks, but its still not playing right. The first game was a total bust so we played straight after and that time it was good fun – but still broken. Plenty to suggest though, so fingers crossed for next time! We won one game each, with the swing nature shown in the scores: 27-16 and 62-35.

March 24
Terra Mystica (Chris, Zoe)
Zoe hadn’t played this for ages, and only or twice at all, so we pretty much played it as a training game. It soon came back though and was, as ever, a joy to play; it’s such a fantastic game. We took the standard two-player setup races (witches/nomads) but reversed them from the first time we’d played. It was incredibly close, with me taking the win 85-82 in what was definitely a friendly. Next time, gloves off – hopefully sooner rather than later.

March 25
Unpublished prototype x3 (Brett, Chris, Chris, John, Matt, Trevor)
This was a good unpub night, playing three enjoyable prototypes. First was the latest iteration of Matt’s seemingly endless civ building CCG project; its going to take a lot of work, but its still showing a lot of promise and I hope I can help out further down the line. Next was Brett and Trevor’s new collaboration; a Yahtzee style dice game in which you’re diving for pearls in a race for big points. It was a good first draft and I’m looking forward to future iterations. Finally we played Matt and Brett’s co-op that sees you stealing into a master criminal’s hideout to steal back some loot; a fun game, from what I saw, but I’m never mad keen on co-ops.

March 28
Galaxy Trucker (Chris, Zoe)
I received Galaxy Trucker this week in a trade for Peloponnese. It was a bit biffed around the edges and thoroughly lived in, but I don’t mind that – glad to see it has had some love and I expect it will get plenty more. It was only my second game and Zoe’s first, but luckily she enjoyed herself and proved a pretty good spaceship builder. We don’t really have any other timed games, so it was a bit of a step into the dark for her. Then again, it certainly isn’t a strong suit for me so we were pretty evenly matched. I edged the first round, Zoe took the second, but I won the third and turned it around for a 93-73 win.
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Fri Apr 4, 2014 10:55 pm
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