John Shepherd(MrShep)United Kingdom
There was a time when I used to play a lot of Role Playing Games. Well, technically, not so much “play” RPGs, as “run” RPGs … because the games master role always appealed to me way, way more than actually playing any of the games did. (I guess that whenever an activity gives its participants a choice between being a creator or a consumer … I usually sway towards the creator side of the hobby!). But I can safely say that I was very much into the whole role playing scene. Easily as deeply I’m into my board gaming in the present day.
And when I say “a time”, I mean the mid-to-late 1980s. Probably a period that many would regard as a bit of a golden age* for the hobby. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons… Call of Cthulhu… Traveller… Paranoia… Warhammer FRPG… our group played a whole bunch of different things — evenings, weekends, holidays — we’d spend every spare hour immersing ourselves in these strange gaming words. And we loved doing so. Happy times!
But then… we all went our separate ways (i.e disappeared off to various universities), and that entire phase of my gaming life came to a surprisingly abrupt end
And I guess … surprsingly … I didn’t really miss it all that much. Beginning my university life -- moving away from home and becoming an independent adult — brought its own distractions and entertainments. I did go along to a university RPG society meeting once or twice — but they mostly wanted new arrivals to be players, rather than GMs … and could be just a little bit too po-faced and serious in their play style for my own preferences. Or maybe it was just time for me to “set aside childish things”? Whatever. My lingering interest in the RPG hobby kind of fizzled out.
Even to this day, I don’t particularly harbour any desire to get back into tabletop RPGing (though you can probably see some hints of my games-mastering past in the way that I write about Kingdom Death Monster?). I have, however, continued to have at least a little bit of an academic interest in the hobby … watching it from the sidelines, so to speak. I mean, it’s hard to be deeply involved in board games and to not pick up on little bits of what’s happening over in the board-game-adjacent world of RPGing, isn’t it?
And it’s curious — to me, at least — to see how role playing has evolved over the last decade or so. So much of the hobby now seems to have way less emphasis on the “game” aspect, and far more emphasis on the “role playing” aspect … in fact, many highly-regarded RPGs of the current generation seem to be one-off, sandboxy, free-format improvisational theatre sessions, often with very few rules at all (or even a GM!).
Those are a VERY long way away from the experience of plotting your way around a graph-paper dungeon with a handful of polyhedral dice, a well-worn character sheet, and a wider campaign that would run for YEARS at a time that I remember.
And as for the current crop of GM-less, single-player, “journal” based RPGs -- which seem to amount to nothing more than a blank piece of paper and a set of creative writing prompts? Well… those seem even less game-like to me. A bit like somebody got a copy of (the hilarious) “Top 10 games you can play in your head, by yourself”, and took everything inside just a little bit too seriously.
Those journalling games do seem to be very well regarded by an awful lot of respectable critics with a very good taste in games.
Maybe I’m missing something here?
There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there….
(to be continued…)*Yeah, I did it. I called something a “golden age”. Begin fighting in 3… 2… 1…
It's a blog on a board-gaming site. Pretty safe bet it'll be about board games then...
- [+] Dice rolls
Is that even a sheep? I'm not entirely sure. (And it's not even the strangest creature that I've met this weekend).
Apologies blog fans. We've been doing a fair bit of travelling lately, and as a consequence my blogging routine has slipped a bit.
We have watched some people run up a very steep hill, carrying very heavy cheeses.
We have visited some very English Fairs and markets. Including this one, in a once-bustling medieval port town. Which has now managed to move about 50 miles away from the sea. (You have to keep your eye on those medieval port towns, you know. Take your eyes off them for even a minute, and they're away!).
We helped to wake up Jack in the Green by making a VERY LOUD NOISE, and therefore ensured the arrival of Summer this year. (You're welcome!)
We sat in the meadow where a very rare wildflower grows, on the only day of the year that the landowner allows the public to enter...
...and we also got involved in some streetfighting in Lewes.
This hasn't left a lot of time for gaming. Well... not for much gaming anyway. But normal* game-related-blogging service will be resumed very shortly. Honest.
*Actual levels of normality may vary.
This is also normal.
- [+] Dice rolls
It's Button Shy’s BGOTM Club package for March!
Which arrived last week.
But at least the first two letters of the month were right this time!
Annnnnd….. It’s a bit of a return to form, this one, after that slightly fallow BGOTMC period that I was
whinging aboutcommentating upon not so long ago.
Seasons, a mini expansion for Agropolis. Seasons adds four additional cards to the game, one of which you play wordy-side-up at the start to give you an additional scoring condition to work with, along with a “weather” rule that you need to follow as the game progresses. And at this point, it’s probably easier to simply show, rather than tell …so here’s a front and back of a couple of weather cards:
The remaining three weather cards get shuffled into your deck … and then you begin play as usual … but as soon as you draw a weather card, it MUST be the card that you play next — and then all of your subsequent cards are going to be impacted by that initially-revealed weather rule. It’s a nice tweak, with some potential for very interesting risk-reward decisions around exactly where place those clouds. And new Sprawlopolis/Agropolis content is always a bit of a crowd pleaser
Flipuzzle 1 — Frog. A puzzle, on a single card. Essentially a slightly-obfuscated colour maze, where you have to flip the card over after each move (either horizontally, or vertically, depending on the direction of your last step) and then continue your journey from the corresponding point on the opposite side of the card. It’s amusing for a few minutes … but then you’ll likely put it away and never pick it up again. Still… it’s a novelty, right?
And last — but by no means least: The Evergreen Pass ... my first (and long-awaited) instalment of Hush cards. Which means I finally own all of the necessary components to try the game out!
I did fluff a few rules on this first play-through (which, judging from the number of post-publication faqs both here on BGG and on the Button Shy discord, is not an uncommon experience)… so I maybe shouldn’t pass any first-impressions judgement quite yet. But it’s definitely interesting. In a good way. Euro-leaning tower defence … with a couple of clever/elegant spacial things going on which are maybe a bit deeper than they first seem. I’ll certainly be keen to see how this one stands up to repeat plays and evolves with future BGOTM packages
- [+] Dice rolls
Saturday afternoon found us in the beer garden of the Locks Inn Pub, Geldeston …close to the Norfolk/Suffolk border. It’s an extremely pleasent country pub, with a glorious selection of real ales, and it’s been nearly 4 years since our last visit. Long-time readers might recall that THIS is the place in which I found myself competing in the World Thumb Wrestling Championship. This latest visit, however, was not for purposes of Thumb Wrestling… and we found ourselves attending as spectators, rather than participants. Because this was the day of the annual Suffolk vs Norfolk Dwile Flonking Tournament.
The ancient game of Dwile Flonking dates back hundreds of years*, and perhaps the best (or the only?) way that I can explain the game is through the inclusion of relevant extracts from the wikipedia article, amongst my pictures of yesterday’s event…
A "dull witted person" is chosen as the referee or "jobanowl", and the two teams decide who flonks first by tossing a sugar beet. The game begins when the jobanowl shouts, "Here y'go t'gither!".
The non-flonking team joins hands and dances in a circle around a member of the flonking team, a practice known as "girting". The flonker dips his dwile-tipped "driveller" (a pole 2–3 ft long and made from hazel or yew) into a bucket of beer, then spins around in the opposite direction to the girters and flonks his dwile at them.
If the dwile misses completely it is known as a "swadge". When this happens, the flonker must drink the contents of an ale-filled "gazunder" (chamber pot) before the wet dwile has passed from hand to hand along the line of now non-girting girters chanting the ceremonial mantra of "pot pot pot".
A full game comprises two "snurds", each snurd being one team taking a turn at girting. The jobanowl adds interest and difficulty to the game by randomly switching the direction of rotation and will levy drinking penalties on any player found not taking the game seriously enough.
Points are awarded as follows:
+3: a "wanton" - a direct hit on a girter's head
+2: a "morther" or "mawther - a body hit
+1: a "ripper" - a leg hit
-1 per sober person at the end of the game
The game ended in a tie, and was therefore resolved in a dramatic drink-off between the two team captains… with the trophy ultimately taken home by the Suffolk team.
Tenuous board game theme of the day: What’s the strangest game that you’ve ever played in a pub?
*Or possibly only 1967. Opinions are divided. And you should never let things like facts and opinions get in the way of a good tale!
- [+] Dice rolls
“Try-before-you-back” Tabletop Simulator / Tabletopia game implementations seem to be a pretty common feature of crowdfunding campaigns these days. But they’ve never really been a thing that I’ve considered using before. Not in any practical sense, at least.
The way I see it is this: putting a completely unknown quantity in front of your gaming friends — e.g. a Tabletopia version of a game that you’ve never even played yourself — is a pretty big ask. People’s gaming time is precious … and a group’s willingness to learn new games can be low. It’s best not to squander such opportunities on anything less than a pretty safe bet.
But self-tabletopia-demoing a solo game? Or a game which — at the very least — has a pretty convincing-looking solo variant that you cand work through all by yourself? Well… yep… that seems eminently do-able
And that’s how I found myself sitting in front of a virtual copy of the latest Uwe Rosenberg hotness, Oranienburger Kanal, last night.
…and it was a pretty good experience. Not an ideal experience — it’s a heavy game, with lots of card effects and interactions that you need to keep track of … which meant a lot of zooming in and out on components, and dipping in and out of a PDF card effect glossary — a process that I think would’ve been so much smoother with a physical copy of the game in front of me. Plus… the tabletopia implementation of the game’s resource wheel is annoyingly twitchy/fiddly/over-sensitive (on my machine, at least!) … but these are flaws in the tabletopia medium, NOT in the game itself. The game itself seems like a very fine one indeed!
As is usual with Rosenberg games, many of Oranienburger Kanal’s mechanisms are iterations of things that Uwe used in earlier titles, and fans will have a pretty good idea of the paths that brought the designer to this particular destination. It’s certainly got a little bit of a Nova Luna thing going on with it; it’s about putting tiles down (let’s not get too hung up on the fact that the “tiles” are actually cards — Oranienburger Kanal is definitely a tile-laying game in spirit!), and then surrounding those tiles with other tiles — of very specific types — in order to activate building functions to optimum effect. In this particular evolution of the formula, there are two very different types of tile involved, and two different “dimensions” of adjacency: sure, buildings can be placed next to each other, and choices on what sits where will greatly effect how efficiently buildings work together — but sandwiched between the buildings is a separate grid of slimmer tiles representing transport routes (roads… railways… canals and “paths”). Completely encircling a building with these “routes” is what initially triggers the building’s effect … but the exact types of route used, the kind of position you selected when placing the building on your board, and various other aspects of the current game-state will affect it’s function and pay-out… with every building in the game (there are multiple alternative decks shipping with the game at launch) boasting some kind of unique feature/interaction.
Plus… there’s worker placement. Tight, super-lean worker placement at that! And resource conversion (this is no draft-for-free game; everything to want to build in this game will require appropriate resources to be spent). And the resource wheels of glass road make a long-overdue re-appearance (i.e. nudge the wheel one segment to consume 1 instance of all your “basic” materials and automatically generate 1 each of all of your “enhanced” materials). And I haven’t even mentioned the “bridge” pieces that you can add to your tableau to activate buildings a second time … which adds an additional spatial optimisation puzzle around placing high-value production buildings next to each other, so that they both benefit from the proximity of the same bridge.
Is this starting to sound a bit like there’s a awful lot of crunchy, puzzly, heavy things to like in Oranienburger Kanal? Yes? …. well… that’s because there is a lot of crunchy, puzzly, heavy things to like in Oranienburger Kanal. (And… I’ve only tried the solo game so far … I’m scared to even think about how the competition for key worker placement spaces / the inevitable race for popular buildings will dial things way up past 11 in the two-player version!!)
So, yeah… I’m looking forward to this being released. I’m not sure that I’ll rush back to the tabletopia version — because, as mentioned previously, it’s a bit of a pain in the backside to play that way, and I kind of want to save myself for the real thing — but there’s clearly a good game on the way here. I’m very happy to have backed it.
- [+] Dice rolls
One month to go, and it looks like the hottest ticket of UKGE22 has been officially announced...
I'm still not sure who they've scheduled us against in the big room... but whoever it is must be getting pretty worried now.
Because you ARE all coming to this, right?
- [+] Dice rolls
04 May 2022
May the 1st. Beltane; the Gaelic May Day festival …and at the stroke of noon I find myself standing within the central ring of the Thornborough Henge complex, near the village of Masham in North Yorkshire.
Image: Google maps (link)
Thornborough Henge is a huge neolithic earthwork; three vast circular “henges” (one of which is now covered in a small forest) spread over the best part of a mile of english countryside. The henges were built in the bronze age, between 3500 and 2500 BC. Nobody knows exactly why... although it’s been speculated that the slightly-crooked layout was made to resemble the three stars of Orion’s belt.
It’s a very impressive site (albeit one that’s very hard to appreciate from ground level!). Though I can’t help thinking that perhaps if the henges were located somewhere else ... say -- for example -- in the slightly-more-southerly reaches of the UK … then they would be a major archeological tourist attraction. A high-profile ancient heritage site, well known to all. But … unfortunately … that’s not the case. The site is privately owned by a building materials company (Tarmac) who quarry nearby, and the henge complex is not open to public access.
At least… not usually open to public access. But every may bank holiday an exception is made; the landowners throw open the gates to allow a celebration Beltane by a rag-tag group of hippies, druids, wiccans, and curious passers-by.
And this year … we went to take a look too.
The May king brings the Beltane fire!
(albeit a very small Beltane fire)
Handfasting — A druidic wedding
And it was all pleasant enough; lots of people blessing ancient spirits in assorted ceremonies and being very nice to each other. Chanting. Drum circles. Various stalls selling incense, ponchos, reiki healing, and assorted pieces of mystical artwork. But … perhaps more importantly of all … another curious english festival could be crossed off Mrs Shep’s list! Plus it was a good opportunity to get into the site and have a bit of a poke around the circles … with the advantage of there being food, cider, and porta-loos handily available
Anyway — this visit seems like an excellent prompt for a tenuous boardgaming theme of the day. Which will be:Best board games with druidic content
I have to confess, I thought would be a pretty easy thing to come up with suggestions for this one. After all … druidic mysticism is a pretty commonly-used trope in high-fantasy gaming …isn’t it?
…But… I’m a bit stumped. I was pretty sure that Luna (which I love!) had druids in it … but looking closer, that’s more of a mystical moon-priests-and-priestesses thing. The Keltis series has a bit of an ancient-stones-and-mystical-elements theme going on… but nothing overtly druidic. Ditto for the symbology of Nova Luna. (That’s two more games that get an awful lot of play in the Shepherd household right there!).
But as for a game with actual druids in it? The only one that I can remember playing is Fae … a pretty decent area majority game, which I demoed at UKGE a few years back, but which I unfortunately haven’t played since
Hmmm. That’s not a very impressive example, is it?
Go on. I’m sure you lot can do better…
- [+] Dice rolls
Now here’s a doorway that I haven’t ventured through for quite a while.
Two years and three months, to be precise…
Saturday saw my triumphant(?) return to Newcastle Gamers, for the first time in far too long. It was a good experience (playing games … in public … with people who I’m not married to still feels like quite a novelty in the new-old-normal!) … but also a bit strange, and slightly un-nerving.
Well… I guess that one thing that the pandemic has taught me is that memory — and the way that the brain deals with the passing of time — is a bit of a curious thing. And not nearly as linear, and as sensible, as logic might have you believe.
The sensation of returning to the church hall where we hold the club sessions was one of overwhelming familiarity; it felt like I’d barely been away from the place at all. Like maybe only a few weeks had passed since I was last there. A month or two at most?
But the people who I met there? The familiar faces of old? Well… that’s what gave the evening a bit of a weird, uncanny vibe.
There are some folks from Newcastle Gamers who I’ve kept in touch with over the last couple of years. Certainly in an electronic sense, and on at least a few face-to-face occasions too. But most of the folks there… I had’t seen since a few weeks before the very first covid lockdown. And — at risk of stating the blindingly obvious — over the course of the last 2 years … they’ve aged!
I mean, it’s not like they all suddenly got super-old or anything … but it is surprising just how much a person can change in (what, in other ways) didn’t feel like a huge gap of time. More wrinkles. Changes in body shape. Less hair, or in some cases, a lot more hair! Faces that simply look a bit more lived-in? You could sense that some people had had an easier lockdown period than others. And I’m not quite able to put into words the feeling that this brought about (so excuse my not-quite-right phrasing here)… but there was definitely a bit of a cognitive glitch between the familiarity/stability of the environment, and the sense that there’d been some kind of crazy time skip involved, concerning all of the people within that space.
And, in short … I guess this was one of the starkest illustrations I’ve had of exactly what the pandemic robbed from us.
2 years of being in places like this, just doing our gaming thing. All snatched away.
But it was good to be back
I wasn’t, of course, merely attending the meeting for purposes of existential angst. I was there to play games. And gaming is what happened!
The meeting’s head count was way lower than pre-pandemic times, with maybe 20 or so people present (including no fewer than FOUR first-timers!). I settled down to a table with Amo (a fellow old timer), Alan (a relatively recent recruit, though one who joined in the limited-headcount-attend-at-your-own-risk era of early 2022 that I entirely avoided), and first-time attendee Bernard … a mostly-wargamer-but-sometimes-boardgaming sort of chap who had spotted the club listing on meetup.com, and decided to come along to see what we did. Because he hasn’t played anything with anybody for way too long.
And what we did was…
Masters of Renaissance: Lorenzo il Magnifico – The Card Game
Which I’ve spoken about many times on the blog now, and which Amo was keen to try. And it seemed like a good game to start with — pacy, not too long, plenty of resource-managing machine-building crunch … and something by which we might get the measure of how much of a euro-gamer both Alan and Bernard were— a perfect warm-up for the evening!
I managed to hit the 7 card game-end-trigger first … and was reasonably confident of a win for doing so. Admittedly, I felt slightly guilty to be racing ahead in a game that I’d just taught a bunch of first-timerd to play from scratch — but I’m certainly not a believer in going gently on your opponents just because it’s their first attempt. However… I needn’t have worried, and should probably have been keeping a closer eye on what was going on on everybody else’s tableau … because Alan sneaked into the lead in the final reckoning — thanks to a fanatical devotion to the pope and a massively-inflated faith score that I hadn’t accounted for. Well played, Alan!
With the ice-breaker out of the way, I enquired if the chaps would be interested in something a little bit meatier that would probably occupy a good couple of hours or more. All seemed keen, so I unpacked the other game in my bag that Amo had been eyeing with interest earlier that evening…
And a great deal of edo-period artisanal fun was had by all. This was my third play of Iki (and my very first time with the full complement of 4 players) and I’m only just starting to get a sense of how very different the game can be from play to play, depending on the exact mixture of artisans that the players decide to invest in. Firefighting roles seemed to be a very popular theme in this particular play(maybe I’d overstated the effect of fire in my game explanation?), while the cards that bring building resources into the game seemed less favoured — there really wasn’t any big-ticket building going on in this game at all — and we didn’t get to romp around the cherry blossom track anywhere near as much as we did in my inaugural game, back at AireCon. I also discovered just how punishing it can be to fall behind in turn order in a 4 player game … since your movement options become extremely limited when you’re 4th in line to pick from a draft of only 5 options!
This is probably just a long way to get around to saying … I prioritised the wrong things (based on previous experience, rather than the game in hand), and therefore played terribly… at one point losing two big-ticket buildings to a single fire, having relied on pushing my luck rather than investing in countermeasures. But at least I did well on fish, managing to collect a specimen from each season for a maximum fish bonus. Only enough of a fish bonus to get me into 3rd place in the final reckoning mind you … but a pleasing achievement nevertheless.
Bernard won this one. I already sense a bit of a master eurogame-player lurking behind that grognard facade!
And that took us to about 9:30pm. A couple of our number had to leave at this point … and, while I wouldn’t have minded staying a bit later, I had an appointment with some real-life druids at a megalithic monument the next morning (no doubt you’ll hear about that in good time), so I decided to make my exit at that point too.
A very splendid few hours of gaming though. And — despite the time-jump wierdness — so very nice to be back
- [+] Dice rolls
30 Apr 2022
Here’s an interesting something that arrived this week. Or, rather, half of an interesting something that arrived this week: It’s the “starter kit” for Buttonshy’s latest postcard series, “Hush”.
Not so long ago I wrote a post in which I said I was thinking about downgrading my Button Shy Board Game of The Month Club (BGOTMC) subscription. But as it turns out… I’m rather glad that I did a lot more talking and thinking about downgrading my subscription that than actual “doing”. Because — apparently — demand is massively exceeding supply at chez Button Shy right now, and new subscriptions to “Postcard” level patronage of BGOTMC have been frozen. Drop out of this tier right now, and you likely won’t get back in again!
At any time over the last 12 months this particular news wouldn’t have been such a big deal for me. I wasn’t finding Button Shy’s previous postcard game series — The Final Light Year — massively compelling. I mean… I still collected all the bits each month, dutifully sorted all the components out, and filed them all away in a selection of appropriate ziplock bags (because I’m nothing if not a collector. And who knows… maybe… one day… I’ll go back to it?) … but I wasn’t as excited by the little brown envelopes landing on my doormat each month as I used to be.
But this new postcard game series? This one seems a lot more interesting.
“In Hush, 1+ players will work together to manage a group of commoners that are trying to survive the dangers of each passing night, and ultimately, protect the nocturnal creatures that live on the land. By day they will build resources, shelter, and develop techniques, and by night they will protect each other from the evil spirits that pass through. The goal is survival. How many nights can you make it before the spirits bring you down?”
From reading the rules… Hush seems to be a reasonably-thinky tower defence game, nicely illustrated, neatly implemented, and (just like previous games in the postcard series) featuring lots of modular, interchangeable, collectable components. Apparently the next 6 months of BGOTMC envelopes will bring swappable maps to play on, new villager cards to add to the pool, new “evil spirits” to defend against, new “nocturnal animals” to protect, new defences to build … new tech trees to advance down… lord knows what else. Mix and match a selection of these, and away you go!
The bad news… I don’t actually have the first monthly pack to play with yet! That’s what I meant by “half a game” … I've been sitting on this starter pack for 3 days, but my “March” BGOTMC package (which includes the very first playable instalment) is still in transit… so I can’t try any of this stuff out yet. All I can do is pour over the materials in the starter pack, and imagine what the full thing will be like!
It looks like it could very much be my kind of solo bag though. So I’m looking forward to that elusive envelope arriving with great anticipation…
Naturally, I will let you all know how it turns out in due course
(And apparently there’ll be a print-and-play release in the not-too-distant future too, for those who like the sound of this but missed out on the postcard subscription…)
- [+] Dice rolls
Hey... I know. I rarely post things at this time of night. But I think the sorry tale of my traumatic weekend experience has been sitting at the top of the blog for far too long now. So perhaps it's time to blot that whole, terrible ordeal out with a brand new post.
Because... back at the hotel... there was gaming.
First up: Agricola, All Creatures Great and Small.
I told you that we'd be playing this one again pretty soon, didn't I? This time the final scores were much closer than the last time we played ... with Mrs Shep just edging into the lead despite failing to fill up that second farm extension (...much to her delight!). I think we'll need to turn this series of plays into a best-of-three now. It's a lovely game; really pleased to have re-discovered it.
And I note, with interest, that Mr Rosenburg's newest 2-player game drops on Gamefound tomorrow. Just when I thought I was through with the whole crowdfunding thing... that'll be the second Spielworxx game that I've backed in as many months!!!
And then... Dominion.
Yep, this was definitely an evening of oldies-but-goodies! Dominion is another game that has very much stood the test of time with us, and which Mrs Shep is always happy to play. That's my standard travelling-with-Dominion arrangement shown above; all of the core cards will fit into three of those plastic boxes, and then I can comfortably fit 15 standard kingdom decks into the same amount again. With a mix of curated and random cards, we can easily get enough variety in those 15 decks to support a couple of evenings of play (No... I don't sleeve my Dominion cards. And yes, Dominion fans, I AM some kind of monster). Add a few rubber bands, and it's all good to go!
Though the the compactness of this particular travel solution does leave me wondering; there's an awful lot of air in those Dominion boxes. And while they DO look very nice, all lined up on a shelf...
...that IS an awful lot of shelf space being occupied here. Plus, I've got a few more expansions in a cupboard nearby. This is all shelf space which could perhaps be used to better effect (i.e. for storing even more games) ... if I switched to a more practical Dominion storage solution.
I must confess, I do like the look of basically wooden's stuff... though perhaps not quite enough to drop that kind of money without seeing one in the flesh first.
(Hopefully they'll have some samples to stroke and fondle at the UK Games Expo this year... that might just tip the balance...)
- [+] Dice rolls