The Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers

Beer and Boardgames at The Plough Inn (formerly the Prince Of Wales, formerly the White Lion). "It's not F-ing Monopoly, alright?!"

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Friday 26th November - Antike's Codeshow

Ben Bateson
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To be honest, after a pun-a-riffic title like that, I should probably just stop. It's not getting any better.

Long-time blog readers will be aware that games for six are always a bugbear. Splitting to two tables of 3P feels a bit unsatisfying and anti-social, so despite the relative lack of options, I always like to keep the group together if possible. This week, I'd pre-empted the decision-making by reading up on Mac Gerdts' classic (and undeniably best with 6) Antike.

This is a tad heavier game than we are normally used to, so determined not to bury myself in the rules, I read them very, very carefully and then pretty much threw them away. Carefully positioning the two short-sighted people (Dave and Ian) as far from the rondel as possible, it turned out Dave drew the Persians anyway and just swapped seats with Becky (who was playing Rome). A cautious start saw everyone sensibly lock down their first five territories and start amassing an army, but there was no fighting until Pete and I conducted a blood-thirsty siege of Knossos in the Eastern Med.

Ian was making an interesting run at a Temples strategy and Peter seemed determine to lock up all the Knowledge folks. John's Goths were make broad sweeps of Northern Europe and - after keeping Peter at bay - I snaffled the first seven seas award (Dave followed me but without really exploring any further than the Black Sea). But it was Becky who loaded up on Road abilities and then ransacked two of Ian's temples to simultaneously wreck his game and give herself the win. The whole thing went down fairly well, I reckon, enough for me to try and sell the group on Imperial one more time.

Time to lighten things up a bit, and we managed to get Becky to acquiesce to a bit of Codenames - perfect for the player count and time to get three rounds in as well. And it meant Becky could drink gin, which generally entertains John and Ian. Fortunately, this is who she drew as team-mates.

Round 1 was Becky vs Pete in the cluing chair. It was an absolutely Codenames classic, going down to the very last spy each, but Pete sneaked a win at the very end thanks to a brave 'MAFIA' clue that saw me insisting (correctly) to Dave that the mafia do not carry pistols (PISTOL was the assassin as it turned out). Ian was castigated for not realising the only James Bond scene Becky can ever remember is going down the hill on a cello from Living Daylights. Of course CELLO = SPY: what else would it be.

Round 2 saw Dave and Ian peering myopically at the clue card, so we had to fish out the sewing lamp for some extra assistance. Although a tad slower, the clues were smart and everything seemed to be going swimmingly until Ian revealed that - actually - the wrong team had gone first and we both had different numbers of clues to guess to what we actually thought. We fudged a couple of rules and Ian - a spy lighter than we had thought - went on to make things 1-1.

Round 3 was the ultimate needle match between John and I. I couldn't have asked for a better team, though. They guessed everything correctly (BARBERS = SHOP, HEAD, POLE, OIL; STRAIGHT = LINE, FILE, RAY; MUMMIFY = PYRAMID, CHANGE) but played a tad cautiously, hoping that John couldn't clue a four for the win. He made a bloody good effort, if I do say so myself, but Becky tripped over the assassin at the last stab.

I've played a lot of good Codenames, but this was definitely among the best. Still amazing after well over 100 plays.
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Wed Dec 1, 2021 10:05 pm
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Friday 19th November - Messing around in boats

Ben Bateson
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A couple of weeks' hiatus are the norm at the start of November, to account for my visit to MidCon (not to mention the subsequent hangover) and Tony's Gathering Of Chums (did I mention my Agricola score? Did I mention how Ian played Cryptid? Did I mention that we abandoned the museum for the 'sane' table in the back room of Cobblers, the local micro-pub? Did I mention that a chicken doner from the Newent Kebab House is still one of my favourite meals?). Given one potential, but averted, Covid emergency on top, and it was fully half a month before we reconvened.

We have a lot of favourites for five, but Becky's new super-deluxe copy of Endeavor came out a narrow favourite. It was actually a pleasure to remember how well everything slotted together, and my previous doubts about the sterility of the game should be comfortably nullified by the Exploits expansion, which ticks a lot of boxes for inventiveness and variability.

The early game saw Pete and Dave take settlers to monopolise Europe, while Becky, John and I opened up the colonies. Pete settled to a complex and profitable turnover of cards, while I neglected settling for quite a while to boost all four tracks. Uncharacteristically, though, it was Dave who came out blasting with cannons, and he fairly blew us off the board, to be honest, finishing with 64 well-earned points and leaving the rest of us in the 50s. John nobly declined to register a score after having admitted to misplaying a couple of rounds.Endeavor: Age of Sail.

Dave had clearly exhausted himself with all that intense winning, so we played a silly one as a mid-evening filler so he could take an early night. My choice was Pictures, a game that MidCon had reacquainted me with after an outstandingly silly Saturday night session. Dave was an old hand at this, and it went down surprisingly well with John, but I'm not convinced that Pete was won over. John misinterpreted my car as a dog, not once but twice, and Dave did some remarkable things with bootlaces. The game ended in a three-way tie, which is probably fair enough: it's probably not healthy to be too competitive.

With Dave gone, we finished with some slightly more strategic material, and our choice was Troyes. This one is close to joining my '40 club' and improving my H-Index by another notch (roll on fifty!). A peculiar card draw left us all ridiculously money-rich and Influence-rich by the game end and - as Troyes so often does - it went down to fine margins. Everyone finished in the 30s, and my win was only due to scoring the maximum off Peter's hidden character card. A satisfying finish indeed.
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Wed Dec 1, 2021 9:20 pm
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Friday October 22nd - in which Ian is Well Chuffed

Ben Bateson
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Dave stealing the opportunity for another weekend away reduced an awkward six into a fun five (definitely my favourite of all player counts), and I had already lined up some prospective candidate games when Ian and John wandered through the front door at their customarily prompt 7:15 arrival time. Pete was soon with us, too, meaning plenty of time for three good solid games.

First on the list was Fast Sloths. This one had been sitting idle for quite a while until the two expansion boards popped through my door this week, so it seemed only reasonable to give them a go. Ants and Giraffes seemed to be the popular ways to travel early on, although Becky stranded herself in a corner of the board and spent ages setting up a not-terribly-impressive ant chain to get out. I was hitching lifts by giraffe and John was happy to ride the dolphin (surprisingly not a metaphor). But Pete leapt into a lead and never let it go, eventually executing a marathon mountain-goat trek to tie up his final, winning leaf.

We moved onto Ride The Rails, and I was grateful for a complex game with only two pages of rules instructions to issue. It had already been on the 'to play' shelves for longer than I wanted, and I was pleased to see everyone pick up the general strategy quickly. The cleverness of the game is quickly apparent, and Ian was even so delighted with it at one point that he started making little choo-choo train noises.

John shot out into an early lead and I suspected that he'd gone too quickly, but his majority shares in the east-coast network proved to be invaluable because the other players couldn't resist travelling those extra few links every time for a few dollars. John rode the profits and just outscored Becky, coming up behind him fast in the final round. It was good to see Becky enjoying this as she's not always had a great relationship with trains and share-holding games.

I thought we'd be into closing-filler territory (maybe a bit of Modern Art), but no - Becky reckoned we still had time for Princes Of Florence, a suggestion which met with a delighted bark of 'Yes!' from John in the kitchen. The barely-an-hour time span demanded an accurate teach to both Ian and Pete, both playing for the first time, and John was generous with strategy hints for them both in the opening rounds, which were needed under the penal Ross-on-Wye house rules. Ian picked up the minutiae very well (although not as well as Pete), certainly quicker than he's ever managed to get to grips with 7 Wonders, and John's generosity evidently spilled over to his own Palazzo, where he dug himself into a mid-game money crisis.

Three builders up in Round 4, I found things proceeding very much to plan, but as usual in this game I managed to pull an unexpected defeat out from the jaws of victory. My losing move? Buying a jester of all things! Anyway, it left me an engine-part short of getting my last two works out, and my lead was overhauled by Becky. She in turn had reckoned without Pete, though, who cashed in a good Privilege card and held Becky to an outright tie. Very impressive first time out, I must say.
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Sat Oct 23, 2021 7:38 pm
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Friday October 15th - Training Day

Ben Bateson
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Back to Chez Bateson we went, with many a merry jape about 'bit quiet in here, innit?' and 'shall we put some music on?'. Pete was invited into the little core of regulars after putting up with us very well in the pub, although Becky's insistence on turning our floodlights off might have made him feel less than welcome as he stumbled up our pitch-black garden path. Becky is apparently some sort of bat or owl because she never seems to have this sort of problem.

With a good turn-out of six, I lobbed Byzanz on the table for for its debut play in the 'opening filler' slot. A really odd game this, with probably one more variable than anyone really wants to keep track of in a casual game. John looked like he was making a good deal out of swaying heavily towards the market and buying nothing on the auctions, but it was Dave who calculated his way out of things for a resounding 3-point victory (a comfortable margin in this game).

I was half-prepared to split to two tables of three, but John declared we were overdue for introducing Pete to club-favourite Chinatown. This seemed like a fair enough proposition, with the added bonus that it's all large-print enough not to trouble Ian until he gets his cataracts done. Pete picked this up very naturally, quickly entering into elaborate joint-ventures with Becky and Dave (despite my best warnings against dealing with sharks like that). John, meanwhile, just decided to sell up everything lock, stock and barrel. He spent virtually nothing throughout the game and against less cut-throat opponents, this might have been enough. He had reckoned without my patient building of a full restaurant business (in SOLE ownership, moreover), though, and I pipped Dave, Pete and Becky by narrow margins.

It looked like the six-player mindset was going to congeal for the night, so we broke out 7 Wonders, and I was slightly perturbed - upon banging all the numbers into my play-stats app - to find I'd now played this more than 100 times. Most of those base-game only, too, because teaching new people the expansions is a futility. 100 plays was sufficient experience to rake home a comfy 61 points with Alexandria in my first game with no-one else within arms' length. The second game was much crunchier, though. Ian - who has always been mysteriously baffled by this game - finally broke into a respectable score, but the glory belonged to Pete: 65 points and a thumping win in just his second game.

Scouring the shelves for something that would accommodate six for the final hour of the evening, we pulled out the long-ignored (and unjustly, too) Colt Express for some rollicking train-based fun. As usual, there was the usual amount of air-punching and firing bullets into nowhere, and Ian apparently couldn't resist visiting the marshal on a regular basis. Somewhat unsurprisingly, John was the best villain of all.
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Sat Oct 23, 2021 7:19 pm
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Friday 8th October - Aaannnd....we're back out again

Ben Bateson
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So, that didn't last long. The Prince Of Wales was a little more vibrant than we were used to last week, but this week was four hours of ear-pounding music and drunk Newcastle United fans which made it pretty damn near impossible to hear each other at point-blank range. Why pubs feel the need to do this is a mystery. I think everyone went home in a miserable mood with a headache. Which is a shame, because somewhere amidst all the din were hiding some great games.

Tony introduced us to Liberatores first-up. We generally made a hash of the first game by making it all too easy for Caesar to be elected, so John appealed for us to do it all over again, which we did. This went down to a lot more balanced finish: this time the traitor team of Tony, Dave and John won. It was quite fun nobbling Tony with an endless string of slaves, though. I can see a bit of traction here for further plays.

Games for six being in short supply, we split into two halves: one table playing Dave's new Kickstarter copy of Tinners' Trail. It is a standard complaint of Becky's that she never gets to play this, so hopefully this will have kept that one at bay for a while. It certainly seemed to go down well enough, with contented smiles from all three between having to bellow auction bids at each other.

Meanwhile Tony and I invited Pete to further his Agricola education and further beat-up his 'special edition' Essen miniatures, the dilapidated state of which illustrate why sometimes discs are best. While Tony put together a solid Day-Labourer combo, I struck upon an unlikely pairing of cards that would reward me for delaying Family Growth, but as it turned out the other two weren't interesting in competing for Room Building or Family Growth, so I just shot up to four family members anywhere. A decent 41 points without ever having to worry about the start-player markers was a just reward. Fed up of having our drums pounded by Queens Of The Stone Age, Tony and I had a petty bad-tempered grouch at each other and he left to find some paracetomol.

After topping up my Carling (while in Rome...), I taught Village Green to Pete while the final Tinning Totting-up was going on. It was a successful play, not withstanding the environment, and Pete pipped me by a single point. But it looks like we're on the move again. How hard is it to find somewhere to play games?
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Sat Oct 23, 2021 6:31 pm
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Friday 1st October - Courtships and Caught-Ships

Ben Bateson
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Glory be! For the first time in 18 months, we were back in a pub!

Having given up waiting for The Plough to be redecorated, we had arranged to re-establish home in the Prince Of Wales. The lighting had been improved, the bar selection likewise and - other than a variable-volume jukebox - it made for an excellent board-gaming retreat.

There were fully eight of us present - the lockdown regulars being boosted by Gerv and Pete, and an always-welcome visit from Phil Dennis. Becky had nobly stayed home to supervise boiler repairs, so it was an all-boys outing, and a remarkably well-behaved one for all that (other than Gerv leering at the neighbourhood constabulary when they popped in just before closing time). We split into two tables: Tony had brought Obsession, which I would have liked to play, but mindful of the need to have someone to teach a game on the other table, I deferred until another night.

Pete - self-confessedly at random - pulled Nusfjord from my bag, and with everyone having at least one game under their belt, it was easy enough to get up and running. For a while, my latent wish to play Obsession seemed to be manifesting itself, as I built a ballroom and a romantic alcove. But, mostly, what I did was this:

From gallery of ousgg

Yup, that forest has been well and truly administrated


Ian upgraded ships, Dave built a big church, and Peter carried out some suspect share dealing. Dave ran me very, very close in the final tot-up, but I squeaked a high-scoring thriller 40-38.

With Obsession still ongoing, we moved onto something with a much lesser demand on table space, which at least allowed us to retrieve various pint glasses from the windowsill. Santiago de Cuba was our choice: a game that invariably intrigues me, but at which I tend to be uniformly hopeless. It was another high-scorer, but my 30 points was only enough for third place behind Dave (selling wood) and Pete (who couldn't resist going to the docks whenever the opportunity beckoned). Dave pronounced it thoroughly enjoyable.

With John beaming with delight at an Obsession win and having come over to hijack Nusfjord for the other table (he won at that, too), we still had plenty of time for a chunky closer. I picked Spectaculum, Knizia's superlative forerunner to Mini Rails and a great distillation of stock-market mechanics. You'd think Botswana would be an adequate distillation of stock-market mechanics, but - just like Modern Art isn't the only great Knizia auction game - Spectaculum possibly surpasses it.

One thing you can't do at this game is put all your eggs in one basket, a lesson Peter learned directly, but also one which punished me for going in heavily on purple early-doors. Of course, I couldn't draw a purple disc for the life of me, and my score frittered to at least ten gold behind Dave, who won again. A truly brilliant game, agreed by all involved, the only downside being the need to carry out some significant component upgrades: this game has possibly the worst (non-paper) money tokens in anything I've played.

The intermittent commentary of the barman's Amazon Prime account, and two over-excitable bulldogs accompanied the end of the session. It's good to be back!
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Sun Oct 3, 2021 10:26 pm
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Friday 24th September - Cells and Domes

Ben Bateson
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Back at Chez Bateson tonight, with Becky hurrying home from a bell-ringing engagement, leaving me to set up and read rules while Ian and John wandered in. My chosen target for the evening was Philip DuBarry's gloriously silly Revolution, a game which I hadn't really touched for a few years, having hugely enjoyed a chaotic teaching session from Phil Dennis at Tony's birthday bash.

Despite getting all the way to the end of the rules explanation only for John to say "so, what am I supposed to do?", we were soon up and motoring. There is a certain feel-good aura to DuBarry's games which I've never quite managed to pin down or explain, and despite things going fairly woefully for me (it's VERY easy to get shafted with four), it was fun watching the various strategies develop: John going in heavily for area control, Becky investing the Printer points, and Ian saving up for some heavy-hitting and cube-moving shenanigans (which totally didn't work, but he still beat me). It looked like John was going to cruise it for a long time, but the whole thing was a squeaker of a finish with Becky pushing hard and John winning by only three (which ain't very much in this game). Utterly daft, but somehow great too.

While I was out carefully tapping my first experiments with my birthday Pinter, the others unanimously voted for something significantly more serious, so I returned to a table with Underwater Cities proudly plonked in the middle of it. If John couldn't pick up the rules to Revolution, what chance would he stand with this?

I have a chequered history with Suchy's games, finding most of them inexplicably bland and hard to work up motivation for. Underwater Cities is definitely the best of the bunch, but there is still evidence of linearity. Still, there is a lovely masking of theme and art to make the game more delicious, and I might explore the expansion one day. But with 4 players, it was a loooong experience, especially with Ian having to squint at the tiny text and John generally forgetting when it was his go. But, for all that, there were some interesting strategies developing: John went heavily into endgame scoring and Special cards, and Ian forged a very nice turnover of Action cards, getting plenty of free stuff as a result. In fact, he did enough to win it, on the tiebreak with me.

And, all of a sudden, it was 11pm. Becky and I had a round of field archery booked for the next day, so not even time for an end-of-evening jolly.
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Sun Oct 3, 2021 10:03 pm
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Friday 17th September - A right Shambles

Ben Bateson
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En route to the latest in our series of temporary homes, we picked up Ian in Ross, and it was off to the Shambles shopping arcade in Newent, and the new, famous Museum of Ancient Boardgamers. Sorry, boardgames. Although evidence to the contrary was in short supply given a welcome from Gerv and Tony.

With fully six this week, we kicked off with Medici, a game for which Tony appears to have a renewed affection. John tried his 'buy the gold at all costs' strategy again, but it failed to make an appearance until round 3, and he was lagging some way behind my glorious 125-point sum. Gerv hit a creditable third place, with the rest lagging some way behind in the mid-70s.

Sustaining six all evening is hard work, so we allowed ourselves a luxurious leg-stretch and occupied all of the museum with two tables of three. Tony, John and I took on Gold West, while Becky bravely adopted the mantle of teacher, introducing Gerv and Ian to Calico and - when that finished - Luxor. Gerv likes cats and pretty colours, so unsurprisingly was a natural at Calico, but Becky trounced them both at Luxor.

So, Gold West then? This is one of those games that has been perenially on the 'must try one day' list. And, indeed, there's a lot to like. The management of the goods bins is a nice mancala-esque mechanic to drive the game. The highly variable setup gives you a good puzzle to solve. And there is a lurking economic engine to manage too. But it all felt a tiny bit sterile and lacking in immersion, and not only because John motored away to an easy victory. I was pleased to play it, but at the current market price, I don't think I'll be adding a copy to my shelves any time soon.

We had time for a quick Totemo while we were waiting for the Luxor table to finish. This has achieved local infamy as the game which Tony cannot beat me at - a record stretching way back to playtesting days (and indeed the infancy of the club). Would tonight be the big night?

No. He lost quite spectacularly.

Merriments over, we joined the two tables back up for a merry shouting-out, Joe Dolce-esque King Me! (chalk up another one to me), and a couple of magnificent rounds of Cockroach Salad (one each to Gerv and - somewhat unexpectedly - Tony) before wending our way through the darkened alleyways of Auld Gloucestershire.
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Sun Oct 3, 2021 8:27 pm
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Friday 10th September - Pan Albion

Ben Bateson
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Only time for two games tonight, thanks to some laboured teaching (mostly from me - some nights you just ain't got it) and the need for an early start on Saturday.

We were back in John's cabin, and having recently discovered the joys of Pan Am, I was keen to put it back on the table and see if it was as good the second time. It was certainly very DIFFERENT the second time: the stock price stayed very low throughout, which meant the losing score comfortably doubled my winning score from a week ago. I had foregone a couple of rounds of claiming routes, but it only allowed the others to leap in, and there were a lot of Pan Am sales throughout. The Directives space took less heavy traffic as a result of the low budgets, and only one player even considered buying a jet. This sort of variation - driven largely by a small events deck - positively demands further exploration. It was John who won, continuing his good form from last week, but I was pleased with my second place, earned on something of a shoestring flight plan. John had the last laugh as the only one who could correctly fold the board, too.

Becky had been eyeing up Troyes for the last 90 minutes, but at the last minutes she switched allegiances to Albion, a real puzzler of an optimisation game and a game seemingly - and unfairly - almost lost to history. We stumbled in a little, due to my forgetfulness of a few key rules, and Becky and Ian disastrously lost an early building to the Picts (which, to be honest, set them behind the curve for the whole game and we probably should have allowed them to Mulligan). Although John was spreading fastest, I was critically first to Stone and first to Gold, and things snowballed satisfactorily from there. I finished my settlements with John still a resource short of matching me and claimed a long-overdue win.

It would have been nice to stay for a quick finisher, but the dreaded 'parental visit' loomed, and we had to go and tidy the house. Not least the piles of board games everywhere...
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Mon Sep 13, 2021 8:27 pm
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Friday 3rd September - Birthday Boy!

Ben Bateson
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That's right - my turn to pick everything this week, and a rerun of my favourite player count (and indeed my favourite players). We opened with 4P, however, waiting for Dave who was running a last-minute taxi-of-mercy mission. I put myself out of contention early, bidding heavily on a doubler card that never really paid off. John somehow also contrived to spend the most money, which reduced four players to a one-two of Ian and Becky, in that order.

Dave had rocked up in time to see the final tally, and we had already laid out the first course for the night: New Bedford. This has not necessarily been a hit for us in the past (John and Becky certainly raised moody eyebrows), but they had had no prior taste of the five-player game, which critically throws the start player marker into the worker-placement mix. And, I'm pleased to say, it was an absolute blast, with plenty of money available on the board and a couple of screwage buildings (many horrible things were said about the chemist which I'm sure the noble guild of pharmacists do not deserve) built by Ian and Dave. Everyone had positive things to say about it at the end, so that certainly counts as a success. John ended up beating me by a mere point, but everyone else was close behind and certainly within contention.

After a quick scout around the living room, I bypassed several club favourites in favour of Furstenfeld. This is one of those games which is simplicity itself to teach, and the first two rounds are almost inherently balanced, so it was easy to dive in with a minimum of rules. Maybe a couple more rules for Dave on not helping himself to the market markers might have helped...

I carefully Scavenged my entire deck, but a lack of crops saw me woefully short of income throughout. Becky made a fortune off her tour bus, and Ian built a big bank. We were all in contention, but John was quietly amassing a massive pile of cash which ensured he couldn't really be beaten. Good job he bought me a card!

We closed with a game of QE, a nice mirror to our opening High Society I thought. Ian threw it all away this time, making some rash and frankly unnecessary bids in pursuit of who-knows-what. Becky was playing a quiet acquisition game and Dave bought virtually nothing. But, yes, it was John again who won it, buying heavily in the frugal early rounds with the net result that he spent maybe 90% less than the rest of us. Nicely done, sir.
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Mon Sep 13, 2021 8:11 pm
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