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 September 9th - Sing when you're winning

Ben Bateson
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After a week's break for me to entertained my mother, we were back to the Drop Inn, now notably marked by the evenings drawing in and a chill in the air.

Tony has been having a sniffy spell where the Ross-on-Wye 5P favourites (Lancaster, Princes of Florence, El Grande etc) are concerned, but he'll get over it. Normally not long after Essen when he realises most of the new stuff he's brought back just isn't as good. But he had brought a treat to appease us: a copy of PARKS, the curiouisly-capitalised game which I had been keen to try out for a while. It turned out to be a thoroughly wholesome experience, not least because Tony and I were on musical forms and punctuated the teaching with various apropos renderings of Gloria Gaynor, Dexy's Midnight Runners, B*witched, and so on. I guess you had to be there.

Gameplay-wise, things went off rather smoothly. Pete built a solid engine which caught Becky and I lagging behind as we over-invested in chasing our bonus cards. John forgot about his bonus card altogether, but still finished second. I enjoyed it in an undemanding way; glad I played it, like the artwork, but not exactly rushing out to get a copy.

We moved onto something a bit more cut-and-thrust, the curious 5P confection that is Senators. Sitting fifth, I broke up an unusually cautious start with some aggressive extortion, and for a while it seemed like it was working with an early lead and some bonus majority money. But my 0% record proved undamaged: Becky cashed in twice for the win and I also got overtaken by John at the last gasp for good measure.

Surprisingly, we were running out of time and Tony was aiming for a reasonably early night, so we only had time for a filler to finish. But it was a cracking good filler, in the form of the long-neglected 6 Nimmt. Becky played the entire game in a state of perpetual bafflement, while John and I - experience card players both, vied for the lead. He scored a perfect zero on the first round, but I had a string of lucky skilful hands, and came within inches of the lead before blowing it right at the end. C'est la vie, I suppose.
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Tue Sep 27, 2022 9:09 pm
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Friday 26th August - Alles Gute

Ben Bateson
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Becky's birthday are traditionally the celebration for the last Friday in August. And where Becky's choice of games is involved, then Lancaster will never be far away. We were going to be 5P, but a last-minute illness in the household kept Dave from us. Lancaster with 4 is a much nicer affair with less bouncing-out, but it didn't stop Becky thrashing us all merrily. I looked about about halfway through Round 4 and saw her with 8 nobles already, so the whole thing was a bit of a done deal at that point, despite John's best efforts to go for alternate-route VPs. My big-army points were enough for second, but I was still some 16 behind. Just occasionally, Becky doesn't win at this...

Her other two picks for the evening were a little less predictable. Space Base has been getting a lot of play at home, and I remembered playing it with Ian and John shortly before lockdown. Ian remembered too, but John? Nah - not a jot. It didn't do him any harm, though, as he swiftly built up a solid working combo on the 9 and 10 spaces. Allied with a couple of Add 1/Add 2 cards, it was relatively easy for him to rake down plenty of money and half-a-dozen points every round and there was no stopping him from that point on. I ended up fighting with Ian for last place, and lost that too.

To finish, the magnificence of German Railways. This is one that just gets more and more fun every time I play it and although it is probably best with 5P, it doesn't lose much with four. Becky went in quickly on the early bidding, ending up with a brown and black share, but didn't really follow up, ending up in a struggle to make things connect. John and I mirrored each other in a lot of shares (and even at one point in doing the same calculations), but this meant too many split profits. And Ian? He played a masterclass (John's words), taking full advantage of some early turn-order draw in order to maximise his holdings in red, and then spending several rounds doing nothing but watch his dividends grow. We didn't punish his bids enough and he ended up winning by a comfortable 80 Gelders or so.

Back in a couple of weeks. We're sitting out MY birthday games this year.
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Tue Aug 30, 2022 9:58 pm
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Friday 19th August - Endeavour Morts

Ben Bateson
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"I really fancy a game of Agricola" sighed Tony over pre-gaming Messenger as we traditionally dismissed each others suggestions for answering the eternal 'what to play this week?' question.

Agricola is generally not on the menu, sadly, unless we get EXACTLY the right crowd these days, but I did pack enough stuff to tickle Tony's fancies. Although, to be honest, the pork-scratchings spree midway through the evening rather helped too.

We started with an all-hands Endeavor (well, we played the swish new Kickstarter one, but you know how well duplicate database entries go down over here...). I was hoping to deal out the excellent expansion, but Ian hadn't played before, so we went with the basic version. Roundly unsupported in my attempts to colonise India, I struggled to a miserable last place, and this is one of the things I've always found slightly discomfiting about Endeavor - I never quite worked out what major strategic errors I made. Everything just didn't seem to tick along as quickly as everyone else's engine, but I don't think I did anything WRONG, as such. Anyway, Tony pipped John and Becky to an excellent win, with Ian not doing too badly (although slightly mono-obsessive) in his first game.

Tony had brought along Cape Horn, that game of most merry punning, and almost a museum-piece in this day and age. I thought the movement mechanic and the amount of screwage were rather splendid, as indeed was Tony's rules explanation. However, the mere presence of the game on the table apparently reduced everyone else to blithering incompetents. Becky proved incapable of following arrows, Ian could never remember to put a sail point on the board, and John for a long time assumed we were sailing around the southern coast of Africa. Not withstanding his geographic confusion, he picked up two tokens in short order and, although I was ahead in the sailing, I kindly let him take a double-turn and snatch the third one. If only to save myself from the pain of watching everyone else staring at tiles with their tongues out.

Although we only had an hour-and-a-bit left, all this stolid boating around had given our creative and silly sides a yearning to break free, so we popped Balderdash on the table and played 'as far round as you can get before closing time'. Specialising in the 'curiously precise' type of clue, I managed to reach the three-quarter stage ahead of everyone else, and so was awarded three-quarters of a win. I'd love to divulge the details, but everyone was having far too much fun to post-mortem them.
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Tue Aug 30, 2022 9:00 pm
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Friday 12th August - Roads and Boats

Ben Bateson
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With a big weekend event shortly to come, Becky was on vegetable-minding duties in Chepstow, so I loaded up the games bag and drove myself off to sample the Drop Inn's finest Coca-cola, and the even finer company of John, Pete and a re-nascent Ian. Ian had brought along a shiny new copy of Dice Realms and was busy unpacking player mats and fiddly plastic bits when I arrived. It proved to be far less complex than all that: a relatively straightforward Dominion-with-Dice. I quickly bought a couple of extras, and before half an hour was out, the dice pool was empty and Pete only had three dice in front of him. But he could throw them well! Picking up a bundle of VPs on the very last round snuck him in front.

Dice Realms, like Chimera Station, is a game where the concept seems decidedly better than the execution. The upgradable dice are clearly full of potential, but it largely seems to be frittered away once you've decided which direction your strategy will take. The player interface is clumsy and, while I like the potential for masses of variable setup, it's hard to see who would play the game often enough to get the most out of it.

New mind this new-faddled nonsense, I had brought some old-school classics tonight. First up was King's Road, a game with more pedigree than the 2017 box-date might indicate. It's one of those deceptively simple Knizias based around the Taj Mahal scoring mechanism. Dare I say it, but the card-play isn't quite exciting enough, but the rest of the table seemed to enjoy it alright. John did exactly the right thing by sitting back in wait (something which I was trying to do and failing miserably) and the final result wasn't even close, really.

Another Knizia next, probably the game that springs to mind when you ask more for something under-rated. Spectaculum is a deft shareholding game: a predecessor of Mini Rails only - frankly - a hell of a lot more better. Despite the terrible production values and the money which is so samey that it makes errors all too common, there is an excellent game of stock valuation and devaluation in here. I led the way by tanking the blue shares and picking them up cheap, but came under threat from more diverse portfolios from Pete and John. Luckily, a few wayward moves from Ian saved the day for me and I finished a handful of points ahead of Pete in the final reckoning.

Time for a fourth game? Absolutely, I said as I cracked open Diamonds Club. This is so old-school it looks like it could have been published in the 1980s, an effect not helped by me failing to use any sorting trays and having lost all the Number 5 ships and replacing them with Micro Machines. The seductiveness of being able to pick up a miniature Suzuki proved very strong for Pete, who nabbed one pretty much every round. John went 'big tree' and 'big diamond too', leaving Ian to pick up the bonus tiles (he even managed to achieve one without even realising it until Pete pointed it out). I built two lots of animal parks and triggered the endgame with a bundle of rose gardens. I thought I'd sneaked a win here, too, but Pete had crept up the last space on the tree track while I was busy loading up with gems. Oddly enough, his winning score of 76 was exactly the same as mine in Spectaculum.
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Tue Aug 23, 2022 10:25 pm
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Friday 5th August - Cairn You Dig It?

Ben Bateson
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The Ross-on-Wye regulars have started trickling through the doors: tonight we welcomed Wendy back alongside all the usual faces. Like Dan, she has a knack of picking up difficult games really quickly, while making heavy weather of lighter fare, so we saw the opportunity to pop two Euro classics on the table.

Isle of Skye first. This has always been a firm favourite at Ross and in my view comfortably the best thing Pfister has turned out. Wendy latched onto the build conditions quickly and forged a solid early lead, but soon encountered the classic Skye pitfall of leading in VP but running desperately short of money. Gradually she was overhauled by Tony and John. Sitting dead last from Round 1 onwards, I was carrying a secret weapon: a collection of pretty much every decent scroll that had come out all game. Having ignored two scoring objectives altogether, I leapfrogged the field with some 20 endgame points, just as Tony and John were about to enquire what the tie-break was.

Tony had lugged along Power Grid and the Germany map was on the table before I could return with my next pint. I've always had an uneasy relationship with this game, and can't shake off the feeling that most - if not all - of the decisions are pretty easy. Starting in the expensive south, I threw money at some big links early on, tussling with Becky in order to block Tony in, and hustling lots of oil. John was threatening to get fingers in all sorts of pies, and Wendy was very competitive. But there seemed to be an awful lot of thinking going on - everyone apart from me was in 'competitive standing-up pose' for the large part - and for the life of me I couldn't work out why. John crossed the line to 15 cities first, but Tony soon matched him and they start trying to fathom out who had most money. But they'd reckoned without me, playing dead last and powering six new cities on my final turn as I wallowed around in Tony's easy starting region. Another win snatched from the jaws of defeat: I probably should have enjoyed myself more. But everyone else seemed well pleased, even Becky, who I had thought had never gotten on with the game.

One positive: the 2nd edition tweaks make the early game much, much better than the last time I had played (some eight years ago by the reckoning of my stats app). I might acquiesce to taking another look one day.
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Tue Aug 23, 2022 9:09 pm
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Friday 29th July - Drop Inn Turnout On Tune

Ben Bateson
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If that's not up there in the blog-title-awards at the end of the year, I don't know what will be...

We have a new home! The Ross boardgamers would be meeting publicly for the first time since the miserable thumpy-music squalor of the Prince Of Wales forced us out. Tucked away in what amounts to little more than a side-street is the Drop Inn, formerly a brewery and then latterly purchased by the rugby club for their headquarters. Turns out that the narrow building facade not only shelters a very long, thin bar, but an upstairs function room which wasn't getting much love. Until now!

It was good to see all the regulars - Tony, Gerv, Dave W and John - back in the room together, but also great to meet some newcomers: Sandra and Joe (via Tony's Wednesday meets) and Terry and Ali. I happen to know that Terry reads this blog ('cos he posted to it a couple of months ago), so welcome on board!

As usual, Tony had completely misled me on player count, so I packed the games bags expected 6P. But, never mind, there was still plenty available to us. Tony had brought Brian Boru with him, which I was dead keen to try. Becky set up Stone Age, which appealed to Sandra and Joe, and Dave - being the last to turn up - was unceremoniously instructed to join them. Luckily he quite likes Stone Age, but was soon being merrily trounced by Joe, who is apparently quite the competitor.

We lurched into Brian Boru with Tony giving the impression that he was learning it for the first time, despite the fact that I witnessed him playing it barely two months ago. Gerv, as usual, took a gleeful delight in not knowing what he was doing, but managed to secure all the marriages - until the last one - nevertheless and have an imposing score that we couldn't overhaul until the last. Tony also omitted to tell us any of the endgame scoring conditions until the middle of Round 2, which struck me as a fraction tardy. Apparently it's our fault for not requesting a full rules explanation up front - who knew? Anyway, I did better in the final totting-up than I had been fearing, holding one valuable county and at least being able to shunt Tony down to fourth place (or - as Terry would later enterprisingly describe his Nusfjord performance - 'third runner-up).

Omissions notwithstanding, I quite enjoyed Brian Boru. It seems somewhat optimistic to try and track all 25 cards, and I'm not totally convinced that the stronger abilities on the lower numbers are adequate compensation for never winning a trick with them (John did pretty well on the basic drafting strategy of 'just take all the high numbers'). The draft feels clunky and a sort of semi-admission that the cards aren't completely balanced. But the whole thing trundles along very well and you feel like you've completed a lot within the compact one-hour playtime.

We dealt out a quick For Sale to give the other table time to catch up, and were just closing in on the last few cards (Tony winning by the narrowest of margins) when Terry and Ali turned up and we could re-jig for two tables of five. I do like a 5P table.

Unsurprisingly, Tony had a greasy lust to play Nusfjord ("I'm shit at Glass Road" being his unedifying explanation), while John and I set up something altogether lighter in the form of Pictures. This proved to be very much to Ali's taste (she did a very nice 'bowl of jewellery' at one point), and very much in line with Gerv's penchant for being as weird as humanly possible; indeed, no-one at all guessed his picture for the first two rounds, which I think qualifies as some sort of record. We were also joined by an onlooker from the bar (Debbie...I think) who looks like she might be a recurring visitor - I might even persuade her to play something one day.

With Nusfjord still lumbering on in midgame as we put the lid back on the box, we had adequate time for 7 Wonders Architects, a game which I've been enjoying in an undemanding way, and which does have the major advantage over 'daddy' 7 Wonders that it's much, MUCH quicker to set up. My Pyramid of Giza was the simplest of the lot, and I went opportunistically at every building resource I can reach, which happily Dave - on my right - didn't block too much. Having a bit of free legroom to pick up a few red cards didn't hurt either, and I pipped Dave and Gerv for a good win, with John and Ali not too far behind either.

So, a thoroughly successful evening in a new pub (our fourth!). I think - were the Plough ever to reopen - we would go back, but the Drop Inn seems like an excellent host for the time being.
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Sun Jul 31, 2022 2:41 pm
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Friday 22nd July - We built this city

Ben Bateson
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After a couple of weeks break to accommodate our holiday and a wholly-unsurprising Covid scare, we reconvened with John around the dining table. Because Becky still had a cough, the fan was on full blast and the window was open, but that's OK because it was the tail-end of the heatwave and about 23°C outside.

I fancied giving Ragusa another go after John's excitement over its sandboxy nature last time around. More or less not through my own choice, I ended up going 'big fish', which saved on the outside-of-the-city actions, but meant I was struggling to scrap together anything suitable for endgame scoring (I also traded all my fish when holding the end-game fish-scoring card which was a bit of a noob error). John tried for a huge wall, and Becky - not for the first time - endeavoured to import lots of nice stuff off boats. It gave the appearance of a slightly broken strategy when unopposed: the narrow victory of last month failing to transpire as Becky crossed the 100-point mark with John and I still in the 70s. Ragusa doesn't often get recommended for more than 3P, but I think it'd be worth trying with 4P because this sort of runaway development is going to be precluded.

As a tonic to Becky's cough, I poured her a large whisky and suggested Terraforming Mars. Given that Becky's corporation card gave her rewards when we built next to her, we turned out not to be particularly co-operative Martians, and this particularly sparse bit of landscaping was all we had to show for our efforts at the end of ninety minutes...

From gallery of ousgg


John was rolling off the back of a massive energy/heat production combo and I was endeavouring to put together a Jovian tag combo. It looked like Becky was floundering, but she came through for a narrow and exciting 63-59-58 win.

With well over an hour still available to us, I chose to teach John Expedition To Newdale while Becky went in search of more Scotch. It's a fiddly teach, especially if you can't remember playing Oh My Goods (unsurprisingly, John couldn't remember), but he soon got underway with impressive double-builds in both rounds 2 and 3, triple corn fields to feed the first goal card, and predictably scoring a whole bunch off his private objective at the end. Despite some lovely colour-coordinated buildings (nearly all running off yellow-red), I failed the larger goal, and was reliant on my Fortress to catch up, which wasn't quite enough. At the very end, Becky remembered that we hadn't tallied leftover-money and neatly bunny-hopped over both me and John for the win. If you thought Terraforming Mars was close, check out the oddly-similar score here: 60-59-58.

Covid is obviously good for Becky; she won everything tonight. Or maybe it was the whisky...
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Sun Jul 31, 2022 2:15 pm
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Friday 1st July - Pope goes the Easel

Ben Bateson
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(pleased with that title...)

With Siena being a hit the previous week, we reassembled the same team to have a go at its spiritual sequel: De Vulgari Eloquentia. This had also been a long-term shelf-sitter for me, and I thought its slightly more coherent rule-set would be a bit more comfortable for the table as a whole. Certainly everyone seemed to enjoy it, with John virtually going into fits of raptures. What I do like about it is the requirement to strategise well: there's no point trying to make a last-minute switch to gain points. This is where I went wrong: starting the game in the south and intending to be a rich merchant, I had a change of heart at about round 5 and aimed to become Pope instead. This I achieved, but didn't really get any points from anywhere else. John got a bit over-enthusiastic about the Canticle Of The Sun, and Pete quickly made Cardinal before pillaging the Papal Libraries for lots of points. Everyone apart from Becky thought she'd won it, though: she picked up masses of cubes throughout and I had to spend quite a few actions at the end to hold her off in the knowledge stakes. I'd had thoughts earlier about aiming for the 8-level knowledge, but didn't follow it through - another indication that you need a coherent long-term strategy here.

What a fascinating game. A fair bit more coherent than Siena, and everyone stated their keenness to get back into the box and play again. And I don't think we got any rules wrong this time either. It did run long though, stretching past the 2-hour mark, so we stepped things down a little for the rest of the evening.

Vikings gets a lot of 2P table-time at the Batesons, but we rarely play it with any more, which is a shame. John played his best starvation strategy here, having not too much choice of Vikings in rounds 3-4, but it paid off for him as he had the only over-feed bonus points at the end. AND he had a whopping island up top for some extra bonus points. I thought my balanced game would pay dividends, but in the final feeding stakes, John and I pretty much swapped places and he reaped a very worthy 46-44-43-40 win. Tight old stuff indeed with four players.

John nominated Pictures to finish, which gave me my first opportunity to break out the Orange expansion. The new building materials are welcome (although I thought the acrylic tiles were a bit staid), but not as much as a whole new set of cards. One card, in particular, stayed on the tableau throughout and was quickly referred to as 'wanking monkey' with all the schoolboy humour that one might expect of that. Imagine my pleasure when, in the very final round, I drew this particular set of co-ordinates, then...

From gallery of ousgg
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Sun Jul 3, 2022 1:44 pm
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Friday June 24th - Burkant Manchers

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Having heard about John's fondness of the city of Siena, I was reminded of the game of the same name that had spent several years residing on my Shelf Of Shame. Pete was in for this one too, and I spent several days reading up on the (notoriously obtuse) rules. Turns out that it wasn't all that hard to teach, although some decent player aids wouldn't go amiss for the first couple of games. Becky was the first to promote herself to Merchant, and then quickly afterwards to Banker, and spent a long time touring the city and avoiding those pesky prostitutes courtesans in search of tower levels. Pete followed her soon afterwards: the archetypal 'broke banker' scraping together enough money for church donations. John opted to remain as a Merchant for much longer, so I stayed down at Peasant level, making plenty of profits off John's cardplay. I was rolling in it by the time I made it up to Banker level, but also short of things to do! Becky snuck in to build the last level of the tower just before me, and we all assumed she'd won, but we'd reckoned with Pete's stash of influenced citizens. I've actually just looked up the rules and found that we played this wrong - he should only have been allowed one church donation. But his finances were managed well enough that he deserved the win, I reckon.

"We haven't played that airplane game that Becky always wins for AGES" said John, thereby proving the ancient Greek notion of quod erat demonstrandum. We played it nevertheless, and Becky won nevertheless. Not quite by following her normal strategy of 'come second in everything' this time, but on the back of some sound investment in bonus-point lines. My own strategy fizzled a little early, and while I was re-tooling for a big finish, John rather inconveniently put an end to the game. There's nothing worse than going to bed with Abacus shares still in your hand...

We finished with a collegiate Azul. Collegiate because it mysteriously lacked any of the hand-wringing evilness that normally permeates this game. John, very impressively, negotiated a 3rd round which started with only five empty spaces on his tableau. But he was a few points behind Pete and me; we finished on 60 points each, which necessitated a lookup of the tie-break rule. Pete squeaked the tie-break, although I'm less than convinced of the rule, myself. Although I would be, wouldn't I?
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Sun Jul 3, 2022 1:22 pm
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Friday June 17th - Bears Are Best!

Ben Bateson
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With sultry weather forecast, we retired to John's cabin this week, taking along a bag of new-ish games and a few beers.

John greeted us with the proud claim that he was wearing a pair of shorts that were older than we were. They were also somewhat of the Daisy Duke length, but thankfully we didn't get a glimpse of his Meeple or Dice Bag.

I pulled out Ragusa to start. I figured the sandboxy strategy and largely open information would be very much to John's taste, and so it proved. It's a surprisingly intuitive and logical game once you get going, and a really clever bit of design. Some of the final turns are a little mind-boggling as the ramifications of a single turn result in maybe 15 different actions, especially today as Becky and John were hauling in boat after boat. I settled myself for 'fish points' and balancing up my luxury goods for three solid batches in the endgame. It was too close to call, really: John and I tied on 89 but were pipped by Becky who maxed out four endgame cards and came from miles behind to score 96.

I've been really enjoying Ragusa. I don't know if it's wise to try and play it with 5P, but it's enjoyably intense with lower player counts: I think we caught it at the sweet spot tonight.

Becky picked Cascadia for our next offering. We bought this on impulse a few weeks back; she has been enjoying it very much, but I don't really think it's a patch (pun intentional) on the lovely Calico. The theme means very little, and the points-for-everything scoring is a bit twee. But it's pleasing and quick-to-pick-up fare with plenty to consider on your own little puzzle-tableau, so it would be churlish to hate on it too much. John seemed to enjoy it and constructed a complex network of hawks (which we had to help him add up!). At one point I blurted out 'bears are best!' which now seems to be the strapline for this game. Bears most definitely weren't best, as it turned out. Despite doing well on habitats, I finished last with 90, three behind John and five behind Becky.

I nominated Lions of Lydia as a bit of an off-beat choice. It's a peculiar little game, but certainly open to a bit of exploration, especially with no fewer than eight mini-expansions in the same box. John went for something of a rush-strategy, buying everything in sight and upgrading as many as possible. But he neglected (altogether, as it turned out), endgame-scoring cards; Becky and I hoovered these up, and I was expecting her to win yet again, but unexpectedly I snuck a win by a handful of points.

There was time for another game, but we wiled away the rest of the evening with drinks and chat, not least of holidays. John revealed a fondness for the city of Siena, which gave me an idea for next week...
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Sun Jul 3, 2022 11:48 am
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