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The Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers

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

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Friday October 21st - Shitty Cities

Ben Bateson
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Tonight was to prove a pivotal moment in the six-year history of our group. Regular readers will know that our relationships with the new ownership at the White Lion was somewhat fractured (through, as far as I could tell, no fault of our own), and we walked in tonight only to be told that the upstairs room had a prior booking. This seemed a little odd given that there was no-one up there and all the lights were off.

We were offered a table in the main bar, as long as we left by 10pm. Apparently, staying until the 'normal' closing time of 11pm is frowned upon these days. I respect the landlord's decision to close when he chooses (one of my favourite boozers is only open 5-9pm), but it was difficult to accept him telling me that they were closing at 10 o'clock when he was standing directly underneath a board advertising their Friday opening hours as 'Noon to 11pm'. He further rubbed in that he didn't really give a shit about us by inviting us to 'find somewhere else' and promptly sitting a table of three diners at the table for six he had just offered us.

This was particularly anti-social, as we were expecting two visitors tonight, in the shape of the lovely Rob and Jo (pronounced 'Joey', but it looks like a man's name when I spell it like that). It seemed a little anti-social asking them to drive out to the sticks and play at John's house, but they proved well up for it.

So, no less than seven gamers gathered around John's dining table and merrily deprived the White Lion of £50 or so of turnover. Tony had returned with an Essen haul and - most rarely for me - I was willing to play nearly all of it. It seemed only right to have a go at Key For The City - London, more entertainingly described by Tony as 'what happened when Sebastian Bleasdale dropped a copy of On The Underground and a copy of Keyflower, looked all the bits and had a brainflash' with Becky. Jo and Rob came along for the ride, despite having no experience with Keyflower. There was a highly optimistic 'quick-start for Keyflower players' in the rule-book, which was precisely no use whatsoever, so we started at the beginning and hashed out most of the rules anyway.

Meanwhile, Tony had taken Colony (it looks OK, but meh - dice) up with John and Gentleman Dave (who was already halfway home from the White Lion!) and there was much rolling, taunting and some rather disturbing stage-laughter.

So - Key To The City? It's sort of like Keyflower, but you build the roads rather than use them to move other stuff around. I'm not quite sure it's won me over yet - the initial tile choice is somewhat overwhelming, and the fiddliness of the rails is annoying (Richard Breese told me it's not at all difficult to flip over tiles that are covered in rails and - well - he wasn't right). It also seems rather cynically set up to flog lots of identikit international versions. However, Key To The City does iron out some of the more awkward Keyflower rules (maximum tile occupancy, transporting goods, bidding on boats). My net reaction on this first play is pretty much as I expected - it's just too similar to really stand out.

It's one of my maxims that if Game X makes me think 'I wish I was playing Game Y', then Game X won't last in my collection. It's a little early-days yet, but I'll invite trade offers!

Colony was a little swifter than Key, so the others had time for Kamozza, a little Japanese ship-loading thing. My experience of small Japanese games that Tony brings back from Essen suggests that about 25% of them are good and the rest are just mediocre. I suspect this one was in the latter category.

Much to Tony and John's immature giggling delight, we just HAD to try a game of Who Soiled The Toilet? This is essentially The Resistance in all but theme ("not quite as po-faced, b'dum-tsh" - Tony), with a bizarre dexterity element (get the turds in the pan) thrown in for - well - no good reason. It was OK; probably more amusing to play in horrified public.

Tony was on teenager-ferrying duties tonight, so bade an early departure, leaving my Essen haul with Becky for her to cherry-pick my Christmas presents. Waiting for my Essen goodies this week has been something like eating at a posh restaurant - Becky was allowed to see the full menu, but apparently I only got the prices (and the bill). We polished off with a couple of six-handed rounds of No Thanks (works surprisingly well at that player count), and - of course - the inevitable Dobble.

We are not returning to the White Lion - our search for a new home begins this week!
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Sat Oct 22, 2016 4:54 pm
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Friday October 14th - Mother's Pride (...of the Yankees)

Ben Bateson
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A double dose of punnage, this week, as we welcome my mother on one of her semi-frequent visits to the club. On one hand, this meant it was best to stick to relatively simple fare (although Mum is no mean gamer, and has repeatedly thrashed me at Dominion and Qwirkle), but on the plus side it meant John was on his best behaviour.

Tony was off hob-nobbing with the Essen hoi-polloi, so Becky took the opportunity to suggest a game that he (inexplicably) hates, Airlines Europe. Mum was quickly up to speed with the rules (more so that John, it appeared at some points), but probably erred by over-buying some shares in companies where she already had a comfortable lead. However, there was only ever going to be one winner: Becky emerged with a huge lead - I've still not quite worked out how she does it - and left us all in her wake.

After a protracted search, I had finally secured myself a copy of Dream Factory (actually the Hollywood Blockbuster edition, which I find a bit less thematic, but beggars can't be choosers), and had optimistically plopped it into the bag. Pleased I was, then, to return up the creaky stairs from the bar and find it being set up. After a miserable false start where we completely misinterpreted the rules about the economy distribution and left me impoverished, we rebooted and went about things again. John's early blockbuster was soon trumped by one of Mum's, while Becky went into the shell and played for miserable budget films. I began to suspect that this would be one that would shortly be on her blacklist. At the closing awards ceremony, Mum pretty much swept the board, and won quite comfortably.

The false-start had eaten up half an hour of precious gaming time, so we were into end-of-night-filler territory already, to which John proffered 6 Nimmt, much to the suspicion of the rest of us. I managed to hold myself to moderate scores, but John was just too good.

I felt like I'd been hustled three times!
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Sat Oct 22, 2016 4:17 pm
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Friday October 7th - Mob'n'Art

Ben Bateson
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There was an undercurrent of a bust-up at least a day before we started this week. John, having free choice because of his birthday, promised his annual reprisal of Cosmic Encounter, which met with threats to walk out from Becky. John backed down - he's not such a bad chap really - and proffered some of his more universally-favoured games.

But it was a box on top of my bag that caught his eye first. Casting around for a quick opener before Dan's arrival, he picked up Greed and chucked it nonchalantly on the table. Tony's initial enthusiasm lasted about as long as it took to deal the cards, and he took up his 'obtuse learner' mode, necessitating me having to actually explain the concept of 'a hand of cards' and convincing himself that he was going to put himself out of the running with his first drafted card (his complaints that there were no cards that earned him money were a little odd, given that he passed me at least two that did). At last he got himself up to speed with a reasonable gang of thugs, but John was streets ahead by then.

Anticipating Dan any minute, we painstakingly counted out colonists and chits for Puerto Rico. John has a history of winning at this, so we put him in fifth seat. But he piggy-backed my Corn shipping too easily, and picked up an early Tobacco sideline. Settling for a small warehouse that saw an obscene amount of action, I plumped for one or two huge Captain rounds, but was pipped by a single point. Becky, getting a workable Factory combo on the go, was chasing hard in third and could have won it given another round.

Tony, by now, had decided that he was actually willing to give Greed another chance, so we spieled the rules again for Dan's benefit. Oddly, he didn't seem to have any confusion whatsoever, and certainly raked in enough cash to break up John's winning streak, temporarily at least.

Positively buoyant with enthusiasm, JP's next choice was Modern Art, amid general agreement that it had been far too long since we had played this club favourite. Dan, sadly, declined to adopt a silly accent, but he certainly navigated his way around the auction elements quickly enough, instigating a short-running 'no loose change' gag with Tony, and coming up with some inventive and authentic painting titles. I had reserved a key Double auction for the last round, but couldn't rake in enough to overtake John. Finishing places were more or less identical to those in Puerto Rico.

And to finish? What else but Dobble? Reducing me to near hysterics proved a winning formula for Becky and Dan who more or less split the honours between them.

Happy birthday John - definitely the recipient of all the gifts this evening.
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Sun Oct 9, 2016 8:52 pm
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Friday September 30th - Puns, Troyes, Thebes Times a Lady

Ben Bateson
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A mourny-eyed John met me outside the White Lion on our return this week:

'Back room's shut', he muttered.

I steeled myself to storm into the pub for a showdown with the owners, only to find they had dolled up the restaurant instead into a more-than-acceptable games room. There was no hint that it was done with us in mind, but it's certainly a premises we'll be happy to accept for now.

Tony had - as usual - brought his collection of 'never mind everyone else, THIS is what I want to play' (I mean, really? Does he really think any of us want to sit through The Networks again?), while I had obliged Gary who had nicely requested Troyes. We settled to it quickly with Bill while Tony began inducting John into Scythe, determinedly ignoring my snortings every time he mentioned a 'bottom action'. Scythe was also playing host to occasional-visitor Phil (from Aberystwtyth), turning up at a very opportune time to convince the landlords that we were a diverse and welcoming group. I wasn't really paying enough attention to find out who won.

The city of Troyes was giving us an easy ride this week, with no big deals in the Events deck, and no more than three black dice in play at any time. Nevertheless, Bill was accursed with dire throws all the way through (REALLY bad. Really can't-mitigate-THIS bad) and pottered around doing what he could, while Gary played a strong Cathedral-and-Events game, very impressively for his first time. I saved up for a couple of megaturns, but I had piles of cash and no influence (like Prince Philip, say) and faltered to two points shy of Gary.

I'm a score of games into Troyes, and the richness just continues to grow with every game. The card combinations alone produce extremely harsh games, powerfully rich games and diverse populous games, and every experience is subtly but genuinely different to the last. I can see it lasting another score without trouble, but I'm not sure I can say the same of Thebes. If anything, tonight's game sent it in the other direction.

The rules quickly dispatched, we were quickly underway (apart from Gary, who had about a year's worth of problems with the time track), only for Bill to pull out a MASSIVE first excavation in Mesopotamia and suck all the fun out of it straight away. I don't mind a bit of luck from time to time, but - combined with my Egyptian monopoly - the whole thing was just over about half a year before the appointed finish and we just ended up meandering about without enthusiasm until Bill's inevitable victory. There are some aspects I like in Thebes (not least some silly storytelling-lite about giving lecture tours, disastrous digs, and buying Russian cars), but another game like this could well kill it for good.

Tony's group had opted for some gentle 6 Nimmt in the Scythe afterglow. After John had unsurprisingly won a couple of games, we all got to join together for Codenames. John randomly dealt teams ("none of this bloody drafting business again") and I wound up with Tony receiving his usual aimless cluing. After three clues we had identified precisely one spy and had identified John's clue of 'Death' as being relevant to about 16 of the remaining cards, when - completely undeservedly - we were gifted the game by Gary unexpectedly fingering the assassin. This was a win of such barefaced cheek, I felt I ought to show you a representative gif:



No? Made me laugh.

The second game saw me cluing alongside a highly reluctant Bill ("I always claim I don't want to clue, and look what happens...") and I could see a few nice combos waiting. But Bill suddenly hit his stride with several inspired guesses (to his credit, Phil made an excellently perspicacious team-mate), and was just two away from victory when he dropped 'Thorin: 1'. About three seconds later, it dawned on Tony that neither of the opposition guessers had a blinding clue what this meant, and the giggles started. All I had to do was negotiate John's random-association ("Tube? Yes, that's an organ"), and wrap up a second win, thankful that Tony was reliably on my wavelength as always.

So, does a new era beckon at the White Lion? We're not sure yet, but I'm cautiously hopeful.
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Sat Oct 1, 2016 9:55 pm
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Friday September 23rd - Occasionally, I get the urge to blog like Tony

Ben Bateson
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The bravest gamers in the land
Are Captain Billikins and his band.
That's Boozy Ben and Beardy Tone,
Desperate Dan and Cheesy John.
Not overlooking the librarian specs
Of female trouper, Sneezy Bex

One Friday night, Beardy Tone said
"Now Evil Art is put to bed,
My kitchen table, quite charming
Shall play host to a bout of farming!"
Sneezy Bex was even whizzier
She was up for a bit of Knizia

John made the rules sound gritty
As he laboured through Blue Moon City.
After many torturous dispatchings
He opened the bag of spicy scratchings.
Boozy Ben was winning 'Gric
A generous draft gave him quite a pick
While Tone wasted cards aplenty
His tableau remarkably empty
Desperate Dan tried a combo;
Forgot to develop, what a dumbo!

Billikins said "Well, I'll be blowed!
I fancy a game of Glass Road."
While he perused the rules docket
Cheesy John opened Stephenson's Rocket.
Beardy Tone said "I remember this!"
But his memories were somewhat remiss
For greater grew his perturbation
During John's rules explanation.
"It's complexing, bemusing, what a pain"
Tone was heard to complain.
Boozy Ben was not appalled:
That was just the game HE recalled!

Much accursed was the fool
Who designed Tony's bottle-opening tool
But eventually the real ale flowed
And Boozy Ben won at Glass Road.
Bex had plenty of time to box and bag it
AND deal a quick game of Braggart!

Ben went to the library seeking games
And returned with the box of Codenames
"Don't draft teams!" said John, fast,
"It saddens the one who is picked last"
Nevertheless, Ben and Tone plowed on,
Picking Bex, Dan, Bill and...John.
The first round went the way of Boddle -
His words were a relative doddle.

Two big thinkers took up the role of spies
And furrowed their brows and crinkled their eyes
It took Dan and Bill so long to say
That we found quite another game to play
"Films with Fish!" went up the cry
Eel Cid, and Prawn On The 4th of July
Shouting and laughing so uproarious
It made Codenames somewhat laborious
I haven't got a clue who won
Amid the celebration of fish pun.

The bravest gamers in the land
Are Captain Billikins and his band
That's Boozy Ben and Beardy Tone
Desperate Dan and Cheesy John
And into the night shot many flecks
From the nose of sneezy Bex.




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Mon Sep 26, 2016 8:00 pm
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Friday September 16th - Planting Ideas

Ben Bateson
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Our first week (hopefully of only two) away from the Lion started badly with two cancellations. With Becky away on a jolly, it panned out to just be John and me. But, as he said, sometimes 2P games are the best sort, and we set out to prove it!

Shanghaien was our starting point. My preliminary rules scan shouted '2-player Las Vegas', but it transpired very quickly that the game's primary element wasn't the area control but the timing, and the fact you'd often want to call a round after one bad dice roll for your opponent. John and I thought it was thoroughly excellent, even after an action-packed tied game, and I can see it getting plenty of runouts with Becky in future.

We followed up with another new game. Indeed our first four tonight were new to us both. Tides of Time is a micro-2P-drafting game, which looked very promising. It played well, and there was plenty of agonising over various decisions, but my overall impression is that there wasn't as much variety in the cards (about a third of the cards are just mirrors of the others) as I'd anticipated. It wasn't terrible, by any means, but it definitely was an anticlimax after the highlights of Shanghaien.

Moving onto chunkier stuff, we pulled out the rules for another Michael Schacht game - Felinia - and got stuck in. The game proved to be a rather un-Schacht-like mishmash of mechanics, but it also had plenty of designer trademarks: knife-edge timing, tight economy, and spacial area control. In some ways, this could be thought of as Schacht's answer to worker placement, and was only let down by the appalling colour scheme. John's set-collection for the scoring always seemed to be a step ahead of mine and I never really challenged him.

Goldland had earned the honour of long-term shelf-sitter, but it seems to be well-spoken-of, and - as I said at the time - it's a Kramer, so it can't be all bad. Certainly the presentation is very swish, with the central tiles being lavishly illustrated and there's plenty of good chunky cardstock throughout. John found the Carcassonne-adventure elements to be a bit dated and immature but it didn't stop him winning as I ran out of useful tooling and couldn't make it to the temple.

Back to some familiar territory. Taluva was a game I'd virtually given up upon after a run of indefatigability from John, but the pause had had an unexpected bonus of causing him to forget most of the rules. Hence, we both had chance to rediscover the relative freedom that this game offers and its outstanding beauty when completed. As we built a relatively compact island, I forewent tower-building and finished the game relatively comfortably on huts and temples.

John had been having free choice for a few games, so he positively exhorted me to pick something. I went to an old favourite, Patchwork, and was surprised to find John hadn't played before. We soon changed that and he succumbed to its brilliance, even requested a second game. After a miserable -13 points in the first game, I was pleased to break 20 in the second: the two games were an interesting illustration of the subtle ways in which Patchwork has so much repeatability in the tile layouts.

To close, a handful of rounds of my classic copy of Cube Quest (aka KingBrick). I'm not ENTIRELY sure that John really bought into the game in all its glorious dexterity madness, but he did beat me a couple of times, and was keen to start incorporating the expansion bricks, which is a rarity among my other opponents. Indeed, it was my rash decision to go all flamboyant with Ninjas and Assassins (just say no, KingBrickers) that led to my downfall at least once.

Eight games of a night? No problem with two. A bit of a mix of affection for what we did play, but we definitely uncovered at least one rough diamond.
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Sun Sep 18, 2016 9:17 pm
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Friday September 9th - No Room at the Inn?

Ben Bateson
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We had opted not to play a big 6P opener this week and had settled nicely into two hefy 3P games. Tony was still explaining the finer points of La Granja and Dan had joined the Bateson in a voyage of Ora et Labora discovery. John the landlord wandered amiably into the room and dropped the small bombshell that the games room would not be available for the next two weeks. I could see the answer to the next question a mile away, but I carefully advanced the suggestion that perhaps we'd be welcome in the bar. Apparently not.

So, for the first time in six years, the RoWBGers had to make some relocation plans. Next week wouldn't be too much of a problem; I was already making plans for a small collection of gamers to christen my new games room. But the general tone of the conversation was of potential eviction from the pub that we have made our own: we shall have to endure these uncertain times and see.

I've no idea how La Granja went, but it sounded hard work and convoluted. I've played it once and come down firmly lukewarm on it. Hard work and slick practice has also got our playtime of Ora et Labora down to 120 minutes, so my victory coincided tidily with the end of proceedings at the other table. A fairly solid one, too: after half a dozen plays, the game isn't quite as 'sandboxy' as it first appears, and I've started to be able to tease threads of product-chaining and timing out of the chaos. But it will take a while: good job I enjoy it so much, really.

Tony proclaimed barely 45 minutes to 'picking up the boy' time, so we put the tables together for the evergreen Citadels. No sooner had we got stuck into the third round when Tony's phone buzzed, and his 45 minutes was swiftly reduced to 10 or so. We played the round out for the benefit of Benedict, anyway, given that he was having enough fun sticking knives into Dan's back.

It was panning out to be something of a frustrating night: a dozen irritations and nagging uncomfortabilities, none of our own making. So we close out with some hyperactive dice chucking in Risk Express. This proved much to everyone's liking: Dan and Becky warring over Asia while I was reduced to a sad little tinpot African dictatorship. But I suppose that was only fair revenge for my Ora et Labora victory.
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Sun Sep 18, 2016 8:09 pm
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Friday September 2nd - Some Ching in the Air

Ben Bateson
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Only two games last week, but we blew that way out of the park this week by managing to get no fewer than eight to the table between the six of us. Becky and I were both doing our 'birthday games' and cheating a little, because Friday had split between the two of us, but were a little lacklustre on 6P games that we wanted to play. Luckily, Tony had the perfect solution in the form of Mysterium.

For the first time, I got to be the ghost, and - I like to think - played the part to po-faced perfection, aside from an occasional puff of air down the napes of various necks as I wandered around the table. The rest of the table were somewhat less than sparkling, with only Gentleman Dave (and one inspired moment from Becky) getting the right line. Nobody at all got any correct guesses in Round 1, and Tony and Becky were still dicking around trying to muster their first correct guess in Round 4. Tony had managed to completely talk himself out of the correct answer (believing, erroneously, that he'd already picked it), so I magnanimously gave them a 'Free Bye'. Little good it did, and two rounds later it was all over. Benedict and Dave had managed to romp through their three clues but Becky was still faffing about trying to guess what room she was in. And she didn't even get that one right.

It must have warmed the Tony's cockles to see Becky requesting a duo of Boydell games for her birthday treat, and they settled down with Dave to play first a session of Guilds of London (leaving out the proto-expansion due to Dave relative newbieness) and secondly a hearty game of Scandaroon remarkably quick Snowdonia. They were all done with the latter in 40 minutes flat, which must be something of a record. Dogged by horrible weather conditions, all the scores were in the 60s, with Becky just about grabbing a lead.

Meanwhile, my treat was to get a couple of those 'not played yet' boxes out of the way. John is always amenable to learning new games, and Benedict certainly came good in the opening session of Valdora, romping away to a huge win.

It wasn't the losing to Benedict (honest!), but I was a bit disappointed by Valdora. I had heard good things, and some of the Schacht trademarks were there in force, but the whole thing just felt a little bit flabby. Like all good games, there were plenty of elements there to build yourself an optimisation strategy, but the interaction just wasn't strong or interesting enough to complement it. On the whole, when it comes to Schacht games. It will get another try, I'm sure, but it didn't have the tight puzzle-solving feel of Zooloretto or Industry.

Our second new box was far from a disappointment. I am a sucker for the regular sales in The Works for remaindered less-well-known games, and have picked up several personal favourites through this route, including Furstenfeld, Cuba and Hamburgum. My latest acquisition was Madame Ching; although it looked simplistic, I have learned never to take Cathala's games at face value. And I was right: what initially seemed to be a simple card-climbing mechanism drove a variety of interesting on-board stuff. This time the player interaction was spot on: good timing is paramount here in order to make sure you can nip in to various bonuses before the others. The balance of press-your-luck and hand management also appeals, and there is some tidy artwork to pull the whole thing together. I say Madame Ching is much under-recognised.

Anyway, I hoarded some nice hand cards which got me a good 8 points or so, but John just about pipped me on the line. The encounter cards were an interesting feature: although they might appear swingy at first, then once you know people are collecting defences, the attacks become a whole lot less appealing.

We were having one of those nights where - try as we might - we couldn't synchronise the two tables, no matter how hard we tried. With Snowdonia just underway on the other table and not due (or so we thought!) to finish for a good 50 minutes, I saw prime opportunity to reintroduce both John and Benedict to Guildhall. Both had played very occasionally before, but once I got them stuck in, they were making 'oh yes - I like this' sort of noises, so we got up to speed quickly. I have been playing a lot of 2P Guildhall recently with Becky, but it was nice to have the extra choices, and John took me right down to the wire in the endgame. Although, to be fair, most every game of Guildhall goes right to the wire. I haven't decided whether this is a point in its favour or not.

Becky's table - now reduced to trying to fill up fifteen minutes or so - had had time for a couple of games of Coloretto, and then we all crowded around the tiny table in the corner for the ultimate birthday treat: Dobble. A session report would, as ever, be superfluous: suffice to say we spent a bit of time crescendoing to the highlight of any Dobble session, two tense and prickly rounds of Hot Potato.
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Sat Sep 3, 2016 9:20 pm
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Friday August 26th - Captain of the Airwaves

Ben Bateson
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It will probably not have gone unnoticed that Becky and I are undergoing one of life's little upheavals at the minute. But surely we wouldn't be available to play games on completion day, after eight hours lugging around heavy boxes and shouting at solicitors?

7:15pm saw us sitting in glassy-eyed weariness in the back room of the White Lion. Becky was definitely only in 'for a quick drink and then home', but I had resolved to stay the night. For the first time since the club's inauguration, I had no games with me (all packed!), so was reliant on the offerings of Tony (who had brought his usual selection of stuff he wanted to play), John (who had brought an arcane and bizarre bagful) and Gary (who contributed some crowdpleasers which we unfairly ignored).

As it was, we had time for two good-weight games before the impending sleep overtook me. Our first was The Networks, a theme very reminiscent of a rework of Village Tale that I did a few years ago, only with better humour and art. What was quite interesting about the game's economy is the way it produced rises and falls in success. John hared out of the blocks this one, but was shortly overhauled by me before my money foundered just before the finish and let Tony creep over the line. Gary had made a really slow start but motored back into contention in the final rounds too.

The Networks was intriguing, and there was plenty to like, including a carefully-measured economic engine. But it didn't quite click with me on some level: I'm finding it hard to put my finger on why, but it could be a lack of asymmetry or 'special abilities' combined with the luck of the draw. It's just all a little more sterile and less zany than I would expect from a surface reading. Will play again, though.

We finished with a game that I probably could have played in my sleep if necessary: Puerto Rico. It's getting real hard to beat John these days, and he put together the table's only Tobacco engine, together with a Harbour to net a sizeable 55 points. Gary, in his first game, also built a Harbour and would have been all set to charge through until - unusually - the VP chip supply ended the game. Earlier in the game I had hummed and harred at great length over starting off on Coffee, and it was justified humming, because Sugar would have been manifestly a better choice in retrospect. Tony pipped both Gary and I into second by a single point.

It was an awkward time of the evening - too late to play anything of a decent weight, but too early to break out the fillers. Given the stresses of the day, we saw fit to call an early finish so I could go and make use of my new bedroom.
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Sat Sep 3, 2016 6:16 pm
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Friday August 19th - Magic Tricks

Ben Bateson
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Oi! Hands off...
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The slew of family commitments in August don't necessarily lend themselves to big turnouts (although do I remember double figures last year?), and there were just three in attendance. John and I settled ourselves into the cosy wingback chairs in the White Lion's back room, and we opted for a quick opener of Coloretto in the half-hearted hope that someone else might turn up (I had had a couple of vague promises of an appearance).

As ever, Coloretto was a delight, and I squeaked the narrowest of wins 24-23-23. But it was to be the last game I won that night, and poor old John went away completely empty-handed too.

Becky's triumphant parade began with Keyflower. John hadn't played any of the expansions before, so we dealt in the Merchants expansion, which I find preferable to the slightly-clumsy Farmers expansion (although the animals are cute...). It was a really fascinating demonstration of how Keyflower strategises, as from a resource-heavy strategy, we all branched out in noticeably different directions, to the extent where there was virtually no interaction during the winter season at all. I'd put together a stack of makeable contracts, while John was going all expansion-crazy and Becky was saving up meeples for a big winter-tile score. The scoring was diverse and high, with Becky coming within a shade of broaching the magic 100 points in victory. For me, it was an excellent demonstration of how you don't always need the most meeples to win, although I'm not denying it is generally a strong tactic.

I had fancied a run at Viticulture, but the other two gave it 'meh' sort of looks and plumped instead for Artificium. This is one of my bargain-bin purchases from the latest run of sales at The Works; Becky and I had given it a run at 2-player and found it pleasant enough, so it was time to scale up.

The first game of Artificium was lacklustre, John not coming into the right cards early on and failing to manage his hand, and Becky tying things up far too early. But the second went down to a thrilling finish, me clearing my entire board to scrape together the pennies to hire a knight, only for Becky to overtake me on the endgame cash scoring. John is probably right when he says there is too much luck of the draw in this game, but I don't think there is quite as much as is apparent on first viewing, and a bum-squeaky finish such as this deserves some measure of respect. I wouldn't want to play it with the 6P that the game is allegedly capable of accommodating, though.

Our closer, almost inevitably looking at this year's calendar so far, was Wizard. This game is starting to transcend to a really tactical high now Becky and John are up to speed with trick-play, and the matter of timing has become absolutely key. Hanging back can be almost as risky as taking all your tricks up front, and my best played hands absolutely necessitated a trick-by-trick plan, the way it should be. However, I was cursed by at least three genuinely unlucky moments (a low winner, a failed odds-on finesse and an apparent absence of Wizards) and slumped to a miserable third place. No surprises for guessing who won, but at least Ian had the decency to close up the bar before she broke 400.
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Sat Aug 20, 2016 10:49 pm
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