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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 3rd February - The Magnificent 7th

Ben Bateson
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Remarkably, it was fully seven years this week that we started board-gaming in Ross-on-Wye. We've changed home now, of course, and have seen many members come and go. And, in fact, of the club's six or so founder members, it turned out only two were free for gaming on this most auspicious night of the year. Thankfully, Becky and I didn't have to celebrate as a couple, for Gary was in attendance too.

The whole thing nearly threatened to be a celebration of Stefan Feld, both Macao and Castles of Burgundy made their way into the bag. Gary is quite a fan of Feld's particular brand of bland salad, too, and sought our opinions on Trajan (not played it) and Bruges (have played it, quite like it, think it's a bit mad). Becky tired of all the banter and set up Macao for our jurisdiction.

Despite being left with an awful selection of opening cards, I felt as if I was actually getting a combo together - possibly for the first time ever while playing this. While Gary struggled to get cards off his mat, I nipped around Europe for something of a 'glory tour', dropping off 5-point goods everywhere, and I still had a small gallimaufry of game-end bonuses with which to leave Becky in my wake.

We narrowly squeaked our way out of a whole evening of Feld by picking the only game we could find with a more boring theme: Thurn & Taxis. It's been absolutely YONKS since we played this, but the mojo came flooding back. I picked up the first Bayern bonus tile early on, and just managed to pip Becky in the endgame by finishing a turn early and a point or two ahead.

With the promise of a full Saturday's gaming as well, Becky and I were looking at reasonably early finish, which was fine by Gary, who suffers the curse of having to work occasional weekends. So it was a swiftish one to finish, and a reprise of Tales & Games: The Hare and the Tortoise. This time we managed to get all the movement rules right, and things were a lot quicker. Becky and Gary won a round each to rein me in from winning everything.

Happy 7th!
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Mon Feb 13, 2017 8:38 pm
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Friday 27th January - Moby Dickwad

Ben Bateson
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Perhaps wisely sensing that a third straight week of Terraforming Mars might be overplaying his hand somewhat (a trait he also shares during games of Wizard, Too Many Cooks, Hare & Tortoise, etc), Tony settled for the alternative offerings of Penny Press and New Bedford, the latter at Becky's request after a short - and totally justified - complaint that we were 'playing too many games only once'. But he also had eyes for one of my new acquisitions, so we opened up with Viceroy.

This one is a bit of a monster, cards with a whole bunch of costs, rewards, interactive effects and a beast of a final score which is definitely more effort than it should be. Becky turned against it pretty quickly, John had one of his characteristic rants at the rules (despite going on to win comfortably), but Tony and I thought we could see something a little better underneath, and not just the luscious art and presentation. I suspect it is not anywhere near its best with 4P.

To mollify any further protest at being taught yet another new game, we let Becky 'choose' New Bedford as our next event. This was new to John and only the second game for the rest of us, and it seems to be growing very nicely. It has a similar feel to Cuba and Puerto Rico, and a slightly older-fashioned (in a good sense) take on Worker Placement. And it's surprising how thematic it feels, in a great New England whaling sort of way. Perusing over the opening layout, I eyeballed the Chemist as a great way to muck about with the other players, so didn't protest too much (OK, for about two seconds) when Tony offered me the Start Player, promptly built it, pinched brick from the others all game, and sold it in order to land a good supply of blubber. A comfortable victory left me undefeated and certainly warming towards this little gem of a game.

It was looking like we were going to have time to choose one game each, and John lost no time in pulling out one of his favourites, Divinare. I'm on a ludicrously poor run of form with this game at the minute, and didn't do anything at all to redeem myself, finishing on precisely two points after rising to a magnificent high of six. John - as is his wont - took this fairly comfortably after a tussle with Tony.

My choice, to round off a diverse and thoroughly interesting evening, was Mondrian: The Dice Game. And I was glad I chose it, too, because Tony managed to point out a half-dozen ways in which I had misinterpreted the rules previously, thereby making it a much more satisfying game than the one I was playing before. Despite having clearly superior dexterity skills (Becky, in particular, was in danger of spoiling drinks and shattering lampshades), I over-reached and tried to compete for two different colours. Of course, this resulted in me winning neither, and a dead loss.

I wandered home to the lure of a half-full Boardgameguru basket and the promise of perhaps being able to pick up New Bedford elsewhere as well.
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Sun Jan 29, 2017 10:12 pm
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Friday 20th January - A Load of Martians Gas

Ben Bateson
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As soon as it transpired that we would be 5 this week, I had a pretty fair idea of how the evening would go: a repeat run of Terraforming Mars for the benefit of Gary and John. Rather than sit through Tony's vicious mangling of the rulebook again (and, as it turned out, he STILL managed to get some rules wrong), I packed a 2P filler for Bill and myself. For some reason, Tony assumed from this that Bill and I were going to play 2P games all evening. I mean, who would be THAT anti-social, to sit and play apart from the others all night when there was a perfectly good table of 5 available?

Anyway, after an engaging round of Shanghaien, Bill and I managed to get ourselves invited over to the main event, and - in direct contrast to last week - I got myself dealt hand after hand of low-priced mediocrity. Still, I'd rather sift through that than tack another half-hour onto the game with drafting. I'd like to think I did pretty well with the combo, too, finishing second only to John who was putting up cities quicker than an American industrialist. Bill had a ludicrously attritional game, spending the first half of it just lobbing random asteroids at the planet, and as a result it took ages to get the first forests to flourish. This sort of variety is one of the most attractive aspects of the game; however, the interminable downtime and somewhat obvious choices are less so. A Top 500, game? Sure. Top 20? No.

Tony was on chauffeur duty this week, and we attempted to squeeze in a game of Citadels before he left. We didn't achieve it, but I claimed a moral loss: after three rounds of play, I was in exactly the same position I had started: 2 gold, 4 cards in my hand and nothing built, Unsurprisingly, nothing much else went my way before we had to prematurely call the game, with Tony and John claiming a joint victory.
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Sun Jan 29, 2017 9:34 pm
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Friday January 13th - Terribly Learning Mars

Ben Bateson
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If the commandant at Guantanamo Bay ever decides that, under the Trump presidency, waterboarding isn't degrading and torturous enough, then I shall pack Tony Boydell off to Cuba with a bagful of new over-hyped games with rules that he has only read once in the bath.

Still, he had been taking photographs all week of his brand new Terraforming Mars, sharing them on Facebook with anyone who cared to look, and it would surely have precipitated some sort of tantrum if we were to even CONSIDER not playing it. At least John's unexpected absence saved us from the clunky 5P version.

Tony was barely supported in a rambling, confusing soliloquy by Bill, who had played once before but couldn't really remember anything of importance, and we were a good half hour into the evening before anything actually fell into place. My opening cards seemed expensive but quite conducive to producing masses of energy and heat, so I exploited this obvious line while Becky and Tony both went into microbial exploits and Bill collected lots of steel but forgot to use it. Despite funding the obvious 'Thermalist' award, I was half a dozen behind Becky at the end, who had lost out to a five-six card combo from Tony.

I have to admit, Terraforming Mars feels reasonably fresh. It has a nice theme which comes across well in the cards and flavour text (my favourite being on Deimos Down: '...we never used that moon anyway'), and the economy seems to gel very well. The Corporation stuff feels - well - just 'right'. But you do admittedly get stuck in a rut if you can't luck into a combo early on, and I don't see how a draft would do anything to fix this. I had no cards costing less than 10 until a good halfway through so was obviously achieving much less than the rest of the table. But I quite liked it. Not as an every-week game, but as the mainstay of an afternoon session, perhaps.


We Noctis City! (dum...dah) We Noctis City on Rock and Roll!



Certainly I can't fault the immersiveness of TM, for it took us right up to 10 o'clock without anyone really noticing, and we only really had time for a chunky filler, at best. I had just the solution in the shape of a new copy of Tales & Games: The Hard & The Tortoise. Despite vague grumbles from Becky that '...she had already learned ONE new game tonight', I blasted through the rules in a minute flat (see, Tony?) and the first race was over before we knew it. Despite omitting an important movement rule (no wonder the tortoise never won!), we went to a proper 'championship' tournament of three races, in which Tony succumbed the 'fear of card games' which was oddly absent last week and managed no more than a single second place.

But his performance at a family racing game was no less amusing than where we found his car later on...


Oh dear...
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Sat Jan 14, 2017 1:58 pm
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Friday January 6th - Happy New Knizia!

Ben Bateson
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I feared that the first get-together of the year would be a portent of things to come, as there was far too much deliberation and 'meh'ness about what should have been a good selection of games, given the 'usual four' were in attendance. Admittedly, I did play some part in the negativity, when Tony professed his intention to read the entire rules for Hansa Teutonica verbatim from the rulebook. I used 'club organiser prerogative' (something which I may or may not have made up on the spot) to nix this, and instead went for a much-easier-to-teach Samurai.

Tony and John pooh-poohed through most of Samurai, insisting instead on a random setup (for which I believe they were wrong) and later stating a preference to keep the victory tokens as public information (for which I believe they were right). But games don't get widespread fame without good reason (well, some do), and there was deep thought and grudging praise come the end, even from renowned (and inexplicable) Knizia-phobe, Tony. Personally, I thought it to be a fine New Year's acquisition: less trite than Through The Desert, and less fiddly than Tigris & Euphrates. Winning on the only resolvable category helped, too.

Failing miserably to get anyone commit to a 'main event'-sized game, we pottered along with our mid-length fare, next cracking open Fabled Fruit and going at it from scratch. Four rounds later resulted in a slightly undramatic 6-5-5-5 scoreline in Becky's favour, and a feeling that we still had the best of the game to tackle. I hope so, anyway: I don't really want to start this from scratch too many more times.

Indecision still being the primary driving force, we broke out Black Fleet for some rollicking pirate fun. This was the first time we'd played with the maximum 4P complement, and - boy - does the game gain from it: pirates were being capsized more quickly than the outpatients of Basildon gynaecology clinic and the special abilities stacked up to an astonishing extent, not least as Tony levered two of them to zip around the board at double speed. It worked in his favour as he triggered the endgame and I came up only a few doubloons short. I'm very much enjoying this frothy fun of late, but we probably need to ease back before we become too familiar with all the cards.

Another Knizia to close, but this time a veritable old favourite of the club: Too Many Cooks. I could pretend at this point that we always have to let Tony win at card games occasionally, but it would be a lie. In fact, he played rather well and everyone enjoyed a jolly good laugh as my expense as I plummeted to a legendary minus 11 points. There is apparently a rule that you can't score below zero - we'll be having none of that nonsense at our club!

Next week: we play something more than an hour long!
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Thu Jan 12, 2017 10:00 pm
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Friday December 23rd - 'Dashers and Dancers

Ben Bateson
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The last Friday before Christmas is always the traditional Christmas party for the RoWBGers - silly games only and nothing too resonant of strategy is allowed.

Tony had outdone himself with a pristine copy of Rebound, but there was only one choice for our opening fare: the annual tradition that is Absolute Balderdash. Tony has a proud unbeaten record at this classic, and unfortunately we couldn't do anything to change that. As was frequently commented, though - perhaps we have played a little TOO much of this together: it was getting not only easier to see through the subterfuge but also work out who had written which falsehood. The illegality of squirrel-worrying was my own personal highlight in a relatively muted - but no less fun - game.

Mischa and James rocked up at about 8:20, having 'done' Christmas without the bothersome encumbrance of kids and holding a post-dinner digestif vodka-and-tonic apiece. We opted to crack open one of my more frivolous Essen purchases: Raise Your Goblets. "Oh - it's like Mascarade" was Tony's not-so-thrilled response, and... well, yes it is. But it's a little easier than Mascarade because you have coloured goblets to keep your eye on, and although it hasn't exactly broken any moulds it won't yet be going onto the trade list. Games of bluff and deception are second nature to John, and he won this by a decent amount, given there were six of us.

Back to a Christmas staple, in the form of Taboo. We amalgamated ourselves into two teams, and Tony's selection of Becky and Mischa looked like it might be problematic as he laboured for the first minute trying in vain to get them to guess 'Novel'. But they came roaring in back in the last round, averaging six points apiece, while I was foundering to clue for James and JP. My personal favourites were Becky's efforts to clue 'Varnish' when, in fact, the word on her card was 'Vanish', and James' description of a UFO hijacking which momentarily left everyone slightly speechless.

Cockroach Poker has had a lot of plays for the Hereford gamers this year, and it was long time past reacquainting the Ross crowd with its pleasures. The Hereford 'house rule' is to only pass clockwise, which I quite like as it adds a bit of strategy, but Tony insisted on the 'pass anywhere' rules as written. This tends to prove a little harsh on the weakest liar, who in this case was most definitely Mischa. She quickly accumulated quite a menagerie of animals and lost the game on four toads.

To finish off, we split up for some amicable dexterity fun. I tutored James in the blessed way of KingBrick (still, and probably forever, my favourite dexterity game AND favourite 2P game). He swapped out while only 3-1 down, and I promptly went on to beat Tony by the same score. I must give serious thought to instigating some sort of UK Championships...

Meanwhile, the other table were indulging in Rebound and Cubiko, with wins for Tony, John and Mischa, ensuring everyone left with a big silly grin on their face.

More from the RoW blog in the New Year - we're taking a break for the 30th!
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Sat Dec 24, 2016 2:03 pm
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Friday December 16th - Pot & Pussy

Ben Bateson
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Wonder of wonders, this week finally saw Tony back in our midst, with post-ironic 'I hear you have a boardgame club' type conversation as we waited for Dave and John to arrive. Tony was just regaling Gary with how he traipsed around Essen looking for Ladies Of Troyes (in the kind of tone and pronunciation that actually suggested he was out kerb-crawling), when they arrived. We de-stickied a couple of tables and set to Flamme Rouge and Isle of Skye.

Having heard good things about the latest cycling game, I was keen to join in with Tony and John. I don't know a lot about cycling, but I do know that you're not suppose to sprint off the line like a foolhardy 12 year old riding around a quarry on his BMX, which is precisely what Tony did. Sure enough, about halfway through, his sprinter was showing fewer legs than Douglas Bader and making puffing and wheezing sounds like - well - what me and Tony would make if we were really riding bikes. John looked as if he might take it for a while, but I had been safely loitering at the back of the peloton (see - I know the words!) and had two fast sprint cards in reserve which launched me over the line in style.

We neatly finished concurrently with Isle of Skye (victory for Dave), and shuffled the tables around. I had anticipated Becky enjoying Cottage Garden, but was surprised that John also fancied it. Although, come to think of it, he does profess to be deeply impressed by Patchwork. Meanwhile, Tony switched tables, to run through plans for the first Guilds of London expansion (he does like an expansion, doesn't he?) with Dave and Gary.

Cottage Garden was simple enough for me to teach by running through the manual wholesale, and John's reinterpretation of a couple of the game's features led to this week's blog title. Being novices, we both blew through our precious cat reserves far too quickly, which resulted in something of a slow ending. Finishing my boards first did precious little good, as I finished a good ten points behind John, who was in turn beaten by Becky.

I have a similar reaction to both Flamme Rouge and Cottage Garden. Both are fun, with neat features, but I would hardly call them essential table time. On the whole, I would rather play Snow Tails and Patchwork respectively. The simulation aspects of Flamme Rouge are highly desirable, if you like that sort of thing, and Cottage Garden's squeaky wheelbarrow is highly fun if you like annoying people who don't like that sort of thing. But, overall, I'm quite satisfied that they didn't go on my Essen wishlist.

Guilds was still in its midgame, so we had adequate time to teach Courtier to Becky. She had missed out on nearly all of our play-through of the Tempest games earlier in the year, and after some initial eyebrow-raising, she got stuck in rather quickly ("This game is MAD, isn't it?"). Mad, it certainly was - with four high-powered petitions on the public layout, we were rather reliant on our private petitions, and I completed no less than four of them. John, though, saw what I was up to, and jumped on the Senate majority for the crucial 10 points that saw me beaten. I don't think there's any value in ever taking Courtier too seriously (the game end is way too chaotic for that), but it is by far the simplest to teach of the series, and is possessed of its own peculiar charm.

Six became four, as Gary and Tony both left on different errands. So we finished off with a merry Codenames. Dave, remarkably, had only ever played once before, so John ran him through the basics before he kicked off with a clue ('Galactic: 2') which left all of us baffled, including John who could see the map.

Round 1 petered to an unsatisfactory finish due to a map-reading error, but the second one - with Becky and I cluing - was a corker. I was particularly pleased of cluing RULER and DINOSAUR with 'Rex: 2', but Becky had an opportunity to win just needing CZECH and SOCK. I leave the challenge up to the readership - what would you clue?
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Sun Dec 18, 2016 2:17 pm
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Friday December 9th - Uno Dos Traits

Ben Bateson
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It was looking like a quiet evening - perhaps just the same three as the previous week, and myself in need of an early night in advance of a working Saturday. But at the last minute, Mischa managed to break free of babysitting commitments and brought an extra ray of sunshine into the Prince. Because she is keen but still somewhat inexperienced, this triggered a measured re-pack of a games bag full of thinky goodness.

She certainly picked up Notre Dame quick enough, and was soon trotting her carriage all over town and stocking the hospital (albeit a little inefficiently at times) as a safeguard against the plague. Becky and John seemed to delight in handing me useful cards, though, and I pulled maximum points out of the cathedral in Round 2. Despite John's best two-men-in-the-park efforts, this was just enough to hold onto the lead in a very close game.

If you took all but one of Feld's games out of my life and just left me Notre Dame, I doubt I'd be upset. It anticipated the card drafting boom years before that sort of thing became popular, and - the slightly disappointing Hotel aside - the way the buildings compete for attention is excellent. The board is still one of the cleverest things I have seen in games design. So, does anyone have a Hotel fix?

Evolution was next, and the downright meanness of this game came as a bit of a shock to poor Mischa, as she introduced animal after animal only to see them starve or get chowed up by Becky's carnivore. I didn't think my competing carnivore would be good enough, until I levelled him up with pack-hunting in the final round, and took some big chunks out of a hardshell animal that John had assumed was safe. This was just enough for Becky to overhaul John into second, while I scored a hard-fought 50 for the win. A shell-shocked Mischa managed 21 points, which is pretty good in the circumstances, I think.

I still am having trouble forming a definitive opinion on Evolution. It's very, very cut-throat, even for me, and seems to be suffering from 'the Viticulture problem' as various expansions and upgrades - not all of which are compatible with each other - are being rushed through the publisher. However, there's no denying a very clever design and balance, and there is remarkable variety given a relatively small number of cards. Yet further exploration seems to be the only answer!

It was always going to be a relatively early finish, so we closed the evening out with the evergreen Divinare. This is one that Mischa has played before, and indeed it was me who played like an utter beginner, managing to be on minus 5 points after the first two rounds. I think I did pretty well to drag myself back to positive 6, but that was a long way behind John, Becky and Mischa (in that order), with only four points separating the Top 3.

A 7am start was rapidly beckoning, so it was time for the only real disappointment at RoW - an early night.
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Sun Dec 18, 2016 1:42 pm
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Friday December 2nd - Blease Blease Me

Ben Bateson
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Tony went one better than last week by suggesting a host of things we ought to play and then not arriving at all. But there was another great British designer (sorry. '...another, great, British designer') who was - more or less accidentally - at the forefront of our gaming this week. This was veritably the week of Sebastian Bleasdale...

Unfortunately, my Essen acquisition of Key To The City: London had failed to cut the mustard, and had left us in the uncomfortable position of 'wishing we were playing Keyflower' every time it hit the table. It wasn't a complete dud by any means, but it was tasty trade fodder and I promptly got two games in return: Imhotep and Black Fleet, the latter being another Seb-designed game, highly-recommended to me by an acquaintance or three. Two of these were to hit the table tonight.

Imhotep first, a shortish starter for the three of us regulars while we waited for the Boydell appearance that never materialised. This design feels very like a Schacht game at times with its granulated actions, strong timing aspects and the way it propagates deep choices without obscuring the strategy. There are still aspects of 'being backed into a corner' that worry me, although it was clear at times that this is an offshoot of the 3P game. Nevertheless, this is short but deep, accessible and tactile and - in short - just the sort of thing I'm happy to play twice. Indeed, we did play twice and I lost miserably both times. John took the first on his Obelisk, but Becky put a huge Burial Chamber combo together in the second to overhaul him.

A jaunty pair of musicians, playing modern hits in an acceptable style, talent-level and volume, accompanied our setting up of Prosperity (Bleasdale/Knizia). My experiences of 3P games of this in the past are that it has been wildly swingy, but that may be coincidence as it was tense and close tonight. I broke away with a strong economy early on (even at quite worrying cost to my pollution track), and spent it on vital point-scoring buildings, but Becky was raking in huge amounts of cash late-on, and John's impressive 11 research points saw a huge bound up each track in final scoring. I had just enough left over to see me into first place, but it was a very (and thankfully) close run thing in the end. All things told, this was one of our best Prosperity sessions, but I still find my thoughts drifting back to how the game might be better customised to create asymmetric nationalities and/or board layouts.

It was almost a party atmosphere in the Prince Of Wales by the time we'd finished: a crowd of 20 or so turning out to tappity-foot to the music. So we broke out Black Fleet: a sort of Piratey-Machi Koro type game, if you will.

My reviews of Bleasdale games often drift towards the dreaded buzzwords of 'sterile' or 'bland', but there's no levelling this sort of criticism at Black Fleet. It was an absolute hoot from start to - barely 30 minutes later - finish. it feels a lot like another lesser-known favourite, Caribbean, in the plundering of other ships for cargo, but the occasional lottery of blind-action-selection is replaced with a smothering of special abilities: some granted by cards and others by your 'achievement line', which is randomly dealt and a bit different every time. I'm not sure what John and Becky thought, but I absolutely loved it: light, frothy, backstabby and intensely tactical. And it couldn't fail to be even better with 4P

Thanks, Seb, for a great night. I enjoyed everything we played, whether it was yours or traded for yours!
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Sun Dec 4, 2016 5:58 pm
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Friday 25th November - A Rosenberg for my Rose

Ben Bateson
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It had been over a month since I had seen Tony, and I was rather looking forward to his cheeky smile and rapier wit once more. Instead, I face the following - verbatim - Facebook Messenger exchange

Tony: How many tonight?
Me: Five
Tony: Arse

Which I - correctly - interpreted that the huge shortlist of two games that he wanted to play (presumably Round House and Tasty Laurence) wouldn't accommodate that many. Still I loaded up the games bag with plenty of outstanding five-player fare: Concordia, Keyflower, Princes of Florence and El Grande.

Tony didn't want to play any of them.

Instead he preferred to play a 2P Le Havre with Becky, while leaving John, Bill and I to Cuba. Another game, incidentally, that would have been more than acceptable with all five of us playing.

Assuming - incorrectly - that Bill had recovered from his chronic 'how NOT to place your buildings on your plantation board' syndrome, I opted to throw the El Presidente expansion in: a first for any of us. There has been a lot of guff talked here about how the expansion 'completes' Cuba. Well...it's a good expansion, and I enjoyed it a lot, it fixes a bad Start Player rule, and I'll almost certainly include it every time now because it doesn't add any complexity. But it would be stretching a point to say that the base game is unplayable without it.

Remarkably, John used to badmouth Cuba, but he's been recently transformed to one of its biggest proponents. Truth is, he had the lead from the opening round and - pausing only briefly for a classic John-ism* - managed to keep it throughout, despite a late charge from myself. I still need to win over Becky (and Dan), but Cuba is belatedly becoming part of a favourite rotation for the rest of us.

I suppose the one bright side of the anti-social Le Havre table was that it finished concurrently with our rum'n'baccy exploits, so we had time to all congregate for a game of Friese's excellent double-guessing game, Unexpected Treasures. It might be a mite crowded with 5P (God knows how it plays with 6), but it didn't stop Becky proceeding to a huge win.

Tony had been untimely called away for family duties, so we had about an hour to fill. Various permutations were proffered, but only Buccaneer managed to meet with everyone's favour (it really was one of those nights). This is one of those uniquely Stefan Dorra games which really seems too simple to work but is actually hugely fun once you get stuck in. It also seems to be a particular favourite of John and he managed to win once again.

So, the practical upshot was a night when no-one seemed to want play anything that anyone else wanted to play. Roll on Christmas!


* Hearing the jukebox's Random function spin up Peter, Bjorn and John's seminal 'Young Folks', apropos of nothing, John looks up, spits out: 'I fucking HATE whistling' and returns quite merrily to planning his turn.
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Mon Nov 28, 2016 10:05 pm
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