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 13th March - Home Alone

Ben Bateson
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Self-isolating means lots of games to play, right?

Well, Becky didn't want to sit at the same table as me, and we finished at about 9:30, but the spirit was there. While the 'official games club' played lots of my favourites, we explored our way through my latest crayon rails acquisition: Iron Dragon, and played a squeaker of a Nusfjord, which saw Becky effectively win by the margin of a single fish.

Iron Dragon is a peculiar thing. Middle Earth, but not quite Middle Earth, it is clearly a thematically-loaded crayon rails variant, but sometimes at the cost of clear gameplay. The requirement to connect cities is ambiguous when you have magic bridges and ferries carrying you all over the place, and the foremen abilities - while a welcome touch - clearly aren't balanced in the slightest. The train upgrade system has been given a comprehensive overhaul, though, and is hugely impressive. Personally, I still prefer Australian Rails.
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Sun Mar 15, 2020 9:37 pm
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Friday 6th March - Great Dame

Ben Bateson
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The title is an oblique reference to our in-joke of, whenever the Great Dam is played in Terraforming Mars, somebody bellowing "DAMN!" at full volume. Well, it keeps me amused anyway.

Tony and Peter were already set up for round 2 of Great Western Trail, and they lassooed John in for a learning game (mostly, I suspect, so Tony had someone to beat). This left Becky and I at a bit of a loose end as we had packed for 5P, Tony having been unresponsive to communications all day. But luckily, Peter had also packed Terraforming Mars, which gave us something to teach Ian.

Despite the fact that we had introduced the game to at least a dozen people over the past couple of years, I don't think I had ever taught Terraforming Mars before. But I made a decent fist of things, Ian nodding along gamely before building up a pretty solid engine based at hurling large rocks at the planet. Becky built up a microbe based economy with one of the newer corporations, while I leached off her with Ants and built a Space Fleet for plenty of endgame points. But her presence on the board and an early milestone-gathering foray was enough to put her comfortably ahead, with a far-from-disappointing Ian only five points adrift.

Surprisingly, GWT finished before us, and had moved onto Tony's Alpha-phase "Rome Sweet 'Not Tapestry, Honest' Rome". I fear this one will never see the light of day once the light dawns: Tony seems a bit over-obsessed with multi-use cards a la Guilds Of London at the minute.

We finished matters with Notre Dame, a game I seem incapable of winning (mostly due to a tendency to ignore plague). Despite looking pretty strong throughout, manipulating the park and opportunistic cathedral grabbing, I finished second to Becky who had a whopping 59 points. Ian tried for message-collection, but ran seriously short of cubes in the mid-game and had to start harvesting them from elsewhere.

No time for a closer this week. We all sent condolences to Gerv, who texted in complaining of a suspicious 'flu-type bug' and decided that going home to bed might not be the worst thing in the circumstances.
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Sun Mar 15, 2020 9:32 pm
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Friday 28th February - Ace of Bases

Ben Bateson
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Six again this week, but Tony was having no truck with 'a big table of six', and he was keen to be taught Great Western Trail by Peter. Knowing that we'd not be seeing them (plus Dave) for a good 150 minutes, it gave John, Ian and myself the opportunity to set up a trio of more compact games. I kinda like GWT, but it does drag on a little.

Having finally got around to christening Space Base at my Monday games night, I was able to teach it in a flash, and Ian picked up the combo-able essentials very quickly. I somehow filled my board with position-12 ships, but got them to trigger at least twice. But John went heavily and indiscriminately into outposts and triggered the game end from last seat with us still stuck in the late-30s. All pronounced themselves satisfied, and I can see Space Base doing well in a filler slot.

We moved onto to a real curiousity; La Strada is (Age of) Steam stripped back to its real essentials and something unique in being a Martin Wallace with no fiddliness (or, for that matter, loans). Because it has all of three paragraphs of rules, it was no problem learning it 'out of the manual', and it played quickly but crunchily in the Mini Rails/Spectaculum sort of mould. Ian blagged a prime starting position in the randomly-generated setup, and was the target of most blocking moves much to his faux-outrage. Somehow John wormed his way out of a disadvantageous position, encircled a couple of key towns, and nicked a single point win.

With GWT barely halfway done, we had plenty of time for Furstenfeld, the game of brewery economics and tourist attractions. I have a fondness for this little deckbuilder, over and above most of Friese's other games, and this fondness was barely diminished by dealing myself an opening hand of palace sections. But, never mind, I had a precious Scavenger too, and put him into play with the goal of cycling my full deck twice. With the aid of some generous play from the others, I achieved this, and played the winning card just ahead of John (Ian was stranded on about three).

Peter's game bag also contained Concept, a party-ish classic which was latched onto by John as a break from sterile Euro mechanics. As is best with all these things, we played a sort of freestyle non-competitive, barely-scoring variant, and closed out - just after Becky arrived from dance practice - with a round of 'everyone clue your favourite film'. This drew a very welcome Whisky Galore from Ian, and a lot of bafflement at my attempts to clue The Commitments, although John continues to deny that his favourite film is indeed Pitch Perfect.
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Sun Mar 15, 2020 8:59 pm
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Friday 21st February - Flowery Twats

Ben Bateson
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Becky and I both spent Valentine's (and, more pertinently, our wedding anniversary) weekend bopping and jiving to some of the best rock'n'roll in the country, so there exists no report of last week. This Friday, however, proved to be something of a treat.

There have been some tensions arising between Becky and Tony, after the 'chicken nugget incident' and his perceived sleights against all her favourite games on his blog. So much perverse pleasure was had during the packing of the games bag this week and Goa, Keyflower, Princes of Florence and the ilk all found their way in.

And then Tony cancelled, so we had to repack anyway. I could almost hear him laughing.

We were still a healthy six-hander, though, and eschewed the instinct to split into two tables in order to enjoy the small, but excellent, selection of 6P games we had available. Ian had made noises about trying Libertalia a few weeks ago but had been scuppered by player-count, so this seemed like the perfect rectification opportunity. It was a pretty gentle selection of cards for beginners, although much merriment was had out of Becky picking up several beggars early on, and Dave and Gerv did some delightful backbiting as they exchanged sabre targets. John was definitely the man to catch after a huge first round: I did my best by chaining a bunch of night-time characters in the last week, but his 96 points remained resolutely unbeatable. I think we might be finally winning him round for the Norm/Keith/Captain Twat days.

Keyflower was the one game that had survived the repack and - despite our last full-complement game having taken approximately 3 hours - there was no disparagement of the idea of taking it on again. And I think every one of us was thoroughly glad that we did because it was fascinating to watch everyone's strategy develop in subtly different ways. Ian went 'big green' (proper 'big green', not Richard Clyne 'bid green' which involves desperately trying to turn your green meeples back to normal colours in winter), Dave saved up for last round purchases and scrambled to populate them, Gerv made good use of the 'ignore the big colour' summer boat, and John leveraged gold with some good autumn tiles. Becky built a compact but high-scoring village, and I spent most of the first two seasons feeling I was being shut out of a game that I thought I was quite good at. However, when autumn kicks in, then most players lose their opportunistic focus, and I was able to sneak in on John's big-meeple tiles and started stockpiling wood for an autumn tile. However, the pesky Gerv outbid me by using the wrong colour, so I was forced to splash it on several other less profitable tiles instead. Somehow, and I still don't know how, I managed to pull through to overtake a rampant Dave and economical Becky and bring the game in by just 2 points. When the game is still this amazing after 80+ plays, you know it's a very special design.

A most excellent 6P filler in the shape of Incan Gold. After too many games of scoring zero, John and Gerv (and, to be honest, me too) all played cowardy-custards and ran away with pitiful handfuls of treasure. It left Becky open to dive into a capacious fifth dungeon and reap all the rewards for a very comfortable win.

Plenty of time for the inimicable Cockroach Salad to finish, and if you think reports of me winning at Keyflower are getting predictable, then this will shake your foundations. Although John won the first game in a routine, if slightly gloating, manner, the second went the way of one Ian Morley, until recently dubbed 'the man who inexplicably says "cucumber" and makes us laugh most at his ineptness' where this game is concerned. Wonders will never cease, I tell you.
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Sat Feb 29, 2020 9:37 pm
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Friday 7th February - Pax o'Stuffing

Ben Bateson
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A boy's night out this week, as Becky abandoned me at the pub in order to go dancing. Tony, as his blog will evidence, is currently in the mood to tuck into juicier fare (I give it three months before he's complaining that we don't get to play any old favourites any more), but he had a frivolous opening exercise for us too: Matt Green is re-developing cult favourite Beyond the Gates of Antares: the Dice Game (BGA:tDG, or 'Bugger t'Dog') into a schlock deep-sea horror game with the inevitable title of Dicelantis. Gerv turned up just in time to rub his hands with glee, say "I know what I'm doing, I've played this before" and roll six completely blank dice, which was enough to warm me to the game in itself. Despite a vicious glare at his dice in the first three rounds, John came through to win.

Tony's main event fare was Pax Pamir, and I was imprecated sternly to KEEP MY GOB SHUT during his rules explanation after my jollities with the Tin Goose rules. So - after doing the comedy 'blow your nose on the linen board' routine - I sat there in well behaved silence, frowning slightly as I concentrated, only to be accused in his blog of sulking! I mean, honestly. Sometimes you can't win.

You CAN win at Pax Pamir, and I did, after latching onto a typical 'swing towards the side that are winning but change your mind later' strategy and pipping John on the tie-break. I REALLY like the Wehrle/Eklund philosophy of 'sort out the real life history first and construct a game around it': it's exactly how I would (and did, and still do!) go about designing a game myself. Unfortunately, the reality of this approach is that the finished game is inevitably full of fiddles, lookups, awkward interfaces and needless complexity. Pax Pamir wasn't really any real exception: underneath all the nice flavour text (can't pretend I was disappointed to see Harry Flashman in there!) it is really only a fancied-up The King Is Dead. And The King Is Dead is much more tense.

We moved onto slightly more familiar fare in the form of Cryptid. As I see it, there are several meta-gaming possibilities in Cryptid. You can sit there in stony contemplative silence (Tony/John), or you can talk the whole thing out in vaguely Holmesian rambling terms (me). Or, as Gerv proved, you can pretend you have no clue what's going on, leeching off other peoples stabs in the dark and getting the right answer. It was a cracking effort, partially enabled by my un-Holmesian comment of 'it's a choice between two' before picking the wrong one. As always, there was one opponent that I just couldn't read at all; in this case it was Peter who had somehow disguised what was transparently in plain sight.

We closed with a hugely silly King Me, at which we all affected terrible Joe Dolce/Luigi Risotto accents and bayed hysterically every time a king was voted out. Becky walked in halfway through one of these episodes and damn near walked straight back out again until we stopped being weird. Peter somehow came out of this melee victorious.
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Sat Feb 22, 2020 5:39 pm
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Friday 31st January - Anyone for Tennish?

Ben Bateson
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On February 2nd, 2010, we sat down for the first time to play games. It's fair to say a decade has flown by, many fellow gamers have come and gone, tastes in gaming have changed. But one thing has remained constant throughout, and I promised Tony that he would have a special mention in this anniversary blog post...

From gallery of ousgg

What bell-end parked like that?

Ian had done the club proud, arriving early and strewing the place with balloons, crisps and other goodies. He was playtesting the Rome/Tapestry thing with Tony and Peter but they graciously packed it away when everyone else turned up. Tony and John then spent the opening half-hour commemorating the club's 10th birthday by behaving like twats, but eventually they packed that in too, and we decided to play some games.

Stone Age was always likely to be a shoe-in as that was the first game that the club ever played. Becky rounded up John, Dave and Gary and managed to beat them all handily. Much embarrassment was forthcoming after they ignored the advice of 'not letting Becky get all the cards'.

The other table was a chunky five-hander, and we opened with a brisk game of Senators or 'the game which Ben would have played better by not doing anything', as it is becoming known. Well, this time I didn't actually sink into fewer than my five starting points, but it was still all a bit inept, and Tony - in between jokes about Wood and Touching Cloth - won yet again. I'm sure it's all just luck, you know.

Our main event was Tin Goose, set up on the sly while I was topping up drinks. Tony delivered the rules with all manner of gaps and inconsistencies and then had the temerity to get grumpy when I wanted to clarify whether 'not all the same' was the same thing as 'all different' (as I suspected, it isn't the same, but was I allowed to play the correct rules?). Gerv quickly built up a hugely unsafe, but complete, squadron of planes, and I abandoned domestic shipping altogether in favour of the lucrative overseas market. Ian saved all his money, Pete bought nearly everything in Phase 2, and Tony leveraged his last-turn advantage to play some nasty stuff at the end. But no-one could catch up with Gerv, the only one over $200,000 at the end.

To be frank, I didn't think much to Tin Goose. Working out valuations in the opening rounds is little more than a lottery, the whole thing is heavily dependent on turn order (some sort of varying turn order mechanism would make the auctions exponentially better), and your strategy will obviously be dictated by your hand of cards rather than optimistically guessing what the other players will play. Tony is full of scorn for Airlines Europe but has never managed to enunciate precisely why. But it's a no-brainer for me; Airlines Europe is much the superior game.

The other table had polished off Stone Age and Modern Art and were now engaged in Wingspan (Becky was later heard to echo my comments about Dave's seeming inability to understand this otherwise simple game). Given that the Knizia auction classic was our other 'founding' game, it seemed disrespectful not to have a go ourselves. Given it was their debut play, Ian and Peter donned some pretty convincing foreign accents (German and American respectively) and named paintings in true perverse style. It had felt like a tug-of-war between Tony and I throughout all three rounds, so - in an effort to get ahead - I paid over the odds for a painting from Gerv near the end. Critical mistake - this allowed Gerv to overtake us both for the win! What a brilliant game...

We closed, all previous dickheadery forgotten (but still recorded here for posterity) with an eight-handed Dobble. Ian was tentative, but earned the biggest cheer of the evening when he comprehensively Hot Potatoed a winning Gerv.
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Sat Feb 8, 2020 8:32 pm
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Friday 24th January - The Village Key Preservation Society

Ben Bateson
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"Don't pack any more games - surely that's enough" said Becky.

"But...what if someone unexpected turn up and all our 5P games won't be good enough?"

A good chairperson knows his club. Our unexpected attendee was Peter, who pulled the old 'you got filtered into my Spam folder' excuse. One of these days, we'll teach John how to use WhatsApp and leave email behind.

Luckily, Libertalia was among my 'just one more...' games, so we set up a full table for starters. A reasonably gentle opening week gave way to all manner of Brute and Beggar fun in the second, and a carefully strategic third. Having clocked up a whopper of a score in the opening third, it wasn't too hard for me to hold on for victory, but Dave pushed me very hard near the end. Ian, with his immaculate timing, has already sent me a request to play Libertalia next week, so we might end up with a back-to-back. But it's still an awesome game.

As nice as it is to stick with a table of 6P all night, sometimes circumstances (or Tony) dictate that we split into two 3s. John had shown quite the enthusiasm for learning Quacks of Quedlinburg. I suspected it probably wasn't really his thing, and the noises of vague disenchantment I heard drifting over from the table as he lost to a Becky/Dave joint win probably proved me right. Meanwhile, I had endeavoured to teach Keyflower for possibly the two-dozenth time at Ross. But it is a club favourite for a reason, and Peter picked up the essentials very swiftly, certainly enough so for him and Gerv to make my life a nuisance. I pulled through for a wood-hoarding win, but was run very close by Peter's swathe of autumn points-scorers and Gerv's collection of green meeples (no mean feat given that the base three green-meeple generators didn't come out). Keyflower, along with some good-quality opposition, generated genuinely difficult decisions throughout. I don't know of any game so rich in decision density, if I can coin a phrase.

We plumped for some light group fare to finish. The Cockroach series is only growing in esteem with us, and we followed Cockroach Poker with Cockroach Salad. Peter started his first game of Cockroach Poker like he'd been playing all his life, but soon encountered one of those immovable barriers - every time he tried to foist a card onto me, it got bounced straight back. He really should have tried to pick someone more gullible - I mean, Gerv was sitting to his direct left. Eventually, John and Gerv combined to pass him his third rat, and there was no way it was getting bounced to me.

Dave prefixed Cockroach Salad with "I wish Ian was here: I'd pay good money just to watch him play this game". He did his best to fill Ian's shoes while Gerv won, and then he didn't have to fill them any longer: Ian turned up and gave us his own unique demonstration of incompetent vegetable-naming while Gerv won again. Why he keeps shouting 'cucumber' remains a mystery as yet unknown.
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Mon Jan 27, 2020 8:55 pm
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Friday 10th January - Vive Le Res-olution

Ben Bateson
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We do have a tendency to complain about player count, I know. But, during the days when we were inevitably 6-players, it was still an abundance compared to the dark days of 3P every week (and, yes, I still remember Tony complaining that he'd never get to play a game with more than 3P). Look - Ross-on-Wye is a small town, all right? And sometimes, we break through the dreadful 6-barrier and get a comfortable double-tableful.

Tonight was such a night. And Tony and I, being the cunning foxes that we are, had already predicted how it might go: Dan was coming for one of his rare visits, so there should be some Agricola in the offing. Pete showed a delightful willingness to learn, which left the other table at a bit of a loose end until Ian popped back over the road for his copy of Res Arcana. John was stuck between a rock and a hard place with these two, but graciously settled for Res Arcana and - by all accounts - didn't do too badly. Becky schooled the table and settled down to teach them some St Petersburg afterwards.

Agricola was just as awesome as it always is. Pete was (accidentally) dealt an L-deck card, but perhaps there is no better introduction to the game than setting up the Bear/Barenpark combo. It probably consumed a little too much of his attention, though, and 10 points wasn't reflective of a good effort. Tony was going in for his usual baking strategy, although the lack of card support was crucial, and he came in at a sub-par 30. More or less by accident, I built the 'full kitchen showroom', but my lack of animals couldn't keep me up to pace with Dan's full stone house and good development. There was an interesting post-mortem over the exact sequencing of actions in the last three rounds: it really was that close.

We finished concurrently with Gerv's St Petersburg victory, and there was a general milling-about between the games bags, lavvies, and the bar for a few minutes while we re-organised ourselves. Tony, having nothing better to do than develop endless prototypes, had his 'Tapestry of London Rome' to show off to Gerv, Peter and Ian, while the rest of us settled for some Troyes.

The fates of the French walled city were fairly gently on us tonight, and allowed us plenty of legroom in exploring different strategies. I found myself abruptly switched between the 'having no money' and 'having a FUCKTON of money' strategies halfway, which didn't really bode well for my score and indeed the game came down to a single point between a cathedral-building Becky and a Princess-impressing Dan. With two wins out of two, it's a shame - or possibly a relief - that we don't see Dan more often, really.

The others had time to polish off Gerv's favourite For Sale, and everyone-apart-from-Becky's favourite High Society while they waited for us to draw to a close. What a cube-shufflingly fantastic night.
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Thu Jan 23, 2020 10:02 pm
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Friday 3rd January - Happy Gervday!

Ben Bateson
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Gerv had enthusiastically latched onto the unofficial club rule that 'if it's your birthday, you get to choose what to play' and proffered several lists of games dependent on player count, player preference, and whether or not anyone brought cake. As it turned out, there was eight of us and no-one brought cake, so we split into two tables. The 'serious table' of Tony, John, Aled and Peter (welcome, Peter!) took on Suburbia, which is a most excellent game, followed by a Boydell/Dunstan prototype (Polygonia is Guilds of London with added frivolous Lego construction), which I fear might not be quite as excellent.

Gerv's menu started - unsurprisingly - with some finest game birds. It was, of course, Wingspan. For some reason, despite being an otherwise bright able gamer, Dave completely fails to click with the mechanics this game, and it was another hour of 'no, Dave - don't put that there' and 'no, Dave - you can't do that now'. I'm thinking of turning him into a Joyce Grenfell monologue. Despite the extra assistance, he only went and won as well.

We served up the soup course next. Witch's Brew is much-prized and ridiculously hard to get ones hands on, so it was no surprise that Gerv was all in favour of this. Dave pronounced himself much-satisfied as well in his first playthrough, and won with an extremely convincing 34 points with the rest of us still in the teens.

Gerv's main event was not one, but two safari feasts. He enjoyed our first game of Botswana (a real squeaker which he won by just a couple of points) so much that he demanded the same again. The second time saw everyone else think themselves into a muddle and I won rather too comfortably. It would never happen at the Sectional Qualifiers...

And we finished, rather unconventionally, with a salad. Gerv can't quite get enough Cockroach Salad these days, and - despite spending quite a lot of time naming vegetables that weren't even in the game - managed to see off Becky. Just has he did, Ian - legendary Cockroach underperformer - strolled in for his closing-time pint and was shoe-horned into a second game. He did no better this time than before Christmas either.

The serious table were still going at their second game as we packed away and said our goodbyes. Some people just don't want a four-course treat...
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Mon Jan 13, 2020 9:40 pm
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Friday 27th December - A post-Chrimbo wind-down

Ben Bateson
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We don't normally meet in the family-friendly period between Christmas and New Year, but as it turned out most of my Christmas plans fell through and - in order to avoid lacklustre stuffiness - I mildly suggested that I'd be up for games if anyone else was.

I quickly had four respondents, although that rapidly became three as Tony was not sufficiently motivated to get beyond his front door. No-one was really in a 'heavy games place', so we played light and frothy fare and turned in for a well-earned early night, finding ourselves surprisingly tuckered out.

Junk Art saw Aled come from dead last place for a heroic last round win, and Gerv doing his best 'myopic old man' impressions.

Duplik is a surprisingly impossible-to-buy party drawing game, which was very much enjoyed by all, to the extent where we played a second round for free. Becky turned out to be very good at describing and very bad at drawing, unless of course what you were trying to get her to draw was 'man with sizeable erection and a shotgun'.

Cockroach Salad was all the hilarity of the week before, although Gerv's previously impervious coolness showed signs of self-destructions.

For Sale was about as intellectually stimulating as always. Becky tried her 'just pass all the time' strategy, which NEVER works. You'd expect that the designer would have thought of this, wouldn't you?

...and we finished with a gritty couple of rounds of Codenames. Try as we might, Aled and I couldn't meet each other's wavelengths and we found ourselves 2 agents short in both rounds.
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Mon Jan 13, 2020 9:11 pm
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