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 29th July - Drop Inn Turnout On Tune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From gallery of ousgg


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

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

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

Ben Bateson
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(pleased with that title...)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was time for another game, but we wiled away the rest of the evening with drinks and chat, not least of holidays. John revealed a fondness for the city of Siena, which gave me an idea for next week...
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Sun Jul 3, 2022 11:48 am
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Friday June 10th - Through the Stages

Ben Bateson
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After another week off (wisdom tooth surgery), we re-accumulated ourselves around a table of the garishly-decorated Pret-a-Porter. It's a simple teach but excessively fiddly in the play - a lot of fuss surround what could otherwise be a simple 'collect the right materials to make these clothes' game. I started off playing it like a Martin Wallace, taking out substantial-sized credit cards in the first two quarters, but it helped me put together three four-card shows which earned a ton of rosettes. Pete was miles ahead on in-game scoring, but a potful of cash earned me the win. In passing, I do like the scoring mechanism of 'add together cash and victory points', which keeps things tense, and is second only to the complete wacky Bremerhaven scoring of 'MULTIPLY cash by victory points'.

I'm not sure how often Pret will realistically make it off the shelves: a doubt that I don't hold for the delicacy that is Shakespeare. Ystari produced some absolute gems before they were swallowed up by the Asmodee juggernaut, and Shakespeare might be one of the best - a can of ultra-lean, ultra-tight point hogging, with a denouement tense enough to be worthy of any of the eponymous plays. My solitary goldsmith wasn't much cop, as it turned out, compared to John's aggressive hogging of the start player (those points are key, folks), Pete's handful of endgame-scoring cards, and Becky building a set worthy of DW Griffith himself. She won with a point or two to spare as well.

Two flamboyant and extravagant games had eaten up a large chunk of the evening, so we just had time for some lightweight cube-hurling, in the form of Hurlyburly, a game daft enough to defy description. Providing a meaningful session report would be futile, but somehow my tower survived badly-aimed assaults from the other three players for a somewhat-undeserved win.
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Sun Jun 19, 2022 11:34 pm
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Friday May 27th - Burgermeisters et Maires

Ben Bateson
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Just the three of us again. Becky and I had - for reasons too long to explain - committed ourselves to a game of Hamburgum, and thought it would be a good one to save for games night. It was too - like all Mac Gerdts games, one that excels in the subtle interactions of more players. Each of us embarked down subtly different paths, Becky producing masses of building materials, John building like crazy, and myself on a subtle beer-and-cash focus. I thought it would be John's game, but I had saved several big donation tokens for the final scoring, pulled dead level with him on 96 points, and was nominally the winner according to the official tie-breaker. The economy in Hamburgum is more subtle than other Gerdts game and is worthy of being explored further.

Paris is a newcomer to my shelves, a curiously impenetrable game of economy and area control, and another one that needed to be explore at our own various paces. It took a while to get all the rules home, but once we did, then John set about aggressively hoovering up all the bonus tiles. Having tried this in a previous game, I set my sights a bit higher, aiming for those precious building materials. It worked (just), but left my inventory absolutely dry for the last two rounds - good timing in this game is an absolute premium above all the other usual economic exercises. Copying Becky's usual 'come second on everything' strategy on the majority scoring was enough to push me over the 100-point mark, with John only a few points behind.

I felt a bit burned-out after all that and requested something light-ish to finish. Becky picked the unofficial 'nastiest game ever', Finca (as per last week, don't get me started on links and logged plays against second editions). It's a game I do always enjoy once it gets underway, and there are some lovely crux moments as the piles start depleting. The majority tiles were the big different between first (Becky with three of them) and last (John with none), all else being quite evenly balanced.
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Sat Jun 4, 2022 5:16 pm
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Friday May 20th - And 4 Makes a Council

Ben Bateson
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After a week off for the Hereford Games Jumbo Weekend Of Stuff (I think that's the official title...), there were just the three of us settling to the Friday table this week. I pre-empted John's arrival by breaking out Council Of 4 (the original, not the ghastly CMON reprint), a game which was only average with 2P and we sensed would be good at 3P. The rules were much simpler than I remembered, and we dashed them off in between John's tales of students he was tutoring.

Becky latched onto an early combo and looked pretty unbeatable, but John had seen the advantages of a central board position, and as we repeatedly blocked Becky, he overhauled her and finished with a comfortable victory. It was a bit frenetic, but that's Council Of 4 for you.

Becky and I had recently been revisiting and reinvestigating Key Market (I could have a rant about why the second edition has its own database entry but will restrain myself), and thought it would upsize very neatly. It did, too: the excellent player aids making a difficult teach somewhat easier. John moved into a village early, and both he and Becky focussed on retiring workers. For a long while, I wasn't even going to both upgrading my farm, but the 15-point payoff was just a bit too tempting and I succumbed during the final summer. My huge collection of fish (and the associated Guild Master of course) wasn't enough to trouble the top of the leader board, though, where Becky sneaked a 3-point win over John.

It seems to be a staple response from both Becky AND John that when we ask the inevitable 'what are we playing next?' question, they will always suggest Puerto Rico. Occasionally, I have to succumb, although I do much prefer the game with five. This game went quickly on the back of colonist depletion, with no fewer than nine of them on the colonising ship at one point. My careful coffee tactics going quickly out the window, I built a Wharf and scrambled whatever points I could. But it was largely in vain as John built his second large building for a win that seemed disproportionately large.

At this point, I realised that I had finished dead last in everything so far, so John graciously gave me the opportunity to win something by playing Glass Road. Much good it did me, I slumped to a miserable 16 points (although I did beat John's 10) and Becky cruised to a win on the back of the Village Church that I had been eyeing up. Just one of those evenings, I suppose.
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Sat Jun 4, 2022 5:02 pm
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Friday May 6th - Landscaping difficulties

Ben Bateson
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"Starting early at 7:00 for some Molkky?" was my optimistic sign-off to the weekly email. The weather forecast was glorious and Molkky was rapidly becoming a club staple.

This being the UK, we huddled under gathering black clouds, in plummeting temperatures and threw sticks around on the unmown bee-friendly lawn for half an hour before gratefully retreating indoors. John earned a rare wim before Becky earned a not-so-rare win.

Tony and I had reached a rare moment of agreement when we centred on Concordia as a starter. We opted for the Gallia map, which is a tad claustrophobic with 5P, but not excessively so, although the 'spread to the coast' mechanic does seem somewhat futile. John made an enterprising spread down the east side of the map, and Dave and Tony apparently took great delight at pinching cities from under my nose. Indeed, I struggled to join the dots, and thought Tony's huge collection of blue cards would be nailed on for a win. As it turned out, he had virtually no other cards, and things were very tight for four of us around the 100-point mark. Becky, though, playing below the radar, had 125 which is a monster victory in Concordia.

For some reason, Becky opted for Cryptid (a game she hitherto hated) as a follow-up. This is a game where everyone gets AP, but no-one minds because it gives everyone some more thinking time. After one reasonably-confident early guess I had to reassess everything but couldn't nail down Dave's cunningly-disguised moves. John won this one, and picked Stockpile as our next game.

Well, he didn't ACTUALLY pick Stockpile. He picked "that bidding stock-holding card thing that we played a few months ago" and then didn't recognise it when it came out the box, only to turn the board the other way around and go: "Oh, yes - this is it!". He then went ahead to beat us soundly, doubling up a fair old selection of shares early on. I would have finished dead last but was thankfully propped up by Becky whose killer streak went inexplicably amiss. I really enjoy Stockpile, and we need to flip the board soon and play with the variable share values.

Dave was turning in, so Tony requested an opportunity to get humiliated at Too Many Cooks. I duly obliged, although Tony and John rather scuppered themselves out of any sort of win by getting so scared that they both played their No Soup on the first round. The best round was when we all played Onion Soup, though.
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Sat Jun 4, 2022 4:38 pm
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Friday April 29th - As big as a Bahn door

Ben Bateson
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Oh, look how long it's been since I did the blog, again. To be fair, the joys of real life have got in the way a bit, what with holidays, dental work, and harassing the pub to see if they'll ever open again.

Anyway, on our return from holiday, first priority was to get the boys together to play some games, of course. Because we hadn't played ANY on holiday, had we?

So it was that John, Ian and Peter arrived, brandishing various beers and ciders of various alcoholic strengths, and - as something of a challenge - I set up German Railways - on the table. It's a grand game, and pretty simple, but I always seem to forget every single rule when teaching it. Much hilarity was had of my German pronunciation: I do actually speak a little German but the brutal 19th century compound nouns reduced me to mostly gibberish and we ended up calling them 'blue', 'black', 'orange' etc. Luckily, I had forewarned John about the "possibly not getting any turns" rule, because not a single one of his disks came out in the first three rounds and an explosion could otherwise have been imminent. My efforts to invest in blue and black met with very little support and I finished dead-last, with Becky taking a comfortable win. I do like the Winsome train games, but I am invariably terrible at them.

Becky selected the excellent Furstenfeld as her follow-up. This one is a boon because of how EASY it is to teach. Once you've got the market procedure out of the way, everything else is remarkably self-explanatory. After drawing the usual handful of palace pieces to start, I stashed them all at the bottom and resolved to go heavy on laboratories to draw them quickly. It worked pretty well, and I scoffed at John's deck-trashing while I motored round and round the deck several times, taking advantage of my unimpressive income to abuse the turn order for a comfortable win.

Pete requested another game of Ra next, a game at which both John and Becky admitted to not understanding at all. And they proved it, too - scoring less than thirty points combined. Ian went for a great array of buildings, but it wasn't enough to keep pace with Pete and me, trading a river for a pharoah and vice versa. As it turns out, it was my frugal bidding and the five endgame bonus points for 'best hand' that was good enough for the win.

And, for a good dose of silliness to finish, we played Cockroach Salad. Ian managed to button up his cucumber habit for all of eight or nine rounds, but we all lapsed from time to time, including me on my very last card. This let Becky sneak through for a win in something of a marathon game.
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Sat Jun 4, 2022 4:11 pm
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