Life’s certainly got a bit different lately hasn’t it?
One of the many unimagined consequences is that I’m now in the fortunate position of having a house full once more of people who’ll quite happily play a game to pass the time. Unfortunately (or not, in a real life sense) I have a job that not only continues but is now, belatedly, considered of importance by the state so I’m not overly blessed with the spare time to take full advantage of the opportunity.
However, a week’s holiday (that amazingly was still honoured*) did give me the chance to make up for some lost time with eldest son Charlie.
And that means Memoir '44.
And after a couple of random scenarios we decided to open up the Battles of Khalkhin-Gol battle maps and get stuck into the campaign that they form.
Eight linked scenarios, with simple rules that cover unit attrition and reinforcements between the battles and the promise of some structure for the afternoons ahead. With toy soldiers.
*(I’d have gone in for the extra overtime if they’d asked.)Pro Tip: a thin sheet of Perspex, this one from a cheap picture frame, keeps the paper flat and makes moving troops a lot easier.
I won’t go into detail about the entire campaign, suffice to say it works very well, but will instead focus on the climactic battle on the (lusciously) preprinted Breakthrough style map.
This was a deserving scenario to round off the campaign, especially so as the overall medal tally stood at 33-33 after the previous seven and every single outcome was still theoretically possible.
Breakthrough maps are bigger, deeper specifically, and allow for a grander feel to standard scenarios. In this “encirclement” you can see that the Russian forces (commanded by me) have split the Japanese, clearly using the old “divide and conquer” strategy.
Because of the extra space available it’s highly recommended that you use the Breakthrough deck of command cards (found in the Winter Wars expansion) as many contain the ability for you to move extra troops (though not fight with them) each turn. This allows for better cohesive moves and for a strategy to develop that is a little less dependent on drawing the “right cards.”**
Charlie, as the Japanese, had a clear goal in this fight to 8 medals. He started with 2 and would keep these bonus VPs if, and only if, he had at least one unit in each marked third of the battlefield at the start of his turn.
Do that, pick off 6 of my units and the win would be his. For my part I could gain a bonus medal if, at the start of my turn, I had destroyed/ forcibly removed all enemy units from at least one third (so an effective 3 point potential swing to raise the risk/reward stakes).
So I was looking to focus in one area whilst limiting the exposure of troops in other parts of the battlefield (full strength Japanese infantry roll an extra die in close combat and can move further and still fight than other nations troops making them formidable foes if not kept at arms length).
**see This Post for my thoughts on that old argument.
The early exchanges saw skirmishes across the map, with a fair bit of manoeuvring to set up future plans. In the picture above I am demonstrating the folly of an unsupported tank attack. Tanks are very powerful with their overrun potential (defeat a unit in close combat, move into that hex, fight again if possible) but are susceptible in situations when they are alone. Only three models in the unit means they can be wiped out in a single turn more often than you care to imagine. So they should be used to support infantry or as a big wedge to blast through.
A few slightly careless moves like this from me allowed some of my units to be picked off and Charlie was soon sitting on a 5:2 lead.
I had been building a hand of cards to facilitate a sustained attack in one area, my right flank, and was still short of what I would have ideally liked but with the pressure of the medal count now really bearing down on me I decided that it was time to go for it, even though it wouldn’t be as well supported.
This would now win or lose the game for me.
Attacking in two places on the flank via an Assault card (all units on that flank) I was still sending two tank units into close combat against three of Charlie’s.
I didn’t get the overrun bonuses that I really needed and now things were very tense.
Charlie looked to capitalise but I was holding an Ambush card, allowing me to make a single attack (first, crucially) on a declared close combat attack by an enemy unit. This not only saved it from destruction, but defeated the original attackers giving me a medal and opening up a critical follow up play.
With so many units on that flank now locked in desperate close combat I played the Close Assault card that I had been saving (activates all units in hexes adjacent to enemies) to build my game around. I could now bring most of my firepower to bear on the Japanese and succeeded in wiping out all of the forces on the right flank, taking me to seven medals and knocking Charlie (at the start of his next turn) down to five. With a bonus medal due to me at the start of my next turn it was looking almost certain that I had secured the win as I couldn’t see any way he could take out three of my units on his next turn with what he had left on the board.
In fact I commented that the only possible way he could stave off defeat would be if he held the Behind Enemy Lines card (move an infantry unit up to three spaces, make an attack, then make another move of up to three spaces with the same unit) which would be the only thing that would get him back into all three sections of the board and deny me the automatic win.
Reader, he held the Behind Enemy Lines card.
This was all the more remarkable as the scenario limits the Japanese commander to a hand of just four cards and within that he was holding the one (out of eighty!) that was going to save his skin. This was an amazing gaming moment, the smirk on his face as he announced “I do, in fact, have that card” was a sight to behold.
Whilst he couldn’t really achieve anything extra with this card it did cause me to go cold with the realisation that I was now in big trouble.
I would not be getting the extra, winning, medal automatically and would have to destroy a unit of his on my next turn as he was looking at getting his bonus two back next turn (his nimble “BHL” beneficiaries were full strength and mostly out of harms way) and he had his pick of weakened Russian targets to claim the final medal he would need.
This is exactly the type of situation where the “Russian Rules” can really bite you. To represent Stalin’s purges the Russian player must always place his command card for next turn under a poker chip at the end of his previous turn, thus meaning you are not truly reacting to what happened on your opponent's turn but instead following orders like a good (and possibly soon to be dead) Soviet.
And the card I had lined up was not the most ideal in the circumstances.
The Recon In Force would allow me to activate one unit in each of the three sections. On the right it was only going to allow what amounted to potshots on a full strength unit, with zero probability of removing it from the battlefield. Scouring the rest of the table I found that I could bring an artillery unit and a tank unit to bear onto the same infantry unit that comprised of three remaining figures.
Six dice to get three hits.
Each die would have a 50% hit probability.
The entire campaign was seemingly coming down to what amounted to a coin flip situation.
Rather than feel as if everything that went before was diminished and of lesser importance it seemed as though this were a fitting, desperate, culmination to the best part of five afternoons of gaming.
It is not a coincidence that Memoir often throws up such dynamic and rewarding play experiences. It is a very dependable and robust system.
The entire duration of the campaign had been an absolute joy and provided much needed fun and entertainment for us, and has undoubtedly brought me and Charlie a little closer together and made “Memoiries” that will stick with us for ever.
I’m sure that many other people will have had, and will hopefully still have the opportunity to have, a game that means this much to them, but for Charlie and I Memoir44 has always been, and will always continue to be, our game.———————————————————————————————————
Away from the table, whether or not you have the chance to play much at the moment, I’d highly recommend getting stuck into some reading during this time to both pass the hours and for one’s mental well-being. I’ve been dipping my toe into things that I wouldn’t normally read, lots of novels about women by women for example and now I’m just getting stuck into the (not by a woman) magnificent series of Unreliable Memoirs by the legendary Clive James.
They are also a highly dependable and enjoyable way to spend a few afternoons.
Take care of yourselves and those you can help.
A daily blog about games, family and occasionally random other things. Well, it gives me something to do, and you something to read doesn't it!?
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Greetings one and all from Boris’ Brexit Wonderland...
How have you all been?
I’ve been alright I suppose.
Gaming wise though, well that is a different story.
My slow and (mostly) orderly retreat from the hubbub of the general gaming world has continued, I have no idea what has just come out, what the buzz was at Essen, don’t really listen to boardgame podcasts these days, barely watch any gaming stuff on You Tube either. And as for playing the damn things, well it’s been pretty light, both in type of game and the amount of time gaming.
There have been weeks go by where I’ve only played games the once, typically at the regular Games for a Laugh group, and usually someone else’s.
In August I had just 11 plays total.
Having less interest in playing games has played a part in me attending fewer games sessions as well, and this is what I wanted to talk about today. There’s an awful lot of discussion out there and on here about finding, forming and enjoying games night with a group, but comparatively little about them ceasing to run.
But it happens.
And this is a story of how.
I’ve been a longtime attendee of two groups, All Aboard, and Games for a Laugh. The former is/was an open Saturday morning family aimed affair in a busy church cafe, the latter a more regular euro/ social deduction mix of a group meeting in a pub on a Tuesday evening. As the years have passed the original founders of these groups no longer attend, not even on an occasional basis and I have found myself to be, loosely, a kind of custodian of both.
All Aboard has been declining in attendance for a couple of years and has reduced from twice a month to only once. The cafe has been very busy indeed due to dance classes running in the church hall and the noise and bustle of waiting parents and the slightly bored and partly sugar fuelled siblings does not make for a great environment (although it’s obviously great business for the cafe) for people to learn and play games in. Regular gamers have seldom popped their heads in for over a year now. The other regular “game bringers” (suckers who are prepared to give up 4 or 5 hours on a Saturday to try and teach games to a random crowd) are a fair bit younger than me and are now both parents of young children. As even those of you have not spawned these delightful bundles are aware, they are not conducive to allowing one much spare time to indulge one’s own pursuits. It’s pretty evident, and perfectly understandable, that they will not be able to commit to giving up (m)any Saturdays in future, and I have my own pressures on my availability as well; the needy little bundles tend to mature into a different, bigger heap of charm and bullshit that requires altogether more expensive transportation and support, often in other parts of the country.
There will be a reassessment after Christmas but it looks like it’s winding down for good.
It’s nobody’s fault, but it does make me sad.
Games for a Laugh, now, that’s a somewhat bigger issue that has been preying on my mind for a while. This has always been a firm fixture on the weekly calendar.
Right up until it wasn’t.
For me, and for many others it seems.
There had always been a core group of regular attendees, myself included, for Games for a Laugh. There was a compulsion felt by most if not all of us to go along and have fun playing old favourites and new acquisitions. I was, for a long while, one of those who’d always be buying and bringing and teaching new games. But as long time readers of this blog may recall, life circumstances and some natural tailing off of the enthusiasm for consuming everything games wise had led to me slowing down my purchases. And I was not the only one.
Several others in the group were following a similar trajectory. Changes in their lives, new jobs, house moves, children, other hobbies and so on all led to virtually all of those who could be reliably counted on to show up with at least a couple of games hardly ever turned up or no longer did at all. I began to feel the pressure to be there every week intensely. To be clear, this was only coming from myself, no one “expected” me to be there with games for everyone. There were still a few “regular occasionals” (an oxymoron of a moniker admittedly , but an entirely appropriate description) and a smattering of newer members who had joined and would also come and go as they pleased. I had this fear that if I didn’t show up then there would be half a dozen people in a pub wanting to play games but not having so much as a deck of cards between them.
Inevitably I was starting to slightly resent going. Again, this was all coming from within me. To try and stop myself from falling completely out of love with games I started skipping some sessions, and when I did go along I would only take a couple of games, encouraging others to bring their own and going out of my way to play those with them. I was going along every other week, and sometimes only one in three.
There was now kind of a shaky collective with all of us in the group being irregular. I was feeling somewhat untethered, our orbits becoming looser and looser with there no longer being a central point to gravitate towards.
And then, one Tuesday evening at a games night in the summer, the landlady at the pub informed us that they would be closing next week for at least three months for a major renovation project and, just like that, Games for a Laugh was now a group without a home. It was the height of summer, irregular attendees were even more irregular with holidays and lazy evenings at home in the garden having a greater pull than hunching over a table poring over icons on cardboard.
It seemed like a natural end point had been reached.
Out of some semblance of responsibility (a few had asked me what we were going to do, others had just shrugged) I made an effort to find a new home for the group. A nearby cafe/bar that Mrs B went to once a month for a chat with friends was hastily contacted, and they acquiesced, messages were sent out, Facebook groups were updated and the next week, on a stiflingly hot evening, I wandered in to a very comfortable and air-conditioned establishment and unpacked my games bag, feeling very self conscious in what was quite a busy and vibrant environment.
Three people turned up. And one of those was someone who’d contacted a few days before who was in town on a work placement that week and was looking for a friendly game so as to avoid the travelling businessman’s traditional “room service and TV in your underwear” evening.
Well, shit. It was all a bit glum. But, at least I felt that I had tried. I guess that people don’t generally like change.
The week rolled by and before long the next, and final, Games for a Laugh loomed. Mrs B came along for the first time in ages (as moral support, especially in the reasonably likely event that I was the only one going) and I was prepared for the administering of the last rites, a “thank you and goodnight” piece already prepared for the Facebook group.
No one’s fault.
Just one of those things that couldn't be helped.
It was good but it had had its time.
We found a table in the (once again busy) bar and sat down sadly.
And over the course of the next quarter of an hour, sixteen gamers arrived.
That evening went from being what I thought was going to be a wake to being something of a new dawn. Over the next few weeks numbers ebbed and flowed but we always had enough for a couple of tables. Attendance was still pretty casual but people were coming. I started to feel that we’d collectively, unspoken though it was, made some sort of commitment to keeping this thing running.
Before too long October had rolled around and, in our Facebook group, the landlady of the Kings Head, our old home, posted pictures of the renovation as it neared completion, along with a promise of there always being tables reserved for us on a Tuesday, if not the entire function room (also newly restored and decorated and replete with new, flat(!) tables). We said goodbye and bade our thanks to Pablo Lounge for their hospitality and returned, refreshed and (somewhat) reinvigorated to where it had all began.
And where it continues.
So, this was a story of how a games group dies.
But only if you let it.
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Greetings from Brexitland* everyone!
How have you all been?
Good. Long may it continue.
*Terms & conditions apply. Please read the small print carefully. Item may not be entirely as advertised. May end up costing more than initially promised. Your country may be at risk if you don’t keep up sensible trading arrangements. Complex problems rarely have simple solutions. Consider carefully the option of cancelling and spending the time and money on important practical and sociological issues instead of a nostalgic imperial fever dream.
Aside from the existential crisis that the country as a whole has been going through I have been charting my way through some choppy waters of my own of late. Doctors, hospitals, scans, blood tests, peeing through machines (at medical request rather than as a personal peccadillo), cameras inserted into one’s honourable member** (again, at medical request rather than as a personal peccadillo. Although I have no doubt that some honourable members have a thing for things going up their honourable members.) The upshot is that, thankfully, no cancer. But very definitely prostatitis. Different for everyone but imagine beginning your day with a rock being shoved up your rear end and a swift kick to the undercarriage for good measure and you’re on the right track (repeat earlier joke here).
Anyway, getting the all clear really does give one a new lease of life, which is rather fitting for this particular time of year.
And a renewed enthusiasm for spending time doing things that bring enjoyment. Like playing games. Like bringing games that have been left under a rock for some time back into the light.
**For the aid of those unacquainted with the antiquated British political terminology; an MP (Member of Parliament). Also slang for penis.
I’d been mulling over a post for a couple of weeks now, but the erudite/ gobshite Mr Boydell’s blog yesterday tipped the proverbial Mouse TrapTM marble off down the cognitive chute and set the cogs and levers whirring in my mind. I have actually reduced the amount of boardgame information regurgitation that I allow into my eyeballs and ear canals on a regular basis and actually feel none the worse for it. I was already losing the desire to keep myself abreast of the latest and (not so) greatest releases anyway and I certainly don’t feel any the poorer for it, metaphysically or financially.
I’ve also been, much as I did over the last year, playing (slightly) older games a lot more often. These are games that I already know and enjoy and can get straight into playing without the need to learn and explain the rules and waste time watching tedious how to play videos. Concordia fits this category of game perfectly, and a couple of recent game night plays at the pub had reminded me of its elegant charms.
There has been an amusing tradition (for want of a better word) that I never play my copy of the game, indeed I never take it to games night, only playing someone else’s as a compromise after we’ve rejected the other things on offer. Concordia is deserving of far more praise than simply being the game that we can all settle on though. The shifting make up of the players in my regular gaming group has led to an interesting polarisation where we have a number who want to always be playing brasher confrontational thematic titles and another section who prefer quieter not very confrontational euro games (and not the busy boards and levers, buttons, bells and whistles approach that blights a lot of recent medium weight euros.) Concordia has obviously found its way into the game night bags of a couple of newer regulars.
Having been thoroughly pleasured by some recent four and five player sessions (of Concordia, you degenerate) I recalled that it was one of my early “proper” game purchases that Mrs B and I had enjoyed at home (indeed it was the subject of one of my earliest blog posts). Having the recent experience of playing the base game maps at their fullest player counts I was reticent to try and recreate that enjoyment in the wide open space that just the two players would mean. Handily, as you are no doubt aware, there are a number of expansion maps available with some specifically engineered to provide a tighter playing environment for two and three gamers. Concordia: Aegyptus / Creta was the one that I plumped for, the optional board for the personality cards featuring different purchase costs is what swung it over the others. I can happily report that it performs admirably in those circumstances. I have been so encouraged that Concordia: Salsa, mostly for the variety of the forum bonuses and wild goods (salt) rather than the maps, has also been purchased and awaits its introduction.
So, in summary, Concordia; it’s very good. Better than most. There’s little need to chase something brand new when there’s already something this accommodating and enjoyable that is sat round on your shelves.
I always like this time of year, even as a resolutely unreligious man, the feeling of colour and warmth returning to the world, the abundance of new life around in nature really does put a spring in one’s step. For me personally it’s also a bit more poignant this time around.
It’s been lovely to check back in with you all but if you’ll now excuse me, I’ve got a spot of living to be getting on with.
See you around.
- [+] Dice rolls
In my last blog post I wrote about how I’d become comfortable with playing games that I love, those that are on the lighter end of the things that usually generate the heat and the content around these parts. Shortly after that post there was a brief preorder window for a game that seemed like it might fall squarely into that happy category for us. Although I am far from a Stonemaier games fanboy I soon found myself hastily depositing the required funds into their account despite knowing next to nothing about the game and the entire process being the antithesis of how I’d spent the previous year buying and playing games.
Thankfully Wingspan is an absolute joy (ignore the ridiculous and pompous behaviour of those decrying the handful of barely noticeable printing errors) and we have fallen in love with the simplicity of the gameplay and the beauty of the presentation. I’ve played it a dozen times now at almost every player count (only missing the full 5 player table) and have enjoyed it each time. The game changes subtly with the number of players, certain cards become more desirable and potentially more useful, and you need to decide on whether competing for end of round goals is worth chasing over other priorities you have. Essentially, even when playing solo, the game feels the same though.
The components are not just pleasing to the eye but also supremely practical and greatly aid the setting up and packing away of the game, as well as being clear and concise whilst playing (again, ignore the laughable list of rules questions on the forums, the cards, board, rulebook and comprehensive appendix contain all the answers you might need (although shouldn’t) if you only open the box and look rather than the browser and type) making the whole experience swift and pleasurable. We now get through a two player game in 45 minutes, including set up etc, which makes it perfect evening fare for us, and you can reasonably add around 20 minutes per (new) player to that.
The game falls squarely into that perfect tactical category for me where you have a hand of cards and must constantly (sometimes painfully) decide which to keep and which to discard. I’ve tried to play this game strategically and plan out what I want to achieve, if not over the entire game then certainly over the next round, but have fallen flat on my face. You have to be responsive to the randomness of your card draws and make constant adjustments to your goals based on what is in hand. This makes it too light and potentially frustrating for some but absolutely ideal for me, the agonising over reassessing is enjoyable and challenging (enough).
The photos above and below these paragraphs illustrate situations where I have failed and succeeded. In the top picture I have tried since the earliest moments of the game to get an egg generating engine going, based on the second and third cards in that row that I had in my initial hand, leading me into struggles with food gathering and round goal scoring. In the picture beneath I have played more with rather than against my card draws, seeing potential synergies but not going out of the way to force them into play. The top row, the food gathering area, now has not only a way to generate bonus food but also to acquire eggs, crucially saving me taking an action(s) to get an item that is mandatory to playing later cards into any area.
This does not mean that the game is on rails however, make the right choices and respond where you can to your opponents and you will usually come out on top. Early choices made in the game, including what to keep from your initial hand, are crucial however. There are three resources (food, eggs, cards) and you will likely be poor in (at least) one of them for most of the game (in this the game has a lot of similarities in feel with Nusfjord). This means that a first play or two of the game can turn off some, and “serious” gamers, who play a huge variety of titles and often only play distinct games once or twice in the space of a few months, are most likely to dismiss this superb slice of gaming.
We adore the game.
Wingspan has also managed to rekindle something that was a New Year’s resolution back in 2018; to get out in the fresh air and explore nature some more. With Mrs B suffering from the pain and fatigue that comes from having MS getting out into the countryside and walking around is challenging to say the least (and thus the resolution was failed) but it’s perfecly possible to attract birds into and view them in your own back garden all year round, as well as get out to a local nature reserve (at some old gravel pits) when the weather improves a little. I already own a couple of pairs of decent binoculars (from being a keen stargazer) so a few bird feeders and tables and an RSPB pocket guide are all we have needed.
A boardgame that encourages us not only to sit down and play, but also to pack it away and go and do something else instead? Perfect.
I had this musical number in mind to finish, and when I hopped over to You Tube to find the link I came across this excellent performance of it from a few short years ago when this country was looking outwards, putting on its best behaviour and welcoming people from all over to these shores; a country that seemed confident and proud of its place (and its past) and appeared happy with itself and each other. A country that was viewed from the outside as quite quirky but highly competent, classically reserved yet very welcoming, and the epitome of common sense whilst retaining a sense of humour. A few short years ago. How times change.
- [+] Dice rolls
It’s that time again. This site, and any boardgaming social media group that you may belong to are about to be flooded once more. Flooded with gamers promising to complete numerous challenges and resolving to achieve the fabled 10x10. I wrote, somewhat cynically, about the phenomenon at the start of the year. I think those words do ring true though, a good portion of those drawn to such things are doing so out of some form of (self imposed) guilt about the number of games owned and trying to curb their urges to chase the hot new thing. I’ve tried and, predictably, failed at these things myself in the past.
This year I consciously decided to not think very much at all about what I “should” play and instead to just go with the flow and see what happened. It quickly became apparent that this was a lot less stressful a way to decide what to play. I found that a game might get to the table several times in quick succession, maybe even 3 or 4 times in a week. I found that I kept going back to familiar games rather than seeking out more variety and new titles.
In 2018 I have played 190 individual games, 25 of them 10 or more times, and around another 20 titles 5 or more times. There have been 75 games played just the once.
The previous year I only played 7 games 10 or more times and 150 games just once; and in 2016 it was only 4 games played 10 or more times and 116 just the once.
What is immediately apparent is that not only have I drastically “outperformed” on the multiple plays but I have also cut out a lot of single play titles. When I think about it I have been consciously shying away from playing new (to me) titles when they have been on offer as well.
I feel pretty good about all this actually. If I’m honest I had got into a place where I wasn’t feeling particularly happy with my game playing. Some of that was perhaps down to writing a daily blog and feeling that I needed to be constantly putting out a variety of writing about different games, that people wouldn’t be interested in reading about the same ones day after day, week after week. That was all pressure that I was putting on myself of course. Removing that self imposed obligation not only freed up some time that I could put to different use but it also unburdened me from the need I felt to stay “relevant”. Of those 25 games played 10 or more times this year, only 3 are games that have been released this year, and coincidentally they are all games by the same designer, Wolfgang Warsch (That's Pretty Clever!, The Mind and The Quacks of Quedlinburg). In fact I’m not sure that I’ve played any game that was released at Essen this year at all, and not many in total from 2018. Interesting. Most, but far from all, are probably light to medium light titles as well.
Another side effect from this has been that I’m much more content with the state of my collection, and what I can perhaps sell on without any worry in the new year.
In addition to the time saved by not writing, the not constantly chasing a new game hit also gained me additional extra time; I’ve found that I must have spent many hours reading about and researching games that I didn’t own, and then watching playthroughs, listening to gaming podcasts, reading rulebooks, learning to play, teaching others; and all that effort to play a game once, twice, thrice (maybe)? That time has been spent reading generally, I’ve read more books this twelve months than in the past three years combined I think, as well watching lots of quality TV shows and listening to a ton of new music and podcasts about all sorts of things. All in all it’s been a very rounded year, and yet I’ve still played loads of games, around the same number in total that I had in the past, but much more focused on games that I already knew I liked.
I’m not going to preach to you that I’ve found the gaming light and that you should all follow my lead but I would certainly encourage you to do more playing of things you love. I’ve discovered that my ideal gaming comfort zone sits between the SDJ and KSDJ levels and that play in under an hour, with some occasional forays into deeper, longer games when I fancy it. I’ve found my balance if you will, and I certainly intend to carry this experience forward into 2019.
No challenges, no commitments, just playing what I like, when I like.
There is a companion piece to this blog, where I expand a little on each of those 25 games, in a geeklist that you can find HERE - Stu's Stupendous Year...
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Back in the earlier days of this blog youngest son Billy used to make regular appearances, brightening up the posts with his japes and boyish witticisms. As time went by he popped up less frequently as he got busier with more typical teenage things, friends, girls, drums, exams and he didn’t really have the time to play games at home or, often, at games meet ups.
Some of you may have been wondering what he’s up to and how he’s doing.
I’m a little sad to say that the cheeky young boy is no longer really around, but I’m very proud to let you know that he’s been replaced by a confident and charming young man. And this weekend he achieved what has been, thus far, the biggest goal of his life in gaining his black belt in karate.
Billy was four years old when he first said that he was going to be a black belt. He was watching his older brother in a class and copying the moves, determined to start the instant he was old enough. That determination has certainly helped him to scale this challenge. To put it in perspective it’s been training twice a week (at least) for around forty six weeks a year, for the past twelve years. For the past year and a bit, and as part of his black belt criteria, he’s been teaching a few hours a week on top of his own training, helping kids from the age he started himself up to around thirteen with their own skills and learning.
He actually postponed his grading from the summer as he didn’t want to be doing the intensive work at the same time as his exams. For the past couple of months he’s been training around five times a week, plus his teaching responsibilities. There have been pre-grading sessions, written exams, interviews, hour upon hour of work. And then it all came to Saturday when he had to do it all for real. Topped off with a non stop thirty minute “sparring” session.
This “sparring”, for which there is no public viewing whatsoever, and I mean doors to the entire building locked and blocked, all windows covered and all clocks removed, involves fighting between one and three black belts (who do get to tag in and out and catch a breather) at the same time for at least thirty no holds barred minutes. Fail to defend yourself adequately for ten seconds and you’re done, as well as if you ask to stop. All you can do is to survive and fight back. One of the adversaries was a (police)man who’d been his sensei, his teacher, for nine of those years of training. To quote Billy, who is not prone to expletives, the moment I saw him afterwards, drenched in sweat and (some) blood, battered, bruised and exhausted, covered in ice packs; “that was fucking insane!”
And it must have been. The other two who were also grading were in an even worse state. The young lady had an ankle the thickness of her leg and her foot was bleeding quite a bit, she was shattered, but still had a smile. The other lad, a year or two older than Billy, was the colour of beetroot and had a thousand yard stare that didn’t leave him even after the presentation and during the photos. Bill also offered up the appetising factoids that he was sick twice during the fighting (“I swallowed one lot though Dad”) and that he had banged his head rather badly (“Two of them picked me up and threw me into the wall”) but as the honours were handed out it was heartwarming to see the camaraderie, the back slapping, the hugs from all who’d been fighting as they welcomed three new peers into the group. To say Bill was on a high was an understatement. Twenty four hours later, at a celebratory meal out, his bandaged hands and taped fingers were still shaking to the extent that he had to pick up his drink with both hands. I think that there is no way to really understand what he’d been through, only a certain few who’ve actually been there can comprehend.
And, forgive me for my gushingly proud parent status, that’s not all. This past year he has had spectacular GCSE results and he completed his NCS (National Citizenship Scheme) course. This was two weeks of (outdoor) activities and two weeks of volunteering and social action. After the fundraising events at the end were over he was as upset as I’d ever seen him; he said “it’s not right, we didn’t do enough, we didn’t do all that we could have, they needed more”. We pacified our distraught son, assured him that he’d done some good and that it was a learning lesson for life.
Within a week he’d met with the chief of the local mental health charity that he felt he’d let down, and by the end of summer had rebuilt their website, sorted their social media and has now moved on to setting up and chairing a young person’s council for them. He is giving a presentation at a mental health convention in December.
It's been a pleasure having had a board game playing boy, but it’s incredible being the parent of such an active, caring and conscientious young man.
Billy is awesome, and he’s special because he’s mine, but he’s not unique.
There are so many other young people who, in their own way, are just as amazing.
You see, the problem for kids these days, is that many adults have no idea just how much they are capable of.
- [+] Dice rolls
Thanks so, so much everyone for all the kind words here and Shed-wards.
That meant a great deal. Tony is a friend. A friend to many, many people.
That his recent birthday bash drew people from all over the U.K. and beyond says a lot.
It’s good to see him around.
It Beats Watching The TV will return for some one off instalments soon.
Thanks for reading.
- [+] Dice rolls
I’ve had a shit day. I typed a long ranty post getting it (and a whole host of other things) off my chest. And then I read it and realised I sounded like a prat. So I deleted it all, it would’ve done no-one who read it any benefit.
What would do some good is a kind word or two. We all need to hear some during our day. So, and I know he’ll be reading this, why not leave a message in the comments for our favourite banged up blogger.
I’ll start off.
Tony; Your humour, your crassness, your (occasional) wisdom are all much missed. Thanks for all those words, especially the rude ones. Keep being you, whatever you do.
“Free the banned blogger”
Day 9: imagine The Great Escape Theme here
- [+] Dice rolls
I’ve just gotten home from the weekly Games for a Laugh group, something that you haven’t read about for quite some time on this blog. Things have changed a bit, the attendees have changed a bit; several long time gamers no longer come, or only drop in infrequently (I myself have missed more game nights this year than in all the years I’ve been going along). However, there have been quite a number of newcomers as well. Some are sporadic in their showing up, others have quickly gotten into the swing and are around most weeks. All in all, there’s been quite a bit of churn. The group has always been a bit amorphous, with attendance ranging from 8 to 20 usually, but this year has been very variable indeed.
What all this means, practically, is that it isn’t really any longer the place where you can count on getting your latest mid weight euro or your recently fulfilled Kickstarter game to the table. There might be enough regulars who are adept at dropping straight into a 2 hour game with a quick rules bash, but then again they might need to do a little hand holding and teaching with newer members. And these newer gamers certainly aren’t going to be able to recall the rules to that dice mitigation point salad that they played weeks ago for the first and only time, and they’re also not the sort to go researching the faqs here or play throughs on You Tube.
And so, in something that’ll be a theme in my end of gaming year round up is just how many lighter games I’ve been playing. Something clicked, or maybe snapped, with me over a year ago; I was teaching a table to play something chunky, something that I’d spent a few hours learning and setting up and trying myself - it was a head scratcher, good, but hard work - and whilst we all kind of liked it, we didn’t really sense any great enthusiasm to play it again any time soon. So I’d spent 6 or so hours (and about £40) for this “ok” experience. It just didn’t seem like a valuable use of my time, the payoff was not commensurate with the effort. And so I retreated, gaming wise.
This evening I played games with two ladies who are fairly new to gaming (as in, Carcassonne a couple of weeks ago was a first play).
I taught them one of my favourite light games, Splendor. It took a few minutes to teach, half an hour to play and we could all chat whilst we did so. And obviously it went down well because they wanted to play it again straight away (not in 4 weeks time when you next remember to stick it in your bag!). Of course being a simple title they already had a good grasp of the type of tactics needed on a second go and it was a very competitive game, including some “hate reserving” of cards. Great stuff.
And then I taught them (along with a regular, who’d somehow never played it) one of my favourite light games, Azul. It took a few minutes to teach, half an hour to play and we could all chat whilst we did so. And obviously it went down well because they wanted to play it again straight away (not in 4 weeks time when you next remember to stick it in your bag!). Of course being a simple title they already had a good grasp of the type of tactics needed on a second go and it was a very competitive game, including some “hate seeding” of the pool. Great stuff.
The group was called Games for a Laugh for a reason. In this environment light games work, really well, and it’s a real relief to be able to just play them, more than once!
“Free the banned blogger”
Day 8: Remember to light your commemorative Tony candle and pray for his safe return.
- [+] Dice rolls
Yeah, I’m very much out of practice with blogging and as this is the seventh day since I’ve been (voluntarily) standing in for the Shed I feel it is legitimately something of a day of rest. So here’s a lovely little commemorative Agricola card that Ben(Boffo)Bateson made for Tony’s birthday bash.
Why not print it out for yourselves.
“Free the banned blogger”
- [+] Dice rolls