Stuart Burnham(vk1980)United Kingdom
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.
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!?
Archive for Life
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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.
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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.
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I took a trip to see the incarcerated one down at the Bad Gamers Gulag [(c)Don More]
and whilst he’s looking a little underfed and a bit shaky (those wobbles might’ve been because he seemed to be on a liquid diet for the day) he seems to be holding up well. The guards apparently aren’t being too rough and visitors are allowed, as long as they only talk about cardboard related matters and don’t veer from the “everything is awesome, just keep smiling and don’t talk about anything controversial” party line.
Quite natty threads the inmates get to wear as well...
I took along a gift for him, as it is his birthday, one that was a little tricky to source. I mean, what do you get for such an avid gamer and designer who has access to all the gaming goodness that he could desire? I’m sure that many of you reading will feel similarly to me that games these days are skimping on some of the components, and nowhere is this more noticeable than in turn order. Many are even making do with just a simple card or small chit to denote this important and often hard fought over position. So I found a suitably imposing Luxury Start Player Marker that he can use at any table.
And if he doesn’t like it, well, he knows what he can do with it...
There were a great number of games played by me and many others at the 2nd “Gathering of Chums” and a half arsed write up may follow from me in due course but let’s just say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
“Free the banned blogger”
Day 5: Plea bargain, community service, anything, just let him out so I don’t have to keep doing this. I’m properly out of blogging shape!
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There’s a pretty good chance, based on the info that has been published about BGG users, that you are a man. And if you are not a man yourself then I’m pretty sure that you have men in your life that you care about, be it a partner, brother, father, son, friends.
Men are a bit rubbish, generally, about some things. Things like talking about how they feel, and about going to the doctor. My theory is that men don’t have to ever really face up to the realities of their body in the same way that girls/ young women have to and so they can easily ignore things and be shy about talking them.
Not talking to people, be they professionals or friends, is a problem. It can be a problem that grows and can, sadly, lead to men dying at an unnecessarily young age, sometimes due to a medical condition and sometimes by their own hand.
Movember isn’t (just) about raising money, and I’m not asking for any sponsorship. I just want you, when you see my stupid face above, to think about all the preventable deaths of men that didn’t talk to someone about something they thought might be going wrong, be it physically or mentally.
I’ve written on this blog before about troubles I had several years ago with depression. I have written about MrsB having MS and the issues that causes for her, and us, depression being one of those. I didn’t and don’t write these things for personal recognition, I do it because the more people see and hear other people talking about these things the more comfortable they hopefully feel about opening up themselves. A side effect of writing about such things, and talking to my friends about these things, is that the thoughts get out of my head, where they can fester, and into the open, where they can be helped.
If you’re a man, please make sure you talk to someone; and even if you feel there’s nothing wrong with you, talk to your male friends and family and ask them how they are.
And if you’re a woman then please do the same.
(Maybe don’t grow a moustache though ladies!)
“Free the banned blogger”
Day 4: I think he might be being kept in one of those cushy open prisons where he gets whatever he wants and is free to play games and everything. I think I shall go and pay him a visit!
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Well as I’m still here, interimming (smirk), I’ll do a little diary update and force you to sit through some of my photos. There will be a little on a brand new at Essen game at the end though, I promise.
An unexpected treat as my brother came over from his home in France with a pair of tickets to the NFL match between Seattle and Oakland at Wembley. As we hadn’t seen each other for over a year it was great to catch up over a few beers and food at the most excellent German Gymnasium in Kings Cross (sadly not staffed by muscle bound Teutonic types) before heading out to the stadium to watch a “competitive” (seriously, Oakland were dire) game. I was surprised by just how many Americans (especially Seattle natives) had made the trip, and there were also huge numbers of German fans around us as well. Lots of fun conversations between us all enlivened what was a very one sided and pretty flat affair. Plans are afoot to repeat the experience next year.
Eldest son Charlie is now settled into his shared house in Bristol and getting stuck in to student life at University (Journalism, or should that be “Enemy of the People”?) and whilst he’s popped home a couple of times he was feeling a bit homesick so Mrs B, Billy and I, along with his girlfriend Ellie, drove down to spend a weekend with him. It was a brilliant time gently strolling around spotting StreetArt, including a handful of (non-shredded) Banksy pieces.
Last week there was a real treat for Mrs B and me as back in the early days of summer I’d bagged a couple of tickets for a very special one off gig by the superb band Public Service Broadcasting at the iconic Royal Albert Hall on 1st November. It’s very easy to get a bus from Oxford to central London making door to (high up) seat a very agreeable 2 hours. The concert was absolutely fantastic and a triumph for a band that have had a brilliant year, a lot of which has been spent playing live, and that really showed. I had a huge smile on my face all night, as did most around me in the crowd, and the Welsh male voice choir closing the night brought the house down.
This past weekend it was the monthly All Aboard open gaming session at the cafe. I really enjoy these opportunities to play and teach lighter games. At the last couple of events our niece Poppy has been involved (long time readers might remember a post where we took her to a boardgame cafe for a birthday treat) and that’s been fantastic. In the picture below her younger brother Bertie is helping Mrs B sort her dice in the roll & write game Qwantum.
Qwantum is an iteration on stablemates Qwixx and Qwinto but it does something different, and possibly not to most people’s taste, to those games. Looking at the score sheets below players must increase their numbers in the rows up to the break line and then decrease them. The players score the second lowest total in each column. Foul throws are checked on the right and hand out penalties, completing all fields in either area ends the game. The twist here is that the dice feature all four colours but they, and the numbers are not distributed in a standard way. Each colour can produce a maximum roll of 27 (the white die result could improve this to 33) but as the dice are all different you either need to accept a big dollop of luck when re-rolling (for you are allowed to re-roll any and all dice once) or to go through the tedium of checking what values are on what dice.
Personally, I advocate not checking unless it’s right at the end of the game and furthermore not playing this with any people who might want to always be considering what the probabilities are and are prone to keep picking up dice to look. It’s a short, fun, light dice game and dragging it out in an attempt to strategise it will do it nor you any favours. There is absolutely the possibility to get stuck and have a low score (see my sheet above) but that’s a risk you take; the rulebook even points out that totals 15-20 are pretty uncommon, let alone more than that. Going for a big score is very much a high risk/ high reward tactic. That you are scoring your second lowest total in each column should further discourage you from entering any very high rolls anywhere other than immediately before the break line.
There is already, inevitably, some grumbling around the game page and comments about this. Whilst I don’t think this is anything like as good as Qwinto (my favourite) I don’t think that it’s bad/ broken/ undeveloped either. It’s a diverting little roll and write that we are enjoying between the two of us.
Mrs B, naturally, wins all the time. Must be luck though, eh...?
“Free the banned blogger”
Honestly, I can’t be doing this every day again!
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Game boxes come full of promise and colourful boards and wooden pieces and custom dice and plastic miniatures and beautiful cards and lovely punch boards and glossy rule books and helpful player aids and extravagant start player markers and all other sorts of joy. They are a veritable cornucopia of wonderous things. But there’s something that the boxes never contain;
The time to play them.
This isn’t a post to knock on the excitement of the many who are about to acquire loads of the new games but, honestly, when I was perusing the expected Essen releases I wasn’t overly enthused with anything. And I don’t think that is, mainly, down to the titles on offer, it’s just that I can’t magic up the time to get them played*. Not feeling the urge to get hold of, and then to learn and teach and play (multiple times?) the latest games has meant a lot less stress over the state of my collection. I’m not saying I’ve reached some state of boardgamer zen but I’m feeling real good about that.
You know how sometimes you get asked dumb “what if” or “would you rather” questions? (usually either in some corporate situation like an interview or when you’re a drunk teenager) Well, my stock answer to the “three wishes” one has always been ‘an extra hour in my day please’** The luxury of time is in increasingly scare supply it seems, just as the number of ways in which to fill it are growing exponentially.
Boardgames are just one of the options for me, a good one for sure, but that’s it. Although if anyone can find a way to package up an hour or two and stick it in a plastic baggie in the game box then you’ve got my money!
*It’s actually been a spectacular year in terms of games getting played for me, but they are mostly short, and I intend to do a geeklist/ end of year blog post about them all.
**as well as ‘fresh pants and socks every day’ and ‘
peace on earth’
‘be able to fly’.
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Some time last year I started to realise that I was becoming much more
middle agedinterested in history, particularly military history, and that I was also keen to explore games of this ilk. After dabbling with quite a few and, along with my general gaming tastes, discovering that I prefer the lighter playing end of the spectrum, I’ve ended up buying and trading for several different Commands and Colors games. Memoir '44 and the Second World War generally is the period that I am most interested in but, in no small part due to the anniversaries, the First World War is increasingly in my thoughts, my reading, and now my gaming.
The gaming system is simple enough that if you know one game in it then you know 80% of all of the others, but the tweaks in the other 20% really do great things to evoke the period. In The Great War the role of artillery is very prominent, and the protective bonuses from being inside the trenches are far enhanced from defensive positions in other games in the series. But the fact that usually one side is “under time pressure” - meaning that the enemy can gain victory medals from playing recon cards (and eschewing their benefits) - forces them to go on the offensive and into no man’s land.
In the picture above we are at the start of the Somme offensive in 1916, at Hawthorn Ridge, just outside the village of Beaumont Hamel.
At 7:20 a.m. on 1 July 1916, the British fired a huge mine beneath the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt. Sprung ten minutes before zero hour, it was one of 19 Mines on the first day of the Somme and was filmed by Geoffrey Malins*. The attack on the redoubt by part of the 29th Division of VIII Corps was a costly failure. The corps commander had ordered the mine to be fired early to protect the advancing infantry from falling debris but this also gave the Germans time to occupy the rear lip of the mine crater. When British parties crossed no man's land to occupy the crater, they were engaged by German small-arms fire. A few British soldiers reached the crater; at noon they were ejected by a German counter-attack. The success of the German defence of the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt crater contributed to the failure of the British attack on the rest of the VIII Corps front.
*A still from this footage of the mine detonation is below. Look at the foreground for a sense of scale.
In an almost total role-reversal of history the British, greatly aided by an infantry assault card and a combat card (can’t remember the title) that allowed potential extra movement for all ordered infantry (one for each soldier shown on rolling two dice), managed to rush the crater and claim a majority on the hill that they would not cede for the rest of the game (majority on the seven central hexes being worth a start of turn victory point). A detachment also broke off from the hill to clear the front trench on the British right (any British occupancy of a German front trench hex also earn a start of turn victory point). A “Butts & Bayonets” (counter close assault) card on the Germans attempted fight back gained another medal leaving them only one shy of victory after just three turns.
As well as being the beneficiaries of some great fortune with their opening hand the British knew that it was truly to be their day when an all out artillery bombardment from the Germans (boosted by yet another combat card I can’t remember) scattered all around the crater, potentially hitting five British units and yet not a single loss was taken. With a handful of movement cards that only ordered their wiped out left flank the Germans knew the game was up but managed to take down a couple of low strength British units before succumbing to inevitable collapse.
Movement, and swift movement at that, is absolutely key in this game (much as it needed to be to finally break the deadlock on the Western Front in 1918) and assaults must be followed up and consolidated or else the units will be highly vulnerable to counter attack. Crossing no man’s land is highly perilous and should not be attempted without a viable plan for the next couple of turns already sitting on the cards in your hand.
Trying to imagine what is must have been like to hear the whistle that ordered soldiers over the top and to then advance across churned ground that been (often) pounded by artillery, ostensibly to provide cover for infantry advancing across the open, is quite chilling.
I’ve seen some excellent custom scenery and great photography that have really helped to make this game come to life, but this is the best I can manage on a grey afternoon in the living room with the base game only and a couple of minutes with an iPhone and stock filters.
The whole game does appear rather drab on the table, the starkness and grimness being quite evocative actually, but the game does seem to cry out for a bit of painting and modelling, more so than others in the series. Perhaps I will go digging around the old Warhammer paints box and see what I can do to bring a little more life and vibrancy to the tabletop.
There have been previous undertakings to restore colour to old footage but nothing quite as transformative as this incredible piece of work from Peter (LotR) Jackson. When the Imperial War Museum handed hundreds of hours of original footage to him four years ago it was with a speculative “see what you can do”; I heard him say that when he saw the first four minute sample all present in the room were utterly gobsmacked as the people were vividly brought to life as if it were only yesterday rather than 100 years ago. This labour of love and remembrance is further enhanced by all the voiceovers being from veterans themselves, not a modern narrator, and with recordings taken from as soon after the war as possible, to capture them in as youthful a manner as the revitalised film does.
This extraordinary piece is being shown today, 16th October in selected cinemas. It will also be aired on the BBC on Remembrance Sunday.
Play the trailer below; I imagine that I will not be the only one utterly transfixed by it.
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(BGG’s outage yesterday appeared to break this post that was initially published just before the site went down, so let’s try again...!)
A week into September, and with the heat of summer beginning to drain from the land, I sit here pondering over the three (mostly) sweltering months that have passed since I last checked in with you.
It was a summer when football didn’t quite come home, it more swung by like an old lover for a few weeks of fun and then departed again, but with no bitterness or recriminations this time, instead a warm smile and just a slight sadness in the heart. We experienced the climactic week of the tournament whilst on holiday in Devon, during the heatwave where the air was still, the sea shone like glass and there was little need to do anything other than to meander from shaded rooftop garden to beer garden to beach to bed. It was glorious.Holidays. Clockwise from top left; Ilfracombe harbour with Damien Hirst statue, a light snack, the dog going for his morning “walk”, our amazing rooftop garden for the week.
There have been birthdays and there have been parties. There have been weddings and there have been many glasses raised. There have been exams and there have apprehensive waits for results. There has been fun and there has been laughter. There have been friends and there has always been family. There have been growings up and there will soon be movings out. There have been proud parents and there have been special sons.
There has been much time together and yet there will always be too little time together.Wedding! Clockwise from top left; niece Poppy recommending some excellent local produce, Mrs B and her sisters Claire and Gilly, Charlie and partner Ellie, Mrs B and a half drunk fool.
There have been games.
Quite a lot of games in fact. And not many of them have been new either. Which is kind of interesting. I’m finding that I’m really enjoying playing games again. And again. Freed from my earlier desires to graze far and wide on cardboard I’m rediscovering the joy that come from repeating experiences. And then there is further joy when those experiences are, sometimes slightly, sometimes markedly, different from before.Games! Clockwise from top left; The Castles of Burgundy, Viticulture withTuscany, Pandemic with In the Lab, Pandemic: The Cure with Experimental Meds
Something which I have written about earlier this year has been how I’ve been selling games and using (some of) those funds to purchase expansions for games we enjoy. This has certainly aided the number of plays and the enthusiasm we have for these evergreen titles. Viticulture is enormously improved by the Tuscany expansion. What was a very simple worker placement game with a frustrating narrowing of useful actions to take as the game progressed now blossoms into a wider, more satisfying and asymmetrical (via the structures cards) decision space. I genuinely see no reason to ever play this without all parts of the expansion in the future. We’ve long since owned Pandemic and the On The Brink expansion but a reasonably priced copy of In The Lab came my way and boy, oh boy does this change the way you play the game. It’s not essential but it is an excellent alternative, giving you a new laboratory board to place and move cubes about on. Finding a cure for each disease is now a multi step process that takes extra actions and places greater demands on your teamwork and decision making. Superb.
Experimental Meds, and in particular the new roles, makes Pandemic the Cure a good deal more fun for us, and the mutation dice add an extra layer of enjoyable frustration. The Hot Zone dice less so, more like a couple of layers of frustration without the enjoyment. It’s far from bad, it’s just that Pandemic, to our minds, has always kept the fun and the challenge in balance, but these dice tip the scales a little too far into the challenge side for our tastes.
The Castles of Burgundy was something of a bolt from the blue as Mrs B, long ambivalent towards its charms, suggested we play it some more. And even more surprisingly she seems to have warmed to the dice and the chits. Must have been the weather.Game! Clockwise from top left; A Feast for Odin, A Feast for Odin, A Feast for Odin, A Feast for Odin
The table hogging buffet Feast (for Odin) made a reappearance after a year away and I left it set up for a few days, partly due to laziness and partly to aid some exploration of the underpinning of the game mechanisms by the solo challenges (available around these parts if you look). Much like a big summer barbecue there’s a initially bewildering amount of options and the whole thing looks like a mess of flavours that don’t really go together. The entire smorgasbord is actually much more subtle and interconnected than it appears after a just a few plays. Once you have grasped that there are actually only a few ways to score (big) points but all of them come with an (increasing) amount of risk/ reward you begin to understand the engine building that is required. Early on you find that your boards and raids spit out not quite as helpful as you’d wish Tetris pieces but there is an enormous amount of customisation that can undertaken by a player. This game is actually a reigning in of Uwe’s sandbox experiment rather than the apogee of it that it initially appears to the casual eye. I’m now very curious to see what the Norwegians expansion brings to the heaving table.
I’d not travelled back out to Mars for a similar amount of time, but a serendipitous alignment of celestial proportions across three gaming events with different groups across the space of a single week meant an equivalent number of plays. Each of them was an utter joy with different and unexpected paths taken by me, but remarkably all ending up with victory. I was especially proud of the one where I managed to claim all three milestones despite me pointing out to the table that they really should be trying to stop me doing so. They all regretted concentrating so much on making their card engines purr that they let me claim large clumps of the map. A supremely satisfying game is further improved by adding in the (arguably should’ve been included in the base game) Prelude cards. Giving players more opportunity to set up, jump start and fine tune their corporations not only makes for more differentiation and fun but very welcomely lops a half hour off of the play time.
Whilst Nusfjord certainly doesn’t qualify as “new” around these pages it most assuredly is to me. This is quite evidently not part of Uwe’s sandbox experiment, instead coming off like a melding of Agricola All Creatures Big & Small (the amount of worker placement options) with the abilities (immediate, ongoing and endgame) of Glass Road’s building tiles. The three entwined game currencies of wood, fish and gold intersect pleasingly and create obvious bottlenecks that players will fight for position over, with certain buildings (especially the C deck ones that are kept hidden for a while) allowing unexpected legs up and leapfrogs to occur. The game has a very satisfying feel in a pretty short space of time. I love it, and have already played it ten times is less than a week (several of them solo admittedly). Mrs B is, unfortunately, a bit of a cold fish on it after her only play. But she’ll warm I am sure, Glass Road had a similar effect at the outset. I think it’s an excellent game and one I also think may become a regular at games night simply down to the agreeable play time.
*my dour demeanour due to having a bad knee, having driven Charlie to Bristol and back the day before to sort his accommodation for University, having shelled out a large sum of money for said living quarters, then taken him that day to Oxford to buy him new clothes for the wedding pictured above. So, to cheer myself up...., I walked in a sulk across the city centre and bought a new game, this further punishing both my knee and my wallet.Nusfjord - I was very pleased with this score at the time. I have slightly bettered it since. Not broken 40 as of yet though.
And so as the nights begin to noticeably draw in, and the shades of the season turn towards the browns, the navies, the bottle greens, the ones that suit me in short; I find myself looking forward with no little amount of apprehension and a slight shiver at the changes soon to come but still with the warm glow of the great summer that was. I hope that you too are well, and I shan’t leave it quite so long to check in with you again.
- [+] Dice rolls