Stuart Burnham(vk1980)United Kingdom
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.
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 General Gaming
- [+] 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...
- [+] 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
Large group gaming days are the ideal situation in which to try out games that are longer and/ or more challenging than the sort of things that you usually play. Ahead of the weekend’s Gathering of Chums(2) there had been much chatter on the dedicated Facebook group about various incarnations of the 18XX system that could be played in this company. I’ve never played anything remotely as deep or heavy but, as I said, these are the ideal occasions on which one can get out of one’s comfort zone and stretch the gaming muscles.
And so it came to pass that an unofficial Botswana bout was convened that afternoon. Unofficial in that no title was on the line but this was contested under full tournament rules and no quarter was asked nor given. Now I’ve played Loco several times and whilst Botswana (Wildlife Safari) is ostensibly same game it is quite objectively not the same game.
A full table of five, following normal convention random seating order and starting player (a strong advantage) applied. I found myself stuck between veteran big game hunters Boydell and (former) Regional Champion Green (widely credited with developing and then exploiting the “double lion” opening). I wasn’t expecting much of a rough ride from the other seats but there was a real danger that I would be safari spit roasted between these particular two.
A wild opening round saw scores in the teens and low twenties and I, as anticipated, at the back of the pack after my naive initial moves of Lion(!), Zebra(?!), Rhino(??) were ruthlessly exploited leaving me facing something of a Kilimanjaro. I hope I’m not overstating the basics and insulting your intelligence here but it has been definitively proven that, in a 5 player game, Zebra/Rhino (after an opening carnivore) is weak almost to the point of conceding.
Rhinos have an inherent vulnerability to an early 5 being played because, as Matt eloquently articulates, “fuck Rhinos eh?”
Zebras are notoriously weak, which Knizia had tried to address with the controversial Giraffe expansion that inadvertently led to the neutering of the double Leopard play and only further enhanced the situational strength of Elephants. Whilst this can be countered somewhat by further adding the unofficial Crocodile, Hyena and Gazelle promos this introduces too much chaos into such a high strategy game, and this messing around caused huge divisions in the professional ranks and, ultimately, the formation of the breakaway Rebel Bush League. I apologise for bringing the traumatic schism back up and repeating such elementary (and upsetting) information here, but there are always the occasional late comers to this most esteemed of games on BGG.
An obscene second round triple Lion (hey, I was desperate) saw me claw a few points back on the leaders, but as the scores were all in single figures (the classic Rhino rush ending the round early) it wasn’t going to be enough if things continued in conventional manner. In rounds three and four there was a fair amount of the “Noah” (2x2) tactic being deployed which is useful for consolidating a position but won’t allow you to overhaul one. I went for an unorthodox double Elephant (?!), a risky opening; as they say, “never double Elephant yourself into a situation that you aren’t prepared to Zebra yourself back out of” (a Pachyderm Pirouette) followed up by Leopard(!?) Lion(!) which is strong against the Noah but will come unstuck against any type of diverse herd. When you’re risking falling to anyone, even someone who’s been mad enough to go Zebra, you need the cards to fall just right and it was my good fortune that they did.
Round four saw me making my move, something which has had a cult following since it was first employed by Barnstaple in what was dubbed “The Cairo Classic”. This requires an opening Rhino(?), which is usually a transparent feint, and to then back it up with a second turn predator (Lion is traditional, although obvious) but, and here is where the mind-messing begins, this is the actual feint. In turn three you go back to Rhino(?!) (as long as you are confident that you not triggering the rush) and then go Elephant(!) Zebra((?!)but situationally(!!)) to leave the predators perplexed. Traditionalists may tut to themselves about this but they need to accept that the game has moved on and you can’t just sit back and wait for an opponent’s mistake to provide an opening, you have to counter press these days.
Going into the final round I was now a couple of points ahead of Green and whilst I was starting player he, to my right, would have the opportunity end the round and screw me over if I wasn’t careful, and the others complied. I was faced with a dilemma. Nobody has ever lost lost a round of Botswana with an opening Elephant but they haven’t won very many either, and I didn’t need to win, I just needed to maintain the 2 point gap. I considered my options but ultimately found my big boy khakis and went for “go big cat or go home” - I’d come this far and I wasn’t about to die wondering.
Lion(!) Leopard(?!) Leopard(!?) Lion(!!) ended the round with a bang and Green might as well have been holding an entire herd of Zebras for all the good that anything else could do in the face of doubled apex predators. A grandstand finish that caused even the 18XX players on the next table to marvel at the audacity of it.
This was a titanic contest at one of the ultimate tests of strategic gaming that, whilst it does not confer me with any official title, will leave me glowing as if I had been out on the savannah for real. Knizia has, I think, never bettered this design (often feted as his most thematic) that packs all of the decisions of a high level economic and share divesting game with the cutthroat Dominant Species-esque turns and the Twilight Struggle dynamic card play.
To play it is a demanding test of any gamer and it is certainly true that you’ll never be quite the same afterwards.
The definitive “minute to learn, lifetime to master” game.
Major props to Mr Green, (with an honorary mention to Master Bateson), in whose Botswana footsteps I have attempted to follow.
“Free the banned blogger”
Day 6: Jesus wept, this is long enough now isn’t it?
- [+] Dice rolls
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!
- [+] Dice rolls
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’.
- [+] Dice rolls
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.
- [+] Dice rolls
I’m not really one for “pimping” games out with upgraded components and such, it’s much more about how the game actually plays for me, first, foremost, and lastmost for that matter as well. But when it comes to improving the practicality of playing? Now that’s a different matter.
A little while ago I posted about having made a little dice tray for our collection of Roll & Write games; Well, I also spent an entire evening laminating a set of score sheets for all of them and I also purchased a few drywipe markers to go with them. Much better, and much more practical.
There have also been purchases of many different sized sleeves to make certain games easier to handle (as well as protect cards that get a lot of shuffling and/ or are black bordered). I even bought a load of coin capsules to put all the Orléans character chits into, which as well as protecting them (some of the starting pieces are beginning to look a little worn) makes them much easier for Mrs B to handle with her funny fingers.
And then there’s the,*ahem*, bondage tape.
I admit that it’s not something I’d ever thought I’d be looking into for my boardgames but rubber banding cards, including sleeved ones, does tend to leave some indentation. And then there are some boxes, especially small card game ones (and I have a lot of them) that just won’t stay bloody closed. Now you can go and buy Hugo’s Amazing Tape at the cost of about £20-£25 per roll but that’s a bit steep. And so when investigating alternatives I happened upon a recommendation for using bondage tape instead, as it’s exactly the same stuff, and it costs about £3-£5 a roll. And it’s good for actual bondage as well, so I am told *coughs*! The tape just sticks to itself and doesn’t seem to leave any marks or residue (I’m talking about on the cards and boxes!) and I’d highly recommend it. Although you may find your automatic recommendations on Amazon start looking a little fruitier...!
I’m finding it interesting to go back over what I’ve been playing every few months and write a longish post about them generally and hope to continue that throughout this year. I’ve not really expanded my horizons into many new areas of gaming at all actually. It’s been more a case of rediscovering games that I’d previously enjoyed but hadn’t got to play enough due to the constant need, the pressure (put upon myself) to be playing and writing about different things. And it’s a total liberation to be honest.
Playing through the Memoir '44: Mediterranean Theater with Charlie has been great fun with lots of tank battles and quick and brutal resolutions. Rediscovering Terraforming Mars after a year of “rest” has also been fun. A solo game to refamiliarise myself with the rules enticed Mrs B into playing a couple of games with me and, despite her previous insistence that it wouldn’t be her kind of thing she enjoyed the escalating card combination play and had fun. The game is a delight.
One of the few “new to me” games that I can say I’ve played and enjoyed was Nusfjord (with Tony Boydell, naturally, the official Norwegian Fishing Industry cheerleader*) The game is excellent, with good decisions and escalation and tightness of actions and opportunities. I’ve thought about buying it on a few occasions and nearly did so a couple of weeks ago when it was in my hands in my FLGS. The reason that I didn’t ultimately was that we have Glass Road and love that, and this falls into the same niche (although I love the card role selecting/ piggybacking mechanism in GR) and I really don’t play that enough as it is. Mrs B is also a bit reluctant to keep learning new games (unless they are small and easy to pick up) and there’s such an abundance of games available in my regular games group that I don’t see the need to add something else to it for an occasional play only. But it is very good.
*imagine him, shirtless, dancing with fish in hand instead of pom-poms, and that’s what it’s like when he’s demanding that you play this game.
Where our gaming horizons have expanded however has been with, er, expansions. So I’ve been investing/ sinking my gaming money into titles that we already own and enjoy. Expansions for Orléans, The Voyages of Marco Polo, Troyes, Pandemic: The Cure, Roll for the Galaxy...all of these add ons can seem a little overpriced but they are the way our gaming (collection) has grown this year. In some cases I’ve sold titles that we don’t play to buy expansions for games that we do, and I used money that was given as gifts “to get a game” for my birthday to purchase the more egregiously priced ones (Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition, Pandemic: The Cure – Experimental Meds). I’ve also hoovered up (finally) all of the Memoir '44 expansions (outside of the really stupidly priced rare ones) and have months, years of play of it to look forward to. It was one of our first games when we got into the hobby and it’s marvellous to be going deeper and deeper into it.
And it’s all been money well spent in my estimation. It’s breathed new life into our games and we’re really having fun rediscovering why we liked these games in the first place. Troyes is an absolute delight at any player count and having all the extra event cards from Troyes: The Ladies of Troyes gives so many potential ways to alter the game each time you play that it’s always a new challenge. In fact as well as expansions being the theme of the year it would appear that dice games in general are making up the bulk of our gaming.
Roll for the Galaxy is vastly improved in much a similar fashion with it’s expansion, with the pile of new home worlds and starting tiles making for huge variety in play. The new dice are nice and give more interesting tactical choices to make but it’s the different directions that you are encouraged to explore with those starting tiles that really makes it for me.
Pandemic: The Cure has always been one of Mrs B’s favourites and the expansion offers a great new challenge (multiple challenges specifically!) and even more roles than were included in the base game. It’s fantastic. It’s very pricey for what it is, but if you love the game like we do then it’s probably money well spent. A stressful joy to play every time!
My gaming so far this year has been very much lighter than in last years, in terms of the types of games I’ve been playing (I wrote about this a couple of months ago and this quarter is continuing in similar fashion). What’s funny to me is that in the past I’d tried to commit to a 10x10 challenge and failed each time, whereas this year I’m going to easily do it and then some without ever having thought about it, let alone committed to it. I’ve just played whatever I’ve felt like playing. I’ve found that expanding my gaming horizons into competive online games has also helped with things like Race for the Galaxy easily racking up half a dozen games at a time of a quiet evening. That's Pretty Clever (oh, who wrote about that before it got its KSDJ nomination eh? Hmmmmm? Hmmmm...?) is also always being played on Brettspielwelt, and there’s a fantastic and addictive solo frame up there as well, which is perfect for a toilet trip (put that on the box cover!) Doing something like that is a smart move from a publisher I think and is really helping people to be able to discover a game that has popped onto the gaming scene at the apogee of the Roll and Write zeitgeist. I think it may well win the award which has tended to go to the lightest of the games on that particular list. That’d be a pretty impressive 1-2 for the designer as The Mind is surely going to pick up the big red SDJ popple and delight families and set lots of miserable teeth gnashing “proper” gamers into a fit of keyboard pounding rage!
And speaking of impressive (dusts shoulders) here’s my current best score in the solo mode of GSC.
Thanks for reading and go forth and expand your gaming horizons. And buy some bondage tape as well!
- [+] Dice rolls
(This one’s for Tony...)
Whilst perusing the shelves of a Basingstoke game store recently Mrs B (she was with me as we were having “a night away” - not in Basingstoke I hasten to add, but I’d taken a cunning detour that just happened to pass by this establishment...) was quite enamoured with the box of Riverboat; she loves Klemens Franz’s artwork even more than I do and something about the jaunty stance and big smiles of the characters depicted in the scene had her smitten.
I didn’t buy it though.
A few weeks later whilst perusing the shelves of a games addict’s study I spotted a copy and mentioned that Mrs B had shown a healthy interest in this one, whereupon it was thrust into my hands and I was sent on my way with it to borrow on the promise that I wrote a bit about it sometime.
“What do you mean it’s bloody vegetable farming!” exclaimed an exasperated Mrs B as I unpacked the tiles and explained how to play, “I thought this was going to be sailing down the Mississippi with endearing rogues and fancy ladies or something. I don’t suppose there’s any vampires* either?”
(*This is a George R R Martin reference, about his pre Game of Thrones novel, Fevre Dream, that she enjoyed.)
Yeah, it’s a bit of an odd choice of setting for this particular game, I’ll grant.
The game is indeed all about acquiring hexes with vegetables on, planting them and then later harvesting them to get, erm, boats(?) to get you bonus abilities and possibly points. You’ll also need to get hold of some appropriate cards to score handsomely from, some green meeples to allow that to occur, and also manage to send some of your workforce off down the river (with the vegetables perhaps?) to Norwlins for some endgame majority score shenanigans.
The game is of fixed length, four rounds with five phases in each. At the start of each round players select the phase tiles to determine player order in those phases (with the owner of the tile being first and getting a small but important bonus). They are, essentially, 1) place workers in your fields according to card draws from a communal deck, 2) draft single/double/triple hex pieces to place under your workers, 3) pull off your workers (Mrs B delighted in being rude here) to get two boats equal to the number of workers removed, 4) draft a single scoring card, 5) scoring, for some in-game points and up to two scoring cards and/ or features.
Riverboat is an interesting puzzle and there is quite a bit of fun in trying to navigate the restrictions that the game puts on you, but ultimately we were both left a bit nonplussed by it. There is enjoyment (and I can see that it would be more interesting with three or four players) but there was also frustration and a bit of disappointment for us. As you can only acquire four scoring cards in total, and as you are restricted in both being able to actually score them and the timing of when you score them (so you need to balance having the green workers available, and they are very limited plus you can only score two things each round (three in the final round)) you have to really agonise over scoring now for, say, 8 points or potentially 15 later, but then risk having a worker you can’t use to score or perhaps a choice between only scoring two cards instead of three.
That reads a little convoluted but it’s an accurate representation of what goes through your mind during play and is, probably, the best part.
There were plenty of annoying niggles for us though.
It gave me the impression of a game that was finished off in a hurry to make its Essen release. There are some inelegant touches that, to me, seemed out of place in a game by such a good designer (Kiesling) and a respected publisher (Lookout/ Mayfair). Firstly there’s the fiddling about with marking your fields with workers in one round and then having to lift them up and place tiles under them in the next. Things like that are annoying enough in themselves but with Mrs B’s hands being as they are it was an extra level of unnecessary fiddling that was not appreciated. Having to have piles of hexes and boats that need to be sorted and refilled each round was also unwelcome from our perspective. Then we have the player boards. All the fields are shades of yellows and browns and greys, which might make sense in terms of an approximation of soils but it is a bugger to say “the lightish brownish one” when the card is revealed from the deck (you do this 8 times per round). The publisher knows this and has put symbols on the cards and the fields (diamonds, spades, stars etc) and this is what you end up calling out. Why not just have actual distinct colours, it’s not like they’re in short supply after all, we were left wondering? .
Then there are the details. Zoom into the player board picture and look at that awkward space on the jetty track as you round the corner with your large yellow dobber - was I on space 6 or 7? Whilst you’re there take a look at how the boat tiles you acquire don’t line up nicely. Now look at the main picture where the offer board has the 1/2/3 size hex crop pieces and see how it’s an unintuitive arrangement of those pieces when you’re looking across the table at what’s available as the singles wrap around and split. In the bottom left there’s a double hex of wheat and pumpkin and next to it a single hex of each- from across the table you might easily think that there are 2 doubles or 4 singles. All of these, and a couple of other bits (such as scoring reminders being scattered over player/communal boards and the round tiles) are just not what I normally expect and experience with this publisher.
Finally there are the two biggest annoyances for me personally. During the game the players can acquire coins which are worth some end game points but are very powerful ingame as they can be used to break the rules during each phase. No corn hex tile that you need to link those areas on your board? Pay a coin and dig through the ones not in the game and get the exact one you want. Been left with a bad or no choice of scoring card in that phase? Pay a coin and go through the deck to get the exact one that you want. Someone taken the boat tile that you were needing for a particular bonus. Never mind, pay a coin and get the....do I need to go on?
That smacks of the game being too potentially mean if players choose to be/ swingy if the perfect card or hex comes up (or doesn’t) for a player and instead of having to diversify and mitigate and deal with it a player can always just pay a single coin to get whatever they want. I strongly disliked that.
And, petty as it seems, the game has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with its setting and it could have, and should have, been something else entirely (maybe that’s where, *cough*cough*, the similar and from another publisher Heaven & Ale comes in?)
All in all it’s not an ostensibly bad game. There is enjoyment to be had. But it all feels a little unrefined to me and not what I expected from such a pairing of designer and publisher. This game will cost you around £45 in the UK. I dare say that there are much better games to be had for that money.—————————————————————————————————————————————
So disappointed was Mrs B with our Riverboat play that she was moved to suggest another game from the same publisher that does actually feature boats (and incorporates them thematically and mechanically), Murano. Maybe I’ve been harsh on Riverboat and that could be because we’re less inclined to seek out brand new titles these days, preferring the comfort of the familiar instead of the thrill of the new. This game does compare favourably though. It also features cards that you must get hold of and meet criteria to score and has the tension of being able to actually score them and the delicious potential of other players being able to (unwittingly) scupper your ability to do so. It’s also, in our opinion, better looking, better playing, and in a similar amount of time. It might be a better game overall or that might just be our feelings because we’ve had this for a few years. Is it a better game or even a “good” game? I don’t know, but we like it and are always happy to play it. I dare say you could get a copy for a darn sight less than £45 if you look around as well...
- [+] Dice rolls