Every Man Needs A Shed

Life and Games (but mostly games) from Tony Boydell: Dad, Husband and Independent UK Game Designer, Agricola fanboy and jealous admirer of Carl Chudyk. www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk

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The Junk In My Trunk

Anthony Boydell
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Father, forgive me for I have sinned; it has been - ooh - less than a week since my last confession.

Arthur and I made the best use of a bright Sunday by attending our last Ledbury Car Boot of the Season. It seems most of Herefordshire had heeded the 'good weather' call and were out in buying and selling force: the square field being top-to-bottom lined with decanted vans and estate cars.

Happily, there were a lot more of the antique-y tables; you know, the ones with such a wide range of items that you imagine a relative has recently passed and they've just swept the house contents in to a Luton Van?

Well, Arthur was best pleased with his Enormous Bag Of Lego for £30 (haggled down from £40); while his old Papa was well-content with own haul:


Perudo, Woolies-sourced 1970s sci-fi annual, in-shrink Bohnanza, a beautiful red Corgi Aston Martin DB4, some card games, some 1970s Top Trumps and a train biscuit tin!


After gathering this next bit of kit (see below), neither of us had any arms free and - with at least half a dozen lines of tat un-scanned - we returned to the car and came home:



There are 32 of them.
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Mon Sep 9, 2019 6:20 am
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Oh, Matron!

Anthony Boydell
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While the weather is still clement, journeys home from work on a Thursday PM continue to feature a brief shop-wandering stop-off and this week it was the town of Lydney that was graced with my tat-browsing presence.

Lydney has a proud history of industry what with being a major river-side train stop, proximal to the now disappeared Severn Railway Bridge, possessing of Docks and coal/iron arteries in to the Forest of Dean. All that, of course, is now gone leaving it a grumbling, litter-strewn home for hairdressers, nail bars and takeaways. Indeed, my entry to the AGE UK shop was heralded with the loud moans of an elderly lady who asked "Why do I get up in the morning? What's the bloody point?" in response to "What do you think of the new Turkish Barbers?". Honestly, missus; take a bloody chill pill; having a coronary about a male grooming sub-let is hardly worth it! She must've been in one of those moods, however, as no matter the placatory bon mots from the kindly PoS (point of sale) Volunteer, she disagreed with every retort: so much so that I believe she both agreed strongly and disagreed vehemently with her own position. Ah, but I digress; what you really want to know is what I found!

And here it is:


What could possibly be ailing this patient?
His foot is in plaster, so it could only be:
Pancreatic Failure or a Brain Tumour, surely?


Languishing in a top-shelf, dusty corner of a rather scruffy outlet - no sorting, just thrown - this 1970s throwback waved to me and - for the price of pocket shrapnel (a quid) - it was soon mine. I expected it to be missing a few pieces and well-loved but was happy to have it as a wall adornment in my future museum; imagine my Joy, then, when peeling away the dry and crumbling period-authentic sellotape I found it used...but absolutely complete:



You slot an holey illness card in to the 3D bed piece and use the thermometer to Yes/No at various body parts; check the answers off your clipboard and boil the options down to one illness before everyone else. Genius!


The wonderful inventiveness of the 'illness cards' (right)!


All the player markers were present and intact; even the X-Ray machine's red plastic sheet - if crumpled - was there:



I will take this to the Ross-on-Wye club tonight and push my luck in getting it played. I mean why not? This is exactly the kind of thing that wiled away a rainy Saturday afternoon when I was barely in to double-figures.

Postscript: And, yes, I was tempted to make reference to the 1980s shite-haired, blandness-personified popsters "The Thompson Twins" but they're so rubbish I just couldn't be arsed.
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Fri Sep 6, 2019 8:45 am
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Out With The New And In With The Old

Anthony Boydell
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It's a bit pathetic, really: spending so much time in charity shops, plodding the fields at car boot sales and scouring t'Internet for old stuff. I take an enormous amount of pleasure in 'the looking' and, should I discover something unusual, in the receiving! I suppose it's still better than propping up a bar every Friday and Saturday night and pissing the money away in to an acrid, yellow lake of cigarette butts, chewing gum and horrible 'foam'?!

This time, with a lump sum injected in to the Paypal bucket, I took great care in also purchasing things for others too eg. a pair of tickets to see Martin Kemp (Spandau Ballet) DJ-ing 1980s hits in Bristol (Mrs B) and another Jo March print (Mrs B & me). But, to be honest, most of the booty was for me and me alone: the copies of Res Arcana and a 1960s edition of Diplomacy have been stowed for birthday/Christmas allocation; a 1st edition/2nd impression of Blish's A Case of Conscience relaxes on the bookshelf...

...and, then, there is this little lot:



Main Line (top-right) is a bit battered but complete: the cards printed with a variety of single, double and 'main' lines, junctions and Terminae. It's an empty-your-hand tile-laying game and curiously-gamey for the 1930s: there's neither a dice nor a teetotem in sight.

Seen At A Railway Station is a quizzy/riddle thing; each card gives a (not particularly) cryptic clue to something you'd find in a 1950s railway station...can you work out the correct answer for the card shown?

The Orient Line is just a deck of regular playing cards in a nice slip-box and with bright, lustrous silver card-edging.

There and Back Again is a word game swaddled in a railway theme: you're dealt a hand of cards with station names on and must follow with a name that begins with one or more 'end' letters of the last card in the line eg. HenDON -> DONcaster; eventually you may either run out of cards (and get points) OR play a card that loops to the first card played eg. CarmartHEN -> HENdon. Oddly, for a game of this time, the designer's name is explicity - and clearly - printed on the front of the rule booklet!



Mr Bush has a second entry in the BGG database for a Pirate-themed two-hander called Kwest: A Game of the Sea - and that looks pretty ahead-of-its-time too! No copies currently for sale, however

So far, so compact; now, though, to some larger items:


The Game of Goose...but en francais.



A pretty print of a train in a railway station.


And the piece of resistance - in my quest to get a train set (from any era):



I've gathered some other Hornby bits-and-pieces over the last few years so - with Arthur's help - I think it's time to set it up somewhere and see exactly how much ferroequinological fun we can have!

A demain.
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Wed Sep 4, 2019 6:20 am
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Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Anthony Boydell
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Another day, another charity shop: this time in my old home town of Monmouth while waiting to nip to the Bateson's for some Foothills play-testing:


Such cheerful art!



The woes of little old lady volunteers and a roll of friggin' sellotape, eh? Every. Bloody. Time!









There are two copies of these so this may be a 'put two together and make one good one' scenario.



Just look at the pristine insert!
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Thu Aug 15, 2019 6:40 am
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Auto-Pilot

Anthony Boydell
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I think that, after all of this time, my peripheral vision has muscled up and is incredibly sensitive to unusual game and/or book-related things. No matter how well-obscured, the "Hey! what's' that?!" TCP/IP* packet transmits along the optic nerve and I'm nose-up-against-the-glass / shovelling-material-out-of-the-way before you can say "Just because it is old doesn't mean it is valuable!" (a common complaint with some more high-brow charity shops).

This morning, after depositing a parcel at the Post Office and walking back through our bright town, the alert was triggered by a plain, green box:





I expected this to be a calculator-like, electronic slab - all the rage in the late 1970s/early 1980s when Tomorrow's World was here Today - but, lawks, 'tis analogue:









So, it seems to be a fascinating, 40 year old 'automa'?! Unfortunately, I don't know the first thing about Bridge so I bought it...and then handed it over to card expert Boffo for an explanation / evaluation! Unless, of course, anyone here can beat him to the punch?


*"Tat Collection Protocol/Interesting Piece"
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Mon Aug 5, 2019 6:50 am
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1982

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In the late 1970s, British youth culture had briefly dabbled with Punk but very quickly settled in to a 1980s of New Wave and the dressing-up/androgenous New Romantics before mainstream 'Pop' and MTV conquered all.

Cinema was dead (I smoked my first cigarette in the Ross-on-Wye 'Roxy' watching a Porky's double-bill; rain was dripping through the ceiling and there were only five of us in the place). TV was King. Video players - some with the ability to 'record off of the telly' (gasp!) - appeared in Electronics retailers for 'rent' (not many could afford the £500+ starting prices).

Computers and Video Games exploded (figuratively) in to our shopping centres and supermarket foyers; consoles bleeped in the sitting rooms of our well-to-do friends. Some exploded 'actually'; like my mate Paddy's first generation ZX Spectrum that melted in one corner because he'd been playing on it for 18 hours straight! And because computers and video games required a certain nerdy skill set to 'manage', we geeks became a target market: magazines dedicated to re-typing code listings, movies (Tron, Wargames) and our own icons (Apple Corp, Manic Miner and Infocom).

Computing was the perfect industry for (let's face it, mostly) schoolboys who were already spending long hours in their bedrooms reading fantasy novels and masturbating (often at the same time); the 'crusty sock' given grateful respite by the flickering TV screen and the wailing software loader. Now that we were an acknowledged source of pocket money, those other hobbies - not so much in the masturbation arena as the Internet would sort out that revolution soon enough - began getting some attention from the Corporations.



Ah, Dungeons & Dragons! Did any of us escape its gnarled, leathery claws? A book about our private obsession in the 'big shops' absolutely made it 100% cool and authoritative! Of course, if one was willing to wade through four 64-page volumes of stat tables and poor line art, this paperback would be but a pre-supper digestive: take my money, WH Smiths/John Menzies and - while you're at it - slap this month's Knave in there too!

It's not a bad read, actually; it's neither patronizing nor densely jargonized. There is an enthusiasm that peeps through the long sections of blank text and I particularly enjoyed the 'Board Games That Are A Bit Like D&D' chapter at the end (Sorcerer's Cave, Mystic Wood and Dune get a mench). What jars (and amuses) is the big fuss made of it being authored by three Eton 'posh boys'. It's an odd marketing tack to adopt but, I suppose, at the time it added verisimilitude on account of them being 'better' than the rest of us: richer, more handsome, girls liked them etc.

I didn't play D&D until I went to Polytechnic four years later but that didn't stop me getting White Dwarf every month, the Red and Blue boxed sets and all of the whiffy-inked hardback tomes. I could roll a mean character sheet and had dutifully 'crayoned' my polyhedral dice. It never got me a girlfriend, though; that was down to Wham! and my fleeting lookalikeness to Andrew Ridgely for about a week in 1985...but that's another story for another time.

Have a lovely afternoon, won't you?
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Sat Jun 22, 2019 8:56 am
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I'm Gonna Play Forever

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In New York City, a group of teenagers audition to study at the High School of Toy and Gaming Arts, where they are sorted into three different departments: Designer, Art, and Manufacturing.

Accepted in the Designer department are Montgomery Phantasy-Flite, a closeted Ameritrasher; Doris Funkenschlag, a shy former RPG-er; and Ralph Catan, who succeeds after failed auditions for Art and Manufacturing.

In the Art department, Bruno Hanabi is an aspiring 3D digital modeller whose electronic equipment horrifies Mr. Sherriffofnottinghamski, a conservative art teacher.

Lisa Monopoly is accepted in the Manufacturing department, despite having no interest in the subject. Rococo Hernandez is accepted in all three departments because of her all-around talent. Keyroy Johnson goes to the school, performing as part of a Manufacturing seminar for an auditioning friend, but the teachers are more impressed by his talents than his friend's.

Freshman year
The students learn during their first day of classes that academics are weighed equally with prototyping/playtesting. In the lunchroom, Doris becomes overwhelmed by the energy and spontaneity of the other students ("Hot List Jam"). She befriends Montgomery, but worries that she is too ordinary against the colorful personalities of the other students.

As the year progresses, Rococo tries to convince Bruno to book convention pitches and publisher mailshots with her. Keyroy clashes with his Project Management teacher Mrs. Panda over his refusal to do GANTT charts and fully-costed plans. It is later revealed that he is computer-illiterate.

Bruno and his father argue over Bruno's reluctance to ‘test’ his artwork on social media.

Miss Berg, the school's Dance teacher, warns Lisa that she is not working hard enough.

Michael, a graduating senior, wins the Hippodice Award and tells Doris that Tasty Minstrel Games, Z-Man and AEG are all offering a publishing deal.

Sophomore year
A new student, Hilary van Gamesalute, joins the school's Manufacturing department and becomes romantically involved with Keyroy.

Bruno and Mr. Sherrifofnottinghamski debate the merits of traditional paint media versus tablets and InDesign. Bruno's father shows 3D prints of his component templates at the Salute! Convention ("Game"), inspiring the student body to set up their prototypes and marketing plans on the same tables.

As a Design exercise, the students are asked to divulge details their first games: Montgomery discusses enjoying roll-and-move thus coming out in front of his classmates; Doris relates her humiliation at being forced by her mother to play Candyland at child's birthday party; and Ralph tells of learning about his friend releasing a game called Scandaroon and, subsequently, dying.

Miss Feld drops Lisa from the Publishing program, and after seemingly considering suicide in a New York City Subway station, Lisa drops her spreadsheet backups on the tracks and decides to join the Design department (having been inspired by the map of the subway system).

Junior year
Ralph and Doris discover their mutual attraction, but their growing intimacy leaves Montgomery feeling excluded.

Hilary brings Keyroy home, much to the shock of her father and stepmother (he’s a Eurogamer through-and-through, while they adore Party Games that don’t have too many rules).

Ralph's young sister is approached by a Magic: The Gathering player at their FLGS and becomes instantly-addicted; Ralph lashes out at his mother's attempts to comfort the child by taking her to a local Grand Prix qualifier instead of to Pax East.

Doris begins to question her roleplaying past, changing her name to "Arya Kontrol" and straining the relationship with her mother. During a late-night showing of Tabletop at the 8th Street Playhouse, Ralph encourages Doris to play Agricola; intoxicated, Doris decides to put worker placement in her major project without any testing. The next day, she realizes that as a designer she can put in any mechanism she wants, but is sobered upon running into Michael, who is struggling as a designer after he couldn't decide on a final publisher and is now waiting tables.

Senior year
Ralph pitches at GenCon, where he garners some initial success, but falls into an 18XX lifestyle which upsets Doris. Given a prime spot at HeavyCon, he bombs after totally messing up the Share dealing element. Disgusted with himself, Ralph believes his career is over, but is comforted by Montgomery, who tells him that failure is a part of the hobbygame business.

Hilary, now obsessed with crowdfunding, plans to have run a series of high-profile, high-earning but poor-delivery campaigns and move to California.

Rococo is approached in a diner by a man claiming to be from Ludofact; she naïvely goes to his apartment to look at print samples, but discovers that he is an amateur printer only interested in selling knock-off copies of the BGG Top 100. He manipulates her into running an email campaign for Terraforming Mars while she sobs.

Keyroy is offered a position at Carta Mundi, but must graduate first in order to be accepted. After receiving a failing grade, he confronts a grieving Mrs. Panda next to her husband's Scrabble Championship table, but upon realizing that she has her own problems, he comforts her.

During graduation, the student body showcases their talents by taking a board game from initial notes to pre-production sample ("I Sing the Board Game Electric"). The opening timescales are presented by Lisa, Rococo, and Montgomery. Intercut with the financial forecasts are scenes of Leroy packing the components and Bruno printing off the draft game board, finally confident of sharing his artwork with others.

Best Known Songs
Game (I’m Gonna Play Forever)
Hot List Jam
Dobbers In The Yard
Is It Okay If I Read Before I Sign?
I Sing The Board Game Electric
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Fri Jun 21, 2019 12:24 pm
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No-one is more surprised than I am

Anthony Boydell
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"No one said it would be easy but no one said it'd be this hard." (Sheryl Crow)


This year is the 20th anniversary of the founding of Surprised Stare Games Ltd; born of both Alan Paull and myself giving up our permanent employment, the previous year, in favour of the much-more financially lucrative and autonomous world of IT contracting: we actually had a pot of spare money swilling about. Alan and I already knew each other from our weekly Magic: The Gathering sessions in various Cheltenham pubs; sideline chats about game design introduced him to my Coppertwaddle prototype and, while I can’t remember who first suggested we start a company, we’d moved from thought to registered-with-Companies-House status in a matter of weeks.

Me, Mrs B, Alan and Charlie split the 'shares' four ways and nominally assigned roles: me and Alan would do the designing, Charlie - a bit of web-wiz - would do the graphics and layout, and Mrs B would be 'marketing'; as it turned out, the management of our family has never given her much time (or energy) to be anything more than a Silent Partner.

The first product was to be Coppertwaddle; indeed, after a brief but bright career in the 1980s, Alan wasn't really nurturing many new designs and was happy to 'get back in to the swing of it' by helping me get a debut to market. For myself, the bug had truly hit with the Magic-ification of The Black Overcoat Game ånd I had a whole notebook full of ideas: Haunted House (a cut-down BOG), 'Food Fight' (soon to be Bloody Legacy), Scavenger Hunt (run about the house fetching things) and Ecology (which would eventually become Ivor the Engine!).

Coppertwaddle should’ve been a simple process but we knew-not the facilities that could be brought to bear; instead, we paid full whack for art, got a box maker to make the boxes and a printer (rather than a specialist ‘card printer’) to do the cards. Foolishly, the unit cost per CT was about 7 quid which – given an MSRP of £10 – should’ve been the death knell of SSG before we’d even started! It was only after our debut at Essen Spiel, in 2002, that we began to find out the proper way to do things.

Brimful of ideas and enthusiasm, we pitched to Kosmos, Schmidt, Queen, Adlungspiele and Ravensburger and got exactly nowhere; we rocked up at subsequent Nurenbergs and Essens and never made it further than a cosy chat, returned prototypes and a nice cup of coffee: Tara Seat of Kings and Mad Cows (which would eventually become Fzzzt!) were politely-rejected. And Eagle/Gryphon never got back to us about Mountain Railways – whatever happened to that?! We lived in hope that, if straight ‘signing’ wasn’t going to work, licensing would be the second best route to fame and fortune: Adlungspiele cared not for Coppertwaddle, Tara interested no-one and Bloody Legacy? Well, everyone tells you that ‘humour’ does not go down well in board games.

In 2003, the Paulls started up the Designer Weekends where they invited new, UK designer chums Richard Breese, Seb Bleasdale, David Brain and others to come along to play prototypes and share thoughts. Three weekends every year - and still continuing today - of treating the whole process with an appropriate seriousness.

The next few years were steady but quiet; trips to Germany in Feb and Oct, each time learning a little more about how the Game Industry worked. After 2006's Tara, Seat of Kings, the networking we had nurtured seemed to be finally paying off and we were offered a publishing partnership for our next two games: Scandaroon and Confucius. The financial chicanery and mismanagement by the partner - JKLM - nearly destroyed Surprised Stare Games; missing deposits, companies-operating-through-companies and unpaid installments necessitated Alan and I finding £10,000 pretty damn quickly else we’d have lost everything: 2000 copies of Confucius printed but un-assembled in a Carta Mundi warehouse. What should’ve been our breakthrough, serious gamer hit barely broke-even and actually broke Alan in the process. Plans ground to a halt, our confidence battered and trust shattered; we tucked ourselves away for six months and decided to get back on the horse with a simple card game – easing gently back in to the autonomy we’d enjoyed at the start.

Now that knew we about dedicated card printers, we paid significantly-less for the production of Fzzzt! in 2009 – our 10th birthday. Fzzzt! sold out (1400 copies) at Spiel, led to two separate licensing deals and won an award. We had learned some valuable lessons – the unlucky, hard way – but at least we had survived and - dare I say it - prospered just a little bit? To say we were relieved is an understatement.

Working consistently within our means (relying on no one else but ourselves), we rolled out Paperclip Railways, Totemo and On The Cards to a warming reception and felt settled at last. Of course, the pickup of Snowdonia by Lookout Games was the absolute pivotal moment for Surprised Stare Games: it boosted our sales, our profile, our funds and our self-esteem. Publishers and industry types - who had walked on by a year before - were stopping, chatting...and negotiating! Feeling more relaxed and playful, I started the Shed blog.

Our teenage years were busy and bumpy but always the momentum was maintained - Snowdonia expansions covering us for a couple of leaner Essen Spiels - and we relaxed in to a steady rhythm. Emerging from the fug of the Confucius debacle, Alan immersed himself in his beloved War gaming (Mission Command) and discovered one of the best big-game-in-a-little-box games of the millenium: The Cousins' War - so glad to see him back on form again!

At twenty, Surprised Stare Games find themselves in a tranquil place: battle-scarred veterans in the British gaming community, we have a surfeit of publishing projects in development and international partners who are pressing us for ‘first dibs’. We have worked with our heroes and designed with/for our favourite publishers, done a TCG and had boxes in High Street retailers. The mortgage-clearing super-hit and/or SdJ still elude us; Scandaroon (deservedly) and Confucius (undeservedly) haunt us, but we're still good pals and we're devoted to this business!

While it might be appropriate to toast the years to come, I think I'd prefer to toast a company that will be fit to pass on to a new generation; maybe Arthur will be writing the retrospective for our 50th anniversary? I wonder if he'll be less sweary than his old Pa?

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Thu Jun 13, 2019 6:20 am
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Counter Argument

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The esteemed Counter magazine passed away last year after 20 years of cult-followed gaming journalism. Despite it (mostly) having the look of an amateur 1970s sci-fi fanzine, Counter had a loyal but - if we're honest - predominantly 'vintage gamer' following; not even a Noughteens 'colour PDF' re-launch and BGG tie-in could sway the populace.


The First of Its Name


Actual magazines, that you can actually hold in your hands and actually turn the pages of, are a distinct pleasure: the smell of the ink, the turning the glossy page. However, we are being told - constantly - that print media is dead; vlogs, blogs and Pods are the New Gods now.

I was lucky enough to be offered an almost complete set of the paper editions of Counter - a while back - provided I arranged for 'pick-up'. Thus began a woeful month of YODEL claiming to have collected but having not; of 'the box is still in my porch' emails and notifications of spectral courier visits. On the fifth attempt - yes, fifth - the Donkey Express finally got their imbecilic act together and delivered unto me the musty treasure chest of gamey prose.



Some of the writers have moved away - seemingly now silent in the hobby - while others have advanced to the echelons of Euro-mag Spielbox and their influence - their accumulated decades of wisdom - lives on in organs such as the International Gamer Awards.


Wow: the prices!


It's a damn shame that earnest, considered journalism has been pressed aside in favour of opinionated gurning, self-aggrandizement, industry-funded gushing and short-attention-span headlining:

tl;dr - Tony slags off lazy, tech-obsessed gaming millennials in his renowned BGG blog.
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Tue May 28, 2019 6:25 am
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You Little Beauties!

Anthony Boydell
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More gorgeous pictures of gorgeous things that have been sent in my direction courtesy of that mis-printed KeyForge: Call of the Archons deck! Easy-come, easy-go with those Paypal funds but what the Hell, eh? Something modern and bland for something precious and nostalgic: they really don't make games like this any more.


For scale.


Firstly, the glorious old cars racing across Europe to Monte Carlo (by way of the former Welsh Governmental office town Llandrindod Wells, no less!): Stirling Moss' Rally.




The box-back is a bit battered, but the insert is illustratively intact!



Look at those curves!



Our journey...





Oh, the perils that await us.



All packed away.


Next? A closer look at "Express" Card Game









The colours! The lines! The font! These two little beauties evoke warm remembrance of a relatively-recent, simpler Past; they make me very happy indeed.
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Thu May 23, 2019 6:20 am
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