John Shepherd(MrShep)United Kingdom
Just after 15:15, on the 10th March 2020, I dashed out of the office to catch a train … heading off to a 3-day stint at a trade fair in Manchester. At the time, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be going back to the office for more than a year. Or for that matter… that I wouldn’t really be going back into the office at all.
The new normal has led the company to the conclusion that they don’t really need as much bricks and mortar as they once thought they needed, so our office is now being "let go". We’ll all be predominantly home-working from now on, with a smaller — more modern — set of offices and meeting rooms in a different part of town available when we need to go and do face-to-face things.
Which is a bit weird. When I dashed off to catch my train on that day — exactly one year ago as I start typing this — I had no idea that it was the end of an era for me; it’s a lovely old historic building, which I’ve been working in for 8 (minus 1) years now. I’ll be popping back at some point over the next few weeks, to pick up some personal belongings that I left behind… but everything in there seems to have already changed quite significantly, and most of our stuff has been dumped into a “lost property” room. So it won’t be the same as saying a proper goodbye to the place.
The situation has made me get very nostalgic about the “day in the life” post that I wrote in October of 2019 (which I rediscovered, by complete chance, very recently). At the time, it was just a bit of a jokey response to everybody else posting their Essen diaries during that week. But I look back on it now, and I kind of think… yeah… I’m glad that I documented that day. That commute, and that seat, at that desk — that’s never going to happen again. It’s good to have a reminder. (Maybe I should do a boring day-in-the-life-of-2021 post… just so that future-me can look back and think whatever thoughts are most appropriate to the situation a year or two from now...)
Anyway… about that “lost property” that I need to go and pick up. There’s definitely a copy of The Mind that I left behind. I know that my views on The Mind NOT being a very good game are considered heresy in these parts … but -- despite said opinions -- I found it to be a brilliant warm-up exercise for customer workshops, and my copy ended up living at work. So I need to find that. And I might have left my copy of Illusion in there too, as that was lined up as my next here’s-a-good-excuse-to-play-games-at-work candidate. Hopefully they’re still around — because I don’t think “lost in a property evacuation during a global pandemic” has been added to the ownership categories in the BGG database yet.
So: Tenuous theme of the day: Have you ever been unexpectedly separated from some of your games for a long period?
It's a blog on a board-gaming site. Pretty safe bet it'll be about board games then...
Archive for Miscellaneous Pondering
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Mrs Shep’s very excellent home-baked carrot cake, clotted cream jam scones, and a trifle too. It’s entirely possible that I now might not make it to my 52nd birthday with the cholesterol payload of this rather splendid birthday tea squidging around my arteries. But my word, it was good
And, as promised, the birthday celebrations also involved an inaugural play of this beauty:
I’ll do a proper write-up when I’ve had a bit more time to cogitate over the experience … but the short first-impressions summary is: a neat, low-interaction euro, which maybe has a couple of mechanical rough edges … but has plenty to like, and an absolutely top-rank application of theme. Mrs Shep is keen to play more, and it tilts a shade heavier and longer than most games that she would suggest for a gaming session, so that’s a definite plus. So, yeah, sound acquisition, this one.
Curiously, Obsession came back to haunt me in a very unexpected way later in the day. Our entertainment choice for the evening was a live stream put on by “The Stand” comedy club … and when the stream was over -- as I navigated my way out of the YouTube app on our smart TV -- THIS screen popped up:
Wait… the people who watch this comedy show ALSO watch THESE particular videos… all about Obsession? Seriously?? And — even more uexpectedly — scrolling the recommendations right a couple of screens also showed a video for… Alubari!
Now, much as I’d love to believe my amazing powers as a social influencer (I mentioned The Stand, Obsession AND Alubari in yesterday’s post), it seems a bit weird that these things are now popping up as connected topics on my TV.
Perhaps the youtube/google machine is actually being a little bit devious here, and presenting entirely-fabricated social proof, just to keep me watching?
(Or maybe it’s the nanobots….)
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Sometimes it’s funny what’s considered valuable, and what isn’t considered valuable, isn’t it?
I mean, normally, the foam packaging bits that you get in assorted boxes - that cheap grey squidgy stuff holding your newly-acquired expensive consumer goods safe-and-sound in transit — well, all of that is pretty much destined for the bin, once you’ve done the unboxing, isn’t it? I mean... maybe (like me) you’ll keep the original packaging around for a little while … “just in case I need to send it back”… but that stuff’s definitely going to wind up in the bin before too long (usually sooner rather than later, if Mrs Shep has anything to do with it). And because of that, you assume that those bits of foam rubber cost the manufacturer next to nothing to produce. A big old block of foam… a bit of capital sunk into some kind of cutter, or mould, or something like that… and then mass production. I bet they churn those things out for pennies. I mean… when you buy a new tv set, all of your hard-earned money is all going on the TV, not the packaging? Isn’t it?
But when you turn that whole thing around… when a specifically-cut bit of foam rubber suddenly becomes an object of desire …. something that you would very much like acquire to protect some specific, valuable thing that you own… and some clever entrepreneur cottons on to that fact. Well, suddenly the economies look very different.
This is a long-winded way of saying … I just spent the best part of 30 quid on buying a piece of foam packaging
It’s sold by a company called Battle Foam … a company which specialises in making foam rubber storage solutions for wargamers and miniature collectors and … in case you haven’t guessed from the shape carved into this particular block… I bought it to provide a home for the Spidicules model that I spent a few days putting together the other week.
Why? Well… it soon became very obvious — shortly after constructing the beastie in question — that this particular “miniature” was going to present a bit of a storage problem. It’s delicate, it’s big, and if it’s left out on open display then Mrs Shep (a life-long arachnophobe!) refuses to come into the games room.
So I thought I’d maybe try this battle foam stuff out to see what it’s like.
And it seems good … it fits the model quite snugly, has some storage space for a couple of other large figures, slots nicely into an outer crate (sold separately — I went for the cheapskate cardboard box option), and seems to perform its intended function pretty much perfectly. I think it’s going to do a very good job of keeping my Spidicules safe.
30 quid though.
For the stuff that I usually toss in the bin.
Did you ever buy a game “enhancement” that left you questioning your fiscal sanity?
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Presenting an exciting new* lockdown blog series, in which I spend each instalment drinking a trendy hipster craft beer that I’ve never tried before, write a bit about what it tastes like, and then wait and see what kind of board game it inspires me to play.
Is this a thinly-veiled attempt to semi-legitimise the act of drinking my way through the misery of lockdown, coupled with a fragile and desperate hope that it’ll somehow inspire fresh new blog content?
Urm… yeah. It’s probably exactly that.
But let’s find out...
I have to confess, prior to drinking this beer (or, more accurately, prior to finishing this beer and then heading straight to google to figure out exactly what manner of potion I’d just been treating my tastebuds to), I had no idea what Catherina was. But pparently it’s a style of kettle-soured fruit beer that hails from Brazil … based on the Berliner Weisse style, but with LOTS of tropical fruit added.
And… this was very nice stuff indeed. Admittedly a bit on the flat side (as you can see, what little head there was on the drink had disappeared before I’d even managed to dig my phone out of my pocket!) …but the taste is a really refreshing mix of hops, lime, coconut, and… orangey citrus fruity stuff. Which is apparently guava, but isn’t really the exciting bit of this beer for me … its the coconut-and-lime-over-hops combo that really made this one stand out. Delicious! And you’d have no idea at all that you were sipping something containing 6.5% alcohol … you could VERY easily mistake this for a healthy 5-a-day fruit juice breakfast drink.
Hmmm… now there’s an idea…
(Probably not on a week day though...)
But what board game journey will Mos Eisley Catharina take me on?
Well… I’ve already crossed Limes off the list courtesy of a previous instalment in this series … but I could probably rustle up a game with coconuts in it if I really put my mind to it. HOWEVER… the bottom line is… I just can’t get away from the Star Wars theming on this one. And yes… it might be a completely silly pasted-on-theme (I guess it’s not only the board gaming world which suffers from that phenomena), and my mental connection might have been reinforced by the fact that I was sipping this particular drink while watching the season 2 finale of The Mandalorian (because… what better beer could you be drinking while watching the season finale of The Mandalorian?) … but I sort of feel inspired to look for a game which is a bit star-wars-y. Or, at the very least, a bit Space-y.
Mmmm. Space beer.
Surprisingly, I don’t actually own any “official” Star Wars licensed games. The nearest thing I have is maybe Button Shy’s Liberation, which is (reputedly) something akin to a super-sharp 18-card distillation of Star Wars: Rebellion.
I’ve only played it a couple of times … it’s a clever game — but one that you clearly need repeat plays to get the best out of, and I’m pretty sure that it’s very much NOT the type of game that Mrs Shep would like. I think I might’ve seen a (test?) version of a solo mode on Button Shy’s Discord server … but I’m not really in the mood to play a pre-release that might be broken, and…
Hmmm… wait a minute… “broken”. That’s reminded me of something:
The “Beverage Run” mission in the Galaxy Trucker Missions Expansion — the one where you have to deliver a load of fragile bottles without breaking them! …It’s sci-fi, it’s got a tenuous beer connection, I love the game, and its way, WAY too long since the last time I played it
So today, the beer is making me play: Galaxy Trucker. And I am very much looking forward to the experience
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Imagine waking up in a weird alternate universe one day… an alternate universe where Shut up and Sit Down have started playing GOOD games again. Where they do half hour podcasts devoted to the works of Rosenberg or Knizia. And a universe in which Quinns’ latest video is all about a game which involves putting little wooden cubes onto a very beige-looking board, in which he enthuses about the generic-medieval-trader-portrait art on the box lid and then declares it to be a design masterpiece and possibly the best eurogame ever?
Friends, I think we may have crossed into the twilight zone!
(He’s not wrong, mind you. As I may have mentioned previously, Hansa Teutonica is a stonkingly good game. And that new big box is definitely worth a punt, if you're yet to experience its charms).
And while I'm scrapbooking videos… here’s another one that caught my eye this week. It’s not about board games as such, but I DO like Tom Scott’s stuff, and this is a rather interesting watch about product placement and a whole bunch of legal requirements that content creators and influencers are supposed to abide by when posting stuff on YouTube.
It might surprise you. And it should definitely surprise a few (or, possibly, all) prominent board-gaming YouTubers... because I don't think anybody in our hobby is really doing this properly?
(Hmmm. Do I need to revisit that Disastles video that I made a couple of years ago...? )
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The post that Caroline made yesterday — “Outside the top one thousand” — set my mind wandering...
What game, in my collection, has the worst BGG ranking, but is still a game that I wouldn’t hesitate to put on a table and encourage people to play?
(For those of you who want to play along at home… go to your collection page, click “Columns»”, check the “Rank” box, click “Done”, and then click the newly-appeared “Board Game Rank” column to sort by rating. Then simply work your way through all the regretful purchases and things-you-haven’t-managed-to-sell-or-give-away-yet, until you hit the very first game that makes you ask “Hey!!! … what’s THAT game doing in such a low position??”)
For me, that game seems to be:Moneybags
…which at the time of writing is ranked 12,423rd in the BGG Database
Moneybags is a very simple split-the-hidden-pot-and-lie-about-what-you-just-did game, in which each player is vying to place the biggest share of loot — unchallenged — into their personal money bag.
Mechanically, gameplay is simple to the point that when you read the rules, you’ll likely be left thinking “huh? how can something as basic as this possibly be a fully-functional game?”. And yet… I’ve had such good times playing Moneybags. It’s a game that has genuinely left me in fits of laughter at the game table (to the extent that the people playing a crunchy euro on the table next door started politely coughing and making pointed looks-of-evil in my direction!).
Yes… your milage may vary, and this one might be highly-dependent upon playing it with the right type of people. And there might not be a huge amount of repeat play value in that little box (in fairness, I haven’t played it THAT many times)… but Moneybags still manages to deliver a short burst of silly, clever, and thoroughly-enjoyable gaming fun. For me, it’s a keeper.
Are there really 12,422 games in the database which are better than Moneybags? I don’t think so.
But where does YOUR collection fly furthest from popular opinion?
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It was always going to be a particularly difficult month, that one, wasn’t it?
January is a month that is notorious for the mid-winter, post-Christmas blues… and that’s BEFORE you add in all the mental health stresses of the ongoing covid/lockdown situation. The weather was miserable; you can count the number of times that I left my home in January on one hand (and if you don't include that time when I simply nipped across the road to post a birthday card, you wouldn’t even need to use your thumb!). Don’t worry though… I’m still getting plenty of exercise — and have been hammering the Vitamin D supplements — though, admittedly, just when you think things couldn’t any get worse, my rewatch-every-episode-of-Doctor-Who-while-putting-in-a-few-miles-on-the-treadmill-each-day project reached the Colin Baker regeneration this week.
Anyway… in terms of my Board Gaming activity... how was January?
I’ve never been a big proponent of the January/Dryanuary approach to alcohol consumption… but January 2021 turned out to be a VERY dry month for new board game acquisitions. The Button Shy board game of the month package landed (which isn’t really an pro-active acquisition; it’s just a thing that sort of happens), and I picked up a cheap copy of the Euphoria expansion, just so I could give the solo mode a shot… but otherwise… that was it.
Oh… actually… I did have a couple of sets of Kingdom Death Monster dice arrive in the post, which were ordered MONTHS ago… but that’s more of an accessory, than an actual game, right? (And at some point, we really need to have a chat about my fascination with Kingdom Death Dice sets. But that day is not today…)
However, In terms of what I played, rather than what I got… well… January was actually a pretty good month. I mean, I sort of feel like I should be feeling a bit sorry about myself, and about being locked down, and not being able to practice my hobby in the way I would prefer to be practicing my hobby… but if I compare what I played this January to what I played in the free-wheeling, carefree January of 2020 … I didn’t do too badly.
Face to face:
Dominion, Skulls of Sedlec, Sprawlopolis, Russian Railroads, Hallertau, Wingspan, Azul, Clever Hoch Drei, Limes, Patchwork
Obviously, a bit of a tendency towards lighter, Mrs-Shep-friendly games here … but I certainly can’t complain about getting some Russian Railroads and Hallertau action in the mix. Some very decent games here!
Key Market (TTS), San Juan (Yucata), Imhotep (Yucata), Concordia (TTS), Kingdom Builder (Board Game Arena), Rumble Nation (TTS)
…all of which were played in real-time with voice chat, vs the Monday Night regulars.
It’s a curious thing. This way of playing games seems to work reasonably well for our group … but I know that it really doesn’t seem to hit the mark for some folks (and yes, Tony’s blog post from yesterday is still rattling around in my head as I write this). I wonder what it is that makes remote gaming suit some people, but not others? And why it works for me? Perhaps it’s because the experience of chatting with disembodied voices while pushing stuff around a screen has become spectacularly normalised as part of my day job. Or maybe the fact that I’m still getting a decent degree of “real-life” gaming is keeping me more in touch with the tactile, “ritual” side of board gaming, and it’s easier to project that experience onto the “ersatz” version board gaming. I dunno. I mean… there’s certainly a pragmatic/gotta-do-what-you’ve-gotta-do element to playing games this way, and I’d love to be sitting down at a real table with those guys… but at the same time, it’s certainly not a terrible way to play games, and I’m really enjoying these sessions. To the extent that I might even consider the occasional remote gaming session AFTER all this distancing madness is over.
Euphoria (Ignorance is bliss), A Feast for Odin (w/ the Norwegians), Anachrony.
I wrote pretty extensive posts about all of these sessions, so there’s no need to cover old ground again. However… one interesting thing I noticed is: according to my BGG stats, I did more solo gaming in January 2020 than I did in January 2021. Yep… solo gaming BEFORE I EVEN HAD TO!!! …. was the 2020 Mr Shep CRAZY OR WHAT?? Didn’t I know the world was about to end???! Why wasn’t I out there PLAYING GAMES WITH OTHER PEOPLE????!
I wrote 21 posts in January. That’s my lowest post-per-day ratio since… well… since quite a few years ago. But I think — especially under present circumstances — that the self-imposed regime of every-day posting isn’t as easy, or as much fun, or as sustainable as it used to be. So I’ll probably just chug along at this kind of level for a bit. We’ll see.
Top-performing post of the month: The Medium and The Message.
You people love it when I have a good whinge, don’t you?
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14 Jan 2021
There’s something interesting that I’ve noticed, ever since the great BGG front-page redesign took place. Something which has probably been the case for a long time, but didn’t really catch my attention. And it concerns this -- the “top 5” blogs listing:
Because unless you’re looking at the listing at the start of the week, shortly after Mike Minutillo puts up one of his kickstarter roundups … OR you’ve chanced upon a glorious moment when Steph has put out a new All the Meeples of the Rainbow post… OR you pick the ONE DAY IN A LIFETIME when Harbinger posts the 1,000th post on Everything that Sucks and some things that don’t (congratulations Harbinger!) …then there’s a pretty good chance that at least 4 out of the 5 posts which are listed there — sometimes all 5 of the posts listed there — will have been written by British authors.
Which seems a bit unusual, given the relative proportion of British BGG users to … well… pretty much every other nationality of BGG user.
But what does it mean?
Are we brits all, deep down, frustrated writers?
Or perhaps just a little bit stuck in the past?
(yeah, yeah, I know… generalisations are never healthy!)
...because another thing that I find odd about that front page, post-redesign, is those “Creator spotlights” which break up the content flow every screen or so. It’s not so much the idea of having creator spotlights on a site devoted to a hobby about board gaming … but more the way that those creator spotlights seem to be all about people who create videos about games, rather than celebrating people who … y’know… actually create the games in the first place?
In fact, this whole thing has now gone weirdly meta… BGGs latest in-house twitch show — The More Meeples the Merrier — seems to be an online show in which Timm Metivier will interview people about … making online shows about board games?
Maybe, before long, everybody will be so busy interviewing each other about their experience making content about board games, or their experiences making shows about people who make content about board games (or writing blog-based diatribes about the awfulness of content creators making content about content creator content creation) that it'll all become weirdly-circular and self-sustaining, and we’ll eventually reach a point where we're able to do away with that whole messy layer at the very bottom of the operation … i.e. having to play the board games in the first place. (I’m pretty sure that a whole bunch of content creators find that to be the most annoying and inconvenient part of the whole hobby anyway )
You know where the real value in BGG is? The database. The game rules. The assets. The game-specific forums.
Or, at least… that’s where the perceived value always used to be, for me at least. But I’m not at all sure that people like reading words as much as they used to. And to be honest, I’m not so sure that the current generation of board game players are as fussy about getting the rules right as they used to be either.
Buy it on Kickstarter. Learn it on YouTube. Watch your imaginary friends playing it on Twitch. And then sell it still-new-in-shrink on Instagram.
(I do still like writing though).
NOW GET OFF MY DAMN LAWN YOU PESKY KIDS…
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Remember those crazy days of yore, when the phrase "Key Worker" just meant a regular wooden meeple, but with a letter "K" mysteriously screenprinted on their tummy?
As a citizen of 2021, looking at this board now just makes me think "I don't get the theming on this one at all".
And not paying your Key Workers? ... that definitely doesn't seem right!
Key Market (Second Edition)
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So here we are, on the wrong side of the festive break. The first day back at work (or school, or whatever) is always a bit of a downer … and while I guess I should count myself lucky that I still have gainful employment — gainful employment which I don’t need to leave my home to do — I suspect that the January blues are going to hit all of us a little bit harder than usual this year. Buckle up folks; there could be some difficult weeks ahead.
Last night, I did a little bit of looking ahead to see what games are likely to land in my lockdown bunker over the course of the first quarter of 2021 … and, to be honest, there’s not an awful lot of things blipping on my new-acquisitions radar. A couple of delayed kickstarters are due to arrive … including the new instalments of Railroad Ink (which are likely to see a fair bit of play, as the previous versions have been very popular with Mrs Shep), and Import/Export: Definitive Edition (which I fear might suffer the same fate as both of the Jordan Draper games that I laid my hands on in 2020 … i.e. relegation onto the Shelf of Opportunity until such time as I can get them in front of an appreciative audience at Newcastle gamers). Button Shy’s Agropolis should also fulfil next month (which I’m expecting to be fun, though not earth-shatteringly different to Sprawlopolis), and I think the boardgame-of-the-month package with a new Skulls of Sedlec expansion is currently in the post, so that’s another small thing to look forward to.
Also in the “small things to look forward to” category … I’ve got a couple of small Kingdom Death Monster things still inbound, purchased in the 2020 Black Friday Sale. APG’s black friday fulfilment times definitely haven’t improved after last year. But I’m sure they’ll turn up… eventually.
But what’s currently exciting me apart from delayed kickstarters and still-to-be-fulfilled purchases?
Hmmm…. Not an awful lot, truth be told.
When Dan Hallagan finally figures out how to sell games the to the legions of Europeans who want to throw money at him (hopefully this month?) I think I’ll almost certainly be picking up a copy of Obsession -- I’ve read good things about it from so many other UK bloggers that I’m sure it’ll be a good investment. And I’m also keeping an eye open for the release of Hadrian’s Wall — supposedly due in March. Principally because there’s some local interest in this one for me, as I live pretty close to the remains of said wall (In fact… I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if a stone or two of my living room wall had been “borrowed” from ancient roman ruins…), but it also seems to have a pretty solid roll-and-write-ish game attached to the theme.
But all in all… that’s not really a massive list of anticipated releases to carry my blogging exploits through the first quarter of the year, is it?
I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.
I suspect, for a little while, my focus might drift back into the world of video gaming, rather than board gaming. I was recently nudged in the direction of Cyberpunk 2077 by a colleague at work… and — oh my — that is VERY impressive game. And perhaps the most impressive aspect is… I didn’t need to buy a next-gen console, or even a gaming PC to play it! In fact… I didn’t have to purchase anything at all, other than the game itself... as I’ve been playing entirely via the magic of Google Stadia!
I have to admit, I was only dimly aware of Google Stadia until relatively recently. I mean… I saw the hype when it launched, but I pretty much dismissed it as something that wouldn’t possibly work with anything like the necessary latency time for a good experience. Especially on a rural broadband connection like mine. And it would probably be something that required a half-decent PC to run it on. (Which is something you get used to, as a mac user…)
But it turns out… I should’ve taken more notice
It really works! …simply connect up any old game controller that you happen to have lying around to pretty much any video-streaming-capable digital device in your posession, open a web browser, visit the stadia site… and within seconds you’re playing a game with better-than-console-quality graphics, streamed directly from super-powerful gaming rigs in Google’s cloud, in a way which makes it seem exactly like you're playing it locally!
Zero install and minimum processing power required on your side. This is Cyberpunk 2077, playing with high-quality visuals in super-smooth 60fps on my iPad. ON MY IPAD!!!! … THAT’S INSANE! (Though my macbook pro combined with a PS4 controller has become my preferred way to play; it’s just so tempting to just bounce into the stadia tab and put in another half hour…)
And it’s a really slick experience. I mean… we’re obviously in that honeymoon period where Google gives away an excellent product for virtually no cost at all, spends a couple of years getting you hooked, and THEN completely ruins the whole thing by smothering it with targetted advertising & making it way more expensive the instant that it becomes an indispensable part of your life.
But for now… I’m really loving the convenience of having my newest gaming console in the cloud. And Cyberpunk 2077 might just be Stadia’s killer app. Impressive stuff, this.
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