The Tyranny of Small Decisions

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The merry month of Mayarch!

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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From gallery of MrShep


It's Button Shy’s BGOTM Club package for March!

Which arrived last week.

In May.

But at least the first two letters of the month were right this time!

Annnnnd….. It’s a bit of a return to form, this one, after that slightly fallow BGOTMC period that I was whinging about commentating upon not so long ago.

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Containing...

Seasons, a mini expansion for Agropolis. Seasons adds four additional cards to the game, one of which you play wordy-side-up at the start to give you an additional scoring condition to work with, along with a “weather” rule that you need to follow as the game progresses. And at this point, it’s probably easier to simply show, rather than tell …so here’s a front and back of a couple of weather cards:

From gallery of MrShep

The remaining three weather cards get shuffled into your deck … and then you begin play as usual … but as soon as you draw a weather card, it MUST be the card that you play next — and then all of your subsequent cards are going to be impacted by that initially-revealed weather rule. It’s a nice tweak, with some potential for very interesting risk-reward decisions around exactly where place those clouds. And new Sprawlopolis/Agropolis content is always a bit of a crowd pleaser

Also...

Board Game: Flipuzzles


Flipuzzle 1 — Frog. A puzzle, on a single card. Essentially a slightly-obfuscated colour maze, where you have to flip the card over after each move (either horizontally, or vertically, depending on the direction of your last step) and then continue your journey from the corresponding point on the opposite side of the card. It’s amusing for a few minutes … but then you’ll likely put it away and never pick it up again. Still… it’s a novelty, right?

And last — but by no means least: The Evergreen Pass ... my first (and long-awaited) instalment of Hush cards. Which means I finally own all of the necessary components to try the game out!

From gallery of MrShep


I did fluff a few rules on this first play-through (which, judging from the number of post-publication faqs both here on BGG and on the Button Shy discord, is not an uncommon experience)… so I maybe shouldn’t pass any first-impressions judgement quite yet. But it’s definitely interesting. In a good way. Euro-leaning tower defence … with a couple of clever/elegant spacial things going on which are maybe a bit deeper than they first seem. I’ll certainly be keen to see how this one stands up to repeat plays and evolves with future BGOTM packages

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Wed May 11, 2022 7:10 am
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Kanal Desires

John Shepherd
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Ovington
Northumberland
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“Try-before-you-back” Tabletop Simulator / Tabletopia game implementations seem to be a pretty common feature of crowdfunding campaigns these days. But they’ve never really been a thing that I’ve considered using before. Not in any practical sense, at least.

The way I see it is this: putting a completely unknown quantity in front of your gaming friends — e.g. a Tabletopia version of a game that you’ve never even played yourself — is a pretty big ask. People’s gaming time is precious … and a group’s willingness to learn new games can be low. It’s best not to squander such opportunities on anything less than a pretty safe bet.

But self-tabletopia-demoing a solo game? Or a game which — at the very least — has a pretty convincing-looking solo variant that you cand work through all by yourself? Well… yep… that seems eminently do-able

And that’s how I found myself sitting in front of a virtual copy of the latest Uwe Rosenberg hotness, Oranienburger Kanal, last night.

From gallery of MrShep


…and it was a pretty good experience. Not an ideal experience — it’s a heavy game, with lots of card effects and interactions that you need to keep track of … which meant a lot of zooming in and out on components, and dipping in and out of a PDF card effect glossary — a process that I think would’ve been so much smoother with a physical copy of the game in front of me. Plus… the tabletopia implementation of the game’s resource wheel is annoyingly twitchy/fiddly/over-sensitive (on my machine, at least!) … but these are flaws in the tabletopia medium, NOT in the game itself. The game itself seems like a very fine one indeed!

As is usual with Rosenberg games, many of Oranienburger Kanal’s mechanisms are iterations of things that Uwe used in earlier titles, and fans will have a pretty good idea of the paths that brought the designer to this particular destination. It’s certainly got a little bit of a Nova Luna thing going on with it; it’s about putting tiles down (let’s not get too hung up on the fact that the “tiles” are actually cards — Oranienburger Kanal is definitely a tile-laying game in spirit!), and then surrounding those tiles with other tiles — of very specific types — in order to activate building functions to optimum effect. In this particular evolution of the formula, there are two very different types of tile involved, and two different “dimensions” of adjacency: sure, buildings can be placed next to each other, and choices on what sits where will greatly effect how efficiently buildings work together — but sandwiched between the buildings is a separate grid of slimmer tiles representing transport routes (roads… railways… canals and “paths”). Completely encircling a building with these “routes” is what initially triggers the building’s effect … but the exact types of route used, the kind of position you selected when placing the building on your board, and various other aspects of the current game-state will affect it’s function and pay-out… with every building in the game (there are multiple alternative decks shipping with the game at launch) boasting some kind of unique feature/interaction.

Plus… there’s worker placement. Tight, super-lean worker placement at that! And resource conversion (this is no draft-for-free game; everything to want to build in this game will require appropriate resources to be spent). And the resource wheels of glass road make a long-overdue re-appearance (i.e. nudge the wheel one segment to consume 1 instance of all your “basic” materials and automatically generate 1 each of all of your “enhanced” materials). And I haven’t even mentioned the “bridge” pieces that you can add to your tableau to activate buildings a second time … which adds an additional spatial optimisation puzzle around placing high-value production buildings next to each other, so that they both benefit from the proximity of the same bridge.

Is this starting to sound a bit like there’s a awful lot of crunchy, puzzly, heavy things to like in Oranienburger Kanal? Yes? …. well… that’s because there is a lot of crunchy, puzzly, heavy things to like in Oranienburger Kanal. (And… I’ve only tried the solo game so far … I’m scared to even think about how the competition for key worker placement spaces / the inevitable race for popular buildings will dial things way up past 11 in the two-player version!!)

So, yeah… I’m looking forward to this being released. I’m not sure that I’ll rush back to the tabletopia version — because, as mentioned previously, it’s a bit of a pain in the backside to play that way, and I kind of want to save myself for the real thing — but there’s clearly a good game on the way here. I’m very happy to have backed it.

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Sat May 7, 2022 7:10 am
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Newcastle Gamers (the continuity jump)

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Now here’s a doorway that I haven’t ventured through for quite a while.

Two years and three months, to be precise…

From gallery of MrShep

Gulp!


Saturday saw my triumphant(?) return to Newcastle Gamers, for the first time in far too long. It was a good experience (playing games … in public … with people who I’m not married to still feels like quite a novelty in the new-old-normal!) … but also a bit strange, and slightly un-nerving.

Why?

Well… I guess that one thing that the pandemic has taught me is that memory — and the way that the brain deals with the passing of time — is a bit of a curious thing. And not nearly as linear, and as sensible, as logic might have you believe.

The sensation of returning to the church hall where we hold the club sessions was one of overwhelming familiarity; it felt like I’d barely been away from the place at all. Like maybe only a few weeks had passed since I was last there. A month or two at most?

But the people who I met there? The familiar faces of old? Well… that’s what gave the evening a bit of a weird, uncanny vibe.

There are some folks from Newcastle Gamers who I’ve kept in touch with over the last couple of years. Certainly in an electronic sense, and on at least a few face-to-face occasions too. But most of the folks there… I had’t seen since a few weeks before the very first covid lockdown. And — at risk of stating the blindingly obvious — over the course of the last 2 years … they’ve aged!

I mean, it’s not like they all suddenly got super-old or anything … but it is surprising just how much a person can change in (what, in other ways) didn’t feel like a huge gap of time. More wrinkles. Changes in body shape. Less hair, or in some cases, a lot more hair! Faces that simply look a bit more lived-in? You could sense that some people had had an easier lockdown period than others. And I’m not quite able to put into words the feeling that this brought about (so excuse my not-quite-right phrasing here)… but there was definitely a bit of a cognitive glitch between the familiarity/stability of the environment, and the sense that there’d been some kind of crazy time skip involved, concerning all of the people within that space.

And, in short … I guess this was one of the starkest illustrations I’ve had of exactly what the pandemic robbed from us.

2 years of being in places like this, just doing our gaming thing. All snatched away.

But it was good to be back

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I wasn’t, of course, merely attending the meeting for purposes of existential angst. I was there to play games. And gaming is what happened!

The meeting’s head count was way lower than pre-pandemic times, with maybe 20 or so people present (including no fewer than FOUR first-timers!). I settled down to a table with Amo (a fellow old timer), Alan (a relatively recent recruit, though one who joined in the limited-headcount-attend-at-your-own-risk era of early 2022 that I entirely avoided), and first-time attendee Bernard … a mostly-wargamer-but-sometimes-boardgaming sort of chap who had spotted the club listing on meetup.com, and decided to come along to see what we did. Because he hasn’t played anything with anybody for way too long.

And what we did was…

Masters of Renaissance: Lorenzo il Magnifico – The Card Game

Which I’ve spoken about many times on the blog now, and which Amo was keen to try. And it seemed like a good game to start with — pacy, not too long, plenty of resource-managing machine-building crunch … and something by which we might get the measure of how much of a euro-gamer both Alan and Bernard were— a perfect warm-up for the evening!

From gallery of MrShep


I managed to hit the 7 card game-end-trigger first … and was reasonably confident of a win for doing so. Admittedly, I felt slightly guilty to be racing ahead in a game that I’d just taught a bunch of first-timerd to play from scratch — but I’m certainly not a believer in going gently on your opponents just because it’s their first attempt. However… I needn’t have worried, and should probably have been keeping a closer eye on what was going on on everybody else’s tableau … because Alan sneaked into the lead in the final reckoning — thanks to a fanatical devotion to the pope and a massively-inflated faith score that I hadn’t accounted for. Well played, Alan!

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With the ice-breaker out of the way, I enquired if the chaps would be interested in something a little bit meatier that would probably occupy a good couple of hours or more. All seemed keen, so I unpacked the other game in my bag that Amo had been eyeing with interest earlier that evening…

IKI

From gallery of MrShep


And a great deal of edo-period artisanal fun was had by all. This was my third play of Iki (and my very first time with the full complement of 4 players) and I’m only just starting to get a sense of how very different the game can be from play to play, depending on the exact mixture of artisans that the players decide to invest in. Firefighting roles seemed to be a very popular theme in this particular play(maybe I’d overstated the effect of fire in my game explanation?), while the cards that bring building resources into the game seemed less favoured — there really wasn’t any big-ticket building going on in this game at all — and we didn’t get to romp around the cherry blossom track anywhere near as much as we did in my inaugural game, back at AireCon. I also discovered just how punishing it can be to fall behind in turn order in a 4 player game … since your movement options become extremely limited when you’re 4th in line to pick from a draft of only 5 options!

This is probably just a long way to get around to saying … I prioritised the wrong things (based on previous experience, rather than the game in hand), and therefore played terribly… at one point losing two big-ticket buildings to a single fire, having relied on pushing my luck rather than investing in countermeasures. But at least I did well on fish, managing to collect a specimen from each season for a maximum fish bonus. Only enough of a fish bonus to get me into 3rd place in the final reckoning mind you … but a pleasing achievement nevertheless.

Bernard won this one. I already sense a bit of a master eurogame-player lurking behind that grognard facade!

And that took us to about 9:30pm. A couple of our number had to leave at this point … and, while I wouldn’t have minded staying a bit later, I had an appointment with some real-life druids at a megalithic monument the next morning (no doubt you’ll hear about that in good time), so I decided to make my exit at that point too.

A very splendid few hours of gaming though. And — despite the time-jump wierdness — so very nice to be back

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Mon May 2, 2022 7:10 am
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I'm going to need a bigger box?

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Hey... I know. I rarely post things at this time of night. But I think the sorry tale of my traumatic weekend experience has been sitting at the top of the blog for far too long now. So perhaps it's time to blot that whole, terrible ordeal out with a brand new post.

Because... back at the hotel... there was gaming.

From gallery of MrShep


First up: Agricola, All Creatures Great and Small.

I told you that we'd be playing this one again pretty soon, didn't I? This time the final scores were much closer than the last time we played ... with Mrs Shep just edging into the lead despite failing to fill up that second farm extension (...much to her delight!). I think we'll need to turn this series of plays into a best-of-three now. It's a lovely game; really pleased to have re-discovered it.

And I note, with interest, that Mr Rosenburg's newest 2-player game drops on Gamefound tomorrow. Just when I thought I was through with the whole crowdfunding thing... that'll be the second Spielworxx game that I've backed in as many months!!!

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And then... Dominion.

From gallery of MrShep


Yep, this was definitely an evening of oldies-but-goodies! Dominion is another game that has very much stood the test of time with us, and which Mrs Shep is always happy to play. That's my standard travelling-with-Dominion arrangement shown above; all of the core cards will fit into three of those plastic boxes, and then I can comfortably fit 15 standard kingdom decks into the same amount again. With a mix of curated and random cards, we can easily get enough variety in those 15 decks to support a couple of evenings of play (No... I don't sleeve my Dominion cards. And yes, Dominion fans, I AM some kind of monster). Add a few rubber bands, and it's all good to go!

Though the the compactness of this particular travel solution does leave me wondering; there's an awful lot of air in those Dominion boxes. And while they DO look very nice, all lined up on a shelf...

From gallery of MrShep


...that IS an awful lot of shelf space being occupied here. Plus, I've got a few more expansions in a cupboard nearby. This is all shelf space which could perhaps be used to better effect (i.e. for storing even more games) ... if I switched to a more practical Dominion storage solution.

Any suggestions?

I must confess, I do like the look of basically wooden's stuff... though perhaps not quite enough to drop that kind of money without seeing one in the flesh first.

(Hopefully they'll have some samples to stroke and fondle at the UK Games Expo this year... that might just tip the balance...)

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Tue Apr 26, 2022 9:45 pm
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A funny thing happened on the way to the forum

John Shepherd
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Yesterday was St Georges Day … and (unsurprisingly!) we were on our travels again. I definitely have a tale to tell about St Georges Day. A tale which -- while NOT immediately board game related -- is well worth telling, and I’m sure I can turn into a tenuous-theme-of-the-day post if I really put my mind to it. However, for technical reasons, it may be a day or two before I can lay my hands on an appropriate photograph to accompany said story. And this is definitely the kind of post which needs an appropriate accompanying photograph … if only to convince myself that it wasn’t all just some kind of weird, semi-hallucinogenic fever dream. So… look forward to that one landing.

And In the mean time… a mid-journey stop-off at the ruined roman town of Letocetum (in the present-day village of Wall, in Staffordshire) reminded me that I haven’t told you anything about that copy of Rome & Roll that I picked up in the AireCon maths trade last month, have I?

From gallery of MrShep


The remains of Letocetum comprise a bath house, and a mansio; a pair of buildings which seem to have functioned like something of a 1st century motorway service station, situated — as they were — just off the junction of two major roman roads (Watling Street and Ryknild Street … now the A38); a prime situation to offer essential services to passing travellers. And looking at the interlocking geometric outlines of the various foundations on the site, and how they’d been cunningly arranged around the slope of the land, I couldn’t help but think of the central board from Rome & Roll … and that game’s core puzzle of strategically slotting tetris-like building shapes into the city perimeter, while taking account of restrictions imposed by the slopes of the 7 hills of rome.

From gallery of MrShep


We’ve only had a single game of Rome and Roll to date, and a single play isn’t anything like enough to get a sense of the game’s pacing and strategic priorities (it’s definitely a game which demands a learning play or two!)… but there certainly seems to be some interesting things going on in it. Most notably … that puzzle element that I mentioned above, which is played out on a central write-erase board. Players draw the various buildings that they construct onto this board — using a pen corresponding to their player colour — and then you have an “overseer” meeple which steps around the resulting city, determining where you can and can’t draw next.

There’s something very appealing to me about having a central board that players sketch out, communally, as the game progresses (scribbling roads onto the central map in Roads and Boats also pushes my buttons in exactly the same way). So I enjoyed this element of the game a lot. OK… some people have criticised this approach as being a bit messy, are worried about their dry-erase components looking less-than-pristine after a few games, and have asserted that a neater, easier-to-interpret effect would’ve been achieved by having building-shaped tiles for players to lay onto the central board. All of which is …perhaps… true. But I do kind of admire the fact that the designers went for this this lo-fi approach. I think it makes the game feel a little bit different to the norm. And a little bit more “indie”.

As for the rest of the game? Well… like I said earlier… I think I need a few more plays to get a proper feel for it. In some ways, Rome and Roll is a lot like a conventional roll-and-write game; you roll dice, draft dice, and then use those dice to progress up various tracks to score points (all of which is dressed up in appropriate roman theming). But that shared central board isn’t typical of the genre at all; it brings something new to the party … and the puzzle that goes on there is a particularly crunchy and heavy one to deal with. Also, notably, there’s lots of euro-style resource collection-and-spending going on too. Which is a good thing to have in the game … but which does stretch the game’s roll-and-write interface to near breaking point (e.g. write down a “W” on your resource grid whenever you collect wood. Or a “J” for Jewellery. Or a “F” for fish… “B” for brick, “S” for stone … and when you spend that resource, put a cross through it. Ugh!). My love for the lo-fi implementation kind of wears a little bit thin here; this mechanism would’ve been far better served by the inclusion of resource pieces (a la Hadrians Wall). But it’s not a deal breaker. Not quite. There’s still plenty of things in the game to love.

So …all in all… first impressions are promising. Rome and Roll seems suitably thinky, introduces some genre-unique elements, and has a fair bit going on in it. It’s definitely a game that I fancy digging into a little bit deeper.

The only down-side … Mrs Shep wasn’t as keen on the game as I was. She found the spacial puzzle a little too brain-burny to be enjoyable, and perhaps the player interaction in that part of the game was just a little bit too mean for her preferences too.

Hmmm. I wonder how well the solo version plays…

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Sun Apr 24, 2022 7:10 am
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Who is best at space?

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Despite it being a bank holiday, enough folks (i.e. 3 of us!) found themselves at a sufficiently loose end for Monday night’s customary digital board gaming sesh to go ahead (yay!) … and — facing the usual start-of-evening “what shall we play” discussion while randomly scrolling through Board Game Arena games list — I put forward a bit of a bold option: Gaia Project.

Board Game: Gaia Project


It’s a bold option because I knew that — despite one of them being a bit of a fan of Terra Mystica — neither of my opponents had actually played Gaia Project before. And teaching a game with this level of complexity over the voice-only medium of Discord — purely by talking through what folks should be able to see on their own screen and describing where they should be pointing, clicking and scrolling to follow what I’m talking about — can be a bit of a challenge (Just imagine the fun involved in trying to explain the “form a federation” action in that environment, Gaia fans!). Nevertheless… I’d had a long weekend off work, I didn’t feel nearly as mentally wiped out as I usually feel on a Monday night, and thought I might just be able to pull it off.

And to my surprise and delight … both of my opponents were happy to give it a go. So that’s what we did.

From gallery of MrShep


I think I actually got away with it pretty well. It helps, of course, that I’ve been gaming with these folks for many years now, and we have many shared gaming terms of reference. And that my use of phrases like “We are all space people, and we are going to spend 6 rounds competing with each other to … urm … decide who is the best at space” doesn’t put these folks off. It took maybe 30 or 40 minutes to deliver the full explanation (this is NOT a group who like to be taught games “as we go along…”), but the details all seemed to land pretty well, everybody seemed happy, and off we went!

To keep things balanced for the first-timers, we went with the “recommended first game for 3 players” set-up. I was allocated the Terrans … the “human” faction which thrives on terraforming trans-dimensional planets into Gaia worlds — and a faction which, in this particular configuration, tended to score an awful lot of points during the course of the game rather than at the end of the game. So-much-so that I was feeling more than a little bit guilty about having a massive mid-game lead (oh oh… had I not explained the game well enough after all?)

Meanwhile, Olly took on the role of the Taklons (a mysterious insect-like species, and wielders of the power-magnifying Brain stone), while Ali played the Geodens … a faction which specialises in terraforming a wide variety of worlds to gain rapid scientific progress. Scientific progress so rapid, it turns out, that Ali pipped us to the post in the final reckoning …having stealthily accumulated a whole bunch of research track end-game bonuses. Maybe I shouldn’t have worried about my teaching skills and that mid-game points gap after all!

I really enjoyed this play. The BGA version of Gaia Project certainly lacks the (lovely!) tactile qualities and table presence of the physical game, and I think you maybe get a little bit more immersed in your personal game state / economy / faction abilities when there’s a physical player board in front of you to fiddle with (and no computer doing the heavy lifting of income etc) . But I’ve been itching to have another human vs humans play of Gaia Project for a very long time now, and this play definitely scratched that itch. I think Olly and Ali had a good time with it too (we certainly ended up playing a little bit later than these sessions usually last) … and hopefully a good enough time for them to consider giving it another spin at some point in the future, now that they’ve got the obligatory learning game under their belts

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Wed Apr 20, 2022 7:10 am
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Egg day. Making a Pfist of it.

John Shepherd
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Ovington
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Easter already? It’s clearly time for the comes-in-a-fancy-egg-shaped-box Easter re-theme of Oh My Goods to get its annual* airing on the Shepherd games table!

From gallery of MrShep


This year’s play was entirely prompted by Mrs Shep, with no goading or prompting at all required on my part (somebody at Lookout Spiele clearly knows how to appeal to Mrs Shep’s love of all-things-seasonal — she’s also very insistent that the Christmas edition of Patchwork gets at least one airing when the appropriate time of year comes around!)

The game didn’t go well for me; I rapidly backed myself into a high dependency on willow branches … and in rounds when willow branches didn’t appear in the egg hunt (i.e. far too many of them!) my buildings didn’t run very well at all. Pretty much the only second-tier engine that I managed to engage in the course of the entire game was the “Chocolate Manufacture”, for a paltry 3 coins per conversion…

From gallery of MrShep


...while Mrs Shep had a flower nursery / easter-wreath-maker combo going on which she managed to run time and time again (the market definitely had no shortage of those pesky daffodils!).

From gallery of MrShep


To be honest, this isn’t an especially high-earning combo either (we’re so out of practice with the game that we can’t really remember how to sprint to the higher tiers of the tech tree), but the frequency with which she managed to execute this conversion gave her a very convincing win.

Maybe we should squeeze in a re-match before chocolate season is over?

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By sheer co-incidence, Oh My Goods wasn’t the only Alexander Pfister game in which I received a drubbing this week, as the Monday night gang decided to give Board Game Arena’s new “beta” release of Great Western Trail a try out

From gallery of MrShep
With the 1st edition rules.
Because we don’t hold with all this new fangled 2nd edition nonsense


Aaaaaand… I played appallingly in that one as well … not even scoring half as much as the winner managed!

I’d like to think that the way that the cards fell were chiefly responsible for my poor showing; for all the pop-up statistics and probabilities that the game will show you as you flip through your cards, nothing ever seemed to be in my hand when I wanted it to be in my hand. But, in truth, I suspect my defeat was maybe more to do with me playing entirely the wrong strategy for the starting tile configuration that we had.

The BGA implementation seems to work pretty well though. The interface can get a bit cluttered, and it’s perhaps a bit trickier to play on mobile than some BGA adaptations are — but it’s pretty slick even in its current state, and I’m sure fans of the game will be pleased.

Though if you ask me… fewer cows and far more sheep is what GWT really needs…

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*Remember that time we played it in 2021?
Or in 2020? -- best post title pun in years!
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Mon Apr 18, 2022 7:10 am
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He's not the messiah. He's a very naughty boy.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
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Sorry, dear readers … I skipped quite a few days there. Easter week is normally a bit of a busy one for us — an awful lot of strange, obscure and unusual British customs and traditions tend to happen in the run-up to Easter, and Mrs Shep’s ongoing quest to visit every British tradition-and-festival-of-note normally hits a bit of a frenzy at around this time of year. Plus, my new (new-ish? …I’ve been there for almost 9 months now!) job carries all kinds of managerial responsibilities and nonsense that seem to hit something of a peak pretty much any time that a holiday is due. So forgive my silence … but when something’s gotta slip, I’m afraid it’s going to have to be the blog writing!

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Thursday found us in the Greater Manchester town of Wigan, at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, for the Maundy Thursday charity dole. In a secluded corner of the church is a small brass plaque, marking the 1626 burial place of Henry Travis. Henry was a wealthy local man ... and upon his death he founded a charitable fund which would distribute five shillings to forty poor people of the parish -- at the site of his gravestone -- every Maundy Thursday forever more. Over the years, the church building has grown, and the site of Henry’s grave is now inside the church … which I guess makes the ceremony a bit more pleasant in bad weather. Though, as it happens, Thursday was a beautiful sunny day, and a glorious one to be travelling on.

We’ve been to quite a few of these charity doles over the course of Mrs Shep’s project. In days of yore, quite a few wealthy notables set these things up; leaving a small amount of money, or a loaf of bread, or a bag of flour, or something like that to the poor of their parish in perpetuity …no doubt hoping it would provide an additional tick on their own report card when they found themselves standing at the pearly gates. But it’s been interesting (well… I write “interesting” … I should probably have said “concerning and depressing”) to see a bit of a shift in the modern execution these ceremonies over the last decade. Until relatively recently, a lot of these things had just become silly ceremonies carried on for sake of tradition … after all, five shillings doesn’t put an awful lot of food on your plate, and a bag of flour is perhaps a little bit less of a life saver than it once was.

But over the last few years … many of these charity doles have turned into a focus for church-sponsored events that fund local food banks. They've returned to being things that genuinely put food into the bellies of hungry people. And I find it scary -- very scary -- just how quickly the responsibility for feeding the less well-off people in our society has fallen to charity, rather than being a problem for the government; how rapidly the need for food banks has become normalised

The Travis dole tradition at Leigh has become one such example. Funds from the Travis estate (and anything else raised on the day) now go directly to the Atherton and Leigh food bank.

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Obviously the poor of the parish are not expected to turn up at Henry’s Grave, with cap in hand. But there is still a small ceremony that takes place to preserve the 400 year custom … a church service commemorating the tradition, and a symbolic passing of “funds” across the burial place. This year — in her capacity as a visiting and eminent folkloreist(!) — Mrs Shep performed the actual handing over. Which, of course, she was quite thrilled to do.

From gallery of MrShep


Afterwards, we stayed for tea and sandwiches with the Vicar — Father Kevin — and his dog Brian. Apparently the pair are pretty much inseparable (Brian, an extremely friendly and well-behaved mutt, sat patiently through the service on a nearby pew; Father Kevin told us how he’s so familiar with the words to the services that he knows when its time to sit down, and when it’s time to get up and leave). We chatted about the history of the church, the Travis dole, and the trials and tribulations of running a town-centre church in an impoverished area of the country, where he has something of a reputation for being "that mad bloke with the dog". Nice chap. And a very interesting visit.

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I could probably do a slightly crass and ill-judged segue about the stress of “feeding your family” at this point* … but that evening’s hotel-based game of Agricola — All Creatures big and Small was entirely down to a random whim, rather than pre-considered thematic connection; I’d spotted it on the shelf as we were leaving, thought “Hmmm… I haven’t played that one for a while!”, and shoved it into the travel bag.

From gallery of MrShep


Incredibly, It’s 10 years since I bought this game … (and, seemingly, 2 years since we last played it!) — but it has passed the test of time particularly well. It does, of course, live in the shadow of its forerunner; the original Agricola plays extremely well with two players, so why would you ever reach for a simpler, 2-player variant instead? Well … Agricola:ACBAS is a very different game at its core; a game principally about fencing off pastures in an uber-efficient manner, and squeezing as much livestock onto your little grid-based farm as is physically possible. And while the “building” tiles carry some of the spirit of Agricola’s improvement cards … they’re very much their own thing (A thing that Rosenburg would subsequently explore in Caverna:The Cave Farmers). So the fact that this is a very-different-game-in-similar-dressing is definitely a factor here. And it’s definitely got the small(er), luggage-friendly form factor going for it too

We enjoyed playing this. A lot. And declared that we should really play it again soon … so I suspect this one is going to have to go back into the luggage when we take our summer holiday this year.

And while I was logging our play on BGG, I was reminded that in the dim and distant past, I made a video all about my newly-acquired copy of this game. Quite an elaborate video, which I’d put a fair bit of effort into editing and creating graphics for. For a very long time it was the most popular Agricola All Creatures Big and Small video on BGG … out-performing even the mighty Rahdo and The Dice Tower. So I thought I’d take a peek down at the stats on the game page to see how well the video was performing and…

From gallery of MrShep


Oops. How did that happen?

Hmmm. I suspect this disappearance might be a casualty of a time a year or two ago, when I decided to lock down my YouTube account because I was in the process of applying for a new job. And the page has probably sat there un-viewable and un-liked ever since (allowing the aforementioned Mr Rahdo and Mr Tower to creep in front of me. Noooooooo!). Anyway … I’ve fixed it now. So if you’re interested in hearing the Mr-Shep-of-a-Decade-Ago talking about Agricola:ACBAS — and perhaps considering an alternative future where I became a Board Game YouTuber instead of a Board Game Blogger (because that really was the nascent days of YouTube videos about board games) — you can find that here:

https://boardgamegeek.com/video/17554/agricola-all-creatures...

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*Though I know full well that you don’t actually feed your family in this version. Or grow any kind of food crop at all. Unless you consider bacon to be a food crop.

Mmmmm. Bacon.
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Sat Apr 16, 2022 12:50 pm
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Underground Showtime

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Not much gaming went on in the Shepherd household this weekend, as we had guests.

The worst type of guests … i.e. the type of guests who don’t really like board gaming

We did, however, amuse our visitors for an afternoon by re-visiting the local lead mine that I told you all about last year … and THIS time the ventilation system was in full working order, so we could actually venture underground! Sadly, I don’t have any new photos for you, as most of the tour involved wading through 6 inches of water, ducking low ceilings, and being in the kind of environment where you really don’t want to mess with folks’ night vision by using a camera flash. It was very interesting stuff though. Well worth a visit

From gallery of MrShep


…and it was the sort of adventure that gave me a hankering to crack open my copy of Tinners Trail (redux) for a two player try-out afterwards. But, alas, by the time our guests departed on Sunday, there wasn’t very much gaming time (or energy?) left in the weekend at all. So we made do with another play of Fjords (which Mrs Shep has now decided definitely isn’t her kind of thing), followed by a quick round of (reliable favourite) Nova Luna. Neither of which has anything to do with mines, or lead, or even the vaguest of tenuous links to holes in the ground. But the play of Nova Luna reminded me that I should really have a look at Uwe’s newest variation-on-the-theme, Framework soon. (Has anybody here tried it yet?). And I also remembered to watch out for the answer to Caroline’s query on my last post too:

From gallery of MrShep

Sea monster? Why yes. Yes there is!


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Unfortunately the presence of our houseguests also clashed with the highly auspicious occasion of a (potential?) return-to-form for Newcastle Gamers. We finally got the go-ahead from the venue to put our attendance numbers back up to pre-covid levels this weekend (hooray!). But — occupied as I was with domestic guest-hosting duties — I was unable to go along and see how it all worked out (booo!). Hopefully I’ll be able to attend the next meeting on the 30th though. Fingers crossed.

One other non-too-distant Saturday afternoon that I’ll definitely be otherwise occupied upon is on the first Saturday of June … falling, as it does, in the middle of the UK Games Expo! Especially because — as per the announcement on Tony’s Blog a couple of days ago — there will be a seminar session devoted to BGG blogging this year! The panel line-up features the aforementioned Mr Boydell, myself, Caroline “The Dyslexic Gamer” Black, Nicholas “Meepleonboard” O’Neil …and anybody else who we manage to rope in between now and then. And it would be nice* to have an audience too … so please do come along and join us.

Mark your diary for Saturday, 15:30, in the Piazza Suite.

I’m not sure who we’ll be up against on the main stage yet… but I shall be eagerly awaiting the publication of the full entertainments schedule to find out

Any bets?

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*Though if the worst comes to the worst... at least we'll have a nice quiet room for a quick game of something...
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Mon Apr 11, 2022 7:10 am
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Surrounded

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Another recent Kickstarter delivery — Fjords.

From gallery of MrShep


I backed the Fjords campaign pretty much blind. Fjords has been out of print for quite some time, and I’ve never played it … but I’d heard good things about it. (Many of those good things coming from Caroline’s blog, I think?). Plus, Phil Walker-Harding had some involvement in this new edition … and while I’m not familiar with the other works of the original designer, Franz-Benno Delonge, Phil Walker-Harding has a very solid track record. So it seemed worth a punt.

From gallery of MrShep


Fjords is certainly an attractive game. Those are surprisingly chunky, wonderfully tactile pieces of wood. The tile art is by Beth Sobel — and while there’s some nice, detailed embellishments on several of the tiles, none of that detail gets in the way of functionality. In short, it handles nicely, and looks like a game for grown-ups. Good marks on that front.

And the gameplay?

Well…

It’s fine. Or maybe “fine-swaying-towards-reasonably-good”.

It works like this: There are two phases to the game; in the first part you draft tiles and then lay them to build a shared landscape … and during this phase you have three huts which you can individually place upon any tile immediately after you’ve laid it, to establish your starting positions. Once the tiles have all been played, you move into the second part of the game. In this phase, you take turns placing one of your viking settler meeples onto the resulting landscape, adjacent to any piece of wood that you’ve already placed (with the rule that those snowy “mountain” spaces break adjacency). Keep on going until no player can legally play any more pieces, and the person who placed the most settlers wins.

In other words it's another variation on a “surround” game… one where you communally build the playing space before you start doing the surrounding. Did you ever play that game as a kid where you place a bunch of dots on a piece of paper, and then take turns connecting them up with lines and annexing off bits of territory? It’s basically that. But with nice bits.

This new edition comes with a selection of “rune stone” mini expansions (courtesy of the aforementioned Mr Walker Harding) which tend to tweak scoring and placement rules slightly from play to play, and there's a suggested campaign format where you gradually add these rules in over a sequence of games. These do seem a little bit interesting (we haven’t played with them yet) … but possibly not interesting enough for me to regret passing on the super-deluxe version that came with plastic runestones included. I’ve just got plain ol’ punched-out-cardboard runestones … and, given the amount of use I think they’ll get … those’ll do me just fine.

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It turned out to be a bit of a surround-game-themed weekend. Aside from an inaugural play of Fjords with Mrs Shep, the weekend also saw me complete a bit of a craft project that I’ve been working on over recent weeks…

From gallery of MrShep


From gallery of MrShep
Light Cycles!


Back when I restored an old, generic arcade cabinet to playable working order (some time in the early 2000s?), I devised a cunning plan to build a series of interchangeable control panels to fit onto it. Control panels (and accompanying artwork) for all of my favourite “classic” arcade games. I mean… obviously, you can get a long way with just a standard ball-top joystick and a set of buttons. But there are certain games that need very different types of controls to get an arcade-authentic experience. Things like steering wheels (for pretty much any driving game ever). Or track balls (for the likes of centipede, missile command, Marble Madness and several extremely-well-thought-of golfing games). Or sometimes things even more exotic.

Of course… I hatched this brilliant plan, wired my cabinet with all manner of plugs and sockets to support this design … and then totally failed to build even a single add-on control panel for the next couple of decades.

Until now.

From gallery of MrShep


From gallery of MrShep


From gallery of MrShep


Back in the summer of 1983, TRON was one of my very favourite arcade games. I sunk many a 10p piece into that particular coin-gobbling beast during my mis-spent youth. And although I’ve played various emulations and ports of TRON over the intervening years … the game has got a really unusual control combination that doesn’t translate very well at all to modern game pads... so none of those versions has really felt "right". To play properly, TRON requires a flight-stick style “trigger” joystick for your right hand, and a weighted, analogue spinner knob for the left hand.

From gallery of MrShep


But finally… with a little bit of specialist part acquisition ... cutting, drilling and soldering … plus a few hours of photoshopping arcade-authentic artwork and getting an online print shop to make me some vinyl decals … I think I have a more-than-respectable simulation of the original arcade experience sitting in my games room now.

Finally, I can TRON until my heart’s content. Just like it’s 1983 again!

My inner 13 year old is beyond pleased with this

(Next on the list: Defender. Just give me another 20 years or so to work up to it…)

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Fri Apr 8, 2022 7:10 am
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