The Tyranny of Small Decisions

It's a blog on a board-gaming site. Pretty safe bet it'll be about board games then...

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Old man improvises yelling at consensually-imagined clouds...

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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There was a time when I used to play a lot of Role Playing Games. Well, technically, not so much “play” RPGs, as “run” RPGs … because the games master role always appealed to me way, way more than actually playing any of the games did. (I guess that whenever an activity gives its participants a choice between being a creator or a consumer … I usually sway towards the creator side of the hobby!). But I can safely say that I was very much into the whole role playing scene. Easily as deeply I’m into my board gaming in the present day.

And when I say “a time”, I mean the mid-to-late 1980s. Probably a period that many would regard as a bit of a golden age* for the hobby. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons… Call of Cthulhu… Traveller… Paranoia… Warhammer FRPG… our group played a whole bunch of different things — evenings, weekends, holidays — we’d spend every spare hour immersing ourselves in these strange gaming words. And we loved doing so. Happy times!

But then… we all went our separate ways (i.e disappeared off to various universities), and that entire phase of my gaming life came to a surprisingly abrupt end

And I guess … surprsingly … I didn’t really miss it all that much. Beginning my university life -- moving away from home and becoming an independent adult — brought its own distractions and entertainments. I did go along to a university RPG society meeting once or twice — but they mostly wanted new arrivals to be players, rather than GMs … and could be just a little bit too po-faced and serious in their play style for my own preferences. Or maybe it was just time for me to “set aside childish things”? Whatever. My lingering interest in the RPG hobby kind of fizzled out.

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Even to this day, I don’t particularly harbour any desire to get back into tabletop RPGing (though you can probably see some hints of my games-mastering past in the way that I write about Kingdom Death Monster?). I have, however, continued to have at least a little bit of an academic interest in the hobby … watching it from the sidelines, so to speak. I mean, it’s hard to be deeply involved in board games and to not pick up on little bits of what’s happening over in the board-game-adjacent world of RPGing, isn’t it?

And it’s curious — to me, at least — to see how role playing has evolved over the last decade or so. So much of the hobby now seems to have way less emphasis on the “game” aspect, and far more emphasis on the “role playing” aspect … in fact, many highly-regarded RPGs of the current generation seem to be one-off, sandboxy, free-format improvisational theatre sessions, often with very few rules at all (or even a GM!).

Those are a VERY long way away from the experience of plotting your way around a graph-paper dungeon with a handful of polyhedral dice, a well-worn character sheet, and a wider campaign that would run for YEARS at a time that I remember.

And as for the current crop of GM-less, single-player, “journal” based RPGs -- which seem to amount to nothing more than a blank piece of paper and a set of creative writing prompts? Well… those seem even less game-like to me. A bit like somebody got a copy of (the hilarious) “Top 10 games you can play in your head, by yourself”, and took everything inside just a little bit too seriously.

And yet…

Those journalling games do seem to be very well regarded by an awful lot of respectable critics with a very good taste in games.

Maybe I’m missing something here?

There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there….

From gallery of MrShep


(to be continued…)

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*Yeah, I did it. I called something a “golden age”. Begin fighting in 3… 2… 1…
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Tue May 17, 2022 7:10 am
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Inbetwixtmas

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Hello again. I’m back. Did you all have a good Christmas? I certainly had a busy Christmas …as you can probably tell from the fact that my last post came from the depths of Cambridgeshire. And the night after posting that instalment, we found ourselves staying somewhere near Birmingham… for an event which ended up being cancelled only a couple of hours before it was due to happen.

Yup, many shepherd-hours and many shepherd-miles were sacrificed to the curse of Omicron this Christmas! Booo! angry

Anyway, I digress… did Santa bring you anything nice?

Unusually, this year I didn’t get very much by way of board game stuff. Instead, Mrs Shep put a distinctively non-cardboard game into my Christmas gifts. And quite a vintage one at that:

From gallery of MrShep


No, it’s not a full size Asteroids coin-op (though I guess you’d be forgiven for thinking so) … it’s actually a 1/6th scale (and very nicely-built) working replica of such a thing. Which, standing at a mere 12 inches tall, sits very nicely on the shelf with my growing collection of other such devices…

From gallery of MrShep


This version of Asteroids was quite a challenge to get hold of. It was released a couple of years ago, in a limited run of 3500… but I (foolishly!) skipped the pre-sale offer, expecting that copies would be widely available at retail a little bit further down the line. Alas… the whole run sold out within hours, and I’ve kind of regretted not grabbing one ever since.

So just how did Mrs Shep get hold of such a rarity? Well… a small batch unexpectedly appeared in an Australia-based store a few weeks back (I guess the boat to Australia which was carrying these things took a particularly scenic route?) Even more usefully — and, much-to-their-credit — said store seems to be completely un-influenced by the fact that these things have been changing hands at two or three times their original price on ebay over the course of the last year, and have been offering them at the original RRP.

One international order later … the treasure is mine! Thanks, Mrs Shep!

Mrs Shep’s good luck didn’t stop at merely being able to source one of these things… the shipment sailed through UK customs completely unimpeded — no duty or VAT added — and got here nicely in time for Christmas. Perhaps Mrs Shep has the magic touch? …It’s a shame that assorted board games which I’m currently waiting for have faired considerably less well with HMRC. (I’m looking at you, Food Chain Magnate and Clinic Deluxe Expansions. Grrr!)

Anyway, a thought occurred to me — while pushing tiny spaceship-controlling buttons, blasting black-and-white vector blobs into slightly-smaller black-and-white vector blobs and gleefully reliving my mis-spent youth — that this isn’t the first time that I’ve been given Asteroids for Christmas. Exactly 40 years ago… Christmas 1981 …a much younger (though not necessarily much wiser) Mr Shep was the happy recipient of the Atari 2600 version of the very same game. Wow!



Not that I can think of anything deep and profound to make of this co-incidence.

But it definitely makes me feel a bit old

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Anyway… I said I didn’t get very much board game stuff for Christmas (for which you can basically blame Uwe Rosenberg failing to release a big-box farming-related game this year, since those are usually a staple fixture of my Christmas box) …but, as mentioned in a previous post, I had already picked up a couple of new things earlier in the month specifically to break out over the festive period. Because — no matter where you find yourself on Christmas day — it just isn’t a proper Christmas without a new board game or two, is it?

On this particular Christmas day, we found ourselves in a hotel in Cambridge. So it’s just as well that Riverside comes in a luggage-friendly box size, and fits quite easily onto a small table, isn’t it?

From gallery of MrShep


…and it did feel like at least a bit of a festive thing to play. The game involves a roll & write boat cruise through a snowy winter wonderland… at least one of the scoring categories involves taking tourists to see wild reindeer, and you could almost imagine that the visit to the rainbow-coloured stave church at the half way point is a stop-off at Santa’s grotto? …Couldn’t you?

Well, I could, anyway. Perhaps the fact that I was sipping a pint of “Fairytale of Brew York” (a very delicious 4.9% gingerbread milk stout) as I played helped to sell the illusion

Anyway, it’s good fun, this one. Nothing earth shattering, exactly … but a solid, pleasantly-crunchy roll & write with a nice theme. I expect we’ll get a good few plays out of it before we move onto the next roll-&-write-of-the-moment. (And maybe attempt a play-by-blog of it before too long too?)

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Our second new game had to wait until our return home, as unconstrained tile laying seemed like a bit of a big ask for a Travelodge table, and my days of playing games on hotel room floors are pretty much behind me now. But since returning home we’ve managed to play two games of Cascadia (at two and three players … “A” deck cards on both outings), and I can finally count myself amongst the folks who have played the seemingly-hottest-game-of-mid-2021.

From gallery of MrShep


…and…

…Wellllllll…

It’s certainly a pleasant thing to play. Optimising your little landscape feels very satisfying. Simultaneously making best use of the animal counters… that feels good too. But… all-in-all… Cascadia is a very gentle and formulaic sort of a game. Draft a tile and a counter, bung them into your tableau, repeat another 19 times and then see who built the nicest “thing”.

It’s not quite multi-player solitaire …. but there’s no significant interaction beyond making a conscious effort to stay ahead in the race-for-the-biggest-territory-of-each-type, and I kind of suspect that most players will simply lose themselves in their own board, and not really play it that way anyway. But maybe it’ll open up a bit when we advance to some of the trickier wildlife scoring cards? And it’s definitely the sort of game which I can see myself reaching for when I feel like playing something not-too-taxing.

(which is something that’s happened a lot, of late)

But … if this was the most exciting title to come out of the summer of 2021 … then we’ve really not had a very good year for board games.

(Though, to be fair… I’d kind of come to that conclusion _long_ before I played Cascadia… )

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Thu Dec 30, 2021 7:10 am
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Batteries, un-punched.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Batteries. This week has been all about the batteries.

I feel like I’ve already written far too many posts that start with a sentence along the lines of “one unexpected side-effect of the global pandemic was…” … but I definitely feel like the simultaneous break-down of umpteen personal electronic devices — coinciding with the sudden “back to work” switch in lifestyle — was one such thing.

I suspect that too many of my mobile devices have spent way too much of the last year-and-a-half semi-permanently attached to charging cables. In a not-at-all-conducive-to-good-battery-health sort of way. Because why take them off the charger if you rarely leave the house? And I fear that the abrupt return to the daily rigours of a charge/discharge cycle has perhaps been a bit of a shock to their poor little lithium ion souls, after such a cosseted lifestyle

It all started with the face of my smartwatch unexpectedly popped off a couple of weeks ago — revealing a grotesquely swollen battery inside. To be fair… I fancied a newer model anyway, so that particular problem wasn’t the end of the world (though I might try a DIY repair just for the challenge of it… since it looks like a relatively straightforward replacement, and I never like to leave a bit of tech broken!). However, the fact that my phone has also started losing its charge stupidly-fast over the course of the last fortnight or so has presented a more significant problem. So on Saturday morning I decided it was time to pay a long-overdue call to the apple store for a battery service.

From gallery of MrShep
Bad lighting. It doesn't look nearly as dusty IRL.


It’s a while since I’ve visited the mall that houses my friendly neighbourhood apple store. Well, technically, that’s not entirely true — I’ve visited the branch of Marks and Spencer that lurks on one corner of the mall a few times in passing, and dashed into WH Smiths for some emergency stationary a few weeks back … but I’ve never really been deep inside, and had a proper look all at the changes that have come to pass during the covid years.

The battery swap was going to take an hour or so, which gave me the opportunity to wander off and have a bit of an explore. And… truth be told… it was a pretty bleak experience; apart from a thriving food-and-leisure quarter, things are looking pretty grim in there. The mixture of empty units, budget brands, vape stores, and “flight friendly rapid covid testing” pop-ups present but a shadow of the glory days of the 1980s … a time in which the place proclaimed itself to be the largest shopping mall in Europe …and even boasted its own roller-coaster (now, sadly, demolished)

Despite so many units standing empty, I think there’s a corporate policy against allowing charity shops in there (though to be fair, those tend to be a sure sign of a high street death rattle) … which is a bit of a shame, as at least those might’ve provided an opportunity for me to root out some unexpected board games while I was waiting for the work on my phone to be completed.

Instead… the only board games that I encountered during the trip were the usual shelves full of mass-market pre-Christmas tat, and a solitary Martin Wallace title in a discount book store (though presumably not one of his better offerings, as I didn’t recall very much about this one at all, and didn't have a phone to look it up on … so I left it where it was). That said, I was amused to also see a recent reprint of the 1976 Dad's Army board game in the same shop — I remember playing that one as a child, though it seems like a bit of a strange thing to be re-printing / pitching to the mass market in this day and age … so it’s maybe not too difficult to see why its gone straight into the remainder bins?

Anyway, my newly-refurbished phone was ready at the appointed time, and I found myself heading home… thinking about batteries and board games. And wondering if a tenuous theme of the day might fall out of the morning’s experiences?

But as it happened… WAY more than a mere tenuous-theme-of-the-day came at the end of this train of thought. Because if here is ONE battery-management-featuring board game which reigns supreme over all other contenders, it surely has to be Vlaada Chvátil’s Galaxy Trucker …featuring these little green tiles of misery, which few players would ever forget:

From gallery of MrShep


…and as I thought about this game, something notable occurred to me.

Which was this:

I COMPLETELY missed “annual not punching out Galaxy Trucker: Another Big Expansion day” last year — a momentous occasion previously celebrated in August 2019, and before that in August 2018. Talk about being discombobulated by the events of the pandemic!!

Well… more than 2 years since the last not-punching-out day… I can report that my copy of Another Big Expansion STILL remains un-punched

From gallery of MrShep


....buuuuut the event seems to have lapsed a bit now, so this doesn’t seem to be nearly as exciting an achievement for me as it once did

And I’m really short on shelf space at the moment… and pretty sure that I could get all of those bits into the main game box, if I tossed the insert…

Screw it. 7+ years on the shelf, and I’m finally punching that sucker.

All thanks to thinking about batteries

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Sun Nov 7, 2021 6:10 am
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The Dice Man

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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I still remember my first encounter with polyhedral dice. My gateway into the world of RPG gaming — like, I suspect, many teenagers in the 1980s — was via the red box edition of Dungeons and Dragons. And in that box came a set of dice like none that I had ever seen before! … a twenty sided die? ten-sided … twelve-sided… eight sided… and even a FOUR SIDED PYRAMID DIE which you had to read the value off in a particularly weird way. WT-A-F???!!! …Just what kind of bizarre and exotic gaming strangeness was this??!

From gallery of MrShep


They weren’t the highest quality dice … cheap-looking red plastic, and the set included a white wax crayon with which you were expected to colour in the engraved numbers yourself (which actually gave a much more professional finish than you might expect, once you’d wiped the excess wax away). Nevertheless, they did the job. And many months of dungeon delving and monster killing were powered by that little set of dice.

But then, one day… a member of our group turned up to games night and announced that he would not be using the “communal” dice this time. Because — through the miracle of mail order — he had managed to acquire his OWN set of dice. What’s more, these turned out to be a particularly classy-looking set of dice; dice that had been cast from multi-coloured plastic, with some kind of swirly cloud effect employed in the process. They really put our basic D&D set to shame…. those dice were pretty much the envy of everybody at the table.

…at least…

…until the next session. When another guy turned up with something even more impressive: Dice made from clear plastic ... Gem Dice! We were stunned by their beauty. Never before had we seen such marvels. And suddenly, those old swirly dice from the week before seemed really old-hat.

From that point forward… a whole new world of dice one-upmanship began. Glittery dice. Metal Dice (not the smartest thing to roll on your mum's dining room table!). Marble-effect dice. A 100-sided die which actually had 100 sides. A three sided die. The list went on...

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A couple of years ago, I met up with an old university friend at the UK Games Expo. He’s not much of a gamer himself … but his wife owned a tiny game shop, in a small town in Yorkshire (sadly now disappeared). Which is why they were at the expo.

As we wandered around the halls, chatting and looking at the various gaming wares on offer, I noticed that his son (who was maybe 10 or 12? …frankly, I’m useless at estimating kid’s ages) was carrying a small, well-worn bag of …. something. “That’s his dice collection” explained my friend. “He doesn’t actually play anything with them … he just likes collecting them”. And sure enough, every now and then the child would stop at one of the stands in the trade hall, transfixed by a particularly impressive specimen, and beg his parents for some spending money.

When I was a kid, I had a marble collection. Not because I played marbles. But just because… owning a bunch of really nice marbles was really cool.

I totally got that.

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I guess this is a roundabout way to get around to telling you that this week a box of yellow-and-pink “Summer” themed Kingdom Death: Monster dice arrived in the post …and that this new acquisition completes my collection of every official KD:M dice variant released to date.

From gallery of MrShep


Urm…

yeah.

I’ve got no real idea why I collected these; a single set — which comes in the box anyway — is all that you really need to play the game …especially if you only ever play solo. And some of the colour variants are definitely a bit less appealing than others. Nevertheless, I did find the idea of collecting all 10 colourways inexplicably compelling. And a nagging little voice in my head has been silenced*, now that I own them all.

It does take at least a little bit of dedication to get the full set — as many of them are only available to purchase at certain times of the year (sometimes with only a few days of availability!) — but it’s not like it’s a super-difficult task to complete, if you really want to.

I guess I still just have that crazy marble-and-dice collector thing going on, somewhere deep in my psyche

What are the least-necessary game add-ons that you’ve ever bought?

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*Except for the fact that two of the sets don’t have a box. And I kind of feel like I should get the boxes, for sake of completion, now…
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Wed Aug 11, 2021 7:10 am
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Playing like it's 2008

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Agricola and Dominion. Two games that we've been playing a fair bit of over the last few days. Not for any particular reason -- other than a randomly instigated “Hey, it’s ages since we played this … we should really give it play” moment … swiftly followed by a realisation of: “Hmmm… I’d forgotten JUST how good a game this is. Maybe we should play it again tomorrow?”. But … yeah … over recent days we’ve been playing board games like it’s 2008 here in the Shepherd household.

...and totally loving it

From gallery of MrShep
Look at my Faaaaaaaarm!


It got me thinking: when you cast your mind back to some of the games that were coming out in the 2007/2008 kind of era … Agricola, Dominion … and let’s not forget Pandemic (a perennial favourite that we would almost certainly be playing a lot more of too, were it not for current world circumstances) … you can’t help but be struck by what an innovative/breakthrough sort of time it was for game designs. The combination of the nascent worker-placement genre with resource conversion and a big-ass deck of cards was a (literal) game changer. Then the birth of Deckbuilding happened. The first (significant) modern co-op eurogame emerged. And beyond those three biggies, there was plenty of other honourable-mention stuff too… like Vlada doing crazy real-time tile laying and programmed moves in Galaxy Trucker and Space Alert … or Battlestar Galactica — a game which I wasn’t a massive fan of personally, but I will absolutely doff my cap to for raising the bar in hidden traitor games. Oh… and Dixit!! … just imagine just how many games we wouldn’t be able to describe as “It’s basically Dixit, except…” if Dixit had never happened?? … the list goes on!

By comparison, it feels like board games these days are making far smaller innovative leaps. Or that present-day (/newer?) game designers are far more content to merely stir the big pot of tried-and-tested game mechanisms, and throw out just-another-game-in-a-mountain-of-games

Am I looking at the past with rose-tinted spectacles here? … or has the pace of innovation in board games really dropped off over course of the last decade-and-a-bit?

Either way … 2008 was a good sort of time for board gaming. And I’m rather pleased that at least a tiny bit of me is still very much stuck in the past.

(Now get off my Lawn, you kids...)

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Fri May 21, 2021 7:10 am
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Drink. Play. Buy.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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I turns out that I wasn’t only inspired to play Limes this week. I was also inspired to buy Limes this week.

It’s a long story.

Let me begin by taking you back to the innocent times of early 2014…

(wibble-wobble wibble-wobble wibble-wobble)

“Hi there everybody! ….It’s early 2014, And I’ve just got the very latest issue of Spielbox Magazine. I’m not sure why I’ve got this one; it hasn’t even got a promo glued to the front that I’m interested in. 2014 must just be a time in my life when I get the magazine on subscription or something. Anyway… the promo stuck to the front of this one does look KIND of intriguing, even though it’s not for a game that I own. There’s just something about the artwork which makes it looks like the kind of game I’d like to play. And here in early 2014 there aren’t nearly as many games released each year as I expect there’ll be in, say, 2020 … so I’ll just tuck these cards into a safe place for now, because maybe one day I might own the game that they belong to.”

From gallery of MrShep


(Fast forward to some arbitrary year, between 2014 and now):

"Hi there everybody -- me again! ... and it's some arbitrary year between 2014 and 2020. Oh, look, here’s the safe place where I left those promo cards for Limes! I remember reading a bit about that game on BGG since I stashed these cards away… it does look kind of interesting. Two-player or solo-only though. Meh… I’ll pass for now. I mean, it’s not like I’m stuck at home with only Mrs Shep (or myself) to play games with, here in thise arbitrary year between 2014 and 2020 when there's definitely not a global pandemic in process. I might still buy it one day though!"

(Earlier this week):

"Hello again everybody. It's 2020, and I'm drinking weird beer. Oh, wait! …I've just remembered …there’s that Limes expansion in the box upstairs, which always intrigued me a bit, but which I never got around to buying the accompanying game for. <<Does a google search>>. Hmmm… what’s this?… an unofficial online version? I should maybe have a crack at that. That’ll sort me out for a blog post, I'm sure!"

(Plays the online solo game a bit)

(Plays the online solo game a bit more)

(Plays the online solo game quite a lot)

"Hmmm. You know what… I should really buy a copy of this."

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So, yesterday a physical copy of Limes arrived on my doorstep.

From gallery of MrShep


I had a couple of motivations for buying this. Firstly… it just seemed appropriate to buy a copy. I’ve had quite a good time playing the unofficially-built web version of this now, and it kind of feels right -- if you get a fair bit of use out of an unofficial version of a game -- to pay it back by getting a copy of the real thing. And secondly… I think this one might suit Mrs Shep. There’s a similar sort of vibe to Skulls of Seldlec to it. And maybe a hint of My City too. So I think Mrs Shep will take to this.

But what I didn’t particularly anticipate doing was playing it solo; I've greatly enjoyed the online version -- and it's super-convenient to set up and automatically sorts out the scoring... you can blast through a game in no time at all, from the convenience of a web browser.

But, of course, it’s hard to get a new game and not have at least one quick little play, is it?

So I did.

And them I immediately played it again.

And again.

Damn, this thing is addictive!

Anyway… the moral of this story: It took me 6+ years, from getting that original interest-piqueing promo, to finally buying the game. But the idea did, genuinely, kind of bubble away in the background of my brain for all of that time. And then it was an unofficial web implementation that finally tipped me over the edge. So if you ever had doubts about the efficacy of the mass distribution of promos … or whether having unofficial versions of games digitally available can influence people into buying official, physical, real-world versions of games … well … I guess this is a tale of how Limes got me in the end. It just took a little while to happen

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Fri Nov 20, 2020 7:10 am
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Pedigree Chums

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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It’s a dark day.

From gallery of MrShep


Not just a literally dark day (seriously… I snapped that photo of my games room window just 5 minutes ago; the skies are black, and the rain is torrential) … but a bit of a mentally-dark day too. This weekend — falling as it does in close proximity to Uncle Tony’s birthdaywould have been the annual Gathering of Chums; possibly my favourite day of gaming related antics in the entire year. A whole weekend spent in the back room of a Gloucestershire pub, playing a mixture of the new Essen hotness alongside some old favourites. Plus, beer and curry. And, of course, home of the UK Botswana Grand Masters Invitational Finals … a true highlight of the weekend, and a contest which I’ve been lucky enough to partake in not once, but TWICE, over recent years. (1) (2)

From gallery of tonyboydell
Observing the critical 40° magnetic bearing, pre-game.

It’s also an excellent weekend for discovering new old games. Many’s the time when one of the assembled chums has brought something obscure to the table with an explanation of “You should really all try this… I don’t know how it didn’t create a bigger buzz when it first came out”, only to have half the assembled players (including myself) reaching for their phone halfway through the game, searching for an online store that still has copies. I mean, you often goes to a games club, or a convention, and somebody comes up with that line, and you play whatever it is … and it’s a bit “meh”. But the chums… the chums know their games.

So of all the covid-cancelled things in 2020… of all the potentially-excellent-things that I’ve missed… this is the board-gaming one that’s maybe hitting the hardest.

Fortunately, there seems to be light at the end of the pandemic tunnel now… and I have managed to get a little bit of board gaming in this weekend … a Wingspan session yesterday (Mrs Shep’s choice), and a Faiyum game lined up for this afternoon (mine!).

So when I go to the games table this afternoon, I shall pour myself a glass of Plum Porter (favoured tipple of the gathering), and raise a toast mid-game to the other scattered chums.

See you all, I hope, in Autumn 2021…

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Sun Nov 15, 2020 12:03 pm
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Branded

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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A couple of years ago, I posted about our visit to The Museum of Brands, Advertising and Packaging, in London … a place with an unexpectedly large collection of board games from years gone by. And I lamented the fact that they have a very strict no-photography policy in place (seriously … the stuff in there could’ve set me up for blog posts for MONTHS!).

However, this week, I noticed the following video popping up on the museum’s social media channels. It’s a short promotional clip — presented by Harry Hill — which gives a glimpse into (a very small part of) the museum’s collection, and a taster of some of the late-20th-century board-gaming treasures that they hold. I’m pretty sure this will be of nostalgic interest to other-brits-of-a-similar-vintage-to-myself.

(or anybody who happens to be collecting exhibits for a board gaming museum!)

From gallery of MrShep


Sadly, the clip doesn’t seem to be available on YouTube (and isn’t therefore easily-embeddable on the geek), so instead I shall direct you to the following links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MuseumofBrands/status/131487326188125799...

Or Facebook — where there's a version which runs for a couple of extra minutes. The extra material doesn’t feature board games, but contains some additional top-quality nostalgic goodies which'll likely still be worth your time : https://www.facebook.com/theisolationroomshow/videos/3791889...

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Just look at the size of that tag cloud! ... but, frankly, I'll be surprised if this one pings any subscriptions...
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Tue Oct 20, 2020 7:10 am
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The Biz

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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I spent my working hours yesterday sorting out some major engineering issues on one of the UK’s highest-profile web sites.

And then I spent my leisure hours… sorting out some significantly less-major issues, on one of the UK’s somewhat-more-modestly-trafficked websites. For a friend.

It’s fair to say that, all in all, It was a bit of a webby sort of a day yesterday.

* * * * * * *

A couple of weeks ago, I got a message from my friend Tony. (No, not that Tony … a different Tony. Yeah… I know. Having more than one friend called Tony is a bit confusing, isn’t it?).

Tony used to be in a band.

“Shep… it’s the website.” said Tony. “Can you do a quick update for me? There’s a new box set coming out; commemorative edition of the first album — it would be a shame not to mention it on the site. I know it’s been a while… but can you fix that for me?”

Tony’s band was big in the 1980s. Or, At least.. big for a few months (such is the fickle nature of the music industry!). But even though the band’s brush with fame was relatively short-lived, they drew a bit of a cult following. Enough to warrant a web-presence, when the web became a thing. And in my capacity as “mate who knows a bit about the internet”, in latter years the task of building and looking after said web presence fell to me

“A new box set? Nice!… Yeah. Haven’t looked at that old site in years… shouldn’t be a problem. But look … I’m on holiday at the moment. I’ll sort it out when I get home. OK?”

“Yeah, cheers, thanks Shep … really appreciate it!”

And then… of course, I completely forgot all about the whole thing. (What can I say. I was on holiday. And we live in distracting times!).

Or, a t least, I forgot about it until last night, when Tony pinged me again in a “Hey Shep… sorry to be a nuisance, but that record is coming out in a couple of days…” kind of way.

Oops.

* * * * * * *

A decade is a long time in web design. The site is definitely looking a bit dated now. I put it together before the rise of the mobile web and responsive design. It hails from an era of desktop sites made for big-screens-with-awful-resolutions. I didn’t even build it on a CMS platform (…though I guess that has maybe worked in my favour over the years of abandonment — static html is not a good attack surface for hackers!) … and the editing software that I used (for reasons too dull to explain here) is long-deprecated and entirely un-runnable on present-day hardware. The only way I could make the changes that Tony wanted — without pretty much junking the whole thing and starting over — was to manually work through the awful, obfuscated, machine-generated markup underpinning the pages — and to replace existing blocks of text and images with alternative blocks of text and images that were roughly the same size and shape.

But it’s done, and it’s working. There are a couple of elements and bodges that really make me cringe … but Tony was happy, and the day was saved. ‘Phew.

And although I’ve said a bunch of bad things about the site… there’s one particular part of it which — despite its failings in terms of modern web design methodologies — I’m still really proud of. A massive biographical section, full of video clips and magazine-style photo spreads. We spent weeks working on the history of the band; editing and fine-tuning the copy, going through photo archives, putting the video clips together. And it’s been — literally — years since I’ve really had a proper look at all of that. I’d forgotten most of the stories and anecdotes. Forgotten it all to an extent where I can kind of look upon it now like I haven’t seen it before. I spent a few happy hours last night and this morning reading back through it all, playing the videos, and reminiscing.

* * * * * * *

So that’s why you didn’t get a blog post yesterday. I had my head in the past. A time before I was so heavily into all of this board game nonsense. And a time when my creative streak was directed in a very different direction.

But the stories in that biography — the struggle, rise and fall of a band — did make me wonder why nobody has ever had a good stab at a eurogame based on the music industry. I mean, I recall many successful attempts to build computer games on that theme (though again… mostly back in the 1980s. In fact, if you have the patience to deal with clunky emulation software, and vaguely know how a ZX Spectrum works, click here and take a look at The Biz, an old text-based game written by Chris Sievey* … and tell me that playing THAT doesn’t feel a little bit like playing some kind of proto-euro title**).

I guess that maybe the struggles of an up-and-coming band isn’t a thing that the youth of today would relate to. And I suppose that, nowadays, you hope to be spotted as the next big thing on YouTube, or bandcamp, or selected as a finalist on X Factor, or something like that …rather than working your way through the Biz.

Oh well. Different times.

Oh… and my friend Tony’s band? Well, if you lived through the 1980s, you might remember them.

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*Also famous(?) for being the man behind the mask of light entertainment legend, “Frank Sidebottom”.

**and is also a game which amuses me greatly by calling out The Corner House, Newcastle as a significant live venue in the early 80s music scene.

(along with the Tyne Tees Television kids show, Razzmatazz!)
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Thu Oct 8, 2020 10:38 am
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Degradation

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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In March 2002, Microsoft Europe paid half a million quid to make a TV advertisement, heralding the launch of their new gaming console … the Xbox. It was a strange time, the early 2000s … in the wake of the Twin Towers, a lot of media had adopted an odd mixture of nihilistic / hedonistic overtones — and the Microsoft ad (which apparently went by the title “Champagne”) — was one of the most memorable examples:

(Content warning: contains scenes of childbirth in close proximity to scenes of death)



“Life is Short. Play More”. It’s a brilliant piece of advertising (though I find it far scarier now that I identify more with the balding bloke near the end of the video than I do with the younger fellows near the beginning), and I guess the message -- more of a warning -- is, perhaps even more relevant in light of recent events. The ad won multiple awards … and also, predictably, got banned from UK television amidst a torrent of complaints.

But the reason why this advert came to mind today isn’t so much because of the times in which we find ourselves… its because yesterday I finally got my old, original, Xbox controllers out of storage … and discovered that time hasn’t treated them well. The plastic/rubber sheathing on the controller cables is degrading; they’re a bit sticky, a bit oily, and unpleasant to touch. But heading to the internet, to look for potential solutions, I discovered that degrading cables is the least of a first-generation Xbox owner’s worries. It turns out that the early models all contain a particularly dodgy electrical component. An especially cheap and nasty capacitor, installed as a workaround to putting a battery-backed clock into the system…. which has a tendency to burst open after 10 years or so, spilling highly-corrosive, circuit-destroying, potential-fire-hazard-creating acidic goop all over the motherboard. Gulp.

That’s not great; it’s probably 5 years or so since I last fired this particular bit of hardware up … guess I’ll have to pull it to pieces this afternoon and see what kind state it’s in, and if a repair is viable.

It’s a reminder though… that I often put things away in cupboards, and assume that they’ll simply be there waiting for me when I want to go back to them in a few years. But that’s very often not the case. Time takes things away from you. Be it through the ceaseless march of technology (I’ve got a whole bunch of old gun-based video games that I loved, which are now completely unplayable because they rely on CRT display technology … and we no longer have a tube-style TV anywhere in the house!) … degrading materials (I also turfed out a Nintendo Wii “House of the Dead” controller yesterday, on which the rubberised handle has melted into sticky goo… and that’s barely a decade old!) … or something as fundamental as a global plague removing all your opportunities to get together with your friends.

Heed the warnings. When the sun (eventually) shines again, make hay!

Oh, and another thing… all these super-deluxe-collector board game editions currently coming out with PLASTIC “upgraded” components? I wonder what some of those are going to look (and feel!) like in 30 years time…

I can’t help thinking that cardboard and wood is going to win the long game here!

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Sun Aug 16, 2020 11:07 am
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