The Tyranny of Small Decisions

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Things that go "purr" in the night.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Imagine the scene... it is late at night. Mrs Shep is dozing on the sofa. I'm tapping away at my laptop... probably writing a blog, or setting the world to rights, or any of the umpteen things that you do late at night on a laptop just before you go to bed, when from the corner of the room comes a faint sound. A sound not unlike a cat purr.

brrrrr.... brrrrr.... brrrrr....

Now, this was an odd thing. In days of yore, such a sound would be attributed to the presence of Molly Stinker Pestface Shepherd the First, our faithful family cat. But, alas, Molly left this earthly plane a year ago, so it most certainly couldn't be her.

brrrrr.... brrrrr.... brrrrr....

And as I kept typing, the noise kept happening. And I tried to ignore it, assuming it would go away, but it didn't...

I went to the corner of the room that I thought the sound was coming from -- and it stopped!

Sat down again, and the sound returned...

brrrrr.... brrrrr.... brrrrr....

What could it be?

My mind ran through the possibilities:

Some weird and hitherto-unexperienced acoustic phenomena, relating to the central heating pipes expanding?

A ghost cat?

A snoring mouse?

Some kind of weird audio hallucination / stress-induced tinnitus variation?

....would I ever solve the mystery?

Well... no, I wouldn't. But Mrs Shep would!

Waking up -- and finding herself perplexed by the fact that her husband was pressing his ear to the floor in the far corner of the room -- she listened for a while, and came up with an explanation.

Spoiler (click to reveal)

Horny amphibians!


We have a pond in our back yard, and it would appear that a particularly vociferous frog has decided to live there this year. It is spring, and therefore the time of year for said frog to declare his presence to any eligable lady frogs that happen to be in the area. And it would appear that there's a spot just under our living room window which presents a particularly fine acoustic stage from which our froggy friend can broadcast his intentions.

(Well... that's the theory anyway. I haven't actually SEEN said beastie ... because as soon as you get within a few feet of the pond, he shuts up and hides. But I'm pretty convinced that it's this, and not, in fact, a ghost cat.)

Anyway, never one to miss a blogging opportunity when its presented by my random real-life-adventures, I thought this would make an excellent prompt for a Tenuous Theme of the Day. Best games with with frogs in? I must have a fair few of those... I'm sure I do. Lots of board games have frogs in ... don't they?

And yet... as I scoured my collection... I was disappointed to discover that the best I could come up with was this:

From gallery of MrShep
A bunch of Scroglins, from Dungeon Degenerates


Perhaps my conviction that I had a good game, somewhere, with frogs in it was massively distorted by a mis-spent youth playing far too many games of Talisman? (Which... lets be honest... is not a good game).

And while I'm aware of Army of Frogs, and the delightfully-batsh*t-crazy-looking Cosmic Frog ... I don't own, and have never played, either of those titles. So it would seem like a bit of a cheat to cite either of those.

But you can do better than me, can't you? Have at it!

(turn it up!)


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Sat Mar 20, 2021 1:19 pm
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Gone Away

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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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?

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Wed Mar 10, 2021 4:17 pm
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Last of the month.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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From gallery of MrShep


The last day of February brought a bright and sunny day to Northumberland -- as evidenced by the glorious golden-hour light beaming through the bunker windows onto our two player game of Barenpark. And, after an 18 month gap since their last outing, the monorails are finally back on the table. Yay!

It really is a good variant, this one; it adds a whole new level* of spatial/mathy/points-rushy puzzle to the game, and brings a fair bit of crunch with it… plus lovely, tactile, 3d components which are entirely appropriate to both the theme and the mechanism.

Good stuff this. And thoroughly enjoyable to play!

It’s been a little while since we last had a tenuous theme of the day post, hasn’t it? So… how about this one:

Best games with 3d bits for function, rather than decoration.

What have you got for me?

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*literally.
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Wed Mar 3, 2021 7:05 am
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Unexpected item in the packing area

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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It’s a little-known fact that a particular Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany makes one of the most popular items in the car manufacturer’s entire parts catalogue.

A 30-person team has been manufacturing Official VW Part Number 199-398-500A since the early 1970s … with only a single tweak to the design over that entire period!

In some years, Volkswagen produces more of this item than they produce cars. Which comes as a surprise to people when they find out what, exactly, Official VW Part Number 199-398-500A is.

Of course, German readers (or trivia fans) might already know the answer…

Spoiler (click to reveal)
The Volkswagen Currywurst!

From gallery of MrShep


There are many web pages devoted to explaining why a car factory in Wofsburg started making its own sausages almost 50 years ago, and how they’ve come to be held in pretty high regard by sausage aficionados (and car enthusiasts?) throughout Europe.



Suffice to say that these particular sausages have a bit of a cult following. And this week, I managed to get my hands on a pack to try for myself! (along with Official Part Number 199-398-500B — A bottle of VW Currywurst Ketchup!)

From gallery of MrShep


The verdict? Well… to be honest… I was a tiny bit disappointed with the sausage. It tasted like a fairly run-of-the-mill bockwurst to me; nothing to get massively excited by. Clearly I am no sausage connoisseur. But the curry ketchup? Yep, the ketchup was rather nice. That lifted everything up a notch. (Just as well really… it’s a decent sized bottle, and we have plenty left over!)

Still… that’s another gastronomic / trivia-satisfying curiosity crossed off the big list of things that I need to eat



Anyway, with this in mind… Tenuous Theme of the Day will be: Something that you wouldn’t expect a board game company to sell. But which a board game company does actually sell.

…for which my vote is going to: Lookout Games… for their inclusion of a cookie cutter in the Christmas edition of Patchwork.

From gallery of MrShep


Yep. A Cookie cutter. Because a random piece of culinary equipment with sharp metal edges is the PERFECT thing to pop into a board game box full of pristine cardboard tiles, isn’t it?

Still… as confirmed by the attached label, it’s an official, bona-fide, made-for-Lookout Cookie Cutter:

From gallery of MrShep


…so beat that!

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Fri Jan 22, 2021 7:10 am
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Gone in 48 hours…

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Bit of an odd weekend, that one. In any normal year, we’re almost certainly away from home on this particular weekend. The proximity of the date to Plough Monday usually means there’s some sort of morris-inspired customs and traditions madness going on that Mrs Shep wants to go and see. And if that’s not an excuse to be away from home … then the 17th January also happens to be Mrs Shep’s birthday — which she often wrangles into an excuse for weekend away for a birthday treat.

Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival, 10 years ago.
(you can tell this is an old one; I hadn’t upgraded to a widescreen camera!)

Of course, this year, the dreaded covid put a nix on all that kind of nonsense … and we ended up having a relatively quiet weekend at home. As we couldn’t visit any Plough Monday celebrations, on Saturday I thought I’d bring a little bit of the celebrations to us …by cooking a traditional Nolfolk Plough Pudding! It’s pretty much a suet pudding, made from all the cheapest bits of pig with a bit of sage and onion, and then steamed for 3 to 4 hours. Best served with mashed potato and gravy.

From gallery of MrShep


I was pleased with how this turned out; it tasted glorious… though I fear, like most peasant food, its calorific load is aimed at folks who spend long days toiling in the fields, and it's likely to be a bit of a lard-based-heart-attack-waiting-to-happen for the rest of us. So I maybe won’t be rushing to make another one too soon.

I suppose I could turn this into a tenuous-theme-of-the-day post: best board game with a plough in it? But we all know that Agricola would win that one hands down. So it's hardly worth asking really, is it?

(or best game featuring a pudding?)

In other weekend news: we managed to play a couple of games on Mrs Shep's birthday (her choices, of course!) … starting with Azul.

From gallery of MrShep

It's quite a while since this one has hit the table … and possibly years since I played it head-to-head with 2 players! I’m normally very good at Azul (even if I do say so myself…) but Mrs Shep beat me hollow. That 2p version is way sharper than I remember it being!

...and a debut run (or three) for Skulls of Sedlec’s Castle Guards expansion. Though I think that the initial verdict is that we’re not so keen on this one as we are on the Executioners expansion.

From gallery of MrShep
I avoided using guards completely in this round -- and won!


The guards certainly mix things up a bit… but once you introduce guards to the game, the role of royal cards changes quite significantly, and (as with any expansion to the base deck) you no longer play through the entire deck in a 2 player game. With the executioners expansion, this deck dilution didn’t seem to have a massively detrimental effect — the interplay between all the roles still seemed pretty solid, even if the card distribution became less predictable… but with the guards/royals/peasants dynamic introduced by the new expansion, it feels like success with those particular cards is a little bit more dependent on the luck of the draw now.

Still… it’s always nice to have all the extras for a game that you like, isn’t it?

From gallery of MrShep
Happy Birthday Mrs Shep!


Anyway, there was games, and there was cake. Plus a covid-compliant takeaway meal from the restaurant around the corner (I have eaten FAR too much this weekend!) and — shortly after I finish writing this blog (it’s 8pm on Sunday evening as I type) — there will also be popcorn, beer, and a streamed movie. Not a bad day in, all things considered

(Oh, and I also managed to get THIS into near-working order on Saturday night. So quite a productive weekend, all told...)

From gallery of MrShep


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Mon Jan 18, 2021 7:10 am
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Needle day.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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From gallery of MrShep


...or, more accurately, vaccination day. No not that vaccination (though, walking through the queuing system and assembly-line-esque system of parallel-staffed vaccination booths at the surgery, you can easily get the impression that this is a dress-rehearsal for things to come) … but, rather, flu vaccination. In a move to counter the possibility of a “twindemic” (i.e. a simultaneous infection of flu and covid-19 … which would almost certainly be a very bad thing to have happen to you), the UK government has offered free flu vaccinations to everybody over the age of 50. Both myself and Mrs Shep — despite our youthful good looks — fall into said category. And today is the day that the designated supplies arrive. So, yeah. Why not. Therefore … along with the rest of the sensibly-minded, socially-responsible over-50 population of Northumberland, we find ourselves called to present a bare shoulder in our designated 2-minute-windows-of-opportunity, to receive a cornucopia of inactivated virii.

Practice for the years to come, I guess.

…and not my only needling of the day, as it turns out … as today we also bought a Christmas tree. Another change from tradition here; we normally head off to a tree plantation in the great wilderness to the north, where the ranger hands you a (super-sharp!) pruning saw, gestures towards the appropriate bit of forest, and away you go to hunt and gather your own tree! Alas, they’re not operating the service this year, due to covid complications …so a trip to the local garden centre was required. We’ve still managed to acquire a very attractive-looking nordman fir… but I’m not sure how long it’ll last. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction + provenance that comes from hacking down your own tree!

Anyway, the various tree manoeuvrings involved a predictable amount of prickling and spiking … a situation made even more irritating by the fact that I’m ever-so-slightly allergic to pine sap (yeah, I know… this makes the acquisition of a “real” Christmas tree each year seem even more mad. But they do look and smell nice. And the trunk makes a cracking bit of firewood a couple of years later. Waste not, want not!

So today’s tenuous theme of the day will be: games with Christmas trees in them! Though a quick scan of my game shelves only brought two examples to mind: Caverna, and Zooloretto. (I didn’t pull the plastic trees out of my copy of Mush Mush, since they’re not, strictly speaking, Christmas trees, despite very much looking the part!)

From gallery of MrShep


Can you do better?

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Sat Dec 12, 2020 12:18 pm
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Size matters

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Fate found us in the East Yorkshire city of Hull, on a rainy Monday Morning … visiting a street called “The Land of Green Ginger” (which is an excellent, and surprisingly ancient name), to see an old pub called the George Hotel.

Why? Well… the George Hotel claims to have “The Smallest Window in England”. Or, possibly — depending on which source you read — the smallest window on any building in the world. It looks like this:

From gallery of MrShep


Apologies for the slightly-rubbish photo; as I said … it was a rainy Monday morning, and the light was not good. And in case you haven’t spotted the “window” … you see that dark crevice to the right of the plaque, where it looks like somebody forgot to put the mortar in? Yeah, that’s the window. It is fully glazed … and was apparently used by staff in the 17th coaching inn to discretely spot the approach of stage coaches.

Now, forgive me for being cynical… but this does make me wonder what — officially — counts as a window. If I took a masonry drill to my front wall, and glazed in a half inch circle of glass at the other end, would my home take the record and become a tourist attraction? Hmmm.

Anyway, this is, of course, a thinly-veiled excuse for a tenuous theme of the day. “Games with unexpectedly-small components” is the first one that sprang to mind … but even though Tokyo Tsukiji Market is now a very strong contender for that title in my game collection, I don’t think anything is going to usurp my experience with The Walking Dead: No Sanctuary any time soon. And I’ve already blogged about that.

So instead, how about something a bit more positive:

Which game in your collection has given you the most entertainment per cubic inch?

The first thing that popped into my head was the Oink series of games… specifically, Startups (17 cubic inches)… which I’ve blathered on about many a time in the past, and which I still rank amongst my all-time-favourite card games. Though regular readers will be aware that Keltis: das Kartenspiel (13 cubic inches) has given it a pretty good run for its money in recent months, now that playing-games-with-more-than-2-people hasn’t been entirely viable. However, I think I’m going to plump for something entirely different: “No Thanks!” (also 13 cubic inches)

32 cards and a small bag of plastic chips actually leaves a little bit of air-space in the No Thanks box … but this is a classic opener/filler/closer that’s absolutely stood the test of time. Quick to teach, fun to play, and packed with drama, laughs and tough decisions; I don’t think I’ve ever had a game of No Thanks! that flopped. In my opinion, it’s one of the very best small-box games that money can buy. And if you’ve never played it… you absolutely should!

So… tell me all about the tiny things that bring YOU great joy*… (fnarr fnarr…)

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*Yeah, I know. But if I didn’t lower the tone myself, then Bateson or Boydell were almost certainly going to…
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Wed Oct 14, 2020 10:07 am
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Connecting the clues

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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You know those moments when the clues click together, and you realise that you missed something really obvious?

* * * * * *

“The weather has really changed since we got back from holiday” pointed out Mrs Shep.

It didn’t really take much pointing out; the central heating has kicked in again after its long summer sleep, and I’ve progressed from wearing Jeans + T-Shirt as my standard work-from-home uniform to wearing Jeans, T-Shirt + fleecy Hoodie as my standard work-from-home uniform.

Mrs Shep continued…

“I was tidying up some stuff in the garage earlier; there’s a load of leaves blown under the door. And that big pile of empty amazon boxes that you keep in there had blown off the shelf. We could really do with something under the door to stop the wind getting in.”

“Are you sure the wind did that?”

“Yeah… it gets really blowy in there”

I wasn’t entirely convinced by this explanation. In my head, I pondered alternative hypotheses for the boxes being off the shelf.

I wondered if the influence of small furry creatures might be a more likely explanation? …and then thought about putting some mouse traps down. But… really… with that gap under the door, bait would likely just draw mice in from outside. So I didn’t do that.

And, truth be told, once that idea had passed through my mind, I didn’t really think a great deal more more about it.

* * * * * * *

It’s Saturday morning, we’re eating breakfast.

There’s a “Lost Cat” leaflet on the table. A house down the road hasn’t seen their cat for a few days. We saw them post something about it on the village facebook group earlier in the week, and checked our garage, just in case it had wandered in there while Mrs Shep was doing gardening stuff on Wednesday — but we hadn’t spotted it.

“I see their cat is still missing”

“Yeah… Andy put the leaflet through the door earlier. I went and had another look in the garage, while you were in the shower, just to be sure.”

That would be the third time we’d checked the garage for the cat.

I carry on eating my toast. And then it clicks.

“Oh! … wait a minute. What if those boxes weren’t knocked over by the wind? I know it’s a bit of a long shot… but… I’m going to go and have another check in the garage. Just in case.”

* * * * * * *

Don’t worry, it’s a happy ending. Although Mrs Shep had been in the garage only 15 minutes earlier and seen and heard nothing… pretty much the moment I opened the door a small furry face popped out from behind a workbench and meowed at me. The missing cat!

Fortunately I had some old cat treats in the kitchen (because you never know when you’ll need emergency cat treats!) …so while Mrs Shep called the owners, I lured our accidental prisoner out into the open with food and water.

Fortunately, given the fact that the cat had — very likely — been in there for three days by this point, she didn’t seem any worse the wear for the experience. And was quickly re-united with her grateful owners.

And when Mrs Shep and I sat down later, and tried to re-trace our steps and figure out the circumstances of our accidental cat-napping, we realised that — between the two of us — we must’ve been in that garage on at least half a dozen different occasions since the external door was last open (we keep an awful lot of other things in there, aside from the pile of empty amazon boxes). Certainly a minimum of a couple of times a day... and on some of those occasions, specifically to make sure that we didn’t have a rogue cat in there.

This was, seemingly, a cat that was making a deliberate decision not to be found!

But fortunately, it all ended well.

‘Phew.

* * * * * * *

Tenuous board game connection of the day: I’ve never liked hidden movement games. Not a single one that I’ve tried has left me impressed or interested. But perhaps I need more practice with finding things that don’t want to be found?

…So tell me what your favourite hidden movement game is, and why my general disinterest in the genre is wrong

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Sat Oct 10, 2020 3:28 pm
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My goose is cooked.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Yesterday — the 29th September — was Michaelmas; the feast of St Michael.

The Archangel Michael was …as I’m sure you all know… the greatest of all archangels, and responsible for the defeat of Lucifer in the war in heaven. But did you also know that the defeated Lucifer fell from the skies, and landed (painfully) in a blackberry bush? Being a little bit upset by this turn of events, Lucifer cursed the bush, spat upon it, breathed fire at it, and then urinated all over it. Which is why, according to folklore, you should never harvest blackberries after Michaelmas day.

Every day’s a school day!

Mrs Shep really likes her folklore. Usually, a few weeks before Michaelmas, Mrs Shep asks if we’re going to eat goose this year. Goose is — for a number of reasons FAR less interesting that the blackberry story above — the traditional food of Michaelmas . But it’s not a particularly easy meat to source in the UK (at least, at any time of year other than Christmas), so she always mentions that as more of a joke than a serious request.

Until this year.

We haven’t managed to get to many traditional/folkloreish events this year, for obvious reasons. So we thought we might make a bit of an extra effort to observe the feast of St Michael at home… by getting ourselves a bit of goose for dinner last night.

It ALMOST didn’t happen. We had a phone call a few days ago, from our intended goose-supplier, to tell us that they were very sorry, but their own supply chain had let them down. Fortunately, a bit of searching around on the internet found a company who would ship me some chilled goose breast by overnight courier. I’ve never bought raw meat via the internet before, and it just added further cost to an already-expensive meal… but needs must. (For that matter, I’ve never cooked goose before either. This has definitely been a week of culinary firsts!)

Anyway, to cut a long story short… Michaelmas was properly observed, and we successfully dined on roast goose breast.

From gallery of MrShep


And, just for good measure, I drank goose beer too

From gallery of MrShep


So I guess, all that remains to be done - in a tenuous board game theme of the day kind of way — is to identify the best goose game

Well, it’s obvious really, isn’t it? Surely there can be only one!

From gallery of MrShep


No no no! … not that one. The best goosey board game, obviously.

To be fair, that might not be a particularly big selection pool. But this one wins hands-down for me:

From gallery of MrShep


Roads and Boats. Ahhh… good old Roads & Boats. What an epic-and-gloriously-quirky delight Roads and Boats is! And one of the quirkiest and most-potentially-annoying resources of all in Roads and Boats is: geese. A scarce, irreplaceable, fickle and semi-autonomous resource which will attach itself to pretty much anybody who happens to walk past its current location. Players might think that they own geese in Roads and Boats … but nobody told the geese that. Oh yes. Much wailing, moaning, grinding of teeth, swearing and uproarious laughter can be caused by a well-timed goose-napping in Roads and Boats!

Actually, all this goose talk and Roads & Boats talk has conveniently reminded me of two things: (1) Roads and Boats is soloable, so it’s about time I got it out again. And (2) … I really need to buy the expansion, before the last few retail copies available in Europe disappear forever (alas, I have the earlier edition of R&B, where the expansion was sold separately… rather than the everything-in-one-box latest version).

Edit: Found one. Successfully ordered. ‘phew!

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Wed Sep 30, 2020 9:59 am
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Brave Brave Brave Brave Sir Robin!

John Shepherd
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Ovington
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Legend says that in the church at Edwinstowe — deep within Sherwood forest — Robin Hood married Maid Marion. And in 1998, a bronze statue was unveiled on Edwinstowe high street to commemorate the couple’s betrothal; a romantic sculpture of Robin Hood on bended knee, proposing to his sweetheart. They hold hands gently, as Marion clutches a bouquet of delicately-sculpted flowers to her breast… and it is, apparently, one of the most photographed statues in all of Nottinghamshire.

And on Saturday afternoon, we discovered that it looks like this:

From gallery of MrShep


Ah.

The owner of a nearby gift shop informed us that a driver mounted the pavement at high speed a few months ago, and Maid Marion was, very sadly, wiped out in the resulting accident*. Robin was mostly unscathed -- and remained in place for some time -- but looked a little bit sad, proposing on bended knee to his missing lover. So now he's been taken away too, until the full statue can be restored.

(Though, if you ask me… I would’ve thought that a solo Robin Hood on bended knee would make a perfect selfie/photo opportunity for any would-be Maid Marions. Edwinstowe council might have missed a trick there!)

But… all in all… a bit of a wasted trip, that one

* * * * * *

…other than to fuel a Tenuous theme of the Day post, that is!

Have you ever opened a brand new game… only to discover that some fundamental part of the experience was missing?

I once bought a copy of 6 Nimmt, which only had half of the cards in the box. I did manage to get a replacement copy from the seller… and, subsequently, a copy of the 20th Anniversary Luggage promo for the game too. But then the promo card mysteriously disappeared from the box on its first public outing… never to be seen again.

I’m now convinced that my copy of 6 Nimmt has had some kind of incompletion curse placed upon it. It’s the only logical conclusion!

External image

*Oh... yeah... the driver was fine, in case you were wondering. But possibly isn't very popular amongst the people of Edwinstowe now.
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Tue Sep 22, 2020 7:10 am
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