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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AireCon -- you feel it in your gut.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Right then… the last day of AireCon coverage? Probably. I guess you’re getting pretty bored of this all by now...
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There’s a feeling that I sometimes get when something that I’ve really been enjoying comes to an end. A proper, visceral, feel-it-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach sort of a feeling. A true physical sensation, with an accompanying emotion that’s hard to explain; mostly a sadness because it’s all over, and a longing that it’ll all come back soon … but mixed with the warm, fuzzy satisfaction of time well spent. Well… I definitely felt that feeling sweeping over me, as I stepped out of the convention centre for the last time on Sunday afternoon, and back onto the streets of Harrogate.

From gallery of MrShep
The moment where “I” left AireCon.


But I’m jumping ahead of myself again, aren’t I?... What happened on Sunday?

Well… the last day of AireCon wasn’t too demanding. I’d had a bit of a late start that morning (the consequence of staying up way too late playing — or mis-playing — that game of Endangered the night before; I’m definitely not as good at burning the gaming candle at both ends as I used to be!!). When I arrived at the venue, Lindsey & Mr N were in the exhibitor area, demoing Top Hats And Treachery. I watched them play for a while, and decided that I’d maybe had a lucky escape by dodging that one; it didn’t seem much like my kind of game — a bit of a take-that laden, gloom-esque sort of a card game. I guess the narrative that the game produced was amusing enough, and they’ve done the same thing that Obsession did in using period portrait photos to illustrate the cards … but the actual gameplay just seemed like swingy luck-of-the-draw type shenanigans from where I was standing. Nevertheless, the Linsonix clan took a copy home with them on the strength of that play… so don’t trust my grumpy/deranged ramblings; your own milage may vary

We then caught up with some friends of the Linsonixes … (who I shall refer to merely as “P” and “C”, since Lindsey seems to have kept them both conspicuously anonymous on her own account of the day, and I neglected to ask if they minded being name-checked in random blogs on the internet!), ...and we commenced our play of what turned out to be my only game of the day:

Lewis & Clark: The Expedition.

From gallery of MrShep


I seem to recall Lewis & Clark: The Expedition being quite the hot new thing, back in wild and crazy days of 2013 … but for some reason, I never got around to playing it. So I was quite happy to (retrospectively) find out what all the fuss was about, and see what I’d missed. It turned out to be quite a nicely-constructed game … Fundamentally a deckbuilder which rewards super-lean efficiency of actions. Playing cards will generate resources to allow you to progress your expedition across the North American continent … but having cards left in your hand — or too many resources to afford efficient carriage on your boats — when the time comes to reclaim your discard pile causes you to slip backwards a proportionate number of spaces on the progress track. So it’s all about pushing forward, but continually making sure that your inefficiencies don’t drag you backwards.

Despite a bit of a worrying last-minute surge from P (the pace of which I think surprised P just as much as it surprised the rest of us), I managed to set up camp on the west coast first, and won the game… possibly because I’d kept my deck pretty lean, and had been extremely frugal with resources. I suspect that such a tactic wouldn’t work quite so well against folks who know the game a little bit better and have a good idea of how to ride this particular efficiency engine by the seat of their pants. So maybe I should just resign here, with a 100% lifetime win record?

Anyway… Lewis and Clarke took us ages to play, and we had a bit of a slow-and-rough start with it (due to nobody knowing and/or remembering the rules, even those who had played before) … but it was still very enjoyable. I’m glad I played it.

I maybe don’t feel the urge to run out and get a copy … but I’m still glad that I played it.

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By the time we finished our trans-american expeditions, the sun was well over the yardarm and AireCon 7 was into its final hour-or-so of existence. It seemed like an appropriate time to bid farewell to Lindsey, Mr N, P & C, and do one last lap of the vendor area …just in case there was anything exciting that I’d missed.

And there was something exciting that I'd missed!

Well… exciting to me and my obsessive Oink Games collecting ways, at least; The Firestorm Cards stall had English language copies of THIS bizarre and unusual gaming delight…

From gallery of MrShep


I didn’t even know that English language copies of Hey Yo were a thing yet, so this was definitely a bit of a happy discovery. So needless to say, I handed Jimmy the requisite 15 quid and snapped a copy up. So expect further coverage shortly!

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And with my small burst of shopping activity complete… this just about takes me up to that strange-sensation-in-my-gut moment that I was telling you about in the opening paragraphs.

All in all, AireCon 7 was an excellent convention … made all the more excellent by the fact that it was a very normal seeming convention and board-gaming experience, after two very long years of covid madness. Back when I first mentioned this trip, I wondered if it would feel like a bookend to the two years of lockdowns and social distancing — AireCon 6 was, after all, the very last big event that I went to before the first national lockdown … and Airecon 7 was the first big (indoor) event that I’ve been to ever since. So yeah… it’s very much seemed like that. A couple of weeks after coming home from AireCon life is … sort of … back to normal now. Or as normal as it seems like it could be, all things considered.

A life bookmarked by big board-gaming events? Well … I guess you could do worse

In summary… AireCon was a wonderful weekend, spent doing my favourite things, in the company of new friends. Couldn’t ask for much more, really, could you?

…and there’s only 10 weeks until I get to do it all again at the UK Games Expo…

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P.S. the view from Lindsey’s side of the table can be found here.
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Sat Mar 26, 2022 7:10 am
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AireBorne Disease

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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AireCon has been a bit of a landmark event for me, in recent years.

AireCon 2020 was the last big indoor event that I attended before the covid lockdown took hold. The last weekend when I met friends, or played board games with people who I wasn’t married to, or had any real face-to-face social contact with pretty much anybody for a very long time afterwards.

Which is kind of a big thing, right?

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Back then, I remember the UK government was pretty much just telling us to wash our hands a lot and stay alert, and then we’d all (hopefully?) be OK … but there was certainly an awful lot of concern and anguish being expressed across the gaming tables of AireCon 2020. I distinctly remember somebody suggesting that AireCon might even end up being the only big gaming convention that happened in 2020. That perhaps the mighty Essen itself would be abandoned if things took a turn for the worse?

….But nobody really thought covid would be a problem for that long... did they?

I left AireCon a day early in 2020. Left my hotel room un-slept-in on the final night. The world just seemed to be getting a bit scary, and I don’t mind admitting that I was starting to get a little bit worried about things. And it didn’t seem like a good time to be away from Mrs Shep.

(and we all know what happened next…)

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Fast forward 2 years, and it seems strangely appropriate that AireCon 2022 happened to be the very first big indoor event that I’ve attended now that the big covid threat seems to be easing. Admittedly… war in europe is kicking off (an entirely different thing to keep you awake at night)… but at least the threat from global pandemic is easing. Or, at the very least, my own personal threat from global pandemic seems to be easing — three vaccinations and a very mild bout of omicron just a few short weeks ago making me feel just about as safe as it’s been possible to feel for quite some time.

Which is just as well, really … because AireCon 2022 was bigger, and more packed full of gamers than ever before.

From gallery of MrShep

Zones 3 and 4 used to be one of the best-kept secrets of AireCon. You could always guarantee acres of empty tables in here. But alas — as this Saturday morning photo shows — those days are now gone. (Though if you think THIS hall looks full … downstairs was rammed to the gunnels!). And so, despite the stringent covid pass checks on all points of entry, I couldn’t help thinking that this event might turn into a bit of a litmus test for my covid immunity super-powers.

A theory proven true when my phone went “ping” at some point yesterday afternoon:

From gallery of MrShep


Saturday you say? Hmmmm. Where was I on Saturday?


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As it turns out, Covid had attempted to scupper my AireCon-going plans earlier that week too. My usual convention-attending-partner-in-crime (who I will refer to as “A” from this point forward, in a paper-thin attempt to preserve his anonymity) had messaged me a few days earlier to warn me that he’d tested covid positive, and -- unless he made a miraculous “day 5” recovery -- I’d be driving down to AireCon alone this year. Which wasn’t the best of news. I mean... I was that sure “A” would recover just fine, and I’m not completely averse to going to gaming conventions alone (I’ve happily managed to wheedle my way into games with complete strangers on many an occasion!). But it was disappointing that "A" wouldn't be able to come, and that I would be attending by myself. It’s always good to travel in numbers to these things, with at least one person who likes the same kinds of game that you do … just in case you spend all weekend getting really desperate, and end up saying “yes” to a game of Fluxx or something. Just out of sheer desperation to play something / anything

But … the benevolent powers of the universe seemed to be looking after me this year. Within literal minutes of the text message arriving from “A” to confirm that he would have to bail out, a second SMS arrived from a certain blogger of this very parish, asking if I would be at AireCon on the Friday, and if I might fancy meeting up for a game or two?

Well, to cut a long story short… I ended up spending most of the weekend in the company of fellow BGG Blogger Linsonix, and her husband -- the mysterious “Mr N.” ...and played a whole bunch of completely excellent games over the course of the next few days. Many of which you might end up reading about twice, if you also happen to be subscribed to Superfluous Somethings. Which is no bad thing. Because:

(a) Superfluous Somethings is an excellent read, and...
(b) because it’s always interesting to get different opinions on the same game, isn’t it?

And also… Lindsey was far better at remembering to take pictures of everything than I was

...so stay tuned for some extensive AireCon reportage. Either here, or there. Or maybe both?

(To be continued…)

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Tue Mar 15, 2022 7:10 am
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Recovery Path

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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In an alternate timeline, I held a games day in the Shepherd residence this weekend — the first one for several months.

But, yeah, note the “alternate timeline” prefix on that sentence. Sadly, in this particular universe… those plans were scuppered by the dreaded covid. Mrs Shep — though feeling considerably better now — is still in isolation. So we remain a bit of a plague house at the moment. No visitors for us, this weekend, unfortunately.

And to be fair… I’m not sure that folks would particularly want to be in my company this weekend either. Although I’ve been symptom-free for well over a week now, on Friday night I started to get a really throaty cough again … which has persisted all weekend. In fact, if anything, it’s probably a worse cough than I had at any prior point in my covid journey! Which, of course, set me wondering … Is covid remission a thing? Can your symptoms all go away, and then suddenly return in a stronger and fiercer form?

Obviously, I consulted google … because google is a totally reliable and sensible place to go for all of your medical advice. And it would appear that although remissive covid is a thing — (as is the notorious “long covid” … though far less prevalent in fully-vaxxed people) — a far more common thing to experience is for your immune system to have a bit of a hair-trigger response during recovery. So maybe it’s that. Despite the coughing, I am currently coming up clean on lateral flow tests. And there’s probably still some kind of lingering, floating coronavirus presence here in the plague house. So perhaps this is just my all-new, turbo-charged immune system cleaning out the junk? Fingers crossed.

Anyway, despite the disease quota in the Shepherd residence remaining annoyingly high, we’ve had a fair bit of gaming going on in the last few days. And it hasn’t all been the gentle stuff that I was talking about a week ago either! …there’s been some reasonably brain-hurty things on the table this weekend:

Five Tribes

From gallery of MrShep


After Mrs Shep’s resounding victory a couple of weekends ago, a rematch was definitely on the cards. In which she completely thrashed me again. Oops. #goodTeacher. Turn order bidding — specifically, lining yourself up for two consecutive moves whenever you can — is definitely a far crunchier thing in the two player variant. There's an awful lot of analysis paralysis going on when we play this now.

Hadrian’s Wall

From gallery of MrShep


Only our third play. I’m really torn by this one. It is definitely the most solitaire multi-player-solitaire game that I own. To an extent where you don’t even take turns — players just beetle away at their own sheets for 10 minutes, and then sync up again at the end of each round to process the Pict invasion and see what resources everybody is going to get to play with on the next turn. There’s only the tiniest, tiniest bit of interactivity. And sure… you might take an interest when an opponent flips a card to see if their gladiator gets killed, or whether they get the push-your-luck trade good that they were so desperately hoping for… but theres very little shared experience here. I’ve never before had quite the same sensation of “people sitting at the same table and playing the same game, but at the same time very much not playing the same game” — as Hadrian’s Wall gives.

But despite all that… it’s still an oddly-compelling thing to play.

Very strange.

and… saving the best until last?...

Food Chain Magnate

From gallery of MrShep


Just the introductory game though. Got to break Mrs S in gently to this one, I suspect

I’ll be honest … I was surprised by just how playable the introductory version of FCM is (My own initiation to FCM … many years ago … was straight in at the deep end with all of the bells-and-whistles, as I was playing with somebody else’s copy). Admittedly the introductory version is over far too soon, and you barely brush up against the more devious aspects of the game … but it definitely piqued Mrs Shep’s interest. So much so, that she fancies another play this afternoon. Maybe we’ll play with salaries this time — just to get cash flowing back into the bank and stretch things out another round or two. Or maybe we’ll just stick with the super-basic version that she enjoyed yesterday while she gets the hang of optimal staff progressions.

No need to rush, if you’re having fun, right?

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Sun Feb 20, 2022 12:22 pm
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Chicken soup

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
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Valentines day. …and an enforced day at home for me, Mrs Shep, and a few billion SARS-CoV-2 virons gulp

Those of you who skip past the Kindgom Death Diary episodes without reading any of the words (i.e. pretty much all of you) might have missed the news that Mrs Shep is now a card-carrying tested-and-confirmed member of Covid Club too.

Alas, it is so. We are united in our infection. But we’ll be spending the most-romantic-day-of-the-year quarantining together, I guess. So at least there’s that.

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Fortunately Mrs Shep seems to have got off just as lightly as I have with the whole Omicron deal… albeit with a slightly different set of symptoms to mine. My infection peaked with a slight cough and occasional sneezes for 48 hours or so, whereas Mrs Shep has generally just been feeling a bit more tired and run down than usual. I guess our weekend gaming has reflected this, by mostly consisting of games that are familiar, light on rules, and not overly taxing. Specifically...

Ganz Schön Clever

From gallery of MrShep
This is an old photo. Seemingly from a 3-player game.
You certainly don't see this kind of madness by round 5 when you're only playing with two!

I’ve played GSC more than 50 times now (by which I mean … 50+ head-to-head interactive plays … so not counting the solo version, and doubly-not counting the app version). I think this might prove to be one of those very rare roll+writes where I actually end up buying a refill pad, since we’re running pretty thin on game sheets now, and Mrs Shep still insists that the plain-vanilla original version is head-and-shoulders better than the sequels and “challenge” remixes. I’m perhaps not quite as enamoured with the original as Mrs Shep remains … but I’m still happy to play when she’s not feeling fit to play anything more complex. And as dice games go… it’s pretty clever.

Cascadia.

From gallery of MrShep


They don’t come much gentler than Cascadia. I’ll not deny that a round of Cascadia is a pleasant enough thing to “do”, and there’s a very definite satisfaction to slotting a tile/token combo into your tableau in just the right way. But it’s very low-jeopardy multi-player solitare, is Cascadia. A soothing chicken soup of a board game if ever there was one.

But in terms of there being an appropriate weekend to be playing a soothing chicken soup of a board game, I guess this was probably it

And… Skulls of Sedlec.

From gallery of MrShep


It’s only after you play Cascadia and Skulls of Sedlec back-to-back that you realise just how similar they are. Except Skulls only takes 10 minutes to play, is a way sharper game, and the super-restricted card set makes it a far more strategically-interesting / interactive game than Cascadia is. Yes, I’m sure folks will bleat on about the lovely production values and variable set-up (aka “replayability factor”) of Cascadia … but I’d take Skulls of Sedlec in preference any day.

(And I’m very much looking forward to the expansions kickstarter landing any time now…)

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Mon Feb 14, 2022 7:10 am
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(also) Previously on The Tyranny of Small Decisions...

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Board Game: Pandemic


Quote:
It was a good weekend, the weekend just gone. Well… apart from the bit where my boss sent me a text message to warn me that he’d tested covid-positive, mere hours after I’d spent most of the day cooped up in a small meeting room with him (Gulp). But, apart from the near-constant psychosomatic inner-voice nagging of “hey… is my throat feeling a bit scratchy now, or what?” … it was a good weekend.
Well… if there’s a moral to that paragraph from a couple of days ago, it is this: trust your inner voice when it tells you that something isn’t quite right.

I was a little bit suspicious on Saturday …but despite the vague feeling that something in my throat wasn’t-quite-right, the Lateral Flow test said “no, don’t worry, it’s fine!”. It also said “no, don’t worry, it’s fine!” on Sunday. (In fact, it said “no, don’t worry, it’s fine” twice … since I was a little bit naughty and tried a second test in the same day; I’d finished a box of nasal tests, and discovered that my newly-arrived box contained those awful old throat swabs — but then thought that it might be worth a shot with one of those too, just for peace of mind. And for science!).

On Sunday night, I had trouble sleeping; not with fever symptoms or anything like that; I simply couldn’t sleep for some mysterious reason… but Monday morning rolled around and my customary start-of-the-week, pre-going-to-work test was also negative.

Don’t worry. It’s all fine.

Which brings us to Tuesday morning. And finally … the long-expected second stripe on the LFT

See! I knew it!!!!

So, yes. I’m now a fully-qualified member of covid club*. Though not one with an over-abundance of symptoms; the aforementioned “scratchy” throat thing has now turned into a slight cough. But not a particularly bad one. Not yet, at any rate.

We’ll see.

And on a brighter note (“when life sends you lemons” and all that)… at least this takes a lot of the stress off my visit to AireCon next month

In spite of the British Government’s loosening of restrictions, and to their great credit, AireCon seems to be taking a very sensible approach to covid security this year. NHS pass required at the door, masks required whenever you’re not sitting down, and a rebuilt ventilation system in the venue which doesn’t recirculate any internal air (The AireCon AirCon? ….I KNOW!!!!). And now, on top of all that … I should be full-to-the-gills with all kinds of covid immunity by then, and not particularly stressed about catching something nasty.

So that seems like a good thing.

Just as long as the next few days go by without too much trouble, that is…

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*The first rule of covid club is: don’t give people covid.
(Of course that’s the first rule of covid club. Anything else would just be stupid!)
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Wed Feb 9, 2022 7:10 am
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The Omicron Strain

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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I’m a firm proponent of the theory that you can tell exactly how bad the effects of a given virus will be purely from how sinister it’s name sounds, and from how fitting it would be as the title of a cheesy Michael Crichton novel..

So needless to say… “The Omicron Variant” is giving me some significant concerns right now.

Strap in folks. We may have a problem.

However, a few hours before this new and potentially-very-scary thing hit the headlines (i.e. back in the safer, happier days of the middle of last week) … I took the plunge and booked my tickets for AireCon 2022… which is now only a few months away!

So fingers crossed that this all turns into a big heap of over-hyped worry about nothing.

(gulp).

From gallery of MrShep

They’ve still got a nice picture of the back of my head (circa 2018) on the web site.
Wearing a Jimmy Cauty MdZ Estate T-Shirt too!


At least the no-quibbles refund policy means I haven't risked any money yet.
(Not until I book my hotel, at any rate).

Anybody else planning on going? Virus (and/or Boris) permitting?

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Wed Dec 1, 2021 7:10 am
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Four Hundred and Ninety-Seven.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
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After a short interlude of 497 days, it’s finally happened.

I played a board game — a proper, physical, cardboard and wood board game — in my own home. Against an opponent that I’m not married to.

Hooray! That's been a long time coming

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I think I’ve mentioned David in the blog before … he’s in his early 80s, but very fond of puzzles and still sharp as a button. In days of yore, we’d occasionally meet up to play board games (and by “we”, I mean: me, David, and Mrs Shep)… but due to recent events (and some specific clinical vulnerabilities in addition to old age) that hasn’t been a very sensible thing for us to do for the last year-and-a-bit. However, last night we got together for the first time since Christmas 2019 (after an obligatory swab of the tonsils, for sake of caution), ate fish and chips together, and then cracked open a few games. And an excellent time was had by all

Starting wiith…

From gallery of MrShep


Mini Rails. A game that I haven’t played in ever-so-long because: (1) it requires a minimum of three players… and (2) the online options for it are a bit pants.

I’ve never played Mini Rails with only three players before — and it seemed way tougher than I remember it being at higher player counts. Though that was possibly because we ended up with a disproportionate number of white hexes randomly placed on the very perimeter of the board, and the three player set-up involves an awful lot of those perimeter spaces getting covered over with discs before you even begin the game. Nevertheless, David & Mrs Shep (who were both playing this for the first time) enjoyed it an awful lot … and David even managed to sneak a victory, after some particularly evil last-round sabotage shenanigans (Yep, he definitely got the measure of that one unexpectedly quickly).

Mini Rails was followed by Azul … which I forgot to photograph. One of David’s favourites from our previous gaming sessions, and always a pretty solid gaming choice. Mrs Shep took a commanding lead for most of the game, but I managed to pip her to the post in the last round … thanks to a final turn where I completed two columns *and* covered all the black tiles. ‘Phew.

And then a new-to-everybody game: QE. A game for which I eagerly signed up to the kickstarter reprint of a couple of years ago, excitedly waited for … and then finally received just a short way into Lockdown #1. Bah! … NOT the ideal time to receive a super-clever only-suitable-for-3-or-more-players economic/auctioning game. In fact, when I discovered the box in a completely forgotten-about corner of my gaming shelves earlier yesterday, and dug out the rules to decide if it might be worth giving a try with 3, I was surprised to discover that I hadn’t even punched out the tokens yet!

From gallery of MrShep


Anyway, it was definitely worth giving this one a go. It’s an auction game, with a quirk that you can bid any amount of money that you want to bid — on the basis that you’re a global economic power, with the power to print your own money; simply write yourself as big a cheque as you want on the wipe-clean bidding boards, and then off to auction you go! The catch being … whichever player spends the most money over the course of the game gets disqualified from final scoring, because their economy collapses … and the most frugal player will pick up bonus VPs.

A cunning process of sealed bids — where only the auctioneer and the winning bidder knows exactly how much money changed hands each turn — cranks up the tension and cleverness … encouraging a constant process of bid inflation, as players start to deduce just how much money other players have probably spent, and try to gauge how much wriggle room that value might give them to spend quite-a-lot-but-not-quite-as-much-as-the-worst-nation-in-the-room-did.

Mrs Shep won the game by a single point … thanks to the fact that she spent the least money, and got a 6 point bonus for doing so. While myself and David (amazingly) discovered that we’d come within the tiniest fraction of each other in terms of total expenditure. (I was convinced throughout that he’d spent way, way more than I had!!). Quite an exciting denouement. And definitely a game that’s worth going back into the “play again sooner rather than later” pile.

And finally… Wildlife Safari.

From gallery of MrShep


It was possibly a bit mean of me to play this one with relatively-inexperience players, given my exposure to national-level play. So needless to say, I won all three rounds (they even managed to let me get away with the pictured 4-on-3 ‘Dirty Attenborough’ at one point). I suspect David & Mrs Shep won’t be keen for a re-match after that drubbing. But never mind. Hopefully The Gathering of Chums will provide an opportunity for higher-level play at some future juncture…

Anyway, an excellent time was had by all. And hopefully it won’t be another 500(ish) days until the next time we get together

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Sun Jul 25, 2021 10:00 am
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Ewe turn

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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From gallery of MrShep


Freedom day in the UK England.

Also known as “Anxiety Day” by many.

Or “definitely irreversible, until we reverse it” day.

Or “national take the batteries out of the smoke alarm day”.

Or “buckle up buttercup, our foot is on the accelerator and s##t is about to get pretty wild” day.

Or “Will nobody think about the mental health of the nation?” day.

And probably more besides. But whatever your own viewpoint on the UK dropping most of its “legal” covid-constraining restrictions today might be, I expect that I’ll be spending “Freedom Day” in much the same way as I’ve spent the last 16 months:

Working from home, and minimising human contact.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Personally, I’m remaining pretty optimistic about the vaccine-driven disconnection between the δ-variant and the “bad” kinds of covid. The folks which I know who _have_ been infected by the disease, post-vaccination, seem to have got away with nothing more than a runny nose for a couple of days. (In fact, according to the Zoe Covid symptom study, the most common symptoms of covid in a post-vaccination population are headaches and runny noses — something that the government is being alarming slow to publicise.)

On our recent holiday, we did far more mingling with the great unwashed than we’ve done since the start of the pandemic … we had a few (indoor!) meals out, visited several indoor tourist attractions, and were generally way more exposed to complete strangers (sometimes un-masked) than we’ve been for quite some time. But none of the (dozens!) of NHS QR Codes that I diligently scanned over the course of the fortnight seem to have triggered an alert, and I’ve done a couple of (negative) lateral flow tests since we got back, just to be sure that I didn’t bring home an unwanted microbiological souvenir. So… so far, so good.

Nevertheless, we now seem to be entering a phase of putting your trust in society’s lowest-common-denominators for at bit (ugh!)… and I’ve got a couple of important dates coming up. Events important enough for me to not want to be infected, or — at the very least — isolation-pinged, at any point in the short-term future. So I’ll be minimising my contacts for a bit.

One of these events being: a proper, full-on games day, with real people!

I know — from reading various blogs — that many UK-based people have already gone back to face-to-face gaming with friends … but that return is something that I’m personally yet to experience the delights of. The reasons are multifold… but key amongst them are the facts that we’re in an area of the country where covid cases are still particularly high, and some of my regular gaming chums are either a fair bit younger than myself (so only single-vaxxed), or more-vulnerable-than-average due to other circumstances. I guess that some of us double-vaxxed oldies could have met up sooner … but there’s been a bit of an unspoken all-in-this-together solidarity thing going on. Plus, there’s a question over where and how to conduct proceedings in the safest way possible, given the proximity/status of other family members etc. Nevertheless, the stars seem to finally be falling into alignment, and the young ’uns are counting down the days until their second doses take full theoretical effect

Of course, this state of affairs now has me looking over my collection and trying to decide which games I’d really, really like to play in the flesh. And specifically … what NEW games are desperate for an airing.

2020 — and now most of 2021 too — has definitely been a time for playing older games. Mostly because teaching + learning higher-complexity games via online implementations tends to be a bit of a poor experience. But there’s certainly been a few brand new (or new-to-me) games added to my collection over this time that have fallen straight into the “probably not a game for Mrs Shep … but I bet the guys would be really into this one” category. Probably too many to (reasonably) just rock-up with a bunch of them on spec — because there’s a big difference between knowing a game well enough to play, and knowing a game well enough to teach it (and I’m somewhat out of practice with teaching “meatier” games now anyway!). So there’s definitely a fair bit of thinking, shortlisting and re-learning for me to do between now and the big day.

But yeah… even being in a position where starting to think about games in terms of teaching them to my mates, and sharing interesting new gaming discoveries “in person” again is kind of an exciting and uplifting prospect.

Fingers crossed

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Mon Jul 19, 2021 7:10 am
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This week the drink made me play...

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Ho hum. At the time of writing it looks like we’re in for another month or so of exciting covid-related social restrictions here in the UK. So I guess I should be making the most of this opportunity to extend my exciting-but-now-not-so-new lockdown blog series, in which I spend each instalment drinking a trendy hipster craft beer that I’ve never tried before, write a bit about what it tastes like, and then wait and see what kind of board game it inspires me to play. Just to help me make it through the madness.

Though, to be honest, I expect I’ll be doing this long after the last remnants of lockdown are lifted, because … well … it turns out that I really like beer anyway


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Today I shall be mostly drinking:
The Mangolorian
Mango and Lime Milkshake IPA
Brew York, 6.2% abv.


From gallery of MrShep



You might’ve noticed — from previous instalments in this series — that I’m a bit of a fan of Brew York. And you also might also have noticed — from previous instalments in this series — that Brew York is a bit of a fan of Star Wars (cf: Mos Eisley Cathalina from an earlier instalment). Is it a bit soon for this series to return to a Star Wars themed beer? Perhaps. But the vagaries of fate have deemed it to be so! …the hot news in Newcastle upon Tyne this week is that Harrison Ford is staying in town (while filming Indiana Jones #5, no less!). And it also transpires that while I was sitting in the office on Wednesday — on one of my ever-so-rare trips into town — pictures of the aforementioned Mr Ford lunching at the restaurant around the corner were being plastered all over social media. So, technically …I came within a couple of hundred meters of Han Solo on Wednesday. Not that I actually saw him. Or even realised that he was in town at the time. But I took this turn of events as a sign that The Mangolorian should definitely be moved to the front of the beer queue this week. And it never pays to question the mechanations of fate.

I find fruity milkshake IPAs to be a bit hit-and-miss to be honest … but… Mango and Lime? …that could work. Plus: I can never resist a good pun, and just look at the awesome artwork! To be honest… this was always going to be a bit of a must-try for me

And… it was rather nice. A much better-balanced pint than the slightly-similar-but-nowhere-near-as-pleasant Impeach it Don’t Bleach It that I was drinking back in November. It’s a proper, fruity beer, with a dominant hoppy taste (rather than just tasting like a sour fruit smoothie that somebody cut with industrial alcohol) … and just the ticket for a hot, sunny day. The hop variety is, of course, Galaxy (harvested from a country far, far away…), the lactose and vanilla dialled is back to a level where they enhance rather than dominate, and there’s just enough lime in the mix to freshen it up and stop it tasting like a breakfast drink without turning the whole thing into a face-pulling mess of a thing. All in all … a rather refreshing summer fruit beer. Though I suspect it might’ve been a special release for May the Fourth … and fear that there might not be many chances to lay my hands on any more of it for a while.

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But what will The Mangolorian inspire me to play?

I think I scraped the barrel for Star Wars related games on a previous episode, so this time around I’m going for the loaded-up-on-fruit angle instead.

In other words: a perfect excuse to play my most recent Oink Games acquisition: Durian.

From gallery of MrShep


Durian is a limited information push-your-luck game, in which players take on the role of clerks in a Jungle Fruit Shop, managed by a quick-tempered gorilla. Each player is dealt a card depicting various pieces of fruit, which is placed into a card holder so that everybody except the card owner can see what’s on it. The combined values on all of the cards represent the total stock of the fruit shop. On your turn, you draw a card from the remaining deck, and choose an item from the card to add to the ever-accumulating stack of orders in the centre of the table. If the subsequent player believes that you’ve exceeded the total stock available to fulfil that order, they ring the bell (the game comes with a nice, tinkly, ceramic bell!) to summon the manager … who will then either get angry at the player who oversold the order, or (if nothing was at fault), get angry at the player who rang the bell, and issue penalty points. Rinse and repeat until the manager has been angered 7 times … at which point the player who caused the least anger wins the game.

I wasn’t expecting too much of this game at a count of two players … it’ll actually seat up to 7, and it reads like the type of game which works far better with more people. It was actually OK with two (in the two player variant you draw an additional card to proxy for a third player, which makes the game workable), and quite good fun … but not something that I’d choose to play again with only two players — it’ll definitely work better with more people. Preferably in a pub. It’s very much that kind of game.

In thinking about how to describe the game for blogging purposes, I came up with the notion that it kind of sits on a scale somewhere between Oink’s Moneybags and Welcome to the Dungeon (AKA Dungeon of Mandom) … with a strong tilt towards the latter. It was only when I sat down to write this blog post that i discovered it’s actually by the same designer as Welcome to the Dungeon. And yeah. That makes perfect sense. If you like Welcome to the Dungeon … well, this is a bit simpler, and it’s easier to read the game state … but it still has that same “dare I? / daren’t I?” buzz to it. You’ll probably like this too.

All in all … a harmless pub filler. Not something you should rush out and buy. But if you get the chance to play it … it’s worth a shot. It’ll keep you amused for a good 15 minutes or so.

(as will the beer...)

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Mon Jun 14, 2021 7:10 am
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Agricolockdown

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Yesterday saw my first attempt at 17th Century Subsistence farming since…. December 2019??!

Yep. The Covid-19 lockdown brought many unexpected changes to normal life. One of them being: an entire year when I didn’t play Agricola. But yesterday, Mrs Shep and myself sat down to a pleasant hour or two of cardboard-and-wood-based agriculture for the first time in way too long.

From gallery of MrShep

Despite my lack of practice, I was rather pleased with my final farm. Though admittedly, it looks like the White family* might also have struggled a little bit with the monotony of lockdown. By the end of the game, they seemed to be surviving entirely on basket weaving and peach schnapps, rather than any actual… y’know… “food”. Still, they don’t appear any less prosperous for it, and it’s impressive to see at least somebody picking up some of those new handycraft skills that we all promised we'd teach ourselves during all the extra time spent at home.

From gallery of MrShep

Mrs Shep’s Red family, on the other hand, do not appear to be in a good way. 5 family members packed into a 3 room house — I guess the kids must’ve decided to bubble with mum and dad while on furlough? — and way more grain than even the biggest family would have any reasonable requirement for. Some people never did manage to shake off that early-lockdown stockpiling instinct, did they? Makes you wonder if the sheep are only being kept as a fallback option for when the toilet paper runs out…

But yeah. It was good.

I do love Agricola. And it had been been far, far too long.

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*Yeah, yeah ... I know. White playing pieces, green fences. My attachment to green playing pieces gets confusing even at the best of times.
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Mon May 17, 2021 7:10 am
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