The Tyranny of Small Decisions

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

Archive for Lockdown

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John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Wednesday was stressful.

It was the day that the UK government announced that anybody over 50 could now book themselves into a vaccination centre, using the NHS online booking system. And since I’m now (definitely!) on the wrong side of 50, that announcement meant it was time to hook myself up with some sweet, sweet vaccine. What they didn’t make clear (unless you rang the helpline to ask why the website was claiming that you were NOT, in fact, eligible for a vaccine just yet) was the fact that the necessary behind-the-scenes-updates to flag everybody as “now-eligible” was going to take a while to run for some folks. Maybe as much as 48 hours, depending on where you live — but “keep trying the site!”.

After a few hours of trying (and reading of other people's success), things were starting to feel like a bit of a lottery.

On Wednesday evening we finally got access to the site!… at which point we hit the second issue: the booking system, once you get there, is a bit pants. And random. With a couple of million newly-eligible 50-to-54-year-olds swarming onto the site (spurred on, no doubt, by breaking news stories that the UK vaccine supply chain is going to go a bit wobbly for the entire month of April!) we discovered that it was a bit like buying tickets for Glastonbury; by the time you’ve got to the end of the booking process, the thing you were trying to book is no longer available… and you have to start all over again from the beginning.

From gallery of MrShep


I kid you not… it took me two and a half hours to successfully book a workable vaccination appointment for Mrs Shep and I. And every time I went back to the start of that process, the “next available date…” values had receded just a little bit further into the future.

It was not a pleasant experience.

There are a few times, during the pandemic, where I’ve had an overwhelming sense of …. “do you realise JUST how dystopian this would sound, if you described exactly what’s happening now to the you-of-2-years-ago?”. Sitting in front of a crappy government web site, navigating that same crappy booking system over, and over, and over again — as fast as I could click, in the hope of securing a shot of vaccine … well, that did feel like a new peak of bleakness.

But … hey… we’re booked now. So at least there’s that.

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Because I clearly hadn’t had enough despondency and bleakness in my life on Wednesday, I thought I’d also make a start on my next Kingdom Death: Monster playthrough! … getting my new settlement — The Tyranny of Sunlight — up and running via the prologue battle!

From gallery of MrShep


There will, of course, be a more narrative-based account of these events to follow further down the line, but here’s a snap of the first four brave survivors in our all-new cast (DSHamster (M), Imperator Zero (M), Coraval (F) and Mrs Meomwt (F)), taking on the introductory White Lion. Will they survive? Or did everybody die horrible deaths — resulting in volume 2 of Kingdom Death Diary being a particularly short book and volume 3 turning up sooner than expected? Stay tuned to find out!

Oh, and note that I am using the “Easter Death Dice”. Because it’s nearly Easter, and this seemed like a good excuse

From gallery of MrShep

(The green doesn't show up very well in this photo... but I really like this colour combo!)


My plan this time around is to play through The People of The Sun — an alternative campaign which comes as part of the Sunstalker expansion — because it’s got a significantly different settlement story to the base game, and that should keep the narrative interesting, and maybe showcase a different version of the Kingdom Death experience this time around. On the downside, the People of The Sun does have a pretty significant dependency on the base-game monsters, so I won’t be throwing in many additional quarries this time through … no Gorms or Flower Knights …but we’ll likely see a bit more of The Time Chicken The Phoenix.

Though I am definitely adding Spidicules to the mix for a bit of variety (alongside the base game Screaming Antelope, which it would normally replace, but which has resources important to the campaign). I mean, I didn’t build that model last month only to NOT use it, right?...

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Fri Mar 19, 2021 9:10 am
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Aire Supply

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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From gallery of MrShep


If the world was as it should be, then this would be AireCon weekend. Of course, the world is very much not as it should be … and even the replacement play-at-home virtual event, AireCan’t, has been bumped back to April. However… exactly one year ago this very weekend was — as I’m now fond of saying — “the last time that I managed to play a face-to-face boardgame with anybody who I’m not married to”.

From gallery of MrShep
Some people that I'm not married to.

(Even more surprisingly — this weekend also marks exactly one year since the last time I visited a pub. This may not be entirely co-incidental)

I miss conventions. Not only because I miss the opportunity to get away from home for a long weekend, eat big hotel breakfasts, and spend most of my waking hours TOTALLY immersed in board-game culture. But also because… well… I can easily stretch a decent convention trip into a good week-or-so of daily blog posts, if I put my mind to it … so it’s a bit like giving my content-bereft brain a blog-inspiration holiday! And in the last year… I have totally missed having those periodic visits to deep-wells-of-stuff-to-write-about.

(as you might have noticed)

Anyway, looking back upon my successful milking of last year’s AireCon for sweet, sweet blog content, I happened upon the obligatory (small) haul shot:

From gallery of MrShep


…which set me reflecting upon just how well these particular purchases worked out (or didn't work out) in the year that followed.

So that, my friends, is what you’re getting today. One last wring of AireCon 2020 through the content-creation mangle. Just for old times sake!

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In no particular order...

Fafnir. I’m pretty sure I did play this with Mrs Shep at some point over the last year, but I don’t seem to have logged said play. Maybe because it’s really not a 2-player game. Well… it says it’s for 2-4 players on the box — but as soon as you dig in and discover the underpinning mechanisms (it’s a share dealing and market manipulation game, dressed up in a fluffy story about a group of brothers who own a magic gem-laying chicken), it becomes pretty obvious that it’s very much a 3+ player affair. I’m still really keen to play this one with the full count (almost keen enough to script it on Tabletop simulator — somebody has put a basic version on the TTS workshop, but I think it’ll need a little bit of scripting to make it work fairly); it seems like the kind of ultra-fast filler that’ll interest the Newcastle regulars... placing it firmly on the Shelf of Opportunity.

Age of Steam: Cuba. This turned out to be the focus of my first (of many … ongoing …) locked-down solo game plays. I did a write-up of that experience here. Good fun this; I should play it again. But not before I’ve played…

Age of Steam: Hawaiian Islands. I bought both of these maps from the Firestorm Cards stall, and while chatting to Jimmy (the owner), he mentioned that he’d never played either of these, because they’re solo maps. I pointed out that this was exactly why I was buying them -- because I had a feeling that it might be useful to have a few solo games on hand in the weeks* to come. (Yeah, yeah, prophet of doom, right?) Though, surprisingly, I haven’t actually got around to trying this one out over the course of the last 12 months. I dug it out of storage last night (inspired by this blog article) and flipped through the instructions, and it actually looks like a really interesting variant. It’s still spread out on the game table as I write; perhaps this weekend its moment has come?

Noch Mal!: One of the roll & write classics this one, and a big hit with Mrs Shep ...I think it maybe even got a couple of remote webcam plays with the wider family. In fact, Noch Mal! was going great guns right up until the fateful moment in July when we bought Noch Mal So Gut!, and realised that we’d probably never want to play the original version ever again. Oops

And finally: Welcome to… the Doomsday thematic neighbourhood. An out-and-out gallows-humour purchase this one; I mean… during that weekend in Harrogate, it started to seem a tiny bit like maybe it could be the beginning of the end of the world.

We haven’t played it yet. Maybe when this is all over.

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*weeks? ha!
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Sat Mar 13, 2021 7:10 am
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Gone Away

John Shepherd
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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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Cake Day

John Shepherd
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Ovington
Northumberland
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From gallery of MrShep


Another successful orbit around the sun! … though, I have to state: my 51st year on the planet was most definitely not one of the better ones. Here’s hoping that things improve quite significantly for the 52nd.

A glance back at a blog post from this-time-last-year reminds me that I spent the afternoon playing a newly-received board game (Alubari), followed by a visit to a restaurant, and then a quick dash to a packed theatre to watch some comedy.

Yeah. I know. Crazy times!!!

This year… well, the restaurant and comedy aspects will be replaced by watching streamed live comedy on my living room sofa, while trying to consume my body weight in supermarket party food and drinking beer bought off the internet. Which isn’t quite the same. But the gaming? Well… Kayenta Games very kindly timed the export of their much-anticipated European consignment of Obsession (2nd edition) to arrive just in time for a birthday afternoon play…

From gallery of MrShep


So that’s what we’ll be doing. A little bit of birthday normality in an otherwise-strange year. Good ol’ boardgames… they don’t let you down!

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Sat Mar 6, 2021 11:02 am
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This week, the beer made me play...

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Presenting an exciting new* lockdown blog series, in which I spend each instalment drinking a trendy hipster craft beer that I’ve never tried before, write a bit about what it tastes like, and then wait and see what kind of board game it inspires me to play.

Is this a thinly-veiled attempt to semi-legitimise the act of drinking my way through the misery of lockdown, coupled with a fragile and desperate hope that it’ll somehow inspire fresh new blog content?

Urm… yeah. It’s probably exactly that.

But let’s find out...


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Today I shall be mostly drinking:
Mos Eisley Catharina
Catherina Sour
Brew York, 6.5% abv.


From gallery of MrShep


I have to confess, prior to drinking this beer (or, more accurately, prior to finishing this beer and then heading straight to google to figure out exactly what manner of potion I’d just been treating my tastebuds to), I had no idea what Catherina was. But pparently it’s a style of kettle-soured fruit beer that hails from Brazil … based on the Berliner Weisse style, but with LOTS of tropical fruit added.

And… this was very nice stuff indeed. Admittedly a bit on the flat side (as you can see, what little head there was on the drink had disappeared before I’d even managed to dig my phone out of my pocket!) …but the taste is a really refreshing mix of hops, lime, coconut, and… orangey citrus fruity stuff. Which is apparently guava, but isn’t really the exciting bit of this beer for me … its the coconut-and-lime-over-hops combo that really made this one stand out. Delicious! And you’d have no idea at all that you were sipping something containing 6.5% alcohol … you could VERY easily mistake this for a healthy 5-a-day fruit juice breakfast drink.

Hmmm… now there’s an idea…

(Probably not on a week day though...)

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But what board game journey will Mos Eisley Catharina take me on?

Well… I’ve already crossed Limes off the list courtesy of a previous instalment in this series … but I could probably rustle up a game with coconuts in it if I really put my mind to it. HOWEVER… the bottom line is… I just can’t get away from the Star Wars theming on this one. And yes… it might be a completely silly pasted-on-theme (I guess it’s not only the board gaming world which suffers from that phenomena), and my mental connection might have been reinforced by the fact that I was sipping this particular drink while watching the season 2 finale of The Mandalorian (because… what better beer could you be drinking while watching the season finale of The Mandalorian?) … but I sort of feel inspired to look for a game which is a bit star-wars-y. Or, at the very least, a bit Space-y.

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Mmmm. Space beer.


Surprisingly, I don’t actually own any “official” Star Wars licensed games. The nearest thing I have is maybe Button Shy’s Liberation, which is (reputedly) something akin to a super-sharp 18-card distillation of Star Wars: Rebellion.

From gallery of MrShep


I’ve only played it a couple of times … it’s a clever game — but one that you clearly need repeat plays to get the best out of, and I’m pretty sure that it’s very much NOT the type of game that Mrs Shep would like. I think I might’ve seen a (test?) version of a solo mode on Button Shy’s Discord server … but I’m not really in the mood to play a pre-release that might be broken, and…

Hmmm… wait a minute… “broken”. That’s reminded me of something:

From gallery of MrShep


The “Beverage Run” mission in the Galaxy Trucker Missions Expansion — the one where you have to deliver a load of fragile bottles without breaking them! …It’s sci-fi, it’s got a tenuous beer connection, I love the game, and its way, WAY too long since the last time I played it

So today, the beer is making me play: Galaxy Trucker. And I am very much looking forward to the experience

From gallery of MrShep


[to be continued…]


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*OK, New-ish.
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Fri Feb 26, 2021 7:10 am
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A bear behind

John Shepherd
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Ovington
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Between further bouts of miniature building (no, don't worry, I'll not bore you with more KDM pics today!), Sunday afternoon brought a session of Barenpark with Mrs Shep:

From gallery of MrShep


Back in the carefree, early days of October 2019, the very notion that it would be getting on for EIGHTEEN MONTHS before this one would return to our gaming table would be virtually unthinkable. Barenpark is such a straightforward, non-core-gamer-friendly, fast-playing DELIGHT of a game that it's a title which would frequently find itself pulled from the shelf at the slightest excuse. Alas… the drought of game-curious house guests, lack of visits to Newcastle Gamers, and a wider focus on other things for our two player locked-down gaming sessions seems to have led to an absence of this one form our gaming diet for far too long.

So long, in fact, that even though we thought we knew what we were doing, a surprising amount of rules referencing was required to get back up to speed with it (what do we remove for 2 players?.. How do the park extension boards work again? …should these things run from low points to hight points, or high points to low points?...).

It was odd how an old favourite could suddenly feel so unfamiliar.

Of course, we soon got back into the flow of things — the rules on this one are far from being overbearing* — but it was a good reminder that even though covid is keeping some of the meaty best-with-3-or-more-players games stuck on our shelves, we might have also lost sight of some cracking lighter-end games too… for no better reason than the fact that we’re simply not seeing the people that we most associate playing those particular games with.

We're definitely getting this one back onto the table soon. With Monorails next time. And I’m eying up Phil Walker-Harding's other medium-box Lookout Spiele gem -- Gingerbread House -- with intent... I bet we're dangerously rusty on that one now too!

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*Ha! Did you see what I did there? Did you?
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Mon Feb 22, 2021 7:10 am
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The tug boat that hauls you through the week.

John Shepherd
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Ovington
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No time to blog this morning, so I thought I'd shine a light on Ben's latest video instead. Maybe it's the timing -- and this week's realisation that Newcastle Gamers is now more than a year in my past -- but it almost brought a tear to the eye, this did.

Almost



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Fri Feb 12, 2021 9:48 am
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In the Year of the Dragon (and a year of something else...)

John Shepherd
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Ovington
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Monday night was — as is now the tradition — virtual board gaming night. And it’s reassuring to find that some elements of our online gaming exploits remain a true reflection of the experience of gaming in-the-flesh. Namely: spending at least 10 minutes at the start of each session uhming-and-ah-ing over what we’re going to play.

We eventually settled upon: In the Year of the Dragon (Board Game Arena)

From gallery of MrShep


Board Game Arena's version of ITYOTD has a pretty stripped-back presentation compared to the physical board game … in fact, it’s been stripped back so far that it doesn’t even have a board any more! To be fair the only critical functionality of the physical board is tracking advancement on a couple of points tracks, so it’s not a huge miss… but this presentation does kind of make you wonder why Alea never banged out a “In the Year of the Dragon - The Card Game” spin-off; it does seem like a prime candidate when played like this

Anyway… it’s a very enjoyable implementation, once you’ve got past the quirky presentation. That said, it’s about 3 years since I last played ITYOTD, and it took me 2 or 3 rounds to get back into the swing of things. Which is about 3 or 4 rounds more wriggle room than this game gives ANY player (it’s a very harsh game, even when you know what you’re doing!) … so, urm, yeah. I didn’t do great. But I also didn’t come last. So at least there’s that.

And then, to wrap up the session: Startups (Tabletop Simulator, unofficial mod)

From gallery of MrShep


…which (as I’ve mentioned previously) is a very, very impressive implementation, and quite a novelty for a TTS mod in so far as it’s been scripted with full game moderation and rules enforcement… and once you’ve fumbled your way through which hot-spot you need to click to trigger which action, it plays like a dream. Admittedly you don’t get to look your opponents in the whites of their eyes as you try to bluff and showboat your way out of a particularly nasty hand… but, yeah. It’s a good implementation, this is… and it was great to dig back into an old Newcastle Gamers favourite after a long gap

Speaking of Newcastle Gamers, long gaps, and games about bad years… (maudlin nostalgic musings are about to happen — you have been warned!) …it occurred to me that THIS gaming session coincided with the exact one year anniversary of the last time that I managed to attend a real-world Newcastle Gamers meeting.

Of course, there was a couple of other Newcastle Gamers meetings between the start of February 2020 and UK lockdown #1 beginning in mid-March… but sadly I was too busy wife carrying and aire-conning to attend those. So 8th February 2020 was my last one. And the last time that I managed to sit down for a face-to-face game against two of the fine people that I played against virtually on the 8th February 2021.

It doesn't seem like a year since I saw those guys.

It’s scary how quickly time goes by cry

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Wed Feb 10, 2021 7:10 am
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No plan survives first contact with the enemy

John Shepherd
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Ovington
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Monday night saw our regular digital board gaming session take place… and -- excitingly -- THIS week was to see the results of my labours to build a tabletop-simulated version of Key Market put to the test!

From gallery of MrShep


It stood up pretty well, all things considered (‘phew!). There were a couple of annoying teething troubles; the landscape tiles insisted on overlapping each other by a fraction of a millimetre instead of snapping nicely into a flat position on the table (grrr!). I discovered that TTS scripts completely reset their state if you have need to rewind time at any point during the game (leading to some completely un-necessary buttons re-appearing in the UI half way through the session). The messages that I presumed the script was sending to global chat were, in fact, only being sent to me. And a few assets were possibly not quite as not as locked down as they should’ve been.

But these things were all relatively minor in the grand scheme of things; we still managed to play the game perfectly well… and I was particularly chuffed too see my farmhouse hiding/unhiding solution working out in practice!

In terms of game duration, real-life Key Market definitely leans towards the longer-end-of-medium. So — as you would expect with the time-dilating effects of Tabletop Simulator — it took quite some time to play. Around 3 hours, to be precise. (Plus a potted rules explanation up front, as Olly hadn’t played before) …and at around the 2 hour mark, I was starting to get a little bit worried that the game might be edging slightly towards outstaying its welcome.

Fortunately, I don’t think that turned out to be the case. It’s been over a year since I last played the game, and I’d kind of half-forgotten about this aspect… but Key Market does seem to be a game that reaches a tipping point, and then picks up a fair bit of speed in the final straight. Maybe it’s a combination of players retiring their workers, and also becoming a bit more laser-focussed on a particular end-game strategy… but I certainly felt engaged right up to the end — hopefully the other players did too.

From gallery of MrShep


Despite it being his first play, Olly (yellow) came out way in front of the rest of us in the final reckoning. Mostly through concentrating on guild progression bonuses, rather than retiring workers. And yeah… we didn’t give him anywhere near as much competition on that front as we should’ve done, so we only have ourselves to blame

Despite my poor 3rd place showing (my plan to get a final retiree was thwarted by a particularly frustrating counter-move on the country boards in the last round), I really enjoyed playing this one again. Which is maybe just as well, given the effort involved in building it! …I’m not sure when I’ll get to play it next — it’s a big ask, getting people to sit in front of a TTS game which takes that long to play. (In fact, it’s a struggle to get MYSELF in front of TTS to play a game which takes that long to play, never mind anybody else!!) — but yeah, that definitely scratched my need-to-play-Key-Market itch, in a very satisfying way.

For a while...

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Wed Jan 27, 2021 7:10 am
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Mental Blocks

John Shepherd
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Ovington
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Monday night saw the regular weekly online session with the chaps... and the usual complete lack of a plan for what to play (I’m holding on to my Key Market TTS mod until next week, as Ali is a bit of a fan of the game and he couldn’t come out to play this week*).

Olly put forward Age of Steam as an option … but after our game of Concordia ran long last week, I really needed something a bit shorter this time to keep Mrs Shep sweet about the whole Monday night thing. Owain suggested that maybe we could play a couple of shorter games instead… which seemed like a good plan. I’d spotted a couple of games on Yucata which we enjoy the real-life counterparts of, but hadn’t tried online yet. So we decided to give those a go.

Starting with: San Juan. Or — as Yucata prefers to call it — Puerto Rico - The Card Game.

From gallery of MrShep


Before playing this, I hadn’t realised that the Second Edition of this game has tweaked some of the cards … I’d assumed it was just a slightly-prettier, less-beige reprint. So, as we played, and various modified cards emerged, it was a bit of a surprise to find that the Guild Hall (which is usually a popular card in our games anyway) has been boosted to score EVEN MORE points (1pt extra for each type of production building you own) … and the Gold Mine (never a popular choice when we play) has been nerfed to make you take the lowest value card that you draw. Most odd. Still, it seems like the type of game which will have a hard-core cadre of super-keen players far better placed to judge those changes than we are … and those alterations probably make more sense to folks outside our group-thinky bubble … but yeah, at first blush, those particular changes seemed a little bit odd. But at least we were all equally-unprepared to encounter them!

It was a close-run game, with Owain and I virtually neck-and-neck throughout … Owain eventually winning the tie breaker thanks to the fact that he was holding ONE MORE CARD in his hand than me. Gah. Thwarted by a single card!

I enjoyed this — the Yucata interface is maybe a little bit clunky for playing this particular game in real time (you rack up an awful lot of mouse miles moving from confirmation buttons at diagonally-opposite corners of the screen … and whenever the screen refreshes, the display tab switches back to your own hand, which is somewhat frustrating) but …needs must in times of crisis. It was fine

Microbadge: BAAAAAAAA! Microbadge: BAAAAAAAA! Microbadge: BAAAAAAAA! Microbadge: BAAAAAAAA! Microbadge: BAAAAAAAA! Microbadge: BAAAAAAAA! Microbadge: BAAAAAAAA!


And secondly: Imhotep

From gallery of MrShep


…which can be whipped through at quite a pace on Yucata. The graphical representation isn’t anything to write home about, and I expect it might be a bit underwhelming to anybody not familiar with the tabletop version. But I do find that with some of these things it’s a bit like reading a novel … your imagination fills in the blanks. So on Yucata, when I visit the quarry, I may just be clicking a button, and a boring little on-screen counter telling me how many “blocks” are sitting on my sled is going up by 3 … but, somewhere in my imagination, little mental blocks have moved from a mental tabletop quarry to a little mental cardboard sled

I won this one (FINALLY levelling up in Yucata’s achievement scale … woot!) … the win might’ve been slightly gifted to me by Olly mis-remembering how blocks are placed on the burial chamber — but I had a backup plan for that boat anyway … I’m not convinced it made a game-changing difference.

And that was that. Two solid, short-ish games packed into a very enjoyable evening… with a 10pm finish ensuring that I’m still in Mrs Shep’s good books and might have a little bit more wriggle room next week. ‘Phew!

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*Metaphorically, at least. More accurately: He couldn’t stay in and play.
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Tue Jan 19, 2021 10:18 am
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