As year two of The Great Pandemic wends to its weary conclusion (are we halfway through yet?), I thought I'd round up the year from my point of view.
For me, though, Covid-19 takes second place to my own medical journey. That is, diagnosed with bowel cancer at the start of March, operated on to remove tumour (and install ileostomy) by the end of March, three months to recover from op, 12 weeks of chemotherapy, three months to recover from that and second op early in December to reverse ileostomy. With a following wind, it looks like I'll be pretty much recovered by the time I reach the anniversary of my initial diagnosis. I am stunned: diagnosis to recovery in 12 months. Against the backdrop of the pandemic. I feel very fortunate.
But what does that mean for my games playing in 2021? Well, rather like 2020, it's almost all been solitaire or online. I did get one period, in September, when nephew Tom and I were able to explore Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles - as reported in Samurai battles - even more of them and linked posts.
With several regular sparring partners, the Commands & Colors family dominates the games I've logged on BGG through the year. Memoir '44 is at the top of the pile with 55 plays - that's over one a week! Most of these have been on the Days of Wonder app (also available via Steam), which means you can blast through a scenario in 30-40 minutes and thus play both sides of it in a short evening.
However, the app only supports "standard" scenarios - I much prefer the larger Breakthrough board - and has not implemented the more recent expansions, such as New Flight Plan. Hence, several of my M44 plays have been on Vassal where these are supported, though games take longer.
Vassal is also the venue for the other C&C games I've played: 37 Napoleonics battles, a couple of The Great War and just one Ancients. I thought I'd played more Ancients games, but clearly not. Something to do a bit more of in 2022. A highlight of the Napoleonics was re-fighting Austerlitz in La Grande Battles format with a full team of four players a side (ably organised by Mark Benson). It may be slow, but I really enjoy the team play. Here's the end of the game: there's still fighting around the vineyards of Stare Vinohrady in the centre, but Bernadotte has broken right through the Allies' positions. Vive l'Empereur!
With C&C out of the way, the next game I've played most is Scythe: 9 times in the latter half of the year. This time the platform is Steam - three-player games (plus the odd bot) with a couple of regular opponents. I do enjoy Scythe, but if you want to win you really have to focus on optimising your plays rather than just enjoying the game.
I have played Viticulture five times since BoardGameArena implemented the Essential edition - I just wish they'd add Tuscany. This does leave out the turn-based games - I only log real-time plays (whether face-to-face or online) on BGG. A quick check on BGA and the total plays jumps up to eight in 2021. Viticulture is another game I really enjoy playing - and it's one I can win (three from the eight) while enjoying it.
The other game I've played five times, according to my BGG log, is the first new (to me) entry in the list: Lucky Numbers. This is a simple but strangely addictive little game (available on BGA again) that has made an excellent filler for Swiggers' Wednesday evening sessions and gets a solid 7/10 from me.
Sticking to the new games now, I've also played Carnegie five times (on BGA). Kudos to Quined Games for making this meaty new title available online - it's certainly whetted my appetite to try the physical game when I get the chance. In the meantime, I'm struggling to find a winning strategy but enjoying myself thoroughly - it's a provisional 8/10 on my highly subjective scale. There's a fuller account in Business and philanthropy.
Returning to physical games and thus solitaire play, I fitted in several games of Rocketmen - see I'm not the man they think I am at all - and Coffee Roaster (reported in Man versus Bean). Rocketmen is another game I'm waiting to play against real opponents, but somehow I have no urge to play the solitaire-only Coffee Roaster again.
Another physical game I've had on the table is Hallertau - above is the final position of my third solitaire game with plenty of sheep. I have to say I'm just finding it tedious now. As a solitaire game, anyway. As far as I can see, there's only one way to play this game: amass the goods you need to upgrade your five 'Craft Buildings' so that your 'Community Centre' can move across your board (as shown above) to give you more actions and, later, more points. (The 'Boulder' obstacles that make moving more than once more costly magically move further away at the end of every round.) Since you always need the same stuff, you're always doing the same things. Yawn. Perhaps playing against real people would show me something I'm missing, but I'm not holding my breath. Sorry, Herr Rosenberg, but that's a provisional 5/10 from me.
I'm struggling, too, with Ted Alspach's Maglev Metro. Again, it's a physical copy, so it's solitaire play only. The first time I set it up, I was immediately stymied as I couldn't see how I was going to progress at all. It was on my second try that I realised there are certain things you can do without paying - they're not on the "things you need to pay for" table (I may not have the correct terminology here). Having resolved this, I still found the game impenetrable, though I did at least make some progress. Further research required, I think.
Thanks to Yucata, I've been able to try Vladimír Suchý's Praga Caput Regni. Another hefty, complicated game - right up my street! After three plays, I think I've got my head around the mechanics of the game. Now I just need to double (!) my score to be competitive. That's a provisional 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.
I'll finish with a couple of older but new to me games, played online. I was introduced to Grand Austria Hotel back in January and have now been thrashed seven times on Yucata - twice during Swiggers sessions. I'm really sorry to have missed this one when it was published as I'm very taken with its tight gameplay (seven rounds, two actions in each and an awful lot of things to do!). This is another game I'd like to try face-to face, but it's a solid 7/10 from me in the meantime.
The second game is Villagers, which I'd been intrigued to try since I saw how popular it was at the UK Games Expo in 2019. Its implementation on Yucata gave me the chance to play it. However, half a dozen plays in quick succession was enough for me. It's a pleasant enough game, but I just don't find it challenging (yes, I was winning too often and without effort). It's a 6/10 on my highly subjective scale.
It's been a minimalist year in games for me and I'm disappointed not to have made more inroads on the unplayed (and largely unopened) games piled up in my home office. Something to look forward to in 2022, eh?
This was the title of my board games column in Flagship magazine, so I thought I'd resurrect it, 8 years after Flagship's demise. The idea is to get down my musings in a more contemporaneous way - expect things to appear later in To Win Just Once (www.pevans.co.uk/TWJO) in a more considered form. Now, can I manage a less formal style?
Archive for Personal
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Yes, it's been that long since my last blog post. That's because my life has been up-ended dramatically.
Let me explain... No, there is too much: let me sum up. Back in March I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. The tumour was removed surgically a couple of weeks later (though I'm still recovering from the operation). I am now in my first cycle of adjuvant chemotherapy (luckily with very minor side effects).
There's a more detailed account of all this in TWJO 213 and I don't intend to repeat that here - check it out if you want to, but you may find it's too much information (I would).
Anyway, the good news is that I am recovering - though I'm finding everything I do takes longer - and feeling the urge to start writing again.
I will need to find things to write about, though - I've not played many games in recent months. However, I've just returned to playing online on Wednesday evenings with the Swiggers gang - old favourites mainly. And I'm getting in plenty of Commands & Colors games: both Memoir '44, through the app, and Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, on Vassal. These games have been real ding-dongs with my two regular opponents and great fun.
So, expect a mixture of after-action-reports, reminiscences of old favourites and accounts of solitaire play. Oh, and first impressions of the odd new (to me) game...
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09 Sep 2020
Life is definitely weird at the moment. I just spent three weeks of August on 'holiday'. Definitely weird, right? First off, who goes on holiday on August? (Apart from families with school age children, that is.) And, second, what's with the quotes around holiday?
Well, the proximate cause of our visit to Northern Ireland was the hospitalisation of my father-in-law. On top of that, it being the start of the month, I had work to do - there are downsides to having everything on the cloud. So there we were, stuck in a very comfortable holiday apartment with a glorious view over the North Channel (where the northern end of the Irish Sea connects with the Atlantic Ocean): beach, paddle-boarders, jet-skis and lobster fishermen. It was tough. Good job there were copious supplies of Prosecco and Guinness.
Since we drove over (it's surprisingly easy: north up the M6, turn left as soon as you enter Scotland and drive on until you find the ferry port), I was able to pack a few games. In particular, recent stuff that supported solo play. In the end, in between hospital visits, organising a return from hospital and the odd bit of socialising, I only managed to play one: Gil Hova's High Rise.
I played a demo game of this at the 2019 UK Games Expo (though not with Gil, alas) and have been waiting to get my hands on the game ever since. Luckily for current circumstances, it can be played solitaire. The idea of the game is that players are property developers, erecting ever-taller cardboard (what, no gold?) skyscrapers over three decades (rounds). Points are scored when a new building goes up with bonuses at the end of each round for the tallest in each 'neighbourhood' and overall.
The main mechanism is a one-way track. You can move your 'mogul' as far as you want, but never backwards, and only to action spaces no-one else has taken. The player in last place goes next. The actions give you materials and construction opportunities, plus bonuses and special abilities of various sorts. You can often improve your action by taking some 'corruption'. Corruption is minus points at the end of the game, with further penalties for the most corrupt.
How to reproduce this with only one player? Well, you have two dummy moguls circulating the board and getting in your way. Except that, by taking some corruption, you can use them to your advantage. That's neat. And there's another clever mechanism for setting a corruption limit each round with bonuses or penalties for being below or above this.
So, I took over the table in the apartment (the board is long and narrow, with lots of bits around it, so I needed the space) and tried it out. I kept the corruption down in my first game (also my strategy in the demo game last year) and scored a few bonuses for doing so. However, this was clearly not enough as I finished on 63 points - that's a loss. Then I checked on BGG for clarifications and discovered the correct way the 'Lobbying Firm' tenant works in the one-player game. That cost me 6 points and reduced me to a Critical Loss. Dammit!
Here's the final situation showing my (white) 63 points on the scoring track (after the 1 point bonus for having so little corruption - on its own track). The lone building in front of me was constructed in the suburbs - I got points for building it, but no tallest building bonuses as "it's in the suburbs and nobody cares".
For my second game, which went rather faster, I decided to take more corruption. This is when I discovered the penalties for exceeding the corruption limit have a lot more impact than the bonuses for being under it. A good part of this came from using the dummy moguls to my benefit. Just 50 points this time - another Critical loss.
Here's the start of 2020 (the second round) with a second set of neutral buildings placed. I've got a couple of buildings on the board (I'm playing white again), but my corruption penalty at the end of 2010 means I've only got 2 points. Eek!
A quick re-set (different 'tenant' tiles and 'blueprints') and a third game finally brought a win. Though 73 points is only just a win - you need 80+ for a Critical win. I managed to keep the corruption down for two rounds, while continuing to score well. (Since you know what skyscrapers are going to be added where at the start of each round, you can maximise your tallest building bonuses.) The low limit on the third round caught me out, though, reducing my score by 12 points.
Here's that final position and you can see my corruption (white marker) is 4 spaces ahead of the limit (yellow marker). I've managed to get a building in every neighbourhood, all of them scoring something for the tallest building bonuses (1st, 2nd and 3rd score in round 3). That's a win!
Bottom line: this was good fun and, crucially, gave me a thorough grounding in the basic mechanics of the game (my main reason for playing on my own). Though the ability to use the dummy moguls in your favour does make solitaire play quite different from a 'real' game. What it has done is make me really, really keen to get this game onto the table with 2-3 other people!
My full review of solitaire High Rise is in issue 10 of The Spirit, due out about now.
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I've just realised it's five months since I last posted anything on my blog! It's amazing how quickly time flies in a pandemic.
My excuses are that: 1) I was busy (and this blog turns out to be my lowest priority); and 2) the blog is largely driven by the games I play and I haven't been able to play many games in recent months (for some reason I don't count what I've been playing online - somehow these games don't feel real).
With work largely under control now, it's about time I started up again. Watch this space...
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