The Tyranny of Small Decisions

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John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Only 2 weeks left until the UK Games Expo is in full flight! … and I’m sure you already know that you can come and see all* of your favourite BGG bloggers in our bloggingly blogtastic blogging show, at half past three, Saturday afternoon, in the Cartamundi Theatre. Annoyingly, individual seminars don’t seem to be listed in the printed version of the show programme this year … so if you want to come along you’ll need to commit that time… 15:30 SATURDAY …to memory. Because you don’t want to miss out on the hottest show of the whole convention, do you?

(I may mention the time once or twice again before the big day arrives. Just to help you out with that memorisation process!)

From gallery of MrShep


In other UKGE news: I note that the expo has added a big list of expo-debuting (or debuting-ish?) games to their official website this year: https://www.ukgamesexpo.co.uk/whats-on/show/new-games/

Now, being a high-profile, influential (ha!) and prolific blogger who is in perpetual search of new things to write about … I should probably be pouring over that list and deciding exactly which titles I should be getting excited about. Making a shortlist/battle plan before rocking up at the event. But you know me; I treat pretty much any new game from a designer that I’m not familiar with with a great deal of suspicion, I drift in and out (usually “out”, these days) of following the BGG hotness, and I’m generally a bit rubbish at doing homework. Therefore: I haven’t the foggiest idea what most of those games even are**.

So, dear readers… help me out here. Check out that list, and make me some recommendations. After all… I trust you folks way more than I trust the UKGE marketing blurb

What should I be looking out for?
What should I be trying out?

…and what should I avoid at all costs?

I await your learned opinions with great anticipation!

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*Just as long as your list of favourite BGG bloggers only includes a combination of myself, Tony Boydell, Caroline Black and Nick O’Neill. (And you’re missing out on some fantastic writers if that’s the case). But hey… come along and see us anyway. It’ll be fun!
**Though I have heard a rumour that CGE will be unveiling some new, previously-unannounced Sci Fi game at the expo. So that’s at least one thing that I’m curious to track down…
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Sat May 21, 2022 7:10 am
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First, buy your game (and beauty may be in the eye of the beholder...)

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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So back in February of ’21, one of those fangled solo-roleplaying-journalling games that I told you about last time caught my eye. Or, more specifically … a kickstarter for one of these fangled solo-roleplaying-journalling games caught my eye. Bucket of Bolts is a Sci-Fi re-imagining of a game called Artefact — a game which seems to be held in extremely high regard by folks who are into these things. And I’ve always been far more of a Sci Fi fan than a “high fantasy” fan … so I figured that if I was going to play a game that called for me to do a whole bunch of creative writing, then this thematic remix would be the one for me. The kickstarter was relatively cheap, hit its funding goals super-quickly, and seemed like it would be fulfilled super-fast (printed in the UK, with fulfilment anticipated in 4 months — What could go wrong?)

Well… I’m not sure exactly what went wrong, but something clearly did. The delivery date of June soon slipped by. And then much of the following year was spent receiving monthly updates about which I remember very little, other than the fact that the author would lead far too many of them with instagram-esque shots of his young children doing assorted “seasonal” activities, and telling us how difficult it was coping with covid. Which, yeah, I get… 2021 was a very strange time. For all of us. But… it’s not like we didn’t all have a year of covid under our belts already… and some sense of urgency over delivering the zines that campaign backers had coughed up £72,000 to fund might’ve been a bit more appreciated than the family snaps. The project chiefly involved printing a zine. (and a beak-zine at that!) … not the most radical or innovative of kickstarter deliverables, for sure?

The zine eventually arrived in early March… more than a year after the campaign ended, and 9 months behind schedule.

And it had a few… issues.

Firstly … I’d plumped for the collectors edition. (Because I’m a sucker for arty-crafty bells and whistles, and the cost uplift wasn’t that much). The kickstarter pitch claimed that the package would include: “the zine itself in a custom-branded glassine envelope, packed with printed matter: bonus tables, art, stickers and other ephemera.”

…what actually arrived was the zine packed in a custom-branded (not glassine… though that didn’t worry me so much) envelope, with 8 A5 sheets of “bonus content” cardboard, and … nothing else.

From gallery of MrShep


The creator posted an update a few days later…

“The Collector's editions were supposed to have the zine, eight sheets of bonus content, a little notepad and a sticker sheet. The zine, sheets and envelopes were all being coordinated and packed by Dizzy, but somewhere over the last year the notepad and stickers just evaporated from my mind and my planning. So, the lovely envelopes you receive do not currently contain them.”

He just… forgot? Seriously?… (Well… I guess an awful lot of months did pass between that kickstarter campaign and actually having to put “ephemera” into envelopes…)

And secondly … the print quality of the zine itself (and those “bonus printed materials”) was just a bit… “iffy”. I could forgive the problems if it was because this was a lo-fi indie production which only had access to cheap printing techniques (just like things were back in the 1980s!) … but the issues are really down to some seriously unorthodox “artistic” design decisions.

Decisions like … printing artwork in peachy-coloured ink on dark orange paper. I’m not exaggerating … in bright sunlight, unless I look at these prints straight-on … the artwork just disappears!

From gallery of MrShep
(Both of these sheets contain illustrations above the text)


The 'zine itself is Risographed onto a peach-coloured paper, in blue and flourescent orange ink. And again… there are massive contrast issues when you put flourescent orange on a pinky-peach background. Issues which wouldn’t be so bad if it was just used for accents here and there… but wherever a key word of phrase is used within the body text (typically 2 or 3 times a sentence), it’s in flouro-orange … and I get a kind of brain-glitch reading it. Admittedly, my eyesight isn’t as 20/20 as it once was … but not that bad. This is simply poor design accessibility. Which again… I’d be lenient about… were it not for the fact that the credits for the project include a design consultant, an accessibility consultant (though apparently only for the digital versions of the rule book?), and a professional/arty printing studio was involved too (who surely would’ve red-flagged this paper/print combo?)

I guess I’ve always had a bit of a bee in my bonnet about folks choosing style over functionality. And the printing choices on this production REALLY grinded my gears

(Though fortunately the “collector edition” pledge included various digital versions of the rulebook …which are infinitely more usable than the paper version is!)

And thirdly… oh, I could go on, you know, but I’ll leave it at three things … the stretch goal of a digital ship generator tool, “accessible as a web app, so it can have the broadest support for users possible.” … turned out to not be an accessible or braodly-supported web app at all. It’s a chunky old windows app. Completely unusable by those of us who have shunned the microsoft ecosystem

TLDR: The campaign and the physical deliverables didn’t, exactly, cover themselves in glory.

“But it’s all about the game MrShep! What’s the actual GAME like?”

Good question. Firstly… it’s VERY rules-lite. The rules part of the ‘zine (the game is presented as a “beak zine”, which means it initially looks like a conventional booklet, but you can unfold the whole thing into a poster-sized sheet of supplementary look-up tables) clocks in just shy of 1200 words.

1200 words is not a lot of content. If you don’t know what 1200 words looks like … well… as I end this sentence (and assuming I don’t edit this text too much before I hit the “post” button) I’m about 1000 words into this blog post. So 1200 words is definitely not a lot of space in which to explain an entire role playing system to somebody, is it? (In fact… the kickstarter campaign pitch had more words than that! Which just seems wrong to me, somehow).

Those 1200 words are certainly well written and engaging — I’ll definitely compliment Bucket of Bolts in that respect — but the rulebook kind of just felt like an introductory chapter. The sort of thing that an old-school RPG would use to give you a flavour of the game in the opening pages, prior to laying down the chapter and verse of how you actually play the thing. With Bucket of Bolts, just when I was getting a feeling of “Yeah… this sounds like it could be sort of cool…” I found myself on the last page, reading the closing credits … with nothing more than the fold-out sheet of tables to steer me in what to do next. Perhaps there was an assumption that players had played this kind of game before? I’m not sure.

But I’m a capable sort of person, I’m sure I’ll suss it out…

(oh, and for anybody not keeping count… I’ve just passed the 1200 word mark!)

…and, obviously — for better or worse — I’m taking you folks along for the inaugural ride. Because I’m never one to turn away any kind of low-hanging blog content, am I?

Stay tuned, for The Tyranny of Small Spaceships.

Soon…

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Thu May 19, 2022 7:10 am
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Old man improvises yelling at consensually-imagined clouds...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet…

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

Maybe I’m missing something here?

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

From gallery of MrShep


(to be continued…)

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

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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From gallery of MrShep


Is that even a sheep? I'm not entirely sure. (And it's not even the strangest creature that I've met this weekend).

Apologies blog fans. We've been doing a fair bit of travelling lately, and as a consequence my blogging routine has slipped a bit.

We have watched some people run up a very steep hill, carrying very heavy cheeses.

From gallery of MrShep
Is that the hill out of the famous Hovis ad, Mrs Shep?
Why yes! yes it is!


We have visited some very English Fairs and markets. Including this one, in a once-bustling medieval port town. Which has now managed to move about 50 miles away from the sea. (You have to keep your eye on those medieval port towns, you know. Take your eyes off them for even a minute, and they're away!).

From gallery of MrShep


We helped to wake up Jack in the Green by making a VERY LOUD NOISE, and therefore ensured the arrival of Summer this year. (You're welcome!)

From gallery of MrShep


We sat in the meadow where a very rare wildflower grows, on the only day of the year that the landowner allows the public to enter...

From gallery of MrShep


...and we also got involved in some streetfighting in Lewes.

From gallery of MrShep


This hasn't left a lot of time for gaming. Well... not for much gaming anyway. But normal* game-related-blogging service will be resumed very shortly. Honest.

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*Actual levels of normality may vary.
This is also normal.
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Sun May 15, 2022 8:57 pm
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The merry month of Mayarch!

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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From gallery of MrShep


It's Button Shy’s BGOTM Club package for March!

Which arrived last week.

In May.

But at least the first two letters of the month were right this time!

Annnnnd….. It’s a bit of a return to form, this one, after that slightly fallow BGOTMC period that I was whinging about commentating upon not so long ago.

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Containing...

Seasons, a mini expansion for Agropolis. Seasons adds four additional cards to the game, one of which you play wordy-side-up at the start to give you an additional scoring condition to work with, along with a “weather” rule that you need to follow as the game progresses. And at this point, it’s probably easier to simply show, rather than tell …so here’s a front and back of a couple of weather cards:

From gallery of MrShep

The remaining three weather cards get shuffled into your deck … and then you begin play as usual … but as soon as you draw a weather card, it MUST be the card that you play next — and then all of your subsequent cards are going to be impacted by that initially-revealed weather rule. It’s a nice tweak, with some potential for very interesting risk-reward decisions around exactly where place those clouds. And new Sprawlopolis/Agropolis content is always a bit of a crowd pleaser

Also...

Board Game: Flipuzzles


Flipuzzle 1 — Frog. A puzzle, on a single card. Essentially a slightly-obfuscated colour maze, where you have to flip the card over after each move (either horizontally, or vertically, depending on the direction of your last step) and then continue your journey from the corresponding point on the opposite side of the card. It’s amusing for a few minutes … but then you’ll likely put it away and never pick it up again. Still… it’s a novelty, right?

And last — but by no means least: The Evergreen Pass ... my first (and long-awaited) instalment of Hush cards. Which means I finally own all of the necessary components to try the game out!

From gallery of MrShep


I did fluff a few rules on this first play-through (which, judging from the number of post-publication faqs both here on BGG and on the Button Shy discord, is not an uncommon experience)… so I maybe shouldn’t pass any first-impressions judgement quite yet. But it’s definitely interesting. In a good way. Euro-leaning tower defence … with a couple of clever/elegant spacial things going on which are maybe a bit deeper than they first seem. I’ll certainly be keen to see how this one stands up to repeat plays and evolves with future BGOTM packages

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Wed May 11, 2022 7:10 am
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Dwile Flonking

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Saturday afternoon found us in the beer garden of the Locks Inn Pub, Geldeston …close to the Norfolk/Suffolk border. It’s an extremely pleasent country pub, with a glorious selection of real ales, and it’s been nearly 4 years since our last visit. Long-time readers might recall that THIS is the place in which I found myself competing in the World Thumb Wrestling Championship. This latest visit, however, was not for purposes of Thumb Wrestling… and we found ourselves attending as spectators, rather than participants. Because this was the day of the annual Suffolk vs Norfolk Dwile Flonking Tournament.

The ancient game of Dwile Flonking dates back hundreds of years*, and perhaps the best (or the only?) way that I can explain the game is through the inclusion of relevant extracts from the wikipedia article, amongst my pictures of yesterday’s event…

From gallery of MrShep


A "dull witted person" is chosen as the referee or "jobanowl", and the two teams decide who flonks first by tossing a sugar beet. The game begins when the jobanowl shouts, "Here y'go t'gither!".

The non-flonking team joins hands and dances in a circle around a member of the flonking team, a practice known as "girting". The flonker dips his dwile-tipped "driveller" (a pole 2–3 ft long and made from hazel or yew) into a bucket of beer, then spins around in the opposite direction to the girters and flonks his dwile at them.

From gallery of MrShep


If the dwile misses completely it is known as a "swadge". When this happens, the flonker must drink the contents of an ale-filled "gazunder" (chamber pot) before the wet dwile has passed from hand to hand along the line of now non-girting girters chanting the ceremonial mantra of "pot pot pot".

From gallery of MrShep


A full game comprises two "snurds", each snurd being one team taking a turn at girting. The jobanowl adds interest and difficulty to the game by randomly switching the direction of rotation and will levy drinking penalties on any player found not taking the game seriously enough.

Points are awarded as follows:

+3: a "wanton" - a direct hit on a girter's head
+2: a "morther" or "mawther - a body hit
+1: a "ripper" - a leg hit
-1 per sober person at the end of the game

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The game ended in a tie, and was therefore resolved in a dramatic drink-off between the two team captains… with the trophy ultimately taken home by the Suffolk team.

From gallery of MrShep


Tenuous board game theme of the day: What’s the strangest game that you’ve ever played in a pub?

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*Or possibly only 1967. Opinions are divided. And you should never let things like facts and opinions get in the way of a good tale!
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Sun May 8, 2022 7:10 am
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Kanal Desires

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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“Try-before-you-back” Tabletop Simulator / Tabletopia game implementations seem to be a pretty common feature of crowdfunding campaigns these days. But they’ve never really been a thing that I’ve considered using before. Not in any practical sense, at least.

The way I see it is this: putting a completely unknown quantity in front of your gaming friends — e.g. a Tabletopia version of a game that you’ve never even played yourself — is a pretty big ask. People’s gaming time is precious … and a group’s willingness to learn new games can be low. It’s best not to squander such opportunities on anything less than a pretty safe bet.

But self-tabletopia-demoing a solo game? Or a game which — at the very least — has a pretty convincing-looking solo variant that you cand work through all by yourself? Well… yep… that seems eminently do-able

And that’s how I found myself sitting in front of a virtual copy of the latest Uwe Rosenberg hotness, Oranienburger Kanal, last night.

From gallery of MrShep


…and it was a pretty good experience. Not an ideal experience — it’s a heavy game, with lots of card effects and interactions that you need to keep track of … which meant a lot of zooming in and out on components, and dipping in and out of a PDF card effect glossary — a process that I think would’ve been so much smoother with a physical copy of the game in front of me. Plus… the tabletopia implementation of the game’s resource wheel is annoyingly twitchy/fiddly/over-sensitive (on my machine, at least!) … but these are flaws in the tabletopia medium, NOT in the game itself. The game itself seems like a very fine one indeed!

As is usual with Rosenberg games, many of Oranienburger Kanal’s mechanisms are iterations of things that Uwe used in earlier titles, and fans will have a pretty good idea of the paths that brought the designer to this particular destination. It’s certainly got a little bit of a Nova Luna thing going on with it; it’s about putting tiles down (let’s not get too hung up on the fact that the “tiles” are actually cards — Oranienburger Kanal is definitely a tile-laying game in spirit!), and then surrounding those tiles with other tiles — of very specific types — in order to activate building functions to optimum effect. In this particular evolution of the formula, there are two very different types of tile involved, and two different “dimensions” of adjacency: sure, buildings can be placed next to each other, and choices on what sits where will greatly effect how efficiently buildings work together — but sandwiched between the buildings is a separate grid of slimmer tiles representing transport routes (roads… railways… canals and “paths”). Completely encircling a building with these “routes” is what initially triggers the building’s effect … but the exact types of route used, the kind of position you selected when placing the building on your board, and various other aspects of the current game-state will affect it’s function and pay-out… with every building in the game (there are multiple alternative decks shipping with the game at launch) boasting some kind of unique feature/interaction.

Plus… there’s worker placement. Tight, super-lean worker placement at that! And resource conversion (this is no draft-for-free game; everything to want to build in this game will require appropriate resources to be spent). And the resource wheels of glass road make a long-overdue re-appearance (i.e. nudge the wheel one segment to consume 1 instance of all your “basic” materials and automatically generate 1 each of all of your “enhanced” materials). And I haven’t even mentioned the “bridge” pieces that you can add to your tableau to activate buildings a second time … which adds an additional spatial optimisation puzzle around placing high-value production buildings next to each other, so that they both benefit from the proximity of the same bridge.

Is this starting to sound a bit like there’s a awful lot of crunchy, puzzly, heavy things to like in Oranienburger Kanal? Yes? …. well… that’s because there is a lot of crunchy, puzzly, heavy things to like in Oranienburger Kanal. (And… I’ve only tried the solo game so far … I’m scared to even think about how the competition for key worker placement spaces / the inevitable race for popular buildings will dial things way up past 11 in the two-player version!!)

So, yeah… I’m looking forward to this being released. I’m not sure that I’ll rush back to the tabletopia version — because, as mentioned previously, it’s a bit of a pain in the backside to play that way, and I kind of want to save myself for the real thing — but there’s clearly a good game on the way here. I’m very happy to have backed it.

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Sat May 7, 2022 7:10 am
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Live on Stage...

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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One month to go, and it looks like the hottest ticket of UKGE22 has been officially announced...



I'm still not sure who they've scheduled us against in the big room... but whoever it is must be getting pretty worried now.

Because you ARE all coming to this, right?

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Thu May 5, 2022 7:10 am
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I've teamed up with the hippies now / I've had my fringe unfurled

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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May the 1st. Beltane; the Gaelic May Day festival …and at the stroke of noon I find myself standing within the central ring of the Thornborough Henge complex, near the village of Masham in North Yorkshire.

From gallery of MrShep


From gallery of MrShep

Image: Google maps (link)


Thornborough Henge is a huge neolithic earthwork; three vast circular “henges” (one of which is now covered in a small forest) spread over the best part of a mile of english countryside. The henges were built in the bronze age, between 3500 and 2500 BC. Nobody knows exactly why... although it’s been speculated that the slightly-crooked layout was made to resemble the three stars of Orion’s belt.

It’s a very impressive site (albeit one that’s very hard to appreciate from ground level!). Though I can’t help thinking that perhaps if the henges were located somewhere else ... say -- for example -- in the slightly-more-southerly reaches of the UK … then they would be a major archeological tourist attraction. A high-profile ancient heritage site, well known to all. But … unfortunately … that’s not the case. The site is privately owned by a building materials company (Tarmac) who quarry nearby, and the henge complex is not open to public access.

At least… not usually open to public access. But every may bank holiday an exception is made; the landowners throw open the gates to allow a celebration Beltane by a rag-tag group of hippies, druids, wiccans, and curious passers-by.

And this year … we went to take a look too.

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From gallery of MrShep

The May king brings the Beltane fire!
(albeit a very small Beltane fire)

From gallery of MrShep

Handfasting — A druidic wedding


And it was all pleasant enough; lots of people blessing ancient spirits in assorted ceremonies and being very nice to each other. Chanting. Drum circles. Various stalls selling incense, ponchos, reiki healing, and assorted pieces of mystical artwork. But … perhaps more importantly of all … another curious english festival could be crossed off Mrs Shep’s list! Plus it was a good opportunity to get into the site and have a bit of a poke around the circles … with the advantage of there being food, cider, and porta-loos handily available

Anyway — this visit seems like an excellent prompt for a tenuous boardgaming theme of the day. Which will be:

Best board games with druidic content

I have to confess, I thought would be a pretty easy thing to come up with suggestions for this one. After all … druidic mysticism is a pretty commonly-used trope in high-fantasy gaming …isn’t it?

…But… I’m a bit stumped. I was pretty sure that Luna (which I love!) had druids in it … but looking closer, that’s more of a mystical moon-priests-and-priestesses thing. The Keltis series has a bit of an ancient-stones-and-mystical-elements theme going on… but nothing overtly druidic. Ditto for the symbology of Nova Luna. (That’s two more games that get an awful lot of play in the Shepherd household right there!).

But as for a game with actual druids in it? The only one that I can remember playing is Fae … a pretty decent area majority game, which I demoed at UKGE a few years back, but which I unfortunately haven’t played since

Board Game: Fae

Disturbingly-phallic little plastic druids.

Hmmm. That’s not a very impressive example, is it?

Go on. I’m sure you lot can do better…

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Wed May 4, 2022 7:10 am
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Newcastle Gamers (the continuity jump)

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Now here’s a doorway that I haven’t ventured through for quite a while.

Two years and three months, to be precise…

From gallery of MrShep

Gulp!


Saturday saw my triumphant(?) return to Newcastle Gamers, for the first time in far too long. It was a good experience (playing games … in public … with people who I’m not married to still feels like quite a novelty in the new-old-normal!) … but also a bit strange, and slightly un-nerving.

Why?

Well… I guess that one thing that the pandemic has taught me is that memory — and the way that the brain deals with the passing of time — is a bit of a curious thing. And not nearly as linear, and as sensible, as logic might have you believe.

The sensation of returning to the church hall where we hold the club sessions was one of overwhelming familiarity; it felt like I’d barely been away from the place at all. Like maybe only a few weeks had passed since I was last there. A month or two at most?

But the people who I met there? The familiar faces of old? Well… that’s what gave the evening a bit of a weird, uncanny vibe.

There are some folks from Newcastle Gamers who I’ve kept in touch with over the last couple of years. Certainly in an electronic sense, and on at least a few face-to-face occasions too. But most of the folks there… I had’t seen since a few weeks before the very first covid lockdown. And — at risk of stating the blindingly obvious — over the course of the last 2 years … they’ve aged!

I mean, it’s not like they all suddenly got super-old or anything … but it is surprising just how much a person can change in (what, in other ways) didn’t feel like a huge gap of time. More wrinkles. Changes in body shape. Less hair, or in some cases, a lot more hair! Faces that simply look a bit more lived-in? You could sense that some people had had an easier lockdown period than others. And I’m not quite able to put into words the feeling that this brought about (so excuse my not-quite-right phrasing here)… but there was definitely a bit of a cognitive glitch between the familiarity/stability of the environment, and the sense that there’d been some kind of crazy time skip involved, concerning all of the people within that space.

And, in short … I guess this was one of the starkest illustrations I’ve had of exactly what the pandemic robbed from us.

2 years of being in places like this, just doing our gaming thing. All snatched away.

But it was good to be back

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I wasn’t, of course, merely attending the meeting for purposes of existential angst. I was there to play games. And gaming is what happened!

The meeting’s head count was way lower than pre-pandemic times, with maybe 20 or so people present (including no fewer than FOUR first-timers!). I settled down to a table with Amo (a fellow old timer), Alan (a relatively recent recruit, though one who joined in the limited-headcount-attend-at-your-own-risk era of early 2022 that I entirely avoided), and first-time attendee Bernard … a mostly-wargamer-but-sometimes-boardgaming sort of chap who had spotted the club listing on meetup.com, and decided to come along to see what we did. Because he hasn’t played anything with anybody for way too long.

And what we did was…

Masters of Renaissance: Lorenzo il Magnifico – The Card Game

Which I’ve spoken about many times on the blog now, and which Amo was keen to try. And it seemed like a good game to start with — pacy, not too long, plenty of resource-managing machine-building crunch … and something by which we might get the measure of how much of a euro-gamer both Alan and Bernard were— a perfect warm-up for the evening!

From gallery of MrShep


I managed to hit the 7 card game-end-trigger first … and was reasonably confident of a win for doing so. Admittedly, I felt slightly guilty to be racing ahead in a game that I’d just taught a bunch of first-timerd to play from scratch — but I’m certainly not a believer in going gently on your opponents just because it’s their first attempt. However… I needn’t have worried, and should probably have been keeping a closer eye on what was going on on everybody else’s tableau … because Alan sneaked into the lead in the final reckoning — thanks to a fanatical devotion to the pope and a massively-inflated faith score that I hadn’t accounted for. Well played, Alan!

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With the ice-breaker out of the way, I enquired if the chaps would be interested in something a little bit meatier that would probably occupy a good couple of hours or more. All seemed keen, so I unpacked the other game in my bag that Amo had been eyeing with interest earlier that evening…

IKI

From gallery of MrShep


And a great deal of edo-period artisanal fun was had by all. This was my third play of Iki (and my very first time with the full complement of 4 players) and I’m only just starting to get a sense of how very different the game can be from play to play, depending on the exact mixture of artisans that the players decide to invest in. Firefighting roles seemed to be a very popular theme in this particular play(maybe I’d overstated the effect of fire in my game explanation?), while the cards that bring building resources into the game seemed less favoured — there really wasn’t any big-ticket building going on in this game at all — and we didn’t get to romp around the cherry blossom track anywhere near as much as we did in my inaugural game, back at AireCon. I also discovered just how punishing it can be to fall behind in turn order in a 4 player game … since your movement options become extremely limited when you’re 4th in line to pick from a draft of only 5 options!

This is probably just a long way to get around to saying … I prioritised the wrong things (based on previous experience, rather than the game in hand), and therefore played terribly… at one point losing two big-ticket buildings to a single fire, having relied on pushing my luck rather than investing in countermeasures. But at least I did well on fish, managing to collect a specimen from each season for a maximum fish bonus. Only enough of a fish bonus to get me into 3rd place in the final reckoning mind you … but a pleasing achievement nevertheless.

Bernard won this one. I already sense a bit of a master eurogame-player lurking behind that grognard facade!

And that took us to about 9:30pm. A couple of our number had to leave at this point … and, while I wouldn’t have minded staying a bit later, I had an appointment with some real-life druids at a megalithic monument the next morning (no doubt you’ll hear about that in good time), so I decided to make my exit at that point too.

A very splendid few hours of gaming though. And — despite the time-jump wierdness — so very nice to be back

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Mon May 2, 2022 7:10 am
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