The Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers

Beer and Boardgames at The Plough Inn (formerly the Prince Of Wales, formerly the White Lion). "It's not F-ing Monopoly, alright?!"

Archive for Ben Bateson

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Friday January 5th - an evening of mild criminality

Ben Bateson
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After a smashing Christmas break, including an 'unofficial' Ross games on the 29th at which we played no less than two Agricolas AND Tony taught Heaven & Ale spectacularly wrong, it was a treat to return to the Plough and no less than six gamers for our first session in 2018. Long may it continue.

As well as the usual suspects, we had an 'early bird' visit from Gary, as well as the much-awaited return of Wendy, a natural games player if ever there was one and - given that she has a 'proper' job in a factory - inclined to break into laddish jokes halfway through the evening as well.

Tony had procured (apparently for free, the cheesy bugger) a copy of Charterstone which I am keen to try, but it was manfully put to one side to make way for the sterling 6P fare with which I had prudently packed the bag. And thus it was that we started with a firm club favourite (and still in my personal Top Ten) in the shape of Libertalia. The first round was a quiet one, packed with assorted night-time roles that got quietly bumped off as we went. But the second was a monster, John scoring a whopping 57 points. Thankfully he bookended this massive haul with two scores that are more accurately described as witheringly incompetent, and Becky came close to catching him up. I got all Monkey-phobic in the last round, played my Merchant and had to trash three treasure maps, which was generally typical of my error-strewn game. Indeed, I had started by gifting John a treasure map which more or less handed him the win in the end. But it was great stuff, Gary and Wendy keeping up a merciless and vindictive rivalry, and Tony playing a corker of a final round (the best of the three) with roles that everyone else had forgotten about.

So while we were in backstabby, double-guessy mode, Tony saw only fit to chuck Citadels on the table. I quite like the game with this many - it doesn't lag as long as everyone uses common sense, and the player count is perfect to add the Queen into the deck, which we did. I set the tone from the first by assassinating the Warlord (Becky always picks the Warlord - and I was right!), and it evolved into an edgily cautious sort of game where everyone was holding only one or two cards right up to the end. Wendy put a stop to things with her seventh building, and the four bonus points were more than enough to give her the win, although everyone was knocking on the door apart from Becky, stranded back in single figures somewhere.

Having played with pirates and assassins, a bit of modest thievery didn't seem over the top, so with Gary trotting off home, we broke out Thief's Market to finish with. It didn't seem to have quite the pace we've seen in the past, not really helped by John apparently trying to do combinatorial mathematics in his head, and Tony had to bid a farewell before we'd even hit the C deck. We ploughed on after some rapid readjustment, and promptly went and all lost to Wendy, who was holding some juicy game-end cards and couldn't really be stopped. I want to like Thief's Market, but it was by far the weakest of the three tonight.

Well, let's hope we get six (or more!) every week, if the gaming is this fine.
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Tue Jan 9, 2018 7:58 pm
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Friday December 22nd - All I Jask of You

Ben Bateson
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I'm feeling like a particularly inadequate blogger today, given a sterling 1000 not out for Mr Burnham, so I think I'd better get us up to date from before Christmas.

The last Friday before Chrimbo is always party time, although - as Tony has correctly pointed out - it didn't feel particularly partylike with just the usual four attendees and even a shortage of the usual drunkards in the main bar. Still, we did our best, and everyone was chortling merrily once we'd warmed up.

Our warmer was Jask, a little-known Scattergories clone newly purchased from a charity shop in Holt (yes, Norfolk), which I managed to teach almost entirely incorrectly. Not that it would matter, because I can't see how the actual rules would have made much of a difference. It wasn't exactly uproarious, but it didn't outstay its welcome either. Heaven alone knows when else it'll get played.

Jask did have the added bonus of some nice chunky writing pads, which we shameless pillaged for club stalwart standby and all-round festival of merriness, Balderdash. A thriller it was, too, mercifully low on the dreaded 'Initials' rounds, and with all of us in contention at some point going around the far corner. The slow scoring rate was due to the fact that we are all now sufficiently good at writing fake answers as to be more believable than what is actually written on the card, although I seemed to be increasingly holding the position of "Well, that would have been my second choice...". But it didn't stop us inventing a veritable canon of toenail growers, pervy jazz musicians and monkey rodeos as we gleefully elaborated on the various clues. And, as ever, we were reduced to tears on more than one occasion. Tony won, as he tends to do, but we don't care.

Dexterity fun and dice rolling to close, as we followed the lovely Mondrian (the thinking man's dexterity game) with a few ends of Tumblin' Dice. I scored a whopping victory at the former, and a host of miserable, beer-fuelled losses at the latter.

I would say Merry Christmas, but I'm actually writing this in January, so happy Hogmanay, or something.
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Tue Jan 9, 2018 7:41 pm
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Friday December 15th - Always Believe in Your Sole

Ben Bateson
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(This might be one of my favourite blog titles)

Our last 'serious' Friday of games before the Christmas saw Tony - rather unusually - acquiescing to my vague pondering about trying one of the more staid titles on my shelves. And so it was that he positively demanded we start with The Golden Ages: the jewel in the midweight-Civ crown. I had recently enjoyed an excellent reminder of this game, hitherto only intermittently played, at Midcon, and so was able to deliver a reasonably coherent - and brief - rules teaching, only hindered by John changing his mind a couple of dozen times about where to place his starting tile and capital.

Once we got stuck in, things went remarkably smoothly, much to Tony's delight. Becky - unsurprisingly - went all warmongery; John found a nice building combo, and Tony settled down to write poetry. Never doubt the pacifist - the new man's Wilfred Owen sped into a lead in Round 3 and was pretty much uncatchable, despite John's best effort. My paltry farming (no, not the chickens) efforts were pretty much hopeless. All pronounced themselves satisfied, and we really should get this one out more often.

Enrapt with my first game of Nusfjord, I positively insisted that Tony bring it out again and teach Becky the delights. To the sound of an excellent pub band playing 70s blues rock (as Becky said later: "It's like they're just playing your CD collection"), we tipped out tiny bits of wood and fish onto the table: this game is ripe for pimping further down the line.

Nusfjord quickly turned into a riveting battle for shares, with nine up for grabs by Round 4. I thought I had a sneaky gold-conversion engine that would let me grab them, only to find myself one short and pipped by John. Not to be outdone, I completely ignored boat-building, thereby giving John short-shrift, and saved up for the Bank, confident enough that I could let it go onto the board in Round 6 with no-one else able to afford it. It was good enough for the win over John, with Becky and Tony drifting in a distant joint-last.

Tony was on early departure, so we scraped around a little for a couple of closing games. Hey That's My Fish went the way of clinical and rational thinking from John, and with Dire Straits covers echoing around the sound system, Becky educated us at Love Letter (although notwithstanding my drunken inability to remember the exact card I had just exchanged). I think that makes one victory apiece!
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Sun Dec 17, 2017 10:20 pm
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Friday December 8th - Boatfest!

Ben Bateson
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With one eye on going back to work on Saturday, this was never going to be a full and riveting evening's gaming, and things weren't helped by a last minute cancellation from Tony, who was either:

a) In the midst of a family crisis (always possible with teenage boys in the house)
b) Not willing to go out in the cold (well, he is getting old...)
c) Offended because we'd been taking the mickey out of him on the internet (unlikely, given that this happens all the time)
d) Not allowed out prior to going on a gigantic weekend-long piss-up around the Black Country (current thinking favours this theory)

John, with rapier-like perspicacity, spotted an accidental common link in my bag of games: nearly all of them had a boaty theme. As well as tonight's choices, New Bedford, Fleet and Golden Ages all had the ring of seaborne exploration to them.

But, following up last week's successful introduction, it was Transatlantic that we started with. And it was an excellent game, not least in view of my private (and finally successful) mission to deprive Becky of her unbeaten record. We graduated ourselves to the President variant, which isn't exactly a big step up in difficulty, and definitely with success - I don't see us playing the Director version again. John, miles behind come the final scoring, got a big adrenaline rush from watching his marker zoom into second place and pronounced himself thoroughly delighted with the game. Do I think it's better than Concordia? No...but it's very, very good indeed.

With half an eye on the clock, we broke out Vikings for our second game. This never fails to be a hugely entertaining, subtle and clever game from two of our favourite designers; tonight was no exception, even though the final scores might have been closer. I crept out to an early lead on a semi-starvation and miserly strategy and no-one really caught up, despite it being a relatively equitable and low-screwage game.

We were going to play a filler to finish, but got nattering about this and that, and - to steal John's phrase - 'lost our momentum'. An early night, then, for once: all the better for me with the dreaded annual stocktake pending.
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Wed Dec 13, 2017 7:33 pm
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Friday December 1st - Proud Mary Keyp on Burnin'

Ben Bateson
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Unusually for this high-strung collection of gamers, the annual Post-Essen trauma (whereby we discover that no-one else likes our brand new prized finds) hadn't seized yet, and we were all pretty amicable with the new additions to our collections. Tony and I had a mission to try and play them all before Christmas, and thereby it was that Keyper and Transatlantic were pre-set as tonight's agenda. Gary stated his intention to turn up, and by a new group agreement we started a half-hour early to give the poor chap time to slog halfway across Herefordshire and back.

Despite a rulebook that would make Stephen Hawking wail and gnash his teeth (or at least croak electronically and wiggle his eyelids), Keyper proved to be a fairly easy teach, even the assorted fringe rules about lying down workers and so on. Having only played 2P before, it was clear quickly that the worker distribution was going to go skew-whiff fairly quickly, and hence Tony began Autumn with an unappetising collection of oranges, blacks and no whites. As Becky began targetting her objective of laying down pretty much every single meeple on everyone's board, the Boydell complaints started about over-complexity and too many resources and too much chrome and how he couldn't work the boards.

Rather amusingly, the latter complaint appears to be utterly true, and the best comedy I had all week was watching Tony haplessly manipulating and swearing at the Rubik-like board. On the note of his other gripes, I do have to concede that he has a point. Keyper is massively, almost comically, over-complexified. It is to Keyflower what Caverna is to Agricola, and consequently will never be quite as good. I find it a curious novelty, but it is not going to scale the ranks of my top 200: of that I am quite confident. The final result even close, Becky breaking three figures in style with Tony lagging behind on less than half her score. Amusingly, after a good 45 minutes of chuntering, he professed his intent to play it again 'to see if he was right'.

After this pantomime, I had slight qualms about setting up Transatlantic. I'm not sure it's as good as Concordia, and although comparisons are justified, they are in fact subtly and distinctly different games. Gary was happy to plough straight in, given he had prior experience, and Tony listened to my rules overview with furrowed brow...

...but he really liked it! I'm pleased, for Transatlantic is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine too. The engine feels very Concordia-like, but there is an nice economy wrapped around it, and - rather entertainingly - a game of Top Trumps bunged straight in the middle. Tony said midway through that it 'just feels right', and I can't think of a better compliment.

Mr B built a big, early and colour-specific fleet and left us all straggling on the leaderboard. Becky picked up the card that rewarded diversity and Gary set his eyes fast on Blue Ribands. I went for a bit of coal and an exercise in wringing as much money out of my poor overworked ships as I could. But, even despite our early start, time was ticking on, and despite an accelerated pace, Tony was flinging increasingly urgent glances at his watch, with youth once again awaiting collection.

About a half-dozen rounds before the end, he had to dash off, leaving us to play his cards in a sensible fashion and just two ships on the New York board, which we charitably declined to bump off, while buying him a total of three Headquarters cards. The end scoring saw a boom for Becky, who had a half-dozen more boats than Tony, and she overtook him at the very last to make a clean sweep of the evening. Thanks to my charity in allowing Tony to buy 'my' black headquarters, I straggled in a very close third. But the best news was that one game, at least, was inexcusably a triumph.

Becky is now undefeated at both Keyper AND Transatlantic. What's to be done, eh?
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Wed Dec 6, 2017 8:21 pm
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Friday November 24th - Cloth, and touching it

Ben Bateson
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Last week was spent visiting Midcon, getting my car broken into, and generally engaging in past-midnight gaming with aplomb. There may be a geeklist summarising all this if I can muster the energy.

Tonight's event was proceeded by protracted sessions trying to placate both Tony (who wants to play EVERYTHING he bought at Essen all at once) and the most awkward member of the games club, to whit my wife, who wanted to play lots of stuff but teach absolutely nothing. Eventually, some sort of uneasy compromise was reached, and I chucked a few 6P games in the bag as well as the planned stuff for two tables of three.

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong was one of these. I quite like this blend of Mysterium and Werewolf, but Tony was having none of these frothy mechanics tonight with a bag of 'proper' games waiting. He tried a second game and still didn't enter into the spirit of things, and with Becky raising eyebrows at it as well, I suspect I'll struggle to get this any more table time at Ross.

Onto the main event, and Becky grudgingly agreed to teach something she new well, and dished up Viticulture for the benefit of Gary and Xander. Tony, John and I dug into Nusfjord, hindered only marginally by Tony's reading of the rules, and I carefully built a working Elder engine while they went crazy for fish.

Nusfjord is a VERY Rosenberg game, but I really liked the restraint in only having three resources (compare and contrast Keyper, with something in the region of 20), and the smartly-planned interaction between the three is clearly the basis of the clever engine that is central to all the worker placement. It will compete happily with Glass Road for our attentions: it doesn't really bear a resemblance to our favourite other than in length, weight and level of general intrigue.

Gary, scoring a personal low 5 points in Viticulture, blamed tiredness and chose to go home, which left us 5P and ripe for a game of Calimala. This was a doddle to teach, even for Tony, and we were soon underway. My compulsion with this sort of game is NEVER to give free stuff to other people, which might be why Calimala and I fall out in the long term, but I did enjoy my first play, ending in victory as I gobbled up a lot of fabric shipping and left the others to fight out the donations.

People are saying lots of good things about Calimala, and I like the compactness and potential in the random setup. But it also feels quite fiddly with the actions swinging back and forth, and the 'extra action' deck is a bit of a fudge. Like all area control, you can get frustratingly out of contention as well. I just don't see myself playing this beyond a half-dozen or so plays.

With the clock ticking slowly tonight, we had time for a rousting few games of Dobble (Hot Potato variant, natch), followed by some lop-sided Codenames, both of which saw Becky and I on the losing team.
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Sat Nov 25, 2017 4:00 pm
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Friday November 10th - A bombardment of bibulous birthday boardgamers

Ben Bateson
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Yes, I do still have a blog. And I sometimes keep it up to date, as well.

This particular Friday was the prelude to Tony's big weekend-long birthday bash: two days of Essen Hauls, customised beer, and gamers of all shapes, sizes and descriptions (including some that were positively indescribable). Over a dozen assorted people therefore descended on the Plough's back room on Friday night, where we had had the foresight to set up three times our usual table acreage.

Forgoing opportunities to play the shiny new Calimala and Santa Maria, Becky set up her staple 'game to horribly batter newbies', Lancaster. Suprisingly, this attracted willing victims in the form of our very own Gary, along with visitors Craig ("I'll be hopeless at this" he said, rather prophetically) and Steve. A sprinkling of New Laws added plenty of intrigue to rounds 2 and 3 with more than a little diplomacy breaking out at the prospect of actively losing resources. As was utterly predictable, Becky won at a canter, with Steve coming through for a brave second. Craig managed an impressive 18 points, which I think might be an all-comers record for losing to Becky.

Acquiescing to Craig's request in defeat, we went in for Keyflower. We lost Steve, but acquired Ben M - a man who later provided my own highlight of TonyCon with his sock-puppet impressions. The random draw ran long on basic resources and green meeples (indeed we were to drain the supply of greens, which made me all the happier that I hadn't bothered getting involved), but not so much on gold or transport.

Becky discovered that downfalls cometh fast at Ross, with a pretty woeful (although funny) 23 points, and Gary adopted the air of an old hand as he cruised to 49 points. But I set a personal best at 'vanilla' Keyflower, clocking up a whopping 83 points by steering clear of all the green meeple shenanigans and running my own little engine with brutal efficiency.

Surprisingly, we had run out of time after just two games, but there was much more to come over the course of the weekend. My personal games log contains no less than all the following:

Gaia Project (frankly unnecessary expansion on Terra Mystica, a distant third behind Richard and Claire)

Ora et Labora (comfortable win over Becky and Stuart, but felt a bit soulless for some reason. Perhaps this one has served its time?)

Montana (not the best Essen purchase: a very procedural take on resource juggling, won by Stuart over Jules and myself)

Glass Road (won by me with a very low 18.5 points, notable for Stuart's comedy ineptness and Ben's aforementioned sock-puppet voice from the table behind us)

Revolution (A huge late burst from Stuart won this and left Phil stranded on a miserable 58 points. Fun, but too chaotic).

Azul (definitely the hit of Essen '17 for me, won comfortably by Becky).

Notre Dame (I was edged out by Keith after a cracker of a finish)

Keyflower (comprehensively outplayed by both Martins - a rare loss for me)

Sushi Go (won - I think - by Craig as a pre-dinner filler)

Agricola (a luxurious and splendid Sunday morning session, where Richard did lots of farting around in finishing fourth and I scored a good win over Tony)

Noch Mal (great roll-and-write fare where I embarrassed Surya and Myriam in what is apparently Belgium's national game)

Inhabit The Earth (in which Richard and I were comprehensively rolled over by Alice Boydell)

Phew - what a weekend!
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Sat Nov 25, 2017 2:40 pm
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Friday November 3rd - Oooh - Shiny!

Ben Bateson
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Previous years have seen quite a bit of post-Essen fallout at Ross as - having safely procured and paid for Tony's muling - we have frequently proceeded to pour scorn on his new acquisitions (who can forget the infamous 'Sandcastles Incident'?). But we must be growing up, or getting the hang of each other's tastes or something, for tonight was a veritable trove of bonhomie and excited shared game discovery.

Tony and I had pretty much subconsciously agreed on the agenda for the evening, so the opening game of Azul was broken out with barely any decision-making involved. And, as Tony correctly surmised, it's always a good game introduction when people demand to play it twice. Well produced, simple to learn, and full of great decision points, it is a worthy SdJ nominee (and probable favourite, no?) from a great design pedigree. And we enjoyed it too, Tony winning the first game with John and I in a thrilling tie for the second.

On reflection, Azul isn't a Qwirkle-firer, as I've been hearing. The skill-set is much closer to the likes of Coloretto. And, to be honest, I wouldn't want to play it TOO often. But it is a tactile little treat, and you can play it pretty much as passively or evilly as you like.

Mini Rails was filling Tony with excitement on the Essen run-in, and he had brought it along to demonstrate why. The game does an admirable job of slimming down all the excitement and screwage of bigger railway stock-market games (I won't namedrop 18xx because some humourless old fart will no doubt come along and complain) into a 45-minute game, where the most complex bit was trying to assemble the board, or so Tony made it appear. Despite coming a woeful last (John eventually winning something outright), I really really enjoyed it, even from the beginning of the rule explanation (and enjoying Tony's rule explanations is an acquired art in itself), and the way it generates all the interaction and doublethink of bigger games without necessarily sacrificing any difficulty (although I'm sure I'll hear from Mr 18xx on the point). This has gone right to the top of my wishlist.

With an uncomfortablish amount of time left (not enough for a biggie; too much for a filler), Tony suggested we break into my copy of Fast Forward:FEAR, where the big selling point of course is to collectively learn the rules as you go along. Or, in our case, collectively explain the rules to John as we go along. I've heard good things about the series, and am wondering whether I missed a trick in not getting all three, but I'm guessing there'll be plenty of second-hand copies on the market soon.

We played four brief rounds, and I won't give too much away except to endorse the Cribbage-style mechanics as being perfect for this group, what with our love of Too Many Cooks and all. I can't see it going too far, but we're only into about the first third of the deck, so who knows?

Having run out of new Essen stuff, we retreated to the familiar ground of Port Royal, and I outdid everyone not just in lewd Pinasse jokes (oh, thank you Mr Pfister, for your unintentional trans-lingual amusement), but in actually winning the game as well, hitting 12 points on the back of a red-ship combo while the others still trailed around the 6-8 mark.

It was still a bit of an early finish, but that was OK - I had games to unwrap and punch. devil
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Sun Nov 5, 2017 11:34 am
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Friday October 27th - From a Mooch in Shepherds' Bush

Ben Bateson
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This week, of course, Tony was away at Essen, procuring games large and small, feasting on assorted pig parts, and generally being a big man in designer social circles. So it was just three of us for proceedings.

With unerring accuracy, John unearthed the only unplayed game that I had brought, and we set into London Markets, only mildly disconcerted by the revelation that two colours of my self-loaded poker chips (paper money? Just say 'no', kids) were almost indistinguishable under pub lighting.

Like all Michael Schacht designs, London Markets revolves around difficult decisions build out of simple actions: in this case a sort of pseudo-shareholding game where you could choose to improve your shares at a given market (with the trademark USP of stacking-domino type things), cash in your shares for hard cash (=VP) or use your shares to pick up goods which could be cashed in for points or bonus cards at a subsequent blind auction. John picked up a very strong-looking tiebreak card early on, but was comfortably overhauled by Becky who had sensibly spent some time preparing her portfolio. Opinions were divided over whether the game was trying to be too clever, but it was agreed that it needed 4P for the full experience.

For some reason, Uncle Tony has had a dim view of playing Concordia 'for real', preferring the sterile online implementation, of late. So this was the perfect opportunity to break it out for a complaint-free session. Becky and John were poring over the France map, which was hitherto unplayed when I briefly nipped out to the bar, but eventually retreated to the comfort of the Britain map where - after a difficult opening layout - Becky edged to a narrow win despite my collection of Minerva cards.

With still plenty of time for another of our favoured chunky 60-minute games, we opted for Thurn & Taxis. This is a perennial pleasure and is keeping perfectly good route-building games such as Hansa Teutonica on the shelf, so it must be doing something right. Becky undid all her previously good work by scoring a frankly comical 7 points, but at the grown-up end, I pipped John by a point by picking up three bonus tiles and triggering the game end simultaneously.

For a comical closer, we gave another run-out to The Other Hat Trick, Brett Gilbert's pleasing but determinedly mad deduction for three. And Becky pulled off the infamous Other Hat Trick in the finale to pip me by a point. In her first game, as well!
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Sun Nov 5, 2017 11:07 am
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Friday October 20th - The Spice of Wife

Ben Bateson
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With Essen - and undoubtedly a big bag of new games - on the horizon, I took the opportunity to suggest using this week's meetup to revisit some old favourites. And it was the usual four 'old favourites' that turned out to make an evening of things.

With minimal rules-explaining, we had time for three solid games and a short filler. We had pondered kicking off with Concordia, but an even greater and more renowned game came to light, in the shape of Goa. The fact that it is well-known to all of us didn't really stop Tony floundering around like - well - a flounder, for the first couple of rounds, and John took the opportunity to pinch the Start Player flag a few times and set Tony up for an unappetising choice (or, indeed, no choice at all) of auction tiles. Borne on a game-long supply of free ships, I abandoned two progress tracks altogether, accumulated a scoring set of four Expedition cards, and scored a triumphal 43 points without ever having taken a single bonus Action card. I've won games before, and I've scored 45+ before, but I've never done it with just the 16 actions I was born with.

During our pre-games planning ramble, Tony had popped up with the unexpected suggestion of Zooloretto. I love a good Michael Schacht game, but I had erroneously believed this is the sort of thing with which Tony would have no truck (see what I did there?). It turned out, though, that he had a passing addiction to the iOS app, which became somewhat evident when he found himself unable to rage-quit back to the home screen after the first four rounds or so. His final score of 9 matched Brett Gilbert's bucket-flicking in our annual 'terrible but terribly funny' stakes. Meanwhile, Becky seemed determined to hand John the win - apparently to compensate for our beating him during his birthday games a couple of weeks back. After she gifted him some 8-10 points on the final round, my number was up, and I slunk back to a mediocre 3rd.

Of all the 'games that don't get played enough', Manhattan is the Prince, King, Prime Minister, President and Benevolent Dictator. Area control stripped back to its most laughably simple, it has never yet failed to immediately engage everyone I've put it in front of. Tonight was no exception and Tony - having barely played it for fifteen years - was effusive with praise as he romped to an overdue victory (mostly by hotly denying me ANY building rights at all). There's an awful lot of game in 30 short minutes, and I hope the reprint gives all the Essen-ites a chance to (re)discover it.

Tony was away slightly early as usual, and I tempted to give Becky and John a run-through of Wizard Extreme (aka Zing, aka Die Sieben Siegel, aka god knows what else). But they pooh-poohed it and plumped for regular Wizard as usual. Despite attempting six tricks out of seven midway through, I couldn't stand the pace and John romped away for a slightly lucky win, given that several rounds had resulted in EVERYONE scoring negative points.
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Wed Oct 25, 2017 7:33 pm
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