Every Man Needs A Shed

Life and Games (but mostly games) from Tony Boydell: Dad, Husband and Independent UK Game Designer, Agricola fanboy and jealous admirer of Carl Chudyk. www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk
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I Often Dream Of Trains

Anthony Boydell
United Kingdom
Newent. Glos
Unspecified
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Every homo sapiens needs an outbuilding within the curtelage of their property
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Back in the mid-1980s - when I was a be-quiffed, skinny and awkward teenager - a mate of mine decided to learn to ride a motorbike. One day in the Summer hols, he rode all the way from Ross-on-Wye to Monmouth; I cannot recall WHY he would do such a thing! I went to school in Ross, I was the only one in my Year who didn't LIVE in Ross etc. Anyway, we were on the Chippenham Playing fields and he was vrooming the 250cc-er from one edge to the other - without a helmet - and he offered ME a go. Up to that point, I had had NO interest in motorcycles whatsoever; not the slightest, merest, slenderest of curiosities and - after a hair-raising, heart-stopping few seconds when I couldn't stop the bloody thing after I'd started it - aforementioned interest shrank once more to quantum dimensions.

Stay with me; there IS a point...

Little did I know that 10 years later, I'd be tearing up the tarmac to-and-from Cheltenham then Reading then Swindon on a commuting basis!

In a similar manner - here it comes - I had never found myself lured to the end of a concrete platform to jot down engine numbers or take photographs of rolling stock in motion. The only reason for walking the route of a (then recently-dismantled) railway line was to find the best Conkers, chop down the Triffid-like Giant Hogweed or to use the World's Greatest Rope Swing*

When I took up gaming while working away from home in the mid 2000s, it wasn't so much Ticket To Ride as 1830: Railways & Robber Barons and pal Richard that begain to pique my interest. Richard has an enviable collection of games, magazines, books and other ephemera - but it's not the QUANTITY of this that impresses, it's the QUALITY! Oh yes, amongst the TCG foils there are obscure 18XXs and ultra-rare Railway Rivals maps. In those early days, we played Age of Steam and Railroad Tycoon in between Glories to Rome and M:TG and the flea of obsession nipped me squarely on the gaming ankle! Soon I was tentatively 18XX-ing with the occasional simplistic diversion via Canal Mania.

What is it about trains in games that grabs me so?

It is, of course, the network building, first-and-foremost. No game mechanic conjures theme more elegantly than 'laying track'; and laying track as robust hex tiles is the most satisfying of all: extend, join, upgrade, fiddle and adjust in the comfort of your own O.C.D. Railway Rivals (aka Dampfross et al) adds the hand-drawn/wipe-clean variation (which is simultaneously admirable and stupid), TTR the plastic trains and - of course - the ripe-for-cannibalising-for-Snowdonia-prototypes Trans America with it's itty-bitty rods; rods aren't quite as ubiquitous as tiles but they make honourable appearances in On the Underground and Steel Driver amongst others.

It's all that share dealing too; powerfully-manipulating the ups-and-downs of 'the Market' or a particular Company. You may have ownership of some Corporation or other but they're like your children: noisy, messy and financially-parasitic only a temporary part of your life! Usually, you win or lose because of your timing - it's nobodies fault but your own (except when it's Richard's).

Aside: I recall a delightful episode at London On Board when John B (you know who you are, Mr Bandettini, but I won't tell!) needed to get home a little before the projected End Time of an 18XX; Richard dumped a shed-load of stock in his company AND caused the obsoletion of all his trains in one, horrifically-splendid turn! Bye, John! Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out! Etc.

Cube-shipping, of course, adds the spice; connect and transport the turn before your opponents could do the same and you can fling poo across the table in aggressive, gloating delight! It's a pleasing step up from the Nanny-ish 'join up points A and B' and if you, additionally, 'home' the colour of a cube to the colour of a Station Hex then you've just added another layer of strategy...and 60 minutes to the playing time!

Finally, talking of the duration, perversely it's the frequent longevity** of these games that fills the hungry gamer belly! You really feel the golden Age of steam rumbling and hissing passed; the sense of progression supported by the need for toilet / meal / sleep / going-to-work breaks!

So, to recap, there was a time that I didn't care for Kawasakis and Hondas but I ended up in Leathers with a well-kept helmet; and I didn't have any early love for the choo-choos (apart from Ivor the Engine obvs), but now you'll find me sighing over the bindweedy, be-brackened and crumbling platforms along with the best.

I even have access to tupperware!

*every childhood memory MUST have one of these...you know: a dry, hard clay 'bowl' underneath a sturdy oaken bough; an off-cut of 4x2 lashed to rope as thick as your arm

**what an odd juxtaposition of words, there!
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