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August 2016 - Some silver, the odd rhino, and a bit of madness and misfortune.

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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What happened to August? The month seems to be over before it really even began. I’ve had a very enjoyable, but busy month, and we were away for the first two weeks in Devon and then Oxford for a few days. My daughter got her GCSE results, and did really well which she deserved after working so hard, and my son passed his driving test a week after first taking the wheel. We also celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a meal at Le Manoir, which was an incredible experience.

New Game Of The Month
I’m going with Mansions Of Madness: Second Edition, but with some caveats. I played the first edition back in March 2011, and my recollection of our game was that the Investigators realised with about half an hour still to play that they couldn’t win, but we carried on regardless. This made for a disappointing experience, and we didn’t play again. This edition got my interest though due to being able to play it solo, and after downloading the app and checking it all seemed to work ok, I picked up the game from proceeds of previous sales.

When you open the box, the game looks good. The tiles are fantastic, and the artwork superb so that when the game is set up, it looks simply stunning. So what did FFG do? They put the monster figures on the most enormous thick black stands they could find. Don’t worry though – about only 1 in 5 of my figures actually stayed in the stand. The monster tiles are also supposed to slide into the stand, and they are a tight fit to say the least. After spotting a forum posting on here though, I removed all the figures from the bases, and glued them to smaller clear bases. The result does justice to the tiles, and doesn’t limit game play at all – I simply keep the Monster Tiles in order, and grab the one I need when the Monster comes into play.

So the game now looks great, the app does a really good job, the rules are simple, and it can be played solo, so what’s not to like? Well, there are still a few issues. Firstly, this is quite an easy game to learn and play (hang in there with me on this). The Investigators take a turn, and can do 2 actions from a fairly simple list of around 9 (including barricading and extinguishing fires) and the app deals with the mythos phase very efficiently, so all in all the game is easy to learn and play. Yet FFG still decided to put the rules into 2 books, when they could very simply have put them into 1. I can navigate around this new FFG approach that seems to have come into play over their last few productions, but it just feels unnecessary here. So many times you’ll need to read about four different sections to actually find the rule you need. Also the app uses puzzles, and one of them is just Mastermind, and is simply annoying. If you love to solve these puzzles, then you’ll not mind them here, but I found them to be frustrating, annoying, and out of context. I’d rather have something a little more interesting and advanced based upon clues I’d collected than just a Mastermind puzzle (1 right, and in the right place, 2 right but in the wrong place, 2 wrong. Ughhhh).

That aside though the game is a lot of fun, and very atmospheric with good voice acting, and some unobtrusive but fun sound effects. I’m looking forward to trying more of the scenarios, and seeing FFG develop what the app offers. I’m also really looking forward to see what they can do with the Star Wars: Imperial Assault version.

Best Session Of The Month
Whilst in Oxford celebrating our anniversary, I took Pippa into Thirsty Meeples. She was expecting a sweaty smelly shop filled with fat bearded men playing Warhammer. What she got was three or four tables filled with families and couples gaming. One particular table near the door had three generations of a family playing together, and having fun, and she was really impressed with the setup, even so far as to say that I should set something up locally. I made the most of this mew found enthusiasm and suggested we pick up a couple of games together, and after persuading her she really didn’t want Exploding Kittens, we settled on Elk Fest and Rhino Hero.

After returning home, we had a quiet Saturday afternoon, and I grabbed both games. We sat and played them for about an hour, and it was really enjoyable to see her getting a kick out of beating me, particularly at Rhino Hero where my slightly clumsy hands kept knocking the building over. I was particularly bad at moving the Rhino, and she took great glee in getting the building nice and high before forcing me to make a move with the Rhino, which inevitably meant a complete collapse. I had a little more success with Elk Fest once I figured out you could use the positioning of the Elks defensively. It is rare that we actually sit down and play any game, and having this session just after we celebrated 25 years of marriage made it special. Nothing else came close this month.

Solo Gaming
Mansions Of Madness as mentioned already, and finally a ‘successful’ run at Airborne Commander. By successful I mean I lost, but I managed to play the game without getting stuck on a particular rule, or making a mistake. I’m sure there’s a good game there, I’m just no getting it yet. Also, I’m frustrated because it should be simple, and with the amount of deck builders I’ve played I should get it, but I really struggled to get to grips with the rules.

I played Scythe through again against the Autotomato, and managed a win against the second easiest setting. The solo experience is quite different to the real thing, but still provides an interesting and rewarding game that feels very different from session to session, although the mix of boards really helps with this.

Games Added To The Collection
As already mentioned, Mansions Of Madness: Second Edition, Rhino Hero and Elk Fest. 3 games added, all played within the month. This is what I strive for.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
Just my first edition Descent, and for a number of reasons. Firstly, I hadn’t played it in 8 years, secondly, it’s a huge box taking up a lot of room, thirdly both Descent SE and Imperial Assault do this better (well, more accessibly) and fourthly, Descent SE has an app, and SW:IA has one on the way.

Other Gaming Stuff
Played and enjoyed Imhotep – I like the close call between furthering your own score, and screwing with your opponents. Also, we got Big Book Of Madness to the table, and I enjoyed that, although it would be better with fewer players (we played with 5). Unexpectedly Room 25 Season 2 hit the table again, and reminded me how enjoyable it is, even if I died early in the second game.

I compared my gaming statistics for 2016 from January to August against those for 2015, and I’ve recorded more plays over fewer games (232 plays of 82 games so far in 2016 compared with 188 plays of 86 games in 2015). I’m happy about this – I’m playing more (23% increase), and over fewer games, meaning my average number of plays per game is closer to 3 than last year’s 2. I’m putting this down to a smaller but more regular gaming circle meaning that less games are appearing, and also more willingness to give a game a proper go amongst all. Another factor is solo gaming – I’m far less likely to buy a game now if I can’t solo it out of the box, and this adds to the group plays.

I started recording my plays regularly at the end of 2007 when I started running a games group at home. This has given me very close to 10 years of data, although I’m probably only recording about 90% of my plays. Over this time, my highest recorded month was an amazing 84 plays spread over 25 games in June 2009, and my lowest was 1 in May 2008 (Age of Empires III).

Music
Frustratingly I’m yet to get the Ibanez out in anger other than playing at home, so nothing guitar related this month. The soldering seems to have held though, and the trem arm I picked up also fits, so I’ve now got a complete and ready guitar. I just need to get a drummer in order…

In terms of listening to music, a couple of albums have stood out for me this month – firstly ‘How It Feels To Be Something On’ by Sunny Day Real Estate which despite being 18 years old sounds like it was released this year. Great indie rock which sounds fresh and bright. The other stand out release is ‘Dead Revolution’ by Hammers Of Misfortune, which I picked up because of the guitarist John Cobbett. This is old school metal, and carries on from his excellent work on ‘Deeper Than Sky’ by Vhol. He’s channelling a lot of 80s influences, but with some interesting modern twists. Guitar work aside, though, it’s still a great metal album that thankfully adds coherent vocals, and some subtle but well executed keyboards.

Books
I’m on the final book in the Simon Toyne Sancti Trilogy, and the series hasn’t eased off at all thankfully. Excellent books, great writing, and an enjoyable romp of an adventure. If I were to be picky, the romance element is a little uncomfortably written, and characters seem to recover from incidents in hours that would leave most of us catatonic for weeks. Good escapism though.

Film
I finally got around to watching 10 Cloverfield Lane, and it was as good as I’d hoped it was going to be. Well acted, with interesting characters, shocking moments, and an ending I really enjoyed because I felt it was a brave way for it to go. Not as good as The Room, but still one of the better films I’ve seen this year. We also watched a couple of horrors, Madhouse being the best of an average bunch only because of a well worked twist at the end.

TV
We finished the frankly fantastic ‘Stranger Things’ and I have to say it is probably one of the top 10 series I’ve seen alongside greats such as Twin Peaks, early 24 (s3 was great), BSG, This Is England and Band Of Brothers. I’m really glad they are going for a second season, and we’re already looking forward to it. The blend of so many different influences along with perfectly recreating my childhood era made this such a hit for us.

We’re now on Mr Robot, and again it is another good series from Amazon who are getting pretty good at finding these.

Video Games
Finished Doom, and I felt it had gone on rinse and repeat for the last half. The final boss battle wasn’t particularly tough, and I was fairly relieved when it was done.

Right – No Man’s Sky. I picked this up a few days after release, and to be honest if I’d waited, and read the reviews, I wouldn’t have got it. There seems to be a requirement for a video game to run like a movie these days – you need a beginning, a middle and an end, and the story needs to develop, even if you are allowed some amount of freedom. No Man’s Sky mostly ignores these rules though. There is a story, but it is like someone giving you general directions (‘head over that way somewhere’) and to be honest, the story isn’t what counts here – it is the journey.

No Man’s Sky is the chillout of video games. The soundtrack by 65daysofstatic should have been by Stars Of The Lid – it’s that kind of atmosphere. I’ve found the joy of the game in the slow development – finding an upgraded ship wrecked on the planet that takes half an hour to fix, sheltering from a storm in caves lit up with strange plants, finding a creature that wouldn’t look out of place clambering out of a portal in Arkham, or some kind of giant dinosaur. Trading is simple but fun, learning languages is suitably rewarding when you get enough of the conversation to know what the alien really wants from you. Exploring planet surfaces can turn up all kinds of goodies, and, ultimately, when you are done with a particular system, well then you just move on. I’m enjoying playing it in short bursts, and loving the escapism of it.

I’ve also being playing the new F1 2016 game, and it’s smooth. The only negative is that the AI balance seems to jump a lot – either you win or you end up 16th. Giving the practice sessions a sense of purpose is great, and also provides a fun way to get acclimatised to the track. Also, partnered up with a wheel, this is a truly fun experience. The one hit qualifying is tense as well - yes, you can restart/rewind, but trying to get it right in one hit, and then ending up third on the grid is a real thrill.

Last Year
I got Arcadia Quest to the table, and really enjoyed it so decided to paint it. One year on, and I’ve painted about a third of the minis. The issue is that I finished Imperial Assault before that in supper quick time so decided I could get this done just as quick – however the IA models are mostly one or two colours, and the AQ models are probably six or more each, so it was just taking so much longer to get done, and as a result it sits in my painting box. I need to just put the models back in the game box, and just use what I’ve got.

From the games I added, Merchants Of Venus is still unplayed, stupidly, as it has a good solo option. Patchwork has been a hit, and I’ve played it a fair bit since, and Pandemic Cure which I could easily live without.

Next Month
Nothing particularly planned for September. My son Callum goes back to Bournemouth for Uni, my son Kieran returns to Canterbury after taking a year out (at least that’s the plan at the moment) and my daughter goes into year 12 to start her A-Levels, so really it’s all about life returning to normal. My gaming objectives are to actually get my Z War One Kickstarter, to play a bit more MoM, and probably most importantly to get the Ibanez cranked up.
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Thu Sep 1, 2016 2:15 pm
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July - Lizard, Gizzard, Wizard and a rebuilt Ibanez. Oh, and some games as well, most notable Scythe.

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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July is typically a quiet gaming month for me as we’re usually away. We spent a week in Scotland with our youngest two, and managed to persuade my daughter (she’s 16) to climb not only Cairn Gorm but also Ben Macdui in a single day, so I was really impressed with her for sticking with it, despite her collapsing on the path at one point and dissolving into a fit of giggles. Still, back to games.

New Game Of The Month
No doubts here for me – Scythe is clearly the best game I’ve played in a while, and is quite an achievement as far as gaming is concerned, not because it does anything particularly new or amazing, but because it is so compact. Let me explain – the game gives you a particular character who is the leader of one of the nations on the board. Each nation has its own special ability, and on top of this you’ll get a player board that is also different to everyone else’s in how the actions are set out. Actions can be upgraded, and also you can benefit from others taking actions by using recruits. You also get your workers and your Mechs who will transport your workers around, and go into battle when needed. Add to this now a host of differing terrains with a varied selection of resources – oil, steel, food, wood, each of which you’ll need to go building. You’ll also have your own objectives to achieve as well as being able to have encounters on the board. Also, there is this factory hex in the middle that will give you additional actions if you can get your character there.

So there is a lot going on here, which should make it quite a complicated game, and that is where the brilliance kicks in because it simply isn’t. First teaching took me 30 minutes to explain to 3 new players how to play the game, and in that time we covered everything, and I had very few questions to contend with during the game. By the time you finish your go, you’ll be ready to take your next as turns move fairly quickly. Everything makes sense – your player board tells you how much it will cost to do something, and what you get in return. Around 2 hours after the game starts, it’s all over, and you’ll have tried everything in that time.

A great game, a true gaming achievement to cram so much in to such a short time frame with such success.

Best Session Of The Month
We finished our 3rd Thunder Alley season this month, and actually had a really good redeeming race. I’m thinking that one of the issues is the Sunday afternoon setting we’ve been using. Playing the game at the Wednesday night gaming group works really well from the point of view of having a set time scale to get a race into, rather than an entire Sunday afternoon and early evening getting two races done.

The race was really close with some different strategies going on. Matt managed to bunch his cars together, but got left out to dry as a result of the rest of us bunching and getting away quickly. We had a single yellow flag on the last lap which set the game up as a race to the line. Some really clever play from Callum despite going last on that turn got his championship contender to the front of the pack eventually coming in second in the race. Dave missed a trick (unusually) and as a result enough cars crossed the line for the driver’s cup to go to Callum and Dave kept the constructors.

I’m looking forward to missing playing this, if that makes any sense.

The other session of note was obviously the game of Scythe mentioned already, but as this was a teaching game for me, I wasn’t as focussed on my own game as I’d like to have been, so I’m looking forward to getting in a game where I don’t need to teach.

Solo Gaming
Just 2 games of Sylvion, which I think is the best of that particular games series. I’m still crap at it, but I enjoy the struggle of trying to stop my forest from burning down. I’ve played this quite a bit now and still haven’t delved into the expansions.

Games Added To The Collection
Well, Scythe obviously, as well as Leaving Earth and Outer Planets, Airborne Commander and Bear Valley, so a group of games I can play solo (and Bear Valley).

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
Just the one this month – Police Precinct. I played this a couple of times, and enjoyed it, but never had any interest in the multiplayer (although to be fair I only took it along to 2 sessions so it didn’t stand much of a chance). With the app available it seemed pointless also hanging on to the game if I’m only going to play it solo. And add to that I’d rather play Flash Point.

Other Gaming Stuff
Two different extremes in a single evening – we had an excellent and very close game of Burgle Bros which was very enjoyable, followed by a game of Mission: Red Planet (2nd ed.) which was just awful. M:RP was just a mess of a game with some poorly developed ideas. The game seems to have evolved from the quite good Midgard, but with Citadels strapped to it. I like both of those games, but M:RP just feels like adding gravy to ice cream. There is an element where you draw cards – get good scoring cards and you’ll win, get weak board cards and you lose. Crap.

Music
This month has almost all been about King Lizard And The Gizzard Wizard. What? Yep, I typed that right. I picked up their latest album, Nonagon Infinity. The album is a stunning piece of high energy rock that actually completes a loop with the last song merging perfectly into the opening song – in fact the entire album plays as a single song despite each track having its own individuality. Fantastic album, and the most outstanding piece in their varied repertoire.

In terms of making music, I got my Ibanez guitar back from my son. I let him take it to University with him back in 2012, and he mentioned recently that he wasn’t using it, so I asked him to bring it home next time he was around. Well, it took a few reminders, but he left it last visit, and quickly made for the exit. After he’d gone I opened up the case to find a very sorry looking guitar covered in grime with various dings to the paintwork, no trem arm, no pots, and rusted wiring. I stripped all the wiring out, removed both pick-ups (an Ibanez super 58 and a super 70 – make me an offer if you’d like them), and cleaned the guitar up with lemon oil. I replaced the pickups with a couple of Seymour Duncans (an SH-1 ’59 neck and an SH-4 JB bridge), put in new wiring, added new pots (gibson types) and stuck some new strings on it, and it sounds incredible. The wood still sings, and the neck is really comfortable. This was my main gigging guitar for about 12 years, and is probably now the prize of my collection – I set up the Peavey amp and played all 3 of my guitars through it, and this felt the most comfortable and closest to the sound I like. Hard work (the strip and rebuild took around 6 hours in total but really worth it, and I feel like I’ve got my own custom guitar now (and one that’s around 33 years old, all told).

I found the guitar in Denmark Street in London, or rather it found me. I was walking down to Rockas, and I heard it been played in one of the other shops as I passed, and I just headed in. The guy was just setting it up, but I asked to give it a go, and just felt so comfortable with it. It made a rather average player sound good, and it just felt like a quality instrument. They were selling it cheap (this was around 1995, and they had it up for £250 – the guitar is worth over £1,000 now) and it was love at first sight. When I got the Wolfgang, I stopped playing this as much, but I’m glad to have it back now.

Books
I enjoyed and finished the first two books of the Spike Milligan war memoirs, and found his second book to be the most insightful and honest. From there I moved on to ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ which was interesting, but felt a little like the author made it up as they went along (what I mean by this is that the story sometimes progressed to help itself, particularly in character development). From there I also read Sanctus by Simon Toyne, a well written and enjoyable story in a similar mould to Dan Brown. The ‘reveal’ stretched belief a lot, but the setting and the chracters were excellent, so I’ve moved on to the second book in the series.

Film
The most interesting film we watched this month was Surveillance, a 2008 film with Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond. I missed the twist until it became obvious, but it was a good one, nicely set up. The film mixed thriller and horror well, and managed to be messy and gritty whilst still keeping a macabre humour about it. Both leads were excellent, particularly later in the film.

TV
We finished ‘Living And The Dead’ which was well written, but possibly over long for what it achieved, and very reminiscent of Life On Mars. The ending leaving a shock opening for a second season felt a little bit forced, and hard to undo, but overall a good series.

From there we are now part way through ‘Stranger Things’ and I have to say this is well worth anyone’s time. The story is set in the 80s and this rings through so well from the games of D&D to the ridiculous walkie talkies. There have been numerous times when the hairs have actually stood up on my neck – it is genuinely creepy but with a real heart to it with Winona Ryder acting her socks off.

Video Games
More Doom. I got stuck after the autosave left me in a boos battle without much to my name, but after going through a batch of weapon upgrades, I managed to get past that section. What is a little frustrating though is that the game is using a very repetitive process of opening up an area, and locking you into it with about 5 waves of monsters to defeat. First few times this is quite an adrenalin rush, but after about the 10th time it all feels a little procedural in how I approach it. It struck me that the biggest baddest meanest character in the game is the player whereas in the early Doom games I played on PC, you felt like a weak character trying really hard to just live to the end of the level. Here, you are death on legs.

Last Year
Dark Moon was game of the month – this hasn’t seen the table in a while, but it would still be a popular option. I need to get back up to speed on it, and try and get it back to the table. Of the 5 games I purchased last July, I’ve played 3, sold 1, and have 1 still in shrink. The 3 I played are all excellent games, with the pick of the batch being Deus.

Next Month
It’s our 25th wedding anniversary, so we’re away for a couple of days. I’m actually writing this later in August, so we’ve had our family holiday, and everyone had a great time in Devon. Gaming goals are to get Airborne Commander to the table enough to understand it, and also to get more Scythe in.
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Mon Aug 8, 2016 3:19 pm
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June - The UK Games Expo (yay!) and the UK Game Of Thrones EU 'exit' (boo!)

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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Wow, what a month. A trip to the Expo, and all the gaming that comes with it, plus sessions in and out of the local groups along with some great family gaming has meant a lot of games played this month (44 plays of 29 games), so I’ve got a lot to cover.

UK Games Expo
A very different Expo for me, having worked there for the last 4 years. The changes this year were excellent with the trade halls in the NEC, and the hotel mostly given over to open gaming. Overall, I missed being part of the Expo crew, and really enjoyed catching up with all my Expo buddies that I only see once a year. With hindsight I seemed to have missed a lot of the stands, and could (and should) have taken a more organised look around. You know a show is getting big when you miss stuff.

I logged 19 plays over the three days. Of these sessions, the game that stood out was one particular game of Secret Hitler where for the first time I was Hitler. Having no idea who the fascists are makes it really tense, and although I had a good idea about one of them, I had no clue on the other, and actually found myself at odds with him. We tend to play that Hitler is the cleanest Liberal at the table, but when I had the choice of a liberal and fascist card where the liberal card would have won the game, I had to play the fascist, and claim the player who gave me the cards gave me 2 fascist cards. On a loyalty check, another player checked the identity of the player who gave me the cards, and called him as a liberal. I defended and claimed they were both fascists, but it made me look guilty.

The player who’d looked at the loyalty card then also got the chance to take a shot, and picked a player I thought was a fascist, and took him out of the game. I then ended up as president on the final card draw with the choice of keeping me or taking the random card flip. The President and Chancellor had the option of a veto. My chancellor was an obvious liberal, and I handed him 2 fascist cards. He then called for a veto, and I refused, winning the game for the fascists. It then turned out that the other unknown fascist was the player who’d made the shot, and who’d checked the loyalty of the player I was claiming against. Clever and exciting stuff.

We also played Blood Rage, which gets a mention in a moment, but nothing else that really sticks in the mind other than a team vs team game of BSG (by this I mean identities were out early in the second stage so it simply became good guys vs bad guys) and a session of Zombicide: Black Plague which is a good but not great development on the base Zombicide – other than a re-theme and some basic rules changes it is essentially the same game.

New Game Of The Month
This was a tight call for me, but I’m going to go for The Pursuit Of Happiness here. My reasons for picking this are twofold – firstly that it plays well and provides an interesting challenge as a solo game, and secondly because it has a fantastic narrative element to it.

The game is fairly simple to play, and relatively straight forward to teach. There are still some areas I’m not clear on (nor are the rules, come to that) like when and how you handle taking stress for having too many ‘projects’ on the go, and how each type of project is handled (there is a rather clunky put your marker on the action, then move it to the card) but overall the rules are fairly clear, and easy to call without causing too much argument.

What the game allows though, and this is its greatest achievement, is for each player to create their own life story. There is room to have a job where you can upgrade what you do, relationships that develop and need maintaining, pets that grow old and die, projects you work through, possessions you can own and potentially upgrade. The worker placement mechanic works just fine as does the resource collection, and the scoring bonuses drawn at the start of the game add strategic focus.

A small niggle is the stress mechanic. Stress is what is going to kill you, and this is fine. The stress track is banded, and in order to live into the final two rounds you’ll need to reduce your stress by a banding, and the only way of doing this is by collecting a heart. The cards with these on very rarely come up, and when they do, it’s a no-brainer to take them as they are going to give you an entire round of scoring over other players if you can complete them. If you get that extra round, then you’ve got a competition free round (and a rather dull round for other players). Not a problem in the solo, but an obvious but not game killing fault when playing with opponents.

The artwork is great, the board and iconography easy to read, and it doesn’t drag. Great game, and also one that beat Blood Rage into second place. I only played Blood Rage once at the Expo, but I thought it was excellent and a fantastic development on Midgard. If it wasn’t for Pursuit Of Happiness, this would have comfortably been my best game this month.

Best Session Of The Month
Despite the number of games I played in June, I had very few stand-out sessions. I always love a bit of family gaming, and we had a really good game of PitchCar on Father’s Day with ramps causing all kinds of headaches for my wife and daughter, but my son kept the pace with me, and we both took our final flicks in sight of the line. I love the set up and go of this game. You don’t need to spend 10 minutes teaching the rules, just a quick few sentences, and then off we go.

We also had another excellent session of TIME Stories – this time Prophecy Of Dragons (I think that’s the right name, I can’t be bothered to check). Despite reading that the party would want to change characters during the runs, we only made a single change from run 1 to run 2 by getting rid of the mage (died to quickly in the first run) and replacing him with the warrior. Our full muscle approach dubbed as the Conan strategy) worked wonders and we completed the game on the second run. For me this expansion felt a bit like one of the Ian Livingstone choose your own adventure books.

I’m really enjoying these TIME Stories sessions, but would like to see more imaginative use of the system – I don’t feel that it has developed to its potential yet, and the case that comes with the game was probably the most challenging (and therefore rewarding) of the scenarios we’ve played even if it does rely at times on using red herrings.

Solo Gaming
More Descent using the app, and it works really well in a simple way. It isn’t the tough AI you might expect from a strategy pc game, but it is a step up from the auto AI cards a lot of games incorporate these days. The only pain is that there are times when it could help a little with the rules – it knows how many heroes are playing, and could at least give more specific information about monster numbers (it’s been a long time since I played Descent as the Overlord, and I find myself having to check the rules fairly often).

I also played a couple of session of smaller games – 2 plays of Flip City and 2 of Multiuniversum, which is the better of the two games. Flip City is an interesting deckbuilder with a fun card flipping mechanic, but doesn’t have huge amounts of depth due to the limited number of cards available. Multiuniversum is a much more involved beast, with a really tough solo (either that or I’m playing it wrong) where you play against another player rather than a ‘beat your score’. So far, the AI player has given me a bit of a thrashing. Early days, but I feel that Multiuniversum is a great little design, and an excellent small card game with a bit of a Chudyk-lite feel about it.

Games Added To The Collection
I was really pleased to pick up a pre-ordered Snowdonia at the Expo – I played this once back in 2013, and really enjoyed it despite playing it incorrectly, and like the idea of the solo game as well as getting this out at a group session. I’d pre-ordered a cut-price Spurs and its expansion from Gameslore for collection at the show, so that’s new, and the only purchased and unplayed game this month. My other Expo pick up was my KS The Pursuit Of Happiness. My only genuine Expo purchases were the 2 most recent small box expansions for Eldritch Horror and Flip City. I picked up Cube Quest on the cheap from Amazon, and managed to persuade Pippa to give it a go. I also picked up the latest Imperial Settlers expansion as well as Multiuniversum after the show, oh, and a 3rd party expansion for Cards Against Humanity. Also, my collection stats went rocketing back up when the remained of my Zombicide: Black Plague stuff arrived. I’ve got no idea how to store it, and doubt it is going to see much action, but it looks good. Oh well.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
16 games and 3 expansions sold this month, all except one sold at the Expo. They are all games I either didn’t enjoy or I knew weren’t going to get played again. The notable names on the list are Kinizia’s Lord Of The Rings and Carcassonne: Star Wars, both of which were never going to hit the table again. The rest are a bunch of also rans – Stephensons Rocket which was unplayed, Campaign Manager 2008 which is online, Stalag 17 (and 18) which I’ve got as an app, Portobello Market which I enjoyed but know I won’t get played, String Railway which was definitely a play once experience, City Tycoon which we abandoned part way through due to not having time to finish it, and then after despite it leaving a positive impression, nobody wanted to bother again, Cities which we played recently and I realised had aged horribly, Panic Station which we had a disastrous session of, Ninja: Legend Of The Scorpion Clan which failed because the Ninja player needed an absolute grasp of the rules, and in my single try, he didn’t, Quicksand which again has aged badly, Mayday!Mayday! which doesn’t stand a chance with Secret Hitler around, Cape Horn unplayed and in shrink, and Adventure Tours unplayed (I got it as a freebie) .

Other Gaming Stuff
Unfortunately, we’ve suffered a bit of a burn out on Thunder Alley (excuse the pun) as we reach the end of our 3rd season. I’ve got two major issues with it that are both hampering my enjoyment.

Firstly is the downtime. In a recent game, it took 20 minutes in a 5 player for my turn to come around again, and the average was probably around 10. When my turn then takes 30 seconds, this feels a little too long of a wait for me. The issue I believe is that it is being taken far too seriously as a league now, and what you add in serious competition you deduct an equal amount of fun for me. I’m not even remotely a competitive gamer – when I play, I’ll try to win, but I’ll never sacrifice enjoyment to get a victory, so keeping the game moving is important to me. I think years and years of playing games against the kids has shaped how I game, and although they are all grown up now, I prefer playing in a relaxed manner.

My second issue is turn order. Your cars can be second, third and fourth on the track at the start of the final turn, but if the player to your left is going before you, you’ll end up seeing everyone else get a couple of cars over the line before you even get a go. This isn’t thematic, and it is as frustrating as you can get after sitting through a three hour game. I still firmly believe Thunder Alley is a great game, but my view of it has soured a little recently. It’ll be interesting to see if Grand Prix fixes some of these issues.

We played Deus again this month, and this was another reminder of what a great game I feel this is. And also I had another go at Automobiles, and second time round we had a far more exciting session. The key to this was carefully choosing a combination of upgrade cards rather than doing a random draw.

Music
Seeing Testament live was the highlight of my musical month, and I spent most of the month listening to their music, either catching up on stuff I used to listen to regularly back in the day (both Legacy and Practice What You Preach) or going through some of their stuff I never got into (mostly Dark Roots). The gig was fantastic – the Brooklyn Bowl at the O2 is a really nice intimate venue, and in my older age, I enjoy finding a spot at a gig where I’ve got a good view, but I’m not going to get pushed around in the process. I got a spot against the side of the main floor on a raised section about 20 feet from the stage, so my view was great, and I didn’t get shoved around once.

Other than that some French Metal from Gojira, a bit of US Folk Rock from Big Thief, and the ‘supergroup’ album from Minor Victories. The Gojira album is fantastic with some really clever ideas, and excellent production. I’ve also been listening to a lot of early Queen this month. When I first got into Queen in around 1984, I picked up their early albums because they were cheaper to buy, but over time, Queen II is probably the one I’ve listened to the most of all of their albums (and probably in my top 5 of most listened albums of any band). It’s interesting to see the development of the band over their early albums from the heavy rock of the first three albums to the more whimsical style that came into play from Night At The Opera. I enjoy almost all of their music, but Queen II is the standout album.

Books
I finished Never Let Me Go, and felt it was a poor novel with a week story. I don’t want to add spoilers as it is a well-known book, so I’ll avoid directly talking about my issue with it, but the core basis of the novel had a huge and obvious fault in it for me, and this was something I just couldn’t get over. After this I felt like I needed a change of pace so I read Solomon Creed by Simon Toyne. This was a refreshing change of pace, and I felt the author managed to create the setting of the book exceptionally well. At times I could almost feel the heat on the back of my neck. The final twist left me feeling a little cheated, but that didn’t detract from the overall story.

Now I’m reading the Spike Milligan war memoirs again. I read these some years ago (probably the mid 80’s) and after talking to a family member about them a while back, I got them as a gift. It’s an interesting read and an honest and amusing insight.

Film
Other than a few run-of-the-mill horrors, with everything else going on we haven’t watched any films, and didn’t make any cinema trips, but I didn’t feel the lure of the big screen at any point in the month.

TV
We finished Hinterland, then watch the 3rd Season of Under The Dome. This is a series that started out with a lot of promise, then disappeared up its own rear in season 2. Season 3 was bonkers – completely mad, with the best character actually being the most irritating one from the previous 2 seasons. It almost felt as if the writers realised they’d created something ridiculous, and just decided to have a bit of a laugh with it. Well, it was fun, despite the fairly typically bad ending.

We are now on the very interesting ‘The Living And The Dead’ on BBC iPlayer, and so far, 4 episodes in, it has been excellent, with some nice nods to ‘Life On Mars’. The historical placement of the drama at a time of extreme contrast between old ideas, principals and traditions and the arrival of industry creates an interesting conflict. There are some stand-out scenes, sometimes just snippets, one of which being when our main character in Victorian England looks up into the sky and sees a contrail from a plane (this is deliberate).

Video Games
A bit of Tsuro on iOS, but mostly Doom on the PS4 whenever I get enough time to spare. Doom is incredibly smooth and looks fantastic. The deeper in I get the more satisfying it is, with some wonderful combat sequences.

EU Exit
Feel free to skip this bit – I’m going on a rant. I try very hard to avoid mixing business and politics, and the day after the referendum, we had various press enquiries as to our reaction to the news which we gave a blank statement to. It is very hard to bite your tongue when as a country we’ve done something as stupid as we have. I woke up on the Friday morning to find out that the UK had a huge bullet-shaped hole in its foot.

Maybe I got something wrong – maybe I missed an important point about why being out of Europe would be a good thing, so I spoke to 2 people I know (and I’m still only aware of 4 people I know out of all of my friends, family and work colleagues who voted for an exit – 4 in around 100 people) and asked them politely why they voted out. In both instances the first answer I got was this ‘things were better in 1975 before we joined’. Anything else? Well, I also got this argument from my Dad - ‘We can get our steel industry back’. I asked what he thought we’d do about the fact that China’s steel prices are so much cheaper. ‘We could put a ban on Chinese steel’. Great – let’s shoot that other foot while we’re at it.

I’m also getting sick of two other comments. Firstly the ‘well it’s done now, we need to get on with it’ which I don’t agree with because I don’t agree with the decision, and I’d like to have the opportunity in a democratic system to right this wrong, to stand up to a decision where many people made their choice based on what was obviously a pack of lies (and has been revealed as such). Secondly the ‘can we all be friends now’ – well, business is going to be harder for my company, my brother’s job is on the line, and some of my wife’s best friends and employers who aren’t British citizens are now worried about being able to run their business in the UK with good reason (as well as questioning whether they want to stay in a country where they no longer feel welcome). So I’m entitled to be angry about this and sorry, I’m not going to just carry on like it never happened. This has hurt my family and my friends, and I’m not going to just smile and carry on.

So we’ve alienated our youth and given them even less faith in politics than they already had, we’ve made it more acceptable to voice racist opinions, and we’ve made a considerable number of hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding citizens feel unwelcome here. Well done Britain. Then to top it off, the winning side quickly distanced themselves from their main campaign promise, and not only did Johnson and Gove look like they didn’t expect to win, they also looked like they didn’t have a clue what to do next. And add to that now the changes to government leadership with a choice of varying degrees of evil, I’m starting to feel like we’ve all been made fools of just for the purposes of political manoeuvring. Enough of this – I’ve had my little say and I’ll get back to the gaming part of this.

Last Year

Temple Of Elemental Evil was my game of the month. I’m still on the campaign for this, but I’ll admit it has been put to the side a little by Descent. I’d still like to go back to it though as although it’s a simple system, that version works well. I’m glad to say that all but one of the games I picked up last year have been played since, and none of them have been sold. This is good going for me.

When reading through last year’s report I found myself thinking ‘was that really a year ago?’. Our Game Of Thrones session (the better of two we’ve had) feels like it was 6 months ago, not a year ago, and the books and music I was listening to really don’t feel like they happened that long ago.

Next Month
We’re off to Scotland for a week at the start of the month, and off to Devon at the end of the month, so I’m not going to match the number of plays I managed this month. I’d like to see some Kickstarters arrive – Secret Hitler is due (although we’ve been playing this regularly since December) as is Scythe and Z War One. I’m looking forward to soloing Scythe having seen it being played at the Expo.
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Fri Jul 1, 2016 2:15 pm
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May 2016 - Up Yorkshire Hills and the Descent.

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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Following on from last month there seem to have been a lot of distractions keeping me away from games, with me recording very few plays in the month. Also I was really disappointed with the lack of quality in the games that were new this month – nothing outstanding in there at all. I did manage to go around the Yorkshire 3 Peaks with a group, even though we started as a 10, and there were only 5 of us left by the end (everyone dropping out did so in one piece). We had a fantastic group, and a lovely weekend.

New Game Of The Month
I found my month rescued at the 11th hour by Descent: Journeys In The Dark (second edition). Other than that there hadn’t been much to write home about. I played Descent with the new app, and it worked really well. The decisions made by the app (considering it doesn’t track where the minis are standing) made good sense, and were easy to implement on the board.

Descent in this form is a better game than the D&D adventure titles that use a similar format. There is less that is abstracted, and this adds tactical depth without adding too much complexity. The production is stunning as well, and it looks incredible when setup, even without painted minis.

The app also adds something I’m really looking for in mini games at the moment as well, and that’s a campaign mode – it’s fun to be able to create a character, and take them through a series of adventures to build more of a narrative and rpg feel. I’m on very early days with the app, but upgrading the characters at the end of the adventure via new items and some training makes this a lot of fun.

Best Session Of The Month
No competition this month – another Time Stories session, and the second mission. This felt very different to our first mission, and it was a relief to find it wasn’t just the same pattern of play with a new story attached – there is a different focus to the Marcy Case, and figuring out what had happened, and which character was Marcy was great fun, even if we got really lucky and got it right early through a solid, but baseless assumption.

The group works really well with this game, we have a lot of fun playing it, and this could well be one of the best games I’ve played this year.

Solo Gaming
I played a few solo games of 7 Wonders: Duel, and was surprised at how well this works as a solo – the AI takes the lowest left most card without paying for it, and has the architect bonus from the start so can easily build Wonders. This makes the game interesting and challenging, and it took me until my third play to get a win. I’d still happily set this up and play it as a quick go-to solo.

Games Added To The Collection
For once a really really short list – Descent Second Edition, with the intention of playing solo using the app. I’ve played Descent 1st, and Imperial Assault, so it all makes sense, I just need to find the time to get it on the table.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
I always post up a list for my local group pre Expo, and add to this sales via the marketplace, this month I shifted 28 games. Yep, that’s 28. So what went? Well, the highlights were Taj Mahal (had for around three years and played once), For Sale (stopped enjoying it), a bunch of games I just couldn’t get any interest in playing (Eminent Domain, Manila, Primordial Soup) a bunch of games that I just didn’t want to play (Oregon, Heroes Wanted, Fzzzt!) some crap (Thrash ‘n Roll, Fluxx, Kensington, Conflicting Kingdoms, In Order to win – these last 2 actually just went in the bin), and some collector stuff (Escape From Colditz). Loads more, but nothing I’m really going to miss.

Other Gaming Stuff
We had a strange session of Eclipse. For the first time I played the game with the races, and it seemed to throw it off a little. I had the military group, and got to the centre on around turn 3. The other 3 players then turned on me, but due to a little bit of luck and some strategic manoeuvring, I managed to hold the centre, and even expand out. One player completely burnt out attacking me, and then went under on the refresh step which I’d never seen before, and at final scoring, I had almost double the score of anyone else.

I also played my first full session of Star Wars: Rebellion, but played really badly, and my base got discovered on turn 4. I tried a bluff that didn’t work, and I didn’t work in a contingency plan. Looking forward to trying this again, and I’m in the process of getting a date in the diary.

I made some comments about Fast & Furious: Full Throttle last month, and thought I should follow up on them again this month, having got it to the table a couple of times. I enjoyed my two plays, but have reservations over some elements of the game. This is a racer for 2-4 which plays fairly quickly, and can be adjusted to suit (the board is large and double sided, and can be manipulated to create dozens of good tracks with varied length). Each player is allocated a Driver from the series with an individual skill, and can also customise their car with a number of upgrades. Also, obstacles can be placed out to add a bit of additional interest, and the game comes with a fair few of these which can be placed as the players see fit.

Game play is simple – spend cards to change gear, and hand in matching sets of cars to then draw an equal number of cards, with the player then picking a speed matching their current gear from those available. If you get blocked, you lose cards, and then gears, and the same applies if you go too quickly around corners. There are also additional damage tokens which players collect from the gear cards. Each turn tends to be quick, and with a little experience, there should be almost no downtime at all.

So what’s not to like? There are a few niggly issues – on a player’s turn, they will likely use on average 5 of their 6 cards from hand, and also flip about 3 cards from the deck, then draw back up to 6 – so all in all about 13 cards per turn, so in a 4 player, around 50 cards per round. The game comes with 120, so every 3 rounds you’ll be shuffling those 120 cards which will now be clustered, so they need a really good shuffle. We had a player during our 4-player game almost constantly shuffling the cards to keep them broken up, just to try and mitigate the downtime.

Also, and this is going to need a little explaining, players do not go in track order, they go in turn order. This is a distinct advantage for the first player, and a real disadvantage for the last player. If you are early in the turn order, but behind on the track, if you can plant your car in front of someone who hasn’t taken their turn you can effectively stop their turn, or limit it. This can be got round by using Tokens on particular bonuses to give flexible movement, but these tokens are limited, and those early in the order can use them for cheap gear changes, or movement bonuses rather than to get out of difficult situations.

I hate to house rule, but I think the game needs it. Either each turn is played from front to back, or if player order is going to be kept, then at the start, each player should at the very least be awarded one more upgrade token than the player before them. And I know this is a personal issue, but I don’t think the rules are laid out in a clear and easy to understand order.

Still, the racing is enjoyable, and the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s a good racing game for a Fast & Furious fix.

Music
What a mixed month. I picked up the Beyonce album for my daughter, and she quite rightly told me I needed to give it a listen which I did. Musically it is well put together with some very strong vocals, and in terms of telling a particular story, the almost ‘concept’ nature of the album works really well. Other than this I had a mid-month of thrash, listening to some Slayer and Pantera as well as a run through the first 5 Testament albums. Over The Wall is still my favourite track, but album wise, I think Souls Of Black is really interesting.

End of the month and the new Radiohead album finally made it to my ears courtesy of an offer from HMV to get the download now and the album on release rather than charge for both like the band were doing. Nice move HMV, so I picked it up, and have to say it is one of their most interesting and deep albums to journey into. Ful Stop is the stand out track at the moment, but a lot of the other tracks are worming their way into my mind.

Then, finally, the new Holy Fuck album got released, and it is another great album from this incredible band, and I’m really hoping they tour the UK again to support the album release. The album is definitely an HF release, but with some progression both to the sound and production. Worth checking out if you like the dance punk fusion thing they’ve got going.

Books

Finished The Last Wish, and I’d recommend it. What’s so great about it is its small scale – the book is a collection of events that occur to one character on a small scale, often in a village or remote location, with no intent from the author of trying to create an entire world and populate it with knights and kings and heroes and villains. The story is a refreshing take on the fantasy genre that works well simply because it hints towards a greater world of many kingdoms, but never tries to quantify it.

From there I read ‘Wonder’. I’d purchased this for my daughter to read, and whilst looking for something I spotted it and thought I could get through it quite quickly (it took about 4 days to read). The story is deliberately sentimental, and tries really hard to pull at your emotions and challenge your prejudices, and unashamedly, but it works, even if the main family are so nice they are merely fictional. I got swept up in it, and moved by it, and when I put it down, I felt like it had helped me see more clearly.

I’m now on ‘Never Let Me Go’ which I’d got years ago for my wife to read, but she hadn’t got past the first 20 pages – when I asked her why she suggested I try, so I am. At the moment I want to rename it ‘Never Pick Me Up’, but we’ll see how I feel when I finish it.

Film
We watched the rather amazing ‘The Room’ and we were all blown away by it, and are still talking about it weeks later. The story is about a small boy and his mum who, for various reasons, live in this tiny room. He’s never seen the outside world, and only knows about it from what he learns from the tv or what she tells him. Really well acted, powerful and moving.

TV
Finished Game Of Thrones Season 5, and loved it – it was interesting to actually get to the point where I don’t know where it is going. We’re now on Season 2 of Hinterland, and enjoying the well written whodunnit element.

Video Games
I’ve dropped away from Witcher – I need to play through the tutorials again to figure out how all the power up combinations work, and how to equip stuff to stuff. Instead I’ve played through Rachet And Clank, and boy is it stupid fun. The weapons are hilarious, and the level designs are great. It looks fresh, and plays like a dream. Some of the boss battles are pretty tough, but I enjoyed it to the very end. Also, I had a quick session with Doom which is really slick – I mean incredibly slick – the controls handle almost too responsively and the action is unrelenting.

Last Year
Evolution got my best new game of the month award, and I’ve only played it once since May last year. I was a bit of a flash hit, and although I enjoyed it then, I don’t feel any need to play it now. Expo was in May last year, and I had a great weekend – looking forward to this next month, although it’ll be a very different Expo for me this year as I’m not going to be a part of the volunteer team, and I’m going to miss that camaraderie. Painted Shut by Hop Along was my standout album last year, and I still listen to it a lot now, and love it as much.

Next Month
I managed to hit all of my goals from last month for May, so my aim for June is to have a great Expo, get Descent to the table for some more solo play, and to win the lottery.
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Wed Jun 1, 2016 12:35 pm
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April 2016 - In A Galaxy Far Far Away

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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Lots of other distractions in April meant little gaming – we’ve had new carpets throughout the house and due to a major mess up by the carpeting company, this meant moving furniture from three rooms, including dismantling two beds, only to have to put them back because the order didn’t come in and they forgot to tell us. Still, all fixed now. I’ve also been building a load of flat pack furniture as well as having a clear out, so most of my evenings and weekends have been spent getting chores done, which means less time for the fun stuff.

New Game Of The Month
Star Wars: Rebellion is the best game I’ve played in some time. It manages to be everything I wanted it to be, and more. Firstly, the game is actually really easy to understand and teach. I still don’t like the two rulebook format, but I think that FFG are getting better at these every time, so this one is bearable, and for once almost all of the rules you need are in the learn to play book, with a few small clarifications in the reference book.

The game is about the Imperials trying to find and destroy the Rebel base by using the fist that is the Imperial Fleet. Meanwhile, the Rebels are trying hard to create enough support throughout the galaxy to stop the Imperials by political force (well, that’s how I see it). To do this, they are gaining points by completing objectives. These range from getting the right people in the right places, to having support in systems, to making the odd decisive military victory.

So my opinion is based on one abandoned game, and I still love it. I played as the Rebels, and did a poor job as for the first few turns I was finding my way. When you start drawing objectives though, the game is far more fun as you try and set these up, all the time trying to draw attention away from the Rebel base – mostly done by hit and run tactics, and hoping the Imperials get dragged into playing chase. Lots of guerrilla tactics as well – Chewie is a real demon on these.

And wow, is the game stunning to look at with great minis, and excellent artwork. The theme is the greatest story ever told as well, and you are responsible for a re-telling, but the narrative is coming from your actions. Fab game, just too long, and I really see it as a two-player, not a team game.

Best Session Of The Month
We played a Baseball Highlights 2045 tournament, and I’d got it out of my head that I was going to be in with a chance. There were 6 players, all experienced gamers, with 4 of us regular BHers. Normally when I play the game, I go with trying to add as many hits as possible, and stripping out the cruddy starting players, irrespective of their purchasing value. I’d decided for the tournament to go for something a little different though, and go for a cash strategy instead.

The format was to play against everyone, with each round comprising of 3 games. I lost my first session 2-1, then my second 2-1. I won my third 3-0, and in the fourth and fifth rounds managed to do just enough to get through to the final. By the end of the game, I was happy with my team, and glad to be in the final.

The final was tough though – during the buy rounds all the players I wanted were snapped up by my opponent, and I was forced into a much more defensive play than I was used to. We agreed to reduce the number of games as by now it was running late, and we were all tired (well, the three of us that were left). Ultimately, we alternated wins, but as I claimed the first win, the balance of games went in my favour so I took the trophy, but each time I won, I managed to sneak a victory, whereas when my opponent won, he hit me out of the ground.

A great tournament though, and definitely the best session of the month for me.

Solo Gaming
Very little this month. I played a solo game of Imperial Settlers using the Atlanteans, and although their cards and abilities are really powerful, I missed until the final scoring that their buildings are worth nothing at all, so I’d been cruising along expecting a great score, and had been building constantly only to then find I’d scored fairly low. As always though it was an enjoyable session, and I really like how the opponent attacks are handled in this.

I also managed a play of Xia, just by running three ships. I just love that this game allows me to feel like Han Solo, and I can decide how I want to play. The winning strategy went the way of the ship that established the smartest trade routes, and then upgraded engines quickly to score fast points for trading. I play that you need to empty your hull to take a fame for trading, and this saves gaming it. The downside to playing solo is I don’t tend to play aggressively against my other ships, and ignore the missions with combat. The most fun way to play seems to be by picking up missions though, even if the player is less likely to win.

Games Added To The Collection
I picked up 7 Wonders: Duel this month, and this is worth a mention. The 7 Wonders game is one of the biggest messes of a game I’ve ever played, and I’ve written a lot of negative comments about it, including an entire blog article. I was asked this month if I wanted to try 7 Wonders: Duel, and thought why not? Having played it twice this month, I have to say I think it’s a great little game with some clever ideas that really works. I lost the first game on VP having gone for a scientific approach, and then I won the second with a military victory. This is the game 7 Wonders failed to be – the irritating draft is gone, the revealed and hidden cards to select from adds a new dimension, and the iconography is easy to teach and follow.

Star Wars: Rebellion is also in, as mentioned. I also picked up the Fast And Furious game which I’ve yet to play, and the expansion to Flick ‘Em Up as well. The Fast And Furious rulebook is a real mess though – there are a lot of rules hidden away, and no clearly written turn process.

I’ve got 10 games due as well, either Kickstarters, or games to pick up at the Expo. 3 of the Kickstarters are overdue, no shocks there. I think I’d be more surprised if something actually delivered when it was due.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
Err… well… nothing this month, but with all the clearing and sorting, I’ve got a load of old and unplayed games that are either going to the charity shop, going in the bin, or going to the Expo to be sold, so over the next few months this list should be longer than the games ordered list.

Other Gaming Stuff
We finished our Pandemic Legacy game, and I wasn’t overly impressed by what it did. I didn’t buy into the narrative, and for me there was only one truly interesting revelation in the entire game. I really wanted some kind of mutant monster to invade the board at some point, but it never happened. I’m glad it’s done.

We also had a strange session of Thunder Alley as well that ended up taking over 3 ½ hours to just complete one race (Pullinger’s Pyramid). We normally manage two races in 4 hours, but for some reason this one really dragged. I think we’re almost getting too canny at the game, and also got only one yellow card in the entire race, so the pack got really strung out which meant slow progress for all. This was a rogue session though, and I’m sure we’ll get back to quicker games in due course.

The Sevenoaks group is growing as well, and this pushes me two ways. On the one hand I’m glad for new gamers to join the group, and this is good for the future of the group as I can still recall sessions with only 2 there, and 1 session with 1, so I’m glad we have plenty of bodies, but on the other hand lots of new joiners means lots of teaching games, and although I’m always prepared for that, it feels like a shame to have to teach the same game each week to new gamers. It also means the necessity to play more gateway games and although there are some that I enjoy, I’m not a huge fan of most of them. Still, I really shouldn’t complain as at least now I know if I go there is going to at least be 4 of us.

Music
The new Black Mountain album is good – time will tell if it is great. I’ve had a bit of a mixed listen this month, with some Prins Thomas, some Iron Maiden, more of the Heron Oblivion album from last month, and also some Prince just as a stark reminder at what a talent the guy had. Also, I've been listening to the Dusted album, Total Dust - very different to the Holy F**k stuff, but really interesting in its own right.

As for making some noise myself, with the work to do at home, and with the drummer having a bad back, we only managed one session, and spent that messing about playing a load of old Led Zep stuff (Dazed and Confused, and How Many More Times) as well as a couple of Bowie numbers (Heroes and Jean Genie), and generally making a noise with an MXR Phase 90 pedal I picked up last month. I did manage a few hours of playing at home, mostly working on Wasted Years. Great intro, tough solo.

Books
I finished the Forever War books, ending with Forever Peace (I think I got these confused last month – I read Forever War and thought it was good, then Forever Free and thought it was great). Forever Peace was a much tougher read – I didn’t sympathise with any of the characters, and the only interesting character was one of the bad guys, a female assassin.

I also read Off To Be A Wizard by Scott Meyer, and although I wasn’t expecting much, and it could easily have been terrible, it was actually really well written, with a dry sense of humour, and some interesting touches and geek references. Not quite up to Ready Player One standards, but still an enjoyable read.

I’m now reading The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (what a great scrabble name), which is the story that inspired the Witcher games. So far so good, but I’m not that far in.

Film
No cinema visits this month – I’ve been trying to get my wife to go and see 10 Cloverfield Lane, but she isn’t interested enough. At home, I watched a couple of movies I’d seen before that I’d really enjoyed – firstly Chef, but I managed to persuade my daughter to watch it, and it was so good she actually put her phone down for the last 45 minutes. Love the film, love the soundtrack, but boy does it make me hungry. I also watched Hot Rod with my son and his girlfriend – it’s a great film that has some easy laughs in it.

TV
We finished Freak Show, and then ploughed through Fear Of The Walking Dead in about a week. We both loved this, despite a very average opening episode, and look forward to seeing the next season. We’re also now part way through Game Of Thrones Season 5. Most of what I’m seeing is further on than I got through the books now, so I’m enjoying discovering where the series is going as opposed to waiting to see how they handle what I already knew.

Video Games
Still on Witcher 3, and I’m cooling on it a little. I really enjoyed the first area, but now I’m on tougher missions and I haven’t really got my head around the levelling up system, and using runes and potions properly. I’m sure there are elements of the game I’m missing, and that I could be a lot better at combat, but I’ll stick with it and see how I go. I’m a little frustrated that I tackled every mission and marked spot I could find in the first area, but I’m still about 10 levels short of the requirement of some of the missions in the second area.

Last Year
I picked up Roll For The Galaxy, and sold it after a single play the following month. Interesting to see that I was hoping it was going to be an improvement on the base game when it turned out to be a dull drag of a game. The best game was Quartermaster General, but for whatever reason, that just doesn’t get to the table. I think we all agreed it needs 6 to work, no more no less, and actually getting that exact amount around a table makes this a rare play. The best session was Time Of Soccer, and I’d happily play it again. Shame it needs a tablet to do all the maths on though. The only other interesting point was that I was thinking about picking up Clash Of Cultures which I finally got last month.

Next Month
I’m hoping to get everything finished around the house over the next few weekends. My daughter turns 16 so she is busy making plans for that, and the weekend before I’m doing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge for the third time, so I’m looking forward to that as well. Hopefully somewhere in there I can get a complete game of Star Wars: Rebellion, but at the moment I’m not sure when, although there’s no shortage of players wanting to give it a go!
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Tue May 3, 2016 11:20 am
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March 2016 - Marching Through My Gaming Month

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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March is typically a quiet gaming month, but this March turned into the exception to that rule with plenty of gaming and also some fun family sessions in the mix as well. Family gaming can be a bit hit and miss, but it is (very slowly) turning into something we all enjoy together as a replacement for finding a film we can all agree on (which is now a lot harder than it used to be).

New Game Of The Month
Easy this month – Flick ‘em Up takes this hands down (or should that be hands up). We played this on Easter Sunday as a 6 and we split into two teams (guys vs girls), but I’ll come on to this later. The game is a straight forward dexterity game (as all good dexterity games tend to be) where you split the players into 2 teams, with each team representing the lawmen or the baddies. Flick a disc to move, flick smaller discs as bullets to shoot, and claim a hit when you knock someone over without the bullet ricocheting.

There is a fantastic sense of being on a team and taking on the opposition. Despite the simple rules, the positioning of your figures is important – do you risk rushing in, and just getting picked off, or do you hang back? Spreading out is a good idea to present less of a target to your opponents, but then equally you don’t want to be out of the fight. There are a number of scenarios available as well, and although I haven’t looked at it in any detail, they seem to present a story to make this even more fun than it already is.

I’ve got the wooden edition (so I can’t speak for the plastic version), and this is an absolutely beautifully produced game. The components are top notch, and it all comes in a stunning wooden box. The overall experience isn’t as good as Crokinole, but up there with Pitchcar, and a lot more fun than Ascending Empires and Catacombs.

Best Session Of The Month
More of the above I’m afraid – our family game of Flick ‘em Up easily wins the best session this month. The game generated noise – we laughed, we talked about our moves, and we poked fun when our shots either dropped short, or flew around their intended target, smashing into the Undertaker’s window instead.

The guys took the early lead as the baddies when one of the sheriff’s team got too close. The Sheriff’s team weren’t deterred by this though, and pushed on, taking an aggressive stance. This meant easy pickings for the bad guys though, and quickly three of the sheriff’s group were writhing in the dirt. The bad guys pulled back as not to be caught out, taking another of the lawmen down in the process. Not every man got away though, and the first of the bad guys got taken down. By now with the odds clearly in their favour, it was an easy final assault. The sheriff was left squatting behind some tumbleweed, hoping the gang would just leave town, but not before sending him pirouetting into a fence, and then crashing to the ground.

So we let out a cheer, and then got firmly booed. At this point I packed the game away – I’ve learnt from experience with my non-gamer family that when something works, don’t overdo it! Safe to say though that this will be coming on holiday with us this year.

Solo Gaming
2 Plays of Healthy Heart Hospital, and 1 play each of Freedom: The Underground Railway and Small City. Small city and Freedom both resulted in losses – I can do well with Freedom if I play more than 1 character, but with 1 I’m still to beat it – I think the Slaver moving after each single turn is tough, and the market cards for the solo game seem just as tough as the two player. I’ll stick with it though. As for Small City, I reckoned I’d learnt from previous mistakes, and so tried to play a more efficient game. Needless to say I performed really badly. I like how you need housing to score, but you can’t build housing without building cultural, and you can’t build cultural without building factories, and to build those you need money, so you need to build commercial, but to utilise commercial you need workers, so you need to build housing… Makes my head spin (in a good way).

Healthy Heart Hospital is the game I was hoping Quarantine was going to be, and failed at miserably. Healthy Heart Hospital is a good dose of fun. Ambulance Cards get you t draw cubes which pile up in your waiting room. The waiting room is split into two sides, and each side gains cubes of variable colours, with each of these colours representing the illness level of a patient from feeling a little under the weather to, er, dead. Each game involves 4 doctors and an administrator. The doctors can move patients around and treat them, and the administrator can employ and assign new staff, build new buildings, conduct research and train a doctor. The room upgrades are cards which you place by the board, and the additional training and employee tokens are just chits that you put out on the board or cards to show the upgrade, so the game is fairly easy to get to grips with, but still allows for plenty of options.

I do have an issue though – my first game was a massive failure and I ran out of places to hide the bodies that were stacking up. Second game though was a breeze – I built the clinic which allows you to treat the 1 or 2 cube patients, and moved the rest to the wards. The mechanic of the game is one of cube manipulation. To cure a patient you draw cubes from the bag – if the cube matches the patient their condition improves, if it is black they get worse. The point here though is you know what is in the bag, and you can add cubes back in after a draw, so it is possible to play the odds. This works well – the more cubes on the board the more patients you need to treat, the harder it is to treat them. Once you figure out a method of playing the bag efficiently though it seems hard to do badly. Early days yet though.

Games Added To The Collection
4 new games this month – 2 birthday presents, and 2 purchases. Clash Of Cultures comes in, which I played once in 2014 and really liked. This was, at the time, the civ game that the Sid M Civ game failed to be, and neatly replicates the PC game without making a mess of it, so I’m really pleased to have it on board. Also new in is 1775 Rebellion – I own and love 1812, and this is more of the same but different, so again another good addition. Healthy Heart Hospital I mentioned earlier, and the final new game is A Fake Artist Goes To New York, which looks like a fun fit for the family. Fingers crossed on that one.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
Yeah, er, nothing. I’ve got a few games listed as in my collection that would have a better home in the bin though, like Kensington, and lots of card games I’m never going to play, and wouldn’t miss. I’m also waiting for the UK Games Expo in a few months to offload some of it cheap on the bring and buy.

Other Gaming Stuff
We’ve played a lot more Pandemic Legacy this month, and I’m still lukewarm on it. Without trying to give a lot away, there has only been one event that has occurred that made me pay attention. We are now in November, and if I’m honest it is starting to feel a little like work. I’ll freely admit this says a lot about me – I enjoy learning and playing new games, and have a hugely frightening number of games in my gaming history that I’ve only ever played once. I haven’t really felt immersed in the experience at all, not since the event alluded to earlier, and have found my mind wandering as the owner of the game excitedly scratches of the cards, opens the boxes and reads the contents.

So PL isn’t the greatest game I’ve ever played, and short of King Kong coming out for the final month, my feelings towards it really aren’t going to change – Pandemic with a bunch of mini expansions thrown in. Gah. I really wanted to enjoy PL but I’ve have truly found it to be a disappointment. High expectations for an ordinary game. After all the noise, it is just a game after all.

Music
Some of the best stuff I’ve listened to this month has been new material on Soundcloud – 2 new tracks from Holy F#!k, and 2 from Black Mountain. One of these tracks for both artists are absolute gems as well, so I’m looking forward to the albums being released (and as I write this, I’ve already got the BM album, but I’ll leave that until next month).

Other than that I’ve been listening to Heron Oblivion and Quilt, both very different albums from solid artists. Probably enjoyed the HO album more, but that’s due to the guitar work, and my own personal taste.

In terms of playing music, I’ve had a quiet month, and other than a couple of sessions at home, we’ve had to put our jam sessions on hold due to other family commitments (my fault). We’re due to get started again in a week or two. I’ve added a phaser (mxr 90) to my collection (that’s a pedal, not a gun) and it really does sound good, adding a nice gentle wah to phrasing and solos. I’m looking forward to cranking up the amp to really hear it in action. I think I need new tubes for my Peavey though, so at the moment everything is going through the Marshall. I’m also thinking about getting the Jackson professionally setup as the guy I got it from left it needing work – it looks fine, but the heights, neck and action all need time and work.

Books
I’ve read the first two books in Joe Haldeman’s Peace & War trilogy, and I’m part way through the third. Forever War was really interesting to read, clever story, interesting idea about a soldier that ages (due to space travel) at a much slower rate than the universe around him, and much slower than the technology and methodology of the war he is involved in. Usually the second book is a let-down, but not here. Forever Free was, for me anyway, a much more interesting read, dealing with the same characters, and their new life after the first book. The story deals with some huge issues, and although that will annoy and frustrate some, I found the ideas he created, along with the questions raised and their corresponding answers truly fascinating.

Forever Peace – not so good. The story is a bit of a drag, and I’m about half way in and its gone nowhere. I’m hoping for a better ending, but at the moment it reads like an idea that never quite turned into a story. Also, it feels like an early draft for Forever War rather than a book written later. Or maybe it is just in the shadow of his earlier work. Or possibly, having read two of his books, I’m a little worn out on his writing by this one.

Film
We saw The Boy at the cinema, and we were both hoping for a good old-fashioned scary movie. Instead we got a slightly dull movie with a reveal that rather than be an exciting twist made us both just go ‘oh’. I should have read a few more reviews first, but we just picked it on impulse. The best film I saw this month was Captain America Winter Soldier – well paced, even if the twists were a little obvious. When the bad guy first appears, we all spotted him immediately, and another story twist is really obvious as well. Still, the action scenes were really well done, and the story almost made sense.

TV
Still working through American Horror Freak Show, with one episode left to watch. Much like the others, and probably the last one we’ll watch. We also watched the BBC drama, Thirteen, and really enjoyed that – the story is about a kidnapped girl who escapes, and then what happens after her escape in respect of her and her relationships with friends and family, and also the police hunt for her captor. Oh, and we’ve just started watching the Walking Dead spin off series on Amazon as well. So far it is so-so – the second episode was better than the first, but ultimately this is just going to become more Walking Dead, and at the moment with weaker characters. We’ll keep going for now.

Video Games
I finished Fallout 4 and enjoyed the ending – of the various options I had a change of heart and went in a different direction to the one I’d originally intended due to a mission where I was sent to kill a character I decided I just didn’t want to kill. This was for two reasons – firstly because they hadn’t done anything wrong to me or anyone else, and secondly because I felt there was still so much to see and do, and I wasn’t ready to write off a chunk of content. By the end I was a total war machine, and could kill almost anything the game could throw at me. Good fun, and I felt the length was just about right.

Now I’m on Witcher 3, and so far so good – the side missions are great fun, and I mean really great fun having come from games like GTA where they tend to be formulaic. The controls are a little clunky and movement can also be a bit jerky at times but that might just be my ham-fisted use of the controller. Compared to Uncharted though, the movement is lacking. Witcher is telling a much better story though.

I also picked up Tropico 5 and the Journey pack in the PS Easter sale. Tropico is a nice game which handles well on the console, and Journey looks stunning, and was an enjoyable play for the couple of hours it took. Oh, and a new 2TB HD for the PS4. This was a lot easier to install than I’d expected, and I got the entire disk transferred and set up in around 30 minutes. Re-installing all the updates for all the games took a little longer, but I just chucked each disk in and queued the downloads, leaving them running overnight.

Last Year
I seemed to be playing a lot of Imperial Settlers which I’ve not really picked up since, other than a single play. This is a shame though because it is a game I really enjoy, and can play solo. Well, only I can change that.

Next Month
Two tournament events going on – next race in our Thunder Alley season, as well as a Baseball Highlights 2045 competition. I’ve really got to up my game in TA after a totally disastrous last race where I lost two cars on 1 turn, and although I’ve played a fair amount of BH2045, I haven’t really played with the expansions, so this is going to hurt my game. We’re due to finish Pandemic Legacy as well. April could well just be ‘the month that Star Wars Rebellion arrived’ though if I can find a willing opponent.
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Fri Apr 1, 2016 2:13 pm
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February 2016 - A Month In Gaming Season 2 Episode 2

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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Introduction
February turned out to be a really good gaming month for me, with some great new games, and also the chance to get an old classic back on the table. I’m ahead this year with more games played in 2016 than there have been days, but I’m not sure that’s going to last throughout the year.

New Game Of The Month
It was a close run thing between two games, but the game that has come out top for me is Hyperborea. I’d picked this up fairly cheap some time ago, and not long after getting it I set it up to quickly try, and was fairly disappointed by it. For some reason though, I’ve kept coming back to it, and I chucked it in the bag to take to a gaming session at the start of the month, and then promptly took it out again when it dawned on me I’d completely forgotten how to play it.

After another read through of the rules I realised I’d made a hash of it on my first attempt at playing, and so I set it up again to try a solo run through managing two players. Actually playing it correctly proved that there was in fact a really interesting, clever and fun design in here, so the same week I took it along to our group, and managed to get in a two player.

Basically this is a dudes on a map game, and it is about conquering territory, advancing your civilisation, and getting into fights. The game seems to have a good amount of replayability – varying hexes give the map a fresh feel each time, variable technologies can change your focus so players can’t approach the game with a set strategy, and giving each player a different race with unique abilities provides a new challenge.

Ultimately you are trying to score vp by controlling hexes. Units can trigger places on the map, which can give additional actions which themselves can be used as triggers, so a player’s turn can lead to some really interesting and clever chaining effects, and I always enjoy this in games – maybe it just makes me feel smart when I have a turn where I can say ‘if I go here, then I can use that which allows me to do this, and then using that I can generate this, and take that’. Well, you get the idea.

The cube builder idea works really well, but you can mess it up when you buy a tech and don’t have the cubes you need to run it – all rookie mistakes though. In my single competitive play I spent a lot of time supporting my opponent with ideas about how best to use their cubes, and this made the game closer and more enjoyable for both of us (the game finished with a single point separating us). I enjoy the aggressive nature of the game though because it is directed – neither of us felt victimised at all because attacking opponents and taking territory is a necessary strategy.

The second best game this month was T.I.M.E Stories, and I’ll cover this in the next bit.

Best Session Of The Month
We played T.I.M.E Stories as a 4 – all of us had been talking about the game, and with very little effort we managed to schedule in a session. This proved to be highly enjoyable, and the game took us around three hours to complete. The actual experience took me back to text adventure days despite the heavy use of images, and it was really enjoyable collecting all of the clues together, and then collectively solving the mystery with all of the information we’d gathered.

There were a couple of eureka moments, and it was enjoyable to sometimes get completely taken for a ride whilst we chased after clues that took us nowhere. The story was well written, it was fun to take a certain amount of roleplaying into it, and I’m looking forward to trying out some of the additional cases. A really fun game that worked well with the group I played it with.

Solo Gaming
Actually despite the number of plays I’ve recorded, I only played two solos this month. The first was a solo game of Freedom: The Underground Railroad which I hadn’t played in ages. I played two characters as previously I’d found using a single character really tough, and beat the game for the first time, although I realised afterwards I’d been using the funding tokens incorrectly, and it would have been much closer (in other words I probably would have lost). What I did learn though is that I don’t play this anywhere near as much as I should. The other solo was Small City, but it was still a learning game, so too early to form a fair opinion. First impressions though are that the game needs more players.

Games Added To The Collection
The just mentioned Small City, the solo expansion for Archipelago, Timeline: Inventions, Coconuts (this has already been a huge hit with the family, and we played it on three Saturdays in a row), and Automobiles which isn’t to be confused with Automobile.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
Just D-Day Dice this month. I had no intention of selling it, but I had listed it for trade. I then had a good offer for it, but then when I asked for payment, I heard nothing back at all so I thought I’d list it up having taken it to work and boxed it up ready to go for a sale that never transpired. Soon enough an order came in, and its gone to a good home now. I’m not going to miss it, but it was a good enough game (just a little frustrating at times).

Other Gaming Stuff
I’ll mention a couple of things here – we played a session of Game Of Thrones 1st Ed that turned into a strange game. I drew Greyjoy (I was pretty happy with that) and immediately made a pact with Stark, but no one else around the table made any agreement at all at the start. Lannister and Tyrell went at it from the off, and Baratheon made a few strange early moves (I don’t think they took Kings Landing in the entire game). My position just got stronger as everyone seemed to get weaker, and I managed a long distance hit on Highgarden on about turn 4 which caught everyone by surprise. Lannister and Tyrell had very few pieces out due to their early exertions, Stark was really strung out and open, and Baratheon was playing a very cautious game. On around turn 6, I went from 4 points to 7 in a single turn to claim victory, and nobody was able to touch me.

This should have been a great session, but it just felt too straightforward. With hindsight other players should have made peace – two neighbours taking an aggressive stance at the start just weakens them both. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t feel like a fair fight, and there were a couple of times when Lannister could have been removed from the game completely.

The other issue to tackle this month is Pandemic Legacy. I’m in a game, and we’re in June, and I’m enjoying it but I’m underwhelmed. There has only been a single moment when something struck me as genuinely clever, and the rest of the time I feel like I’m just playing a game of Pandemic with a modular expansion. I think naturally when a game rockets to the number one spot my expectations were very high, and so far it hasn’t delivered on that.

Part of the issue is that I don’t like to play a game when I don’t have a good grasp of the rules, and in the case of Pandemic, none of us seem to have a full grasp of what is going on. We’ve made some small mistakes, and although this hasn’t ruined the experience, it has punched some holes in the fabric of immersion. Add to that on the whole if you lose a month you get to play the same game all over again which I’m finding a little frustrating. I suppose I hoped that the story would have multiple branches and that you could have a very different experience according to how well you played rather than the same experience regardless (other than bonuses and funding cards).

Music
A bit of Junip this month, a bit more of the excellent new album from Prins Thomas, Principe Del Norte, and a lot of All Them Witches, mostly Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. The new album is an interesting mixture of Led Zeppelin and elements of post rock, and slightly less blues rock than their previous outing.

In terms of actually playing, we’re putting together a set at the moment, and with just two of us that’s given us the excuse to play stuff that we both like without the need to appease anyone else. This means some Secret Machines (Lightning Blue Eyes), some Quo (Mystery Song, but only the middle bit) and we’re now working on some Bowie - Jean Genie (which I’m now playing correctly after playing it wrong for ten years) and Heroes. We’ve resurrected some older material as well like Bohemian Like You, and I’m keen to get Paranoid back on the list.

Books
I finished Lightning, and it was pretty forgettable – shame because Watchers was a really good book, but I’d be reluctant to read any more Koontz after this as they were just way too similar. I then moved on to and finished the superb Fatherland by Robert Harris. The story is an alt-history book where the Germans ‘win’ the second world war, and it is based around an investigation into the death of a senior party official. The pacing was excellent, and despite the setting the book felt very real, well researched, and well written. The plot twisted nicely, and kept with the theme well. Very enjoyable indeed.

I’m now on the Forever War books by Joe Haldeman having picked up all three in Peace And War. So far I’m really in to it, and hope he can keep the pace up. The science behind it is interesting, but easier to follow as a result of watching Interstellar.

Film
The film that sticks in my mind most this month is The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, which despite the hard knocks it got from some critics was a really well made family film. It never felt too long, we all felt for Walter, and the ending was perfect for us. We also saw The Revenant at the cinema, and I felt like I needed a warm bath afterwards. I found the film to be incredibly physical and graphical – it reminded me of the opening scenes from Saving Private Ryan.

I found Leo’s performance almost too gritty, and possibly not vulnerable enough, but that’s just me. I actually thought Tom Hardy put in a better performance, and was the most memorable character. I was rooting for Matt Damon in the Oscars – I thought his performance in The Martian was spot on.

TV
We watched the first series of Hinterland which we’d not heard anything about, and found it to be a well written crime series. We’re now on American Horror Freak Show, and dragging our heels a little.

Video Games
More Fallout 4 for me this month. I’m now level 38, well armoured, and tooled up – everything that gets near me takes a beating from Kremvh’s Tooth which I’m mixing in with the Big Leagues perk. I’m near the end, and am in the process of figuring out which side of the fence I want to fall on.

On iOS I’m playing Final Fantasy IX which was always my favourite of the series. Some of it I remember and some of it I don’t but in fairness it has been 13 years since I played this on the Playstation. The iPad version works really well though, and is the best FF game on that format in terms of conversion.

Last Year
My game of the month was Homeland which we played a lot at the time, but then as most games it dried up pretty quickly – I haven’t played it since March last year. It was in Feb last year that Useless Doug was born during a Zombicide Session, and although it wasn’t down as the best session of the month, it was certainly the session from last year with the most laughs (he picked up 2 kills in an entire game). Of the 6 games I added to my collection, I’ve since sold 2 of them.

Next Month
The second year of Canterbury Conquest on the 5th should mean a good chance to get some gaming in other than Pandemic Legacy, although last year we only managed 4 games. We’ve got a Thunder Alley session due, along with the new Track Pack arriving soon. I’m hoping to see some more Black Plague KS stuff arrive, along with Z War One being due this month (I’m not expecting it – I think this is more likely to be released around UK Expo time). Fallout 4 should be finished, and I might even get back to painting. Time will tell.
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Tue Mar 1, 2016 11:31 am
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January 2016, episode 13 of 12. My month of gaming, films, books, tv, and, er, other stuff.

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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A start of a new year is always a good opportunity to look back over the previous year, as well as look forward to the year ahead. With a year of writing these monthly reports I’ve decided to keep going, but am going to add a ‘last year’ section as well to just review what I was playing, reading, watching or generally doing last year, and to see if my opinions at the time were right. I recorded 40 plays this month, and played a lot of really good new games as well as some old favourites.

New Game Of The Month
Two really good games for me this month – Fireteam Zero wins out though because it works really well as a solo and also with more (although I only played it solo or with 2). The game on the whole works, although I have some minor reservations.

The good – Really easy to learn, and to teach, and I’ve yet to encounter a situation that I can’t just figure out for myself. I needed to re-read the rules after my first play, but doing so clarified everything I wasn’t sure about. The player’s decisions really matter as well – timing is essential, much like Gears Of War. Knowing when to push forward, when to attack, and identifying when monsters are going to be attacking in groups, and when this needs to be dealt with are all important decisions. The monsters aren’t entirely predictable, and every few turns, and additional twist card makes the game tougher for the heroes, so there is the pressure of trying to keep moving forward. The maps can be very open as well, allowing for some interesting play options (although I prefer the tighter corridor maps).

The bad – Setup can be fiddly (finding all the right cards can be a pain), especially with some of the later missions where players are having to select numerous special cards, and when making a decision, the layout of the board and the monster and hero types involved are relevant. In a way this is also a positive, because it is nice that you care about what you’re going to need for a particular mission. With only three storylines, and three missions per story, there isn’t a lot in here considering the price point. Also, the boards are very dark, and could have done with being a tone lighter, with a little more colour. The terrain effects are highlighted with a colour border and a symbol, and in most cases a location is dominated by these symbols and highlights rather than by the artwork of the location itself, and this is a shame. I’d bet that the art file on the designer’s computer looks far better than the finished board.

Another negative is that 5 cards in hand doesn’t give you much resistance. If a hero gets ambushed, no one can play any reaction cards, so the hero just has to take the damage. With some monsters, an ambush can kill a hero instantly no matter how careful the party have been, and then the coin gets flipped. Losing a hero early on in a turn due to an ambush also then leaves the other players vulnerable as they are now going to be the target of additional attacks, and the game can go from comfortable to lost cause in the space of a few minutes. This can be really frustrating after playing for 90 minutes.

Second best game this month was Warhammer Quest Adventure Card Game. The game isn’t perfect, but is accessible, and does provide a good card-based dungeon crawl in a compact time frame, and also has a campaign mode which allows for development of characters and items to make the game more interesting. I’ve only played the intro mission (stopped before it ended because it was so simple) the delve mission (I got killed), a 3 player, a 4 player (both the opening mission) and a couple of solo plays.

The good – teaching is easy, the exploration and loot cards are thematically well done, and the structure of the missions is good. Monsters tend to fit the locations and theme, and it is easy to get into the game both in terms of picking it up and playing it quickly, and also in terms of immersion into the theme of the game. Within five minutes of opening the box, I’m taking my two adventurers deep into a dungeon, weapons waving, and enemies falling around us.

The bad – sometimes stuff gets gamey, and takes you out of the moment. As each hero has a refresh action, the order actions are taken in is important, and this needs to be calculated in order to get the maximum returns on exploration and damage. It can be done within the realms of the game, but I find myself being less aware of the theme, and more aware of the calculative element when figuring this out. A small problem, and one that might actually make the game appeal more to some players. The other bad is the game difficulty is not even over player numbers – the more characters in the dungeon, the easier it gets. This is due to no scaling of enemies at locations. With 2 heroes, you’ll soon find both characters engaged with 2 or 3 monsters. With more, the monsters get spread out, making them far less of a chore.

Best Session Of The Month
We had a game of BSG scheduled, and I fully expected this to be the best session of the month – the right gamers, the right game, but it all went wrong early on, and never really recovered. We put a lot of expectation on BSG, and always expect it to deliver. Most of the time it does, but occasionally it falls flat, and this time it did – player arguments that got out of hand (I take some responsibility here – I gave one of the guys a ribbing about what I thought was a poor decision, and he’d normally give as good as he gets), constant use of the Pegasus engine room, and hardly any combat threat made it a cake walk for the humans. Cain did her additional jump, and with the admiral a good guy we made jumps of 3, 2, and 3, and then a quick final jump. Both revealed cylons had a turn or two each with weak super crisis cards before it was all over. With hindsight the cylons should have thrown suspicion out earlier, especially with discontent in the ranks, but nothing came out.

Anyway, less about that, and more about the best session of the month – Burgle Bros with 3 of us robbing the bank. This was my first play, and we had a lot of fun with it. We split as soon as we found the safe on the first floor, with one guy heading up, and the remaining two of us cracking the safe. Second floor we played in a similar fashion, although this time the player not cracking the safe stayed on the floor below. We then had two of us working the safe on the 3rd floor before making a final dash for it. The theme works well, the equipment cards are daft but fun, and the character abilities are highly varied and interesting.

It strikes me that Burgle Bros is highly influenced by the Matt Leacock school of design – multiple face down tiles in a pattern, characters with individual abilities, a number of actions per turn, locate tiles, gain items, then get out of Dodge. The game feels familiar enough, but the added Guards, walls, items and events add enough to make it stand firm on its own right, and be a worthwhile addition to my collection.

Another notable session was Deception: Murder In Hong Kong which we played 5 times in a single sitting. This is a fun blend of Mysterium and Codenames with a traitor, and I really enjoyed it despite my early reservations.

Solo Gaming
4 plays of Warhammer Quest Card Game, 3 Fireteam Zero, 2 Gears Of War, 1 Burgle Bros and 1 Zombicide Black Plague. The Fireteam Zero and Gears Of War sessions are the most notable here – with Gears Of War it feels so good to get it back on the table again. I played Roadblock through twice in my rather drawn out run through all of the base game scenarios, and this, although not as good as some of the other scenarios (Belly Of The Beast is the best Ive found so far) was as enjoyable as always, and proved to me yet again why this is the best game in my collection. I love the AI implementation here – running the risk of putting yourself in a dangerous situation in the hope that a particular enemy doesn’t activate, getting caught unexpectedly when enemies make a rush attack, and also giving up cards (health) to try and hit them before they hit you. Just love this game, although I am impressed with Fireteam Zero.

Games Added To The Collection
6 games and 1 expansion. So much for a ‘1 in, 1 out’ policy – although I’ve got some more games that just need to go to the charity shop as I’ve tried to sell them, and failed, and can’t even give them away. So games in are Burgle Bros (after really enjoying this as a co-op), Risk: Star Wars Edition (really like this, and it has very little to do with Risk), Super Dungeon Explore: Forgotten King (because a solo dungeon crawler is right up my street), WWE Superstar Smackdown (it was cheap, it’s a Gale Force 9), Thrash’n Roll (poor Kickstarter I went in on solely for the theme), Fireteam Zero (best new game this month) and the expansion was Relic: Halls Of Terra because I really enjoy the base game, and this gives a solo option other than just playing it with 1 character.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To

Battle Of Westeros – I picked this up on a deal from Amazon, and it just sat on my shelf unplayed for over a year. I listed it for sale, and it went for more than I paid for it, so I don’t mind seeing it go. I’ve also picked up Great War which is also unplayed, and would rather play that over BoW.

Continuing with narrowing down my solo collection to those titles I really enjoy, Galaxy Defenders also went because for me it was a bit of a mess – too many little fiddly parts made the game difficult to pick up and play, and again there are other better games in the same genre (SCAM, TOEE, FZ and GOW).I picked this up with Phantom Fury as a trade for Warfighter – as it turns out, I didn’t think much of any of those games. I’m pretty happy that the solo collection I’ve got now gives me a really good variety of excellent games to choose from.

Other Gaming Stuff
I got some more miniature painting done on my Arcadia Quest set. I painted a few of the larger models, but I’ve still got a few of the beasts, and all of the Heroes to do, so this isn’t going to get finished any time soon. It’s a shame in a way as the game is great fun, but isn’t getting played because all the figures are sat in my painting box.

A couple of sessions this month made me think a lot about gaming etiquette. My biggest personal frustration when I play games is players that whine – I think it is ‘bad sportsmanship’ and I saw a poor example of it this month during a game of Ultimate Warriorz. One player targeted another player, and that targeted player then immediately whined about it, the usual ‘why are you attacking me, don’t attack me, attack him, I’m weaker than him, attack him’ and lo and behold the player making the attack changed their target. Fine - I took the hit, and then was out of the game. It’s a short game, so that doesn’t bother me – what bothers me more is this manipulation.

I don’t mind a player saying ‘this would be a better attack’ and have often done so, even making myself the target, especially for a player new to a game to maximise their experience, but the call was borderline at best (the attack was likely to end the game for either of us). Now in a game that lasts 20 minutes it really doesn’t matter, but I’ve seen this happen in a game that lasts two hours, and all it means is that I quietly avoid playing against this type of player.

Interestingly we banned interaction during a player’s turn of Thunder Alley in our tournament for the same reason – we felt players should be free to move with, or block whomever they want, without other players interfering. This made the game far more tense and exciting and I now find myself hoping that the active player has missed something that would hinder me, or include me in their tow instead of leaving me behind. It may be coincidence, but my results have improved since we introduced this.

The BSG session took me by surprise because it was with a player who would normally analyse everything about my play during this game, and would be the first to point the finger if I make anything like a suspicious move (we’ve played games other than BSG and I’ve been killed for no other reason than because it’s me). To me, maybe wrongly, this is also part of the play of a game like BSG – players who make questionable decisions should be doubted, and have their action looked at. With the benefit of hindsight, we walked it, and the call made little difference other than my challenge killed the game like someone switching the lights on at the cinema.

So what should have happened? Should I have made the challenge (nobody else was bothered by his decision)? Ultimately I suppose I should learn when and when not to push – the challenge itself was reasonable, but highlighting it again after wasn’t. I love to be accused, I enjoy that suspicion, also it doesn’t bother me if I end up getting pegged as a traitor when I’m not – I’ll just try and prove my innocence. But I can go a long way before I snap, and every person has their line.

Music
A lot of great music this month – Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats, the new Clutch album, Berlin by Kadavar, and also I picked up a new copy of 13 Tales by Dandy Warhols – my original copy just disappeared a number of years ago, and I always loved the album, so it’s great to have it back (and it brings back some happy memories). If I was making a recommendation, I’d say give Blood Lust by Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats a go – heavy, riff laden rocking out. If you want something a little lighter though the new Shearwater album is really good – the best thing of this ilk I’ve heard since the last album by War On Drugs.

On a separate note, I got the guitar out in anger for the first time in over a year, and had a couple of sessions playing with the drummer from the band I used to be in. We messed about just jamming and riffing, but it was great fun, and we’re planning on keeping it going until we run out of ideas, or it stops being fun (to be honest, they are likely to happen at the same time). For anyone interested, I’ve got a Peavey Wolfgang and a Jackson Soloist, and use a Peavey 5150 amp as well as a Marshall VS100 (but not at the same time). For effects, I’ve got a Jim Dunlop Cry Baby, a Metal Muff, and an Ibanez chorus. I’m using the Jackson and the Marshall at the moment, but the two Peaveys do sound really nice together. We just riffed on some stuff – kind of like Sleep’s Dopesmoker, but with less drugs.

Books

I finished Go Set A Watchman, and although the book dragged, its final set piece was well written and emotive stuff. It didn’t change how I felt about To Kill A Mockingbird, and added flesh to that story rather than took away from it. We all grow up, but not in the way that some around us might hope.

I’m now reading Lightning by Dean Koontz, having enjoyed Watchers so much, but it there is a lot of common ground between the books, in characters, their relationships, and to some degree storylines and particular scenes. A little disappointing if I’m honest, and at the moment, I’d have to say Watchers is the better of the two books. My other issue with Lightning is that it is a story about a writer, and Koontz has tried to create the perfect person who just happens to also be a famous writer. The book is picking up for the final scenes though so I’m still hopeful this might save it.

Film

It’s all about Star Wars. We saw it on 1/1 at the iMax, and then again about a week later. I loved it, and was blown away by it, and felt almost even more excited about it than I did when I saw Empire Strikes Back at the old cinema in Tunbridge Wells back in 1980 with my brother and my cousin. I know it has been said before, and I’m not going to add any spoilers, but the film feels so damn physical. The sets feel real, the battles are so well filmed and realistic, and some of the camera work, particularly some of the cockpit scenes feel like you are there with debris flying around.

As far as the story is concerned yes it is a rehash, but there is plenty still to answer and this feels like the early steps of a much longer journey. Both my sons on the two different occasions we went said after that they would have happily gone immediately back into the cinema and watched it all over again.

TV
Finished Man In The High Castle. Very enjoyable, well contained in one series (although I see more are on their way), and also Rufus Sewell is truly incredible in this, and just chews up the scenery. Worth it just for his performance, and he makes Rupert Evans look poor.

We also watched Making A Murderer over the space of about 10 days, and I have to say this is one of those tv moments in my life where something truly interesting and original is happening. I’m staggered by it – if it had been made as a drama, it wouldn’t look real, but this is a documentary, and everything about it is just incredible from the very beginning. The pace of the filming is great, and the twists and turns often left us flabbergasted. I’ve got so much to say on this, but I’m aware many people are still to see it, and the less you know about it (I’d heard nothing before watching it) the better it is.

Video Games
All Fallout 4 for me this month. I’m level 22, and tough enough to wade through Raiders without breaking a sweat. The story is well written, and although there is often a similar feeling to a lot of the missions, I’m enjoying the story. The game not making regular saves can be hugely frustrating, and a couple of times I’ve lost what feels like about 30 minutes of gaming. You can die really suddenly, and sometimes if you miss a weapon, or tackle something too early the game can be really really tough. The setting is fantastically grubby and messed up though, and the storms that roll in can be hugely atmospheric. Happy to stick with this one, and I’m enjoying the ability to dip in and out of missions as I see fit.

Last Year
January last year, looking back, was a bit of a non-event. My game of the month was Coup G54, and this got played in January, then March, but nothing since. I still like the game, but there are just so many games in this genre. As far as everything else was concerned, I was making better progress then on painting, but as a result, I recorded less plays. The 2 games I spoke about soloing (Dead Panic and Zpocalypse) have both since left my collection – January was the first and last time I played them. The best addition to my collection was Viticulture Collector’s Edition – I had a lot of fun playing the solo of this during the year last year, and would like to get the game played more with my group.

Next Month
A little more painting, and a lot more gaming. We’ve got two sessions already booked in – Time Stories and Game Of Thrones 2nd edition, and I’m looking forward to both. Weekends are really busy as we’re having work done on the house, but Friday nights fit nicely for these extra sessions, along with the regular Wednesday gaming.
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Mon Feb 1, 2016 1:39 pm
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December, 12 of 12, or more to come?

Steve Berger
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Sevenoaks
Kent
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Well, the original idea was to just do this for a year, but I’ve enjoyed writing these so I plan on sticking with it until it becomes a chore.

Christmas is over for another year, and a new year begins, but before we get to that, I’ve got my December gaming to review. This December turned out to be a good month for gaming.

New Game Of The Month
Zombicide: Black Plague takes the honours this month, but didn’t blow me away. This ‘new’ version is very similar to the original with some tweaks and a few new additions. The tweaks are all positive – no awful vehicles to worry about, and also now when making a ranged attack into a space with survivors only the misses get allocated to the other characters – this makes more thematic sense. Also, each character now has 3 lives, as well as having the ability to carry and roll for armour. So far so good.

The additions are a bit of a mixed bag. I like the vaults – these often link areas of the map, and hold better items in them. There are only two vault cards in the base set which is a bit of a shame – a few more would have really helped here. But more importantly the vaults provide interesting ways of moving around the map, although they do make calculating zombie moves more confusing. I’m still undecided about the Necromancer – he creates a spawn point, and then tries to leave the board to make his spawn a permanent one. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, and when he creates 2 spawns in the same place, the game is over. The double spawn cards I really don’t like. Maybe it is just rotten luck, but they always seem to come up as the final draw which means you just spawn again on the first spawn point, and if you draw any more, then you spawn again at the next spawn point.

So why don’t I like them? Well, most of the scenarios require you to pick up the markers which give you 5 experience, so very quickly every character will be levelling up. Fine so far. Then you add in the double spawn cards, and as a result there are a lot of zombies coming out each spawning round. Add to that one tray of Zombies to place out and you’ll soon be making additional activations because you’ve run out of zombies. So by around turn 10, walkers will be additionally activating five or six times in a turn, which no matter what means game over. You just can’t kill them quickly enough.

So does this mean the game is broken? No – there are two answers. Firstly, remove some of the double spawn cards – there are simply too many in the deck. Secondly, go get that Zombicide box and use the minis from it. Now, no stupid game ending situations created by double spawns and additional activations.

Best Session Of The Month
We had two really close and exciting sessions of Baseball Highlights 2045 at my local group, one that I lost and one that I won. This game really delivers, and despite the fact the rules aren’t complete out of the box, we’ve had huge amounts of fun with this.

Solo Gaming
Well, quite a lot this month. Baseball Highlights 2045 is really easy to get out of the box and solo (although wait for the January write-up – I’ve been playing something recently that means BH2045 isn’t getting to the table) and I’m really trying to get a series win with no buys and no losses. Other than this, I played Castellion 6 times, and a single solo game of Room 25 season 2. Castellion is good, but I’d rather play Sylvion of the games in the series, and Room 25 was a learning game to allow me to get the game back on the table with my local group.

Games Added To The Collection
Despite it being Christmas, I only added 4 games to the collection – Warhammer Quest Card Game, Niya, Castellion and Rapidough. Of these, Rapidough was a gift from my son’s fiancé, and Niya was a gift from my wife. A very different mix of games, and by the time I’ve written this I’ve played all of them (and the Warhammer game is superb).

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
Last month I sold three solo games. This month continues with a similar theme.

D-Day At Omaha Beach – couldn’t get my head around the rules, tried playing it a few times, and ended up with a dead end situation, so I must have been doing something wrong. So it is gone. Shadows Of Malice is a similar story – the rulebook was pretty poor and didn’t really ever properly explain what a player could do on their turn, add to that a load of different elements that I couldn’t quite get my head around, and this is also gone. It isn’t that I can’t cope with complicated rules, but I like to be able to pick up a game and play it, not pick it up and have to read a manual each time.

The other game sold this month was Bausack – I played it once and didn’t enjoy it. There were issues with the rules as written, and the group I played with just didn’t get it.

Other Gaming Stuff
We held our annual Game Of The Year vote in my local group, and Baseball Highlights 2045 won narrowly from Quartermaster General. I wrote to Mike Fitzgerald to let him know, but unfortunately heard nothing back – last year’s winner was Dead Of Winter and when I wrote to one of the designers he wrote back and said ‘cool, that means a lot, let’s have a beer’. Still, that isn’t the reason for voting. Codenames came in 3rd, Tumblin’ Dice 4th and Evolution 5th.

Music
Nothing live this month but some really good albums. I continued on my journey back into metal with Vhol’s Deeper Than Sky, and it is a great album with some excellent guitar work. Very impressed indeed with this, and yet another album that has proved to me that some bands are still making excellent music in that genre. Other than that I’ve been listening to Bully, Hop Along and Now Now, pretty much the same as the rest of the year. I picked up the Chvrches album along with Grimes’ new album, both of which are great, but also picked up M by Myrkur which I’m not so take with – the Chelsea Wolfe album is better.

Books
I finished The Gargoyle, and found it really interesting and well written – one of the better books I’ve read this year, and also one that has been sat on my shelf unread for years. The most enjoyable part of the book for me was all of the additional stories woven in, and how these were used for the finale. A rewarding read.

I’ve moved on to Go Set A Watchman which is (so far) just ok. I know it was written in the fifties, but it does feel dated, and it isn’t as riveting a read as TKAM.

Film

December means we always watch certain movies as a tradition – my favourites being National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Wind Chill. For those who haven’t seen it, Wind Chill is the best of the Christmas Horror films, with some solid acting from Emily Blunt. I’ve seen Star Wars, but we didn’t see it until New Year’s Day at the BFI Imax so more on that next month. I’ll have seen it for a second time by the end of the month as well.

Other than the usual Christmas films I did finally see the latest Jurassic Park film, and we really enjoyed it even if it is a bit cheesy. Chris Pratt is good fun, and plays the Capt'n Badass role really well, but in the same comical way he plays everything. The second best film in the series.

TV
We finished The Following season 2, and despite a good start to the season, the last set of episodes let it down (the whole cult thing just seemed vaguely ridiculous). We’ve moved on to watching The Man In The High Castle, and are about 8 episodes in. The writing is excellent, and the acting on the most part is very good – Rufus Sewell puts in a superb performance as a US leader of the Nazi Party, and despite his rank and allegiance is the most enjoyable character in the series so far. Looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Video Games
Finished GTA at last – I’d already played it on Xbox, but wanted to see it through on PS4. Now I’m on to Fallout 4, and enjoying it. The story is a little weak at the moment as I’m simply running tasks, but I’m aware of the importance of levelling up, so will stick with it as I’m sure the best is yet to come. My son got the Star Wars Battlefront game for Christmas, but I’ve little interest in it as there is no campaign to play (what a huge miss).

Next Month
Well, I’m writing this on the 4th, and a lot has happened already. Warhammer Quest Card Game has already seen the table 3 times (well, 4 but I only played half of the tutorial, and gave up on a delve quest due to rules questions) and the last game I played was really close. I’ve also seen Star Wars as mentioned, and sold Galaxy Defenders, but more on this next month. I’d like to get Zombicide BP and WHQCG to the table with the group, along with Space Cadets: Away Missions, and I’m hoping to get or play Pandemic Legacy to see what all the fuss is about.
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Mon Jan 4, 2016 12:23 pm
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November - My gaming month, SCAM, and more...

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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I’m a bit later than usual getting the monthly report out, mostly because of various commitments at this time of year, and time away enjoying my favourite season. Still, 11 months down of the 12, and this is the first time I’ve had to really make myself sit and write this out, so not bad going, and I’ve done better than I’d expected.

We had a great time in Bath at the end of the month, and are now looking ahead to ‘the month of seeing family’.

New Game Of The Month
5 new games this month, and Space Cadets: Away Missions is an easy choice for best new game this month. This game is superb fun, and is an example of what I’m looking for in a game. The rulebook does take a while to get through, but the principals of the player’s turn are fairly simple to understand. In a game like this, the basic level of rules need to be easy to comprehend, with the interesting depth provided by interesting scenarios, weapons and enemy types.

I got through the rules with ease, and quickly found myself two scenarios in and feeling confident that I was playing this exactly how I should be. Now I own this I feel no need to play Galaxy Defenders – SCAM does everything with ease that GD made hard work. Games come down to the wire, there are definite choices to be made, and it is easy to get immersed in the game. So not only was this the best game this month, but also one of the best games I’ve encountered this year.

Baseball Highlights 2045 didn’t go down as the best game I played last month, but having played it some more I realise it should have done. At the time I picked Thunderbirds, but this month I found myself in a multiplayer game of Thunderbirds next to a table playing BH2045, and I felt like I was in the wrong game! BH2045 is so much fun both as a solo and as a group game, and every time I play it, I enjoy it more!

Best Session Of The Month
We began a new season of Thunder Alley, season 3. For once I actually got off to a really good start in our first two races. We’ve introduced a rule whereby each player makes their move choice without interference from others (for interference, read whining) and this makes it much more about each individual focusing on their own strategy, and a lot less about group politics.

Solo Gaming
Two games of SCAM, both great fun, one win, one loss. Can’t wait to play this some more, and I’m hoping to try it with more players.

I played 1 solo game of Thunderbirds, and despite my initial reaction, I’m finding the game to be a little samey now, which is a shame. The cards that need to be defeated have a very similar feel to them, and I’m only a few games in and already feeling a little like I’m just seeing the same thing over and over. Also despite lots of comments on how hard this is, I’m yet to lose, and we played this on normal. The trick is to use the operations effectively – there is a lot you can do without having to use actions, and making the most of these free actions can make a lot of difference, as can the right mix of players. Lady Penelope may start out on a limb, but the ability to swap the type of counter she has is very powerful, and can be a life saver.

I also played 5 games of BH2045 solo. The game is so quick to play out of the box, and I’m now playing without any initial buy rounds. This means I tend to lose the first couple of matches, but being able to bring purchased cards straight into hand gives me a fighting chance. I don’t have any of the expansions, but I still feel like I’m seeing new cards. Loving this.

Games Added To The Collection
7 games in this month – SCAM as already mentioned, Libertalia which I haven’t played in a long time, but always found enjoyable, Flick ‘Em Up which will go in the Christmas pile for my wife to give to me, Ultimate Warriorz which I really enjoyed but got a mixed reception (the player that didn’t enjoy it got the character with the largest target painted on it, and as we were all new to the game, he just got hammered on.

I also picked up Carcassonne Star Wars (yes, I really did) and we played it. It was ok, nothing special but as much fun as basic Carc for me. The game descended into a scrap for the planets as this seems to be where the point are with each planet potentially worth 11 points.

In addition I picked up Room 25 Season 2 (the first game was a real hit with my group, so I’m hoping this will help it get to the table more), and the Atlanteans expansion for Imperial Settlers.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
There is a bit of a theme to this month. I love to solo game, but my time can often be limited, and I don’t really have anywhere I can set up games and leave them. When I sit down to solo, I want something I can set up and get straight into. I don’t want to spend the first 30 minutes of my session struggling through a rulebook, and once I’m done, I need to be able to clear the game away.

So, three games have gone, and two of them went for very similar reasons. Dawn Of The Zeds 2nd Ed is out because although I could just about cope playing the basic game, I never even scratched the surface of the more advanced stuff. I couldn’t really figure it out, and playing the basic game I found the game to be merciless, and unfairly so.

Enemy Action Ardennes went opened but unpunched, and I was sad to see it go, but I knew I was just never going to play it. I don’t have a wargaming history, so it was just an expensive box of cardboard taunting me from the shelf. I looked at the rules, and they made my head hurt.

Hostage Negotiator went because it was dull.

So there is a theme emerging - I seem to be selling off the heavier solo games in my collection, with Navajo Wars having gone also this year. I should steer away from the heavier wargaming arena really, but on the flip side, Where There Is Discord is still one of my favourite games, and is immersive and tense and exciting, but not the easiest game to play.

Other Gaming Stuff
Not much here. When I get a new game, I tend to download the rulebook pdf to my pc, and then write a set rules notes for myself to use when playing and teaching. I try and cover everything from setup to game end scoring, and it is amazing how many rulebooks can be condensed down to one side of A4. Of the 509 games in my collection, I’ve got sheets for 238 of them, and I’m seriously lost without them. When teaching a game, I’ll work through my notes sheet, and when playing it works as a great quick reference.

Music
I saw Death Cab For Cutie at the Brixton Academy this month, and they were incredible, so much more came across in the show than there is on the record, and they were an excellent live band – more guitar focussed than there studio work, and better for it. As a result, I spent the first half of the month listening to a playlist of my favourite songs from their various albums.

At the end of the month, I saw Public Service Broadcasting (for the second time this year) at the Brixton Academy, but although it was a great show, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first gig I went to where they performed simply because it wasn’t as much of a novelty, and I’m not sure I’d go and see them again.

Books
I finished The Lie, and thought it was at best very average. The story didn’t twist or turn as I’d hoped, and the main focus was female relationships and how friends can be anything but friends, but this sentence actually makes it sound far more interesting than it was. It isn’t easy to read a book where the main character is irritating.

I’ve now moved on to The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, and so far it is turning out to be one of the best books I’ve read this year, with the two main characters being fascinating people to read about. The mixture of old story, modern story, and various tales told by one of the characters all entwine to make a fascinating read.

Film
We went to the cinema to see Spectre, the latest Bond, and I wasn’t impressed with it. Skyfall impressed me after I hadn’t enjoyed any of the other Daniel Craig films, but Spectre was a letdown simply because it tried too hard to be a ‘best of Bond’ movie – almost every scene was a copy of a previous Bond scene, and it felt entirely intentional, from the parade at the start to the villain fight on the train, and the secret base. I just spent the movie thinking ‘oh, I recognise that’, and this took away from the story for me.

TV
Walking Dead season 5 was superb, and a good development for the story. I’m glad they tackled the moral issue of what happens to survivors who have been living wild for so long when you transfer them into a ‘civilised’ environment. Powerful stuff. We’re now watching season 2 of The Following, and it has been a run of big hits and strange misses – seeing Joe re-emerge and the female villain slowly draw our suspicions was very clever, but the whole religious cult thing just added an unintentionally comical element.

Video Games
I’ve now finished all of the Uncharted games on the PS4, and thoroughly enjoyed them – old school gaming ideas with great graphics and controls. Each story had a very familiar story pattern, but each was enjoyable in its own right, and I enjoyed my time with it. I’m back on to GTA now, with a few hours of story left to finish.

Next Month
It tends to be harder to arrange group meetups in December due to people having other engagements and also because our usual venue gets really busy this time of year. Also, people tend to be in a lighter mood so we play less of the heavyweight stuff. Also, it is the time of year when I get my group to vote for their game of the year. The only restriction is that it needs to be a game that was played at one of the group sessions during the year, but so far we’ve got a list of over 100 games to choose from. I’m tempted to break it down to categories this year (euro, mini, co-op, party, themed, card) and then have an overall winner. The big hitters this year have been Baseball Highlights 2045, Quartermaster General and The Captain Is Dead. Time will tell!
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Tue Dec 8, 2015 10:46 am
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