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The Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers

Beer and Boardgames at the White Lion. "It's not F-ing Monopoly, alright?!"

Archive for Ben Bateson

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Friday August 19th - Magic Tricks

Ben Bateson
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The slew of family commitments in August don't necessarily lend themselves to big turnouts (although do I remember double figures last year?), and there were just three in attendance. John and I settled ourselves into the cosy wingback chairs in the White Lion's back room, and we opted for a quick opener of Coloretto in the half-hearted hope that someone else might turn up (I had had a couple of vague promises of an appearance).

As ever, Coloretto was a delight, and I squeaked the narrowest of wins 24-23-23. But it was to be the last game I won that night, and poor old John went away completely empty-handed too.

Becky's triumphant parade began with Keyflower. John hadn't played any of the expansions before, so we dealt in the Merchants expansion, which I find preferable to the slightly-clumsy Farmers expansion (although the animals are cute...). It was a really fascinating demonstration of how Keyflower strategises, as from a resource-heavy strategy, we all branched out in noticeably different directions, to the extent where there was virtually no interaction during the winter season at all. I'd put together a stack of makeable contracts, while John was going all expansion-crazy and Becky was saving up meeples for a big winter-tile score. The scoring was diverse and high, with Becky coming within a shade of broaching the magic 100 points in victory. For me, it was an excellent demonstration of how you don't always need the most meeples to win, although I'm not denying it is generally a strong tactic.

I had fancied a run at Viticulture, but the other two gave it 'meh' sort of looks and plumped instead for Artificium. This is one of my bargain-bin purchases from the latest run of sales at The Works; Becky and I had given it a run at 2-player and found it pleasant enough, so it was time to scale up.

The first game of Artificium was lacklustre, John not coming into the right cards early on and failing to manage his hand, and Becky tying things up far too early. But the second went down to a thrilling finish, me clearing my entire board to scrape together the pennies to hire a knight, only for Becky to overtake me on the endgame cash scoring. John is probably right when he says there is too much luck of the draw in this game, but I don't think there is quite as much as is apparent on first viewing, and a bum-squeaky finish such as this deserves some measure of respect. I wouldn't want to play it with the 6P that the game is allegedly capable of accommodating, though.

Our closer, almost inevitably looking at this year's calendar so far, was Wizard. This game is starting to transcend to a really tactical high now Becky and John are up to speed with trick-play, and the matter of timing has become absolutely key. Hanging back can be almost as risky as taking all your tricks up front, and my best played hands absolutely necessitated a trick-by-trick plan, the way it should be. However, I was cursed by at least three genuinely unlucky moments (a low winner, a failed odds-on finesse and an apparent absence of Wizards) and slumped to a miserable third place. No surprises for guessing who won, but at least Ian had the decency to close up the bar before she broke 400.
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Sat Aug 20, 2016 10:49 pm
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Friday August 12th - Bill & Ben Together Again

Ben Bateson
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The observant will have noticed an ongoing absence among the ranks of the Ross-on-Wye regulars, that of our regular enigma wrapped in a furry hat: Bill. But, after some four months of mysterious 'other commitments', he'd planned his big return for tonight. Unfortunately, the whims of the gods meant that my inbox was full of: 'sorry, not this week', and as it turned out, there was just two of us!

But never mind - there are a few games that are perfectly cut out for Bill and me, and Polarity is one of them. Everyone else is lukewarm on this game, but we find it a delight in its creativity and combination of magnets with area control. Unfortunately, Bill was somewhat off-colour this week (perhaps I shouldn't have deprived him of a warm-up), and neither game went to the normal wire-taut finish as I won rather too easily.

Our main event, which indeed took us up to closing time thanks to a not atypical misinterpretation of the rules, was Ora & Labora. Unfortunately, I managed to mix up the 'long 2P' rules with the 'short 2P' buildings, which meant that the buildings ran out long before the actions did. But, boy, were the scores high! We split the stone generating buildings and the brewing ones, which is only right and proper, but it was good village placement (including a personal-best 32 off one village) that gave me the edge by around 16 points.

I've been putting together a run of Ora & Labora games of late, and I'm finding it most pleasing, particularly as we run the game time down to manageable lengths. It is still way too sprawling and uncompetitive to challenge Agricola, but the crazy Le Havre-esque glut of resources and sprawling freeform layout are very exciting. I worry that, once we've seen all the buildings in both variants, it will become old, but there's a good 15 plays (at least) left before that happens.
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Sat Aug 20, 2016 10:15 pm
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Friday August 5th - The Heimlich Main-Oeuvre

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
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Half-day Fridays is a blessing. I'm usually home from work in time to do the weekly shop, pack the games bag and pop myself a crafty Friday-afternoon beer well before 4:30pm and Mrs B's arrival home. This week I was doubly blessed: SHE had all of Friday off and the weekly shop was already de-bagged and in the fridge. I popped myself a beer (well, why change habits?) and loaded up the games bag for the expected five cerebral challengers (well, four and John, leastways). No sooner had I finished, then Boydell 'pinged' me via Facebook: "Bringing Benedict and Peter". I sighed and repacked, with the aid of another beer.

But never mind, for 7-players was a perfect opportunity to get down a game that had been lingering unplayed for way too long: the mysterious and crafty Heimlich & Co. Don't believe a word about this being only a family game. It's pure bluff and bravado, and I took a rare opportunity to unpack it all ready for the first arrivals. I had decided the 'deduction' variant was a must, but hadn't banked on how BLOODY HARD the deduction would be with a tableful of experienced old duplicitous so-and-so's. No-one managed to get more than a single character right on the first round, won by Benedict while entertainingly - albeit unwittingly - abusing his father's spy. The second was played with a lot more attention and false accusation (the way it is supposed to be done) and no less than THREE correct deduction gave me a second place behind John.

With no less than three different versions of Agricola (Classic, New and yet-to-be-released 'Family') in attendance, it was only a matter of time until Dan, Tony and I gravitated towards a farming table. Benedict is also rapidly gathering a taste for it and joined us for a agrarian foursome. We plumped for Dan's 'classic' edition (not even Ani- or Vegi-meeples!) and set to distributing cards and boards while Tony assisted the other table in choosing a game. Both John and Peter have firmly denounced Agricola, so they turned down even the Family game, but consensus was eventually reached in Guilds Of London, a firm favourite of Becky's, even if I confess to still being somewhat on the fence.

It was a food-rich game for the merry agriculturists, Benedict having some sort of fishing combo and repeatedly exploiting the Start Player to my expense. Nevertheless, I had a Manufacturer and did the best I could with it until Tony snaffled the BMW out from under my nose. I dumped no end of half-decent cards onto the table with my Merchant, too: perhaps the first time I've ever used him properly in anger. It might have made all the difference were we both not beaten to first place by Dan, who had grown to 4 family members very early, supported by a quick ranching operation.

In the denouement, it turned out that Benedict not only had made zero use of his Patron, but also had an unused Perpetual Student in his hand, so I gave him a brief lecture in how to spot combos that mean you won't need to worry about feeding your family for the rest of the game. He is determined to improve, god bless him.

Guilds had not yet finished, so we entertained a brief filler in the shape of Port Royal, much to Benedict's delight as he discovered the joy of Pinasse puns (oh wise youth). He also put together a trio of the guys who give you extra money for seeing five-in-the-queue, which could have been a game-winner had not Dan wrapped it up shortly afterwards. With thoughts of a group filler, we turned to the other table, only to see them noses deep in Wizard. Knowing the personalities involved, we left them to it.

Instead, we closed with Smash Up. I hadn't expected this to be to Tony's tastes so was surprised to hear him volunteer it, and we all chuckled at our opening decks. Apart from me, having drawn two of the more underwhelming races and being lumbered with Ghost-nados for the rest of the evening.

The big Smash Up misconception, which I will cheerfully hold up my hand in succumbing to, is that it is a light, frothy speedy filler. After 35 minutes, and with closing time elapsed, we began to learn that it absolutely wasn't. I don't normally link to Tony's blog, but there is a lot of sensible analysis in the comments about how we approached it the wrong way. I'd like to think that it is salvageable with a bit of an attitude adjustment, perhaps some careful deck selection (rather than randomising) and the eminently sensible suggestion of reducing the number of bases by two.

Becky, keen to get home early ahead of our day of gaming tomorrow and chastened by being thrashed at Wizard by card-sharp Peter, was making sighing noises and tapping at her watch by now, so Dan wrapped up another game and we packed up and went home.

Opinions on Smash Up? I'd be pleased to hear them.
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Sun Aug 7, 2016 12:11 pm
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Friday July 29th - Manhattan Trains-fer

Ben Bateson
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After a short - but friendly - reprimand from John last week, we didn't attempt to take up our fireside table, and instead hurried into the meeting room where I spent a little time rearranging furniture to take advantage of one of the comfy wingback chairs. Barman Ian even popped in a little later to see if we wanted to move back into the main bar - perhaps he is finally getting used to us!

Gary and John were both in attendance for the second week, and Gary threw Biblios onto the table as a warm-up exercise. Becky and I have played a LOT of this, whereas John is historically (and hysterically) awful. But Gary warmed to his task well, and took Becky down to a tie-break, winning with five Gold in hand. True to form, John scored precisely nothing and declined a second game in his own inimitable fashion ("No. We won't be playing that again.")

There's a predictability to asking Becky to pack the games bag of a Friday. You can more or less guarantee that a few favourites will be packed, certainly Airlines Europe and Lancaster. Still, with the New Laws expansion still to be fully explored, it definitely met with widespread interest. But, amateurs that we are, we've still got a thing or two to learn about stopping Becky running rampage in this game, and her victory was virtually nailed to the wall by the end of Round 3. Somehow, she managed to clock up bonuses for Biggest Army, Most Tapestries AND still had the joint-most nobles. There must have been a good 30-point gap by the time she'd finished - how demoralising!

We are devoted fans of 'the classics' at Ross-on-Wye, and it's rare to hear a word said against El Grande, Modern Art or Princes Of Florence. I'm even partial to a game of Catan from time to time. But there was one SdJ winner of which we knew nothing - Andreas Seyfarth's mighty but simple Manhattan. Luckily, I had acquired a copy in trade so we could sample its delights.

The rules are simplicity itself - play a card from a hand of four and place a skyscraper level (from your pre-selected six) in the corresponding position from the perspective of your side of the board. Some simple area-control rules negate ties. You get 1 point per building, 2 points per region and 3 for topping the outright tallest building on the board. But as we found, there is an intriguing amount to explore even within this simple rule-set, and some pretty vicious interplay inevitably results. John won the first game at a canter while we were still finding our feet, but the second was much more tense before Becky just about edged it. It was all very enjoyable in an undemanding sort of way.

To finish off, we introduced Gary to Santiago de Cuba, and quickly demonstrated a couple of key strategies (the VP's for money early exchange and a bit of dice denial). However, all the screwage buildings had come up under a single colour, so it was probably more expedient to play the game properly, which we did, settling only for repeatedly shafting John out of being able to ship any oranges. Gary was quick to learn though, and two well-timed exports late in the game gave him a 3-point win over Becky, and another opportunity to best her at one of her favourites. He left us with a glowing review of Santiago de Cuba and was last seen trying to pick up a copy on Facebook.

We still had time for two chunky closers before kicking-out time. Game of Trains met with lukewarm response from John, which is only fair, for it is a lukewarm game at best, rescued with a bit of whimsical art which doesn't quite go far enough in encompassing some geek pastiches. It seemed rather anticlimactic to me, too, compared to last time we played: I think I may have to check that we read the rules correctly. Push It was more successful than I dared hope, even if it did take John a dozen rounds to get his first points on the board. I won at both, just to give myself some modest sense of pride for the evening.
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Tue Aug 2, 2016 9:31 pm
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Friday July 22nd - Isle be a Monk's Uncle

Ben Bateson
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It's a rare occasion when the weather is so gratifyingly warm that one feels obliged to turn up in shorts and sandals. Tony wore a pair of Crocs a couple of weeks ago, and I remissly neglected to record the fact for posterity and/or pisstaking. Tonight was most definitely 'summer gear' temperature, though, and three of us arrived attired in various degrees of British ineptitude.

Due to various reasons, I also had my phone with me, so you get photos this week as well!

Parking my car round the corner in the road intriguingly called Fisherman's Reach (surely I'm not the only one who thinks this sounds like a sexual position?), my first act was to proffer Gary a crisp £20 note in exchange for the copy of Paperback he procured for me about a month ago at the Expo. Although I've no doubt Becky's eyes will roll at another word game, it looks charming stuff: a direct combination of BuyWord and Dominion. Gary, like Becky, isn't the wordgame player, so it stayed safe in shrink tonight.

We had a much more tempting 3P offering in the bag in the form of Ora et Labora. After spending an arduous 35 minutes being taught this by one Mr Clyne, the rules are actually simplicity themselves, and I dispensed them to John and Gary in ten minutes flat, forgetting only one or two important ones (notably the bit about the Prior). But it didn't really disadvantage anyone until we remembered a few rounds in. The question "do you want to be French or Irish?" brought the response from John: "does anyone actually ever answer 'French' to that question?" and off we went.

Despite having to explain village scoring at least three times before we built the first ones, both John and Gary managed a decent economy. John bought the Spinner (a pet favourite of mine) and Gary exploited getting into stone. I was struggling for money throughout and resorted to paying off Gary's monks to do most of the work, a job made easier when I built the distillery. I was pleased to erect a Hilltop Village at the end, but it still left me seven points behind John in a low-scoring game. Everyone pronounced themselves satisfied with the game, but as Gary said, there's far too much to think about to ever take it seriously. Perhaps that's the hidden genius to the sprawling Rosenberg games such as this and Caverna.


We cut the peat and scatter

We'd also got finished well inside two hours, which gave us time for a decent mid-length game before Gary was done. John took on the challenge of teaching him Roll For The Galaxy. Or rather, he plonked RftG on the table and I took up the mantle of teaching it to both, also throwing in the Ambition expansion because that was how I learned the game.

Gary was quick on the uptake and quickly building a military culture, working hard to squeeze out a strong 6-development early on. John managed to better this, building his second 6-pointer around midgame and cruised to a whopping 70 points. My board was heavily geared towards consuming goods, and I tried to exploit a succession of good blue dice. Unfortunately, 'Explore' actions were few and far between and my economy (and building supply) dried up while I was hoarding chips. I don't think I've ever played this one with three before - it was tough!


The neatest dice storage in the Galaxy.

Gary scarpered with aliens and friars on his mind, and John and I finished by celebrating Isle Of Skye's Kennerspiel victory. The broch scoring tile is one of the most lucrative in the game and I exploited it heavily in a low-scoring game which I funded with plenty of whisky barrels and setting prices that were tantalisingly out of John's range.


I forgot to take an in-play photo of this rather pretty game. Tony's better at this sort of thing.

Two of our 'must play more often' games tonight. It's a shame one of them is only any good with 3P. And that John always wins at the other.
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Sat Jul 23, 2016 7:56 pm
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Friday July 15th - Hey! That's My Pub!

Ben Bateson
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We returned nervous from holidays as our erstwhile congenial hosts, Jacqui and Dave, had taken well-earned retirement (well, earned in Jacqui's case anyway, after Dave admitted that he did nothing but slob around all day) and we found ourselves re-bidding for tenancy of the White Lion under the unknown faces of John and Lee.

So, as soon as we returned from holiday, I hastened down to the pub to make sure that we were still assured of a table that evening. Not to worry, John is not only a canny marketing man who wasn't going to reinvent the White Lion, but he had also turned the back room into 'clubs and societies central', with some nice wingback chairs and everything. It was business as usual!

Tonight, we had guest visitors in the shape of Steve (who masquerades as username=stevepwalker on this site) and Alex (who masquerades as username=Alexjrc on this site) as well as the familiar faces of Tony (who masquerades as a blogger) and John (who just masquerades). Six players meant two tables and increased difficulty on loading the games bag, especially because most of my games are being packed away in preparation for moving house. But we managed to extract just enough value from what we had and I taught Steve (and re-taught John) A Castle For All Seasons as Tony set up Caylus for Alex's edification (remarkably, he'd never played before). But before they started, a trial of Tony's latest design project, and a completely different theme for the game hitherto known as Danse Macabre.

Castle for all Seasons, as always, was unexpectedly tense, and when Steve remarked halfway through: "This is a MEAN game", I knew we had him hooked. Making an unwise decision to get out of the trader market altogether, I finished dead last trying to build a money engine, while Steve went on to pip John in a typical close finish. The unglamorous theme puts a lot of people off, but I heartily recommend Castle - the role selection mechanic pre-dates Concordia and Libertalia by some way, and it's short, fresh and full of important decisions.

It was looking very much like a role-selection sort of evening, so we broke out Steve's copy of Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers. It didn't really work with three though, and met hefty scorn from John, so we put it all away hastily before one of his trademark eruptions and moved onto something much more engaging: Harbour.

It's been a long time since we had Harbour on the table, and I was beginning to doubt whether it would stay the test of time. But this was a great session, probably with the game's optimum player count, and some real puzzles among the available cards. Ultimately, I wound up a resource or two short for another purchase when Steve triggered the game end, and he beat me by half a dozen points or so.

With the other table still chugging away, we went to the bar for refreshments, and in passing I eyed up the Caylus board. Tony's temporary last position belied a big pile of resources, and it was looking likely that he would go on to challenge Becky, who was unusually giving the castle short shrift. But it was not to be, Becky held him off at the end by a decent margin.

John had busied himself setting up Hey That's My Fish, and today it proved a remarkably transparent game for me as I racked up my first multiplayer win...well...probably ever. The 3P board is a tough one with nine penguins, which made me especially proud.

One Caylus was done, we still had adequate time to reform the whole sextet for the typically uproarious buccaneering of Libertalia. This is every bit as good with six as with fewer players, and the opening round was an excellent opportunity (especially with no fewer than five cursed relics on the Tuesday) to ease Steve and Alex into the shenanigans of the Merchant and the Brute. Cunningly preserving my Brute for round 2, I took a big chunk out of the scoreboard with an opening-week 26, but Becky started to overhaul me after a successful mutineering spree and after I mishandled my Captain (oo-er) later on. Her invitation to 'do her with my sword' was too good to pass up. Meanwhile, Tony - unusually for him - was less Robert Newton in Treasure Island and more Keanu Reeves in Speed 2 and couldn't make an impression. For the first time in recollection, Becky and I tied outright with Steve and John not too far behind.

Thanks to the new regime at the White Lion for letting us stay on - here's to the next six-and-a-half years!
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Sat Jul 23, 2016 6:36 pm
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Friday July 1st - It's not the taking part that counts...

Ben Bateson
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Cast asunder this week were we, in the White Lion's poky 'restaurant': really just a converted barn roof with the attendant sundries of flaky mortar and cobwebs. While the rest of the pub enjoyed Wales-Belgium, we were martyred on the cause of board games.

But what better cause can you think of?

Tony had espied the kooky 1655: Habemus Papam, and fancied chancing his arm at becoming Pope. It was not to be: some inspired bribery from Becky ripped out his best Cardinals, and I brought Louis XIV's political influence to bear, assuring my own election. As you might have guessed from the blog title, it was all one-way traffic to and from the victor's rostrum tonight.

I thought Tony's description of 1655 as 'old fashioned' was a bit odd, but it's a game that will happily fill a niche with the club and will probably make a great tag-team with that other 'wacky gem-bidding game' of ours, Fiji.

Tony's contribution to the evening was Broom Service, which had debuted very successfully a fortnight earlier, and went down equally well with both John and Tony. Despite some initial mobility problems, I quickly started hoovering up stuff in the profitable top-right corner of the board, aided by some particularly Brave decisions at the right time. Of particular note was the round which allows you to take 1-5 cards and adjust your score accordingly: with the others preferring the raw victory points, I took four cards and took over 20 points from the round through proper deliveries. Broom Service's cross between traditional trick-taking play and Glass Road-style bluff is right up my street: is there a World Championship?

It was barely 9pm yet, so we had time for another good-sized game. Tony says he doesn't see enough Inhabit The Earth although we've played it a fair few times since last Essen. Indeed, in retrospect, it looks like every occasion has been sans Boydell, which might explain his need to get up to speed. Like last time we played, it was claustrophobic and low-scoring, with the first deck nearly making it through the second shuffle before anyone proceeded to region 2. I had some sort of epiphany at this point that the Deck 3 would be nearly worthless, and concentrated all my efforts on fulfilling three good Deck 2 goals. It was just enough: despite the fact that Tony and Becky provided the two finishing moves, John and I were contesting the lead, and I pipped him by a mere point. It's proof of how clever this game is: by no means do you need to advance your animals to the end to win.

Tony was on his semi-regular yoof-deliverance run tonight, which left JP, Becky and me to pick out a closer. We almost had time for two, so I proposed Risk Express, knowing full well that John would go for it even if Becky wasn't keen. Turns out I was wrong, and Becky quite liked it too.

Just a word of praise for Risk Express (at least partly to annoy Tony, if nothing else): this is a really, really clever game. If you're inclined to think about probabilities at all, then the maths becomes gradually apparent to you during the first play, but it's balanced with all that's best about dice-rolling: a tense and fun finish to every turn without unnecessary swinginess. Compare and contrast with Twilight Struggle, a game that encapsulates all that's worst about die-rolling in which a single unlucky roll can rob you of the entire game. Risk Express has pretty much had a 100% hit rate, and like all the best Knizias, you can even drip some oddments of storytelling over it (I love the Middle East territory, which is so thematically right despite being based purely on numbers). This is the game that cements Knizia's reputation as Master Of The d6.
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Sun Jul 3, 2016 10:19 am
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Friday June 24th - In Which Tony Wines

Ben Bateson
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I have gotten into the habit of checking with Tony whether Benedict will be tagging along for gaming, as the extra personage is likely to affect our game choice for the night. Of course, this week I forgot, and Benedict was along rather unexpectedly, even for his own dear pater.

Tony had mitigated the lack of planning by bringing Notre Dame, Benedict's first play at this most venerable (and by far, best) of the Felds. He made a pretty good stab at it, as well, despite being too over-protective of his rat-track and not cashing in on all the cubes in the park. I, too, was playing 'heavy park', helped no end by John and Becky passing me good VP cards. John took on most of the heavy building of the cathedral, while Becky and Tony warred over the messages. It was a good diverse range of strategies, and my succumbing to the plague, coupled with Tony's unerring ability to turn up the 4-point messages, gave him a few points in it at the end.

That had all taken barely an hour, so I volunteered Viticulture as our main event of the evening (much to the chagrin-in-absence of Dave and Norm, I'm sure: they kept bringing it and failing to get it played). An awkward rules reading masked the fact that the game is relatively simple, and once we'd had our fill of 'cock' jokes (rooster? I think not...), some inexperience all round allowed Tony to leap out to a rather unassailable lead.

Viticulture seems to sit in the vacant 'gentle Worker Placement' slot for our club, particularly compared to our ruthless games of choice: Agricola, Caylus, Keyflower, Lancaster. I'm impressed by the strong theme of the game, and unworried by the rather swingy visitor cards: there is enough going on here for everyone to be gently developing their own strategy. It's also quite nice that there is no over-riding need to 'breed' extra workers, which is the downfall of too many other WP games (yes, even Agricola). I think Viticulture will remain a stayer because it is close enough to an 'experience' game, while still retaining the pretence of competitiveness that we need at the club. And, thinking about it, that's rather unique.

After last week's success at Knit Wit, we were keen to up the ante, and everyone was primed for what I call 'proper party game competitiveness', where a whole fundamental part of the game is to mock each other's answers, and indeed try to squeeze the most outrageous answers possible past the censorship of your opponents. Unfortunately, Tony has short shrift with this sort of thing, and suffered a massive sense-of-humour failure when we denied him the opportunity to explain that 'truffle' and 'magic mushroom' were completely different things. As is often the way, the sense-of-humour failure was far more comical than the actual game itself, resulting in a manoeuvre I haven't seen since my brother was four years old and swept a whole game of Monopoly onto the floor in a sulk after landing on Park Lane. It was pointed out that this sort of thing would have been far more impressive had he done it with the multitudinal wooden components of Viticulture.

It's hard to come up with any disagreement in Codenames, however, even if John is playing. We played two lop-sided games: the first resulting in Benedict out-cluing his father when playing the agent for Becky and myself (it did not help that Tony proffered 'Pissing: 2' TWICE as a clue), and the second was yet another feast of John's cluing ineptness, opening with 'Flying: 2' when 'Ghost' and 'Eagle' were NOT among his spies. I took advantage with some steady but erudite 2-cluers, which were all pleasingly and faultlessly interpreted by Tony. On a wavelength indeed.
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Sun Jun 26, 2016 1:21 pm
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Friday June 17th - El Grande Day Out

Ben Bateson
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With one of Gary's sporadic visits bolstering our 'regular' numbers, there was an opportunity to load up with those few treasured best-with-five games. They are a peculiar niche in the collection (I don't think I've ever played Princes of Florence with LESS than five), but all make for a thoroughly exciting experience on their turn.

Tonight's choice was El Grande. I'm in something of a minority in thinking that this is pretty effective with 4P as well, but whichever way you look at it, there's no doubt that Kramer's first great game deserves its reputation as an all-time classic. We have a creaky old first-edition German copy, liberally dolled-up with English paste-ups and player mats. And we don't play it anywhere near enough. Indeed, this was Becky's first game (as well as Gary's), but the rules are really a breeze and we were up and running in no time at all.

Gary faltered at first and never really caught up, and some rather questionable decisions saw John leap out into an impregnable lead. It's games such as this where the chinks start to show: several overt kingmaking episodes, and a leader problem (only exacerbated when John was allowed to 'retrieve' his 13-card) that never went away. It wasn't quite disappointing, but it was an insight into how game designs have been improved over the years.

Gary had enjoyed 7 Wonders sufficiently at his last visit to go out and buy his own copy, which had sat somewhat dormant until he found enough people to play it with. Well, here was the opportunity! It is a running in-joke at Ross-on-Wye that we can NEVER segregate and deal all the cards out properly on the first go, which Becky did nothing to dispel. When the smoke had cleared, I had wound up with the Mausoleum and a Marketplace, so my set-in-stone strategy was to see what other people were chucking away and build a strategy around that. As it happened, this was Science cards (again?!), but I also chucked in a crafty red card which earned me too many points against a pacifist Becky and John. The net result was a strong 63 points, enough for a comprehensive win (I think my nearest rival was at least ten behind).

No-one ever plays 7 Wonders JUST ONCE, right? I sloped off to the bar for a pint and on my return found myself squeezed between Tony and John with a very tempting Alexandria in front of me. Wonders that give me free/cheap resources are hands-down my favourite, and seeing a big clump of green cards in my hand made it easy to discount that as a strategy route. I ended up with a very bits-and-pieces board, with three different guilds earning me 21 points, second only to John who had played a HUGE final card that eclipsed me completely.

Gary had to withdraw early, for reasons not explained, so I pressed my case for Tony to crack open his in-shrink copy of Knit Wit. It is a game already featuring strongly on my wishlist, and I had no reason to doubt it would disappoint as a later-evening not-quite-closer.

In brief, Knit Wit is Scattegories with Venn diagrams: an exercise in latitudinal thinking that requires you to identify items that are simultaneously 'Historical', 'Square' and 'Blue', without coinciding with any of the other players! It was quite tricky with 4P; heaven alone knows what it would be like with the full complement of eight! We played two lively games and very much enjoyed them: Knit Wit looks to be firmly ear-marked for the Christmas Party, where it might have to compete with all the other light confections similarly lined up.

Our numbers dwindled further as Tony had to go on youth-trafficking duties, and as we cast about for a 20-minute finishing game, Becky rather unexpectedly volunteered BuyWord, in an effort to redeem herself from the previous week. This she did with some success, overhauling John into second place, but I fear that my experience with word games might prove somewhat over-competitive in making this game a group favourite. I love it to bits, but if I keep winning, I suspect no-one else will...
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Sun Jun 26, 2016 12:29 pm
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Friday June 10th - Losing One's Marble

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
Ross-on-Wye
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Oi! Hands off...
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It was looking like a case of 'same old gamers' tonight, but a late email came through from Anne and thought-we'd-lost-him-to-studentdom Sam promising attendance. This didn't stop Tony unpacking Imhotep before they'd even arrived, so I honourably devolved to a second group of three, storing up the rules I'd already been taught, which turned out to be useful later.

I plonked Vikings on the table for the edification of them both. It's a game that Becky and I rate very highly, and it certainly caught the imagination of Anne, to the extent where she was giving me strategy advice in Round 2 and winning rather comfortably at the end. Sam got rather caught up in a low-economy opening (only 3 yellow Vikings in the first three rounds!), and although I managed eight overfeeding points, I couldn't overhaul Anne, who had played a rather good starvation game.

Meanwhile, Imhotep had polished off two complete games and they still had time to loiter around waiting for us to score up. It was very well received by all three, given the uproar that greeted John pipping Becky for the win in the second game and preventing her completing a double. We plumped for a bit of a switch-around, helped by the fact that a second available table meant we needn't all squeeze around the six-seater.

Tony, Anne and I went for Broom Service, which turned out to be a delightful combination of Elfenland and Glass Road that fully deserved its KSdJ, despite some grumblings around here about the theme and (wrongly-)perceived lack of weight. It gave me a great opportunity to out-think Tony, being seated to his right, and everyone obliged by picking three out of four identical cards to start, giving me a nice kicks-tart to what turned out to be a very comfortable win. Tony and Anne were comically bad at time, which also helped.

I like Broom Service a lot. The event cards are cute little mini-goals, and the cardplay in some ways feels even better than Glass Road, which is our current go-to screwage game. We didn't get as far as the advanced game, but I imagine (just like Vikings, in fact), there are plenty of legs without it. And what other game allows you to pronounce to a crowded bar: "I am a BRAVE weather fairy!"?

As Tony explained Imhotep to Anne, I sauntered off to the bar, comfortable in the knowledge that the rules had been ingested at the beginning of the night. And, for once, I was right: it's a disarmingly simple game with plenty of juicy interaction. I was presented with a whole bunch of statues early on, and only a small misunderstanding on how the Burial Chamber scored prevented me overhauling Anne, who was in charge of the Obelisks.

Tony had plugged Imhotep strongly tonight - three games just for himself - and there seems to be a lot of buzz around this year's SdJ nominees which there hasn't been for a couple of years. Although I'd tried reading the rules in advance, it looked on the surface to be very average. But I was wrong! I found Imhotep to be a very intelligent game, with fun back-stabby interaction and a good play length, and it would be a worthy winner. However, some of my turns were lacking in genuine decisions (particularly when last to play), and I can only imagine this is a worse problem with 4P. On the whole, I think Codenames is the better.

While we were ploughing our way through award-winners past and future, John, Becky and Sam were road testing Ominoes (not good, was the conclusion) and Lanterns (better, apparently). Tony had to retire for some youth-fetching duty; Becky and John were not really enamoured of my closing-game suggestion of Between Two Cities (shame - I thought that had gone down well, but apparently not) and suggested (yet again!) Wizard as a closing exercise. This was meat-and-drink to Anne, who is a seasoned Bridge player, and both she and Sam challenged the lead at points. But John pulled clear towards the end, especially after a costly three-trick shortfall from yours truly.
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Sun Jun 12, 2016 6:01 pm
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