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Archive for Steve Berger

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November 2016 (with some December for good measure) - Gaming groups, Orleans, Dragonmeet, and stuff.

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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November proved to be a difficult month for gaming, although a good month in other areas. We attended a fantastic yoga workshop, and had just about the best visit to Bath we’ve managed in 5 years thanks to an amazing hotel.

So why a difficult month for gaming? Well, I think part of the problem is that the local group I run has grown significantly over the last few months, and is starting to almost outgrow itself. This is a good problem to have I suppose, and better than the problem of having nobody turn up, but it does come with downsides, as well as upsides.

I’m a great believer that people should take responsibility for themselves in all walks of life. How does this extend to gaming? Well, if we all arrived at a games night expecting to be provided with a game then nobody would turn up with anything. In a group that now numbers up to 20, that means we need around 4 to 5 teachers, and we’ve got that at a scrape, and each week it is the same people. With fluctuating numbers and players wanting to try new games out most weeks this means that the teachers are always teaching. This is fine if the game is simple to explain (I taught 9 Worlds at Essen probably 30 times, and enjoyed it each time) but with some games needing a 30 minute explanation, it’s pretty tough to have to repeat this week on week, and also swap backwards and forwards between games as people come into the group and want to try something that hasn’t had any table time in a while.

So what’s the answer? Maybe each individual could take more responsibility to bring something along so that each of us has the opportunity to take a break once in a while and play something that doesn’t need a rules explanation. I’m also all for people using the group to arrange games in advance, and might try and make more use of this in future.

Also we are filling the space we have, and it feels like the pub is starting to ‘reserve’ tables to try and keep us in check. They’ve always been very accommodating, but I am aware that not all of the group go to the bar and buy a drink, and that we’re taking up a fair amount of space. On the flip side, there are those that buy food on occasion but I don’t want them to feel we are taking liberties. We should always be a valuable asset to them, although if numbers stay high then a hall might be a better option, although this would mean taking weekly subs, and having to manage that.

Then why with a successful group is my play count so low this month? Well, I’ve been leaving the group early either due to player count, or just general lack of energy, and I’m wondering if this isn’t as a result of the increasing size of the group (I’m by nature an introvert, although I do like to push myself out of my comfort zone). This is just a personal issue I need to try and manage though. Also, we had a slightly awkward week when everyone wanted to play 4 player games, and we didn’t have the right number for that. Somebody was going to be without a game, so rather than put anyone off coming, I was the one who left early.

I still enjoy the group, and gaming with them, but if we continue to grow, then the basis for the club may need to be reviewed. I can’t get away from what the intention was in the first place – I wanted a club where a group of us could get together each week, play games and have fun. This didn’t involve managing 20 people to make sure everyone has a game to play and a table to sit at. I really don’t want to ever have a situation where a gamer finally talks themselves in to coming along only to find no room at the inn, but nor should I be seating each gamer down. OK, so this isn’t quite the case, but it feels a little like it. Enough for now.

New Game Of The Month
I rarely have to struggle to pick a best game each month, and this month is no exception. Orleans is head and shoulders above anything else I’ve played in a while. I love both the simplicity of the design, and the complexity of the play. I enjoy games where you are up against it as well as in competition with other players, and Orleans brings that out nicely.

The game design is simple – draw worker tokens from a bag, and then place them out on your board to give you actions. Each track provides you with various benefits, be it goods, or automation, or more token draws, or more scoring multiples at game end, or wild tokens, or coins, or additional action spaces you can use. There will always be at least 4 or 5 things you really need to do, and trying to get everything right and also get an engine working well make this a superb and challenging game.

To make everything a little more interesting, the game also has an event that (with one exception) applies at the end of the round. This can mean having to hand goods in, or suffer taxes, or even a plague which can kill a worker. There are also some additional elements that add to the depth – a board where players can gain benefits from transferring their workers permanently, as well as a map board where trading stations can be built, and goods collected.

All of this sounds like a lot of complication, but the process for handling it all is ingeniously simple, and once the mechanics have sunk in, the game is really easy to understand. A classic euro that revives my faith in games without minis and dice.

Best Session Of The Month
Why does this rarely go to the game that I feel is the best new game of the month? Not sure, but Time Stories takes the prize again this month with our playthrough of Under The Mask. I’ve really enjoyed these sessions, and this one was probably the most enjoyable for me after Asylum. The additional mechanic of moving between characters made this interesting, although we are learning to spot the red herrings. The story was well constructed, and we never bogged down, but nor did we lucky guess anything.

Solo Gaming
I did manage a session of Mage Knight, and that reminded me why I have such a love hate relationship with the game. There is no other game I own which makes my brain thump quite like it, and I’d not recommend anyone playing this against me. I don’t suffer from AP when I game – maybe on the odd occasion I’ll have a ‘give me a sec’ moment as I figure something out (normally games like Power Grid when I need to figure out how much I can bid and still be able to buy fuel and build) but MK just makes me grind to a halt, and I’ll easily spend 10 minutes staring at my hand, and then the board, and then back to my hand, and then come up with a plan, only to try and do something else for that to fail, and for me to then forget how I was going to use the cards in the first place, and then to start wondering if the card I’d put on the table was there because I’d already used it to move, or just put it there because I was planning on using it to move.

Other than Mage Knight, I played a solo game of Orleans using the Invasion expansion, and beat the Dignitary module easily with an excess of citizens. Plenty more play in that yet though with 2 other solo modules which seem far more challenging, along with Invasion itself which could easily be soloed.

Games Added To The Collection
Orleans, and the Invasion expansion, as mentioned above. I also picked up a copy of Nine Worlds, The Ravens Of Thri Sahashri, Kodama, and the expansion to 7 Wonders: Duel. I’m happy picking up these smaller games, and am hoping to try and get some 2 player gaming in over the Christmas so Kodama and Ravens should be perfect.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
I had a local clear out, and sold Caylus and Neuroshima Hex (plus Babel 13) within the group. Pandemic: The Cure went in exchange for Kodama, and I sold Fjords for silly money. There seems to be a trend at the moment for games being needed by some gamers, no matter the cost, and since I’ve been ‘collecting’ for around 12 years, I’ve got a fair few games in my collection that are out of print. If I own it, don’t play it, and there is a market for it, well, I’ll sell it.

Caylus was an interesting one – I think I admire the game more than I enjoy it, and find the screwage factor frustrating. I also feel like it hasn’t aged as well as some, and was an early game in a genre that has moved on since then. Whatever the reason though, I stopped playing it a while back, and stopped wanting to get it played about a year ago. Ironically, this was my original poster game for my gaming group – I wanted to start a group that could tackle the likes of Caylus.

Other Gaming Stuff
Kingdom Death: Monster seems to have generated a lot of debate this month, with plenty of shouts of disgust at those willing to jump all in. Well, if you really can afford it, why not? I’ve spent more on a motorbike I could theoretically live without, and on holidays that I don’t really need, so who am I to judge if someone wants to spend £1,400 on everything? I’m interested in the base set, and believe I can get a lot of fun out of it, although I’ll purposefully steer clear of additional content and temptation. I’m currently about 70/30 against picking it up, but I suppose it’ll all come down to how I feel when the campaign has a few hours left.

Also, I’m very interested in the 4th edition of Space Hulk, but need to find an opponent who is willing to play once in a while, although it looks like it would be possible to solo as the aliens seem to have a fairly obvious play strategy. I’ve mentioned it in passing to Pippa, so we’ll see if she picks it up, and then if not, if I go get it myself.

My final game I’m really interested in is Vast: The Crystal Caverns simply because it is such a fascinating concept for a game, with each player playing an entirely different game with their own rules and objectives (the knight wants to kill the dragon, the goblins want to kill the knight, the dragon wants to get out, the dungeon wants to trap everyone, and the thief wants to get out with treasures). It just looks like a lot of fun, although again, at the moment it is more likely I’ll steer clear than make a purchase.

Dragonmeet
Dragonmeet happened in December, but before I wrote this, so rather than wait and write about it in January when it is lost to the fog of Christmas, I thought I’d mention it now.

What a great show! It felt like mini UKGE, and reminded me of how much fun UKGE was at the old venue (it is still fun now, but with that large scale even feeling, and the crowds and jostling that comes with it). Dragonmeet had everything I was hoping for and more – demos, retailers, stalls selling a real mixture of items, a bring and buy, and a very friendly atmosphere. I didn’t go to any seminars, nor did I get in on any rpg sessions, but I’d planned on being there 4 hours tops, and ended up being there for 7. I also had a bit of fun running 2 demoes for Nine Worlds, but most of all enjoyed catching up with the gamers I now only get to see at these events, so it was great to see familiar smiling faces.

Music
A real mixed bag this month, from the new Khemmis album all the way through to Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm via Whitney, Wrekmeister Harmonies, spiced up with some Queen and Brian Eno. So a bit of everything then. Next month Phil Spector Christmas songs.

Books

I’m on the second Mistborn book, The Well Of Ascension, and I’m still enjoying the series. Not as grand in scale as Lord Of The Rings, and the first book was clearly heavily based on a Star Wars storyline, but with some interesting relationships between characters, this is enough to keep me coming back to it, and I’m sure I’ll stay with it through the third book to the very end.

Film
I finally got around to watching Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and found it a little frustrating with the basis seeming to be that those apes are just as messed up and corrupted as us humans, which I think contrasts with the message the first film is trying to deliver. I’m happier when they show the humans as the bad guys, but for whatever reason, the film was reluctant to portray this.

TV
Walking Dead season 6, all watched in very quick time. We both enjoyed it, but I’m starting to feel like the series is in a bit of a rut, and they need to maybe split the group up a little and try and breathe some new air into it. I know it’s based on the comic series, but the very ending of the season just felt like a chance to look at some contract negotiations. Liked the new bad guy though – more interesting than David Morrissey.

Speaking of Mr Morrissey, we’re also watching the new BBC Drama The Missing (at the time of writing, we’ve finished). It was a well-written drama that all came together nicely in the end and didn’t outstay its welcome. The French detective played his part superbly.

Video Games
I finished the Tomb Raider game. Overall the game was very good, and with some excellent areas to explore. I felt that the story wasn’t particularly well written though, and have enjoyed the Uncharted plots more than this, but the action did keep moving (although you can choose to just go on a wander when the mood takes you). I didn’t really feel the need to explore outside of the storyline on some of the later levels though, and the actual ‘Tomb Raiding’ activity isn’t a required element which was a shame.

I picked up Dirt Rally at the end of the month on the Black Friday deals, and have enjoyed it, although it is a real time sap. Great with the wheel though, although the steering needed a lot of adjustments, and to do well, you really need a good understanding of oversteer and understeer. I’m tempted by the Nascar game as well, now that it has appeared on the PS store, but might wait for a better price.

Last Year
Oh dear. Space Cadets Away Missions was my game of the month, and I’ve hardly touched it since, which is a shame as it’s a good game. I did admit afterwards that Baseball Highlights 2045 should have been the best new game, although my plays are confined to the iPad now. Of the 7 new games I purchased last year, they have all been played except Libertalia (why? I really like it!), and only one of them (Star Wars Carc) sold.

Next Month
Some of next month is already listed here, mostly Dragonmeet (did I say it was great?). December is a month of party games, particularly over the ‘festive period’ which will mean a lot of plays of Cards Against Humanity, possibly some Flick ‘Em Up, and maybe some Say Anything. I’m really hoping to get my hands on Adrenaline this month as well, but I’ll talk about that more next time. As this is the last one for this year, I also should add…

Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year!
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Mon Dec 5, 2016 4:36 pm
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October 2016 - Getting Messe at Essen

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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October, and Essen. I’ve added a section below where I’ve written about the experience, and my thoughts about the show. Other than that, October seems to have gone in the blink of an eye and I can’t believe I’m already writing this. I did manage a respectable tally of games for the month though with 34 plays over 21 games, 15 of which were games I hadn’t played before (although this did include 7 plays of Rhino Hero on Halloween which we were using as a forfeit game).

The new motorbike is great – I’ve ridden every weekend except one, and am really enjoying not being scared out of my wits every time I twist the throttle! It’s the most fun I’ve had on a bike since I first started riding, and I’m now looking for excuses to get out rather than excuses not to.

New Game Of The Month
The award this month goes to a game I picked up at Essen, and one that I knew I needed as soon as I read about it. The Last Friday is a game themed on the Friday 13th story, with a camp in the woods, a group of campers and a maniac killer. The game plays over 4 chapters, with each chapter playing out in an individual way.

Chapter I is the first night when the campers arrive at the camp. They need to search for keys, and head for the safety of the cabins whilst the killer goes on a killing spree. Chapter II is set during the next day, and has the campers searching out the killer who needs to get away. Chapter III moves on to the second night when the killer is then trying to kill one particular camper, and then the final chapter is set during the following day, and has the campers all working to round up the killer and get that particular camper to make the final kill.

This flow between the maniac being the hunter then the hunted makes for a really interesting game, and getting the balance between making kills and getting away is tense and fun. Also, everyone gets something different to do, and it isn’t just the same thing over and over. This switch, and the deeply embedded theme make this the best game I own in this genre. Letters To Whitechapel is probably the better put together game in terms of balance and design, but for pure fun this wins hands down over the competition.

We played this once in the month, and although for reasons I’ll come to, it wasn’t the best session of the month, it was still great fun, and I’m looking forward to playing again (although I think everyone is going to want to be the maniac now).

Interestingly, I watched the Tom Vasel review of this after playing it just out of interest to see what his take on it was, and was really surprised when he didn’t go for it, so much so it made me wonder if he played it incorrectly – he said the maniac had an easy time getting away, but this really wasn’t my experience. He also said it never felt tense, and there wasn’t a time when the campers were trying to figure out where the maniac had gone – we had the exact opposite experience, and everyone in the game said they really enjoyed it. Still, everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Best Session Of The Month
On one of the days at Essen, I was demoing Nine Worlds. Just as a quick overview if you don’t know the game, it is an area majority design with 9 worlds on the board that players are competing for. At the end of each round, worlds with sufficient pieces on are then activated, and every third round you score. For demoing purposes, we played 3 rounds with the table setup to take 4 (the game plays up to 6).

During the demos, we had some tense, exciting games and I met some really great people. A few stick out in my memory – a German lady who declared she was no good at area majority games, and then won the game hands down. I had 4 German gamers, and one of them had no English, so her friend had to translate, and we had that classic amusing situation where I’d explain something using about 30 words, and she’d then translate it into about 4 words - they had a great game, and really enjoyed it. A session with a Dutch couple and a Spanish couple where it became two against two in a very violent battle. A group of guys from Finland who spent the entire game banishing each other’s pieces.

I really enjoyed teaching the game, playing when I was needed, and just meeting so many new people from so many different places, but all there to enjoy gaming. My best result for Medusa was when every player got up after a game, and went to get a copy. So much fun, and although there wasn’t any single session that stood out, the entire experience was wonderful and really helped restore my faith in gaming. It’s a great game as well, and can easily be taught in 5 minutes.

Solo Gaming
I didn’t manage to get Z War One back on the table, but only because I picked up a couple of solo games at Essen, and really wanted to give them a go. Best of the bunch is Nautilion, the latest from Shadi Torbey. This fits really well into the series, and has a lot of interesting expansions and content to dig into. I’ve played the base game 3 times this month, and managed to win on my final outing. Still plenty to explore in the box though, so I’m looking forward to digging deeper.

Cottage Garden was the other addition, and this is fairly fun solo, although I really miss the economic element from Patchwork, and feel that it is a shame it isn’t included. Also, I scored really well from playing badly, because any gaps on a tile you have you can take a turn to fill with a pot which scores you points, so bad play is actually rewarded. Or maybe I’m playing incorrectly – the rules translation isn’t the best (in that when you read it you know it’s a translation).

As a final addition here, I’ve been looking at Star Trek Frontiers, and then decided it wasn’t worth getting if I had Mage Knight (and it isn’t getting played). As a result, Mage Knight is set up on my table at home at this very moment. I’m hoping I can fall back in love with it, even if the system is a puzzle headache.

Games Added To The Collection
12 items added, but this includes 3 tiny Essen promos and 2 expansions. I picked up That’s Life, Cottage Garden, Not Alone, Power Grid: The Card Game, The Last Friday, Camel Up Cards, Chariot Race and Nautilion at Essen along with the expansions for Deus and Bang Dice. The small bits were a Power Grid High Voltage thing, a card for Last Friday, and the promo for Not Alone. Nothing other than the games I picked up at Essen.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
18 games gone, with 2 games and an expansion bagged and ready to go. I sold all of my Zombicide Black Plague stuff simply because the fantasy theme didn’t work as well for me as the Walking Dead setting for the base game, and I found I’d rather play Zombicide than BP (although Z War One is far better than both). I managed to make 50% more than I paid for it on KS, and it accounts for 10 of the 18 items taken off my list.

I also sold King Of Tokyo (too dull with gamers), Betrayal At House On The Hill (Mansions Of Madness 2nd ed means I don’t need it), Thunderstone plus 2 expansions and a promo (I prefer Ascension), Cleopatra And The Society Of Architects (not played it in over 7 years) and Airborne Commander (bad rules). I’m keen to try and get rid of Kaosball and some other big box games in November as well.

After all the changes to my collection recently, I’m currently looking at just under 12% of my collection as being unplayed. When I then look at all the games that are in the top 1000 ranking on BGG (251 of the games in my collection) this unplayed percentage drops down to just under 4%, which tells me I’ve got a large amount of unplayed games that aren’t very good. Of my unplayed games, I’d happily sell/give away/burn two thirds of them. I’m at the point where I could probably take 20 games to a charity shop. This feels like a good idea right now, but I’m not sure what the local charity shop would make of Vineta , La Strada or Luna Llena.

Essen
My first Essen. I’m really glad I went with an experienced group, and I felt this really helped to get the most from the experience. I demoed Nine Worlds for Medusa, and also did a couple of stints on the UK Games Expo stand. This kept me busy for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning, but I did get the Saturday afternoon off, and spent about 3 hours walking around looking at the stands, and watching games being demoed.

The three hours felt like long enough to get around. I’d printed off plans in advance, and had spent a few hours going through the extensive games releases list here on BGG. Where there was something I was interested in, I’d researched it in advance, and then highlighted it on the map to look at whilst at the show. This let me get around without just wandering about in circles. Also, because we had access to the show before the doors opened, I managed to buy all the games I knew I wanted before anyone else got to them. This then game me about an hour to just look around, and I managed to pick up a bargain (That’s Life for €7.50) as well as take a look at some of the KS games I’ve backed.

I don’t feel that Essen is worth the cost of travelling to Germany, the cost of a hotel, food and entry tickets though, and I’m glad I experienced it this way. A gamer in one of my groups mentions each year about going on a road trip, and although I’d be interested in going with a good group of friends, I wouldn’t just go with a gamer looking to get some shopping done.

In comparison to the UK Games Expo, I feel there is more to offer at Expo. Essen is designed primarily for a day visit – if I lived in Germany, and had a gaming family, it would really be a great day out to come to the show, play some games together, pick up some good offers, and then head for home. Expo is more aimed towards the gamer though with more to experience, and it is designed for gamers to spend two or three days at and also to see or experience other elements of gaming like rpgs or tabletop minis.

The ‘Essen bargains’ are also now badly overrated, partly thanks to the poor value of the £ at the moment. I was hoping to pick up Orleans at the show, and the cheapest I saw it for was €42. I’ve since picked it up for about the same in the UK (£38) without having to bring it back from Germany. Adrenaline was also available at the show for €50, and is much cheaper to just pick up in the UK. Yes, there are some extras that are only available in Essen, and you get games before they make it to the retail market, but I don’t feel like I saved much by getting games at the show. You’d need to be spending a small fortune, or buying and selling to make anything back on the cost of getting out there from the UK.

So in summary, it’s a great show, there’s a lot to see, but for me I don’t think it’s worth the journey and costs of getting there (although it would be great fun with a group of good friends).

Other Gaming Stuff
Grand Prix – I had this on the very top of my wishlist, but having played it twice, I’m not so sure. Thunder Alley is a fun game which I enjoy despite the randomness because I feel like NASCAR needs randomness, needs car elimination and crazy yellow flag moments. If I’m completely honest, I recently went a little sour on it more due to really slow games taking all of the fun out of it. I find it really frustrating when you wait 10 minutes and your turn takes 10 seconds (I’m really not exaggerating). For me, it’s a racing game, and should be enjoyed in a light way with fast turns and plenty of table talk. We had to house rule no take backs to stop players going through every card permutation being played over and over. All this made me realise I love Thunder Alley as a quick chaotic random experience over 90 minutes, not a 4 hour drag (which is what it had become) because this long and (frankly) irritating analysis doesn’t bear any fruit in a game this chaotic anyway.

I was hoping Grand Prix would solve the issues I have with TA, but it doesn’t – if anything it makes them worse. I don’t like that player order is so significant, but the additional of neutral cars at least in a 5 player allows for the start player to be one of the last players to go in a round, making it really difficult to break player order. Also, with only 2 scoring cars per player, losing a car ends the game for the player involved. The events can still be really tough, and the random pitting on npc cars can also inadvertently screw your game somewhat. This doesn’t matter to me in a quick game because ‘so what’, but when you are playing for 3 hours it bothers me, and I find it just kills the fun for me.

I’d happily play GP with the right group (the first time we played, it only took about 2 hours, but our second game took 3 hours, and it simply isn’t worth that time investment) who accepted its randomness and played accordingly, but otherwise I can’t take the randomness over a longer game, and won’t be playing this against players who need to take 5 minutes to take a turn.

Music
I picked up the new Bon Iver album, but am so far a little put off – it feels more like a remix album due to the heavy handed production (something that put me off the last LCD Soundsystem album). I’ve been listening to a lot of the stuff I’ve picked up over recent months like the excellent Minor Victories, DIIV, King Lizzard, and Crobot. I’ve ordered the new Testament album, but it didn’t arrive in time for this list.

In terms of playing, despite the drummer being off sick for the entire month, I’ve been playing a lot thanks to Rocksmith on the PS4. It was re-released recently with additional songs and a lower price point, and I’ve really enjoyed it so far, especially playing Knights Of Cydonia on the higher difficulty, although I understand it’s really irritating for anyone in the same room! I keep thinking about looking around for a band to get involved with, but what with gaming, and starting studying next year, I’m not sure when I’m going to find the time.

Books
I finished 2 books this month, firstly The Loney which was all about suggestion and the bits the author didn’t tell you (as well as having a bunch of mostly unlikeable small characters) which left little impression on me, and is going to be one of those books in a year’s time I’m going to know I read, but not remember anything about. Secondly was the marginally better ‘The Kind Worth Killing’ which was enjoyable but mostly predictable thanks to the cover saying ‘hey, there’s a plot twist’ which I was looking out for, and spotted before it was revealed.

I’ve moved on to Brandon Sanderson’s The Final Empire, and at the moment I’m enjoying it and am happy to keep going. I’m hoping that it picks up pace though, because almost 200 pages in it hasn’t stepped up the tempo yet, and it needs to.

Film
No surprises when I say we watched a couple of horror movies this month (dvd though, nothing at the cinema). Firstly, and by far the best was Conjuring 2. Horror sequels tend to be disappointing affairs, but this was well written with some good scares, and an excellent and believable setting. The second film was ‘The Forest’ which wasn’t particularly scary, despite a couple of jumpy moments. I like Natalie Dormer and think she is captivating, but she struggled here with a weak script, and very few scares, as well as a few poor attempts to recreate classic Japanese horror moments.

TV
More The Killing – we finished season 4, and although the final season was the weakest, the story was exciting with some excellent twists, and a clever ending that made sense. I felt the last 5 minutes was unnecessary ‘hollywood ending’ stuff, but would recommend the series to anyone that enjoys crime drama.

We then watched the Amanda Knox documentary on Netflix. I’ve always had an opinion on the story, and the documentary only helped to re-inforce it in my mind, but it was interesting and well put together, with some excellent interviews with Amanda. My recollection is that this occurred in a time when the papers held a considerable amount of power, and the documentary includes a lot of interviews with a Daily Mail journalist who revelled in the story, regardless of the suffering it caused. It achieves what every good documentary should – by presenting an opinion by simple showing the facts (the Italian investigator comes across in a very particular way by the end of it). Well worth seeking out.

Video Games

A bit more F1, but as I mentioned last month, it’s really hard to get the difficulty balance right. I’m hoping this will get tweaked to make it work, but at the moment, the right level for the race is the wrong level for qualifying, and some tracks are a breeze to win (Spa) whilst others are next to impossible (Monaco).

I’ve been playing Rocksmith as previously mentioned. Great for learning the guitar, or for a more experienced player to test their skills. The mini games are silly and worth playing once, but there are some great songs in there to learn.

Over the last few days, I’ve also been playing the new Tomb Raider game, and have enjoyed it so far. The graphics are great, and the difficulty is about right with enemies presenting a challenge, but not too much. The controls are mostly spot on, although I’ve found myself fumbling a couple of easy jumps. Probably say more about me than the game though…

Last Year
My ‘best game’ in October last year was Thunderbirds, which I haven’t really played since – I think Pandemic Legacy killed my desire to play anymore of these types of games (again an experience soured by the player rather than the game). My second best game was Baseball Highlights, and with hindsight that really should have been the number one, and went on to be voted the top game of the year in my local group. Of the games I added last year, only Baseball Highlights still gets played (and mostly on the iPad).

Next Month
I’ve got Orleans and the Invasion expansion on order, so I’m really keen on having some time to sit and enjoy these solo before taking them to the group to get them tried there. It’s been a long time since I played a euro I really enjoy, but I’m really feeling the need to give one a go (Mombasa was good, but wasn’t really what I was looking for). I’m hoping Orleans scratches that itch, and I’ve put the work in on this one, reading reviews and watching videos, and it looks pretty good to me, so fingers crossed.

Next Time Stories session is in the diary as well, and as always I’m looking forward to that. We’ve got a really good group playing which for me makes all the difference and it’s been a real shared experience with all of us taking part and being involved – this has become a gaming highlight for me. Often it isn’t just the game, but the people you game with that can make a game great.

Outside of gaming, we’ve got our annual trip to Bath planned. This is a real highlight each year, and we love seeing the Christmas markets, and just enjoying each other’s company as during the week we don’t see much of each other. I really enjoy this time of year, far more so than I did when I was a kid and I’m looking forward to crisp autumn walks with the dogs, and some fun (but usually cold) runs out on the bike. We’ve also got an Acroyoga workshop planned so that should be interesting – we’ve done some basics before, and thankfully Pippa is light enough for me to be able to hold her up, but I’m really looking forward to this. So, plenty going on, and a month to look forward to, and what should make for an interesting report next month!
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Tue Nov 1, 2016 3:23 pm
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September 2016 - Time For A Change

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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September is the back to normal month with everyone going back to school/uni and life slipping back into routine. The process of slipping back into those comfortable slippers has made me think seriously about where I’m at and has led to me making some life changing decisions, but this isn’t going to become real until next year. All positive changes though, so I’m happier having set the wheels in motion.

And talking about wheels, I finally decided what to do about my motorbike and have traded in my slightly mad very scary sports bike for a lighter, younger, more fun model. Bye bye Kawasaki, hello Suzuki. Although I’ve got less power, I feel like I’m controlling the bike rather than fighting with it. The ride out to the dealer took an hour, and by the time I got there on the old bike my hands were cramping and my back was sore. On the way home on my new bike, I was relaxed and smiling. Since making the change, I’ve ridden more in one month than I managed in the previous twelve.

New Game Of The Month
This couldn’t have been any easier for me. Z War One: Damnation is a revelation for me. Although the designers claim not to have any specific link with Zombicide, this really feels like a development team sat down with Zcide on the table and said ‘where does this really go wrong, and how do we fix it and make it the game it could have been?’

Well, whatever really happened, what we’ve got here is a zombie game done right. Regardless of player numbers, there are 4 heroes in the game. We begin with a comic book story outlining how our 4 heroes meet up, and giving us a little background. They then decide to go and try and get some supplies, and the comic tells us to set up mission 1. This is then how the story unfolds – at each major action point in the story, the next mission occurs, giving the whole experience that campaign feel. I’m only 4 missions in, but it is so enjoyable.

The gameplay is simple. First off, heroes take their turn. Each hero has 4 action points to use, and can pick from a list of actions, each of which costs an amount of those points. Much is familiar – move, search, shoot being the basics here, but there are additional actions you can do – rather than shoot, you can take aim with some of the weapons. Once you’ve got your aim, you keep it if you keep firing. You can be knocked to the floor, and can crawl around. You can dive, sprint, execute downed zombies, open and close doors, and go on alert. Almost all of these actions have a value and it isn’t as simple as move, shoot, move.

So without explaining everything in great detail, why is it so good? Well the game is smooth for a start – there are only around 20 zombies that can be in play, and therefore these are easy to control on the board without wondering what has moved and what hasn’t. Zombie attacks are well handled – the zombie will firstly attempt to bring the hero down to the ground, and then try and get a bite in. These bites fester, and bring slow death to the hero if they can’t find something to heal up with. If the hero gets bitten, this works like a panic timer, with the heroes frantically searching around to find a med pack to heal up a hero on their last legs.

Ammo is limited, which works incredibly well. The 4th mission is a battle to close down spawn points with up to 8 zombies appearing every turn. At times you’ll face a packed corridor of rushing zombies (they speed up if they can see you or smell you) and you’ll be down to your final few bullets, and this is genuinely tense when you end up shooting wide. This can be a game where you teeter on the edge constantly to see it won or lost in the final rounds.

At the end of a mission, heroes gain experience, and can also claim experience from items found. This is then spent to gain abilities from a shopping list, but each hero has a skill level for each ability set, so to get the most from the experience, they’ll end up specialising in specific areas which will help to give you a varied team, so soon each Hero gains a role (Sam is my go fetch guy, Cole is my gunner). This creates an interest in the characters in your party, with each taking on a personality, only added to by the storyline.

What doesn’t work so well? Well, all the info is tracked on a pad when it could, potentially, have been done with ammo tokens and a turn track. The pad is ok, but the easiest way is for one player to take control of it, when it would be far better if each player were able to track their own (this would avoid the ‘let me see the pad’ issue). This could have been built into the player mat with a little bit of thought. I’m tempted to find a way to track this using dice or a track system, or tokens. There is a lot of dice rolling – a huge amount. Every shot, every spawn, every zombie attack. On a typical round, you’ll probably roll a dozen times, and with each mission taking around 15 rounds to complete, that’s a lot of rolls. Unfortunately, the minis are naff – the arm fell off one of my heroes when I picked it up, and some of the zombies are missing limbs (not on purpose). I went for the resin mins, and they are brittle to say the least.

But the good significantly outweighs the bad, so much so that I’ve rated this a 10, one of only 5 in my collection. I’ve really enjoyed playing this.

Best Session Of The Month
So I rant about Z War One, and then give the best session of the month to Scythe. We’ve played a lot of Scythe at the group recently with most of the regulars wanting to give it a go. Unfortunately though this meant I had 4 teaching games, and no matter how hard you try to get everything clear and explained, Scythe seems to raise a lot of question, or more specifically confirmations, and players like to be talked through their turns. Getting players to wrap their heads around what Mechs can do, what leaders trigger, where goods are kept, how it all comes together is quite a challenge, and on each occasion, I’d spend a lot of the game supporting, and not focussing on what was actually going on with the board and my own game. So I announced I was done teaching, and really wanted to play a competitive game, and when we did, this was my best session for the month.

I was dealt red, and had one of the stronger action boards. Using red’s repeating actions ability, I was able to produce quickly early on, and get some fast upgrades making Mech production cheap. I was first to the middle, and got a factory card giving me popularity. I maxed out the power track, got all my upgrades but 1, and all my recruits. My Mechs hit the board in good order. With two easy mission cards, I was able to get one completed comfortably, and this left me with two stars required for the game to end. I did this on a single turn thanks to the action board, and took a win with 95 points.

With these types of games, I often bog down mid game (I get this issue with Steam – I pick up some good early deliveries, make some early cash, but then tend to miss the longer runs). I find it easy to build my engine, but then getting it to actually work effectively is a challenge. Being aware of this failing helped me with this game of Scythe and keeping focussed to ensure I got the most from what I’d built worked really well.

Solo Gaming
All Z War One this month, with 5 games played. Mission 4 took two attempts – Cole fell foul of a bite and died before I could get the final set of planks to the spawn point. Second time round, Sam used his stink tank to good effect to play fetch and carry bringing two of the three basement planks up to the floor where the zombies were spawning. As the final bullets were fired, Sam handed off the final set of planks to Kat who managed to get them into place. It couldn’t have been closer.

Games Added To The Collection
Z War One: Damnation which I’ve played 5 times this month, Hit Z Road played once (and enjoyed – lightweight auction game with a good theme), Dragon & Flagon (really looking forward to playing this) and Secret Hitler which I’ve already recorded 13 plays of since it came into our group in December last year. Happy with that haul this month.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
One of the members of the local group mentioned he was looking for Conflict Of Heroes: Awakening The Bear, and I had a copy collecting dust on my shelf, so I gave him a good price, and the game is gone. I played it a couple of times, with one enjoyable session against my son that still sticks in the memory. Still, no matter how much I want to own and enjoy a heavier wargame, I just find the rules overhead takes me out of the game and deadens the experience. Sekigahara is about the upper limit of what I want to get into there.

Other Gaming Stuff
I recorded my lowest September tally ever – only 13 plays this month, my lowest since August 2014. The main reason is I’ve been playing Scythe, and this tends to take up most of the evening, so rather than play 3 or 4 games in a gaming evening, I’m getting 1 or 2 recorded. A good enough reason.

I’ve also been focussed on other things with getting the new bike and trying to actually get out before the weather turns. I’m planning on studying for something new so I’ve been researching that, and these are all things that have meant gaming takes a backseat.

Music
We had a fantastic jamming session, and I finally got to play the rebuilt Ibanez through my Peavey 5150 amp with full effects, and it sounds amazing, very deep, very full, just what I was after. We jammed and played through about 4 created ‘songs’ but unfortunately the recording level was set too high, so it came out as a farty blur. No matter though because it was great fun just jamming and getting into the groove.

I picked up a load of cds from a friend this month – a mutual acquaintance was clearing out his son’s cd collection, and it contained a load of metal where I had gaps in my collection (Slayer post South Of Heaven, Kyuss, and some stuff I used to have on vinyl like Anthrax and Megadeth). On top of this I’ve been listening to Nils Frahm (Spaces never fails to make the hairs on my neck stand on end) as well as just browsing through my collection. I picked up an iPod Classic second hand for a good price, so have moved everything over to that, and it feels good to have some room to hold stuff again. Also I picked up the new Crobot album at the end of the month, but I haven’t listened to it much yet so can’t comment.

Books
I finished the Simon Toyne trilogy, and the last book really finished on a high. Overall, this has been a great series, and the final book was the best of the bunch, which so often isn’t the case with a book series. After that I read the Ruby Wax book, ‘Sane New World’ which was hit and miss, but with an excellently written and inspiring conclusion.

Film
We managed to make a single cinema trip right at the end of the month to see ‘Don’t Breathe’ which was tense, and jumpy – horror done how I like it (although the story did lack plausibility on more than one occasion). The only other two films that stick in my mind this month is firstly Tallulah, about a character who ‘steals’ a child from the mother because she feels it isn’t safe. The story was well told and acted, particularly Allison Janney as the ‘mother-in-law’ coping with having a homeless girl and baby thrust into her life. The second film is The Witch – I thought it was ok (not particularly scary, more grimy) but the group I watched it with ended up laughing at it, which I can see is quite easy to do. Shame because I was hoping for something a little stronger.

TV
We finished Mr Robot (season 1) but weren’t in a rush to start the second series. The acting was solid, but the story almost twisted and turned too much for its own good.

We’ve raced through Season one of the Killing (US version), and were both hooked from the very start. The story had us making accusations, and then doubting ourselves the entire time. When I thought I’d got it figured, I turned out to be wrong. We’ve ploughed straight into season 2 despite having the next Walking Dead series ready to watch.

Video Games
Same as last month – I’m still dipping in and out of No Man’s Sky, and find it great for short bursts – 30 minutes to an hour in a system before I’m ready to jump to the next, and at that point I tend to switch it off. I’m happy with it, and I don’t give a damn about all the failings everyone is claiming – it is just what I want it to be.

F1 2016 has provided a challenge in terms of getting the AI balance right. I started on easy, and immediately moved to medium. I then won at Spa in a Haas by over a minute on 25% distance and decided to up the difficulty to hard, and this feels almost right for me to be competitive (more so than a Haas is in real life) but to still be racing on the track for the win (I’ve tended to take it on pit strategy with either a Red Bull or Mercedes breathing down my neck towards the end). I should probably be on expert to be in the right place in the field, but will stick to hard for now – I’d won the championship by Japan though.

Still playing a lot of Ascension on iOS, and loving it – it is by far my most played electronic version of a physical game.

Last Year
Xia was my game of the month, and I’ve only managed to play it solo since. This is a fantastic game of free roaming space antics, and should be played more than it is. I’ve KS’d the expansion, so this might breathe more life into it.

I also picked up the Pitchcar expansions which I’ve managed to get the family to play recently. From the rest I got Hyperborea, which I’ve played now a couple of times and enjoyed, Kaosball which I’m trying to sell, but think sucks, Epic, Arcadia Quest; Beyond The Grave and Valley Of The Kings Afterlife which I haven’t played, and a few other smaller games that mostly don’t see much play.

Next Month
I need to have a bit of a clear out and trim the collection. I keep saying this and very little happens, but there isn’t anything I’m really after a the moment, and I’ve got a lot of games that just don’t see the table. When a new design comes along, I often cast sideways glances at other games and think I don’t really need them anymore. Z War One has got me casting sideways glances at all my Zcide stuff (including my KS Black Plague) and thinking that this could all go. Fireteam Zero as well, and possibly even Space Cadets: Away Missions, and some of the D&D stuff.

And add to this I just found out I’m off to Essen, and I’ll be working on both the UKGE and Medusa stands, so I’m a little surprised the chance came up, but really excited about finally going after all these years of thinking about it. The chance came up, and I initially didn’t think I could do it but a quick change of plans cleared the diary, and I’m going. Feel free to come and say hi!
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Tue Oct 4, 2016 10:03 am
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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
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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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