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April 2016 - In A Galaxy Far Far Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books

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

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

Film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hostage Negotiator went because it was dull.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Month
It tends to be harder to arrange group meetups in December due to people having other engagements and also because our usual venue gets really busy this time of year. Also, people tend to be in a lighter mood so we play less of the heavyweight stuff. Also, it is the time of year when I get my group to vote for their game of the year. The only restriction is that it needs to be a game that was played at one of the group sessions during the year, but so far we’ve got a list of over 100 games to choose from. I’m tempted to break it down to categories this year (euro, mini, co-op, party, themed, card) and then have an overall winner. The big hitters this year have been Baseball Highlights 2045, Quartermaster General and The Captain Is Dead. Time will tell!
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Tue Dec 8, 2015 10:46 am
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October - 10 out of 12...

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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Month 10 on my 12 month journey of recording a gaming year (well, ok, so I ended up including more than just gaming). It has been an enjoyable run – I’ve got satisfaction from writing these, and also from knowing that I’ll be able to look back over the year in a few years’ time and have a good snapshot of where I was at, and what was going on.

New Game Of The Month
I only actually ended up playing four new games this month (excluding a trial run of Kaosball that I quit at half time, but that was just to get the mechanics clear in my head). The best of these was Thunderbirds.

Thunderbirds initially came on to Kickstarter, and I looked at it, figured out it was going to cost me £55 for a game that looked too close to the Forbidden series for my liking, so I passed, figuring that if it was good, it was likely to get a good UK run, and therefore be easy to pick up at retail at a later date. It then came to retail for around 30% less than the Kickstarter price, so I made an impulse purchase.

I then started investigating the game a little more, and read a couple of reviews, one of which was fairly negative and another which just said it was ok, nothing special, but it worked. So I started to regret my purchase. I didn’t need another co-op, I hadn’t played Pandemic Cure that much, and was still exploring what it had to offer, so why had I picked this up? Still, it arrived at the very end of the month, and I had a few spare hours so I set it up and gave it a go.

And wow – it was great fun! I played a solo session with three characters (I chose rather than going for a random draw and went with Scott, Virgil, and Lady P). It took a few rounds for the game to click, but when it did, I felt truly immersed in the world of International Rescue. Where to go next, what to do? Do I collect for an event card, or do I go for the disaster? If I’m going here, could I stop of there on the way, and potentially solve 2 disasters? If I solve the right disaster, this helps towards the next event, but if I don’t solve that disaster at the far end of the track the game will be all over soon.

On a number of occasions, the stars aligned – if I solve this and go there, then I can do this as well, and that gives me the token I need to get this figure to that place and I get to complete the event card. There were a few times when I found myself just staring at the board trying to figure out all the options, and to see a path to allow me to get where I needed to be.

The theme runs all the way through, the images are all excellent, the ships really look the part, and you get to feel like you are telling a greater story as the game progresses with a single villain throwing obstacles in your path, and running the clock down. Great fun, brilliant design.

Second best was Baseball Highlights, and it also deserves a mention. I played a single two player session of this, and found it to be a clever abstraction of Baseball, albeit with a setting in the future. The design was easy to teach, and the game comprised of a series of mini games, each mini game representing a match (apologies to any baseball aficionados – I have absolutely no knowledge of the source material, other than some guy throws the ball, another guy hits it, and there are 4 bases to get round). But this is probably more of a compliment to the game that without being overly interested in the sport, I really enjoyed the game, and normally I’d want to have at least some appreciation of what the game was trying to recreate to enjoy it, but not here.

Each Player is deckbuilding, using the played cards from a round to purchase cards for the next round. These purchased cards sit on the top of the deck, so get drawn immediately, so you’ll also have some idea of what your opponent is planning to do, and therefore you may be able to purchase cards to counter that. When playing, your players move at different speeds, so lining them up is important, but equally your opponent is likely to have cards to delay your plays (the ‘batter’ plays first, the ‘pitcher’ reacts), This interplay is what causes the fun and tension. Do I play this card now when my opponent is more likely to counter it? Or do I throw a couple of lighter cards in and hope he tries to stop those, giving me more chances later on? Very well designed game.

Best Session Of The Month
We played a couple of sessions of Battlestar Galactica at mine, and as always they were tense and exciting. The first of the sessions was the better of the two simply due to having more experienced players, with the game going to the Cylons who managed to deplete one of the dials (food I think, whilst us humans were busy trying to keep morale up). We gained a second half cylon, but it wasn’t the player most likely to have had the cards (one player for various reasons finished the game with 4 loyalty cards).

The session reminded me why I enjoy this game so much, and why it is easily in the top three games in my collection. We’ve never had a bad session of this, and it’s a lot of fun with or without the expansions (we tend to play with Pegasus, but without using New Caprica).

Solo Gaming
Well, I’d hoped to get more solo gaming in this month, and managed it with 5 games of Viticulture, 1 Grizzled, 3 Friday, 2 Race! Formula 90, 2 Temple Of Elemental Evil, 1 Legendary Marvel, and the aforementioned game of Thunderbirds.

This was the first time I’d tackled Viticulture solo, and fortunately it feels a lot like a game against opponents, and requires very little additional management to make it work. The skill seems to be in keeping your options open, and racking up the bottles as quickly as possible. The system is so good I’d happily purchase this (I’ve got the collector’s edition) for just playing solo.

I played Race because it had been requested at my local group, and I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing (it had been 15 months since our last game) and also because I wanted to get my head around the advanced rules. Due to my own struggling with the rulebook, I’m only fairly sure I’m doing everything right, and sometimes need to make a call, whereas with Thunder Alley, the game is a lot more straight forward, and is the best race game on the market right now.

Temple Of Elemental Evil I play simply because it’s so much fun, and the changes in this game make it stand above the others in the series. I like the idea that if you fail a mission, you buy a couple of upgrades and you go again – ok, sometimes a mission can take a couple of hits, but the campaign is a lot of fun and I’m really enjoying it.

Games Added To The Collection
Baseball Highlights 2045 is in – so now I can solo it. The Grizzled is in, but is a fairly forgettable co-op (shame it can’t be soloed, but also it does have the advantage of negating the alpha player issue). Thunderbirds is in (see above). Ships arrived late in the month – I’m a little peeved here as I really really wanted to get my hands on Mythotopia, and from various postings was lead to believe the only way you could guarantee getting your hands on it was via the last treefrog subscription, so I signed up, paid a small fortune, and got Mythotopia, Onward To Venus and Ships. Very soon after release, Mythotopia was widely available on the cheap. Add to this the fact that I wouldn’t have purchased Ships or OtV, and I think I’ve got the right to feel ripped off. Yes, I got the limited editions, but really so what? I wanted the game, and I spent around £100 on a game I could have picked up for less than £20. Rant over.

Also in is Survive: Space Attack. Survive is a popular game in my local group, and also one the family have played in the past, and this looks like a great version of the game. I’ve also added 3 expansions to the collection for Mafia De Cuba, Colt Express and Castle Panic.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
12 games gone this month. Without listing them all, the highlights are Dominant Species which was too complicated for my local group as each time I’d get to play it I’d be playing with at least one player who hadn’t played before, and teaching it is tough enough without then having to play it. Automobile has gone – I played it once, liked it, but kind of knew it wasn’t going to be in rotation. Artic Scavengers was an ok deckbuilder, but there are better games in the genre, Witness was a bit of a disappointment, so I sold it for more than I purchased it for, 20th Century and Senji both went unplayed – both looked good but are over 12 months old and unplayed so needed to go. And a few others I’m really not going to miss (Red Dragon Inn, Escape From The Aliens, and three party/family games in the charity pile).

Other Gaming Stuff
Yeah, not much here really. I played a Tumblin’ Dice tournament, and didn’t enjoy the game much (although I enjoyed the social part). It just seems like a poor entry into a field that has some really great games in it like PitchCar and the king of dexterity games, Crokinole. The whole random element of the dice was just frustrating. Still got lots of minis to paint.

Music
Three albums that stand out for me this month. The first is the new Editors album, In Dream, which is a terrific album, and the best thing they’ve released since Back Room (although I lost interest after An End Has A Start). There is a real groove to it, some well structured song writing, and a positive move in direction.

The second album that I’ve been listening to and enjoying is Arrival by Vintage Caravan. I liked their other album, Voyage, but there is a really awful track on that album that taints the whole experience for me (I should just remove the track from my iPod really). Arrival has some great guitar work, and some really good rock songs that aren’t too far removed from an 80s metal sound.

The third album was Dungen’s Ta Det Lugnt – all in Swedish, but it has a fantastic groove rock feel to it, and although I’ve been listening to Tame Impala for a couple of years, I can now see where the influence for their sound comes from. Dungen try many different ideas here, and they all work, and gel together to create a sweeping album that gives something new each time I listen to it.

I’ve also picked up the (not so) new Bjork album, which is beautiful. Bjork was one of those artists that, when she first started a solo career, I’d sneer at. Other than a few singles I had no idea about anything she’d done, and absolutely no interest. Then in 2007 I went to Glastonbury, and was staggering back from the dance tent on my own to find my tent (I’d lost my friend many hours before). My route took me past one of the stages, and this sound hit me – a hypnotic electronic groove, with an amazing vocal that was powerful and moving. I stood transfixed for the rest of the set, totally staggered by what was going on, on the stage, and by this elfen figure and the music that was happening around her, and coming from her. And now I’ve got all of her albums except the very first one. I like to be surprised, and Bjork was the stand out performance for me that year.

Books
I read Watchers by Dean Koontz, and thought it was great fun. There is a fair amount wrong with the book – the heroine’s rapid rehabilitation, the sugary romance, the perfect hero, but the dog makes the book worthwhile, and the action sequences are well written. I’ve now moved onto The Lie by CL Taylor, about something that happens during a yoga retreat, and how that then comes back to haunt the main character. I practice Yoga regularly, and can see where the inspiration for some of the creepier characters has come from.

Film
The Martian – best film I saw this month. We took our 15 year old daughter with us and she loved it as well. I’ve avoided the book because all the reviews say it is highly technical, but the film focussed on the action and the characters more than the scientific detail, and was all the more enjoyable for it. Well acted, and Matt Damon is so much better in this than he was in Interstellar.

TV
We finished True Detective. I feel like I got about 60% of the story (the mumbling accents didn’t help there) but the acting and the story were both very good (or at least as much as I could follow it). Very gritty, powerful stuff. We have just started Walking Dead Season 5, and so far it has been excellent.

Video Games
I’ve had more time on the PS4 this month than normal. I picked up the Uncharted collection (I haven’t played any of them before) and have already played through the first two. It is just a take on the Tomb Raider series, but a very good one, with an endearing main character, and some good side roles included. Some of the sequences were really well done, and most importantly the controls are almost spot on.

Next Month
I’m looking forward to getting Thunderbirds on the table with a group to see if it works as well there as it did as a solo – I’m actually wondering if, due to the times when you need to stop and review, if the game won’t work better as a solo but we’ll see. I’ve got a bunch of Kickstarters also due, and am looking forward to getting some of my newer games to the table. I’m also looking forward to going with my wife to Bath to see the Christmas markets this will be our fourth year in a row, and this trip is something of an annual highlight.
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Mon Nov 2, 2015 2:04 pm
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September - on the home stretch...

Steve Berger
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Sevenoaks
Kent
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September seems to have gone in the blink of an eye, and now we are already in Autumn. It really has felt like a blink-and-you-miss-it month, and I can’t believe it is finished, and we’re already in October. Still, that means we’re a lot closer to the Star Wars film.

New Game Of The Month

It’s going to be Xia this month, despite a frustrating session of it which suffered through reasons I’ll come to. Xia is an amazing achievement as a game, amazing simply because it is just a mishmash of very simple, basic mechanics. You pilot a ship around the galaxy, using 4 action markers to activate various parts of your ship. Once the markers are used, or you run out of energy, or just decide to pass, your turn is over.

There is a vast number of things you can do when out in space – you can trade, mine (or harvest, or something else all being similar actions), explore, fight, smuggle, pirate, go on missions, upgrade your ship parts, or even your ship. Play it how you want to, go where you want, do what you want. The game builds nicely as well – you start with a very basic ship, and as you go you have the opportunity to get bigger and better, fly further, attack harder, or defend with greater strength, and this is all so simple as everything can be purchased on a planet with credits.

So comparing it to Firefly – with Firefly and my limited experience, much of the luck of that game comes down to getting the right cards from the right planets. With Xia you can control your luck more, even with the huge number of die rolls you could possibly be making. Firefly is also more about making those runs back and forth, less so here. We did play a rule that supply and demand planets couldn’t be adjacent though to stop it turning into a merchant race.

Any issues? Well, yes – downtime was occasionally a problem even with three, although this was often due to players not considering their turn out of turn (which is entirely possible). I wouldn’t want to tackle this with four unless they were four relatively experienced players who were happy to play ‘on-the-fly’ a little and not have to consider each and every move. Xia seems like it would be most fun if you decide to ignore playing to win, and instead play to have fun.

I played a single session of this (and also a brief solo trial run on three ships), and I came in a distant second. We had the issue that the player to my right took a mission saying he had to destroy me. He spent a fair amount of time ramming me as well as shooting a missile at me. This left us both very messed up, and for various reasons, made the game very easy for the third player who managed to score points by fixing us both, and then by selling our dropped cargo.

This is down to players to police themselves though – in any 3 player if two players go at it, then the third is most likely to benefit. I’ve seen it in numerous games, and this was no exception. I don’t mind being attacked, but when something very obviously screws another player’s game and doesn’t benefit your own, it is a poor decision. Still, Xia is a great game.

Best Session Of The Month
I’m smiling just thinking about this. My wife wasn’t feeling well, and we had a few hours to kill, so I suggested I set up a game. She reluctantly agreed, and I set up Ivor The Engine, and she was delighted, initially by the board and pieces (although a lack of wooden Ivors did frustrate her), and then also by the gameplay. Each turn was simple to play, but the ability to use her cards to screw me over went down particularly well.

We had a fun hour and a bit, she won comfortably despite my efforts, and I’m confident she’ll play again, and then hopefully be willing to move on to other games. At the moment the only games I can get her to play other than party games are Ivor The Engine, Lost Cities, and Niagra. Next stop Patchwork…

The other notable session was the end to our second season of Thunder Alley. We played the final two races in a single sitting, and for the second race introduced a new group rule – no interference of the active player allowed. What this means in practice is that we stopped giving advice to one another on turn – we’ve all played this probably 20 or more times now, so ‘coaching’ isn’t required, and the first race did descend into arguing about who should be helping whom and how, and started to feel like a bit of a drag.

The rule change made the game tense and exciting (and quieter to boot) as it added the element of ‘is he going to pick me up or not’ and ‘has he spotted that or not’. We’ve decided to keep with the rule for season three, and I look forward to seeing how it works.

Solo Gaming
A quick trial play of Xia, and a trial play of Patchwork, and also 2 plays of Pandemic: The Cure in which I failed both times to win, one by a long way, and the second very narrowly. I like this simplified dice version, and find it easier to jump into than Pandemic. A good game worth looking into if you like the base game.

Games Added To The Collection
Xia, as mentioned, along with Pitchcar and 3 of the expansions (I’m hoping the family will take to this one – I used to play mini with the kids when they were a lot smaller, so I’m hoping this will be a natural step up), Hyperborea (love the idea), Kaosball (Blood Bowl with rules that don’t need an entire manual), Epic (kickstarted, and it has arrived), Valley Of The Kings Afterlife (own and like the base game), Mafia De Cuba (these social deduction games are popular with my local group), Lost Legacy 3rd (to complete the set), In A Bind (for family fun), Legendary Guardians Of The Galaxy (again to complete the set, and because this looks like it has some fun ideas) and the Arcadia Quest expansion (love the base game, and this came up in trade).

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
Wow – a real list this month, with 13 games ‘gone’. I say this because some of them are still in the house, but ready to go to charity shops. Those charity games are Liars Dice, Blokus Duo, Backgammon, Really Nasty Horse Racing Game, Risk Lord Of The Rings, 221b Baker Street, N-Tropy, Campaign, Whatzit, Pirateology and Phase 10.

Other than that, I sold my copy of Star Wars Armada just because I think the game is a swizz. Hey, spend a fortune on this game, and then when you have, realise that in order to get the most out of it, you need to buy it again, and then buy a load more stuff on top. Now, as a gamer, I know going into a game like this that this is going to be the case, but imagine little Timmy out with his mum, spending his birthday money. He’s a Star Wars fan, he sees this, he wants it, he buys it, he gets stuck with half a game that cost him a fortune. Out of order.

I traded Witch Of Salem for the Arcadia Quest expansion. WoS seems to have gained a reputation, and is oop, so it was easy to trade it away. I played it a couple of times, and decided I’d reach for Eldritch Horror over WoS every single time, so now it is gone.

Other Gaming Stuff
I’ve painted the first batch of Arcadia minis (I’ve done the goblins, and nearly finished all of the orcs). With the expansion minis as well, I’ve still got a lot to do, and in spare time at the moment I’d rather be playing than painting. Still, I enjoy the painting, and find it relaxing – it is often an easier option than setting up a game, and is a good way of clearing the mind.

Music
Metal. I’m of the opinion that Metal stopped being good when grunge hit the scene, so around 1991. The metal albums that mean the most to me all came out in the 80’s – the first 4 Metallica albums, the first 3 Megadeth albums, Helloween’s Keeper Of The 7 Keys Pt 1, both the Holy Terror albums, the first 4 Slayer albums, and all the early stuff from bands like Testament, Overkill, Annihilator (well, the first album) and Mortal Sin.

After this I got into Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and on the odd occasion when I did dip back into metal it was often a quick foray with bands like Mushroomhead just showing me it wasn’t something I enjoyed as much. Only NIN really kept me interested. As a result, a lot of what happened in the 1990s and beyond slipped past me, and this month I did some catching up and have discovered Blue Cathedral by Comets On Fire, and some Sleep albums (Holy Mountain and the 2012 version of Dopesmoker). I have to say, I’m pretty impressed, especially with Holy Mountain, and it has got my interest up again, so I intend on checking out bands like Pallbearer.

The issue I have with a lot of bands post the 80’s is the vocals. Singers should, in my mind, at least try and sing, and screaming the vocal at the top of your voice doesn’t do it for me. I can’t get the lyrics, I can’t join in the chorus, the only thing I get is a headache (yeah, old man, I know). Some of the metal vocalists aren’t the best (Bruce Dickinson, Ozzy, neither of them particularly on note all the time) but at least I get a good idea of what they are singing about. I suppose this is why I found NIN – Trent Reznor can carry a good song, or at least add enough emotion to it to make it worthwhile.

On this note, I’m looking forward to the kickstarter Thrash’n Roll – anything that allows me to run a thrash band is good by me!

Books

I finished Cities Of The Plain, so that trilogy is done and over. I really liked the first book, but found the other two a bit of a chore if I’m honest. From there I needed something with pace, so I read The Hunt by Tim Lebbon, which is about a man being hunted as part of a game where if he gets caught he dies, but if he escapes they kill his family. Not particularly fair, and I’d just say, fine, shoot me. But the novel has a good pace, although it suffers from the writer being a runner, and writing endlessly about running, almost fixatedly. I enjoyed the story though, and it was a good antidote to The Border Trilogy.

I’m now about half way through The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August, and it is completely different to what I was suspecting. The author, Claire North is either highly intellectual or has completed hours and hours of research to put this book together – the story travels around the globe in the period from around 1918 to 1996, and covers both historical and scientific details from the period. It’s a completely different story to what I was expecting, and I’m enjoying it, but am slightly nervous that the ending is going to be able to justify the story. Time will tell!

Film
We watched a couple of horror films again this month, but nothing of any note. We’ve got a lot of tv series to get through, so that’s dominated our watching.

TV
Still loving Parks And Recreation. It just makes me smile, and every episode has a great laugh out loud moment in it somewhere. I’m glad that, as time has gone on, the focus has shifted out through all the characters as they are all fun in different ways, with plenty to explore.

We finished the first season of Hannibal, and I enjoyed it, but it went just as we expected – maybe more of a twist would have been better. We’ve got season 2 to watch, but for now are working through season 1 of True Detective which I’m loving, but my wife isn’t so sure about. Well, we are over half way there, and now have season 5 of Walking Dead for her as a reward for getting through it with me.

Video Games
Lots more Ascension on iOS, and a fair bit of Ride on the PS4. Despite it not being anything flash, and also despite painful loading times, the racing is pretty solid, and good fun with a huge mix of bikes to choose from. I’ve got Batman to work through as well.

Next Month

We’ve got two Battlestar Galactica sessions booked in for October, with the first one tomorrow evening at mine, so I’m looking forward to those. I’d like to get Hyperborea played as well as another session of Xia and Arcadia. My wife is away for 10 days in the US, so I’ve got the dining table to myself, and hope to get some solo gaming in – Elemental Evil is calling me!
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Thu Oct 1, 2015 3:26 pm
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August - Still going strong

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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Introduction
It has been a tough August in many ways – business has been frustratingly slow, and because my holiday is long forgotten back in the depths of July the next break we’ve got to look forward to is Christmas. Yeah, not all bad – it was my wife’s birthday, our anniversary, and we had a great family wedding to go to, but it has felt like a really long month (oh, and the weather has been pretty crap).

New Game Of The Month
It was pretty clear from about 5 minutes into my first game that Arcadia Quest was going to take the honours this month. It has struck me fairly clearly that I love these minis in a dungeon games, and they rarely fail with me. Gears Of War and Zombicide are two of my favourite games. I love Earth Reborn and Krosmaster but just don’t have an opponent, and now Arcadia Quest has joined the list of great mini games I own.

So what is it that appeals so much to me about these types of games? Well, I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, and I’ve realised that my main gaming moments in life are defined by a particular thread. My earliest and happiest gaming memories are with ‘Treasure Of The Pharaohs’ in which you moved your little character around the board in what essentially was a step up from snakes and ladders, to try and be the first to make it to the end and collect the treasure. The game’s presentation was outstanding, and it looks beautiful on the table.

After this came Talisman which my brother and I used to play almost every weekend, again moving your mini around the board and collecting weapons and skills all with the goal of reaching the centre to claim the win. This could almost be seen as a step up from Treasure as it has the similar move around the board mechanic but with the added extras of character skills and encounters and items. We loved this game when it was released, and I still enjoy it now.

Following on from this we have Arcadia Quest, and other games in the genre like Zombicide. Now you control your movement, and pick your fights, and as I’ve developed as a gamer, I enjoy having the option to play more tactically, but I want to maintain the feeling of having a character (or in this case team) on the board. It appeals to the rpger in me, but without the need to invest huge amounts of time to a campaign.

Arcadia Quest isn’t a complicated game – it can be taught in around 15 minutes, and doesn’t have a steep learning curve (although making a mess of the initial character selection could hinder a player). What is so wonderful about Arcadia Quest though is that simplicity doesn’t reduce fun or tension which is really well delivered – sometimes you spot an opportunity, and you are left hoping your opponents either can’t or don’t exploit it. Everyone can turn on a player who seems to be doing too well, and that player can really take a beating (it happened to me).

The final added bonus is the campaign – build a team, add ever improving weaponry and fight tougher monsters. This elevates the game from a fun but possibly repetitive experience into something far more interesting and exciting, and has made this a game I really enjoy.

Best Session Of The Month
I’ve had two really good sessions this month, both at my Sevenoaks group. The first one worth mentioning was an incredibly close game of The Captain Is Dead where we lost one turn away from being able to win, which although some found frustrating seemed to be quite an epic ending to an absorbing game where we looked like we were fried from the very beginning. We spent the entire time on the very edge of failure, often making a fix the turn before it would have lost us the game, but we fell over at the final hurdle. Great fun.

However, the best session of the month goes to the two games of Arcadia Quest we played. I walked the first game as the only player who seemed entirely focused on the goals. We were all keen on playing again immediately so set up the next scenario. This took a completely different turn as each player decided to take their first goal as me, and I took a hammering thanks to multiple attacks from multiple players, and some pretty awful rolling when I tried to retaliate. I still managed to steal an objective and win a medal thanks to another player doing the hard work (but making it harder for himself in the process).

Solo Gaming
Just the one play of Hostage Negotiator whilst waiting for my wife to get ready for a day out, and I was left with a bit of a hollow feeling afterwards. The game is simple to learn and play, but felt like something was missing. I’m sure I played right, but it really lacked any tension for me, and I really need to try again because as it stands I’m not impressed with this at all.

Games Added To The Collection
In has come Arcadia Quest (I’ve said enough), Patchwork which I’m hoping my wife will at least try, Pandemic Cure because it was a good price, and looks like a fun quick version of Pandemic, Merchant Of Venus because I was offered a trade, and have wanted this game for a very long time, Quartermaster General Air Marshall because it looks like a good addition to the base game, Hostage Negotiator (see above) and Loopin’ Louie which I picked up after playing last month, and love for its fun factor.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
3 games gone, with mixed emotions.

Roll For The Galaxy was a disappointment for me. I think I was hoping for the fun of Race without the hard work, but what it made me realise is that I just don’t enjoy Race and any variant. Roll Was frustrating with a lot of downtime, and confusion for players regarding when dice go to the board and when they go to the cup. I know this would have got easier with multiple plays, but I really didn’t feel the desire to play this again, and add to that I was offered Merchant Of Venus 2nd ed in trade.

Combat Commander Pacific left the fold unplayed. I’d like to have a game in this series, but Europe appeals more. Also I just don’t have the time in my life at the moment for investing in understanding these games when there is a risk of never finding an opponent. I was sorry to see it go though.

The final game to go was Augustus. Now I quite liked it, but it got a lukewarm reception at my local group. Also, it is a filler in a huge box, and when packing my bag I tend to use the space for longer games, and fill the gaps with fillers – Bang Dice or Resistance both take up considerably less bag space than this.

Other Gaming Stuff
I primed my Arcadia minis and now need to start the painting process. My skills are ok at best, but I’d rather have a half assed attempt at a paintjob than a blank mini, if only to make them easier to spot over the table. OK, maybe I’m being harsh. I enjoy painting figures, and sometimes I’m really pleased and surprised at the results.

Music

I’m really in to the female singer punky rocky thing, and can’t get away from listening to bands like Now Now, Hop Along and No Joy. This month I picked up Salome by Marriages, and again this is another excellent example of this kind of music. I just like the vibe to it, and the energy behind it.

I’ve been playing the guitar a bit, but haven’t done anything about getting a band up and running again, other than a brief conversation with a drummer. These things don’t happen quickly.

Books
I finished Sand, and felt it was a huge missed opportunity. Hugh Howey created a really interesting world in the first third of the book, one with huge possibilities with an underground world waiting to be discovered. He then flapped around for the second third, and then rushed an ending in the final third. The last chapter of the book should have been a book in its own right – without ruining it, it really did just go ‘and then we all discovered that the butler did it with a knife in the library’. A real shame because her really explored the world he created with Wool, and he completely failed to here.

I moved from there on to Cities Of The Plain, the last book in McCarthy’s Border trilogy, and I’m enjoying it although it is a slow read .The pace is quite gentle, and there are lots of pages dedicated to fairly simple but incredibly prosaic episodes. This has meant I keep falling asleep whilst reading it, so it is taking me a long time to get through although it is a fairly short read. It isn’t particularly gripping, but at least is less rambling than the previous book. It is a beautiful read though.

Film
The film of note this month was Inside Out. My daughter had been to see it with my future daughter-in-law, and when she came home, she told me I really needed to see it, so the next day we went and I really enjoyed it. The film portrays how emotions change as we grow and develop. There were some really interesting parts to observe – the mum, who seems perfectly happy, has sadness as her lead emotion. The daughters happy memories become touched by sadness as she grows (don’t we all sometimes look back at events which were happy and feel sad about them?). We talked about the film for a couple of days after, and I have to say it was one of the most interesting films I’ve seen in a while.

Other than this, I watched a couple of horrors of no outstanding note with my wife, the most interesting of which was the second Woman In Black film which we enjoyed having come into it with very low expectations.

TV
On a recommendation from last month we are working our way through Hannibal, and both enjoying it. We tend to watch later in the evening, and we are both helping each other out figuring what is going on, and who is playing whom. The further in we go, the better this gets, and Mads Mikkelsen seems to be growing in to the role of Hannibal from episode to episode.

For my own enjoyment I’ve started watching Parks And Recreation, and I’m part way through Season 2. I never really got into The Office, mainly because I don’t find Ricky Gervais particularly funny, but I’m really enjoying this because it has a real light hearted turn to it where you can tell the actors really seem to be enjoying what they do. Chris Pratt is particularly amusing.

Video Games
Ascension on iOS and pretty much nothing else. Mad Max and MGSV both look like fun on the PS4, but I don’t have the time to spend on it at the moment.

Next Month
I’ve already had a trade offer to get the Arcadia Quest expansion. One of my local gaming circle has picked yup Churchill, and really wants to get that played, but it looks like an epic so fitting in a session might be tough.
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Tue Sep 1, 2015 3:55 pm
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July - a little bit of gaming, and a lot of holiday.

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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July is holiday month for me, and we spent two amazing weeks in Bali, the best part of which was the amazing Balinese people who were so warm and welcoming, and made me think about what we truly value in life – they put little value in materialistic gains, and hold family above all – kind of how I remember my youth being before everyone had to have everything Apple. Each Balinese family lives together in a ‘compound’ with sons staying and wives moving in with their new husband’s family. Compounds are often made up of four or five dwellings, and have three or four generations living there. The largest example we were aware of had 24 people living there, and every one of them loved it! Childcare isn’t an issue, the older generation tends to prepare the food during the day, so everyone has more time to spend together. Also, if you want a bit of space, you can have it – each little house is separate enough from the others for some amount of privacy.

We arrived at the start of the Islands 'Christmas' and left on the final day of their celebration. The temples all looked incredible, and we joined in with a number of ceremonies - the Balinese were so pleased to have us there, and we were never made to feel like outsiders. So warm and welcoming - we could all do with being more Balinese!

New Game Of The Month
Two main contenders here, but Dark Moon is worthy of winning the award for the best new game I played this month. The game does what it promises and takes all the best bits of BSG and boils them down into something that can be completed in around an hour. So OK, it isn’t as great as a full session of BSG with the paranoia, the tension, the arguments and constant suspicion, but it did a good job in a timeframe that will fit with my midweek evening gaming group.

Each player is allocated a character, and also is either infected or uninfected. The infected players (bad guys) need to get one of three tracks filled, and the uninfected players (good guys) want to complete 4 events. On a player’s turn, they can perform an action, and then draw a task. Players taking part in the task roll dice, and submit them to help (or hinder) the current task.

In our single session of this, the good guys won because the bad guys were obvious fairly early on, opting not to play a subtle game. One of them played bad dice on each task, and then the other looked at his status (loyalty) card and announced that he was uninfected. So you’re both infected then? We put one in quarantine, and the other then had to try hard to persuade us they were both innocent. The game was pretty easy going from there in, leaving me wanting to try this with a little bit of experience and hopefully see the bad guys try a more subtle approach.

Best Session Of The Month
Another OGRE session – we got together as a 4 with the idea of playing a lot of shorter games. We ended up playing Witness, Wok Star, Beasty Bar, Machi Koro, and the star of the evening, Loopin’ Louie, which wins best session of the month.

For a new game to have an instant appeal with me it needs a number of factors – I want to see simple rules so we can get going quickly, I want interaction so we can call each other names and have a laugh at one another, and at least a little bit of theme. Well, Loopin’ Louie delivered and it was so much fun we all laughed our way through it. I’m certain this will be a hit with the family as well, so I’ve ordered a copy, and I look forward to playing it with anyone who is interested!

Solo Gaming
Wow – nothing, absolutely nothing. The only thing I’ve done that is vaguely solo related is starting to read the rules for Enemy Action: Ardennes. There was a lot of planning for the holiday, then we were away for two weeks, and I didn’t get anything done after we got back, so a dry month this month.

Games Added To The Collection
5 games again this month, same as last month, so despite plays slowing, buying hasn’t, and I need to address this. I picked up Chronicle to bulk up an order to get discount, and because it is a game I’ve wanted for a while as I really enjoy it. Dark Moon arrived, and as you’ve already read I really enjoy it. I picked up Deus after seeing at number 4 on John Bandettini’s list of top games for 2014, and then reading some more reviews. I’m hoping this gives me the game Elysium failed to deliver. I also picked up Great War and my big purchase of the month was Enemy Action: Ardennes which I’m really hoping I can get into after not getting on with D Day and (a different designer, I know) Navajo Wars.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
4 games gone this month as well, none of which I’m sad to see the back off.

Kanban was a must buy – I’ve got and love Vinhos and CO2, and enjoy them both immensely even if both run a little too long for a gaming evening, although CO2 is ok with quick players. So I had to have Kanban as it looked like more of the same with a few interesting twists, but when I set it up at home to try out I thought it was a confusing mess of a game, and then when we actually played it, we really struggled with it. Lots of good ideas, and interesting twists, but it was too much – so many different things going on, so many moving parts and so many confusing little rules means the game gets sold, and I sigh with relief to see it go.

War Of The Roses: Lancaster vs York looked like a great game when I picked it up in a trade about three years ago. It took me a long time to figure out the rulebook, and then I took it along to some game nights hoping to get it played. Unfortunately there was never any interest, and then I just didn’t want to invest the time to learn it all over again so it sat unplayed for all the time I owned it, and I was happy to take an offer for it.

Star Wars Epic Duels was a good purchase which I picked up from EBay with the hope of selling it on for a better price (blame the businessman in me). However with the release of Imperial Assault, interest in Epic Duels seemed to dwindle, so I put it up on the marketplace for sale for a good price, and soon enough it sold. Never played, not missed.

Braggart was a bit of a laugh when I picked this up at the UK Games Expo a number of years ago, but we ran it dry pretty quick, and then just stopped enjoying it when we’d seen all the cards half a dozen times. I had a few really fun session with this, especially when playing with Andre who would be laughing so hard he couldn’t read his cards, but it had its day and now it is gone.

Other Gaming Stuff
Another family Cards Against Humanity session which just seems to be our humour level. We played this on my wife’s birthday with all my four kids and my son’s fiancée, and it delivered again – lots of laughter, and a few ‘oohhh, who played that?’ moments. Otherwise, it really has been a quiet gaming month.

Music
I picked up Keeper Of The Seven Keys pt 1, and album that I used to have on cassette when I was 15, so 28 years ago. It isn’t as heavy as I remember it being at the time, but the guitar work is excellent, and it is a joy to listen to it again. Other than that I’ve been listening to Wolf Alice a lot – there album is really good, a great mixture of styles and sounds, and with some really well written tracks. Still prefer Hop Along, but this is really good. I’m also listening to the new album from No Joy as well.

I also picked up a Jackson Soloist SLX guitar on EBay this month – got it cheap due to it being collection only, and they guy living about half an hour away. He seemed like a bit of a guitarist himself, but the setup was pretty bad with a bit of a twist in the neck and a high action. After a bit of playing around, I’ve got the action a lot lower, without any fret buzz, and the guitar really plays like a dream now with an amazing sound, especially when matched up with my amp. What is harder now though is justifying having 5 guitars and 2 big amps in the house (along with a pretty substantial gaming collection).

Books
I finished The Crossing before we went on holiday, and intended on reading Cities Of The Plain to finish the trilogy, but I figured I needed a break after finding The Crossing a lot harder going than All The Pretty Horses, so instead I read Girl On The Train, a fun thriller with a bit of a twist. I’ve read a few books like this recently, and although I’ve enjoyed them all, none of them have been as good as Gone Girl for keeping me guessing.

After Girl On The Train, I then read Station Eleven which was enjoyable but focused too much on the world prior to most of the population being wiped out and too little on the post flu world, which was the story I was more interested in.

I’m now reading Sand by Hugh Howey. I enjoyed the silo series, but found that the story lost momentum after Wool (but Wool was really enjoyable). So far I’m finding Sand engrossing and well written, and he has created an interesting and intriguing world.

Film
Mainly films whilst on aeroplanes, and the most notable film I saw this month was Road, the film about the bike racing Dunlop family. The film is a very genuine moving documentary about the family, the races they take part in, and the toll this takes on the family. Powerful stuff.

The only other interesting film I saw this month was Coherence, and I’m still thinking about it – the film centres around a group of friends who gather during the passing of a comet, which then creates a whole set of realities which our characters then fumble through, slowly figuring out (as we do with them) what the heck is going on.

TV
We’ve finished the 3rd season of American Horror Story, and it was no more than OK, nowhere near as creepy as the 2nd season, and some of the acting was a little bit amdram. We’re in a bit of a hole at the moment, and need to find a new series to enjoy.

Video Games
With holidays I only played Ride this month, and a little bit of Godus on iOS. I picked up Batman for my son to play post exams and he really enjoyed it but I’m yet to give it a go.

Next Month
The games that get played will mostly depend on who is around during August as it is traditionally a holiday month here. Normally this means less people at gaming groups, so different games tend to get played. I’d like to play more Dark Moon as well as starting to give Enemy Action a go as well. A bit more time with the Jackson won’t go amiss either.
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Mon Aug 3, 2015 2:32 pm
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