Anthony BoydellUnited Kingdom
Brother Antoine stamped, smiling, into the Refectory from the Brewhouse; his tabard crusty with dried albumen and his Stubby peeping out from the rough fabric.
“What a most satisfying evening’s work!” he remarked, “I’ve emptied my Tun of mash, removed the wort from by Brune, laid down an effervescent Blond and corked a couple of Growlers! I’m completely spent!”
Brothers John and Benjamin where hunched over an oaken trestle, locked in cerebral conflict.
“What are you playing?” queried Br Antoine as he laid down his basket of bottles and filled a bread roll with Roquefort.
“Junta!” Br Benjamin retorted.
“I only asked” replied a crestfallen Br Antoine, thrusting the cheesy baguette into his hungry mouth.
“No,” continued the wheezy Monk, “we’re playing Junta – a sort of Chess cum Stratego cum Draughts affair from the mid-1970s. By the way, can you fetch some milk from one of the large jugs in the pantry?”
“That reminds me - any news of Sister Rebecca?” asked Br Antoine.
“She won’t be joining us tonight.” said Br Benjamin dejectedly, “She’s attending a Spiritual Festival of Rustic Music and Poetry. She’s no doubt enjoying a feast of Wynkyn and crumhorns, perhaps partaking of a hearty blow herself?”
The stooped Brothers completed their diversion and turned to Br Antoine for inspiration.
“Why have you brought so many 2 player games?” asked Br Benjamin, fingering his butt beaker.
Br Antoine replied: “I had assumed Br John wouldn’t be joining us this evening – especially after your epistle – the one where you expected to be playing with yourself all evening and were longing for someone to fill the hole.”
First from the hessian holdall of delights was Walnut Grove, a pleasingly brisk worker placement/rondel/resource-pushing item from the Continent - brisk in the sense that it took Br John less than a week to take a turn! Luckily, most of the game can be progressed simultaneously hence the removal of aforementioned bottleneck. For the uninitiated, you have some workers to allocate to fields - fields are extended during the game and contain resource types. Workers harvest these resources which can then be used to buy more workers, buildings for the Farm, end-game bonus tiles or converted for money (VPs or wild-card resources) - you have a piece that wanders around the town (a rondel painted to look like a typical Western settlement) in order to do one of these things. Workers need to be fed and, if not in a house, kept warm; eight rounds of this balancing and you're done.
Br Antoine proved most efficient (26), with Br John tailing not far behind on 23; Br Benjamin failed to understand one of the rudimentary harvesting rules of the game and picked up 'less than he should have' for two thirds of the play. Br Antoine (kindly) called him a vulgar synonym for the human vulva and let him return 5 of the 10 'neighborly Help' (punishment) tiles he had collected.
Keen to give the goatee-ed huffer a second chance, Br Antoine selected The Pillars of the Earth from Br Benjamin's worn sack and they refreshed themselves of the rules before commencement. Br Antoine seemed to be making quiet but consistent progress but fell fowl around turn 4 when the other Brothers managed to get first crack at some excellent craftsmen and his 8VPs/turn accrual paled in comparison to their 14+ VP engines. There were 10 points between first (Br B) and last (Br A) at the resolution, but the gasping Friar remained untroubled 'at the top'.
Keen to get some lighter fayre to the bench, Br Benjamin suggested the small but perfectly-formed sheep/lighthouse carder Turn the Tide. A deck of weather cards numbered 1 thru 60 are distributed, in part, to the players at random with remaining stock returned to the box. Some of the weather cards have half or whole 'lifesaver rings' which players collect after summing eg. if I have 4.5 rings on my set of cards, I pick up 4 ring cards. These are your 'lives' with, at the end of each round, lives equaling VPs. There is a separate deck of 'sheep' cards that are auctioned off X at a time (X being dependent on the number of players). Player's blind bid one of their weather cards - the highest bid wins the LOWEST VALUE sheep card, the second highest bid wins the HIGHER VALUE sheep card and everyone else wins nothing. The cards won go on top of a pile in front of the player (so only the top card is visible) - then, the player with the HIGHEST VALUE visible card loses one of their lifesavers. Play continues until a player cannot lose any more lifesavers OR all of the sheep cards are auctioned. You score points for the round equal to the number of life-savers you have remaining (or -1 if you ran out and triggered round end). Cleverly (aka irritatingly) you then pass your hand of cards to the player on your LEFT, so they get a chance for a round with them.
What to say about this? Hmmmm...if you can remember the key high and low cards other players have (as the hands move around) then that might help, but mostly its an exercise in massive group-think luck. Bluff? Not really. Skill? I'd argue strongly that this is not required IN ANY FORM. Being Rain Man would probably help, but this tiresome drilling in guess/counter-guess just frustrates. The best of the three rounds Br Antoine had was when he chose to play cards, unseen, at random. It's not as deep or thinky as it thinks it is and, given the Designer's pedigree, I'd much rather play For Sale! instead - at least in that game you have SOME INFORMATION to work with. And it's certainly NO FUN AT ALL. It reminded one, somewhat, of Fragor Games' debut Leapfrog, where a similar "everyone chooses simultaneously" mechanic leaves one feeling there's nothing to hang any kind of plan onto.
Br Antoine was feeling rather jaded at this point and decided to return to the privacy of the Distillery for some 'contemplation' - grasping his Nips and furiously-polishing his Pijpje until the Cock crew.
In Nomine Pret-A-Porter Et Fiji Et Spiritu Niagra.