Anthony BoydellUnited Kingdom
Friday 14th September - The White Lion Pub, Ross-on-Wye
The peeps (Boffo, Smudge, Jobbers and Cap’n Billikins) were playing Buccaneer when I arrived, slighty earlier than usual and carrying just a couple of boxes as part of my evening’s proposal. The one I really wanted to try out was Miles Ratcliffe’s compact & bijou Medieval Mastery – a combat game using dice to mark your units, a deck of cards to support aforementioned combat and a set of randomly-distributed artifacts to use throughout the game (an Orb, a Sceptre and a Crown). Boffo, not normally averse to dice in games, seems to have suffered a minor setback with Eclipse (which he did not like much at all, though we’re hoping to rectify that on Monday evening with a 5 player in view of the splendid Raglan Castle) and seemed less-than-enthused during my rules explanation. It’s been at least a year since I played MM myself, but its not complicated. There is a landscape of hexes (tailored to the number of players) of various values (1 on the outside, 2 in the middle and 3 in the absolute centre) with special little effects on each (gain knights, lose knights, discard cards, get a bonus when attacking/defending etc); on your turn you get 3 Knights in your castle, to supplement your existing stock, then you advance. ‘Advancing’ is adjusting dice pips to reinforce a flank(s) or generate enough spare pips to slap a new die (from your supply) onto a hex that’s just begging to be conquered – possess 13 points of conquered hexen and thou art the King (“I didn’t vote for you” etc). Combat between players involves squaring off a hand of cards from your personal deck and summing up strengths and/or utilizing swing-y artifacts (some are ho-hum, some seem ridiculous). It's a sweet little diversion with lots of combat – just what you want as it’s ‘on the tin’, so to speak. The problem this evening wasn’t the game, at least not for four of us, but Boffo’s almost nose-to-the-table sulking at his supposed ‘massively-disadvantaged starting position’ (he was next to a Lake tile – that’s all; the rest of us didn’t perceive anything rum about this). The yawning maw of misery that was opening up in front of him came from his insistence on NOT moving in the direction(s) we all pointed out to him, his reluctance to attempt a combat and pretending to be asleep while we all took our turns. The poor game hadn't been given a chance – judgement and punishment pronounced before it had even finished having it’s dabs taken.
With a gasp of relief, Jobbers dismissed any suggestion of triskaidekaphobia and triumphantly-ended this particular flavor of Boffopurgatory. A brief re-grouping of drinks and the much-anticipated ‘main event’ was brought out: Chinatown.
This mechanically-simple but riotous negotiation game has been glimpsed before at the White Lion and though forgotten in recent memory, seeing it all laid out again reminded us what a barrel of shouty laughs it is – imagine Pit with area control (sort of) and a pinch of Modern Art. The board comprises 99 squares in groups that represent buildings and districts of Chinatown in the late 1960s. Players will collect ‘business tiles’ and place markers on some of these squares (you’re given cards with numbers on) and then barter, bargain, harangue, badger and bully the other players so that you can group the tiles in adjacent squares and earn pot-loads of cash! Businesses have a ‘size’ value – if you own a connected series of the same type you earn small money (if that size isn’t reached yet) or big money (if it is); you play 6 rounds and, then, whomever has the most money wins. After the regimented region selection and drawing of business tiles from a bag it’s no-holds-barred! Anything can be offered for anything – business tiles, more beer, building plots, swaps, money, first dibs on future-drawn stuff, ‘lifts home’ and so on. You can be as fair or unreasonable as you wish, but no fibbing please. Both myself and Boffo had moments of feigned outrage at others’ dealings in the hope this would effect a withdrawal, sow doubt etc! Particularly pleasing was a final round negotiation between Boffo and Jobbers that seemed endless and unresolvable so I suggested Jobbers get what he needed, one each, from the rest of us which left all-bar-Boffo quids in! Boffo wailed and tore his clothing in dismay, pronouncing we’d just ‘handed the game’ to the grinning Jobbers – in reality, it was cunning Tony with $970,000 who emerged Fu Manchu-like, from the chaos of this Oriental huckstering, with a self-deprecating Billikins on $870,000 and everyone else behind in the half-a-millions. Awesome, over-melodramatic fun which – for once – meant our gaming table was louder than all of the other groups in the pub!
Exhausted, but beaming with delight, we decided to fill the last 30 minutes with a club favourite: Too Many Cooks (from Mr R Knizia). A deck-based cribbage variant with a cute (and appropriate, for once) theme about attempting to make certain types of soup provided more giggles as we drained our glasses towards the 11 o’clock bell. Boffo regained his dignity with a magnificent Onion Soup round followed by a final ‘No Soup’-er where we couldn’t get him to take a single card!
Redemption, in a small way, for someone whose evening seemed to be running away from him - he even cracked a smile!