Every Man Needs A Shed

Life and Games (but mostly games) from Tony Boydell: Dad, Husband and Independent UK Game Designer, Agricola fanboy and jealous admirer of Carl Chudyk. www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk

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Testing Times

Anthony Boydell
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The process of games design is like climbing a really big mountain – you know, you struggle up to the horizon bit that looks, for all the world, like you’ve finally achieved the Summit and it turns out to be a teasing undulation combined with an optical illusion…and you still have miles to go!

Today I thought I’d share a couple of play-test stories from Surprised Stare Games Ltd’s past.

[1] Fzzzt! – in ALL of the incarnations of my robotic fantasy right up to (literally) the week before we started laying out final artwork, there was a wholly-different Fzzzt! card in the deck. It was a money card with a good final score value but also, if played in a blind bid, could be sacrificed (removed from the game) to discard the card at the front of the line with the bid resolving to win the next one.

The idea was you’d just bought a pile of crap…

This would usually be timed to pull the rug from under a particular player, usually towards the end of the game when you have a rough idea what people are going for. In the fateful playtest, Richard Breese was a victim of this stratagem and was so horrified by experience that he fore-swore his usual genteel notes and just hit us with a faceful of disdain!

Richard was, of course, right to be upset: Fzzzt! has its interaction in the blind bidding – do I bluff three low cards to put everyone else off? How much do I pay for one particular card and be left with less money/bidding power later in the round? Can I sneak a tie-break on this card? Etc. It was wrong to then introduce a ‘take that!’ element to the bidding resolution – it was too swingy, it was too unfair and it necessitated a paragraph of rules all on its own!

The solution was very easy to come up with – a good bidding robot but useless to for Production Units and a minor VP penalty trade-off: still on theme and fair. This is an example of a mechanic that, on its own, undoes all of the good will built up by the rest of the game.

[2] Totemo – another example here of a mechanic/component that was core to the game from the very earliest jottings, but was cut-away in the final appraisal! Players originally started the game with the same set, in their colours, of joker tokens – a bit like those you get in Finca but Totemo was there first! They did things like ‘place an extra block this turn’, ‘swap the top block in a stack with one from your hand’, put a block(s) back into the bag etc.

These morph-ed into a deck of special effect cards that built on the tokens idea (excuse pun, please); you then hit key parts of the score track exactly to draw more of them, played them to manipulate the stacks and tweak your scores (so you could land on MORE bonus spots) etc.

It was that man again, Mr Richard Breese, who enjoyed the game but felt the card element got too much in the way – they were an extra layer of complexity that a) confused less experience gamers (timing, spotting good combos etc) and b) necessitated that all important extra paragraph of rules!

As much as I was irritated about a favourite part of the game being dissed so, I took the suggestion to abandon the cards altogether away…and came up with the bonus spaces that seed the score track at the start! The only bonus is the ability to play (and score!) another block – no more complicated than that!

The net effect of this change was people were still aiming to hit bonus spots but with less fiddling – it was about simple numbers. This is an example of a mechanic that made game-play cleverer (gamer-y) but at a cost to simplicity and elegance.

[3] Scandaroon – this is my much-maligned and mostly-ignored card game ‘with a score board’. It looks really bland, but it plays in a satisfyingly rich and interactive manner – honestly, it does! Scandaroon started life as a single, 54 card deck with a two-card score track; players built their lines and manipulated scores with the aim of either winning a round (most points, take their highest value card into their score pile) or coming second (second most points, take their lowest value card into their score pile). When a fixed number of rounds was played, whomever had the most points in their score pile was declared the winner. Full stop.

In this example, play-testing and development – see, I introduced a new word there – felt that the game was lacking a layer of interactivity and new ways of fighting for / earning victory points were introduced: highest score pile total was just ONE criterion, add points for 1/2/3 in a round and ‘highest overall’ score in the game were others. The score board expanded and, for some of the original players, the feel of the original was lost. Did we spoil the game at this point?

My view of the whole Scandaroon story is clouded, ultimately, NOT by it’s structure or even the flat presentation, but by the Essen at which it was launched (2007). I would be surprised if we sold more than 50 copies across the whole five days. On the Saturday, doors open at 10AM, we didn’t conduct our FIRST demonstration to a prospective customer until 3PM…FIVE HOURS of standing at the front of the booth, hands behind your back, smiling at the throng as they walk right passed.

That experience was compounded by International ATM transactions not working for the first two days of the show and there was a train (and U-Bahn) strike on the Saturday. Utterly bloody miserable.

The experience was nearly recreated when we set about producing Confucius a year later - but that's a whole different story with a cast of exotic characters, intrigue, deceit and missed opportunities. Maybe I'll get round to telling that another time - just need to get a Lawyer to look over things first.
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Wed Jun 15, 2011 12:35 pm
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I'm Ever So Wound Up

Anthony Boydell
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There's another expansion for Dominion! Woot and double woot! Woot so hard you need to take a spatula to your underpants, you dirty dog.

Wow! I may just ejaculate into my pants: AEG are releasing another card-based money-printing engine with flash artwork on. Who cares if it's any good (clue: the new one isn't) when you've got a painting of a former member of Evansescence with big teeth and nasty, rippy claws on?

Lord! Save Me! I may just expire on the spot: there's another cube-pushing, resource management thing with a board and a deck of cards and probably a rondel and picture of a bloke stood in front of a boat or a carriage or a f*cking castle or something. And he's holding a scroll or a sextant or his f*cking c*ck or something.

Or something.

There goes the neighbourhood! I just can't stop squealing! Another big-box Civilization game that we all know works much better on the PC coz it takes all the fiddling out of it. But it comes in a BIG BOX with LOTS OF BITS! Or maybe its a minute-by-minute recreation of All Time - from the Big Bang right up to yesterday morning, just after you pee-ed? Board-gasm!

Hark - dost thou hearest it? Something based on a mathematical equation or hypothesis this way comes...who cares about the theme? At least you can play it with the family in complete safety - it comes with a built-in antiseptic. Like Harry Potter cribbing from the half-blood Prince's potions textbook, surely this numerical fart-arsing-about will come to an end soon? For the love of Christ.

I'm feeling quite angry today - mainly because I let someone down REALLY BADLY and that's making me tetchy: a secondary emotion predicated on massive guilt and mortification.

And the Meeples Choice Nominations, the Spiel Des Jahres shortlist (direct debit option available) and every other piece of panty-wetting 'here comes the new King just the same as the old King' tip-of-the-hat / tug-of-the-forelock fawning, preposterous hogwash is just making it worse.

Interact with me, FFS - it's getting awfully quiet around here.

angry
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Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:03 pm
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Come into the garden, Maude

Anthony Boydell
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Enter! in welcome, attend!
Come! Make ingress
to my gardens and feel
(full in the chops)
the gusty wind-whips and the hot-throbbing sun-pulses (south-facing).
O! sweet stinking flora of my Elysian precincts; deeply breathe - breathe deeply!
close both or more of your peepers and, rump-downwards
(on my lounger, pool-adjacent)
sip the Pimms No.1 which, into your sweaty palms, I have proffered.
For herein is offered chitter-chatter on this or thatter matter.

My goodness, but the Spiel des Jahres once more,
rules changing, confounds and confuses:
Asara? Hardly sets the globe aflame
Forbidden Island? Matts got a nom with another game!
Qwirkle – new to the Deutsche, old to the World
And Kennerspiel? A new categorium un-furl’d
SdJ is out of touch, I’d posit
Coz 7 Wonders wasn’t properly nominated, was it?
The dull clouds are looming – after-napwards in the noon.

Following earlier seed-time, a fine crop is growing,
deep-rooted
(photosynthesising,
sugars accumulating)

in the vege-patch, games for the vegan in all of us: San Marrow, Big Zucchini, Through The Cabbages, Modern Artichoke - Don't be so ungrateful - I broke my back, tilling.

the summer house, extended,
smelling of creosote and melted plastic, floor dead-flied,
it holds the bits: no games for me for ages, not even a sniff of working anything out – injury and lethargy conspire. I think I may explode with the frustration of it all! Looking to a Wednesday salvation…

the pond (safely bounded for fear of little tragedies): w-w-weedy-bordered, lilies roughly ordered in amongst. the coy and the carp (harp on), so many tadpoles.

Oh to be a Heron in the Summertime.

Skip into the bloggodendrons, darling, and count the thumbs therein – ne’er many, so scarce this time of year, whither? I’d love to peek how many geek do read but there is no viewing nummer (bummer).

BLYTHE SPIRIT
Act I Scene I

(A beautifully-appointed 1930's entrance hall with hat stand, coat-hooks, and elephants-foot umbrella store. Copies of 'Country Living' and 'Posh Folk Messing About In Boats' lie, stylishly, upon a bureau. Reggie and Bunty burst through the stain-glassed, oak door in sodden raincoats. Reggie is carrying a steering wheel, Bunty is carrying Hepatitis B)

Reggie: (throwing his hat onto the hat-stand and his coat to the floor) What ho! Bingo! Frippery and japes! Benji's Gaming Party was a topping do, what?

Bunty: (fainting, and then getting up again) O, Wedgie! I find those Cons such a bore. Donchaknow that Earth Reborn is so passe?

Reggie: Is it, really? Well, we'd better give it up, then!

Satisfaction? I don't think so.
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Mon Jun 13, 2011 8:40 pm
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Pod People

Anthony Boydell
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As a young man I bought a LOT of music; when I say a lot, I mean a LOT! There wasn't a week that would go by without at least one or two albums being added to the collection - either re-issues on 'cheap' labels or new releases.

I have always been open to new material, as suggested by the various music magazines that I subscribed to at the time: Q, Vox, Select, Mojo and the like. In recent years, and with the advent of the digital (and older) age, I find my interest has waned - oh, I still enjoy my iPod and there's a few Gigs of music on the old iPhone, but my audio delight is now provided, in the main, by Podcasts.

This is, perhaps, the greatest indication of my growing in to middle age - listening to people talk about stuff rather than singing along to a melody.

Heretoforewith is a glimpse into that verbal world - some of my favourite podcasts described:

Gaming Podcasts:
I don't listen to as many of this type of 'cast as you would think - though this is still a category that can (at peak) provide 4 hours a week of hobbyist banter!

[1] The Dice Tower (via iTunes) - not as frequent a listen (for me) as it used to be, Tom's vintage vehicle continues to provide a solid stream of info and opinion. In a way, I kind of regard Tom Vasel as a treasure I first discovered back in the hey-day of the news groups (rec.boardgames.misc etc) when he would regularly (and facelessly) post his reviews - now that he is so universally-regarded (and ubiquitous), I feel I've lost that connection - he's been taken away from me (and I don't want to share him). Perhaps its just me but I also feel TV is groaning under the weight of work being sent his way...

[2] Into The Gamescape (via iTunes) - the Top Gear of gaming podcasts! Mike, Si and Paul (three Gloucestershire-based gamers) had a gentle, friendly demeanor with a casual to medium level take on games (until two of them became obsessed with War Games). The guys have been on an extended hiatus which, sadly, looks to continue indefinitely. I miss their warmth, their generosity and their undivided loyalty to Surprised Stare Games' games! Pick up some of the back-catalogue and enjoy some rambling Brit wittering!

[3] The Spiel (via iTunes) - an occasional delve for me, this one, but one of the highest quality gamer podcasts out there. When they do something, they do it well and thoroughly! I particular recommend their Christmas Gift Guides. They first came to my attention about five years ago when they reviewed Coppertwaddle, thinking it was REALLY a 700 year old CCG-style card game! I just had to write in to correct the error - though I waited a week or so before I did!

[4] The Little Metal Dog Show (via iTunes) - Michael Fox drives this new pod-shaped vehicle into the naughteens with style, professionalism and an almost nauseating enthusiasm! Recently tethered into the Dice Tower network, Michael and friends have been (and will be) getting some of the biggest names in gaming (Richard Garfield coming soon) 'in for a chat' - who'd have thought Milton Keynes could be so inviting? This is definitely the one to watch...

[5] The Royal Society of Gamers (via http://www.royalsocietyofgamers.com/?p=21&utm_medium=twitter...) - VERY new boys on the block indeed (this week sees their podding debut)! I know at least two of the chaps from London On Board, the excellent bi-weekly club in Gresham Street, London. Treat them gently, they still have the umbilical attached...

Comedy Podcasts:
[5] The Collings and Herrin Podcast (via iTunes) - Richard Herring (stand up comedian, one-time partner of Stewart Lee in the 1990s) and TV journalist Andrew Collins swear their way through news stories and general chitter-chatter (about thisser and thatter). Crude but compelling - now in the 170s...I've been listening since the beginning (phew!). Also check out Richard Herrings 'internet stand up show' As It Occurs To Me (also iTunes) - this one is VERY rude, stacked full of in-jokes and one of the episodes (from June last year) contains me shouting a question from the audience. Hilarious.

[6] The Friday Night Comedy Podcast from BBC Radio 4 (via iTunes) - oscillates between The News Quiz and The Now Show, topical satire from Brit panel show comedy favourites. You're probably listening to this one already...

[7] The Adam and Joe Podcast (via iTunes) - Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish have known eachother since childhood. They did a Channel 4 TV show in the late 90s / early 00s and have hosted radio shows on various stations ever since. Joe just directed 'Attack The Block'. These guys are genuinely inventive, warm and hilarious - even the chatty highlights from their BBC6 Music radio show last for an hour and are stacked full of quirky jokes, chat and in-jokes. The semi-regular Song Wars segment is utterly delightful - they write songs on a common theme and ask us, the audience, to vote for the best. Silly jingles pepper the proceedings. Awesome.

Side note: I don't know if its still available, but Timeghost featuring UK comedy duo Armstrong and Miller is worth seeking out - approx 26 twenty-minute nuggets supposedly about current cultural trends but really an excuse for the pair to pretend to be two grotesque pseudo-intellectual types bickering about their partners, their cats and everything else.

Other Podcasts:
[8] A History Of The World In 100 Objects (via iTunes) - quite simply the best thing I've heard EVER. A compelling, rich and fascinating glimpse of world history told across 500,000 years and 100 not-necessarily-the-most-famous-of objects. If you get into this (which I can't see you failing to do unless you're an intellectual sprout), I heartily recommend getting the accompanying (very big and heavy) book from Amazon...what the BBC is famous for: as much a piece of history as the objects it describes!

[9] Starbase 66 (via iTunes) - for the sci-fi (and speculative fiction) fans amongst you. This is a genial, chatty weekly podcast that mainly mentions Star Trek but covers lots of other stuff too. It's like having a few mates around for a water-cooler discussion about last nights screening of 'V' or 'Battlestar Galactica' or the latest 'Green Lantern' movie trailer.

[10] The Word Podcast (via iTunes) - tailor-made for me and my generation, this is an older mans music podcast. Hosted by the editors / producers of UK magazine 'The Word', David Hepworth and Mark Ellen, this is funny and informative - at least about things 30+ folks are interested in. Recent podcasts have featured Van Dyke Parks, Neil Tennant (formerly employed by Hepworth/Ellen at Smash Hits magazine in the 1980s), John Grant and others. Like an comfy armchair...

[11] Mayo and Kermode's 'Wittertainment' (via iTunes) - this one's been going for 10 years and is all about movies, movie interviews, movie news and (most importantly of all) Mark Kermode's reviews of movies. Witness the glory of Transformers 2 and the utter sphincter-clenching fury of Sex and the City 2...and what's more, Mr Kermode is pretty-much on-the-button 95% of the time!

Wow - looking back on the above, its a wonder I get to do anything else with my life between that, playing games and writing this blog...
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Sun Jun 12, 2011 12:45 pm
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Automatic for the People

Anthony Boydell
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(This is in lieu of my usual sous entendu-filled write up of the Friday night Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers session. My middle son fell and broke his arm yesterday afternoon at school - this meant he and my wife spent 5 hours in A&E while I looked after the others - normal lewd 'service' - snigger - will be resumed next week)

When putting the final touches to my card-game Fzzzt!, two and a half years ago now (blimey!), and after having drawn and re-drawn the robots / painstakingly come up with a detailed 'factory background' shot for Charlie Paull to colour in, I had the idea of putting a little extra thematic puzzle in to the game.

This isn't anything new for us at SSG: I spent absolutely AGES coming up with an intricate conundrum for Coppertwaddle which required formatting text on certain cards in a certain way, and the whole our website devoted to Bloody Legacy is about finding out where the legacy of the title has been hidden!

The Fzzzt! puzzle is not quite so elaborate - more of a Geek trivia quiz than a brain-burning enigma. I gave each robot a Hexadecimal code number and a name - you simply have to spot the source/reference for that name.

Here is the full list:
•01 Dewey
•02 Huey
•03 Louis
•04 ED-209
•05 Johnny
•06 Robbie
•07 Ash
•08 Alandroid
•09 CP-30
•0A House Robot
•0B Maximillian
•0C H.A.L.
•0D Fembot
•0E Box
•0F B.O.B.
•10 Gort
•11 Maria
•12 Cutie (QT1)
•13 Eliza
•14 Priss
•15 Herbie (HRB-34)
•16 Roy
•17 Hammerstein
•18 Collossus
•19 Proteus
•1A Gunslinger
•1B D.A.R.Y.L.
•1C Wintermute
•1D A.M.
•1E Tik-Tok
•1F Bishop
•2A Marvin
•20 Deep Thought
•21 V.I.N.C.E.N.T.
•22 Twiki (TB-TB-TB)
•23 Archie

It's been long enough 'out there', so if you fancy a go for the first PLEASE AVOID MOUSE-OVER THE BIG BLUE BOX BELOW, wherein the answers are contained!

For the others who have suffered enough...

Spoiler (click to reveal)

01 Dewey, 02 Huey and 03 Louis are the gardening robots from the wonderful eco-friendly, sci-fi poem “Silent Running” starring a grouchy Bruce Dern (who turned up, recently, as "kooky old guy" in 'The Hole').

04 ED-209 is the Battletech-inspired, dome-nosed machine gun-totting mecha-maniac from “Robocop” - generously giving you “15 seconds to comply” and then shooting the be-cheeses out of you anyway!

05 Johnny – Johnny FIVE is alive and the hero of “Short Circuit”’s saccharine-infused tale of self-awareness and that bloke out of Spinal Tap

06 Robbie – “Forbidden Planet” provided us with this enormous pepper-mill of a mechanoid – prone to guest starring in cheesy TV sci-fi nonsense such as “Lost In Space” and synthesizing whisky

07 Ash – Ian Holm and a mouth full of yogurt; decapitated and then interrogated by a miffed (understandably) Sigourney Weaver in “Alien”

08 Alandroid – not a literary or movie robot, but a reference to Alan Paull who is credited under this name in the Fzzzt! rule book

09 CP-30 – Definitely NOT the camp, golden sex-toy from Mr Lucas’ franchise, but a play on Charlie Paull’s name – also credited under this name in the Fzzzt! rule book

0A House Robot – Desperate for ‘The Orb’ and played by Woody Allen in the brilliant “Sleeper” – watch this movie for the best ‘banana skin’ joke in the world!

0B Maximillian – rotary blades and general nastiness from this Disney-created robo-bad guy: see “The Black Hole”

0C H.A.L. – ‘nuff said about the most chillingly-voiced sentient machine in a movie ever made

0D Fembot – Made to tackle Austin Powers (International Man of Mystery) - is that a machine gun in your bra or is it very cold in here?

0E Box – Lunatic custodian of what is, effectively, a futuristic branch of Iceland – freezes escapees from Logans world and nearly does for Michael York and Jenny Agutter* in “Logans Run” (the movie)

0F B.O.B. – another “Black Hole” automaton - a bit naff compared to Maximillian's slice 'n dice antics!

10 Gort – Klaatu Barada Nikto etc – giant silver destroyer from “The Day The Earth Stood Still”

11 Maria – Beautiful and terrible: “Metropolis”

12 Cutie (QT1) – one of several Fzzzt! robots inspired by Asimov’s “I, Robot” short stories. See? I read as well as watch movies!

13 Eliza – part of the ultimate Turing Test to develop an AI system that would be indistinguishable in its responses ‘on-line’ to that of a human being – lots of fun when you’re 13 and typing swear words into the interface

14 Priss – Daryl Hannah: skin-suit? Legs wrapped around your head? Excuse me for a moment…

15 Herbie (HRB-34) – another Asimovian automaton

16 Roy – a bleached Rutger Hauer in “Blade Runner”– poet, lost child, crusher of people’s heads and eyes…

17 Hammerstein – demolition robot and ABC Warrior – 2000AD fans form an orderly queue, please

18 Collossus – built by the Americans in DF Jones’ classic novel to manage their nuclear defences more efficiently and instantly hooks up with a Russian counterpart: the world is then held to ransom. Filmed as the bleak “The Forbin Experiment”

19 Proteus – “Demon Seed”s insane, desperate to procreate super-computer. Imprisons and impregnates Julie Christie; decapitates a bloke using a giant Rubik’s Snake.

1A Gunslinger – Yul Brynner + Michael Crichton = “Westworld”

1B D.A.R.Y.L. – 80’s yarn that presages the mostly-abyssmal A.I

1C Wintermute – William Gibson’s awesome debut “Neuromancer” gives us this Artificial Intelligence….

1D A.M. – Vindictive son-of-an-IBM that spans the earth in a complex system of tunnels and chambers and tortures five remaining humans in Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream”

1E Tik-Tok – from L Frank Baum’s “Oz” series

1F Bishop – after the cold-hearted Ash, the Alien franchise gives us the loveable and noble Lance Henriksen as Bishop in the romper-stomper sequel “Aliens”

2A Marvin – The Paranoid Android from Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy - and the 2A joke is a corker!

20 Deep Thought – Chess computer and also another HHGTTG reference

21 V.I.N.C.E.N.T. – also from Disney’s “The Black Hole” - shoulda bloody stayed there...

22 Twiki (TB-TB-TB) – mainly from Buck Rogers (the TV movies and series) but the ‘tweaky-tweaky-tweaky’ catchphrase has been bastardized to pun of my own initials!

23 Archie – robot Archie, hero of Lion comic annuals. A bit rubbish, but better than Dusty Bin (ooh! a VERY British reference there!)


However, that's not EVERYTHING! In last years' 5-6 player expansion, I added a few more robots - can you spot/deduce the references for these? Clue: one of them is about my youngest son...

•24 Agat-9
•25 Talos
•26 Guardian
•27 R.U.R
•28 Hadalay
•29 Boilerplate
•2B RT-B5 Arty
•2C AP-RU
•2D Joanna Eberhart
•2E Wonderbot

*I'd certainly like 'to do for' Jenny Agutter
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Sat Jun 11, 2011 9:28 am
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Seventeen

Anthony Boydell
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Good P.M. to you, browsers.

Settle down and scrutinize several suitably-sinister stumpers - solve 'em speedily (sans spoilers!):

1. Trouser flames?
2. Life’s key (with extra bacon)
3. Is it in Vlaada’s Travel Blog?
4. A bin train!
5. The Raven? A Christmas Carol?
6. The Sun King
7. Worl
8. Chauffeur theft?
9. You saw me standing alone
10. Sounds like a sycophant
11. …no, she went of her own accord
12. Genesis 8:13
13. A teletubby - but not from the front or back!
14. Atomise a mop?
15. Punctuate the sentient, but backwards, computer
16. 299,792,458 m/s
17. Finer orientals!
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Fri Jun 10, 2011 2:20 pm
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From Hell

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London, 1888 - just after tea-time. Four stout Peelers, suits smartly-pressed, drag along a stuffed shop dummy disguised as a fifth - their purpose? To catch the Carl the Ripper!

The Smiling Face of Pure Evil!


P.C. Clyne (be-bearded train-game enthusiast, possessor of an analytic mind and an enthusiastic contrarian*) ambles sternly through Whitechapel, ever watchful for rum goings-on...

Officer Fong (seconded from the Orient; fiercely-competitive and prone to self-flagellation), his truncheon gripped firmly in-hand**, patrols the Gin Joints and Opium Dens in search of inappropriate behaviour...

Sergeant Boydell (wise-cracking apprehender of ne'er-do-wells and feeler of collars***) 'polishes his whistle' in the fizzing orange light of a sodium lamp before setting off to prevent malpractice and naughtiness...

And finally, Community Police Constable Blaine, serving Her Majesty on a temporary 'work experience' basis, escapes the respiratorially-fatal world of the chimney sweep to assist the boys in blue by sticking parking tickets on mis-tethered horses...

None of these upholders of the Law had any idea that this seemingly-normal, fog-bound, cheerfully-cockney world would be turned upside down over the next few evenings!

The First Night:
A wretched, fallen woman screams; the night cloaks the horror of her demise and her assailant flees. The policemen wander about in casual disarray, unable to find their custodial backsides with a map and both hands. Through a complex series of forensic examinations, interviews with 'the locals' and logical deduction, we determine that a) she's dead and b) the killer lives somewhere on the Board.

The Second Night
The Ripper taunts us further - another harlot is drawn and quartered in a horrifying diorama of butchered guts - this time at the opposite end of the district! With the urgency of a lobotomized sloth, Her Majesty's Police Force scour the area for clues, tracking the fiend away from the scene of his grisly crime. During this thorough procedure, Officer Fong asks a man covered from head-to-foot in blood (and muttering "I'll eat the bitch's offal") if he has seen anything unsual. Fong then hails a Hansom Cab on this strangers behalf and waves him off into the night!

We still have no idea where he is - though we've narrowed the location of his lair down to 'there, there or (maybe) there'.

The Third Night
May the Lord preserve us and our fragile souls from this hell-spawn! The Ripper strikes again: this time there are two pox-ridden doxies sliced into gore-painted jigsaws! The investigators rush to the scene(s) and spend the next 15 minutes plotting out a variety of escape routes only to find the Ripper has already reached his lair, popped the kettle on and is leafing through "Two Molls, One Tankard" on the steam-powered Internet!

This evening's deductive processes prove particularly barren of information, though we're now fairly sure of the general region of his habitation after a lucky couple of clues. Time to close the net - or time to close the curtains? We're not getting paid overtime for any of this, you know and just LOOK at the time!

Curse you to the Pit, Satan's lapdog!

The Fourth Night
A fifth victim, a new horror - this will be our last chance to apprehend the Devil himself! Throwing the idea of reasoning and logic to the foggy four-winds, the Officers congregate in the area of our suspicion and successfully, and sequentially, track his entry into his home turf! We have him! All exits blocked! All alley's covered! The cowering, pitiful beast is unable to move without being snared - the day (night) is ours!

Unfortunately, Carl the Ripper 'slipped in the showers' back at the Station and will be unable to stand trial on account of having seven bells of sh*t 'slipped' out of him...

...and Officer Fong made pleasing use of his baton before the dastard expired!

Les Pieds
*Oh no he isn't...
**Oh come ON!
***You're just making up your own jokes now, aren't you?
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Thu Jun 9, 2011 11:00 am
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Three Ears For Captain Kirk

Anthony Boydell
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(his left, his right and his final front...)

Carl was supposed to be driving us over to Hemel Hempstead last night.

Carl let us down.

Richard had already ear-marked his beer for the evening's consumption and so it fell to me to do the driving. I'm a bit worried because the Engine warning light has come on and there's a rattling sound whenever I drive and I need to get it looked at and I'm paranoid something will happen and you DON'T want to be stuck in Hemel during the DAYTIME, let alone in the middle of the NIGHT! Anyway, it all turned out right in the end - despite Carl's desertion of duty.

Richard couldn't resist the temptation of a new Magic: The Gathering set (New Phyrexia) but I could (see prior articles about TCG ineptitude etc). There were enough board-gamers to get a decent session going, so we split up into a four (for Alien Frontiers) and a five (to play Phil's copy of Paperclip Railways!).

For a change, and because I've heard a few folks raving about it, I signed myself up for the Alien Frontiers pool.

What's it all about, then?
Nominally, you're colonizing a remote planet using your own, and Alien, technology - the player who scores the most points wins.

What's it REALLY about, then?
You roll some dice, in your colour, to play into various action spaces; these action spaces allow you to collect resources (ore OR energy), draw cards and/or build stuff (ships ie. more dice in your colour OR colonies)

How does it play?
On your turn you roll your ships (active dice) and then allocate them to one or action spaces:

(a) Solar Collector (or something) = a place to collect ENERGY
(b) Orbital Market = a place to swap ENERGY for ORE (rates vary)
(c) Alien thing = a place to buy Alien Tech cards
(d) Raiders = a place to let you steal resources (or a card) from others
(e) Terraforming place = sacrifice a shop (dice) to place a COLONY
(f) Ore Mine = collect ORE
(g) Colonising (quicker) = pay three ORE to place a COLONY
(h) Colony Ship (slower) = pay less to place a COLONY
(i) Maintenance Bay = build more dice (ships) to a max of 6

Colonies are placed into segments of 'the planet' - each segment, cutely named after sci-fi authors, bestows a different bonus effect / discount to the player who controls the segment (has the most colonies in it - ties are bad for both).

Alien Tech cards ALSO bestow bonuses and discounts.

The game ends when one player has placed all of their colonies (6 in the four player).

The board and components are colourful, clear and of good quality (see photo below).

I said: 'How does it PLAY?'
Well, holding your horses for a moment, it's very smooth - play moves clockwise until the final colony placement. The ability to buy more dice is nice (a bit Stone Age-y), but what ices this particular bun is the use of cards to manipulate die rolls eg. add and/or subtract one, flip a die to its opposite side etc.

Add to this the fact that your placed dice 'occupy' available placement spaces until your next turn and the forced sharing of segments of the planet (which affects scoring - Veeps go down as well as up) and you have a smashing little interactive game: less fiddly and day-consuming than Troyes, for instance.

Lots of excellent little decision points within a simple rule-set make for a satisfying experience. In our game, Phil rightly won, pipping me by the one point, because he gained (and held on to!) good Alien Tech cards - something I thought I could do without! Lesson learned - strike one up for the bad guys :-(

(I'm red, colonizing like a b*stard with yellow)

Meanwhile, on the table behind me, the rest of the sensible, well-balanced folk (who were NOT let down by their drivers) broke open Phil's copy of Paperclip Railways. Aside from a wonkily-arranged pentagon playing area (they didn't notice the markings on the Metropolis board until too late), they seemed to have a smooth and fun game (always a good thing for something you've just released!).

Come 11PM, and the end of the M:TG draft, Richard and I set off for home - more rattling ensued, but we managed to make it in one piece (no thanks to C!).

If we can find a way of trapping Blaine under something heavy before this evenings session, we might get to play Alien Frontiers again!
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Wed Jun 8, 2011 11:36 am
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Mondays not mundane

Anthony Boydell
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First, a song - with apologies to Noel Cow-herd...

In the farming game there are several things to weigh
When all players draft and choose
which Occs and minors they will use
It's one of those rules that the biggest names obey,
Because the choice is combo heaven and you’ve only got
The seven cards to play –
Pop-an-occa-pop-an-occa-pop-an-occa-doo. (Repeat)
major/minor-major/minor-major/minor-moo. (Repeat)

Take actions ‘til the dobbers fill the spaces, because
you’re obviously after resources –

Mad dogs and Englishmen play ‘Gric ‘til the day is done.
The Japanese don't care to, the Chinese wouldn't dare to,
Hindus and Argentines like Goa from twelve to one,
But Englishmen vito Puerto Rico,
In the Pacific mid you can Power Grid
Every now and then for cash
In the Malay states they have gaming crates,
Filled up with Ameritrash
From dawn to night the natives Steam, and
Brass and Dominion –
But Mad Dogs and Englishmen play ‘Gric ‘til the day is done.


An early meeting in London today necessitated either a drive over last night OR a stupidly-early drive over this morning. Given that I'm still semi-Jacobed* from the weekend, I didn't fancy rising with the lark - who is frankly a bit too bloody eager to see the sunrise and should buy himself some black-out curtains.

I met up with the 'usual suspects' at the Stafferton Lodge Toby Cavery for some hobby-based comestibles and was surprised to find, despite my late arrival (8PM) they were up for a game of Agricola. Two of them had spent most of Saturday in the Expo tournament for the same and I thought they'd be Agri-weary but no! As it turned out, Ray was lustily pursuing the chance to beat Expo 2011 champ, Iain, into an upturned (dung-filled) wheelbarrow - which he did with a comfortable 49-44-40-37 victory.

Richard used the toilet break to slam Master of Rules onto the table and an utterly confusing 20 minutes followed. I have absolutely no idea how to play this game at all - oh, I understand 'the rules', but how to actually play it AND WIN IT? Nope! Nothing! Like trying to nail jelly to the wall...nothing about it would stick in my brain. No tactical thoughts were forthcoming.

Talking of cheesy games - something to consider for your next wine and nibbles do?
- 1960 Calories: The Making Of President
- Roquefort the Galaxy
- Mr Monterey Jack
- Notr' Edam
- Any Richard Bries game
- Danish Blue Moon
- Le Chevres (o! I'm on FIRE!**)
- Puerto Ricotta
- In The Gruyere of the Dragon
- Through The Sages (Derby)
- Mascarpone Express


Come 10.30, it was time to finish with Glory To Rome - huzzah! My active Colosseum proved to be the deciding factor in my conquering of the others - eating Ray's clientele and pipping Iain, not Expo GtR champ by any means, to the victory!

*cream-crackered
**no..really! Get the extinguisher! Aaaarggh! Aarrrrghhh! Aaaaarrrrghh!
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Tue Jun 7, 2011 2:20 pm
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Dog-tired

Anthony Boydell
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I'm too tired to think of anything stupid, rude or funny to write.

I've got work e-mails backing up and heavy eye-lids.

Here are the answers to Friday's little teasers:
[1] BEFORE THE WIND
[2] AGRICOLA
[3] RAMPARTS
[4] PERPETUAL MOTION MACHINE
[5] QWIRKLE
[6] AGRICOLA
[7] FORTRESS AMERICA
[8] LANCASTER
[9] GOA
[10] BRIDGE

*sigh*

I'm off for a lie-down...
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Mon Jun 6, 2011 11:49 am
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