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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At The Sign Of The Prancing Tony

Anthony Boydell
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(with apologies to the Tolkien estate)

There is a house, a merry old house
In Hazlemere, near Wycombe
And there they play a lot of games
Some are different, some the same
They all take turns to pick ‘em.

Now, Richard likes a railway game
With rolling stock and shares
He’d Steam or 18C-2-C
All weekend if we let him be
And chuff away his cares.

Here’s Iain, he loves games with decks
Like GtR and Race
He’ll Thunderstone from dusk to dawn
And TCGs to him are porn
See how he’s red of face!

Ray Fong likes games of depth and skill
Considered, with precision
At least you’ll have the time to chow
Or catch the latest sci-fi show
While he makes a decision.

Then Tony rounds the numbers off
He loves all things Agric’
He’d happily farm the whole week through
Take reed, wood, stone, clay, animals too
What an obsessive p…erson.

On Monday night we Game of Throne-d
With pre-constructed Decks
This Living Card Game’s lots of fun
With challenges for everyone
Interactive and complex.

You put out people to your board
Conditions…places too
Then pick a role to boost your turn
See how much money you can earn
And pick a fight or two

Attacking others is the key
In up to three smart ways
Combat kills your played-out peeps
Intrigue: cards, and Power: veeps
Then comes a clean-up phase.

First to fifteen power’s the goal
(We never made the end)
With Ray ahead, and one hour passed,
We called the game for some repast
We’ll deffo play again.

We followed that by drafting pies
That Ray had brought for dinner
We took our turn at pastry pickin’
I plumped for stilton cheese and chicken
So every one’s a winner!

The evening rounded off with ‘Gric
That most respected game
With Czech and Austro and Komplex
We drafted over-powered decks
I swear than Tony came.

50-48-40-40 – that’s one weird lookin’ wench, and no mistake!
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Tue Jul 5, 2011 1:31 pm
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B.O.G Off!

Anthony Boydell
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For the first time in quite a long time indeed, my brother in law popped over for supper and some games. He tends to work umpteen jobs, at all hours, and has recently taken to helping out a pal with marshaling bicycle and running races (they have the timing systems).

He scoffed through the remains of a little barbecue supper while an insubstantial documentary about The Bermuda Triangle played out on the 'Demand Viewing' box - 90 minutes of lame, repetitive conjecture and looped archive footage and I managed to drop off for a 10 minute doze when they FINALLY got around to revealing their 'discovery' about it.

Loathe as I was to get into repeats of Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow, I suggested - more in hope than realistic expectation - that 'we have a game of something'.

Mrs Boydell, Bro James and eldest child were all in agreement and I duly retrieved The Black Overcoat Game from the archive shelf.

The Black Overcoat* is a cartoon character I developed while still a student - based loosely (in looks) from the lead character in Bill Sienkowicz's Stray Toasters but more akin to Blackadder in comedic leanings, this daft illustration dominated greetings cards, lecture notes and Christmas presents for many years. It was only natural, then, that when I had a proper job (with disposable income) and became exposed to regular gaming again (via weekly sessions of Magic: The Gathering) I would get around to making a GAME about him.

It's set in the Great House - ancestral home of the Overcoat family and location of the hidden legacy of Great Uncle Hesketh (the same setting would used for the lighter, quicker Bloody Legacy 10 years later) and is a little bit Murder By Death and a little bit Agatha Christie; it's driven by an enormous deck of cards (300+) of various types:
- Allies (members of the Overcoat family) with abilities
- Effects and abilities (one offs of the Allies re-usable effects)
- Objects (lots of stupid things that boost movement, damage, steal and/or break stuff, prevent things etc - also includes 12 Map Pieces - the key thing you need to win the game)
- Food (to boost your health)
- Traps (deal you damage) and
- Events: players moved around the building unless they can play an 'excuse'

The player turn structure is, naturally, influenced by the CCGs I was exposed to at the time, but the main aim is to wander about and search the house (draw cards) and use the things/people you have already collected to search (draw cards) some more! Searching involves 'using up' named spaces such as 'In The Maids Underwear Drawer', 'Amongst the Stiff Collars' or 'Under the Tiger Skin Rug'.

Card drawing is the key.

The goal? Collect three map piece objects to draw a room card and look at it secretly: that's where the fortune is hidden - you have a one-turn head start to get there (on your next turn you have to reveal the room to everyone).

Games play from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on how vindictive everyone is feeling at the time (and it supports up to 7 players - though the running time increases proportionately), and it's certainly a game WE all love because it's personal to us. I would imagine you lot, in the wider community, would miss the in-jokes and find it a little cliched (mechanically) and horrendously-unbalanced: huge, swingy effects, the luck of the draw and so on and so forth.

We played this game with friends in the mid-1990s, when my eldest (you'll remember she was playing this with us last night) was a newborn baby and being passed along the line of players to let people have their turns. It was illustrated 'on the fly', with new cards added as the whim took us and players contributed their own stylings for atmos. It had Diplomacy bullet pieces for player markers, tiny laminated magnifying glasses to mark used search points and a Stately Home depicted in all it's four-storey (and surrounding landscaped gardens) glory!

The joy, of course, is in the story-telling; the players are all familiar with the cartoons, so playing the game is living them out vicariously. Yes it's raw. Yes, it's rough. Yes, it's unsellable - but last night, a few fermented apples to the better, it was hilarious and stupid...again.

Game one, we ALL won simultaneously - summoned to The Boating Lake (its hiding place) for a Regatta (an Event). Game Two was a tie between the two girls when one had been stuck in the Picture Gallery (unable to move) and the other climbed up the outside wall (an ability) to join her - it seems that artistic representation of 'treasure' was made out of er, well, REAL treasure!

See? I knew you'd be less than impressed: it's one of those 'you should've been there' moments.

Anyway, its was a delight and a pleasure and a rarity - so why not sing about it?

Here's some piccies of the bits and pieces involved:



Perhaps, one day if I get around to scanning everything in, I'll post everything up as a Print 'n Play - then you can get in on some of the jokes too!

*Find him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/blackovercoat
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Sun Jul 3, 2011 8:41 pm
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...into the Friar

Anthony Boydell
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In Domino pizza, et fillings et spiritus Asti Spumanti. Amen.

Prime
Brother Anthony struggled into the Refectory carrying an enormous basket of fresh produce and let his weighty package slap onto the dining table - a couple of radishes spilled out onto the rough woodwork."Your tabard seems to have ridden up, dear Brother" said Brother Benjamin, barely glancing up.

Brothers Benjamin and Jonathan were meditating upon the Book of Architekton and surrounded by an extensive array of other 2-Friar diversions - it seems they were unsure whether Brother Anthony would make it back from the Abbey gardens in time for Sext (Brother Anthony always enjoyed a slow build up to Sext - particularly if one can slip in a little role-playing).

"May the Lord be praised," Brother Anthony said, "but I thought I'd never make it! The Head Gardener has had me on my knees all afternoon, rooting about in the beds: pulling parsnips, tugging carrots, cleaning up leeks and weighing his award-winning onions!"

The other Brothers stifled their giggles and finished - Br Benjamin conceding.

Brother Anthony continued: "I'm not sure I want to do any more Agriculture-related pursuits this evening - can we praise the City of the Seven Hills instead?" Brother Jonathan thrust his savory nuts under Anthony's nose: "Never played it", he grunted, "Want some of these?". A short reading of the procedures from the Illuminated manuscript of Br. A's memory elicited the expected frown of confusion, but there's no substitute for getting down and playing with this one. Br. Benjamin constructed a powerfully-early Colosseum which wreaked havoc upon the clientele, particlarly J's impressive team of Craftsmen and, unltimately pipped Br. A for the win (only 2 points in it). Gladiator? Yes, I think he probably was.

Terce
A quick refill of beakers from the barrels, and the Brothers once more settled. Brother Benjamin suggested Ninety-Nine, a Whist-like derivative with a devious bidding system. The aim is to get to 99 points by secretly bidding (with cards from your starting hand) for the number of tricks you aim to win in the round - if you achieve this, you get bonus points. You always get points for the tricks you win. There are a couple of other bonuses possible for revealing your bid and/or playing with an open hand. Brother Jonathan stormed the proceedings with an outrageous series of open plays, pipping the old Bridge-lag Br. Benjamin into second.

Sext
With Vespers approaching (you could here their terrible whining, buzzing engines from a distance), the gentle Friars concluded these contemplative exercises with Catacombs - a curious affair that combines Dungeons & Dragons with Shove Halfpenny. Br. Benjamin elected to be the evil overlord (an extra 200 Hail Mary's for him at Compline), with the other Brothers taking up the role of two adventurers each: Barbarian, Wizard, Thief and Elf. The adventurers displayed an alarming 'gung ho!' attitude as they progressed through the dungeon - flicking with impunity and leaving themselves wide-open to penetrative retaliation. So deft were some of Brother Benjamin's skimming responses that you would be forgiven for thinking (twenty Hail Mary's) he'd spent much of the previous week, alone in his cell, mastering control of his wrist! It fell, ultimately, to Brother A. and a solitary, rather flaccid, Wizard to face-off (aka 'capitulate pathetically') against the Sorcerer. All of the Brothers announced their satisfaction with the game, though had we taken a different (longer) path through the dungeon, it would've played out for another 30-45 minutes and outstayed its welcome.

None
The Monks departed, refreshed, to love and serve the Board.

Pax Dominion sit semper vobís cum
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Sat Jul 2, 2011 12:23 pm
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A Score of Questions

Anthony Boydell
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Ok folks...I'm about to blow my horn, my weapon is in my hand and it's about to go off!

I'm thinking of a game, what game am I thinking of?

20 questions...
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Fri Jul 1, 2011 10:05 am
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Blatant Space Filler

Anthony Boydell
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Er...

Just taking a look at the old DVD collection, and it’s clear that a great many of the classics we hold dear to our hearts have been influenced by games and gaming (I know this is utter fiction, but bear with me – it’s just a means to an end…and end involving a lot of terrible puns and tricksy wordplay. Yesterday’s blog entry REALLY took it out of me, you know - *phew* I’m knackered!).

• Gone Before The Wind (with Miss Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Battleline)
• The King Brick & I / The Man Who Would Be King Brick
• Casablokus – can Rick fit everyone into his Bar before the Nazi’s arrive?
• The Magnificent 7 Wonders / The Qwirkle & The Dead
• Bridge on the River Kwai / How The Whist Was Won / Night of the Giant Cribs
• China Town / The Two Mr Jacks
• Dial JKLM For Murder
• Through The Desert Fox
• Knizia The Living Dead / Cramer vs Kramer
• The Silence of the Jambos / In The Year Of The Red Dragon / Hannibal Eats Rome and Carthage
• Dr Yes-No / Diamante Is Forever / Incan Goldfinger / Alan R. Moonraker
• Romancing The Thunderstone / A Place In The Sun, Sea and Sand
• Le Havre and Le Havre Not / Zorba The Agreekola
• Cwal-E / Kung-Fu Pandemic
• An American In Paris Paris / Stringing In The Railwain
• Dances With Werewolves / Garfield of Dreams
• Steam America / It’s a Small Small Small World
• Here I Stand By Me / Ordinary Meeple
• Memento ’44 / The Paris Connection
• The Serpico Of Zavandor
• The Princess and the Treefrog / Brass Off
• Dice Hard

Bloody hell but my head hurts. See you tomorrow for the usual 20 questions?
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Thu Jun 30, 2011 4:00 pm
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Metamorphosis

Anthony Boydell
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I
Gregor awoke and, with some dismay, regarded the curtains of his meager bedroom; the light of day filtered through with such a brightness as to inform him that he was late for work. Panicked, Gregor glanced over at the clock and saw that it was past nine – a full thirty minutes over the expected commencement of employment! His mind filled at once with thoughts of dismissal – his beetroot-faced employer, Mr Alden, enraged at this display of wanton idleness (and being as intolerant as flint), casting him from the shop with forty-five cents and harsh words following. All this tragedy played in Gregor's mind – leading, as you would most surely expect, to anxieties for the subsequent provision of the familial food, drink and Essen new releases.

Gregor rallied quickly with hot feelings of injustice, for not once in more than five years of loyal service to Alden's Friendly Local Game Store – proud purveyors of graphic novels, card games, board games and other multitudinous periphera – had Gregor taken leave of the Company, be it for medical, vocational, or other personal reasons. Indeed, had he not shown abundant loyalty by absenting himself from the funerals of three Grandparents (all Paternal) in order to co-ordinate the radical overhaul of the FLGS displays? Moreover, he had foregone the wedding of his elder brother (on the morning of the very day), passing over the honour of Best Man to an acquaintance, when a Settlers of Catan World Championship qualifier had been relocated to the premises at short notice accompanied with a deficiency of judging staff! He had done all of these things and much more – and, thus, in his own mind lay convinced, unswervingly, of his immense value and worth to the Company (despite this current, first, sleight of tardiness) and of the inevitable security of his post therein.

Gregor made to rise and prolong this unpunctuality no further, when, suddenly he was given to most unusual sensations of weakness in his mid-riff. At first, he attempted to raise the duvet from his bed with his hands and regard the area of great sensitivity but found himself unable to grasp at the thick cloth. Additionally, about his head ranged the great softness of his pillow that only the previous evening had seemed small and flat, but this morning felt vast and expansive. Furthermore, he found himself so stiff of neck that he could but strain to glimpse any part of the bed's end and proceeded to rock himself forward and back, feeling himself confined as if roped about the middle and about the ankles – his arms and legs bound so tightly as to render him solid and immovable. Gregor persisted, and this constant rocking achieved, within ten minutes or so, the effect of removing himself from the oppression of the duvet and, at once, Gregor was able to glean the true nature of his paralysed predicament: a gasp of horror escaped from his mouth (or where, at least, he assumed his mouth to be) as he saw, in the lightening grey of the weekend, what he had become…

During the dark hours of his deep and dreamless slumber, Gregor's traditional form had undergone a miraculous, and yet grotesque, transformation: he had become an English-language copy of the popular board game: Agricola.

Gregor was now a 4 colour print, rigid box (cuboid, colourful and slightly larger than A4) containing player and game boards; E, I and K Occupation and Minor Improvement decks; action cards (and additional action spaces); animeeples; resourceeples and so on and so on. Of the method or means for such a conversion, or the reason(s) underlying it, Gregor remained woefully unenlightened.

The next fifteen minutes was spent experimenting with his new form: lifting and tucking, waving and undoing. With a little effort, Gregor found himself able to open the lid of his ornate box and protrude two of the component boards from his lower end; these, once he had wriggled himself erect, he found strong enough to support his entire weight, when angled appropriately, and could be used as a form of legs.

He rocked off the bed and onto the carpet with a dull thud and, nervously at first, pivoted upon them across the carpet to his mirror thence to gaze upon his modified figure. Upon closer inspection, he recognised the familiar cover art, the iconic fonted title itself and the comforting name of the designer. He drew his lid upwards in a sweeping arc until it waved above his head, revealing the components within.

As Gregor began to adjust to his predicament, he dwelled for some moments upon his nature and perspective – for though he had no visible eyes or other sensory organs, he was still blessed with those abilities normal to the sensually-active individual. His mind seemed to hover just above the copyright notices at the top of the box, as if on an invisible cloud – a non-corporeal entity tied, by some astral cord, to the physicality of his person.
Waking him from his pensive state, there came a calling from the room adjacent and a knock at his door; his mother, Mrs Samsa, had completed her breakfast duties and, concerned at Gregor's late arousal, sought ingress.

“Gregor? Gregor? Are you ill? Mr Alden will be waiting! Do you wish to become unemployed?” she asked.

Startled, Gregor replied: “Good morning, mother,” and then scrambled under the bed with such force that he bent the corner of the Major Improvements board as he did so. He was anxious that his mother refrain from calling the shop too hastily – perhaps his dread transmogrification would pass and, as if all was a dream, Gregor would be restored to his former self: “I must confess that I awoke feeling unwell, but now I am much restored; I will attend Mr Nelson presently!”

“Would you like me to arrange your bedclothes while you breakfast?” his mother asked testily.

Gregor felt irritated immediately by his mother's tone – at the first sign of his being in poor health, she had assumed him to be malingering. His anger soon dissipated when he remembered his bizarre state.

“I am well now, mother,” he repeated, “Though I don't feel hungry at this time (though a harvest IS approaching). I shall get something later.”

At that instant, his bedroom door was opened and in stepped his mother without any further warning and certainly without Gregor's permission!

“Gregor?” she called, turning her head this way and that, seeking out her errant off-spring, “Gregor? Where are you?”

Gregor pulled himself further under the bed, but not before she caught a glimpse of his movement in the shadows.

“Gregor? Are you hiding beneath the bed? Come out at once – it is all dusty and dirty and will serve no good for your asthma”

She crouched and peered: “Gregor?”

She stood and, once more, examined the small room: “Gregor? Where are you hiding?”

Gregor felt ashamed to his core and, determined that this waking dream should be dissipated as soon as possible, he scuffled into view and stood up.

“I am here, mother,” he called. “Look downwards!”

She turned, gazed upon him in the thick pile, and gasped. She found no words at the sight of this gaming extravaganza, this simulatory excellence in paper and wood, this hobby component, animated at her feet – no words, and yet she certainly found a fulsome scream.

II
Although Gregor felt no hunger (at least not yet), presumably because he lacked a stomach and alimentary canal, he began to feel weary. The exertions of the day, and the anxiety at his metamorphosis, had left him drained of energy; bereft of vigor and lack of luster. When his mother had ceased her soprano siren and taken a few moments to breath, compose her thoughts and attempt a first acceptance of Gregor's new anatomy, she began to question him: Why had this happened? What had he done? What drugs had he taken? How would they manage to subsist, as he could surely not continue to earn a wage in this new form? And so on. Gregor, unable to answer any of these enquiries, simply lay back against a table leg and shuffled his E deck silently; in this position he remained until the evening, when his father, Mr Samsa, returned from his toiling as a potato grader at a nearby farm and his sister, Greta, returned from her school.
Mrs Samsa fussed and bothered about her husband, still removing his coat in the hallway, and gabbled too excitedly for her meaning to be understood; Mr Samsa simply waved her incomprehensible babblings away with a muddied, calloused palm and a cry for “Tea and toast, woman! Cease your prattling and bring me refreshment! Can't you see the master of this house is fatigued?” Mrs Samsa, conscious of her duty, carried out her husband's wishes – after all, there was plenty of time that evening to describe the miraculous events of the day.

Greta retired to her room immediately upon arrival wherein she, dutifully, took up thirty minutes of Race For The Galaxy revision – filling the small house with staccato cries of ‘Deep Explore’ and ‘Produce’ accompanied by the rattling sound of a VP chits. Gregor, whose room was next to his sisters, listened to this performance and, to his surprise, began to feel more uplifted; it seemed that whenever Greta gained resources (and consequent Consume/Trade) he himself felt energised – and when she failed to Develop or Settle, he felt himself depleted – as weary as he had been before. Thus, did Gregor discover the means by which he must gain sustenance from that point forward – as a human now in boardgame form, he could only derive nutrition in the manner that any other game gains nutrition: by be played and being played WELL! At once, he felt hope that he could find a way to endure this transformation and he resolved to explain this to his family following their repast.

III
Later, as Mr Samsa mopped the spilled and ejected food from his chin and lap with his napkin, he apologised to the family for the indignity of his buccal ejections. The shock of Mrs Samsa's revelation about their son, and his subsequent appearance at table, had caught him unawares and in mid-mouthful. Greta, conversely, had taken to a fit of the giggles – youthful inexperience and levity masking deep awe – and the assembly fell into complete silence, for none had words to offer.

After an hour or so had passed, Mr Samsa stood and announced (briefly, tersely) his intention to ablute and retire for the night and, furthermore, suggested the others do the same. There were no objections to this proposal, and soon the living room was empty except for Gregor, lying propped against the condiments – checking and re-checking he had the correct number of Action cards for the 3, 4 and 5 player versions.

The room darkened and the long night drew in. Gregor slept fitfully until the dawn, and his little sister crept in. Greta lifted her brother into her hands and carried him into his room. She placed him gently on his study table and regarded him curiously: “I have had the most outrageous idea, dear brother,” she whispered, “It came to me in the night, for I did not sleep well. I was afraid that I, too, would undergo a change such as yours. I have a mind to make the most of this unusual situation and, perhaps, we can all profit from your alteration!”

“Speak!” replied Gregor, “I am listening.”

“Well,” his sibling continued, “I am competent in worker placement games and have SOME experience of yourself in the Family version but I feel confident that – with your assistance, of course – I could play you at the next UK Games Expo Open Tournament. We could sell the prize and be able to buy enough meat and potatoes to last us all another week! What do you think?”

“Greta – do I hear you correctly? Am I chattels to be toyed with? How could you conscience the abuse of my person in such a manner?”

“Think, dearest brother!” pressed Greta, “You have seen that you are of a strong design – you are efficiently constructed; why lock yourself away in this room, sulking, when you could be triumphant…

And earning the money you can no longer gain from Mr Alden’s employ?”

Gregor mulled over the idea and could find naught wrong with it, apart from a lingering indignation at his being so used. “And yet,” he pondered, “And yet this could be my big chance to shine! This could be the very opportunity for which I have been striving all these hobbying years!” Moreover, why else had he endured the errata web-sites, the exams, the rigorous after-hours sessions at London On Board, the scouring of a thousand (nay! ten thousand) strategy articles and session reports, and the endless discussions with peers? Why? For this very moment!
“I will do it, Greta,” answered Gregor, “I shall be entered (though not in THAT way) this coming weekend, and let no man try and prevent it! This will be hard, Greta – you must endure a week of intensive training; you must learn my intricacies, my innermost combinations. We must become as one Farming entity – one hand always upon your Family Member, one eye to the other players’.”

“Oh yes, Gregor,” enthused Greta, picking him up and dancing around the room alternately hugging him to her perfumed blouse and raising him, exultant, toward the ceiling.

IV
The Clarendon Rooms on the morning of the first day of the UK Games Expo was a forbidding and foreboding venue. Greta arrived by hover-donkey, escorted to the outer doors by her nervous mother, and stepped up to the registration desk. The registrar, a tall youth with short hair and wide vowels, spat a soggy pork-rind into an ashtray before drawling a request for “yer nime.”

”Greta Samsa,” she replied, courteously, handing over her entrance fee.

(Mrs Samsa, overcome by chagrin, immediately fainted in the lobby and had to be carried out to the First Aid area, where she was laid against a stuffed horse)

The tall youth, his short hair long in the tooth, scribbled something incomprehensible onto his clipboard, scribbled something reprehensible onto a beer mat, and handed a round schedule to the nervous competitor: “Fillet Inn,” he chewed, and then turned his attention to the waiting line behind Greta. “That bloke looks really gay!” an unknown voice proffered; “Is that a…girl?” questioned another.

Taking her place at a remote table in one of the corners – furthest away from the Traders, while a low murmur of curiosity was directed towards her – Greta whispered to her brother: “What do I do now?” she asked. Almost inaudibly, the copy of Mr Rosenberg’s finest brain-birthings laid before her on the surface responded: “Take me to the competition table and swap me for one of the ordinary copies theretofore stowed…but beware! Any mistake would see us ejected in disgrace!”

Nervously, Greta completed her task and, exhausted with concentration and worry, she leant back in her chair and mopped the sweat from her brow. A group of bearded miniature gamewrs passed her, giggling into their Snodger’s Old Foreskin Ale, and muttering comments such as “Easy!”, “Look! There's Mrs. Bye,” and “What are those things in her jumper?”

However, the events of that seemingly nondescript afternoon were to be writ large in the annals of not only the UK Games Expo, but of the totality of competitive Agricola itself. Greta and Gregor's partnership proved all-dominating that day: at no point was she denied required actions or short of building resources. When food was required, or crops harvested, they would become (miraculously) available!

Come the evening, and Greta's mother to bring her homeward, this unknown female scrub walked away with a first place, a set of Agricola-branded air pistols and and new-found respect.

Thus, over the coming months, did the siblings continue; attending as many local tournaments as was possible (accommodating Greta's continued need to complete homework and household chores) with each one ending in victory and further prizes which could be sold, or traded, for more domestic comforts. Many players were able to analyze and copy Greta’s play style (and achieve a modicum of success in their own right) but they were unable to overcome Greta.

As the weeks elapsed, Gregor grew more discomforted as he rested in his newly-commissioned velvet covered bookshelf in his bedroom, warmly snuggled against his beloved copy of Le Havre. Success was bringing food and other luxuries into the Samsa home, but he found himself with a continuing feeling of emptiness; there, in the depths of his guest markers and Begging Cards was a longing that remained unfulfilled. In the hot spotlight of their glory, Gregor and Greta no longer talked of education, ambition, politics, and, most especially, religion; instead, they conversed on ‘best occupations’ and ranking points. Gregor worried that his family weren't investing a portion of the winnings for their future, for he neither felt (nor envisaged) a time approaching when he would return to normal – and, as a standard copy of the boardgame in all respects, he felt the nagging anxiety of an Agricolean backlash and the eventual onset of boredom and loss-of-favour. What would they do once he was no longer beloved?

And so Gregor resolved, as the light of early morning dawned - reminiscent of his first morning as the game – that he must guide his sister toward the ultimate goal before his tenure was passed: he must take her to the World Championships and to the Winner's podium!

V
The vast hall, previously home to grand athletic occasions and the odd pugilistic exchange, thrummed with the background radiation of side-events, trader-haggling and excited conversation; the latter, as those who were there will testify concerned one subject and one subject alone: Greta Samsa –would she (could she) become the first female Agricola World Champion? It was the morning of day Four of the competition and, with Greta in eighth position and six rounds of ‘the Family Game for 4’ to be played, it look almost a surety. Greta had become the heroine, the poster girl, for female players everywhere – her meteoric rise giving hope and inspiration to a class of player heavily discriminated against. Greta was sat in the cafeteria, surrounded by girls and women, laughing and joking and unnervingly confident and unaffected by the pressure of her position; while, in her shoulder pack, stuffed beneath the Dr Pepper and breath mints, lay her brother – oppressed by linen and liquid marzipan; suffocated by be-bearded halitosis and his sister's indifference.

Over the previous three days, Greta had not spoken a word to him; silently, she had accepted his clandestine promptings. Even once the day's play was done and she retired to the room she shared with the Hungarian team's second ranker, she addressed him not.

She did this not for any malicious reason; indeed, she imagined herself protecting them both. Greta had inwardly resolved that no action or mode of behaviour should expose her brother, and his condition, and had decided that conversing with a boardgame would draw overmuch attention and suspicion. Additionally, she could not allow insinuations and investigations to jeopardize the Championship or shame her new-found sisterhood.

Thus, cautiously, Greta proceeded with her plan but neglected to inform Gregor which lead, in his ignorance of the safety plot, to his melancholic loneliness increasing. Gregor wept silently into his reference cards and a printed-out copy of the Reference Guide; his tears collected in the corners of his packaging and began to dampen the cardboard – thus was the Samsas' downfall sealed.

VI
It was during the final round before the knockout portion of the Grand Tournament that an idle remark, made amongst the excited audience, was overheard by a patrolling Judge and reported to the Administration section. Two further Judges, previously engaged in the management of informal Merkator demonstrations (and in great need of some stimulating activity), were conscripted into service and marched to the main hall and to the table of Greta Samsa.

The remark, throwaway as it seemed at the time, concerned an emerging problem with the copy of Agricola being used in Greta’s game: several individual cards seemed to have expanded, their casino-board structure parted, fish-mouthed, at their opening. The moisture from Gregor's weeping had begun to evaporate, re-condense, and, as a result, warp the fabric of his cards. Unfortunately, to those assembled around the table, this would (at first glance) seem to be an illegal, if somewhat obvious, marking technique and, in line with the tournament rules, the Judges suspended the match, recorded the games status meticulously and removed the components (Gregor, in his entirety) for scrutiny.

The officials treated Gregor roughly, ignorant as they were of the true condition and nature of this artifact; they discarded his box to the side of their registration table, having accidentally torn a tab from the lid area, and pile sorted his component parts according to deck and/or resource type – slapping them belligerently onto the work surface. They flexed corners that had curled; they removed specimens and tested them for authentic material composition; they wiped excess moisture with soiled handkerchiefs; catalogued, cross-referenced, and cogitated. They made a list of cards that offended their eye and that could also be construed as in breach of rules – then they catalogued, cross-referenced, and cogitated further.

It was without doubt that this copy of Agricola was a) marked in a manner that might preference one player and b) NOT of official tournament stock!

“Disqualification!” roared the Head Judge to his venerable team; at once, as a band, they scribbled reports onto forms and lodged paperwork with the local constabulary.

“Disqualification!” he bellowed to the assembled thousands in the main Arena, sternly-scanning the crowd in a display of breathless authority.

“Disqualification,” he said, face screwed up in wasp-chewing and bad-smelling, to Greta Samsa as she sat at the Top Table, her opponents equally angered by this cheating and joyful at their own promotion.

“Disqualification,” he repeated in a scornful whisper, before throwing the disarrayed Gregor – all torn box, naked and half-removed cards, creased, warped and silent suffering to the be-felted play table.

*

Such was the woe and wailing from Greta as she arrived home to the arms of her mother and the confusion of her father, that she threw the tatty assemblage that comprised her sibling carelessly into his room, letting his arrangement burst from its plastic bags and clattered across the floor and under the bed.

Gregor, in this disintegrated state, felt neither energy nor inclination to recombine himself. In silent dejection he remained, scattered and unformed. From the adjacent room Gregor could hear the partially muffled exchanges between father, mother and sister: Mrs Samsa was soft and soothing, warm and comforting; Mr Samsa was harsh and accusatory, angry and frustrated; Greta was simply inconsolable.
“I wish that Gregor was not in that hateful form,” she shouted, “He has brought nothing by disappointment, shame, loss, misery, distaste, disillusionment and disqualification. All good things have been taken from me! How I wish he had never set us upon this path. How I wish he were dead!”

In the cool blackness of his former bedroom, Gregor heard everything that was said; every tear-accompanied, handkerchief-wiped, bitter, and regretful word of it and, in the same darkness, he breathed more weakly and more shallowly until, at last, as the clock of the Town Hall chimed the midnight, he breathed no more.

Bereft of all spirit, of all life-essence, Gregor ripped away the last of the sheets from his score-pad and expired.

VII
In all things dark there is a light to be found and, in the case of Gregor's final passing, as they cleared the curled, dry, papery remains from the floor, Greta (blinking back thick tears) was pleased to discover some signed L-deck cards obtained from a prior Essen. These she dispatched to eBay and recovered enough funds, after some furious bidding spurred by the provenance of the cards themselves, to purchase a copy of the base software for the latest Internet-based, three-dimensional roleplaying game world.

Ultimately, the family retained, and framed, a single action card (Sow and/or Bake Bread) from Gregor's spiel-corpse as a memorial to their late son and it hangs, inconspicuously, upon the lounge wall above the fireplace between a landscape watercolour and a portrait of two kittens playing with an immolated mouse; it's scripted caption reads, simply: “For Gregor: Eternally the Start Player of our Hearts”
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Wed Jun 29, 2011 11:48 am
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Raining Champion

Anthony Boydell
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Just the one day ‘away from home’ this week which will lead to a consequent drop-off in game-playing opportunities *sad face*

The weather was promising to be bright and hot, so I decided to take the trip to London on the old motorbike: Vroooom! Vroooom! The early Monday morning afforded an excellent run and I was able to get to High Wycombe railway station in good time (I don’t, as a rule, ride straight into the capital city because the traffic is shit). It was, even at 9AM, beginning to get quite ‘stuffy’, but I was unable to find any space to stow my protective jacket which meant I had to spend the day lugging a shielded gautex behemoth around the baking tube system *sad face…and sweaty armpit*

Blah, blah, blah for the work stuff.

When back in Wycombe, I rode down the A404 to the Stafferton Lodge – a Toby Carvery that we frequent quite often to take supper and play a few games: it’s a shorter drive for several of out number, so we alternate venues to please everyone all of the time (they said it couldn’t be done!). It comes with a curry bar,'bottomless' fizzy drinks and a rude French waiter thrown in for good measure.

Richard had a broken car, so Carl would be picking him up ‘on the way’. Ray was already in situ when I'd parked up, playing on his iPad and ignoring the attempts of the carvery staff to get him to have some food! We chit-chatted for a while, then the others arrived: Carl bringing his stepson Blaine, Blaine bringing a quite astonishingly-bad ‘remedial pupil’ hairstyle and Richard bringing stomach-room for a couple of pints of foaming ale (coz he’s not drivin’, innit?).

Carl had kindly brought Agricola along (at my request: no room for it on the bike) and so, coincidentally had Ray – belt & braces! Carl decided to get some food first, but was sent back to his seat in shame by the assertive (you pay extra for that) waitress – they weren’t (now) ready for us.

Eventually, scran was scoffed and farming commenced; luckily, Carl didn’t find ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ in his broccoli like the last time (or, indeed, ‘half’ of the hungry caterpillar).

This evening we drafted from 7 of each (EIKG), picking an Occ and a Minor at each pass. It was a rather fecund 5 player, because we’re all fearless in our pursuit of Family Growth regardless of food issues, with 24 of a possible 25 family members employed by the end – add to this, Richards late-sleeping "guest" (oo-er, missus), and a prodigious number of actions were executed all-in-all!

I managed to pull the full 10 food from the Chronicle, use Woodcutter to get lots of extra wood (especially the now hugely-takeable Reed/Stone/Two Wood space) and abuse the ever-broken Chamberlain! Ray was somewhat undone by my grain-taking actions mid-game (to set up my sowing and Stone Oven baking) which left him scrabbling around for Food and with a cooling Clay Oven in his home. Carl played a steady, ‘look – it’s a proper farm’ game, Blaine kept fiddling with the (Eton) Mess in his lap and not listening and not paying attention and continuing to sport his 'special needs' barnett.

Richard did his usual jiggery-pokery with cards.

In the end, my persistence (and borken Occs) paid off with a 44-39-39-35-27 result:

It was still light outside (barely), so I opted to ride home again – a two hour journey in the cool of a summer’s night – what could go wrong? Well, it stayed clear and dry for 98 of the 100 miles of the journey – then, with just a couple to go, the skies opened in a comic downfall of Biblical proportions! Within 30 seconds, I was soaked to the underpants, visibility was almost nil and the road had metamorphosed into a river.

Apparently, vehicles with roofs are all the rage nowadays *steams*
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Tue Jun 28, 2011 12:59 pm
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A Paull-ing? Far from it

Anthony Boydell
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Yesterday I was able to spend a goodly amount of time at Alan and Charlie Paull's Games Weekend, a tetra-annual gathering of friends in the sunny, picturesque wooded hills of Gloucestershire. I normally only make it for a few hours or so, on account of other commitments related to Chez Boydell but THIS TIME, after dropping No.2 daughter off for a sleepover on the way, I was on a much longer 'come home when you're done' clock!

Passing the be-felined portal, room one contained a haunted, hollow-eyed party in the middle of Dominant Species. As I popped my head round the door, there were chair shuffles and low moans as the damned gazed pleadingly at me: 'Kill Us Now...we're only half way through...'. I fail to understand the appeal of this game - expensive, a huge box of bits and pieces, ridiculously fiddly play and a running time that would impact GDP in lost man hours. Someone remarked, wittily, after Essen that everyone who paid 70 euros for this game absolutely loves it. I left the condemned to their fate - it wouldn't help to get involved and I may end up being cast into the fiery pit of tactical minutae for all eternity myself *shudder*

In the kitchen, Charlie was laying out the magnificent luncheon spread - hams, cheeses, breads, pickles...perfect timing on my part, as usual! There was also a shoulder of pork bigger than many of the guests lying in the roasting tray - scored for crackling and awaiting a full layer of lard. My guess is they took the kitchen window out to get the meat in...

In the computer room, a long table was set up for a play-test of Richard Breese' new Project (codenamed 'Inhabit The Earth'); Richard sent me the draft rules for this a few weeks ago and I was looking forward to giving it a go - only Alan Paull, Andy (Ride Me For a 100 Euros) Unwin and Richard were already in full swing. I watched the last half of the game and look forward to giving it a go myself in a week or so.

Alan and Andy departed to have a couple of games of A Few Acres Of Snow (Alan has been play-testing this), leaving Richard and myself and a yet-to-be-disclosed third – to have a go at my Mountain Railway prototype. Happily, we were joined by David Brain (Mr Key Market) and I set forth with the rules explanation. Mountain Railway is a worker placement game themed around the construction of the Snowdon, er, Mountain Railway. You excavate, forge and lay track and build parts of stations, viaducts and halts – some of which can be affected by what the weather is like in Snowdonia! I was a little worried by the frowny vibes being given off by Richard and David – I didn’t know whether they were just tired, ribbing me, displeased with the game or just totally confused! It was a very useful play-test, however; the weather element is an important thematic, and mechanical, element to the game and it still needs tweaking (as the early game gets literally and metaphorically ‘bogged down’ if you have a run of rain and/or fog!). Lots to think about.

David ran off and Simeon arrived, so we stayed where we were (because tables are at a premium) and Richard recommended we give 51st State a go. The Wycombe group has a copy of this but it’s never made it to play, so I was pleased to see what it was about – especially as Richard seems quite taken with it! It’s a card driven game in the San Juan / Race style, but there are lots of resource tokens that you gain and use as part of a number of available turn actions. A round begins with a short card draft, then players take it in turns to perform single actions until all have passed. Actions involved putting buildings into play in your tableau, setting building cards up for one-shot resource bonuses next round and/or using building cards as ‘every turn’ resource generators (VPs included). At the end of every round, spare resources are lost (unless you have storage buildings) and VP count is checked and updated. The game ends when someone has >30 points, with the most VPs winning.

It was a very satisfying experience – marrying up the multifunction cards: do I build this, use it for one shot or use it for reliable resource generation? How can I get VPs? Should I draft a card because its much better for someone else? Etc – you know the kind of thing! The art is excellent – having a sort of ‘Escape From New York’ dystopian future feel (it IS set in the Neuroshima Hex universe). Recommended as a nice, meaty filler.

Hot diggedy, but time flashed by – and while we were packing up 51st State, I glanced at my watch to see it was going home time (7.30PM). As was usual, I didn’t get to play a game with either Alan or Charlie, though I was happy to breathe their air and consume their supplies (*burp*). As I cheerily waved my farewells, I notice the Dominant Species crew had managed to finish and were n the prowl for a new kind of Hell…I suggested High Frontier or, maybe, Reiner Knizia’s Flea Circus on a perpetual loop.

Unsurprisingly, my ideas were met with the contempt they deserved.
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Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:00 pm
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20 Questions More

Anthony Boydell
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Seeing as this proved quite popular last week - and a pleasingly high number of responses garnered - why don't we do it again?

I'm thinking of a game - what game am I thinking of?

You have a 20 question limit and I can only respond YES or NO! Last week I made it to 13 before being rumbled...

Allez vous en!

(Dammit - French again...)
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Fri Jun 24, 2011 1:00 pm
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Diary-er

Anthony Boydell
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(hacked from the BGG Mail account of an unnamed Geek Administrator - startling revelations about the site we adore!)

Tuesday 29th March, 2011
Those BuGGers are at it again - banging on and on about games and stuff! Every time we try and commission another sweep of soul-ensnaring (or, as Aldie puts it, ‘recruitment drive’), they get wind of a new Nightfall expansion and disappear into the near distance! Talking of the Infernal Master, I asked Aldie if he knew anyone who could 'take care of things' re: that trouble maker who keeps publishing incriminating stuff in his ‘so called Blog’ - but, he said, he wasn't interested in people dying…just what happened to them afterwards.

Weather: Wet, but optimistic.

Wednesday 30th March, 2011
Told the BGG Con organizer that we'd probably have to organize a larger raffle to keep the punters happy - he didn't like it very much and tore most of the East Wing to rubble. Now, anyone will tell you that I'm not a prejudiced fellow, but I'm beginning to think that having the reanimated corpse of a genetically-enhanced Tyrannosaurus Rex with the transplanted mind of a gaming podcaster on the payroll is a baaaaaad idea. Aldie offered some lost souls to use in the typing pool/mail order department, but they do ‘wail and gnash their teeth’ so.

(Note to self: remove all mirrors from Director's suite and re-schedule board meetings during the hours of darkness.)

Weather: Rainy spells, but mostly kind.

Thursday 31st March, 2011
The batteries have run down on W.Eric Martin, so we needed to pull in Dale Yu and some of the Opinionated Gamer guys to finish off a months worth of News updates. Talking of which, there have been mutterings in the boiler rooms that subliminal messages have sneaked into the articles – if you read them backwards they say ‘Worship Beelzebub’ etc.

HOW THE HELL DID THEY FIND OUT ?

Have asked the boys in the Geekmod pool (which is, actually, a lake of incandescent and eternally-raging sulphur) to conduct a thorough investigation. Oh, some news on the recruitment front ! Now that we've managed to bring the average weight of a staff member down to under 400lbs, we have freed up several offices and are now looking for .net programmers (‘low-level devils and taunters of the Damned'). The marketing people suggested that we advertise through Internet Recruitment sites, Facebook and Ouija Board (to cut down on costs) - so, I 'logged on' to the World-wide Web' and spent a very satisfying three hours surfing (though typing URLs with only one hand wasn’t the only thing that was hard)

Air Quality: Not needed, since the furnaces draw ALL traces of oxygen from the atmosphere.

Friday 1st April, 2011
Woke up sweating and screaming again this morning. The wife is understandably concerned, as that's usually HER job. Made love (a rather one-side affair, as the wife had a tennis lesson and was gone before I’d awoken).

Washed. Dressed. Ate a hearty breakfast, and then popped into the office on my way to the Mayor's inaugural summer BBQ. Had to pick Aldie up on the way - I do HATE the way he just levitates over the seat, it over-stretches the safety belt; plus he spent the whole journey complaining about the lack of 'new blood' coming into the hobby - I think I know what he's saying, but you can never be sure. The BBQ was a complete disaster: a Pastor from the "4th Especially Holy Church of Screaming Blue Murder At Everything" confronted us at the Chardonnay bar and Scott was forced to rip the essence of his very soul from his wizened body and consume it. I thought this a trifle un-necessary, as I'd already thought up a witty retort.

Weather: Clammy (like a genital infection)

Saturday 2nd April, 2011
More legal matters to resolve following trouble at our ‘booth’ at last years’ Essen Spiel. Normally, I wouldn't deal with such complaints myself, but when a Geekdo employee is accused of cramming complimentary demo product up his butt and then 'regurgitating it' over law-enforcement officials, I have to step in for the continued obfuscation of our real Mission Statement.

The snooping blogger has been suspiciously quiet recently - the phone-taps have proved inconclusive, but entertaining. Aldie has been building something in his shed and won't tell me what it is - I just hope he's learned the lessons from RPGgeek and ‘Live Streaming from Scott Nicholson’s Colon’.

Mistress: Warm, with assorted chains.

Monday 4th April, 2011
This mornings chicken entrails signaled Go! Go! Go! for the Luding database take-over. Bob McBobson (aka Manticore Fleshrend) of Marketing, raised some good points at the Board meeting last night - especially his concerns about product quality suffering under a new regime – transcript follows:

Bob: "How the hell can these guys guarantee the loving care and attention to detail that our own guys put into output? Can they put their hands on their hearts and...”
Aldie: (interrupting) I should hope not seeing as I've got them back at the 'Ranch'
Bob: "Er...right, RG. As I was saying, can they hold their heads up high and..."
Aldie: (interjecting) “Not after tonight - unless you mean 'by the hair' with a ragged slice through the neck, in which case 'probably'”

Bob was sick at that point, but in a charming way.

Weather: Also charming, if a little stand-offish.


Tuesday 5th April, 2011
Sad, sad news. Bob McBobson (Ex of Marketing) committed suicide on his way home from the office last night. According to the 12-fingered, hick cop that arrived on the scene, Bob's car had been crushed to the size of a Rubik's cube, then cremated in a short, high-temperature burst of flame. The only reason they identified it as Bob's was the presence of the suicide note nailed to a nearby tree with one of his fingers (from which they were able to match the prints). The atmosphere is understandably charged in the office, though that may have more to do with the enormous Van Der Graaf generator we just installed to produce random burst of lightning.

Wife: Cold, but not antagonistic (weather: same).

Wednesday 6th April, 2011
We've done it ! A crack team of undercover agents managed to swap that tiresome blogger with an identical cyborg that is completely under our control! At last an end to the wretched plague of his heretical scribblings ! I AM FREE !!

HA-HA-HA HA-HA-HA HA-HA-HA !

HA-HA-HA HA-HA-HA HA-HA-HA !

HA-HA-HA HA-HA-HA HA-HA-HA !


Excuse me, there's someone at the door.

Thursday 7th April, 2011
Damn and blast it all to the pits of Hell (Aldie’s office)! It turns out that the blogger we abducted and replaced was, in fact, a cyborg planted by an affronted AEG employee a week ago - apparently, the real blogger is holed up in a converted igloo play-testing Post-It Note Railways.

Friday 8th April, 2011
More optimistic this evening. R&D liberated that frozen blogger and have thawed him out in our secret, underground laboratory; they showed him some proofs of Agricola: Ironworkers and 7 Wonders: Burger Franchise and he began salivating and gnashing his teeth - looks like we have the real thing at last ! Some of the legal boys (a couple of Seraphim on a freelancing gig) have pointed out that we can't hold him indefinitely, so we'll be adding a restraining bolt to his frontal lobes. The technology is amazing, you know, apparently whenever he gets the urge to criticize the organization he will, instead, write bad puns and double entendres!

Economic Climate: Yielding sensuously to our metaphorical financial caresses.

Monday 18th April, 2011 (National No-Trousers Day)

Weather: Breezy.

Tuesday 19th April, 2011
Aldie manifested himself in the executive toilet while I was otherwise engaged - suffice to say that it gave me such a fright that I was finished more quickly than I had anticipated. He's been feeling a little unwell recently, he says it's probably an abscess or maybe an (exor)cist.

Outlook: Hesitant.

Wednesday 1st June, 2011
Had a recently-repowered Eric over for tea and discussed him filling a role in R&D, he suggested that if he was 'filling the role' then he should be allowed to 'eat it' as well. I responded with a comment along the lines of him 'taking a stake in the process' and he replied that he'd 'be pleased to have any stake, processed or not'. He left around 7PM with the larder fridge.

Weather: Hot (like a Dutch porn film)

Friday 3rd June, 2011
0730AM Me and the team have been in foggy old Birmingham for two days now waiting for UK Games Expo to start - and only a small percentage have been arrested. The opening ceremony was a bit of a disappointment, as all the horse laxatives were confiscated at the airport - still, at least we all got a turn on the "Squeeze Kate Moss' Tits" booth.

(For Uwe's sake, DON'T pass any of this on - you'll only draw attention to yourselves! Luckily, by publishing this horrific truth here no-one will ever get to see it!)
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Thu Jun 23, 2011 1:50 pm
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