The Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers

Beer and Boardgames at The Plough Inn (formerly the Prince Of Wales, formerly the White Lion). "It's not F-ing Monopoly, alright?!"

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Friday 10th September - Pan Albion

Ben Bateson
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Only time for two games tonight, thanks to some laboured teaching (mostly from me - some nights you just ain't got it) and the need for an early start on Saturday.

We were back in John's cabin, and having recently discovered the joys of Pan Am, I was keen to put it back on the table and see if it was as good the second time. It was certainly very DIFFERENT the second time: the stock price stayed very low throughout, which meant the losing score comfortably doubled my winning score from a week ago. I had foregone a couple of rounds of claiming routes, but it only allowed the others to leap in, and there were a lot of Pan Am sales throughout. The Directives space took less heavy traffic as a result of the low budgets, and only one player even considered buying a jet. This sort of variation - driven largely by a small events deck - positively demands further exploration. It was John who won, continuing his good form from last week, but I was pleased with my second place, earned on something of a shoestring flight plan. John had the last laugh as the only one who could correctly fold the board, too.

Becky had been eyeing up Troyes for the last 90 minutes, but at the last minutes she switched allegiances to Albion, a real puzzler of an optimisation game and a game seemingly - and unfairly - almost lost to history. We stumbled in a little, due to my forgetfulness of a few key rules, and Becky and Ian disastrously lost an early building to the Picts (which, to be honest, set them behind the curve for the whole game and we probably should have allowed them to Mulligan). Although John was spreading fastest, I was critically first to Stone and first to Gold, and things snowballed satisfactorily from there. I finished my settlements with John still a resource short of matching me and claimed a long-overdue win.

It would have been nice to stay for a quick finisher, but the dreaded 'parental visit' loomed, and we had to go and tidy the house. Not least the piles of board games everywhere...
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Mon Sep 13, 2021 8:27 pm
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Friday 3rd September - Birthday Boy!

Ben Bateson
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That's right - my turn to pick everything this week, and a rerun of my favourite player count (and indeed my favourite players). We opened with 4P, however, waiting for Dave who was running a last-minute taxi-of-mercy mission. I put myself out of contention early, bidding heavily on a doubler card that never really paid off. John somehow also contrived to spend the most money, which reduced four players to a one-two of Ian and Becky, in that order.

Dave had rocked up in time to see the final tally, and we had already laid out the first course for the night: New Bedford. This has not necessarily been a hit for us in the past (John and Becky certainly raised moody eyebrows), but they had had no prior taste of the five-player game, which critically throws the start player marker into the worker-placement mix. And, I'm pleased to say, it was an absolute blast, with plenty of money available on the board and a couple of screwage buildings (many horrible things were said about the chemist which I'm sure the noble guild of pharmacists do not deserve) built by Ian and Dave. Everyone had positive things to say about it at the end, so that certainly counts as a success. John ended up beating me by a mere point, but everyone else was close behind and certainly within contention.

After a quick scout around the living room, I bypassed several club favourites in favour of Furstenfeld. This is one of those games which is simplicity itself to teach, and the first two rounds are almost inherently balanced, so it was easy to dive in with a minimum of rules. Maybe a couple more rules for Dave on not helping himself to the market markers might have helped...

I carefully Scavenged my entire deck, but a lack of crops saw me woefully short of income throughout. Becky made a fortune off her tour bus, and Ian built a big bank. We were all in contention, but John was quietly amassing a massive pile of cash which ensured he couldn't really be beaten. Good job he bought me a card!

We closed with a game of QE, a nice mirror to our opening High Society I thought. Ian threw it all away this time, making some rash and frankly unnecessary bids in pursuit of who-knows-what. Becky was playing a quiet acquisition game and Dave bought virtually nothing. But, yes, it was John again who won it, buying heavily in the frugal early rounds with the net result that he spent maybe 90% less than the rest of us. Nicely done, sir.
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Mon Sep 13, 2021 8:11 pm
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Friday 27th August - Birthday Girl

Ben Bateson
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Becky's birthday weekend involved archery, curry, and homemade scones, but it all started with a stunning evening of games of which I shall now recount:

We were hoping for a full table of six to get the most out of Mysterium, but five was almost as good. Becky took on the honour of being the ghost (under the strict understanding that her poker face needed some serious work), and a definite highlight was a run of 'Wizard Of Oz' clues that tipped Ian off to his character. If only Dave had the same insight - he was still stuck on the murder weapon two full rounds behind the rest of us, despite he and I being ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED that we knew what it was at least twice. In the end, Ian and John successfully cracked Becky's code - we must pull out the 'advanced' rules one day and work out what to do with all those little bonus tokens.

When Becky has free rein over games, then Lancaster is never far away. We made a pretty stoic bunch of politicians, stoutly refusing to enact any laws at all from round 2 onwards, but that made for a peculiarly tactical game that was light on county placements. Normally, you see the player with the big stash of nobles make a serious run at the win here, but - impressively - John made a mockery of this, winning the 'best tapestries' and 'biggest army' prize and winning by a comfortable eight points over Dave and Becky while only employing a single noble. This was a real eye-opener just when we thought Lancaster was getting a bit samey: I've always said you can do great and unexpected things with a player-count of five.

We moved into Kingdom Builder - another 'marvellous with five' game - and a tricksy layout of scoring cards that spelled doom for anyone getting pinned down (ie. me). I managed a valiant fourth, but wasn't even halfway to a triumphant score from Ian, who I suspect has been honing his skills on BGA during lockdown.

Time for a couple of snort-inducing delights to see the evening out. Mord im Arosa was AGAIN an absolute delight with this player count, featuring just the right amount of suspicion, deduction and laughter. I took the honours as the least-successfully fingered person around the table (quiet at the back, there!). And, possibly the best laughs-per-pound ratio we have ever had, our £2 box of Cockroach Salad. Becky somehow managed to overcome her gin-and-tonic tendencies to win this, although we all had shaky moments, and Dave threw away his opportunity to win on the very last card.
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Mon Sep 13, 2021 7:53 pm
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Friday August 20th - Do Edo the things Edo

Ben Bateson
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With holidays and suchlike still taking their toll, it was the same foursome yet again, and this time we set sail for John's backyard cabin to sup some gin and play noble games.

Ian had long been singing the praises of his newly-arrived copy of Edo, and here was the perfect opportunity to venture into it without all the distractions of 5-player expansions and suchlike. Ian did a commendable job of teaching, and we set to samurai-wrangling and building-bungling.

Having had the luxury of thinking over the strategy, Ian won pretty comfortably, the remaining three of us battling over the coveted 'not-being-last' positions (spoiler alert - John was last). I'll be honest, I wasn't dead keen on the whole experience: it didn't really feel like anything new, the programming felt nailed-on, and the typically aggravating majority control was too prevalent. Too much changed hands on marginal decisions, and Ian's win was obvious well before the end. I might play again if you twisted my arm, though.

We moved on to one of those great, lost and forgotten Euros, Bernd Brunnhofer's Pantheon. Bernd only really has three games in the database, and they're all crackers (I've been slowly warming to Stone Age over time). Pantheon is definitely the weirdest of the lot though, with its crazy acceleration curve, and the last two rounds went by in a blur of gods. Becky had made quite the collection of demi-gods, enough to see John's sacrifice into second place, and my own map-focussed effort into a distant third. Much as I enjoy Pantheon, I think it might just be a bit TOO crazy with four, and I suspect a 3P game gives the best all-around experience.

To finish, a filler we hadn't had out for way too long in the shape of Coloretto. I was a little bit surprised when John described Becky and I as 'experts' (I didn't know it was possible to be a Coloretto expert, tbh), but his assessment might have been proved correct as I edged Becky out in a 34-33-25-20 win.
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Mon Sep 13, 2021 7:30 pm
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Friday 13th August - Wooden Ships & German Men

Ben Bateson
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Another late cancellation this week meant we were the same four-hander as last time. Ian had been previously eyeing up Hansa Teutonica for some table time, so it seemed only reasonable to swot up on the rules in advance.

We have a chequered history with Hansa Teutonica. After three plays, all of which I won, it was deemed 'not worth playing' by - funnily enough - all the players who didn't win. So it's been dormant for a couple of years at least. In the interests of giving the other players a fair crack at being competitive, I thought I'd pursue a less-likely strategy, and went all-in for the bonus tiles from the start. Becky was looking good, clearing stuff off her development board at a rate of knots, but somewhat neglected the importance of controlling cities in endgame scoring, which allowed Ian and John to hoover up cheap running points and trigger the endgame before she had chance to implement anything. As it turned out, my stack of bonus tiles and three key cities in the middle of the board was enough to just sneak a win from under John's nose. Oh well - looks like this one is going back on the shelf for another two years, then.

While we were on the theme of 'games where someone got too good at them and everyone else sulked', Becky suggested another go at Navegador. This, of course, was more John's province: after we played for the first time, he enjoyed himself so much that he went off and practiced against the sharks on Yucata so much that he elevated himself into their Top 25. These days, he is somewhat lower than that, but still a force to be reckoned with, so he intermixed his rules refresher with a liberal sprinkling of strategy advice. One of his key tips was 'get a cathedral early', so of course we completely ignored that and did different stuff instead. It worked pretty well - Ian made a fortune from plantations, Becky built buildings and I amassed a fleet in order to go exploring. John won, of course, but only by a few points over Ian and me in joint-second. And it was great - I like all of Mac Gerdts games, and given how much Concordia we've played, I think this one might be challenging it for the top spot.

This was all quite heavy stuff for our poor enfeebled little brains (no kidding, if I play a lot of heavy games back-to-back, I wake up with a hangover), so we broke out the light relief in the shape of Riff-Raff. Ian sang a bit of AC/DC at us, and John was duly impressed with the ingenious engineering at the core of this design, but it was Becky who placed her last barrel to win. Quite impressive after two gin-and-tonics, I must say.
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Sun Aug 15, 2021 1:46 pm
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Friday 6th August - Ooooh, it means nothing to me...

Ben Bateson
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I was just pulling games off the shelves to accommodate 5P, when another last-minute cancellation pinged through from Tony, so it was John and Ian filling out a nicely rounded table of four this week. And we got through some great stuff, too.

Like many others, I had been tempted by the dice-placement-lite mechanics of Vienna on offer at next-to-no money, and was already breaking out the starting cards and dice when the others rocked up. It's a deceptively simple affair with plenty of ways to mitigate for bad rolls, and lots of interactive blocking of the 'screw you' nature. Despite playing a significant rule wrongly, there proved to be enough decisions to keep everyone involved, even though Becky stretched her lead out in midgame and couldn't be caught.

Becky's inspired idea for a follow-up was Clippers, using the logic that because it was a variation on Airlines: Europe then Tony wouldn't have enjoyed it. It looked like John wasn't keen either, as he deprecated the production values at length. But there are hidden charms in Clippers, especially with high player counts moving the game on swiftly, and everyone approached the final tot-up very pleased with themselves: Becky and John hogging high-scoring islands, Ian going all-in for the connection bonuses, and my own portfolio concentrating on the under-used island ignored by the others. It was a screamer of a finish, Becky scoring one mammoth 72-point island to beat John by just four points, and me only three. Books and covers, folks, books and covers.

With barely ninety minutes under our belts, we moved on to Calico. This is a game of devilish optimisation and planning masquerading as something cutesy with sewing and cats. Full credit goes to Beth Sobel for making it cutesy, the cats are adorable. And that's coming from someone who HATES cats.

But, anyway, this game far eclipses the similarly-timed release of Isle Of Cats in my view. It's smart, clinical and keeps you engaged right up to the end, something which the other game doesn't. Some won't like the randomness of the market: I'd suggest they're trying to play the game the wrong way. I scored a massive 33 points from the objective tiles, but it still wasn't enough to match John who had a veritable army of cats on his quilt. We knew it would be the sort of thing he'd be good at.

With time still to burn, we broke out the delightfully daft Mord Im Arosa, at which I was constantly identified as being in the wrong place (worse than my performance reviews at work, this), and the even more daft Fold-It, which featured one round so hard that three of us couldn't do it, even with John explaining the solution step-by-step.
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Tue Aug 10, 2021 9:12 pm
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Friday 30th July - Feudality Feutility

Ben Bateson
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After a break for various holidays, we welcomed a complement of six back to the Bateson living room. With games for six in somewhat diminishing supply, I acquiesced to playing Feudality again - a game I remember as being distinctly average when I last played it about 8 years ago. Well, I'm pleased to report that it's every bit as good as I remember.

The rules seemed to take an eternity to dispense, not least due to John's tendency to ask the same question several times. And then Tony insisted on returning to the rulebook and misinterpreting every event card that was drawn, creating even more questions. I would normally go into great detail about the strategies that allowed me to win at this point, but to be honest I'm not sure there were any. I suppose the one thing to say in the game's favour is that the last round was quite tense, given that I crossed the line early on and then pinned my hopes on no-one overtaking me. But, when all's said and done, that's not much of an endorsement.

We moved on to King Thief Minister, a pet favourite of Tony's, and quite the tricky social deduction game. It's just the sort of thing that John tends to be very good at, but he had a devil of a job getting his hands on the Peasant (the card that allows you to deduce everyone's card for a win), and after failed attempts by me and Becky, the game ended up going to Ian on coins after the pot was emptied. It's really, REALLY tricky with six.

With Dave taking an early night before setting off camping, the excess thinking has taken a toll on the rest of us, for we settled for light party-ish fare for the rest of the evening: a cracking session of Dixit which went to the last round with four of us tying in first place, and the inevitable 'Hot Potato' variant of Dobble, where it is apparently not possible to beat Becky, just to erupt in wild cheers when she loses a single round.
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Tue Aug 10, 2021 8:34 pm
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Friday 16th July - SouperBad (Part II)

Ben Bateson
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OK, so it transpires that last time I reported Tony playing really badly at Too Many Cooks might have been erroneous. THIS is the week when he played really badly. You might think they'd all blur into one, but this was something of a novelty: three of us were comfortably below par and only John finished in positive figures. But Tony did manage to snatch last place from a potential winning position nevertheless.

So, it looks like we're chronicling this evening backwards? Fair enough...

Just before Too Many Cooks, we had a welcome return to Nusfjord. Although none so welcome as Tony. Given that he'd spent several months banging on about it, it only seemed right that he finished well in the lead with a whopping 40 points, some ten ahead of me in second place, with Becky and John well off the pace.

Before THAT, we'd had a jolly little session of Fantastic Factories. I very much enjoyed our previous play, some two years prior, when going to the pub was an allowable and risk-free activity, and we certainly kicked this one off in high spirits. But it seemed to drag just a fraction towards the end and perhaps ran a round or two long, maybe because everyone was too busy building monuments rather than getting some sort of engine up and running. But it's still a decent frothy filler and worthy of further exploration at some other time.

And to START the evening, we partook in an early playtest of the prototype design of Jerusalem - a slightly anarchic take on String Railway/Guilds Of London from Tony and Matt Green. Notwithstanding the fact that it was too easy for players to mark time while achieving nothing (I came up with some suggestions to fix that, which will no doubt be disregarded), I enjoyed the general aura of silliness around it; I'm generally a sucker for games that prohibit you from saying certain words, or inexplicably getting up and playing cards in another room, or doing bad impressions of northern ironmongers. We called it when barely halfway through and sent Tony home with a barrelful of ideas. But not before he'd played all the other stuff, obviously.
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Tue Aug 10, 2021 7:03 pm
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Friday 9th July - Jane Ashur and Ruth Marduk

Ben Bateson
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The same six as last week re-congregated again, wearing short trousers and T-shirts in the sweltering heat, and the Molkky set came back out. After Tony had manipulated his wood in the most satisfactory fashion (and, coincidentally, also won at Molkky), we retired to the expanded dining-table for a couple of games that a) reflected the heatwave outside and b) more importantly, accommodated all six players.

Trade On The Tigris came hot on the heels of our favourite negotiation game last week. It is one that - possibly uniquely in my history - I had latched onto because one of those horrible grotty influencer people. Ben Maddox, being the particular flavour of grot in this case, had name-dropped this during some tedious list-making earlier in the year, and it looked like a good fit for the group.

The rules were charmingly straightforward to me: negotiate a handful of goods to gain points, avoid barbarian attacks and improve your chances of drawing yummy bonus cards, but Tony explaining them to Dave for the eighth or ninth time nearly incited soporifics. Still, once we got started, it proved my suspicions correct, and everyone pronounced themselves thoroughly satisfied. Plus, we all got a laugh out of John and his rather peculiar insistence in only dealing in goats. Rather typically, it was Dave who ran away with matters somewhat, notching a thumping win.

Despite the fact that he complained incessantly last time he played it, Tony proffered Medici as an outstanding game for 6P. I suppose he has to be right occasionally, for in this case it is. John latched on quickly to the value of the Gold card, buying it in each of the three rounds for the biggest-load bonus. But he was outdone by Becky, who critically managed to specialise in two different goods and overtook long-time-leader Tony at the final tabulations. Ian came through for a creditable third.

To finish, a good old half-hour of Codenames. I teamed up with John and a faintly-protesting Becky and we beat others two rounds to one. It was close to midnight when we finished: I blame that rules explanation.
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Sat Aug 7, 2021 2:48 pm
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Friday 2nd July - Who are all these people?

Ben Bateson
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This may be the first time we felt like a games club again. An intended 6 games players turning out triggered a venue switch from John's shed to Chez Bateson, and we had the Molkky set out in advance, passing the 'tosser' from person to person as they passed the garden gate. Tony was first, proudly announcing a 'C' on his Covid test (I was minded to enquire whether it was actually a personality test), followed by Ian and Molkky-virgin Dave, and the air was ripe with the clonking of wood as John made his entrance. Ah, that's more like it...

Becky winning both games took the shine off it for everyone else, so we trooped inside, washed the newly-fertilised lawn off our hands, flung open the windows, and settled to that most sociable of pastimes, Chinatown. Perhaps unsurprisingly given how long it was since we'd seen each other, hard-nosed negotiations took a backseat in favour of elaborate co-sharing arrangements and everyone had some sort of joint venture up and running by the beginning of Round 5. John had the best of it, and carried on his rich vein of form by cracking the $1m mark, some $150,000 ahead of Becky and I in second.

The ONLY problem with having these six fine gamers around the table is how few games really suit the player count. So perhaps it was no surprise, upon returning from the kitchen with a fresh beer, to find 7 Wonders being broken out, and Tony and Becky sitting there with the slightly pleading look on their face that says "Please set this game up for us because we routinely bugger it up". In order to extract maximum revenge, I wreaked havoc with the table, first in a classic don't-build-your-lighthouse-in-Alexandria move, picking mercilessly on a struggling Ian to my right and pacifist Becky to my left. Then my Ephesos game took an unexpected turn when Dave and Tony obligingly passed me lots of science cards. Boom! 54 points followed by a mammoth 74 points.

"Enough of this - let's play the 7 Blunders variant instead" cried John, hurt at losing his winning streak. Despite vague and aimless grumblings from Tony, the game was out, the rules were easy and it was easy enough to direct the 'just play the game the way you did last time' standard jibe at Ian. John did indeed prove to be the Master Of Blunders with a creditably low 26 points. Ian did indeed score more than he had at regular 7 Wonders, which is always good for a chuckle. He really seems to have trouble wrapping his head around this one.

There was some mild debate over Codenames or Wavelength to finish. Becky managed to express distaste for BOTH, which didn't get us any closer to our fun party game of choice, but we eventually settled on Wavelength. Despite an occasional chuckle, it didn't quite strike the right sparks: our big problem is that it's hard to recreate the party hijinks of Balderdash (or even Taboo, in the right mood). John, Dave and I beat a squabbling other team without too much drama of our own.
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Sat Aug 7, 2021 1:58 pm
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