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 3rd January - Happy Gervday!

Ben Bateson
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Gerv had enthusiastically latched onto the unofficial club rule that 'if it's your birthday, you get to choose what to play' and proffered several lists of games dependent on player count, player preference, and whether or not anyone brought cake. As it turned out, there was eight of us and no-one brought cake, so we split into two tables. The 'serious table' of Tony, John, Aled and Peter (welcome, Peter!) took on Suburbia, which is a most excellent game, followed by a Boydell/Dunstan prototype (Polygonia is Guilds of London with added frivolous Lego construction), which I fear might not be quite as excellent.

Gerv's menu started - unsurprisingly - with some finest game birds. It was, of course, Wingspan. For some reason, despite being an otherwise bright able gamer, Dave completely fails to click with the mechanics this game, and it was another hour of 'no, Dave - don't put that there' and 'no, Dave - you can't do that now'. I'm thinking of turning him into a Joyce Grenfell monologue. Despite the extra assistance, he only went and won as well.

We served up the soup course next. Witch's Brew is much-prized and ridiculously hard to get ones hands on, so it was no surprise that Gerv was all in favour of this. Dave pronounced himself much-satisfied as well in his first playthrough, and won with an extremely convincing 34 points with the rest of us still in the teens.

Gerv's main event was not one, but two safari feasts. He enjoyed our first game of Botswana (a real squeaker which he won by just a couple of points) so much that he demanded the same again. The second time saw everyone else think themselves into a muddle and I won rather too comfortably. It would never happen at the Sectional Qualifiers...

And we finished, rather unconventionally, with a salad. Gerv can't quite get enough Cockroach Salad these days, and - despite spending quite a lot of time naming vegetables that weren't even in the game - managed to see off Becky. Just has he did, Ian - legendary Cockroach underperformer - strolled in for his closing-time pint and was shoe-horned into a second game. He did no better this time than before Christmas either.

The serious table were still going at their second game as we packed away and said our goodbyes. Some people just don't want a four-course treat...
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Mon Jan 13, 2020 9:40 pm
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Friday 27th December - A post-Chrimbo wind-down

Ben Bateson
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We don't normally meet in the family-friendly period between Christmas and New Year, but as it turned out most of my Christmas plans fell through and - in order to avoid lacklustre stuffiness - I mildly suggested that I'd be up for games if anyone else was.

I quickly had four respondents, although that rapidly became three as Tony was not sufficiently motivated to get beyond his front door. No-one was really in a 'heavy games place', so we played light and frothy fare and turned in for a well-earned early night, finding ourselves surprisingly tuckered out.

Junk Art saw Aled come from dead last place for a heroic last round win, and Gerv doing his best 'myopic old man' impressions.

Duplik is a surprisingly impossible-to-buy party drawing game, which was very much enjoyed by all, to the extent where we played a second round for free. Becky turned out to be very good at describing and very bad at drawing, unless of course what you were trying to get her to draw was 'man with sizeable erection and a shotgun'.

Cockroach Salad was all the hilarity of the week before, although Gerv's previously impervious coolness showed signs of self-destructions.

For Sale was about as intellectually stimulating as always. Becky tried her 'just pass all the time' strategy, which NEVER works. You'd expect that the designer would have thought of this, wouldn't you?

...and we finished with a gritty couple of rounds of Codenames. Try as we might, Aled and I couldn't meet each other's wavelengths and we found ourselves 2 agents short in both rounds.
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Mon Jan 13, 2020 9:11 pm
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Friday 20th December - Well, here's one party I'm happy to vote for

Ben Bateson
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Regular readers of the blog will know that the last Friday before Christmas is reserved exclusively for games of the silliest variety. Although, normally, I get around to blogging about them before the succeeding year. I WILL try harder in 2020.

It is mandatory these days to kick off Party Night with Absolute Balderdash. It was Ian and Dave's first time, but they are smart chaps who knew just what they were doing: Dave, in particular, coming up with some dry and believable definitions (I particularly enjoyed the man who died of vertigo on the Empire State Building) and suckered me in more than once. As usual, the more abstruse definitions developed into their own ongoing in-jokes, and as usual Tony won. In fact, he shot so far ahead after the first round that the rest of us gave up and started playing for second place.

In A Bind formed our inimicable first filler. Tony was eliminated early for reasons I know not, Becky went soon afterwards when taking her hand off Ian's knee while trying to draw cards with her chin. I managed to tie myself in knots and Gerv forgot to waggle his tongue or some other inanity. It came down to a surprisingly tense showdown between Ian and Dave, and was won by the latter to prove that he's not only good a Calling Our Bluff.

Becky shovelled Fauna onto the table next: almost a too serious game to be a silly game. Surprisingly, Tony hadn't played this before, so I found myself teaching everyone. It was an amphibian heavy selection of cards and it's surprisingly tough to work out where those damn little frogs live, so we all spent a lot of time with cubes in quarantine. Becky pulled comfortably ahead, but I was legitimately impressed by Tony's last-gasp overhaul of the field to take himself from dead miserable last into a respectable second place on the final round.

We weren't planning on splitting into two tables, but Gerv was eyeing up my copy of KingBrick, to which I would never say no. Ian had brought along something which involves doing chicken impressions that only played four, so we had a half-hour on separate tables. Gerv looked like beating me in game 2 of KingBrick but he failed to shore up his defence and let me sneak through. Demoralised, he lost the third game in just two turns and my winning streak continues.

We had a go at Nessie's True Identity next. I quite enjoyed it first time out, but this week suffered from prosaic secret-words, unambitious cluing, and a few lucky guesses. Not the highlight of the evening.

We packed all back together around one tiny table for the closing fare and started with what might - by now - possibly be everyone's new favourite game. Cockroach Salad takes an absurdly simple premise (name vegetables; don't name the same one as the previous person) and elevates it to Krypton Factor levels. Gerv and Tony looked at me utterly blankly during the explanation but were delightfully reduced to outrageous hysterics within about 40 seconds when the rules sunk in.

Of course, we finished with some Dobble, in which Ian managed to regain some dignity from his terrible vegetable-naming performance during two frantic rounds of Hot Potato.
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Sat Jan 11, 2020 2:45 pm
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Friday 13th December - Fantastic Fisheries

Ben Bateson
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This particular Friday 13th marked a pretty awful time; the day after the General Election, with Brexit apparently confirmed for good, led to me ordering whisky chasers with every beer in an attempt to drown my sorrows. It nearly worked, too.

Like the Labour party, we lost one-sixth of our membership tonight, but happily not permanently. Aled was a no-show, Becky was dancing, but Gerv was back. The unexpected player count warranted a bit of scrabbling (no, we didn't play Scrabble, to my lasting regret) for games that weren't brought with 3P or 6P in mind, but we did in fact latch onto a very suitable selection for the boistrous crowd that remained.

Tony proffered Fantastic Factories: a family-friendly tableau-and-resource-generation game which seems to have been unfairly overlooked by Essen. Perhaps because - surprisingly - it's not actually a Friedemann Friese game. It doesn't look particularly deep at first, but you get the impression that there are plenty of things to try building and plenty of combos to wring the most out of. Dave certainly wrung a combo hard: rolling a series of paired dice to get the most out of his tiny tableau. There was no question that he would win after the fourth consecutive round of doing this, but he was run hard by Gerv, who had put together an elaborate game-ending score. I found it all very amenable stuff despite not being able to crack out of single figures.

Chinatown - as it so often does - formed a convenient and rowdy main event. Gerv - frequently the Delboy of Chinatown - opted for a more cunning and soft-hand brand of negotiation this time, whereas I went in for the 'massive down-payment' approach which resulted in me forking out nearly a million dollars to Tony and John at the end of the game. And, of course, left me with not much to do except sup scotch during the last two rounds. It was good enough for second place, but Boydell had us all comfortably beat with - I believe - a record score of $1.2m or so.

Having thoroughly enjoyed our closing Nusfjord last week, we thought it only apt to try for more of the same. And, this time, I had the advantage of being able to see the text on all the buildings (no mean feat after all the scotch). With John across the table deforesting and building for all he was worth, I took the opposite approach and built just three buildings all game. But I did have a cosy pile of gold, lots of boats and shares, and ten points for 'sets of three resources' for a game-winning 39. Apparently, I got all snarky about winning - this is obviously a completely different scenario to what happened last week, of course.
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Fri Dec 27, 2019 4:35 pm
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Friday 6th December - Holders of High Office

Ben Bateson
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After my extended eulogising on what a great player-count 5P was, is it any surprise that this is number that always turns up?

But, never mind, for we had the perfect selection of temptations for a quintet of gamers, not least in our oddball opening of Senators, in its newer Indie Boards incarnation. We quickly put right the various rules that we had misinterpreted last time, and got stuck in accumulating senators. Or, as the in-joke now has it, losing senators in my case. But not so Dave, who quietly overhauled Tony in the last couple of rounds and finished a clear point ahead. It's a crazy, interactive bundle of various economies and one day I'll finish with more points than I started with.

Becky had been making various nodding and winking gestures towards Princes Of Florence since 7pm and it really doesn't take much persuasion to get the rest of us on board with this one. Even a faintly-muttering Tony perked up in the middle of Round 2, and whispered "I bloody LOVE this game!" in my ear. Not that it did either of us any good, finishing as we did a distant 4th and 5th, myself on a wild wave of over-optimism as usual. Dave played a monster of a work in the last round to nearly hit the 50-point mark, but was still stranded behind Becky and John who tied for the lead.

To finish, we broke out a full 5P Nusfjord. My game felt somewhat hampered by sitting at the far end of the table and having to keep getting up and wandering around to read the cards. My last round was a ludicrous affair of gambling on spending all my gold on two boats (didn't happen). But I still scored a perfectly respectable 35 points for all that. Tony took the win with 39, and immodestly told us all about how skilled he was at Nusfjord. I'm sure we'll get our own back...
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Fri Dec 27, 2019 3:55 pm
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Friday 29th November - The Deep Valleys of John's Mind

Ben Bateson
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'Twas an unusual evening this week. Tony was away at GRiDCon (not really sure I've capitalised that correctly) and Becky was out dancing. But we still mustered a perfectly serviceable table of four, with Ian and Dave willing to turn up and be taught stuff.

First on the teaching list was Taj Mahal, a game which Tony 'doesn't get' so it is reserved for his rare absences because most people think it is outstanding. A peculiar shuffle of the map and the cards made route-building a struggle, and I plumped early for collecting a given resource and ignoring most of the the other bonuses. It turned out to be the right way to go as the others - through no real fault of their own - struggled to connect the dots. Everyone pronounced themselves thoroughly satisfied, though, which is really the only goal of any new Knizia game for me.

I had brought along Taverns Of Tiefenthal for another ride after we had christened it during Tony's birthday games. Ian and John were satisfied with their initial play, and Dave was quickly brought up to speed. We threw in module 2, which added a crucial third currency and a better set of strategic options to the mix. John exploited them mercilessly, and was soon raking in nobles at every opportunity for a near-90 points score and a very easy win. Ian agreed with him that Module 2 puts the game at a much better level of complexity, and the big debate now is whether we will continue bolting on the various modules. I imagine we will.

And...that was about it. The various rules explanations and relaxed chat had eaten up the evening far quicker then any of us anticipated, and kicking-out-time was distressingly near. It's been a while since we only managed two games in a night, but time flies when you're enjoying yourself.
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Fri Dec 27, 2019 2:52 pm
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Friday 22nd November - Teas for Threes

Ben Bateson
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That awkward number of six was on us again, but we did compensate with an half-hour-early 'Gary start' in order to get four full hours of gaming. Tony had brought Formosa Tea at my request, but on reflection I rather fancied something more familiar, and opted for tea of an entirely different strain. Becky and Dave joined me in Alubari while John and Gary went for Formosa and much of the talk drifting over from the neighbouring table concerned 'moisture content' and 'leaf grading' and other such unexciting topics. I reckon I made the right choice.

Alubari, to my mind, is a comfortable step up on Snowdonia. Taking the excavation out of the main line altogether was a brave, but inspired, move; the tea 'power-ups' mean there is less arduous action-plotting oneupmanship, and keeping it all in a single box makes it feel - well - just tidier. We had a rain-and-fog stricken opening game during which Dave obsessively made iron bars and did very little else. And then the sun came out and he built rail. Really, really quickly, using chai and contract cards. And he still had iron bars left over so then he started building trains. Four of them! Becky and I used all our years of Snowdonia nous but couldn't overcome this sort of bravado, and this slightly oddball strategy beat us by ten points or so. When Dave latches onto something like this, he is a devilishly good games player (I gather he did something similar in Viticulture at the Gathering last weekend).

With Formosa Tea barely beyond the rules explanation, we broke out something very different in tone and went for Fast Sloths. I had played a hilarious, pun-filled 5P session of this at Midcon, but Becky and Dave treated it much more of the serious hex-based supply-chain game which I suppose it is. Some of the cracks showed through when playing with 3P too, and this is surely at its best with a tableful. But it wasn't too bad, and Dave merrily rode ants giraffes to his seventh and eighth leaves, whereupon Becky and I gave up with at least two fewer. I definitely preferred the combination of animals that we had out last time as well. Humans > Unicorns and Orang-utans > Ants without a doubt.

We'd obviously hit one of those 'both tables won't finish at the same time scenarios'. Tony was now in full playtest mode, serving up his latest jeu du jour a hex-and-construction exercise that looked like Tapestry only more interesting (although, to be honest, this is a pretty low bar to hurdle). So we opted for Porto, one of the more low-key Essen offerings. It's a simplish-looking thing, grab some cards off the tableau or play two cards, one of which will determine what colour of pretty waterfront building you will build, and the other determining how many floors. This is jazzed up with an interesting incentive system, where essentially you want to try and bribe the other players to complete your hidden goals. The problem I have is that the hidden goals don't really seem to be worth enough compared to the frequent and lucrative wodges of points you get during the game for doing the building. Some of them are quite hard to achieve, and I'd want to be scoring more than 9-12 points a pop when you can get that for a well-selected building action. But maybe I'm wrong: there is a fair amount of subtlety in your building choice. Anyway, Dave schooled us in how to play a game for the third straight time and decided to retire undefeated for the night.

We put the tables together and played a desultory Tickets Please (Tony's featherweight ticket-grabbing prototype which, like Dobble, tends to reward the same players every time), and a scarcely-better Escalation. This seemed to lack all the Matt Green/John Shepherd-inspired hilarity of the week before and mostly fell flat due to Tony bemoaning all his cards, although John and Becky did play out a thrilling last round just to prove there was something in it.
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Sun Dec 1, 2019 6:44 pm
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Friday 15th November - Er...anyone got a seat for Gary?

Ben Bateson
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Last week I was away at Midcon (indeed, I opted for an early Friday night and was in bed drinking tea while the RoW gamers plugged through yet more Wingspan and Res Arcana), but this week was an event of similar prestige: the opening night to Tony's 3rd Annual 'Gathering of Chums'.

Rather remissly, with over 20 people crammed into the rear of The Plough (Gary nobly played one game standing up, and Gerv sunk so far into the comfy armchair that he looked like an Entry on the famous 'you must be sitting on a very small chair' Geeklist), I didn't try to take note of all games being played, but in addition to what I was up to, I definitely noted sessions of Res Arcana, Tulip Bubble, Nusfjord, Llama, Electropolis, Ra and quite likely some other stuff. But I can only report on four games (which is still a decent tally for a Friday night) with any accuracy:

One of the few Essen hotnesses that I hadn't got under my belt at Midcon was Letter Jam. Richard was keen to rectify this, and broke it open for what could have been an edgy fourball with John and Phil Pettifer. Things didn't go TOO badly, I pulled out a 9-letter word at one point, and other than a bit of anagram-blindness on my part at the end we awarded ourselves a 'nearly' victory.

Before things got too late, we opted for some brain-frying fun and broke out Cryptid, picking up a later-than-usual Gary for a full fivesome. After the usual mess of getting-the-game-started-AND-making-sure-no-one-has-made-any-mistakes (Gary and Richard both culprits for a while), it was definitely some sterling adventuring, with Gary nabbing the winning spot and also seeming to have a good grasp of what was going on (as opposed to the two dispiriting games we played on the following day, which mostly seemed to be won by bad deduction and sheer guesswork).

Of a slightly lower order of demand, Taverns of Tiefental was newly arrived through my door this week. I'm not convinced it's a brilliant game, but it is a halfway-decent one, and I tutored John, Gary and Mark-from-Wales in its charms. Not that it did me much good, though: I had a woeful money economy throughout and watched Mark and Gary play out a thrilling tie, while I lagged behind with John. One of the less obvious, and more interesting, aspects to the game is the need to keep both 'currencies' at a stable level, something which is emphasised by one of the later modules.

We swapped Gary out for Paul-from-Wales and closed with a typically-uproarious Witch's Brew, undoubtedly my 'new' (in actuality it's over a decade old) game of the year. I demonstrated the perils of trying to play without any gold (an intriguing meta-resource which is no use on its own but still almost essential in tying the various other bits of the game together) and finished dead last with John rather running away with matters.

Two more days of celebratory gaming followed. I played fully 13 games on Saturday, and STILL had time to go dancing in the evening (during which I 'won' a copy of Scandaroon in the raffle), and Sunday brought a delightful Agricola during which the rest of us more or less handed Tony a birthday win by making an array of errors.
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Sun Dec 1, 2019 6:05 pm
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Friday 1st November - Opening the Essen Bags

Ben Bateson
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So, Tony and I had spent a fair few evenings pondering over the Essen haul, but when I added up the evening's attendees, it came to five, which was a bit at odds with the whole haul of 2-4P games that we had acquired. Luckily, we had one more attendee, Aled (slapped wrist if you don't RSVP, though), which made the 5P games awkward, but did mean we could split into two for at least part of the evening.

We started with a jovial round of Nessie's True Identity, a slightly-elaborated 20 questions type of game which proved to be surprisingly entertaining, even from my perspective as Nessie. Aled somehow saw through my obtuse cluing and named 'trombone' as the winner.

King Thief Minister was next. This is EXACTLY the sort of game that John laps up, and indeed, he went into thoughtful and brow-furrowed mode almost immediately. I opted for inspired dicking-about rather than try to take the deductive element seriously but to no avail, and of course John won.

DANY is one of those cult little releases which make Essen such the interesting place that it is. It's pretty much Dixit-with-a-secret-traitor. And apparently the upshot is that I'm crap at Dixit AND crap at being a secret traitor. There are some interesting opportunities to be creative with the cards, but the art is just plain odd. Frankly, I was more entertained by the meta-game of 'name the pop artist who might have used this card as a track listing'. Would much prefer Dixit next time - there is plenty enough of this sort of thing in the market.

Well, we could have played frothy (and, yes, frankly fun) stuff all night, but it seemed reasonable to get our teeth into at least one proper strategy game. Rather than split 3/3, though, we opted for a lopsided split because Dave wanted to be taught his new copy of Foothills. I was more than happy to oblige (not least because Tony keeps forgetting the actual rules, as opposed to various playtest iterations), while the others went in for exploring Bruxelles 1897. Tony and I are fans of the original Bruxelles 1893, and were quite looking forward to trying this out, but from what I gathered, it wasn't quite such a hit: John and Becky both giving it a resounding thumbs-down. Looks like Mr Boydell and I will be trying out the 2P version, though.

Foothills was an absolute cracker - the layout was balanced and Dave and I instinctively went in for complementary strategies: the final outcome a nailbiting 33-32 in my favour.

We finished with Pictures a party-ish cluing and crafting game: sort of Cranium with better scoring. I was enthused enough to play as a team with Becky, but that didn't give us much advantage and Dave held us for a joint win. But the scores are less important than the creativity: Aled did some lovely things with the cubes, and Dave created a work of art with the stones.

This year's Essen didn't promise much in the way of heavy gaming, but a couple of whopping boxfuls of light-ish fare made their way home, and - d'you know what? - I have no problem with that at all.
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Wed Nov 6, 2019 9:55 pm
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Friday 25th October - The long, dark nights draw in. Very long, as it turns out.

Ben Bateson
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Last week, Becky and I forewent games in favour of partying it up like it was 1955. I gather they played some Eclipse while we were jiving the nights away. This week, of course, Tony was jollying it up at Essen and sending back regular updates of all the stuff he'd bought for me (some of which was actually on my wishlist this time).

But no fear, for we had visitors. Michael was back on one of his rare jaunts from London, and he had brought his delightful partner, Cressida, with him. As I tend to do on these occasions, I split the games bag into options for 3P and 6P, even though I'd rather stay as a table of 6. As it happens, both John and Gerv were of the same mind, so I think we know who the main 'let's split into two tables' protagonist is.

So, we kicked off with an all-hands Chicago Express. I don't think I'd ever played this with the full complement before, and I'd never got as far as even winning the game. Naturally, this appealed to Dave and John's prurient financial instincts, and they quickly loaded all their spare cash into a favoured line. John then twisted our arms by putting a second share up for auction almost immediately, so the rest of the game went to fleeting allegiances and some frankly awful boardroom-roleplay between Michael and myself ("I don't know, Mr Chairman - shall we consult the company Treasurer"). Cress pulled off a coup by getting a bonus payout from the Wabash Cannonball, but it wasn't enough to lift her above third - as I suspected, John and Dave were streets ahead, with John winning reasonably comfortably. Frankly, I still don't have a clue how to play it well, but I'd like to keep trying.

"So, what about Keyflower?" asked John. I thought he might be pushing his luck for time somewhat, as I knew a 6P Keyflower (with 2.5 new players) can run long, and bigods I was right. There was a whole lot of thinking going on, and we didn't get finished until nearly midnight. Not pointing any fingers, but everyone apart from Gerv and I was pretty slow.

But it was good! If a game takes 2.5 hours and I'm still enjoying it, you know it's a good game, and they don't come a lot better than Keyflower. Gerv played a blinder of a last round to stack up all manner of tiles, John attempted to pull all the green meeples out the bag, I built a whopping Meeple-drawing engine, and Michael tried to get the Scribes. I was on the verge of outbidding him when Cress did it instead, which set me back a couple of turns, but was very amusing. Michael had an entertaining sweary little tantrum, which is why he is a valued honorary club member.

So, only the two games tonight. It wasn't quick, but it was strategic, entertaining and cerebral.
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Wed Nov 6, 2019 9:26 pm
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