Christmas is coming and Alex - long-time gaming pal (though only occasionally bumped-in-to nowadays) - sent me a little something to occupy the long evenings now that Strictly Come Dancing is finished and there's nothing of particular interest on the Telly:
Cigar box?! I remember getting socks, boxes of crisps and other practical items from Santa but never tobacco products! Tchoh! It was a different world back in the day, wasn't it? My own earliest memories are of the early 1970s - around '73/'74 - of canals and rope-swings and go-karts, of school choirs and a best mate who drew brilliant Frankenstein/Wolf-man cartoon strips then his family emigrated to Canada and we never saw him again...'Gary Webb' was his name (Malpas Church Junior was the school): I feel an Internets search coming on.
Anyway, Alex has set me a task and I must accept.
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
Archive for Trains
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More of my cheap and esoteric local purchases; this time it doesn't get any more 'on-point' while simultaneously 'off-piste' than:
Technical specs, load distribution diagrams, panoramic photos, surveyor longitudinal cross-sections, power distribution and soil type analysis:
I'm not sure it would do me a great deal of good to read all of the words BUT the pictures, sketches and plans are absolutely fascinating!
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The gorgeous and erudite Mr Ben Maddox has reviewed my game...and he rather likes it:
And no money changed hands so the children shall eat tonight!
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For those who have been following this blog for the longest time - and the various Yorkshire posts in particular - what happened yesterday (Wednesday) will not be a surprise in the slightest because I went on a train journey.
Ah, but, wait! It's not just any train, oh no; and before the joys of steam and soot comes the obligatory trek through the glorious countryside following the Rail Trail.
Diverting to the village stores to get a hat (I'd left my other one in the restaurant the night previous) because it was gonna be another scorcher, I was held up at the checkout by a queue of variously wheel-device-supported pensioners: Jesus Christ and the Choir Invisible, it was like being in the middle of some horrific sit-com! If they weren't moaning about the prices OR getting their wheels stuck in the spokes of someone else's wheels OR face-planting in to the horse brasses because they missed the (many) warning signs*, they were complaining about how hot it was and wandering about like the living dead!
We left the apocalyptic shamblers to their cream teas and sucky-sweets and proceeded down 'The Incline's cinder path and in to the valley bottom.
To keep Arthur motivated, I've taken to dividing the route in to 'phases' to indicate our ever-closer progress; for me, the whole damn 4 miles whizzes by in a veritable heartbeat - just as I'm settling in to a comfortable stride (despite a line of blisters on my right foot), we're at the Engine sheds...
...and the rise:
We know the timings so well that we lunched in the Old School and watched the 1230 diesel-ing off toward Pickering; then a visit to the Gift Shop (K & A) and a newly-spied secondhand bookshop (me) - Lord help me but it contained nothing but railway books! I'd have missed the train had I not snapped myself to attention, picked Nock's Irish Steam off the nearest shelf and high-tailed it out of there (I paid first, natch).
The day stayed breathlessly hot and skin-sizzling throughout - not an issue particularly given I spent most of the there-and-back chuffings with my head stuck out of the window: dreaming.
On the way back, an old gentleman was occupying the opposite window and kept calling out helpful comments re: speed, gradient and so-on. An ex-HGV driver and long-time rail enthusiast, he had a slipped left-side to his face telling of a stroke, survived; his affected speech was difficult to understand until I'd tuned in - we chatted for the last half of the trip, occasionally pausing to disappear back to the rushing air and the smuts.
Our slow plod homeward - from Goathland Station (aka Hogsmeade in the movies) - meant we missed the village stores by a single minute, which left us without Tonic Water for our Gin; a minor blip, however, in an otherwise glorious day.
*fair play: the old boy got up, brushed himself down and disappeared in to the deluxe Fudges.
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Way back when - in 2017 - I diverted from my usual drudgerous journey home from Cardiff in search of a hidden architectural treasure:
Tidenham Tunnel: the long, dark throat of the Wye Valley railway line now, and forever, immortalized in the eponymous Snowdonia: Deluxe Master Set scenario as three special track cards with Chepstow and one end and Tintern at the other.
Now that the Severn bridges are free to cross in a Westerly direction, I wanted to take advantage of a lovely sunny afternoon and drive through the countryside with the windows down and the cooling gust blowing through my beard. Getting through Tintern is impossible (impassable) this Summer thanks to collapsing cliffs and some much-needed road strengthening, so all traffic is diverted via Chepstow town and up the river; as the picturesque castle receded in my rear-view, I remembered this was Wye Valley line territory and snuck up the next side road in search of the splendid tunnel once more:
I found it...open!
Indeed, the whole track bed has been cleaned and cleared of saplings (and the occasional larger, sawn-off trunk pushing up the sleepers); the embankment undergrowth has been strimmed and there are bloody-great digger tracks in the churned clay:
With that miserable, black-greased panel of steel removed it would've been churlish to have not taken a little wander in to the darkness. The whole experience was lent an extra, spooky dimension by the vigorously-chilly breath exhaling from the black tube:
I wandered back up the track bed to get some distance shots when I thought I heard a tractor rumbling over the road bridge; however, it rumbled on far too long for such a small bridge and then I realised there were lights visible in the tunnel - something was coming out!
A couple of workmen - one on a JCB and one on foot - emerged in to the sunlight, squinting; the driver pulled on the handbrake, switched off the engine and opened his door when he saw me taking photos from the wall. Expecting a gruff rebuke I, instead, had a lovely chat with a pair of genial Welshmen who were tasked with surveying the tunnel and had just returned from 'the other end' about a 1000m away. We talked of the plans to lift the track and ship it to the Dean Forest Railway for a line extension, of the laying of a cycle path and tunnel lights and of other similar removal jobs; I'd be surprised that there was still quite so much steel and wood paralleling its way through the countryside, I would!
It seems that this work will continue in earnest over the coming months and the driver suggested I pop back in a couple of weeks and he'd be happy to drive me in to the heart of this Abyss to get some proper pics. I'd have to provide my own hard hat, though.
Cue: a raft of 'helmet' jokes.
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An odd noise roused me from my aching, grunting slumber; a sort of rattling, wet sound - pittering and pattering like an ill-closed tap. Apparently our imminent departure from Llanberis (and it's wallowing in the delights of spectacular tectonics and glaciation) had brought the sky to tears.
After the scrumblingly-delicious breakfast, we had an hour-or-so until John the Driver arrived so I retired - calves protesting - to the room and listened to podcast episodes (Athetico Mince) and finished my latest book. From Llanberis to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch via the Britannia Bridge:
A closer look at the Menai Straits and its bridges was within our timings so John showed us a less-travelled path down to the base pillars and a glimpse at the splendid lions; these were visible at the railway level before the bridge burned down in the 1970s and rebuilt with the A5 above - now they languish, hidden, down the sides and unseen by the hundreds of travellers per hour:
Lunch was a toasted sandwich that took 45 minutes to cook; tasty though it was, our afternoon of gaming with the Snowdonia Dragons in Bangor was being put in jeopardy! Fortunately, Yvonne was happy to wait the extra 30 mins until we lugged my big bag of games up to the Pontio Art Centre (5th Floor).
As it turned out, there was ONLY Yvonne there - accompanied by a table groaning with drinks, biscuits, fruit and other snacks. Introductions made, we split in to two tables: Kuba, Russ and Brian shipping and telling Tales while Kurt, Yvonne and I went off to Malta via the Snowdonia: Deluxe Master Set:
Finishing synchronously, we just swapped tables:
More messing about in boats and more tweaks for the notebook; the biggest tweak has yet to be tried but could open up the game for a 5th player and reduce some of the down time (thanks, Kuba!)
We closed with an all-six-of-us Citadels; Yvonne got assassinated at least four times in five rounds but still managed a close third. King Kuba the Third, though, was a late 20s victor.
We bade farewell to our generous and patient host - cutting a somewhat lonely figure as we boys trudged to our connection - and on to a sunny Manchester. Our hotel for the night, the Britannia Airport, was - in comparison to the genial Plas Coch - a complete shithole: confused staff, plain rooms with a scent of stale cigarette smoke behind the chemical pine and a restaurant menu fresh off the freezer aisle at Iceland. Our 'waiter' didn't know the soup or dessert options and had to go and ask (twice) while a racist, needy old bat was complaining (on the adjacent table) to any staff who would listen about "how rude young people are today".
We repaired to the TV-dominated bar area for one last Snowdonia and picked up Kurt's suggestion of the tricky (and heavy) Trans-Australian Railway scenario:
This is a corker of a scenario at the full five player count: lots of nipping and tucking, jostling and elbowing, to a back-drop of long periods of drought. Russ stormed it with a final round double-cube excavation that netted him over 30 points! This glorious finale to the evening in the company of these splendid gents couldn't even be tarnished by the drunk-bloke-with-carrier-bags who was repeatedly being ejected on to the driveway only to stagger (sideways) back in to the Hotel foyer: what a bloody state to find oneself in, the poor bugger.
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The plan for Friday was - given the clouding over of Thursday night - a gentle ramble around Llyn Ogwen and maybe another Llyn and some stones probably utilised for ritualistic purposes. However, by the time I'd stopped fart-arsing about in my room and joined the group and our driver - Andy - they were already chewing over a different option.
Apparently the Llyns would be done-and-dusted before lunch and wouldn't it be a better idea (spaketh Andy) if we took a drive up the Snowdon Pass and - perhaps - get dropped off for a walk up to Snowdon summit via The Miners' Path?!
As I may have intimated before, this is one of the two most favourite places to visit in the World and I certainly didn't need any thinking time to respond with an enthusiastic "Of course!". It would be up to our guests, naturally; it's easy enough for me to volunteer my legs and lungs but the others would need to assent to the ascent too. The decision was unanimous (nervous, but unanimous) and, after I'd briefly nipped in to a Llanberis shop for a small rucksack, Andy beetled us up the long road:
The Miners' Path - one of many (8?) routes to the top of the world - started level and unchallenging; the hot morning was beginning to sizzle but we were liberally-stocked with hats and water (apart from Kuba who, later, would see the error of his red-eared and red-necked ways - sad!). Again, the clarity of the atmosphere meant everything lit up with remarkable detail: crags, lone climbing goats and sheep, the occasional walker along the mental ridgeway etc:
The rescue helicopter was doing a bit of practice below us, so we watched for a while (and rested):
The summit was almost always visible; taunting us with it's simultaneous proximity and distance! Ahead lay the 'little surprise' offered by The Miner's Path: a bonkers zig-zag climb with proper sections of hand-holding, clambering and leg-ache!
Lunch, drinks and a bijou round of 'High' Society (this is an excellent joke)
Coming down via the Llanberis Path (and 8 hours out-and-about), Driver Andy met us by the terraced houses behind the railway station with cold beers! What a bleedin' hero! We then nipped back in to the main bit of Llanberis town to order a slap-up reward Indian takeaway! We walked back to Plas Coch while he waited for it to be cooked and I saw this pretty mural along the way:
The FitBit had a fit when I plugged it in to the Wifi and henceforth is the summary of today's exploits:
Stuffed with curry, Kuba went to bed (eating all of the fresh-made Welsh Cakes as he did so!) leaving the four of us to play Attention All Shipping again (their request, not mine!)
Russ excelled even over yesterdays robust victory by getting in to the mid 80s while Kurt disgraced himself (but had a hoot doing so) by sinking his boat twice; yes, you read that correctly: TWICE. In ALL of my AAS playtests, no-one (nobody) had sunk their boat once let alone twice! What a hero; he did also sing us a splendid rendition of 'The Ladies of Spain' sea shanty, though, so fair play!
By 9.30, and the game's closing, we were all done; our unexpected adventure of a day now emerging as aches, sprains and irritable skin.
I was as happy as it is possible to be and, despite the useless shoes, the sore feet, the aching calves and - gasp! - the bits of sunburn (I never burn, ever!), this was a wonderful, glorious, gorgeous, soul-singing, joy-bursting, glad-to-be-alive day. The fact it was a surprise made it all even sweeter.
*I know that some of you already have!
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If I'd written the script for today then I couldn't have written it better than it actually turned out. After a tasty (and healthy) breakfast of coffee, smoked haddock and poached eggs, our little group meandered along the road in the cool-but-warming 9AM to the SMR (Llanberis Station):
Already beginning to be delightfully-baked by the brightening day, we boarded the diesel train bound for the summit on the dot of 10AM. To say that I was 'excited' doesn't really do the feeling justice: I was joyful.
The atmosphere was so clear and clean that everything the light touched shone and sparkled; as we climbed along-and-up, the entire North West Wales vista opened up before us:
The top: in the distance are Caernarfon, Anglesey and the Llyn peninsula (you can see it curving to the south FFS!). See yesterday's blog for our Summit shenanigans.!
...I'm not convinced that my Snowdonia station costings entirely reflect the actuality of these
scruffy old shedsmilestones
Our driver picked us up from by the crystal stream and I'd suggested we go along the Pass (up and away from the town) and have lunch in the Pen-y-gwyrd hotel (see previous blog a few years back): sat in the garden scoffing Welsh Cheese Ploughmans and chatting amiably, we were cooled by a pleasant breeze. On the Pass road, I looked up and spotted the train peeping along the precipitous Clogwyn ridge (see above photo for the equivalent view down); I got to look at everything else too, given this was the first time I'd ever traveled the road as a passenger rather than the designated driver.
Back to the B&B for cake and games - Attention All Shipping followed by Haggis - then to another rural pub for a slap-up supper *burp*. Russ, Kurt and Brian said some nice things about AAS which is very encouraging; a couple more edge-sanding ideas occurred to me during the game (in which I came dead last. again) - I shall note them here by way of an aide memoire:
- don't need to pay for lightbulbs
- a few more, less-nasty, hazard cards
- get around to making the 'Ship's Wheel' action point tracker
- add an element that can (occasionally) free-up spaces on the Market to make the game run a couple of turns longer
- run through all of the Tales and equalize the earlier-designed cards to the more generous effects of the latter.
The less said about my risible performance in Haggis the better; suffice it to say that Kuba is a Haggis-conquering machine!
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