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The Ross-on-Wye Boardgamers

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

Archive for Ben Bateson

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Friday January 13th - Terribly Learning Mars

Ben Bateson
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If the commandant at Guantanamo Bay ever decides that, under the Trump presidency, waterboarding isn't degrading and torturous enough, then I shall pack Tony Boydell off to Cuba with a bagful of new over-hyped games with rules that he has only read once in the bath.

Still, he had been taking photographs all week of his brand new Terraforming Mars, sharing them on Facebook with anyone who cared to look, and it would surely have precipitated some sort of tantrum if we were to even CONSIDER not playing it. At least John's unexpected absence saved us from the clunky 5P version.

Tony was barely supported in a rambling, confusing soliloquy by Bill, who had played once before but couldn't really remember anything of importance, and we were a good half hour into the evening before anything actually fell into place. My opening cards seemed expensive but quite conducive to producing masses of energy and heat, so I exploited this obvious line while Becky and Tony both went into microbial exploits and Bill collected lots of steel but forgot to use it. Despite funding the obvious 'Thermalist' award, I was half a dozen behind Becky at the end, who had lost out to a five-six card combo from Tony.

I have to admit, Terraforming Mars feels reasonably fresh. It has a nice theme which comes across well in the cards and flavour text (my favourite being on Deimos Down: '...we never used that moon anyway'), and the economy seems to gel very well. The Corporation stuff feels - well - just 'right'. But you do admittedly get stuck in a rut if you can't luck into a combo early on, and I don't see how a draft would do anything to fix this. I had no cards costing less than 10 until a good halfway through so was obviously achieving much less than the rest of the table. But I quite liked it. Not as an every-week game, but as the mainstay of an afternoon session, perhaps.


We Noctis City! (dum...dah) We Noctis City on Rock and Roll!



Certainly I can't fault the immersiveness of TM, for it took us right up to 10 o'clock without anyone really noticing, and we only really had time for a chunky filler, at best. I had just the solution in the shape of a new copy of Tales & Games: The Hard & The Tortoise. Despite vague grumbles from Becky that '...she had already learned ONE new game tonight', I blasted through the rules in a minute flat (see, Tony?) and the first race was over before we knew it. Despite omitting an important movement rule (no wonder the tortoise never won!), we went to a proper 'championship' tournament of three races, in which Tony succumbed the 'fear of card games' which was oddly absent last week and managed no more than a single second place.

But his performance at a family racing game was no less amusing than where we found his car later on...


Oh dear...
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Sat Jan 14, 2017 1:58 pm
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Friday January 6th - Happy New Knizia!

Ben Bateson
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I feared that the first get-together of the year would be a portent of things to come, as there was far too much deliberation and 'meh'ness about what should have been a good selection of games, given the 'usual four' were in attendance. Admittedly, I did play some part in the negativity, when Tony professed his intention to read the entire rules for Hansa Teutonica verbatim from the rulebook. I used 'club organiser prerogative' (something which I may or may not have made up on the spot) to nix this, and instead went for a much-easier-to-teach Samurai.

Tony and John pooh-poohed through most of Samurai, insisting instead on a random setup (for which I believe they were wrong) and later stating a preference to keep the victory tokens as public information (for which I believe they were right). But games don't get widespread fame without good reason (well, some do), and there was deep thought and grudging praise come the end, even from renowned (and inexplicable) Knizia-phobe, Tony. Personally, I thought it to be a fine New Year's acquisition: less trite than Through The Desert, and less fiddly than Tigris & Euphrates. Winning on the only resolvable category helped, too.

Failing miserably to get anyone commit to a 'main event'-sized game, we pottered along with our mid-length fare, next cracking open Fabled Fruit and going at it from scratch. Four rounds later resulted in a slightly undramatic 6-5-5-5 scoreline in Becky's favour, and a feeling that we still had the best of the game to tackle. I hope so, anyway: I don't really want to start this from scratch too many more times.

Indecision still being the primary driving force, we broke out Black Fleet for some rollicking pirate fun. This was the first time we'd played with the maximum 4P complement, and - boy - does the game gain from it: pirates were being capsized more quickly than the outpatients of Basildon gynaecology clinic and the special abilities stacked up to an astonishing extent, not least as Tony levered two of them to zip around the board at double speed. It worked in his favour as he triggered the endgame and I came up only a few doubloons short. I'm very much enjoying this frothy fun of late, but we probably need to ease back before we become too familiar with all the cards.

Another Knizia to close, but this time a veritable old favourite of the club: Too Many Cooks. I could pretend at this point that we always have to let Tony win at card games occasionally, but it would be a lie. In fact, he played rather well and everyone enjoyed a jolly good laugh as my expense as I plummeted to a legendary minus 11 points. There is apparently a rule that you can't score below zero - we'll be having none of that nonsense at our club!

Next week: we play something more than an hour long!
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Thu Jan 12, 2017 10:00 pm
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Friday December 23rd - 'Dashers and Dancers

Ben Bateson
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The last Friday before Christmas is always the traditional Christmas party for the RoWBGers - silly games only and nothing too resonant of strategy is allowed.

Tony had outdone himself with a pristine copy of Rebound, but there was only one choice for our opening fare: the annual tradition that is Absolute Balderdash. Tony has a proud unbeaten record at this classic, and unfortunately we couldn't do anything to change that. As was frequently commented, though - perhaps we have played a little TOO much of this together: it was getting not only easier to see through the subterfuge but also work out who had written which falsehood. The illegality of squirrel-worrying was my own personal highlight in a relatively muted - but no less fun - game.

Mischa and James rocked up at about 8:20, having 'done' Christmas without the bothersome encumbrance of kids and holding a post-dinner digestif vodka-and-tonic apiece. We opted to crack open one of my more frivolous Essen purchases: Raise Your Goblets. "Oh - it's like Mascarade" was Tony's not-so-thrilled response, and... well, yes it is. But it's a little easier than Mascarade because you have coloured goblets to keep your eye on, and although it hasn't exactly broken any moulds it won't yet be going onto the trade list. Games of bluff and deception are second nature to John, and he won this by a decent amount, given there were six of us.

Back to a Christmas staple, in the form of Taboo. We amalgamated ourselves into two teams, and Tony's selection of Becky and Mischa looked like it might be problematic as he laboured for the first minute trying in vain to get them to guess 'Novel'. But they came roaring in back in the last round, averaging six points apiece, while I was foundering to clue for James and JP. My personal favourites were Becky's efforts to clue 'Varnish' when, in fact, the word on her card was 'Vanish', and James' description of a UFO hijacking which momentarily left everyone slightly speechless.

Cockroach Poker has had a lot of plays for the Hereford gamers this year, and it was long time past reacquainting the Ross crowd with its pleasures. The Hereford 'house rule' is to only pass clockwise, which I quite like as it adds a bit of strategy, but Tony insisted on the 'pass anywhere' rules as written. This tends to prove a little harsh on the weakest liar, who in this case was most definitely Mischa. She quickly accumulated quite a menagerie of animals and lost the game on four toads.

To finish off, we split up for some amicable dexterity fun. I tutored James in the blessed way of KingBrick (still, and probably forever, my favourite dexterity game AND favourite 2P game). He swapped out while only 3-1 down, and I promptly went on to beat Tony by the same score. I must give serious thought to instigating some sort of UK Championships...

Meanwhile, the other table were indulging in Rebound and Cubiko, with wins for Tony, John and Mischa, ensuring everyone left with a big silly grin on their face.

More from the RoW blog in the New Year - we're taking a break for the 30th!
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Sat Dec 24, 2016 2:03 pm
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Friday December 16th - Pot & Pussy

Ben Bateson
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Wonder of wonders, this week finally saw Tony back in our midst, with post-ironic 'I hear you have a boardgame club' type conversation as we waited for Dave and John to arrive. Tony was just regaling Gary with how he traipsed around Essen looking for Ladies Of Troyes (in the kind of tone and pronunciation that actually suggested he was out kerb-crawling), when they arrived. We de-stickied a couple of tables and set to Flamme Rouge and Isle of Skye.

Having heard good things about the latest cycling game, I was keen to join in with Tony and John. I don't know a lot about cycling, but I do know that you're not suppose to sprint off the line like a foolhardy 12 year old riding around a quarry on his BMX, which is precisely what Tony did. Sure enough, about halfway through, his sprinter was showing fewer legs than Douglas Bader and making puffing and wheezing sounds like - well - what me and Tony would make if we were really riding bikes. John looked as if he might take it for a while, but I had been safely loitering at the back of the peloton (see - I know the words!) and had two fast sprint cards in reserve which launched me over the line in style.

We neatly finished concurrently with Isle of Skye (victory for Dave), and shuffled the tables around. I had anticipated Becky enjoying Cottage Garden, but was surprised that John also fancied it. Although, come to think of it, he does profess to be deeply impressed by Patchwork. Meanwhile, Tony switched tables, to run through plans for the first Guilds of London expansion (he does like an expansion, doesn't he?) with Dave and Gary.

Cottage Garden was simple enough for me to teach by running through the manual wholesale, and John's reinterpretation of a couple of the game's features led to this week's blog title. Being novices, we both blew through our precious cat reserves far too quickly, which resulted in something of a slow ending. Finishing my boards first did precious little good, as I finished a good ten points behind John, who was in turn beaten by Becky.

I have a similar reaction to both Flamme Rouge and Cottage Garden. Both are fun, with neat features, but I would hardly call them essential table time. On the whole, I would rather play Snow Tails and Patchwork respectively. The simulation aspects of Flamme Rouge are highly desirable, if you like that sort of thing, and Cottage Garden's squeaky wheelbarrow is highly fun if you like annoying people who don't like that sort of thing. But, overall, I'm quite satisfied that they didn't go on my Essen wishlist.

Guilds was still in its midgame, so we had adequate time to teach Courtier to Becky. She had missed out on nearly all of our play-through of the Tempest games earlier in the year, and after some initial eyebrow-raising, she got stuck in rather quickly ("This game is MAD, isn't it?"). Mad, it certainly was - with four high-powered petitions on the public layout, we were rather reliant on our private petitions, and I completed no less than four of them. John, though, saw what I was up to, and jumped on the Senate majority for the crucial 10 points that saw me beaten. I don't think there's any value in ever taking Courtier too seriously (the game end is way too chaotic for that), but it is by far the simplest to teach of the series, and is possessed of its own peculiar charm.

Six became four, as Gary and Tony both left on different errands. So we finished off with a merry Codenames. Dave, remarkably, had only ever played once before, so John ran him through the basics before he kicked off with a clue ('Galactic: 2') which left all of us baffled, including John who could see the map.

Round 1 petered to an unsatisfactory finish due to a map-reading error, but the second one - with Becky and I cluing - was a corker. I was particularly pleased of cluing RULER and DINOSAUR with 'Rex: 2', but Becky had an opportunity to win just needing CZECH and SOCK. I leave the challenge up to the readership - what would you clue?
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Sun Dec 18, 2016 2:17 pm
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Friday December 9th - Uno Dos Traits

Ben Bateson
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It was looking like a quiet evening - perhaps just the same three as the previous week, and myself in need of an early night in advance of a working Saturday. But at the last minute, Mischa managed to break free of babysitting commitments and brought an extra ray of sunshine into the Prince. Because she is keen but still somewhat inexperienced, this triggered a measured re-pack of a games bag full of thinky goodness.

She certainly picked up Notre Dame quick enough, and was soon trotting her carriage all over town and stocking the hospital (albeit a little inefficiently at times) as a safeguard against the plague. Becky and John seemed to delight in handing me useful cards, though, and I pulled maximum points out of the cathedral in Round 2. Despite John's best two-men-in-the-park efforts, this was just enough to hold onto the lead in a very close game.

If you took all but one of Feld's games out of my life and just left me Notre Dame, I doubt I'd be upset. It anticipated the card drafting boom years before that sort of thing became popular, and - the slightly disappointing Hotel aside - the way the buildings compete for attention is excellent. The board is still one of the cleverest things I have seen in games design. So, does anyone have a Hotel fix?

Evolution was next, and the downright meanness of this game came as a bit of a shock to poor Mischa, as she introduced animal after animal only to see them starve or get chowed up by Becky's carnivore. I didn't think my competing carnivore would be good enough, until I levelled him up with pack-hunting in the final round, and took some big chunks out of a hardshell animal that John had assumed was safe. This was just enough for Becky to overhaul John into second, while I scored a hard-fought 50 for the win. A shell-shocked Mischa managed 21 points, which is pretty good in the circumstances, I think.

I still am having trouble forming a definitive opinion on Evolution. It's very, very cut-throat, even for me, and seems to be suffering from 'the Viticulture problem' as various expansions and upgrades - not all of which are compatible with each other - are being rushed through the publisher. However, there's no denying a very clever design and balance, and there is remarkable variety given a relatively small number of cards. Yet further exploration seems to be the only answer!

It was always going to be a relatively early finish, so we closed the evening out with the evergreen Divinare. This is one that Mischa has played before, and indeed it was me who played like an utter beginner, managing to be on minus 5 points after the first two rounds. I think I did pretty well to drag myself back to positive 6, but that was a long way behind John, Becky and Mischa (in that order), with only four points separating the Top 3.

A 7am start was rapidly beckoning, so it was time for the only real disappointment at RoW - an early night.
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Sun Dec 18, 2016 1:42 pm
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Friday December 2nd - Blease Blease Me

Ben Bateson
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Tony went one better than last week by suggesting a host of things we ought to play and then not arriving at all. But there was another great British designer (sorry. '...another, great, British designer') who was - more or less accidentally - at the forefront of our gaming this week. This was veritably the week of Sebastian Bleasdale...

Unfortunately, my Essen acquisition of Key To The City: London had failed to cut the mustard, and had left us in the uncomfortable position of 'wishing we were playing Keyflower' every time it hit the table. It wasn't a complete dud by any means, but it was tasty trade fodder and I promptly got two games in return: Imhotep and Black Fleet, the latter being another Seb-designed game, highly-recommended to me by an acquaintance or three. Two of these were to hit the table tonight.

Imhotep first, a shortish starter for the three of us regulars while we waited for the Boydell appearance that never materialised. This design feels very like a Schacht game at times with its granulated actions, strong timing aspects and the way it propagates deep choices without obscuring the strategy. There are still aspects of 'being backed into a corner' that worry me, although it was clear at times that this is an offshoot of the 3P game. Nevertheless, this is short but deep, accessible and tactile and - in short - just the sort of thing I'm happy to play twice. Indeed, we did play twice and I lost miserably both times. John took the first on his Obelisk, but Becky put a huge Burial Chamber combo together in the second to overhaul him.

A jaunty pair of musicians, playing modern hits in an acceptable style, talent-level and volume, accompanied our setting up of Prosperity (Bleasdale/Knizia). My experiences of 3P games of this in the past are that it has been wildly swingy, but that may be coincidence as it was tense and close tonight. I broke away with a strong economy early on (even at quite worrying cost to my pollution track), and spent it on vital point-scoring buildings, but Becky was raking in huge amounts of cash late-on, and John's impressive 11 research points saw a huge bound up each track in final scoring. I had just enough left over to see me into first place, but it was a very (and thankfully) close run thing in the end. All things told, this was one of our best Prosperity sessions, but I still find my thoughts drifting back to how the game might be better customised to create asymmetric nationalities and/or board layouts.

It was almost a party atmosphere in the Prince Of Wales by the time we'd finished: a crowd of 20 or so turning out to tappity-foot to the music. So we broke out Black Fleet: a sort of Piratey-Machi Koro type game, if you will.

My reviews of Bleasdale games often drift towards the dreaded buzzwords of 'sterile' or 'bland', but there's no levelling this sort of criticism at Black Fleet. It was an absolute hoot from start to - barely 30 minutes later - finish. it feels a lot like another lesser-known favourite, Caribbean, in the plundering of other ships for cargo, but the occasional lottery of blind-action-selection is replaced with a smothering of special abilities: some granted by cards and others by your 'achievement line', which is randomly dealt and a bit different every time. I'm not sure what John and Becky thought, but I absolutely loved it: light, frothy, backstabby and intensely tactical. And it couldn't fail to be even better with 4P

Thanks, Seb, for a great night. I enjoyed everything we played, whether it was yours or traded for yours!
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Sun Dec 4, 2016 5:58 pm
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Friday 25th November - A Rosenberg for my Rose

Ben Bateson
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It had been over a month since I had seen Tony, and I was rather looking forward to his cheeky smile and rapier wit once more. Instead, I face the following - verbatim - Facebook Messenger exchange

Tony: How many tonight?
Me: Five
Tony: Arse

Which I - correctly - interpreted that the huge shortlist of two games that he wanted to play (presumably Round House and Tasty Laurence) wouldn't accommodate that many. Still I loaded up the games bag with plenty of outstanding five-player fare: Concordia, Keyflower, Princes of Florence and El Grande.

Tony didn't want to play any of them.

Instead he preferred to play a 2P Le Havre with Becky, while leaving John, Bill and I to Cuba. Another game, incidentally, that would have been more than acceptable with all five of us playing.

Assuming - incorrectly - that Bill had recovered from his chronic 'how NOT to place your buildings on your plantation board' syndrome, I opted to throw the El Presidente expansion in: a first for any of us. There has been a lot of guff talked here about how the expansion 'completes' Cuba. Well...it's a good expansion, and I enjoyed it a lot, it fixes a bad Start Player rule, and I'll almost certainly include it every time now because it doesn't add any complexity. But it would be stretching a point to say that the base game is unplayable without it.

Remarkably, John used to badmouth Cuba, but he's been recently transformed to one of its biggest proponents. Truth is, he had the lead from the opening round and - pausing only briefly for a classic John-ism* - managed to keep it throughout, despite a late charge from myself. I still need to win over Becky (and Dan), but Cuba is belatedly becoming part of a favourite rotation for the rest of us.

I suppose the one bright side of the anti-social Le Havre table was that it finished concurrently with our rum'n'baccy exploits, so we had time to all congregate for a game of Friese's excellent double-guessing game, Unexpected Treasures. It might be a mite crowded with 5P (God knows how it plays with 6), but it didn't stop Becky proceeding to a huge win.

Tony had been untimely called away for family duties, so we had about an hour to fill. Various permutations were proffered, but only Buccaneer managed to meet with everyone's favour (it really was one of those nights). This is one of those uniquely Stefan Dorra games which really seems to simple to work but is actually hugely fun once you get stuck in. It also seems to be a particular favourite of John and he managed to win once again.

So, the practical upshot was a night when no-one seemed to want play anything that anyone else wanted to play. Roll on Christmas!


* Hearing the jukebox's Random function spin up Peter, Bjorn and John's seminal 'Young Folks', apropos of nothing, John looks up, spits out: 'I fucking HATE whistling' and returns quite merrily to planning his turn.
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Mon Nov 28, 2016 10:05 pm
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Friday November 18th - Civ You Later, Alligator

Ben Bateson
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There was no blog last week because of my annual sojourn to Midcon. Learning what was played from Becky (Round House, Vikings, Kingdom Builder), I was tempted to write a purely fictional 'this is what happens when I'm away' essay, that finished with John and Tony having a fist-fight in the car park and Becky, Rob and Joey engaging in a lusty threesome on the picnic tables. But we don't know Rob and Joey all that well, so I thought it prudent to be quiet.

As usual, I had attended Midcon at the same time as Bill without actually troubling to talk to him much or play any games with him, so Friday was a chance to rectify this. As recommended by Mr Burnham (and sold to me by Mr Dewsbury), I had a brand new copy of The Golden Ages just dying to be christened. There was an unfathomable amount of iconography to be learned, but actually it's all relatively straightforward once you get started, and the whole thing plays out a little like a streamlined version of Sid Meier's Civ. John, as The Romans, abused a lot of 'free' building through all four ages, while I settled down as the French and did a lot of invasions. Phoenician Bill gathered obscene amounts of cash, taking no less than 46 bonus points in two scoring phases at the end of the game. Becky's Arabians also latched onto the 'free building' and went to a squeaker of a finish where John won by a single point.

I've spent a lot of time looking for a good Civ-lite game to my tastes, and The Golden Ages is as good as any I've found so far. I like the unique Alexandre Roche art, and the general lack of anything too spreadsheety. I'm not overly convinced that the whole thing is well balanced (Becky and John's leaders seemed very strong), but that could well be down to inexperience. It's a disappointment that Stronghold have made such an arse of getting the expansion to market (especially given that I have the Quined edition), otherwise I'd be first in the queue. I think the thrilling finish helped sway everyone else's opinions too, and next time should be a lot lighter on the Player Aids.

For our follow-up, Becky chose Albion, that curiously obtuse game of how to invade Britain from the bottom upwards. I've got a lot of time for it and we've got well into double-figures without coming close on how the game potentially could be 'solved'. Ultimately, I suspect it's a very clever design that inexplicably doesn't get the recognition.

Separate from the others, I chose to build my first Settlement early, and that proved useful in getting legionaries into an extraordinarily hostile East Midlands region, which knocked down a building level for both Becky and an incredulous John. This put me in a driving seat early on (perhaps a flaw of the game is that an early error is almost unrecoverable), and I slotted my winning village into place at least a round before Bill, and with the bar staff starting to cash up (it's OK folks: they're not going to throw us out. We're not at the White Lion any more).

A little bit away from the norm for the group tonight, and two games that don't get enough credit. Now I've just got to work out how to 'homebrew' the Golden Ages expansion...
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Sun Nov 20, 2016 11:20 am
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Friday November 4th - Low-calorie Die Arts

Ben Bateson
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This week we welcomed back not just Rob (of Rob and Jo), but also new protege gamers Mischa and James. Anticipating sharing the Prince Of Wales with a bunch of speed-daters, we had planned some ironic 2P-gaming, but as it turned out the dating evening had rather smaller turnout than we did, so it was back to original plans.

Original plans, in this case, consisted of John teaching Mischa and James Manhattan, while Becky and I guided Rob through Cubist by way of some easy starters. Tony (absent again, through no fault of his own) always eulogises about Cubist, but the more we play it the more cracks are beginning to show. Mostly, in this case, a difficult case of runaway leader which became apparent early on as I cruised away with things. Still, I don't often win at Cubist.

James had apparently picked up Manhattan like an old stager, despite John's rather erratic teaching method (mostly enacted by holding the manual right in front of his face and reading it word by word), and was cruising his way to victory in his inaugural game by the time we had finished.Casting about for something of filler length, Becky rather optimistically suggested Innovation from my '3 Player' miscellany case. This met with approval from Rob, and it wasn't difficult to see why as he picked up the first two achievements in quick succession. Rather irritatingly, he then started attacking my rapidly burgeoning civilisation with medieval Oars and Construction. Becky was nowhere, and despite the best interference I could muster, Rob cruised it in the end.

John - inspired this time perhaps by a poster for an upcoming Psychic Supper - had embarked on teaching Divinare (a much easier job; only three main rules, really), and for his hastiness got himself thoroughly thrashed by James. Again. Fearing we might never align the tables, we opted to keep things relatively simple and cracked open Isle Of Skye. This was a first play for Rob and he didn't get the friendliest draw of scoring tiles, with two nearly unscorable boards on A and B. This didn't stop him hustling into a narrow early lead. But I had my eye on a bigger prize than the scant pickings from A/B. Frame D had 5 points per set of buildings, and I used it to tie down a whopping 15 points in the last round as Rob's lack of scrolls cost him. Becky, again, was miles off form. Rob pronounced himself distinctly more impressed with this than with Cubist, which is a good reflection of the two games' respective merits.

Finally, we got the two tables coincided, and when Mischa leaned over and said 'can we play Codenames?', I assumed she had some prior experience. No, as it turned out, just very good taste and could clearly spot a fellow Czech a mile away! It might seem somewhat unfair to team myself (randomly, it has to be said) with John and Becky, but I haven't exactly had a stable history in the game with either of them (I confess my preferred team-mate is usually Tony). Mischa, though, was too cautious in game one, preferring single-answer clues, and we cleared up nicely with clues such as 'Dressing:2' (OIL+LEMON) and 'Wagner:2' (RING+PIANO).

Game 2 was much tighter. James was cluing against John, with the latter in his usual 'flight of fantasy' mode, and they went down to the final spy. Unfortunately, it had been unclued by James, and a wild stab went in the wrong direction.

Game 3 put the newcomers in a strong position, with Becky's unreliable cluing ('Nimbus 2000' for WITCH+LIMOUSINE being wrong in nearly every single way imaginable). But it gave birth to the best guess of the night, with Rob's clue of 'Beta:3'. I believe he was associating ROOT with some sort of techno-geekspeak, but Mischa saw straight through that and to the obvious: Beta + Root = Beetroot! This goes down as one of the best examples of deduction I have seen in Codenames.

There had been talk of some Citadels to finish, but it's not one of John's favourites (he was even plugging for more Codenames in order to delay it!) and the clock was creeping past 10:30, so we opted for something lighter to finish. My proposition of Mondrian: The Dice Game met with enthusiasm from all but John ("Dexterity? Hmmmppph"), so Becky nobly made up a 2-hander to finish with the delightful and relatively unknown Metallurgy. She even let John win. My second lot of cubism for the night saw some frankly alarming dice antics, and James finishing with only three cards left us all with very small paintings ("what if someone only finished with one?" was rightly queried at this point). I think I won by dint of a couple of multicoloured treats.

James and Mischa had plenty of positive things to say about the games they had played, and promised to return in the New Year after various family commitments had been fulfilled. Shame - that's two fewer for the Christmas party.
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Sun Nov 6, 2016 9:39 pm
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Friday October 28th - Pair-o-Dice Found

Ben Bateson
United Kingdom
Ross-on-Wye
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Oi! Hands off...
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Fear not, those who feared we were homeless! The Ross-on-Wye gamers had up-and-shifted wholesale and at 7:20 this week there were three cars pulling into the spacious car park at the Prince Of Wales. Another four attendees were to join us, although all of them managed to miss the great big car park and put their automobiles elsewhere.

Rob and Jo were with us again during their extended stay in the region, and we also had an intermittent visit from Darren and Sian. Well, just Darren as it turned out; Sian needing a quiet night in. Perhaps the best visit of the evening was that of two complementary baskets of chips as a welcome gift from our new pub!

With everyone in such a fresh mood, I took the opportunity to introduce some new games that I had picked up pre-Essen. We started with Metropolys while Becky set up Stone Age on the other table. Bill turned up just as the boxes were opened and made a determined move away from Stone Age. Darren, being last in, made up the fourth Stone Age place by default.

Metropolys is an interesting break with form for Ystari: normally, their games are full of fiddly balancing rules and a hefty accompanying manual. But Metropolys is remarkably streamlined, with only a handful of rules. Essentially an auction and area control, you outbid your opponents by putting a larger building in an adjacent territory. There are a number of ongoing and end-game goals to facilitate it all, but nothing that can't be explained by an A5 summary card.

Although John and Bill seemed to have some difficulty with the uptake of these very simple rules (John's, indeed, lasting until the very end of the game and getting his goal cards incorrect due to his failure to read the crib sheet, for which he entertainingly tried to blame me), Rob was on board quickly and he was vying for the lead come the end, only to lose out to me by a single point.

Stone Age was taking a little longer because Jo hadn't played before and Gary had only played once, so Becky had embarked on a joint-teaching effort with Darren before - unsurprisingly - thrashing them by half a score-track. We played a little Love Letter to catch up, only to find that Rob was some sort of incredible Love Letter prescient genius (or just very, very lucky). Out of seven rounds played, he won five, and we were only too glad to abandon proceedings before we all embarrassed our selves.

Gary had shown interest in my copy of Above And Below, which was absolutely fine by me. Rob deferred in favour of letting Jo played this one: it looked like he and Darren were going to opt for a bit of Keythedral, but Becky bottled the teaching of it and they ended up with something a bit simpler in the form of Kingdoms. Poor choice, I feel: it's not at its best with 4P, and the difficulties of doing all the maths in the pub made it cumbersome. But they seemed to enjoy themselves anyway, and Rob edged it before Darren turned in for the night. Bill followed up by comfortably outplaying Becky and Rob at Too Many Cooks.

Above and Below, then? This was one that I was looking forward to; its simple blend of action selection and storytelling ticking two huge boxes for Becky and I. We managed to get a couple of rules impressively wrong early on, but corrected for this by making the game a round longer. Some of the storytelling had Bill merrily guffawing over his cards as he overheard various innuendo-laden phrases from the next table, but it was all thematic and pleasant enough, even though I ran away with it somewhat.

The negative reviews of Above and Below point to its weak storytelling, and it's not exactly the best feature. I would worry for the replayability with only 210 or so unique paragraphs. I also found too many stories too prosaic, and I really wanted to be making interesting 'do I swap a rope for 2 reputation?' type decisions which just aren't there. I'd dearly love this to be fixed with an expansion. However, and it's a big however, Above and Below is a big winner in terms of fun and sociability, and throwing in the negotiation element was a brilliant touch to tie the whole thing together. I enjoyed it very much, whatever it might lack in serious game-design terms.

A terrific first night at the Prince, then, and two excellent new discoveries for me. I hope it's the first of many!
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Sun Oct 30, 2016 10:14 pm
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