Oi! Hands off...
As per normal on Friday nights, I loaded up the games cases, and headed out the front door. But this week our destination was not to be the White Lion, but instead Much Marcle, for the inaugural weekend of day-long gaming, snacks and booze that will be forever known as CiderCon.
Friday ('Where's the Girl? There's the girl!' - viral video)
Richard and Carl were already nursing cups of tea when I fetched up on the doorstep, but a whole bunch of people flooded the house in short order. Two tables were promptly established - one in the kitchen and one in the dining room. Rumours that someone had - at the last minute - gotten hold of a copy of MLPH&S were unfortunately proved untrue.
My opening companions were Anne, Sam and the iniquitous Boydell, and he kicked us off with a nice light one - Old Men of the Forest, a charity-tie in with Ankh-Morpork with proceeds directed to the very laudable aim of preserving orang-utans. While I gladly support the preservation of this most noble and beautiful species of ape, I find it difficult to be equally supportive of this random and unmanageable 'trick-taking' game, which is to bridge what Poison is to classic rock. Onwards, please, Jeeves.
Tony made up for his Old Men by introducing us to a much better breed of game, Essen release Last Will. An exercise in squandering hundreds of thousands of pounds on property, wild parties with old chums and expensive servants, and boat rides with pretty women, this proved to be most enjoyable fare, particularly for Sam who squandered his money in double-quick time. Last Will is one of only two of this year's Essen crop that have even approached my wishlist (Santiago de Cuba being the other), and on this basis it looks like a fine mid-length game that I can't see many people failing to enjoy.
A shuffle of the game groupings ensued and I ushered Tony and Carl off to play Ankh-Morpork, one which neither of them had got round to playing as yet. Swift that the game is, we had time for two games. Tony complained all the way through the first game (because he lost) and then changed his mind during the second (because he won).
I'm into double-figures for Ankh-Morpork now, and is the lustre coming off? Hmmm...maybe a fraction, but mostly with people who don't appreciate the thematics and play along with some rudimentary storytelling. I suspect it will probably wander out of my Top Ten in the fullness of time, but not too far out.
As will always happen when we're joined together, talk wandered towards Agricola strategy, and with the clock ticking past 11pm, it seemed silly not to set the boards up for a quick four-player with Richard. Much to my chagrin, I was placed to the left of Tony, but I can't really blame that for playing quite poorly. Richard won this one with a Tavern-fuelled 40 points.
Waiting for the other table to finish playing, we dealt out a quick Glory To Rome. The others are MUCH more experienced at this game than me, and my cynicisms about randomness were confirmed when I, a relative novice, squeaked out a fast-ending victory with more than half of the site cards remaining.
Another table shuffle ensued, and it resulted in Carl and Tony clearing off to play Walnut Grove (again I shouldn't criticise without actually seeing the game, but it looked deathly dull to me) and Ian joining myself and Richard. After some brief humming and hahing about the best games for three, we settled on good old Puerto Rico, and I demonstrated the efficacy of a good Marketplace strategy utilised at two o'clock in the morning.
With a few of the less obsessed gamers heading for bed, night-owl Ian expressed his usual enthusiasm for anything with dice in, and Alea Iacta Est was duly produced. Ian clearly has the odds of this one mastered, because he took us to town very quickly. Richard decided that 3:30 was a reasonable time to turn in.
Not us! After a brief treat of JP's Youtube collection, it was discovered that four of us (Ben, JP, Dave and Ian) might just be up for a light (light?) game of St Petersburg. It's not everywhere you hear this brain burner nominated at 4am as a 'quick game before bed', but we went at it with gusto, although my opposition had slightly less gusto after I picked up the Mistress Of Ceremonies on the first round. Dave was noble enough to say I probably would have won even without it, and if I was going to be immodest I'd say that was true. OK, yeah, it's true.
Saturday ('A hectic day spent digging for Balls' - Richard playing Last Will)
After a brisk five hours sleep, I roused myself (quiet, Tony) at 10am, only to find a game of Power Grid very nearly already in progress! I managed to secure the sixth seat by means of barging in at the end of the table. PG, in my opinion, is quite over-rated around here and I don't particularly mind playing it, but I doubt I'd ever suggest it. The economy of it seems rather too straightforward, the phases are unbalanced and the auctions uninteresting. With this in mind, I was content to take third behind a far more experienced Richard and Carl, but was happy to move onto something else.
While Rich was showering, Tony and I attempted a lightning game of Innovation: this became even more lightning when I conceded after playing myself into an embarrassingly poor position. I played my first ever game of Innovation 2P against Tony as well, and didn't lose that badly then.
There was an itching between Rich and Tony to break out Key Harvest, and I was a little surprised to find myself teaching two newbies. After the usual slog through the impenetrable Key Rulebook (potential prototype game idea?), we hit the fields. I was hit by a really bad-luck event tile mid-game but a counterbalancing good one near the end, and it wouldn't at all surprise me that this has been thoroughly tested enough to ensure that the events are reasonably self balancing. Leastways, very tight closing scores saw me pip Tony by a point or two.
The arrival of Becky prompted some re-grouping of people, and while she got stuck in with gusto to Innovation and Fiji, I coerced the kitchen-table group into a print-and-play that both JP and I had had our eyes on: Car Tricks has been largely overlooked, but I suspected there was probably a game in there somewhere.
A rather unfulfilling and random first game (Tony won...I think) gave way to some suggestions about how the game could be improved, and we cobbled together a 'better' rule set for a second game. This one went with much more of a swing, plenty of merriment at watching the green car going round in circles, and a well-planned win for Dave.
Plenty of testosterone around the table meant Braggart was going to be an inevitability, and some fun and games with Simon the Lonely Ogre ensued. Can't remember who won, but it's not the winning that counts with Braggart.
Snatching up handfuls of Pringles and suchlike to see me through to dinner, I managed to sit in quick on a game of Fiji, and - of course - got well and truly beaten by Becky, who seems to have some sort of mysterious powers when it comes to the manipulation of tiny gems. Either that or she cheats. It wouldn't surprise me.
'Time for a lengthy one before dinner' was the shout, and Outpost became our second auction game of the day. This one was completely off my radar before today, and I enjoyed the game economics to a reasonable extent, although it was certainly a bit too draggy with five. Richard was called as the winner by Carl after snatching up a lot of cheap discounts, but he was almost overhauled at the last by a resurgent Dave, who had spent plenty of turns lagging in fifth place before buying up masses of Research. I think I'd enjoy Outpost as a once-or-twice-a-year game, but it doesn't seem like there's enough opportunity to try different strategies for more plays than that.
So, off to the pub and a swift dinner of West Indian Chicken curry, smothered in Encona hot pepper sauce and washed down with a couple of pints of Otter bitter (which was a lie, because the pepper sauce was much 'otter). Carl, Richard and I used up the downtime with a quick game of Ninety-Nine, which is very highly regarded by Rich and myself, and soon was by Carl too.
There was a bit of lethargy upon return home, with a lack of willingness to play anything too new or challenging. Rich, JP and I, as the most awake, played another game of Last Will (Rich beating me by one agonising money), and then everyone grouped up for a game of Feudality before bed. Carl won this pretty comfortably after snubbing the king on turn 1 and building up a strong fortress. It's probably best if I don't expand too much on my opinions of Feudality, because very few people seem to agree with me, but...well, it's crap, isn't it? Random crap? Random crap with not-actually-very-appealing art? Oh...still just me, then.
Sunday ('I'll just get off my sled and walk' - Carl in the trees playing Snow Tails)
Fully six hours under my belt tonight, but it was a slow start to the morning, and in fact nearly lunchtime before everyone was up and ready to contemplate any games action. But contemplate we did, and Snow Tails looked appealing enough to Carl (who likes a racing game), Richard (who likes a card game), Dave (who likes a bit of hand-management) and I ('cos I've played before and actually like Snow Tails). We had time for two games, in fact, the beginners' track being rather unstimulating for us all, but something with trees, curves and chicanes being much more interesting. Carl took a first and a second to win this mini-Championship, and might well have taken a clean sweep if he hadn't been cunningly blocked out by yours truly on the final straight by yours truly.
Richard and I had both been niggling away at getting Space Alert to the table since Hour 1, and we finally saw our opportunity and fuelled up the Sitting Duck for a single (and, as it turned out, abortive) flight. In a games market that is becoming clogged by games trying to provide a twist on old mechanics, Space Alert stands out because it's still so different to anything else out there. A real 'experience' game, in the best possible sense.
Were we finished? Not quite. There was still time for Richard to take a relatively procedural game of Fiji (probably the hit of the weekend in terms of the number of players converted - not bad for an old, small-box game), and me to sweep the board with a final hand of Braggart. The latter saw an uber-nerd problem as Start Player threw up 'whoever has been furthest North', and Richard and Carl immediately had to resort to their iPads in a debate over whether Lewis was further North than Oslo (it isn't). I wouldn't have minded so much, but they were competing for second place behind Dave's Helsinki. Second place in Start Player? Really, chaps.
Something of an epic weekend, then. A personal tally of 26 games played, and at least 50 must have taken place in the house over the weekend. Thanks to JP and Gail for letting us trash their gaffe, and we'll see you again next year!