Welcome...to my Shed!
Friday afternoon: after powering down the (makes the sign of the cross) work Windows laptop, a weekend of larks and japes and pranks lay in store. The Boydells are currently fasting from chip shop suppers, for Lent, so a home-cooked repast was followed by a Gloucester drop-off for two of my boys then having to hang around in order to pick up two completely different boys from the railway station (steady!): Messrs Matthew Dunstan and Brett J. Gilbert.
I have quite a serious game designer affliction at the moment; it has been getting steadily worse since 2013 when I finished by sojourn to London: a profound lack of play-testing resources. As you might expect, I have a number of prototypes in progress (including collaborations with the above-mentioned) but they (the games, not the collaborators) have not been given proper scrutiny (aka 'a good going over'). Inspired by Cédrick Chaboussit's recent visit, I resolved to organize a miniature “Playtest Convention”: hence, the presence of M & B.
Poor Brett had been in Gloucester for several hours by the time I ambled onto the station concourse; not even a tour of the splendid cathedral - and a blast of Evensong, therein - could wash away the foul taste of this most grizzled of cities. If any conurbation could be said to suffer from low self-esteem then it is this former jewel of West of England transport and industry: self-harming with ghettoized communities, filthy streets, seedy food outlets, threatening gangs of loitering youths, disproportionate parking charges and fascistic traffic enforcement officers. But I digress: Brett and I waited five minutes more for Matt to make it down the longest railway platform in the UK and then we beetled back to Chez Boydell.
After introductions to those left in the building (Mrs B, Arthur and an excitedly-peeing Ziggy), we three retired to the Library - supping on a rather delicious Carmenère - for chinnywags and banter; we ran the conversational gauntlet through games, gaming, movies, books and music (Picture 1 - Brett had this exact LP as a youngster; both of us big fans of the 1970s children's TV sketch and music show) for the next three hours without any sense of time-passing. When eldest son, Fred, popped his head round the door to say 'Hi!', we realised it was already 11.30! Matt, being the baby of the group, kept making notes of the many (mysterious) cultural references so that - in slower time - he might get up to speed; here is that list:
10 (Dudley Moore)
Toms Midnight Garden
Play-by-mail (PBM) games
Ray Brooks (Actor) / "Big deal"
Weetabix - 'save up for' Lego Town / yellow Aston Martin
The Wombles / Sir Bernard Cribbins/ "Right said Fred" (song)
Playaway albums / Derek Griffiths
Movies: The Last of Sheila, Don't look Now
Jenny Agutter / The Railway Children / Logan's Run / Walkabout
Nicholas Roeg: Man who fell to earth
Joe Haldeman - The Forever War
Not the Nine o'clock News
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1980s TV)
All Creatures Great and Small / Christopher Timothy
Swapshop / Noel Edmonds
Old printer paper (alternating white & green lines, spool holes either side)
Missile Command (video game)
The Dead Kennedies
Getting the cane at school
1970s TV Public Information films (Dark Water, Kite-flying near pylons, "Charlie Says...")
Battle of the Planets (7-Zark-7)
Smack the Pony / Reginald Perrin & Sunshine desserts
Before retiring - at an unheard-of at my age 0100HRS - we managed a quick Mondrian: The Dice Game (Picture 2).
Saturdays always begin busily for some of us so, by 8.30AM, all bar the teenagers, were up-and-doing. The game designer trio's first review of the day was half a run at Foothills (the 2 player Snowdonia); as is Brett and Matt's modus operandi, much 'challenging' of design decisions ensued and more notes were duly added to the 'To Do' list. We didn't have time to pack it away there-and-then, though, because I had arranged another distraction: one of Arthur's school friends was having a Birthday Battlesports session inspired, directly, by Arthur's own laser-tagging mud-crawl in February; with adults able to join the group for a nominal fee (just £10 each), it seemed an opportunity not to be missed! Myself, Brett and Matt and me, camo-ed up and jumped right in to The Big Shoot (pictures 3a - before - and 3b - after); the birthday boy's team (ours) - the Blues - proved victorious over the next two hours, shaming a party from Cheltenham Boy's College Prep School. (Aside: there is nothing quite as satisfying as your gun saying: "Hit Confirmed - Hit Confirmed - Hit Confirmed - Kill Confirmed" in quick succession.)
Exhausted, but 6000 steps 'up' on my Fitbit, we returned - boots caked in earth, glowing with perspiration - for a Summer lunch (summer this, summer that) which included a delicious spur-of-the-moment Mrs B-special Mushroom Soup. Having dutifully cleared the pots away, we were left to ourselves. Warming up on the soon-to-be-publically-available PnP Good Little Trains (picture 4), we moved on to my MAIN anticipated event for the weekend: Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (aka The Air Racing Drafting Game, picture 6).
In summary: I'd gotten to the stage where it works: a combination of the drafting-to-build-a-deck PRACTICE phase followed by a use-your-deck RACE phase. Mostly-happy with the card effects and core mechanisms, I was aware it was running a bit slow and a bit 'gamey' overall; I very much wanted Brett - my main collaborator - and Matt (Mr Sound Advice) to help me smooth it out...and smooth it out we bloody well did! It was like Edward Scissorhands and his ice-sculpting: dazzlingly, we pruned away a number of awkward extremities after PlayThru 1 and re-ran it with great success for PlayThru 2! If nothing else came of the subsequent hours, this was reason enough to count the entire weekend a roaring success!
Mrs B likes to have the kitchen to herself during the Suppering process - loud music and chopped vegetable detritus ahoy! - so we scuttled in to the library room for First Class and then, joined by Arthur (at a loose end), for Hotel. About a third of the way into the three-dimensional, Monopolistic flummery, I remembered I had to pick up older Sons (plus pals) from the Cinderford Palace cinema ("Logan", thank you for asking) so I bequeathed my healthy game state to the young 'un. Upon returning, Arthur had been cruelly-shyster-ed by our so-called "guests" and, apparently, I was still liable for all of his debts!
By now, well in to the Spring evening, Loopin' Louie was causing much loudness and hilarity from the library (picture 8); indeed, Brett was getting so worked up that I feared he would have a seizure/cardiac arrest/aneurysm! Luckily, Mrs B called us to lay the table and tuck in to several hearty, home-made pizzas (some with a scone mix and - get this - one with 'riced cauliflower' for the base). More wine and more games (Cubist, Pi mal Pflaumen) and another late turning-in.
Ah, Sunday - the last leg of our impromptu convention - dawned peacefully. Mrs B nipped off to Church (conveniently-located at the bottom of our garden) leaving us to brew generous vats of tea and coffee and hunker down to Matt's intriguing Perspective (Dixit meets Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective); Brett and I barely managed to 'solve it' when Mrs B hoofed us back out of the cooking area so she could conjure up an enormous Brunch (vegetable-stuffed roasted giant mushrooms, muffins, sausages, bacon and eggs). Brett and Matt were dice-rolling a Matty-Dee prototype (with Benedict and Peter) then moved on to a full-five player of the splendid Adrenaline - Arthur suiting himself up in to the last combatant exo-suit.
Things were beginning to wind down - tiredness leading to a little tetchiness during a Snowdonian scenario 'first tickle' - so we decided to get some air and take the dog for a walk; despite the increasing rain, it was good to get out for an hour. On our return, there was time for one more beverage and then the household were hugging their goodbyes and we were off to the accursed metropolis once more.
Exhausting, frustrating, thoughtful, hilarious and hearty: that was MY weekend, how was yours?