Martin set about explaining the rules and I realized I was feeling sick. Was it the theme? Was it the fact I'd just eaten about half a kilo of popcorn? Was it the absence of Andrew and Joe? Or was it Martin's tablecloth, which he refused to remove, despite the combination of optically bedazzling pattern and bumps.
Combined with the fact I'd forgotten my glasses, I had to keep closing my eyes to focus on the words.
Fortunately the nausea passed, and I was soon ship-shape and ready to start being really abhorrent. In San Quentin Kings everyone is running a gang and trying to finish the game with the best reputation. Rep in this case is brought about by frankly horrible things - violence, bribery and drugs; the latter coming in three forms of brown horse, white horse and green baboon. The game plays over three years and in each year all the areas of the prison get activated: allowing you to recruit more members, get drugs or contraband, work out at the gym (improving your gang's fighting performance) and shank each other.
San Quentin, surrounded by acres of fencing
But how much you can achieve comes down to bidding - whenever an area gets activated there's a blind bid where gang members are simultaneously revealed. You can bid a lot, a little, or none at all. You can also bid different types of gang members. But that's just the start - now there are three rounds of fighting where you can add cards to your bid/gang in order to boost their strength. You hope for a matching card for your gang members because non-matching ones have no effect. But you can also get caught by a guard and sent to solitary, killed, or - just as bad - get out on parole. A gang member not actually in prison is of zero use. So having the biggest bid at the outset is no guarantee of success.
Mix in the bribes and it's a game that could have been called Take That, if the nomenclature didn't come with such melodic baggage. You can use them for all manner of chicanery, but it's more than likely your target will simply hit you right back, giving them the shall I-shan't I? feel of the highest bidding tile in Ra.
Each time you win a fight you gain a fight point, and having most fight points at the end of the game gives your rep a big boost. After the final (third) year, there's a riot in the yard - one final fight for no other reason than to punch each other in the face. Nothing to gain but gloating and sore knuckles.
I started reasonably well, building a hand of contraband that allowed me to make bribes. But often one bribe is simply parried with another, and I found them almost a source of frustration. After that though I played too conservatively, and ended up with a gang too small to have any real outcome on the game.
big guys; medium guys
Ian also started well but by the time the third year arrived, he still hadn't won a single fight and was well behind on the fight track. "That's because Ian's a pacifist!" Katy said defensively when Martin pointed it out. "No I'm not!" Ian retorted. He announced that he was in a bad position: "A bad, bad, bad, bad position" to be exact, and said he'd lost. He was right.
Rear shows the fight track, with Ian (yellow) lagging
Despite Martin being in last on the reputation track everyone suspected he was going to win and kept stealing his drugs. He and Katy kept stealing each other's horses, much to Martin's chagrin. "I've got baboons coming out of my arse" he grumbled, like a resentful mule.
My hunch on the scores was Martin - Katy - Andy - Sam - Ian, but as it turned out Andy's largely narcotic-free approach saw him surge up the track in final scoring to clinch the win, with Katy third.
To borrow an appropriately judicial term, the jury seemed to be out on San Quentin Kings. Martin and Katy liked it. Andy didn't, as evidenced by his hurling his gang members down the table with the style of a leader who uses fear, not respect. Ian and I seemed to be havering; I think like me he felt it was a bit too chaotic for the two and a half hour play time. I'd try it again though.
After the riot everyone was ready for something a bit gentler, so we cracked out Mamma Mia.
pineapple and olive. the great lost pizza-topping combo
It was as tense as Mamma Mia can be, as after two rounds anyone - conceivably anyone, though Martin was lagging behind - could have won. I had a slender lead of one recipe, but Ian, Andy and Katy all had just one less than me. They all managed to draw level, whereas Martin and I floundered, leaving the scores at a near-equilibrium:
Everyone apart from Martin - 4 recipes
Martin - 3 recipes
There was just time for Martin to channel his disappointment into another scathing assessment of Uwe Rosenberg's big games (Andy and I tried to defend them, but we were no match for Martin's passion) before another classic GNN Tuesday drew to a close. Thanks all!