Monday, 30 April 2012


Friday night Sally and I had Mark and Katie over, which meant I was allowed to raid the games cupboard. Sally has an interesting take on games, in that if you don't talk all the way through them you're not playing properly. Usually this talk will at some point hit upon the appalled realisation that the game is lasting 'ages'. But we chose a fairly speedy game so I was spared opprobrium.

The actual choosing of the game was a game in itself, inspired by my wonderful present from Katie, the delightful 70's piece Madame Planchette's Horoscope game, modelled coquettishly here by Sally:

Both of these women got paid for this

In what was either an inspired bit of improvised gaming or a deviously pre-planned scheme to play Trans-America, Mark laid out four crisps on the table and secretly assigned them a game: Alhambra, Ticket to Ride, Carcassone and the aforementioned railway game.

Where's Tinner's Trail?

Katie then chose a crisp (the big one) which turned out to be her favourite, Trans-America. There was talk of playing Madame Planchette herself, but nobody was in the mood for learning rules, even if the first line of them is the delightful "Before play begins, everyone makes a secret wish."

So off we went, railroading our way across America, only to tear up all our good work in disgust and start again whenever someone made their connections. The classic sensation of playing Trans-America is when you look at your cards and think "how in the wide world of sports am I going to link these up?" - and certainly that was pretty much how I felt throughout the game.

Hands across America

Staring forlornly at the board appears to make no difference, however, so I simply cursed the urban development of San Diego, Houston, Duluth etc and watched as Mark and Katie gallivanted their way to convincing 1-2 finish:

Mark  3
Katie  6
Sam   8
Sally 14

Sally's suggestion that we get Andrew to write up the night felt just a bit too presumptuous though, so here I am.

On Saturday we played games too; this time with Becky and Dan, who had come from Chesham for the night. I discovered that Becky loves games! Perhaps that was the moment when they became respectable in Sally's eyes. We'll see.

I didn't take any photos that night, so here are Stanley and Joe.

Anyway, Becky, Dan and I managed a 13-all draw in Mord Im Arosa as Sally was collared for the murders with 15 points. Then Becky won Tsuro, with Dan second and Sally third as I crashed out first, giving me a weekend wide 3-1-4 spread. This is all non-leaderboard though, right?

Saturday, 28 April 2012

All the News... Addendum

In light of the acclaim* heaped upon me since my All The News You Didn't Know You Didn't Need breakdown of the GNN results from inception to the end of the last season, I thought I'd follow up quickly with the results of those who didn't make it into my calculations - not a deliberate snub, merely because they had played so few games it was hard to really get something like an average out of them.

But not doing so felt a little bit exclusive, which is obviously contrary to the whole ethos of GNN, so in the spirit of community here's the results for everyone else:

Andy Mosse40
Dan Clamp21
Jon Burgess10

*updated* I have gone through all the games to work out average positions, and though this is only up til the end of the last season - I think Anja has won more games since then - clearly Dan Clamp's average is looking stratospheric - but then he only played against myself and Andrew, so is yet to be tested by the likes of Quent, Hannah, and the Saffron Savage.

click to view


*manifest mostly in shocked looks.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

And it was all yellow

Tonight we had it all planned. Steve, Sam and Anja would play Wallenstein again – this time they'd be able to leap in without relearning the rules, and finally get to work on finishing off Magdeburg good and proper. Meanwhile, Joe, Adam and I decided beforehand to play Maria. With one half of the table German and the other half Austrian, we were in for a Teutonic treat.

Except that Steve couldn't make it. So instead we chose Hansa Teutonica as a suitable five-player replacement.

But first, before Anja arrived, the four of us decided on a game of Incan Gold to warm us up. This game of luck-defying greed is always entertaining. We begin each temple as honest, decent gentlemen who do not turn and flee at the slightest sign of misfortune. Before long, however, we became cautious, panicking at spiders and zombie ladies and scrabbling for the exit with our dignity in tatters.

Joe 42
Adam 41
Andrew 38
Sam 34

Then we set up Hansa Teutonica. Anja arrived, Sam was given a refresher of the rules, and we were ready to start. Except that only one of us was paying attention: Adam. He swiftly picked up a bonus marker that everyone else ignored, which he converted into an extra action before anyone else could claim theirs. As such, even after the second turn, the four of us were trying to catch him up.

I had a frustrating game, feeling duty-bound to try and stop Adam since no one else wanted to, but then unsure of how this could benefit me. Joe seemed to have an equally aimless game, as he ended the game with no cubes on the map at all. Unsurprisingly, the two of us came last.

Anja played a better game, rising above any petty name-calling at the creeping custard, and instead played her own game. Sam controlled cities near privileges which gave him a healthy amount of points and stopped the game before Adam could increase his lead any more.

Adam 50
Anja 35
Sam 34
Joe 24
Andrew 24

Finally we ended with a game of Poison. A simple game which, for whatever reason, prompted some extremely geeky conversations. Mostly from Joe. First, he noted that the height of liquid in the bottles on the cards was related to the number on the card. But Sam regretfully pointed out that the volume of the liquid in the bottles wasn't related.

Then Joe wondered if you could really buy the design of poison bottles on the cards, causing Adam and I to check our cards to see what he meant, thus giving away that we were the only ones left with poison.

Then Joe wondered if there was a reason why the cauldron's weren't colour co-ordinated. Three colours, three cauldrons. Why not have a red cauldron, a green one and a blue one? It would certainly change the balance of power when someone was putting a poison into an empty cauldron, he explained while I wished he'd just play his card.

In the end, Sam played a solid game, seeing off the rampant rubber gloves, who had to settle for second. Anja was stung by a bad second round, leaving her in last, while Joe and I took up third and fourth.

Sam 3
Adam 10
Joe 19
Andrew 23
Anja 31

With a first and two second places, Adam increases his lead at the top. I fall back down faster than Icarus, and Sam sneaks into second.

Adam 2 1 2 1 2 8
Sam1 3 4 2 1 11
Steve1 5 23112
Joe3 4 1 3 1 12
Andrew4 4 3 3 3 17
Anja5 2 2 4 4 17
Jonny 2 25 5519

Interesting that Adam's return to form has come at the same time as his beloved Tottenham's run of bad results. A bit of karma? Perhaps Adam should try losing a few games, see if Spurs improve.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Seven into two does go

A rainy Monday evening alone. What's a fellow to do? Gaze out the window at the rain, cup of tea in hand, wistfully recalling past regrets, perhaps while a saxophone plays the blues in the distance?

No! Let's play games!

I left life-drawing early in order to meet up with Sam for a pre-games-night games night. Once there we considered something new, but at the same time we didn't feel like learning any rules. We then realised we'd never played Seven Wonders as a two player game. We brought it to the table, and worked our way through the handful of variants for the two-player version.

The main change is that our imaginary friend Dirk gets to play! He acts as a third player, and the two players take turns in choosing his cards for him. Each go the player who has the Free City card draws an extra card and then from his (now expanded) hand, he chooses two cards – one for himself and one for Dirk.

This means that, as well as working out what's best for you, you have to work out what you can give to Dirk that benefits you, but doesn't benefit your opponent. Dirk can buy things from you if he must (assuming he has enough cash), so it's a useful way of getting money, and you can buy things from him so it's a useful way of getting materials.

I enjoyed this new twist to the game. Having the chance to chose two cards every other go felt like a real opportunity not to be missed, so there were a lot of pauses as the AP kicked in. As each player quickly gains a knowledge of both hands being handed back and forth, the random element of a new card introduced each time kept the game fresh and interesting.

As for the game, Dirk started off as a dumping ground for blue cards and he even had a military card, so after round one he was in a commanding position. But soon Sam and I overtook him. I thought it was quite close in the end, with my wide variety of sciences, but it turned out that Sam was a clear winner.

Sam 73
Andrew 52
Dirk 30something

We then played Contract Whist for old times' sake. It ended 62-62 and I went home rejoicing in our shared victory!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Ur.... ur... hmmmm

Like stumbling upon a idyllic glade with an ice cream van in it after several days hacking through the jungle, three gamers found the beautiful vista of an empty table before them on a Wednesday evening. What to play? We decided upon UR, the civilisation-development game of ancient Mesopotamia. This has been sitting in my cupboard for about a year now, biding it's time, waiting for us to declare it one of the great underrated gems of gaming.

However it's wait may go on a little, as the jury is currently out.

It's a game of contrasts. The rules are brief, yes, but they are badly written and fail to make clear at least two aspects of the game that we had to decide on ourselves. The game is - relatively - brief too, but it contains plentiful opportunities for AP. And the mechanics are actually very good - but they lie beneath a theme so flimsy that you can see the cogs turning beneath it. The rules may say you're developing politics or culture but when the upshot of it is moving the same cubes around the board as when you develop agriculture or go to war, what tends to happen is Adam says "I'll do purple" and Andrew says "I'll do green".

The board is made up of 6x6 tiles that you deal out randomly. The tiles are double-sided and each side contains an 'action'. You also have a tile in your hand, and on your turn you can either 'action' both sides of your tile, or just one of them (and add a cube to your presence on the board) or neither (and add two cubes to your presence on the board, or occupy a new tile with one cube). These actions are the four mentioned above, plus politics. All of them amount to cube movement. A final option is sacrificing both actions to build a 'ziggurat' on a tile you occupy, which guarantees you the tile it sits on and gets you points at the game's end.

After your turn you swap your tile with any unoccupied tile on the board, and someone else says "I'll do blue". And when the game ends you score the tiles you own: like the monuments in Ra, you score sets; and the ziggurats can either function as jokers or sneakily allow you to claim a set of six, even though there are only five colours.

After a first play we very much stroking our chins, and still coming to terms with all the ins and outs of the strategy:

Sam 28
Adam 24
Andrew 21

So we gave it another go. This time we expanded a lot more on the board, and got our heads around the advantages of the different actions. It was hard to say who was going to win, and as we went through a slightly protracted endgame, and at one stage Andrew looked very strong, with almost half the board to himself. But he was thinly spread, so both Adam and I nabbed tiles off him; and he didn't have a war action to claim them back.

I was hopeful of a second victory, but I should have known better:

Adam 43
Sam 39
Andrew 30

We all made significant improvements in our scores from the previous game, but none more so than the Curdled Whey, who begins his march up the leaderboard.

And Ur? Well, we're still scratching our chins on that one. It really wears it's mechanics on it's sleeve, and so is perhaps a little abstract for our group. But it has some neat things about it, like the changing board of tiles, and the fact you can guess what you're opponent is planning by which tile they pick up. I can see why it gets some love on the geek. If it doesn't get repeated plays from us, I can imagine keeping it as a very good two-player.

On the Leaderboard Andrew's brief sojourn at the summit is over, though he remains camped close by. They do say the cream rises to the top, don't they? Or is that custard?

Adam1 2 1 3 2 9
Andrew3 3 2 2 1 11
Steve1 5 23112
Sam2 1 2 6 3 14
Joe3 1 14514
Anja2 4 42517
Jonny 2 25 5519

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Last one to (destroy) Magdeburg is a rotten egg

When I write this blog, sometimes it's easier than others. But perhaps the hardest time is not when you've come last, but when you've had a chance at first, but threw it away thanks to your own greed. But I'll speak more of this sorrowful tale later.

We began the evening with the three of us – myself, Joe, and Sam – playing Mord im Arosa. We also played Adam's goes for him, as we were expecting him at any second. As it happened, we played quite well on his behalf so when he did arrive, he was in a comfortable first place. Of course, this unconventional way of playing meant the game wasn't leaderboard, but for the record: I was left in last, especially when Sam found three of my guilty cubes in one go, pushing me over the ten-cube limit. Joe and Adam ended as joint winners, with Sam in second.

There was a brief moment afterwards when we were waiting for Steve and Anja when we discussed squeezing in a quick game or if we should actually talk to each other. In the end, we compromised and talked about games until they arrived.

Once they were here, we played new favourite Incan Gold. As a game that works well (perhaps best) with many players, it's quickly gained a special place in our hearts. It was a tense affair, especially for Steve who would confidently place his card down and then, seconds later, pick it back up and reconsider. In the end Joe won it by a whisker, and by sheer fluke as he realised he put down the wrong card. But it was too late to take it back, so he regretfully left the temple and took what treasure he had. The next card finished the game completely, so he got out just in time.

Joe 32
Andrew 31
Adam 30
Anja 28
Steve 13
Sam 9

We then split into two groups of three. Steve, Anja and Sam played Wallenstein, a game whose pronunciation has gone from genteel middle England “Wallensteen” to full blooded Gothic “Vollenschtine” since we last played it. I shall leave it for them to clear up the story of what Gustav Adolph did next. The results ended...

Steve 28
Anja 25
Sam 25

Joe, Adam and I went for the bright lights and white lines of Sunset Strip as we chose Lords of Vegas. And I did feel a bit like I was living the high life, with one half of the table hunched over a map of Germany with cardboard squares and wooden blocks, while we had dice and poker chips and bad American accents. If only board games could be played in a convertible Chevy with the top down while speeding down Route 66, the image would be complete.

Adam scared us all with some remarkable luck regarding which plots of land he could build on and before long, we were looking at his brand new seven-square brown casino. (I should stress now that “brown casino” is not a euphemism for his bottom.) Joe and I started panicking. Joe used the last of the brown squares to stop Adam from expanding, and I went for silver.

Before long, I was suddenly in pole position. Adam's brown casino had completely seized up! And his dice skills had deserted him. Meanwhile, I was getting a steady income from my unused land and some lucky pay-outs from my casinos. But like some village idiot in a folk tale who inherits lots of money and gets greedy and ruins everything, I decided to go gambling.

There was a casino with five dice, only one of which belonged to Adam, the other four split evenly between me and Joe. I decided to re-organise – roll all of the five dice to make a new boss – thinking that if I didn't win then third-placed Joe would. As it turned out Adam defied the odds and won. To make things worse, the next card meant that that casino paid out, giving him Adam points which later were to prove instrumental.

Joe's tale, meanwhile, was a typical rags to riches story. He was the original boss of Adam's casino, but soon found himself reorganised out of his position. This happened to him a lot and towards the end, he had an unmatched collection of dice showing ones, which barely helped him when the casinos paid out.

When the final scores were added up, Adam was only one section ahead of me, and I think I would've beaten him on money, so that reorganising I'd done by accident gave him the game. I cursed my foolishness. Joe came in third, but with only a couple more goes, he would've been in a much stronger position. Possibly still third, though.

Adam 49
Andrew 44
Joe 32

The form table shows a new face on top of the pile. Yes, finally, your faithful reporter gets his day in the sun. Ooh, I feel a bit dizzy so far up.

Andrew2 2 1 1 39
Steve1 5 23112
Joe3 1 14514
Adam1 3 255 16
Sam2 6 3 3 216
Anja2 4 42517
Jonny 2 25 5519

Thursday, 12 April 2012

We played games this evening

The call went out for another games night, and three hardy gamers converged for a Thursday evening's strategy.

At first, it was just Sam and I. We began with a quick non-leaderboard game of Il Ponte Del Diavolo, which was an enjoyable and tense affair of creating islands in each others' way while trying to build bridges between them. Sam won quite comfortably, but I didn't note the scores. 28 to 16? Something like that. Finn the cat sat on a chair and watched us with disdain.

There was then some faffing about while we waited to see if Jonny could get here in time for a full game. As it was, he arrived just in time as Sam and I had set up a two-player game of Alhambra (realising, as we did, that this would put the "third player" Dirk on the leaderboard) but we had barely started. We happily jilted our imaginary friend in favour of Jonny and began again.

Jonny sat down and Sam reminded him of the rules. This turned out to be a mistake as Jonny quickly got back into the swing of things and Sam might have benefitted if Jonny's memory had been more vague. By the end of the second scoring round, only five points separated the three of us and the excitement could be felt in the air. Like electricity. Or a paper aeroplane. Like an electric paper aeroplane.

In the end, my short wall (which I managed to make shorter in the last round) was balanced out by winning several categories. Sam's last minute charge up the score track thanks to his wall was not enough to catch up with Jonny.

Andrew 130
Jonny 119
Sam 117

Then since it was still early, a game of Tsuro was suggested. I started in bullish mood, trying to trap Sam and then, later, I managed to send both of them across the board while I had the other half to myself. In the end, I dispatched Sam and was able to outlast Jonny who found himself tsuro'd into a corner.

1. Andrew
2. Jonny
3. Sam

Not a great evening for Sam, but because he loses those pesky red fives, he moves ahead of Hannah on the Form Table. I make amends for Tuesday's poor showing, and Jonny's two second places make him the new Mr Consistency. Meanwhile, everyone take a screengrab: Adam's last!

Sam3 322414
Andrew1 1 365 16
Jonny 2 25 5519
Joe145 55 20
Adam255 5 522

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

I like Trucking and I like to Truck

So Paul finally made good on his long awaited promise of bringing his game to table this Tuesday. Previous weeks had been filled with intriguing comments like "Almost there", "Needs a few tweaks" and "I wish I had a colour printer" but now the teasing had stopped and I was presented with Cargo! (Intentional exclamation mark. See it as emphasis rather than surprise..).

So what is Cargo! you all chorus in prefect harmony. Well Cargo! is a game of freight transportation around Britain linking such nebulous hubs as Croydon, Bracknell and Eccles. Paul had cleverly spotted that lorries had been scandalously omitted from the games market and since trains had been done to death (And were quite expensive to buy) it was a natural theme to adopt (Plus Paul has a ton of beautifully crafted mini train containers). The central mechanic of the game is to create routes between the six depots via a route selected from your hand of cards to place next to your haulage companies lorries. The route cards have numbers at the bottom which in combination generate a number to be rolled (On two dice) to enable your cargo to be delivered. The depots hold all of the cargo and essentially you are removing one of a 20 or 40 foot container to be placed on your lorry complete with route to await delivery. When loads are delivered money is paid out for the size and type and where it was delivered.

Each player gets two actions per turn, whether that be buying or selling lorries, creating routes, obtaining cargo, rolling for delivery or replenishing your card hand. There are two scoring paths calculated at the games end. One is money you still have in your bank and the second is for route cards collected and totalled.

It didn't take us long to get into the swing of it and as with all home designed games getting it's first play, there were some rule changes on the fly. The most difficult bit to grasp, for both parties, was that due to limitations of the game components available to Paul, the container specific money colour didn't match the containers. Therefore we were constantly having to refer to the crib sheet for information.

Who is playing Cargo!? It's Paul!

Not that it detracted from a nice flowing game that saw me race up to 4 lorries in my fleet and amass a lovely pile of dosh. However, Paul had been able to make a lot more deliveries in the game in more locations and consequently scored more for his routes. There was a lovely moment when we had to decide who had won a particular route as Paul had one card for it but it was a minus 1, I didn't have any so technically a zero. Did having a minus number beat someone without a card? We decided the route wouldn't be scored as no cards meant no score and the minus cards were meant to be punitive. My money scoring couldn't quite make up the difference so Paul won the first play of his game…..

Paul 69
Chris 64

After the strenuous activity of delivering our loads I suggested we take on another new game, Mammut. After 10 minutes struggling with the rules and repeated glances at the clock it was put away again for another day and the more familiar Dominion was tabled. Even my desperate knocking beer all over the table couldn't prevent Paul from registering a comfy win.

Paul 50-odd
Chris 37

Temple raiders, tin traders and privilege upgraders

Tonight was an auspicious night as the new venue at Adam's place hosted its first ever games night. As me, Sam and Joe all piled into Joe's car, it felt like we were heading off to Stabcon again, except instead of picking Adam up and heading off north for a whole weekend, we were stopping at Adam's for an evening of table top strategies, cute guinea pigs and odd looks from Adam and Hannah's house mate.

Seven eager gamers were in attendance. After we admired the hand-crafted version of Settlers that Adam had made for Hannah's birthday, Anja and Steve arrived. The first game of the evening was Incan Gold: a new game of treasure collection, coupled with an ingeniously simple mechanic of risking your luck, or getting out early and saving what treasure you have. I really enjoyed it and with all seven of us playing there was a lot of scope for bluffing or blundering into one anothers' plans.

Steve 37
Anja 34
Hannah 26
Sam 22
Joe 22
Adam 20
Andrew 17

After this was another enjoyable game: Choose The Game! In this, everyone tries to be more polite than everyone else in insisting they don't mind what they play. Then, in the final round, people write down their top three choices, and the votes are added up, and the seven of us split into two groups.

I was in a group with Adam, Joe and Anja as we played Hansa Teutonica. I was very wary about the threat of Adam rolling us over again, but Joe was confident we knew what to do this time. The others (Sam, Hannah and Steve) played Tinners' Trail and then Tsuro.

Hansa Teutonica began with a rule refresher for Anja and then we were plunged into the game. At first I was sure that Joe was making the same mistake again by not wanting to displace Adam even though if he did, he'd get an extra go. But Joe was not the naive fool of last time and before long he was the first to get five actions, and he made this advantage tell. Interestingly, we proceeded up the scoresheet very slowly this time and the game ended when the supply of bonus markers was exhausted (and so were we). The length of the game surprised Adam, who thought the game would end soon and so never levelled up his actions to the maximum five.

Joe 72
Adam 55
Andrew 51
Anja 45

Meanwhile the scores for Tinners' Trail were

Hannah 127
Sam 98
Steve 88

While their game of Tsuro ended

1. Hannah
2= Steve
2= Sam

An exciting opening to the season, with Hannah already making an early sprint for first place.

Joe145 55 20
Adam255 5 522
Andrew365 5524

Monday, 9 April 2012

Welsh Rare Bits

For the first week of the Easter holidays, Charlotte, the girls and I went to Wales with old friends Rachel and Henry and their three daughters. Both R and H are keen gamers, and Charlotte will happily play a game in the evening, so while I was sure that Henry and I would find lots to get stuck into between days on the beach, long walks and cooking, I was interested to see which games would be hits and misses for the four of us.

We took a bevvy of two-player games, including Hansa, Manoeuvre, Commands and Colours: Ancients, and the big daddy, Twilight Struggle. The first game Henry and I broke out on arriving at the cottage near Pembroke was Manoeuvre. It's a game of Napoleonic-era battles, players assuming control of one of eight available armies, ranging from French, English, Ottoman all the way to the United States. Each army has eight units to go on the board, typically 6 infantry and 2 cavalry units, and a dedicated deck of small cards with which to battle and issue orders. The gameplay is simple; discard and draw cards, move one unit, attack with one unit.

A total rout by the French. Marvellous.

The typical attack by a single unit is very unlikely to eliminate its target, merely flip it to its weaker side, and next turn your opponent may well be able to restore it. So you really need to try and plan attacks so that you can add cards from your hand to strengthen the attack, possibly bringing in more units, leaders etc. The game plays in about 40 minutes once you know what you're doing, and is great fun. We tried out a few of the different arrmies - and each has it's innate strengths and weaknesses.

D6s, D8s and cartoon beer. Mmmm . . .

In the evenings, Charlotte and Rachel joined us. For the first couple of nights, the main event was a few rounds of Pickomino, which works brilliantly as a casual game with four - the perfect combination of push-your-luck, nicking each others tiles and not quite knowing who's winning until the final tally. It also allows for a lot of chatting in-between goes, which is certainly a plus as far as Charlotte is concerned.

Grubby dice. Unacceptable.

The first big game we all tried was Manila, which I got in the Euro Maths Trade the week before we went away. Though some of the mechanics (auction, worker-placement, a smattering of share-manipulation) are very familiar, it's nicely different from lots of the other games we play, definitely has its own niche, and plays in under an hour. It's essentially a game where you're playing the odds and betting on which boats will make it ashore and which will end up in the shipyard. It didn't quite catch fire for the four of us - though I can imagine it going down well with the GNN-ers.

We also played London, which is a favourite of Rachel and Henry's - it doesn't quite do it for me, and had a suspicion that it wouldn't be Charlotte's kind of game either, which turned out to be right. It's a game you really need to play a few times to get your head around and develop a strategy - there's simply no way a new player can hope to keep up, which can be dispiriting enough to put you off for good. I had played a couple of times with R & H before, and with Sam, enough to have a grasp of what to do, though that still put me in a distant third place. I can't quite put my finger on why it doesn't grab me; it's something to do with the complexity of the way city-size/boroughs/poverty/money formulae interact - it remains just a little too opaque for me to be enjoyable, though I can imagine getting into it as a 2 player over a few successive nights and finding it satisfying. I think it lacks the elusive 'fun' factor for me.

Another of our 2-player daytime staples was Hansa - a very stripped down Euro about trading in the Hanseatic League (not to be confused with recent GNN newbie Hansa Teutonica). In a way, it's similar to London in that the various components are symbiotically linked: money allows movement and buying of goods; goods allow placement of markets; markets allow conversion of goods into VPs, and get you more money. It's all wrapped up in a very pretty, refined package, and plays in about 20/30 mins. It can be played with four, but loses a lot of the strategy, I've heard.

Hansa by firelight.

As well as London, Henry had brought Ora et Labora with him, the latest big game by Uwe Rosenberg. Having bought it during last half-term, he and Rachel had not got round to playing it, despite a couple of attempts - on opening the box I could see why. If the number and variety of resources and playing boards weren't terrifying enough, the combined rulebooks, covering set-up, general rules, specifics and a multi-page glossary of buildings are positively fearsome. We decided not to attempt this with the women, at least not without a thorough playthrough between the two of us, and so we tackled it on a grey afternoon.
As it turns out, there was little to fear, and lots to enjoy. The rulebooks, if taken in the correct order, have you set up and playing within 20 minutes, and we found we could happily ignore at least half of them.
It is very much in the vein of Agricola, with players building up their monastery in either Ireland or France, felling forests, clearing peat bogs, brewing beer/making wine and gradually amassing victory points. It is apparently closer to Le Havre than Agricola, though graphically it definitely takes its cue from the earlier Rosenberg game. It took us a couple of hours to play, and at the end I was a little bit underwhelmed - it's very wide-open compared to Agricola, and consequently felt a bit flabby. In Agricola, you're operating at the bleeding-edge of subsistence, and every action counts. The world of O & L feels altogether more of a cornucopia, and whilst there are clearly strategic paths aplenty to amassing VPs in bulk, the fact that they are floating around from the very beginning and relatively easy to come by makes it feel less focussed. However, though we didn't manage to get it to the table again during the week, something about it has stayed with me; building your little cloister into a vast, all-encompassing monastery; brewing fine beer and distilling barrels of Irish Whisky, all wrapped-up in the cosy, inviting Agricola-esque hues. I want another go, and if any GNNers have their eye on a new game, I'll happily play it (not buying any more games, see?)

On wednesday evening, the four of us got to Lords of Vegas. I had my concerns, especially since the 'gambling' aspects of Manila had been a bit of a damp squib, and I couldn't remember quite how straightforward the mechanics of LoV were. As it turned out, it was a perfect fit - tense, exciting reversals-of-fortune, enthusiastic dice-rolling and a close finish with Rachel (I think) eeking a win against Henry. Henry particularly took to the risk-reward spirit of it, at one point betting $25 million on a single roll in Rachel's casino in a bid to scupper her plans. He lost.

Lords of Vegas: busy board, busy tablecloth.

We played again on thursday night, and it was even better, and closer, me edging in to first place on the final strip pay-out by virtue of my newly-acquired four tile casino. It was more coherent than when we played it at GNN, and I think we should give it another go. There are subtle strategies for staying in the game in the face of what seems like a runaway leader, which may have eluded us on the two outings we've given it.
On Friday night, we played Catan for old times sake, and R & H cleaned up, Rachel eventually squeaking the win from Henry, Charlotte and I languishing 3rd and fourth.

Ah, the familiar coastline of Catan. With an off-shore stockpile of cities.

Back on the two-player front, Henry and I had dabbled in a bit of Commands and Colours: Ancients, which felt a wee bit fiddly compared with the ultra-streamlined Manoeuvre, though with a more epic, majestic sweep, and probably a bit more depth. We'd also played a few games of Igloo Pop with the older daughters, and they played a few games of Alhambra and Mr Jack amongst themselves. We also played 6 player Shadow Hunters, though that was a bit unsatisfying - four of the six players won . . .

And in amongst it all, Henry and I found time to take on not one, not two, but three games of Twilight Struggle. We got to it a couple of days in to the holiday; Henry had hankering for a game since their last visit to us in September 2011, when I had just received it in a Maths Trade (we took one look at the rules back then and put it away). Since then I've only played it twice, so we were both eager to explore its intricacies.

In actual fact, we found it to be nowhere near as daunting as its reputation might suggest, especially since, on advice gleaned from Ryan Sturm's most recent How to Play, we all but ignored realignment rolls, further streamlining the learning curve. It is an awesome game, and we found that the game lasted longer, getting to later rounds without an outright winner, the more familiar we got with the cards and strategies. That said, Russia won all three games, though Henry, determined to break the Soviet stranglehold, put up a valiant fight in the last game (and enjoyed getting to prod me in the chest as he played the Kitchen Debates). And it's not stupidly long - all three of our games lasted between two and a half and three hours; though none lasted beyond turn six - an epic struggle that went the full ten rounds could last four, even five hours. In that sense it bucks the general trend, in that the better both players know the game, the longer it will take.

All in all an awesome week of gaming, perfectly intertwined with a very lovely week away, thanks to Henry and Rachel and their delightful girls. Roll on the new season of GNN, my loins are girded!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Murder Cubed

My dad, Mo, and sister Heather are currently over from the U.S. and last night I managed to engineer Mo away from the Scrabble board and convince Heather and Sally to play another game. I did think about Stone Age, or Tinner's Trail, or Alhambra, but in the end I bottled it and went for Mord Im Arosa, the game that trivializes both death and morality.

For the uninitiated this is a game of listening - putting my half-deaf dad at a disadvantage - for clues (cubes) as they tumble down through the cardboard floors of the Arosa Hotel. Then it's a simple matter of finding the murder victims, and trying to implicate your fellow players whilst keeping your own name in the clear.

In the first game Mo found himself serially on the wrong floors, like a killer scrabbling unsuccessfully for the exit door whilst smothered in butter. While I made abortive attempts to Clear My Name (and remove my clues from the implicatory Investigation Sheet) Sally and Heather kept their names relatively unsullied:

1 Sally
2 Heather
3 Sam
4 Mo

The game only took 15 minutes so everyone was amenable to another go at it before we all collapsed in a wine-induced stupor. This time - though I don't remember the exact scores - it was more even between 2nd/3rd/4th, but I somehow managed to finish with only one clue on the Investigation Sheet - all my clues throwing in their lot together on the uninvestigated first floor.

1 Sam
2 Heather
3 Mo
4 Sally

Nice to squeeze in a couple of games on a non-GNN week (there is poker on Friday, if anyone's tempted) but a shame that no-one took up the mantle of saying "shloppy investigation" in a faux-Swedish accent from me.

I thought that was pretty much the game's main attraction, but apparently not.