Saturday, 31 December 2016


Yes, it's the GNN celebration that sounds vaguely punitive.

The day began at my (Sam's house) relatively early: 10am to be precise, when Stanley's friend and Stanley's friend's dad arrived to play Scythe. This is not exactly a gateway game for 9-year-olds, but Stan was keen and everyone else was amenable. All the bits and pieces make it look pretty exciting too - mechs! eagles! planks of wood! We went on slightly longer than planned, but did finish the game. Stan looked like he had things sewn up when he went for a sod-popularity route, ignoring public opinion to bash down his stars as quickly as possible. But two fights went against him when he guessed that opponents would play low, and they didn't. Instead, competitive dad (me) beat him into second place.

As the newbies departed still looking reasonably sane, we chucked some egg sandwiches down our throats and prepared for the arrival of the GNN masses. Just like Field of Dreams, if you clear the table, they will come. First in was Big Joe, who had brought Captain Sonar! Then there was a flurry of gamers; Ben, Matt, and Hannah. Talk began of playing Captain Sonar, but the first game out of the box was Tumbling' Dice. Joe allowed Ben, Matt and Stanley a warm-up, which they all took with impressive unity:

While they then embarked on a tumbling' tussle, Hannah and I had a couple of games of Hounded. This was a birthday present to Stan and I really enjoy it: it's a two-player where one side simply has to avoid capture (the fox) and the other has to somehow surround the very manoeuvrable fox and trap it. I caught Hannah as the hunter then we swapped sides. Hannah discovered that the hunter's side requires a bit more thought, as opposed to the fox who simply gambols about, giving two fingers to the various dogs unable to catch him. The second game went on for a while, but eventually I had to gamble on flipping the final time tile (all three flipped wins the fox the game)  and I gambled wrong. Hannah had me cornered and closed in for the kill.

By the time that had ended, Tumbling' Dice had too, with Stan claiming a convincing debut win:

Stan 132
Joe 78
Ben 60
Matt 50

And the same gang had also managed to bash out a game of Mamma Mia:

Ben 5
Matt 5
Joe 3
Adam 3
Stan 3

And Adam and Arthur had also arrived. They were followed by Katy, and then Jon, as the house began to fill up! With nine of us now present, but one person required to keep Arthur company, the time had finally arrived: Captain Sonar! I almost expected Joe to pull off his normal clothes and reveal a special CS vest underneath. But he didn't. He set up and went through the rules, then we had a few moments to digest them as Chris, Jacquie, Ashton and Ava-Rose paid us a flying visit, generously dropping off a birthday present for Stan en route home. We had a flying catch-up, then it was down to the business of trying to kill each other.

Katy and Hannah took the role of opposing captains whilst Jon and Joe the engineers. Ben and Matt were first mates and Stanley and I the radiographers. Or something. Our job was to record what the opposing captains said, whilst our own dictated the direction we took. The Engineer kept track of various systems and told the Captain when she could fire a torpedo or drop a mine. And the first mate did something else, which I never totally picked up on.

I enjoyed being the guy-who-listens; it seemed less stressful to me than what the others were going through, which was a lot of people talking at the same time. As long as I listened to Hannah I could ignore pretty much everything else. We located their sub and blew them up for the win.

Then we changed teams and Stanley was now captain along with myself, Joe and Jon. Hannah stepped out so Adam could play along with Ben, Katy and Matt. This time the game was short and sharp - they located us and scored two direct hits before we even knew where they were!

Their followed a break for pizza, during which time Andrew arrived from work. The world was now our oyster with everyone present...

(screen goes wobbly signifying change of narrator)

When I arrived, the table was groaning under the weight of co-op pizzas and chip shop chips. Anja and Steve and Luther were there are the table too. During the meal, Stanley tried to drum up support for a third game of Captain Sonar, but to little success. Instead we split into two groups. Joe persuaded four to join him in a game of Adrenalin, winning people over by calling it “super fun”.

The rest of us went for Jamaica, but just before we began, Steve was called away so the rest of us played a game of Micro Robots on top of the game of Jamaica that was already set up to play. Decadence!

Stanley 5
Sam 3
Andrew 1
Jon 1

Then when we were ready to play Stanley was distracted by the lure of Seinfeld, no, Star Wars, no, PS3, so he set up camp in the front room for the rest of the evening.

Jamaica was fun, although both Jon and Steve were undone by a misunderstanding of the rules. Steve repeatedly so. For the most part, Steve sailed around the starting line, picking up gold. Unfortunately he hen tried moving, couldn’t pay for his space and ended up visiting the same “pay 5 gold” space twice.

Jon’s mistake was to take me on in battle, not knowing that I could decide how many cannons to use after he’d attacked and then he was surprised to discover that defenders could take from attackers if they won. But, as we explained, “that’s piracy for you!”

Meanwhile, everyone was else seemed to be very good at landing on treasures while I had none. And no money. My only hope was to end the game before anyone had a chance to amass a fortune, so I sped off to the finishing line and ended the game.

Andrew 13
Sam 9
Steve 6
Jon –8

Meanwhile, Adrenalin was apparently a board game version of a first person shooter. Adam found himself picked on (I can’t imagine why) and Matt impressed everyone with a move near the end of the game: he dragged Joe from apparent safety into range and then leapt into a neighbouring room, grabbed a flamethrower and used it to deal damage to everyone else on the board. Katy won by killing Adam.

Adrenalin, just before Matt causes havoc

Katy 40
Joe 38
Matt 37
Ben 24
Adam 21

Adam takes out his frustration on a 
chocolate Santa

Ben said that he was bad at real (ie, videogame, not REAL real) first-person shooters and he wasn’t surprised to learn he was bad at board-game versions too. He also said that he should be getting back since his girlfriend had only just got back from abroad. We said he should invite her along. He explained he already had. We dropped the subject.

Since we had all ended at the same time, there was a quick reshuffling of groups and the new line-ups looked like: Jon, Steve, Hannah and Katy played Broom Service and me, Sam, Anja, Joe and Matt chose Fool’s Gold.

Joe impressed us all with a high-quality dice-cup. Tall and lithe, it was a million miles away from Stone Age’s stinky receptacle. But, being so tall, it’s distribution of dice was too wide across the table and Joe put it away saying it needed a dice tray.

Joe's new dice cup

In the game, people kept getting in my way, especially Joe who ruined the mountain twice for me (and him, too) by drawing a Foul Weather card when we only had two cards to draw in the first place.

The other feature of the game was how often our player shields fell down. Whenever they did, I found it very entertaining to say “hellooo!”

Sam 30
Joe 23
Matt 21
Andrew 19
Anja 18

Once we’d finished, there was another reshuffle. Broom Service showed no sign of ending so we played a quick game of For Sale.

Doesn't look like a winning hand to me.

I was right.

Adam 59
Joe 51
Matt 49
Anja 49
Andrew 43

Finally Broom Service ended...

Jon 80
Katy 71
Hannah 65
Steve 58

... and we divided up again. Anja was keen on a big game, and so she, I and Adam got out Viticulture. Since I was now in the front room, away from the bustle of the kitchen, my notes get a bit confusing here, but I think there was a game of Junk Art at this time.

Matt 12
Sam 12
Joe 4

Then, just before we got going on Viticulture, we all got together for the GNN Quiz of the Year, hosted by Sam. There were categories like “games designers” and “player performances” (I think) which tested our knowledge of games in general and also events of 2016 at GNN towers.

With the most regular attendees me, Katy and Joe, nominated as captains, we split into three teams and it ended very close.

Katy, Steve, Adam 20
Andrew, Jon, Hannah 20
Joe, Anja, Matt 19

After this, it was 10.15 and we had to get cracking on Viticulture. In the main room, Katy took up photography duties so we have evidence of a game of Super Vampires...

Sam 9
Steve 7
Hannah 3

And Karuba...

Jon 23
Katy 20
Matt 19
Joe 19

As well as this mid-game shot of Viticulture.

Later, I went to check on progress in the kitchen and found a game of World’s Fair

Sam 76
Steve 70
Hannah 58

And a non-used half of the table, while people stood around talking!

Like... wut?

Sanity was restored in a short while with a game of Igloo Pop on one half of the table, and Escape From Aliens In Outer Space on the other half.

Igloo Pop

Sam 22
Hannah 10
Steve 10

The results of Escape From Aliens In Outer Space were, according to my notes:

Katy wins!!
Joe came second and went to get a Coke.
Matt died (by Katy)

Finally, Viticulture ended, thanks to Adam’s efficiency. I doubt it was on purpose, but he played a game using tactics that were the opposite of what we suggested to Anja. Adam said selling a field was a good idea, because you don’t need three fields. Then he used all three fields. I said it was a waste to sell grapes straight from the crush pads, and later Adam did just that. He’s so contrary, that boy.

The margin of victory was pretty immense and I only did as well as I did by using up all my point-scoring visitor cards once I saw that Adam was about to win. If the game had continued, I’d have been hard pushed to score any more points for ages. Anja came last, but said she enjoyed it. Adam really seemed to like it, though. Of course he did.

Adam 22
Andrew 13
Anja 9

And with that, the year was over. There’s no division for this evening and there won’t be the usual big end-of-year statistics run-down that I've done in the past, but there is the little matter of the division for 2016.

Well done Katy and Adam. Well done everyone. Big thanks to Sam for hosting and feeding us all. A marvelous end to a splendid year (GNN-wise, that is.) See you in 2017!

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Best of 2016!

It's that time of year again!

A quick (20 minutes!) look back through the blog revealed that we - partly at my (Sam's) behest, apologies - have played a lot of new games in 2016. I think upwards of 30. Many were visited once before falling by the wayside, whereas others stuck around, finding favour with at least two people.

Here in no particular order is my top ten of new games (new to me, not necessarily published this year) of 2016.

The ten-minute game of co-operative bomb defusal, complete with annoying/non-annoying countdown voice and explosion timer. Tense, fast-decision-making fun, that can pep up a flagging gamer at short notice.

2. Viticulture
Nothing new mechanically, but a rather sweet and unpredictable (because of the Visitor cards) game that combines blocking tactics with a little luck. Even the best planners can draw non-matching order cards... but I'd rather that than a zero-sum game. We thought the scoring was like a bell curve but Adam disproved that theory when he obliterated Andrew and I on his first play.

3. Scythe
Again there's no gamer's USP here, but it's a medley of game elements put together in a seamless  and beautifully-presented way - like Caverna, you always (should have) a productive option, so frustrations are usually self-inflicted... but at the same time there's room for combat, and combat includes options for bluffing, and best of all the game just plays very fast. Possibly my favourite.

4. Hounded
This was a game I bought for Stan's birthday just before Christmas and it's already had several plays. One player is the fox, trying to survive the hunt by outlasting the hounds. The other is the hunter, controlling the master of hounds and three different types of dog. What became clear to us was that the hunter plays very differently to the fox: it's no good chasing the fox around the board because it's much more manoverable - instead, you need to try and 'trap' it by guarding a corner of the board, enticing it in (the fox needs to flip tiles to win) and then pouncing. Late entry, but a top game!

5. Cosmic Run
The cosmic push-your-luck hit of the Autumn.

6. Micro Robots
A very divisive game for it's demands on you: you're trying to work out how to move a robot around a board quicker than anyone else can, which really puts the pressure on. I've played this a lot with the boys.

7. Riff Raff
Stacking game based on a gimbal. With bidding!

8. Outfoxed
Another fox-related kid's game, but a co-operative one with genuine tension. It's also scalable to older ages: simply make the pie thief move faster as you scramble to work out which fox committed the crime...

9. Junk Art
A stacker to rival Bandu.

10. Terraforming Mars
Collaborate to prepare Mars for human habitation, only do it "the best" by ending with the best terraforming rating. A nice combo of hand-management (buying cards, then paying to play them) and racing, with a bit of screwage and gambling thrown in. Downside is it is rather long.

11. Pandemic Legacy
It's at 11 because we haven't finished it yet, but Stanley and I have completed January and February and are very excited about continuing.

Honourable Mentions
Rhino Hero - fun, silly, stacker
Pueblo - fun, head-scratchy, builder
Knit Wit - fun, venn, game of words
Billabong - just mad
Fool's Gold - luck-pushing gold-gathering, where your 'best' gold haul is actually worthless

That's mine then - what's yours?

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

(Mince) Spies Like Us

The last games night before Christmas was a special night, not just for the festive season, but mostly because Adam and Hannah were hosting, meaning a rare trip past the M32 for many GNN regulars. We met in their newly Guinea-pig-free living room which now looked very grown up with a sofa in the corner and a coffee table.

There were seven of us which was, once again, one short of the eight needed for the optimal game of Captain Sonar. We texted Martin, who had said he'd be popping in later, to see if he could make the magic happen but he replied saying it would only be a fleeting visit. Once again Captain Sonar narrowly missed out.

We (Adam, Hannah, Sam, Katy, Ian, Joe and me) began with a big seven player game: Top Secret Spies. In this game, everyone has their piece, but no one knows which one is yours. You roll a die and then you can share out its value among any pieces. If you roll a six, you can move one piece six spaces, or six pieces one space or anything in between (that adds up to six). The trick is to disguise which piece is yours. You score points by being on certain squares when someone reaches the safe. Then there’s a scoring round and the safe is moved. You can also score points by guessing at the end of the game which player had which colour.

Adam won thanks to passing the game ending 41 points and guessing a couple of players right. But Hannah won everyone’s admiration by correctly guessing the colour of four of us. If we had been playing by official rules, she’d have got 5 points for each guess (which we'd lowered to 2) and would’ve been joint third with Katy.

Adam 56
Sam 49
Katy 47
Ian 38
Andrew 37
Hannah 35
Joe 35

Then there was a brief interlude for mulled wine and mince pies before we split into two groups.

Adam's blue table made my camera think everything was yellow

Ian, Katy, Joe and Hannah played Isle of Skye while Sam taught Adam and me Coal Baron: The Great Card Game. As in: The Great Big Card Game. It’s a set-collecting game at heart, but one where you use workers (a hand of cards numbered between 1 and 4) to pay for actions or to pick up cards which hopefully will work together to allow you to make deliveries. There are other point-scoring opportunities sprinkled on top, but the general jist is to gather cards of a certain type to meet certain criteria for points.

For what it is, it’s a very big game, covering most of Adam’s coffee table. Halfway through the game, Sam was checking the rules and realised that some cards we had in our hands should be on the table for everyone to see. It was hard to find a space.

Sam won, after predicting throughout the game that he wouldn’t, using his end-game bonuses to push him past Adam by a single point.

Sasm 56
Adam 55
Andrew 46

Around this time Martin came in to wish us all a Merry Christmas and to watch Coal Baron long enough to decide he wouldn’t enjoy it.

Isle of Skye ended at the same time. Not sure of the in and outs of the game itself, but Katy took quite a lot of delight in seeing Joe go from second to last at the very end of the game due to money bonuses.

Katy 84
Hannah 69 + money
Ian 69
Joe 66

After this, despite talk of a big game of 6nimmt, we split up again. Ian, Sam and I went for Heck Meck. The version was the one with the extra bits (a raven, a hen, a weasel etc) which I don’t think add to the game at all. It falls foul of the problem of taking a simple game and “improving” it by making it more complicated. Like how Red Dward got worse when they introduced more characters. Same principle.

Sam 14
Ian 8
Andrew 5

On the other table, Adam, Hannah, Katy and Joe played Land Unter. Katy expressed dissatisfaction with Joe’s use of a phone app to keep track of the scores, preferring the old-fashioned ways of pen and paper. At this point, Sam and I left since Sam had an early morning the next day so Adam texted me the scores. In a lovely, family-centric, Christmassy finale, Adam and Hannah came joint first.

Adam 11
Hannah 11
Katy 7
Joe 1

I asked Adam if Katy had been upset at losing, and Adam told me she said she wasn’t but he annoyance could’ve been offset by watching Joe struggle.

All of this ends the season. Nothing changes from last week, with Katy and Martin taking their titles as predicted.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

And whose fault is it you're here?

This week's official GNNing took place at Joe's - joining the host were Ben, Katy, Ian, Martin and myself (Sam). Martin was running a little late, so we began a game of Heckmeck/Pickonimo with the Extravurm expansion, where you can pick up extra (brat)worms and hire specialists to help you out. We were only ten minutes in when Martin rocked up, and he charitably joined us.

After Katy had mastered the art of rolling dice, the game moved reasonably quickly. But not quick enough. I don't think Extravurm was responsible because I recall this happening with the basic game - it can go on a bit. Luckily Martin was there to harass anyone who was applying any thought to their game. Ben and I were fighting it out for first for a while, before Joe and Martin swooped in on my bratworms, leaving me to share second with Ian:

Ben 9
Sam/Ian 7
Martin 4
Katy 2
Joe 1

Martin asserted that if he'd been there from the start, he would have won. But I think we'll stick with the final positions as they are.

Debate now broke out about what to play, with Joe keen on Jorvik and Katy getting excited over the chance to try out World's Fair 1893, the game of putting on exhibitions a century ago. Martin was pretty sure he would hate both of them, but I was surprised he went with the Feld game. While he, Joe and Ben began the intriguing bids (bid earlier: first choice, but progressively more expensive depending on how many others bid after you) myself Ian and Katy set up World's Fair 1893.

all the fun

This was reasonably accurately described by Martin as "a family friendly euro" and it's very neat and simple. The various exhibitions surround the ferris wheel, and on your turn you add a 'supporter' to any one area, and take the cards next to it. The game is then replenished with cards and the turns move on.

There are only three types of cards: Midway tickets to the ferris wheel (worth a coin, plus +2 coins if you have the most at the end of the round), Character cards (must be played on your next turn, giving you additional supporters) and Exhibition cards, which you can turn into points as long as they are accepted into the exhibition. And they get accepted through the strength of your supporters in the various areas; at the end of every round majorities here get both points and the option to submit their ideas (cards) into the exhibition.

Ian bemoaned his game for the first round, before completely obliterating us in the next two. Katy's strong start faded slightly, as I managed to sneak past her via my strong showing on tickets. But Ian's prestige at the show was by far the best; picking up heaps of points for his exhibition:

Ian 87
Sam 71
Katy 60

meanwhile, in Jorvik...

They were still playing Jorvik, so Katy convinced Ian and I to play Land Unter. It was now Katy's turn to complain about the game and subsequently win it, as we passed around what I think could reasonably be described as a great hand, a so-so hand, and a diabolical one. After two rounds I was leading, but I didn't play the so-so hand very well in the third, and drowned:

Katy 8
Sam 6
Ian 3

I'm not really sure how I feel about Land Unter. It's like 6Nimmt, but somehow 6Nimmt just feels more fun to me.

Jorvik was still playing and Martin was scratching his head a lot.

Martin, sans trick-taking

So we played Las Vegas. I announced I was going to complain about losing in order to win, but unfortunately this strategy failed me.


After taking the most cash in the first round, I picked up absolutely bugger all in the next two in a game of many many ties - in round two I think we threw practically all the money away.

Ian $320k
Katy $180k
Sam $170k

Jorvik had finally ended!

Martin 53
Joe 52
Ben 36

Martin announced that he liked the bidding, but everything else was shit. Joe liked the game. Ben was diplomatically silent.

With all six players now available and hearing no protests, I dealt out the cards for Deception: Murder in Hong Kong. Normally I'm suspicious of games that utilise a colon in their name - as if the name itself isn't enough, they need a sub-header - but I'd heard good things about this fast-playing cross between Mysterium and Spyfall.

dancing bottle opener not included

All players have a secret role - one is the murderer, one is the forensic scientist, everyone else are the investigators. Apart from the forensic scientist, everybody is dealt 8 face-up cards in front of them: four possible murder weapons and four possible clues. Everyone closes their eyes and the murderer surreptitiously identifies to the forensic scientist which weapon they used, and which clue they left behind.

Katy's weapons and clues

Then the forensic scientist deals out some cards showing the location and circumstance of the murder. The scientist can't officially talk, but instead places a series of bullets on the cards that they hope will lead the investigators to identify the correct weapon/clue. The catch is, the cards can actually be misleading: in our game, Joe was the murderer and chose to kill using radiation poisoning and a syringe. But my cards asked me to identify how the murderer victim was dressed and what the location was: I chose 'elegant' and 'forest'  - but of course, if you're being poisoned, it doesn't have to be in a forest.

The investigators have 30 seconds each in each of the three rounds to solve the case: something Ian made Pinter-esque use of in round two, when all he managed to say was "hmmm". Certainly they had their suspicions of Joe, and accused him twice successfully identifying the weapon, but not the clue, and he made his escape!

Joe - wins.
Everyone else - doesn't.

Joe and I wanted to try it again but Martin had already played a Feld and he put his foot down. However, he was shortly to regret not keeping his veto dry... I popped to the loo as everyone agreed to play For Sale - but when I returned Ben was leaving, and For Sale had been replaced by Joe's game of - well, I'm not sure what it's a game of. It's called Catbox and is played by adding a card to a growing grid of cats in boxes. If the card you use has an empty box, you can cover a half of any card. If it doesn't you can only cover a quarter. Everyone has a secret identity of a particular coloured cat, and you're trying to create groups of matching cats.

cats in boxes

Unless you're the chiwawa, in which case you want to create groups of empty boxes.

It's a very weird game. It became obvious which identity everyone had (with the exception of Joe, who bluffed so well he was the chiwawa that he played himself into last place) and despite the fact that the rules are minimal, we kept getting them wrong.

Martin/Sam 27
Katy 25
Ian 24
Joe 22

I think I'm right in saying in everyone thought it was naff, although it was a more pleasurable experience than the actual catbox I have to manage at home. Even Joe, who desperately wanted to like it, seemed underwhelmed. So not a high spot of game design to end the night on, but an interesting experience all the same. Andrew - I hope - will add the leaderboard, but casting an eye over the results I'm sure Katy and Martin will be looking unassailable in their respective points/medals/ratio categories.

Oh, and the blog title relates to a discussion we had about the GNN family tree, which culminated with Martin asking who was responsible for Katy's presence. It was Adam.

Meanwhile, here's the Division with only one week left. Martin has surely sealed up the Points Ratio since he can't attend next week, and I doubt Katy's going to be caught either.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Kiesling is leaving the station

My recent sell-to-buy policy has meant an influx of new games whilst saying goodbye to old ones. Having already put Ian through the mill with Ulm and Katy with SuperVampires - she hated it so much, now Andrew won't even try it - I thought maybe I should playtest the next on the list in the comparative safety (for everyone else) of solitude. So that's what I did tonight, cracking open Coal Baron: The Great Card Game (or Glück Auf: Das Grosse Kartenspiel, as my copy would have it).

It's a game about loading trains with coal and delivering said coal to various destinations, so thematically it perhaps suffers from euro-fatigue. But on the other hand, it's a Kramer/Kiesling combo, so, ya know.

The cards are set up as follows:

Top row, L-R: lorries, wagons, engines, orders.
Bottom row, L-R: four actions; objectives, innovations, shares.

Each player has a hand of worker cards, with a value of between 1 and 5. In my two-player game (with Dirk) you remove the 4 and 5 value workers and make do with several ones, a couple of twos and a three.  In front of you you also have a loading bay, where the action takes place.

On a turn you play a worker card or cards: you can go to an already-occupied space as long as the value of your card/s are exactly one more than the previous workers. Pick up lorries of coal, or place wagons or engines on the three loading bays in your personal board. Grab an order to fulfil later, an objective card to benefit from at the end of the game, or an innovation card to help you while you play.

me just visible eft, Dirk right

The action cards are the juicy bit though: that's where you can move coal from the lorries into the wagons - but, because these coal producers are the most fastidious deliverypeople in all coaldom, the lorry's crest has to match both the crest on the loading bay itself (there are two crests per bay) and the crest on the wagon itself. And that is the rub in an otherwise straightforward game of loading and delivering: not only are you negotiating the fact other players may take an action before you do, essentially forcing up the price, you're also worried about them nabbing the lorry or wagon you desperately need: when you move coal, you always do it in a certain order so there's no getting around the whole surrender-to-the-crest thing.

Going to Newcastle

The other action cards are about delivering, or grabbing a card from a stack regardless of how many workers are there. Finally; the share cards get you bonuses when they match up with your deliveries, as coal can be taken to a variety of destinations.

Although I was playing for Dirk I was still hoping to win, and grabbed a variety of shares hoping they would boost my efficiency, as they say. Dirk grabbed a couple objective cards. We both made one big delivery and several small ones.

Come the end-game count up, I found I had been so even-handed it took a tie-breaker to separate us: that of the last player to grab the shift token (the starting player marker)

Dirk 50 (wins on tie-breaker)
Sam 50

Damn his soot-stained eyes!

A surprisingly feisty game then, and one where you have to tread carefully when taking risks: it's possible to end up with a lorry that basically stops production until the matching wagon appears - at which point, some other player takes it. Oh, and set-up is practically instantaneous too, thanks to the insert:

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Old, the New, the Extravurm

Saturday night. While the boys watched Strictly in the other room, the responsible adults munched through a big plate of chilli before setting up the newcomer in the house: Ulm. Ian was intrigued enough to try it again, and Andrew was agreeable.

 it's a church!

As we found on Tuesday, the game plays fairly quickly. As we also found on Tuesday, I'm rather bad at it. Everything happens around the cathedral - draw an action tile from the bag, slide it into the grid and take the three actions you're left with. I decided early on to try and build a hand of cards, and pretty much stuck to that. But the others found that placing seals in the city seemed to be more productive, and Ian sealed the deal using the same city quarter Andy had earlier in the week - scoring points for every quarter of the city he had seals in. Allied to the fact he scored points for placing a seal there in the first place, it was a killer move.

Ian 54
Andrew 48
Sam 44

After that we broke out an old favourite: Tinner's Trail! Andrew set off into an early lead as he capitalised on high copper prices in round one. I set about turning the lizard green, while Ian played a game of few mines. We all snuck a cheap mine at some point, and at the end it couldn't have been closer:

Sam 101
Andrew 100
Ian 92


I suggested Heckmeck, as I wanted to try out the expansion, Extravurm. It's not a game that really needed an expansion, but I'd been intrigued by it and as it turned out, it was rather fun. Taking two '1's gets you a bratworm, there are two new low-value tiles of 11 and 13, and there are several specialists you can pick up: the canning worm functions as a worm if you don't role any, the weasel gives you a free re-roll, the sitting hen protects your tiles, and there's a golden extra die to claim as well.

The game was one of the longer Heckmecks I've played, but that was mainly due to all of us stealing the 24 off each other. Ian took the honours again, making great use of his weasel.

Ian 13
Sam 10
Andrew 5

Time for another old favourite: 7 Wonders. The evening was starting to get a little blurry at this point so the strategies and tactics are now slightly beyond me, but I recall both Andrew and Ian insisting they'd lost. They hadn't:

Andrew 48
Ian 46
Sam 43

Four games down, three to go. In a flurry of late-night Saturdayness we bashed through three more staples of the GNN diet: Andrew took the spoils on Extreme Biblios after beating me out of the reds on a mere whim of alphabetisation:

Andrew 5
Ian 4
Sam 3

Living it large

Then he made it three wins in a row as he trounced us at Love Letter 3-1-1; before finally finishing with No Thanks. Here Ian and I had an unusual shared victory, with 27 points each to Andrew's 56.  With the hour of 11 now past, we wrapped up a very satisfying weekend's gaming.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Can't Stop Shan't Stop

This week's GNN meet happened at Joe's cosy home. The six of us gathered around Joe's green felt table were Joe, Sam, Ian, Katy, Andy and me. Vague plans were suggested that we all play together, but instead we split into two groups.

Joe, Katy and I chose the Japanese themed card game Honshu. Meanwhile Sam, Andy and Ian broke open Ulm, described by Sam as a typical Euro game of gaining prestige in medieval Europe. It even came with it's own cathedral.

Honshu was substantially less ambitious fare. It's a trick taking, set collecting, city building game. Despite the three-pronged attack on our gaming senses it's quite a simple game. Each card has a number and a piece of the city on it. There are twelve rounds and in each round, every player plays a card face up. The highest card wins and that player may take whichever card they liked the look of and add that to their city with the proviso that it must overlap (or underlap) with another card.

There is a hint of other games in there. A bit of Between Two Cities. A smidgen of Isle Of Skye. But overall was quite a gentle laid back game, apart from the last minute panic from Katy when she realized she wasn't doing very well. This panic, as it turned out, should have been scheduled earlier:

Joe 61
Andrew 55
Katy 49

It was nothing to do with Japan, though.

On the other half of the table, Ulm was proving to be a bit of a steep hill to climb. In the early stages, I saw Ian shaking his head while laughing to himself and at one point it almost seemed like the game might be abandoned. Sam asked that it be given ten more minutes and apparently in that time it showed enough of its charms to convince people to last until the end.

Watching them play, I must admit it was one of those moments when I had a glimpse of what we must look like to non-gamers. The board was baffling, with a grid of 3x3 counters that shuffled around seemingly at random. There were boats and shields and icons and that cathedral which seemed to make Ian particularly angry, as he considered it to be, frankly, unnecessary and unhelpful.

But we had finished Honshu and we're pondering another game. Someone mentioned Botswana, but I didn't fancy it. It did, however, remind me of 10 Days In Africa so I asked Joe to dig it out. It was new to Katy, so she listened to the rules explanation with the same expression you might have if you were listening to a salesman you suspect is trying to steal your money. She had become increasingly concerned with her lack of form, and she didn't think this was the game to put things right.

And so it was. It's a game that doesn't encourage a great deal of banter so Joe and I tried to pep up our descriptions of winning journeys by building a narrative round them in the vocal style of Cary Grant. "I woke up in Morocco with no idea how I got there. All I knew is, I had to be in Somalia in ten days."

We played twice, with the second game happening at Katy's request, once she understood the rules.

Andrew 10
Joe 9
Katy 7

And then...

Joe 10
Katy 6 (wins on fewer transport tie breaker)
Andrew 6

Finally, Ulm finished with the scores at

Andy 53
Ian 45
Sam 37

Since we were all together again, there was a little talk of a six player. But instead we reorganized into new groups of three. I was lucky enough to have another of my suggestions brought to the table, and Sam, Joe and I played Can't Stop. Andy, Ian and Katy got busy with Port Royal.

Can't Stop was a cautious affair, with all of us keen to get counters on the board rather than push our luck. But as I took a 2-1-1 lead, with one row just one space away from completion. When it came to Joe's turn, he decided he had to go for it and, amazingly, he did. He finished two more rows to snatch the win.

Joe 3
Andrew 2
Sam 1

Since Port Royal was still ongoing, we brought out Land Unter. This trick taking game where it's usually better to not take a trick, had Sam baffled. We played through a single round while Port Royal ended.

Ian 12
Katy 11
Andy 5

At this point Ian and Andy left and we ended our fledgling game of Land Unter and began afresh with Katy on board. Katy won this game, which cheered her up considerably (or was it the ginger wine) now that her run of bad form was over and that there was one game that she could rely on to get her a win when she needed one.

Katy 10
Andrew 8
Sam 7
Joe 3

After this, we set off home. The division, with only two meetings left until the end of the season, looks like this.