Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A very happy non birthday

This week our co-host, Adam, was the almost-birthday boy and he'd asked Sam to bring A Feast For Odin as his yearly GNN treat. Sam did so, but Adam found little in the way of fellow gamers who wanted to join him.

Initially, there were eight of us. Adam, Hannah, Katy, Matt, Joe, Sam, Martin and me. With Ian expected later, we hesitated over anything too involved. Martin and Sam went for a short two-player game 13 Minutes, while the rest of us had a rip-roaring six-player game of Santo Domingo.

After a brief explanation of the very few rules to Adam and Hannah, we were off. My brilliant opening move was slightly ruined by it also being Katy's brilliant opening move: trading goods for points. Between us we’d lowered the exchange rate.

It's a cunning game, taking the theme of getting stuff to get other stuff and giving it an element of bluffing. I think we all said afterwards how much we liked it, with Joe perhaps enjoying it most.

Joe 30
Matt 29
Katy 23
Andrew 21
Adam 20
Hannah 14

As for 13Minutes, it was a convincing win for Martin, although Sam said the real victory was avoiding nuclear war.

Martin 10
Sam 4

So, as an eight, we decided to honour the newly crowned Spiel des Jahres, Kingdomino, with two consecutive games. We didn't play the same tiles - unfortunately that idea didn't occur to us until halfway through, but there was a tacit agreement that the two games were in competition.

It was Adam's first game and, despite my terrible position in clear last, I offered the birthday boy no sympathy when my last move was to take a piece I couldn't place just to stop Adam.

Joe 64
Martin 54
Adam 51
Andrew 31

On the big table it ended:

Sam 55
Matt 47
Katy 46
Hannah 36

Which makes Joe the best and me the worst. We ended with a spirited discussion about the pronunciation of Kingdomino. Was it "King Domino" or was it with the emphasis on the penultimate syllable, as if the English word Kingdom had taken the Italian suffix of -ino meaning "small" which would certainly be apt. Perhaps we will never know.

Ian was sure to arrive soon, so five of us chose Ticket To Ride: Pennsylvania map for our evening's entertainment while the other three planned to get through a quick game of Honshu before Ian got here.

As it was, though, Ian arrived while the rules to Honshu were being explained, so he had no choice but to join them, since TtR wouldn't expand to six.

Ticket To Ride is famous as a gateway game, but any sign of convivial competition were put to one side in a tense game. The map we chose had the added tactic of picking up shares in train companies, with end-of-game bonuses for those with most shares in certain companies.

Katy began in high spirits. Perhaps too high as both I and Hannah mocked her gleeful delight. This prompted a spell of silence from the good doctor. She later insisted she wasn't sulking, but wanted to see if she could play a game without speaking for five minutes. And she could. In fact, she lasted for seven minutes, beating her previous record of five minutes that she'd set two minutes previously.

Adam's usual tactic of collecting cards until you have half the deck in your hand was used to good effect, as he avoided time consuming short links and built expansively, picking up low scoring but unpopular shares as he did.

Katy went big on route cards. Alas, too big, since she picked up two more just before I noticed out loud that Adam could end the game in a few moves.

At this point everyone panicked. Well, I did. There was no way to complete both my high scoring routes in time, despite Hannah's noble tactic of building the link that would end the game if Adam had built it. Katy ended with -30 points. Meanwhile, Joe and I, the two early trailblazers, ended back near the caboose.

Adam 166
Hannah 122
Katy 118
Andrew 99
Joe 94

As for Honshu, it expanded across Adam & Hannah’s blue coffee table, until Ian’s and Sam’s cities were seperated by a wafer-thin corridor.

Martin 63
Sam 60
Ian 58
Matt 52

Then they played Polterfass, the game of passive aggressive beer distribution. I know little about this game, except for Martin getting a worst-case scenario when he settled on supplying 26 barrels of beer and his three opponents ordered 9, 9 and 8, leaving him with nothing.

Matt 75
Martin 61
Ian 45
Sam 36

By now we were together again. We chose 6nimmt as the finale of this week’s event. Hannah went to bed, so the remaining eight stood around the table, cursing every step of our zombie-laden way.

Sam went for a high early card in rounds two and three and got caught out both times. Ian commented that he thought it was seibennimmt when he ended up taking a row. And one round had a gap of about seventy between the two available places, offering a range of equally bad strategies. I went Dirk for one of my choices in round one, and I regretted it. Stupid Dirk.

Katy 26
Martin 45
Ian 52
Adam 55
Sam 57
Matt 63
Joe 72
Andrew 79

And so the evening ended, with the promise of thunderstorms in the air.

Thanks all. It was a good one! And happy birthday, Adam.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

A Feast for Adam

Thursday. Ian was absent, but in his stead stepped the recently-spotted Adam, who'd requested A Feast for Odin. I'd baulked initially, feeling a bit wiped out, but as Andrew and I perused the cupboard, we conceded that Adam doesn't get out much and it'd be nice to succumb to his request.


We might as well have allowed him to punch us in our naive, stupid faces the moment he walked in the door.  Despite this only being Adam's third play of the game, it was clear from halfway through the game that we were fighting over a distant second place in his yellow dust. There's something about the Hillmann brain - possibly all those spreadsheets - that allows him to connect the various cogs in a far more productive way than either Andrew or I were able to manage. Early on, as my whaling ships brought home the blubber and I set about emigrating early and building a veritable flotilla of knarrs, I thought I might stay competitive. But Andrew and I were as competitive as one-legged men in a triathlon.


Adam said the secret was to go exploring at the right time - around round 5, I think - but to be fair, you still need the infrastructure to fill your island with stuff, which neither of us had. It was a brutal, nordic, whipping:

Adam 142
Sam 111
Andrew 92

We polished off the evening with a blast at Kingdomino. I was so impressed with this game I immediately purchased it, but found Stan - who loves Odin - and Joe - who loves Outfoxed - less than enamoured. Probably a bit too abstract for both of them, to be fair. But Adam and Andrew both seemed to enjoy it a lot - there's something neat about the way the tiles are decanted and claimed that gives it far more depth than it initially seems to have.

why did we let Adam have this tile???

Which meant, inevitably, that Adam won:

Adam 59
Andrew 44
Sam 43

Two lovely games though and a nice way to round off the Occasional Thursday Night Club.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

The winner who wasn’t there

They came in droves, hunched over under the heavy Summer showers that spread across this Tuesday evening.

We began as a six (host Joe, and guests Katy, Ian, Martin, Andy and me) with a seventh (Adam) expected later. We began with Polterfass, a recent arrival at GNN, which plays six. The game is about supplying beer to your opponents, who need to guess the right amount to maximise their returns, but too much and they walk away with nothing, perhaps even minus points.

Polterfass: kind of lost against the backdrop
of Joe's floral table cloth

The general consensus was that it was not at its best with so many. Perhaps the dim view of the game was prompted by a spate of early rolls that meant the barkeep went bust and everyone simply got what they bid. A bit unexciting. We played a truncated game, with Joe hitting the 50-point target when he was barman and the rest of us got too greedy. Meanwhile, Ian struggled, staying below zero until round six.

Joe 55
Martin 45
Andy 34
Katy 33
Andrew 22
Ian 21

After this, we chose Santo Domingo, another new game with an element of bluff and counter bluff. Each round, everyone plays a card which gains certain benefits, but other players may play cards that gain bigger benefits if you played the one card you wanted to play for those benefits that I mentioned earlier. It's a delicate balance.

During play, each player puts their discarded cards in a pile, face down in front of them. All except Ian who, Raj-like, kept the upper card face up. A style of play that Martin described as "balls out". A typical Martin-esque piquant observation about gaming that involved the male genitalia.

Joe 31
Ian 25
Andy 22
Katy 22
Martin 19
Andrew 18

Next, with the imminent arrival of Adam, we chose For Sale as a nice quick six-player that wasn't Fuji Flush or Pairs. Katy finally followed the strategy that she'd often mentioned in the past but always quickly abandoned. This time she stuck to it. It turned out to be: spend no money in round one. This, at least, gave her fourteen points going into round two.

But it quickly came undone when a zero dollar card was dealt out and everyone went high, leaving Katy's 16 card picking up a very expensive nothing. She didn't help her cause by announcing "but that was my highest card," giving everyone an insight into how to beat Katy. She never recovered and ended the game disavowing her strategy.

Ian 54
Andrew 51
Joe 49
Andy 39
Martin 38
Katy 30

Adam arrived during For Sale, so we split into groups of four and three. Adam suggested Flamme Rogue and Andy and Martin joined him. Katy was keen on Lords of Vegas and the rest of us agreed.

Lords of Vegas is a bit of an attention seeker, so I know little about Flamme Rogue, except for Martin being surprised by the size of the hill before the finish. Whenever I looked over, they all seemed to be bunched together, with Andy commenting that one moment when they were all in single file was exactly what you'd see in a real race.

Adam must've been tired after his late meeting at work, because he manged to bump into both a chest of drawers and the card table on his way to get himself a glass of water. As for the race, it ended:

1. Martin
2. Adam
3. Andy

They then discussed what to play next. Ra was suggested, but it turns out that Adam doesn't like Ra. An astonishing confession, especially since I think he owns a copy. Instead they began a game of Vikings, which was Adam's first. I admit to total ignorance of the rules, plus LoV was reaching its climax, so I know nothing about it other than the result.

Martin 75
Andy 51
Adam 45

Meanwhile, Lords of Vegas offered up the usual thrills and spills. Ian sped off into an early lead with a casino big enough to make it futile for anyone else to build in that city block.

But then I started to catch up. My casinos (casinii?) grew and I had a stroke of luck when I took control of a lot that Ian had sprawled into, which put me in charge of a five-tile casino on the strip, to go with the seven-tile casino I already owned. Ian was stymied by a lack of options. He spent most of the game with no vacant plots on the board, leading me or Katy to remark "Ian's lost the plot" whenever it was mentioned. It never stopped being funny.

Joe and Katy started badly. Joe looked to be in terrible shape in the late stages of the game until he re-rolled two adjacent four-tile casinos, and then remodelled them into a giant eight tile casino. Unfortunately it didn't pay out before Katy's turn when she reorganized and won it "by miles." The game ended soon after that, with Joe's dreams of a last minute surge up the score track in tatters.

A cheap re-roll for Joe (yellow) or Katy (blue)

Andrew 44
Katy 36 plus cash
Ian 36
Joe 10

I don't want to boast, but my win was pretty comprehensive. I ended with more than $100 million in reserve, only one die left, only two tokens left and I did nothing in my last turn, because my position couldn't be improved. After the game ended, Joe commended me for playing like Howard Hughes, since I’d often given people money if they'd reorganize a casino that I had no dice in, just to enjoy the show.

So now we were all back together and decided to end on Fuji Flush, with its usual gratuitous display of dick points, just because people can.

The first game ended in some style with Joe winning without even being in the room. He had to go and answer the phone and while he was away, he pushed through. Since he only had one card left, we played it for him. To wails of anguish (that I hope Joe heard and enjoyed), we saw it was a fourteen, to match the fourteen already played by Martin. Not wanting to be left out, Andy also played a fourteen. After that, it was a formality and by the time Joe came back we had already shuffled and dealt out another hand.

Joe 0 cards left
Andy 2
Katy 2
Martin 3
Ian 5
Andrew 5

The second game was less remarkable except for Ian knocking his tiny shot glass off the table. Luckily it landed on the dog sleeping next to him and rolled onto the floor, undamaged. The dog went and slept somewhere else.

Adam 0 cards left
Ian 0
Andy 1
Martin 1
Joe 1
Andrew 2
Katy 3

As we got ready to leave, Martin remarked how the best way to appreciate Fuji Flush was to "feel your inner dick." And with that image seared across our minds, we left another week of joy in our wake. Thanks everyone. It was an experience.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Keyed up and Clued In

Andrew and Ian joined me this evening for some late-weekend fun, and first to the table was Unlock, the game that mimics an escape room challenge. Stan and I had had a crack at one of the three adventures it comes with, and succeeded in the end, albeit not within the hour the timer give you and not without resorting to several clues (the game plays with an app).

We began the second adventure, trapped in an evil clowns lair. The game serves up a few cards and you work out ways to combine them in order trigger new cards, which then present a similar scenario. But it's not just addition - there are hidden numbers on cards to spot, and a degree of lateral thinking too - definitely not a strength of mine, but between us we ploughed on - calling on the odd clue from the app, and keying in codes at certain points in the story to open padlocks and so on. And... we solved the mystery, saved the world, and did it all with moments to spare!

Very exciting. I won't go into any further details in case anyone wants to borrow it and have a crack, but this adventure did involve cheese and sausages.

Next up was Barenpark. This is the game that famously puts Cottage Garden in the shade, a fact Ian knew despite not having played it. But it's a simple ruleset and easy to pick up and play. We included achievements: all the cement mixer tiles, three panda tiles and three polar bear tiles. Each of us managed two of them, but it was Andrew who both ended the game, and won it:

Andrew 96
Sam 87
Ian 85

Next up: Las Vegas! Ian had his revenge here. I thought I might be in with a shout after Andrew's early showing faded, but no! Hickman cleaned up:

Ian $430k
Sam $350k
Andrew $280k

We then played another big hit of recent weeks - NMBR9. I just love this game; it's so simple, yet devilishly tricky in the manner of Take it Easy. Andrew picked up his second win of the night with a strong showing:

Andrew 90
Sam 82
Ian 67

Finally we played Push It, which hasn't been seen in a good while. It still maintains its potential for swingy scoring and inadvertent humour though. Andrew surged off with strong start, at one point with a 6-3-0 lead. But then the pendulum swung, and Ian and I pegged him back to 7-6-5. Ian though was often unwitting kingmaker, handing points to Andrew or I. And so it proved with the winning round, when with both of us poised on 9 points, Ian bashed the puck right next to both my discs with the final flick of the game!

Sam 11
Andrew 9
Ian 6

We were so energised by Push It that despite me writing 'finally' before that last paragraph, we played NMBR9 again. This time I made a bad start, building too early and being secretly pleased I had made room for a 7 that refused to arrive. Andrew and I spread our base while Ian remained compact, but towards the end of the game he bemoaned his strategy, saying he'd made a terrible mistake. The last tile - an 8 - had to go at level zero, whilst Andrew and I planted ours high up. But as it turned out, Ian's good early work - including 27 points for a 9 tile - sustained him:

Ian 88
Sam 87
Andrew 66

Nice night, thanks chaps.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Scythed Down

Today Stan and I found ourselves at home with a couple of hours before the next appointment (which happened to be his football team's awards ceremony). He requested a game of Scythe, and I readily agreed.

Stan set up as the Nordics, who are blessed with the ability to swim from early on, whereas the rest of us keep away from water until we've constructed at least one mech.

That's the tradition anyway, but I was playing as one of the 'Invaders from Afar' - the Orient, in this case (or as I referred to myself, purple), and my starting position meant I wasn't stranded until the evolution of mechs, I could just make my way to the interior as fast as I could go.

Unfortunately, I couldn't go very fast. The drawback of being purple is that your speed never increases, whereas others can go +1 on their movement by building the appropriate mech, who presumably gives everyone encouragement to give it a go. Movement in Scythe is pretty weird at the best of times, with characters and mechs being incredibly picky about where and when they can cross water.

But despite the lack of logic, it does have a lovely speedy flow of productivity about it. My special ability allowed me to leave traps, but we noted that in a two-player game it was easy for Stan to avoid them. He spread his workers and let his character roam, having encounters.

I was feeling pretty confident about the way things were going - I was well set for a few stars and had a strong hand of combat cards too. I warned Stan that - having stopped for lunch - we'd probably have to finish the game later. He nodded and abruptly put down his sixth star, ending the game with enormous popularity as I languished Tim Farron-like in the doldrums.

Stan 75
Sam 69

I was completely blind-sided by this, having been pottering about on my side of the board collecting wood to build a windmill.

This rude awakening was followed by the lads beating the dads at the dads v lads football match after the ceremony. Things have changed.


In the evening I introduced Sal to Honshu. She liked it so much, she held up the tablecloth for the last five minutes.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Quieter than Dirk

That was Sam's description of Ian during a game of Insider this evening. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the start.

A new season of games dawned this Tuesday evening. A season free from the shackles of the Division and it's constant judging. A season that really puts the emphasis on fun.

There were eight of us: Sam, the host, Joe, Martin, Katy, Ian, Chris, Laura and me. We began as an eightsome, playing Fuji Flush. It began in convivial style with all of us pushing through our twos. All except Joe, who found it difficult to get rid of any cards in the early part of the game. He muttered "I am so going to win this," as he looked through the five cards in his hand.

He didn't win, but he did manage a bit of a comeback, thanks to giving me the win by joining with my and Ian's (I think) sevens. I pushed through and, post-game, Ian revealed he had the twenty, but never saw the right opportunity to play it.

Andrew 0
Chris 1
Katy 1
Sam 1
Joe 2
Laura 2
Ian 2
Martin 3

At this point the group split in two. Katy, Martin, Joe and Sam indulged in new pleasures and unknown games.

Martin was good enough to email me his report from that half of the table, otherwise all of their efforts would’ve been lost forever.

Joe and I were both brandishing new games and a group of four quickly formed with Katy and Sam hopping in. First up was Joe's Kingdomino, hot favourite for this year's Spiel des Jahres. I'd played once before with 2 players and quite enjoyed it.

It's a very simple tile-drafting affair in which each player tries to complete their own 5x5 grid from 2x1 'domino' tiles marked with different terrains. To score well, you need big areas of the same terrain-type that also contain crown symbols, since an area scores its size multiplied by its crowns. Each player gets one tile per round, and if you choose a 'better' one (more crowns), you'll be pushed down the turn order for the next round. It all flows very smoothly.

Joe and Katy couldn't quite complete their grids (a domino always has to match at least one adjacent terrain on your board) which left Sam and I with an advantage in the bonus scoring. Sam's healthy 10-tile/4-crown forest was enough for him to edge it.

Sam 69
Martin 64
Joe 42
Katy 38

I lobbied for Polterfass next, a game of bluffing and reading your opponents in which you take turns to be innkeeper and try to drink as much beer as possible without running the bar dry! It took us a little while to get used to the possible scoring scenarios but once we had that down it became a very enjoyable exercise in double-think. The beer-barrel 'dice' and beer mats are really cute too.

It seems that Katy's psychological powers are the strongest as she ran into an early lead and never looked back, while the rest of us repeatedly took one step forward and two steps back.

Katy 75
Joe 64
Martin 48
Sam 30

That theme continued into the next game, Santo Domingo. Here, each player has a set of the same 8 role cards, simultaneously selecting one each round. Some take money or goods from the centre, some let you trade goods for money at varying exchange rates and some let you profit from predicting what the other players will do. There's also a card which lets you recycle your used cards back into your hand again for fresh use, a la Concordia.

We had a false start when we realised we'd missed a vital rule, to Katy's chagrin as she had a big lead. However she picked up just where she left off and read our minds to victory in short order.

Katy 32
Sam 21
Joe 19
Martin 18

More from Martin later. Meanwhile, we at the conservative (small 'c', I hasten to add) end of the table chose a game because we all knew it - Quantum. Chris and I had a brief discussion as to whether the game was strategic or tactical, but if I'm being honest, I'm still unsure of the difference between the two.

We chose the Nexus map since it was the biggest we could get on half a kitchen table, but found we didn't have enough 9 tiles. We decided to use 10s instead and carry on. As an aside, the next day, Chris checked on Board Game Geek about the Nexus map and it turns out that it was a misprint and we did the right thing. Nice to have a house rule officially acknowledged.

As for the game, I quickly got a card Curious, which allows an extra free movement. As such, most of my game was spent hiding in corners, hoping to avoid fights. Laura fell behind at first but then fought her way back into contention. Conversely, Chris started well and then stopped making progress at some point.

Me, hiding, top left

It was me versus Ian near the end, with one cube each. It was at this moment that I made a brilliant move. Astute and well observed and, most importantly, I did it while Ian was on the toilet.

This meant when he came back to take his go, he hadn't noticed I'd taken the Aggression card (+2 on dominance) and his declaration of "I can win the game" quickly unraveled. He couldn't, and Chris couldn't reach me, so I was able to place a cube for a rare win for me at Quantum.

Andrew 0
Ian 1
Chris 2
Laura 2

After this epic (the other guys had completed three games and were into a third) we were in need of lighter fare, so we chose Raj for our light relief.

We played a three-round game and I placed first in every one, leading to a comfortable win. Ian was second after round two, but had a nightmare the final stages.

Andrew 64
Chris 33
Laura 27
Ian 20

Still aiming to synchronize game endings between the two groups, we chose NMBR9.

We played twice. It was Laura's first game and her inexperience showed. But she should be commended as being the player least vocal about their terrible choice of tile placement.

Andrew 84
Ian 82
Chris 73
Laura 46

We played again, since one game of NMBR9 is never enough. Once again, we wailed at our grim fate.

Laura flew into a convincing win, while Chris only managed to get one number on the third (ie, x2) level.

Laura 83
Andrew 69
Ian 61
Chris 47

The other four had ended their game of Barenpark. Over to you Martin...

The new acquisitions all having had their outing, we went back to one of Sam's new ones that all of us but Katy had played last week: Barenpark. This time we added the advanced 'achievement tiles' - a selection of 3 goals from a set of 10 that provide one extra factor to consider in this multidimensional race.

I focused on these from the start and ended up completing them 1st, 2nd and 2nd, while Sam deliberately ignored them, focusing on other aspects for his score. Despite that, we ended up with closely-matched scores, while Katy had been hampered by only realising half-way through the game that you can rotate and flip your tiles to make them fit better.

Towards the end of the game, I bemoaned my park's lack of toilet facilities, but we figured the tourists could just 'do as the bears do...'.

Martin 102
Sam 93
Joe 87
Katy 74 

Now we were all back together for a quick round of Insider, accompanied by Katy’s sticky toffee flavour popcorn. The sugar rush was big enough to be heard as we all tutted and shook our heads at how overly sweet it was, while taking extra handfuls of the stuff and pushing it into our mouths.

As for Insider, Joe was the Master and the word was “tennis court” which I correctly guessed. But only because Sam had guessed “squash court” so I suspected Sam as the insider. Also, Martin weirdly blurted out “Did you just say ‘swimming pool’?” which raised some eyebrows. Katy was first to mention sports, I think, so she was looking shifty, too. And I'd mentioned a football stadium, too.

We tried to piece where the first seeds of “tennis court” had been planted, but to no avail. I think Chris was voted to be the Insider, but it wasn't him. It was Laura! She had asked the question “Is it a regular shape?” which set us on our long and tortuous journey to success. With one innocuous question, she caused mistrust and doubt amongst friends. She should be a politician.

Laura wins!
No one else does.

Finally, we played Pairs. My only points came when I was away from the table on a toilet dash and everyone else played for me for one round. I should’ve stayed away longer. I came joint first that round.

It was Laura who came first, capping her evening with a hat-trick of wins, with Sam and Joe in close contention. Everyone else: must try harder.

Laura 23
Sam 21
Joe 21
Katy 13
Martin 12
Ian 11
Chris 8
Andrew 8

And so we left happily, trooping back to our homes, content in the glow of an evening well spent. See you next week!

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Five get over-stimulated

Friday found Andrew and I wending our way to Chippenham with a bag full of 5-player games in the boot of the car. I'd also stuck in NMBR9 as a four-player option, just in case. With Chris' friends Stuart and Paul yet to arrive, after catching up with the Smith coterie that was the game we started with. Stuart arrived in the midst of the head-scratching and watched the drama play out before joining us for a four-player. We didn't make a note of the scores, but as I write Chris assures me that I won both of them. Hooray!


By the time our 4-player game had ended Paul (not Jefferies) had arrived, and we were set for our evening of 5-player snappy games.

We began with Pairs, which everyone had played before and even if you haven't, doesn't need much of an introduction. I got off to a solid start with my Incan Gold tactic of safety play, and for a while it looked almost valid, albeit not one Martin would approve of. Then as other braver players surged forward, I had to take more risks. Risks that didn't work. The game was notable in the main though, for Paul's repeated suffering at the hands of the double mushroom, which kept choosing to spore in his face:

Chris 22
Sam 18
Stuart 13
Paul 12
Andrew 8

Next we played Las Vegas - new to Paul and Stuart, but easy to pick up and play. Too easy, in fact, for my liking, as my first round of hedge-betting yielded very little, and it with a three-round game, I'd given myself a bit of a way to go to catch up. Chris's last die of the last round cost me a whopping $80k... meanwhile, Paul strolled to a convincing debut victory.

Paul $360k
Chris/Andrew $240k
Stuart $220k
Sam $210k

Next we blasted through a couple of games of Skulls. This was new to everyone but Andrew and I, but it's not exactly dripping with rules. After two games of skirting around the edges I decided to take on the Berger mantle of guessing early and guessing high. Although you do run the risk of implosion - I lost my skull early in the second game - not playing skulls at all means you're always in the bidding, and I picked up a couple of wins.

Next up was 7 Wonders which needed no introduction. Andrew's card preparation was scrambled by his conditioning of playing with three or less, but when he reminded himself we were five, the mystery was solved.


For the first time in a long while, play on the other side of the table was irrelevant in terms of military scoring and resource retail. Neither Andrew nor I went for military at all, in part because I was being handed my cards early on by Chris, who seemed to be encouraging me to go for sciences. I became resource-rich and cash-rich, but was neglecting the diversification that 7 Wonders traditionally rewards. Paul and Stuart fought out a military battle, whilst directly opposite me Chris was benefiting from mine and Andrew's pacifism. He scored big on battles as a result, and had points coming in in pretty much every category. I'm not sure what happened to Andrew.

Chris 62
Sam 52
Stuart 50
Paul 44
Andrew 32

Then another classic: Heck Meck! Famously the first time we played this one person took everyone's turn for them, and I think none of us wanted to play it again for about two years. Then we discovered that when you're allowed to think for yourself, the game is actually pretty fun. I guess it can occasionally run on a little though, and possibly this was one of those times, in part down to the serial worm heists we were pulling off. In the end, Chris and I tied for wormage with me grabbing the win on the tie-breaker. We didn't note down the scores.

Next up: Insider! I was the Master first time out, and the word was Dictionary. It was successfully guessed, but we wrongfully accused Stuart of being the Insider when it was actually that dastardly Andrew!

Stuart was the Insider next time around, but we aborted when he made the mistake of saying "Okay" aloud when the Master - Paul - said the Insider should look at the word.

Then I was Master again and we collectively failed to identify the word, which now escapes me.

Finally, I was the Insider and managed to pull off a win after guessing the word myself, which was sleeping bag. I like to think all my fake guesses contributed, but probably we were all marginally tipsy at this point.

We kept playing! Raj made a long-awaited appearance from its box and we played three rounds with the winners bonus of 3/6/9. The sting of the ties-cancel-each-other-out rule was much to the fore, with Chris picking up a high tile very cheaply and Paul serially finishing on minimal, or even negative points. In the end - if I read Chris' note correctly - Andrew won with 75 points. Or someone did. Whoever it was, it wasn't me.



We finished off our five-player session with 6Nimmt. By the this point the evening was a little hazy and again the note (above) isn't totally clear on who won. But I seem to recall Paul, who had apparently a long line of 6Nimmt defeats under his belt, finally emerged victorious!

It was now midnight and we were ready to call time on the evening. As Stuart and Paul made their way home, we blasted though a quick pallet-cleanser of NMBR9 again. I think I won - I seem to do well at this game, unless I'm playing Martin or Little Joe.


In the morning Andrew and I were up and about before anyone else, as I enjoyed the novelty of having children in the house who don't arise at dawn. We enjoyed a few more games of NMBR9, and Andrew's colourful spread reminded me of that Michael Jackson video when he dances about on a neon pavement. Then we played a two-player variant where when a card flips, you pick up two matching numbers instead of one. This led to some pretty hefty scores.

michael jackson pavement

We also explored Andrew's idea of a YouTube channel where professionals are invited to play a game that's themed on their profession - a medic plays Pandemic, a Provost plays Caylus, and so on. I wondered who or what we would recruit to play NMBR9 as unfortunately Michael Jackson is no longer with us.

Finally Stan and I saw off the Saturday with a blast at Hostage Negotiator, which is a solo-player we played co-operatively. In this not-particularly child-friendly game, a madman (or woman, but the intro game has a male) has taken several meeples hostage and you're tasked with trying to get them released, by virtue of chatting to them for a while over the phone. Chatting successfully buys you conversation points, which in turn buys you more cards to chat with. It's part high-pressure stress, part dinner-party discourse - which I guess for some of us amounts to the same thing.

The problem is your chat is manifest in dice-rolling, and when the dice don't go your way the madman gets cross with your negotiation anecdotes - possibly cross enough to start gunning down his guests. In our case, two of them went this way, but we successfully got half the hostages out and won.

dinner party adventure

A happy end - for most of us, anyway.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Season’s End

This Tuesday was a grim looking one, with grey skies and vague suggestions of rain. But that wouldn’t stop seven gamers of dreaming of capping their season with a glorious run of form on its final day: Sam (the host), Joe, Katy, Ian, Martin, Andy and me.

I arrived bang on time, but found the fun was already underway, with Ian and Sam going head to head in NMBR9.

Sam 68
Ian 45

Katy was there too and before long, the rest of the gang had arrived. We split into two groups. At one end of the table, Sam, Martin, Joe and I began with NMBR9. This was mine and Martin's first go and, having watched baffled as other people played, I was keen to learn the secrets of this game.

The rules are very simple: just build up layers without overhanging or covering gaps. The shapes of the numbers, though, must've taken ages to get right during playtesting since they often seem to hint at a winning position without it ever really coming to fruition. This explains Martin's comment "It's already annoying.'

Sam mused on the role of the four: a low value, an awkward shape, but such a nice colour. I thought I'd done badly but I was quite pleased to have beaten Martin, whose maths skills are so strong he was able to tell us what he'd scored just by glancing at his tiles.

Sam 99
Joe 79
Andrew 50
Martin 46

"Right," said Martin in a tone of voice usually used before spitting on both palms, grabbing an axe and chopping down a tree, "we have to play again."

So we did. Sam had daddy duty to attend to upstairs, but we had no trouble remembering the few rules. Martin did slightly better this time.

Martin 103
Joe 84
Andrew 77

On the other half of the table, Andy, Katy and Ian began with For Sale. I was too engrossed in my game to pay it too much mind, but I did notice that Katy picked up both zeroes and lost a low bidding round with a decent highest card.

Andy 84
Ian 82
Katy 67

Then they dug out Port Royal which I think was Ian's suggestion. If so, it ruins my recent theory that the player most keen on a game does worst.

Ian 12
Katy 10
Andy 9

Then they whipped off a quick Beasty Bar. The scores, according to Katy's notes, were:

Andy 4 - 32
Katy 4 - 33
Ian 0

Katy left a note of explanation: "[Ian] went to the pub, night club too noisy!"

While this was happening, the four of us were knee deep in Montage, the crossword game from1973. It was Joe and me against Martin and Sam. Just like last time, I was very quick to get Martin's clues. For example, "every colour has one," I correctly guessed as "Vowel" because in the game, each of the five coloured tiles has a vowel. Both Sam and Joe complained that was far too meta.

In the end, though, Joe and I had enough of a connection to take the win. The general consensus was that it was a fun game, but very stressful.

Andrew & Joe 4
Sam & Martin 1

Then the trio broke out Flamme Rouge. The course (chosen at random) was completely flat: no hills at all. And while Katy and Andy set up, Ian took one of the little plastic cyclists, placed it on the neck of a beer bottle, stared at it, and then put it back on the table. Oh, the mysteries of Ian's internal workings.

Katy had an interesting strategy: one rider sped off ahead (using all three 9 cards in the first three turns) while the other lagged far behind in last. Andy was the only one to cross the finishing line, leaving the other two to rejoice in their shared defeat.

1st Andy
=2nd Katy
=2nd Ian

While this was going on, the quartet were playing Barenpark, the game that’s apparently impossible to play without saying it’s better than Cottage Garden.

Martin 89
Sam 82
Andrew 79
Joe 65

Finally we’d all finished together. Katy and I swapped seats and the gaming madness continued. The four of them launched into Cobras while Ian, Andy and I chose Hit Z Road.

I know little about Cobras, except for a dunken note of “stale peanuts” next to the results on my scrap of paper. However, Joe kindly gave Katy and I a lift home afterwards and he explained how satisfying the game was, especially since he always seemed to have the card that Martin didn’t want him to have.

Joe 109
Martin 92
Katy 57
Sam 46

Hit Z Road offered up the usual crazy and impossible escapes that your typical zombie movies have, complete with the ending of one guy still alive with no hope of escape as the credits roll. Ian rolled five targets to wipe out five zombies in one go, then Andy rolled four targets agaist five and later I rolled four against four.

Most impressively, though, was Andy’s last stand as his final survivor with his final die rolled one target after another and picked off six zombies. But then another six turned up and he died immediately.

I won merely by being last man standing.

Andrew: alive!
Andy & Ian: both dead!

Then we were all together for a game of Fuji Flush. I was too lazy to take note of the dick points but if memory serves, they were pretty rubbish, with 3s knocking out 2s and the like. Only Martin impressed, removing five 2s with an eleven, even though he could have joined in with a 2 of his own. Classic Martin.

Ian 0
Martin 1
Andrew 1
Andy 1
Sam 1
Joe 3
Katy 4

And that was that! We all sped off, eager to be back home far too late for a weekday evening. As for the Division, despite Katy’s poor showing, no one else was able to put together a challenge to unseat her from the top. Adam’s points ratio is invincible.

And I think I’ll rest the Division for the summer months, since attendance gets a bit sparse and it becomes, dare I say it, a bit silly?

But that’s for the future! Next week, to be exact.

See you then!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

More than one can bear

Sunday! It's not Saturday, but it's still the weekend, so Andrew, Adam and Chris arrived at my house for some frivolous gaming. At least, that was the idea. It started out frivolous enough with Stan and Joe performing some kind of magic trick/abstract performance piece involving cards, which - going and fringe to the door - I never fully understood the process of. Shortly they were off to bed, though, and I sprang Bärenpark on everyone.

This is another in the tessellating line of recent games, with everyone charged to build a park to house bears. It's closest ancestor is clearly Cottage Garden, but we agreed - or I agreed with Chris - that it's the better game. You're simply taking pieces and adding them to your construction site, but when you cover a symbol on the site - and more often than not, you do - you get to take more tiles to add on subsequent turns.

It's very easy to pick up, but deeper than it first appears. I'd had quite a bit of practice with the boys over the weekend, but I'd not come up against the creeping custard yet... Chris was the only person to actually finish his park, but clearly the bear-loving public didn't mind the fact Adam had left a load of scaffolding next to the koalas:

Adam 88 (wins on tie-breaker)
Sam 88
Chris 84
Andrew 68

We perused the cupboard for choices and several games were pulled out. But when A Feast For Odin was suggested, there was a murmuring of approval like guitar players hearing a particularly tricky chord change. We set it up, and set off on an adventure that would take us the rest of the night.

At 9.20pm, we were on round five of seven.But those last three rounds took us right up to 11pm, as agonising decision after agonising decision seemed to suggest fate was trying to put us off the game and frivolity didn't so much take a back seat as lock herself in the boot and refuse to come out. I think everyone re-took a turn, with Chris going the whole hog and re-doing everything twice.

I tried to keep things light by reminding everyone how much I'd enjoyed Bärenpark, and Chris agreed it was a manly game.

I was pretty sure Adam would win, and as it happens this probably would have been the case had he not made a bit of an error, deciding in the final round to go exploring to Bear Island. With only a single round to fill the exploration board, it transpired he'd bitten off more than he could chew - and spent much time and several tiles trying to turn the expense into a profit.

In the final reckoning the minus points from Bear Island reduced Adam's initial lead - from his enormous hoard of silver - to a little bit below my final score:

Sam 105
Adam 101
Chris 91
Andrew 79

A mixed evening of bear-related gaming for Adam then, but nice to try Feast with four, if only to see Andrew ply his vikings with gallons of milk before putting them to bed.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Revolution nmbr 9

As England baked under a midsummer heatwave, Joe's call to host this week's event was met with a bumper response. Ten of us (Sam, Andy, Matt W, Matt K (previously known as Matt and Matt2 respectively), Martin, Katy, Ian, Adam, Chris and myself) arrived for an evening's entertainment that spilled out of Joe's kitchen and into the garden.

The first game to be done and dusted was Nmbr 9, a new game with Take It Easy tones in that everyone has the same options, which quickly diverge among the players.

Adam 95
Ian 79
Sam 61
Chris 50

I was one of the four lucky enough to start outside. Me, Martin, Joe and Matt K played Montage, a crossword game without any letters. Instead, colours stand for a group of letters.

The aim of the game is to give clues (maximum five words) to words whose letters fit the coloured counters on the board. It's a team game and you hope that your partner gets the clue (indicated by knocking on the table) before both - and it must be both - of your opponents do. The board is divided into nine sectors and the winning team is the one that gets a majority of its pieces in four sectors.

All of this takes place under the watchful eye of an hourglass. Everything in a turn: choosing the position, thinking of a clue, giving the clue, solving the clue, must happen before the sand runs out. Obviously, planning ahead is key.

I paired up with Matt and Joe was with Martin. Up against two giant intellects meant Matt and I were the underdogs. When Joe gave the clue "Prince's reign" and Martin got it with "purple" I thought we were in trouble. However, they were perfectly happy to go route-one with the clue "Number two" from Martin, meaning "poo" which Joe got without even looking at the board.

Martin & Joe 4
Matt & Andrew 1

Inside, Adam, Ian, Chris and Sam were flying the flag for chunky Eurogame with Raiders Of The North Sea. While Matt1 and Katy waited for Andy to arrive, at which point they threw themselves into Flamme Rouge. I know nothing other than the result.

Early days with Flamme Rouge and Raiders...

1. Andy
2. Matt
3. Katy

They followed this with Nmbr 9.

Matt 86
Andy 61
Katy 56

Meanwhile, us outside moved onto Movable Type, continuing the recent trend for word games. Joe sold it to us by saying "It has a fun aspect."

Sheer folly!

This time, there are four rounds of trying to make the highest scoring word using the five cards in your hand and three open cards that anyone can use. The better you do, the more cards you can take from the array of all cards that were used that round. Then, in the fifth and final round, those cards would be used to make the highest scoring word you can manage.

A ha ha!

Martin 20 (he won with Mashable)
Joe 19 (ticketing)
Andrew 17 (fleshy)
Matt K 16 (jilted) (I think. Can’t read my writing)

Apart from the marauding Vikings in the North Sea, the rest of us had finished our games at the same time, so we had a quick reshuffle. Katy, Joe and Martin brought a card table outside and played Cobras.

Cobras in the long grass

Joe was first to hit the game ending score, but then fell back due to negative cobras on his card at the end of the round. This allowed a delighted Katy ("We've screwed Joe!") to grab a win.

Katy 113
Joe 105
Martin 75

An unimpressed cat

Meanwhile, Andy, me and the two Matts played Escape From The Aliens In Outer Space. This is a game of hidden identities and escaping and/or attacking. I didn't have much of an clue how to play, and the game for me may as well have been called Have A Nice Stroll Through A Spaceship.

My unhelpful notes during Escape...

The two Matts were more clued in. Alien Matt W killed Human Matt K early on, just because Matt K made a noise near him. This meant the last human, Andy, had to escape. He managed to get to an escape pod, but it malfunctioned. Rather than try to walk across to another escape pod, he played a card the allowed him to mutate into an alien and the game ended in a draw.

Not a bad game. Would probably have been more fun if I'd known what was going on.

Still playing Raiders...

On the card table, Cobras had been replaced by Eggs of Ostrich.

Martin 15
Katy 10
Joe 9

The four of us played Andy's print and play (and laminate) version of Red7. After a rules explanation, I played a card that immediately knocked newcomer Matt K out. A very steep learning curve. But he came back well, and we ended after three rounds. We had to, since the light had faded so much that most of round three was played under the light from my mobile phone.

Really quite dark now

Matt K 39
Andy 12
Matt W 0
Andrew 0

By now Raiders of the North Sea had ended. Everyone else had gone through multiple games and rules explanations, but the pure of heart on one half of Joe's kitchen table had gone through an epic. A game, after which, they all stood around proudly and talked about what they'd just done.

Nearing the end of the game

Ian 43
Adam 39
Sam 36
Chris 31

And they even managed to squeeze in a game of Nmbr 9. Ian quickly said he’d got off to a bad start. I couldn’t tell how he knew this so I took a photograph, hoping that one day I’d look back and understand what he’d meant.

He was right, though.

Adam 72
Chris 67
Sam 61 (“Again!”)
Ian 52

Finally, we were all together and all inside. So we went for a rule-stretching 11-player game of 6nimmt. We could only manage two rounds before time caught up with us. Short, but agonising, as the quotes I jotted down demonstrate:

“Joseph, you wanker!” me, probably.

“It’s like golf!” Ian

“My dreams were ruined years ago.” Sam

“I’m going to get boned and not in a good way.” Katy

It ended like so:

Adam 10
Matt K 12
Matt W 14
Chris 14
Sam 19
Ian 28
Katy 35
Andy 39
Joe 39
Martin 43
Andrew 52

Thanks all. A bit of a classic.