December Gaming…

The start of December saw a weekend trip down to Birmingham, so that Mrs Shep could do the traditional pre-christmas present-swap with her old university chum. This is excellent news, as Mrs Shep’s best friend’s husband is also a bit of a boardgaming fan… and their eldest progeny can sometimes have his arm twisted into playing too. So, on the Sunday, we selflessly allowed the ladies to go off to town to do some shopping for shoes (or whatever it is that girls do), and spent the entire day eating curry, drinking beer, and playing Le Havre, Caylus Magna Carta, and Euphrates & Tigris. This is pretty much my idea of a perfect lazy sunday – the game of Le Havre ran to 4 hours but the time flew past. Hope we do it again next year!

The next weekend brought another session at Newcastle Gamers. I found myself in a 3 player game of Through the Ages – I’ve never played this one before, but was keen to give it a go, since it’s usually lurking in the top 5 games at, and it’s always nice to see what the fuss is about with the perennial top-rankers 😉 …good game (loosely based on the CIV computer game series), but very long – this turned out to be my second 4-hour-long board game within 7 days! It’s a pretty deep game; lots of paths to victory, lots of different strategies… but at that duration I fear it would take a major life commitment to become an expert player. Easy to understand why it’s got such a devoted fanbase though!

Something lighter was required to finish off the evening – Olly had brought along a new copy of Space Alert that he was keen to try out, so a group of us decided to give that a go.

Space Alert is a bit of a quirky one… players take the part of crew members on an interplanetary exploration vessel. The ship warps into a dangerous situation, and the crew needs to work together (it’s a co-op game) to survive. The first part of the game works in real-time… you have precisely 10 minutes (moderated by a CD audio track) in which to play a bunch of cards that explain what your guy is going to do in response to various events… e.g. move to a different part of the ship, fire guns, wiggle the mouse so that the screensaver doesn’t kick in and disable the life support system (seriously!). Then – after the chaotic real-time bit is over – you go through each action card in turn and figure out what *actually* happened, and whether you survived the mission.

It’s an odd game… not entirely sure I liked the real-time “soundtrack” aspect (which makes it veer dangerously towards “Party Game” territory for my preferences), but there’s some pretty interesting mechanics at work amidst the madness… and the game is presented with a great sense of humour too – very Douglas Adams. The Jury is still out on this one. Would be happy to play it again though.

This was the last Newcastle Gamers session at the Sandyford venue… in the new year, the club is moving to Shieldfield. Although I’ve only been going to the meetings for a couple of months, it seemed odd to be leaving the place for the last time.

However, as a fill-in between this session and the Christmas break, Newcastle Gamers were holding one further event… a free “all dayer” (technically more of an ‘all afternooner’, since it ran from 12-7pm) at the Ouseburn Community centre… so, barely a week passed, and I was back at another club session, incorporating…

Glen More. This is a game that I’d been thinking about picking up for myself, so it was great to get the chance to give it a spin. Thematically, it’s all about running a Scottish clan … acquiring territory, allocating chieftains, making whisky… A very neat, euro cube-pusher, with a clever rondel system, and the sort of rules that you instinctively recognise as being extremely well crafted and balanced. I thoroughly enjoyed the game (despite coming last!) – and I suspect I’ll be trying to smuggle a copy into the house just as soon as I recover from the Christmas spend-fest.

Power Grid (Spain/Portugal Map). Power grid is another one of those “standard” games that you should really have under your belt in order to hold your head high at any meeting of self-respecting board game geeks… but — because it plays notoriously poorly with only 2 people and therefore isn’t something I’d normally buy for my own collection — it’s one that I’d never actually tried before. Today that problem was fixed; I am no longer a power grid virgin! Fortunately, I wasn’t the only power-grid newbie present… all 5 players had no (or negligible) prior experience… so it was good to be able to play against other novices. Not a bad game; very gateway-ish. Kind of scratches the same itch as Ticket to Ride.

The afternoon was rounded off with a game of Snow Tails… a rather impressive dog-sled racing game (which nobody remembered to take a photograph of). It’s slightly reminiscent of scalextric … lots of modular board parts that you build a track out of … but powered by cards and arithmetic, instead of electricity. You play cards on each of your dogs to decide how hard it pulls… one dog working harder than the other causes your sled to drift in the given direction. Interesting mechanic, fun to play, and another potential addition to the ever-expanding wants list… (eek!), though it seems to be safely between printings at the moment, and therefore won’t worry my bank manager THIS month…

A few days later, we made the usual pre-xmas trip to see my family, and drop off presents… and took along some of the more family-friendly parts of my collection – ostensibly to help keep my brother’s kids amused, but mostly because I love any excuse to crowbar in a game or two when I get the chance ;). Fast Flowing Forest Fellers, Carcassone, and If Wishes were Fishes were the weapons of choice. The gaming went down really well, with the most notable game of the session probably being Fast Flowing Forest Fellers… which just seemed to gel particularly well with that particular audience (I’ve never really reckoned much to it in the past) … this was a real opinion-changing moment for me; I pulled FFFF out for another try later in the month, and also went down well with a completely different set of people. Must remember to change my BGG ratings for it.

Ora et Labora

Christmas rolled around, and Santa was kind enough to bring me a copy of Uwe Rosenberg’s new one – Ora et Labora, a couple of expansions for Dominion, and Vlaada Chvatil’s Dungeon Lords… all of which got a good running-in over the festive period.

Furthermore, various visitors landing at Shep towers over the xmas break were treated to sessions of Ticket To Ride, Oregon, Alhambra, more Fast Flowing Forest Fellers, Caylus, the aforementioned Xmas swag, and probably others that I’ve already forgotten…

All in all, I think it was probably the most game-heavy month I’ve had in decades. Great way to end a year! 😀

CREDITS: Session pics gratuitously stolen from the Newcastle Gamers web site. Newcastle Gamers meets on the second and last Saturday of the month… usual cost is £3, but your first visit is free. More details here.

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