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Newcastle Gamers – 25th August 2012

Bit of a worrying start to this meeting… I arrived at the venue at the appointed hour of 4:30 to discover the car park gates were locked, and none of the building lights were on.

Oh oh.. this didn’t look good!

I parked in a nearby side-street (where, fortunately, the ticket machine was broken — otherwise I might’ve ended up buying a totally un-necessary parking ticket), and discovered a number of other Newcastle Gamers had been forced to do the same thing. We were stumped. Usually the NG meeting follows straight after the circus school, and the building is open (and still occupied by the aforementioned circus types) as we’re arriving… but it looks like they stick to regular term times, and it’s the long summer holiday for them — oops!

So, we all stood around outside the building for a while, wringing our hands, keeping an eye out for traffic wardens, mulling over emergency gaming plans, and wondering who might have access to a key or a keyholder… when Robert arrived to save the day. Robert is usually on post-meeting locking-up-duty, and therefore has a key to the premises (though, of course, he wasn’t expecting to be on opening-up-duty too, so hadn’t arrived at the same time as all of us 4:30-on-the-dot early-birds!). The building was unlocked, the car-park opened, and after some frantic car manoeuvring shenanigans the evening’s board gaming duly commenced… ‘phew.

First up: The Castles of Burgundy

I’ve been keen to play this one for quite a while… it’s been steadily climbing the Board Game Geek charts for the last six months or so, has had a lot of critical acclaim, and — basically — looks exactly like “my sort of thing”… but, oddly, it hadn’t surfaced at Newcastle Gamers until this meeting. (I almost bought a copy myself a couple of months ago when an unexpected amazon voucher landed in my lap… but it was out of stock and I ended up grabbing a copy a Village instead). Fortunately Olly has recently succumbed to temptation and added a copy to his collection … and this was its first outing.

In Castles of Burgundy, each player takes the role of a prince in the 15th Century Loire valley. You have a board which features a chunk of landscape, and — within a set number of turns — you need to fill said landscape with a thriving princedom. You add towns, farms, mines, and stuff like that … each of which gives little perks and victory point bonuses as the game progresses. There’s an interesting dice-based mechanism that determines what buildings you can pick up and where you can place them but – much like the game Troyes – you can spend resource points to modify your dice rolls, so the resulting gameplay is pleasingly euro-like, rather than the dice-led ameritrashy experience that you might expect.

You score points for placing certain types of tiles and/or completing clusters of coloured “cells” on your board (so, for example, if you fill all five of the connected “green” farm cells, you get a chunk of points), and there’s a couple of other ways to grab victory points from selling goods, or collecting special “knowledge” tiles which give you exclusive end-game scoring opportunities.

“Castles” is a simple game, that happens to have an awful lot of fiddly rules… and, in common with a lot of Stefan Feld games, it seems to have an awful lot of really cryptic iconography involved too! However, Olly gave a really good rules explanation, and we all soon got the hang of what we were doing and trying to achieve. I took an early lead, concentrating on filling out my cities and setting up a high-scoring pig farm … but unfortunately I suffered in the end-scoring for failing to pick up many lucrative yellow tiles, and Olly crept past in the final reckoning. Oh well… maybe next time!

I enjoyed this one; it was my favourite of the night, though it did seem a little over-long with 4 players … (the BGG page suggests it works best with 2 or 3, and I can easily imagine that to be true). It is, at heart, a pretty simple game … but it’s got some interesting subtleties to it, and I can imagine it being very re-playable. So, thumbs up from me 🙂

When we finished Castles Of Burgundy, everybody else at the meeting was still pretty much locked into other games, so the four of us (Myself, Olly, Michael and Ana) stayed where we were and the second game of the night was selected:

Hawaii

This is my game… I haven’t owned it for long, and had only played the 2-player version previously (which I enjoyed a lot), so was keen to give it a spin with more people at the table.

Hawaii is a medium-weight (or maybe even heavy-weight-ish) tile collection game. You control a tribal chief which you move around the central board, spending resources and collecting “stuff” for your tribe’s island. You collect various resource-generating buildings, perk-producing idols, and point-generating tiles that you then need to lay out in particularly efficient ways to maximise your end-of-game scoring. It’s got really pretty components, but it’s a bit of an (unforgiving!) brain-burner.

Remember I said that Castles of Burgundy was a simple game with a lot of fiddly rules? Hawaii is probably best described as a complex game with a lot of fiddly rules. There’s a fair bit to take on initially about how each tile works, how it interacts with other tiles, and what your short + long term objectives will be … and I think people were struggling to get into the game initially, though it all seemed to be falling into place by the end. My own first game was kind of like that too; it took me at least half of the game to realise (a) merely making big villages isn’t, necessarily, a good way to actually score points, and (b) the way resources gradually decline in the game is much harsher than you initially expect it to be.

However, at the end of the game Ana came out in front — winning through a combination of fruit collecting, and conscientiously meeting the “most popular chief” award on most rounds, and Olly came second (by a single point!) … adopting a strategy of not picking up many points during the game, but getting lots of cheap tikis/building a really high-scoring village layout and reaping a heap of points in the final reckoning.

I went for a spear-collecting and island-visitng strategy … scoring most of my points mid-game, and comparatively few in the island evaluation, and was only a couple of points behind Olly… which I guess shows that there’s a wide spread of valid strategies that you can use in this one.

I didn’t enjoy this game of Hawaii as much as I did the last time I played it… maybe it was a bit hard-going to teach + play this one with a large proportion of first-time players at the table (especially when it followed another game with lots of fiddly tile-specific rules). There’s a lot to absorb, and — with the benefit of hindsight — I’m a bit relieved that we only had 4 players, rather than 5. However, I’m not put off; I think Hawaii has a lot of potential (and it did make the KSDJ recommended list this year!) … there’s just the difficulty of hauling people over the threshold and getting them through the initial learning curve / tile familiarisation which might stop this one from getting regular outings. That sort of thing can be a big ask for a casual-ish gaming group.

Final game of the night:

Agricola: All Creatures Great and Small

I’ve started packing this one into my gaming bag on a regular basis now. Agricola:ACBAS seats 2 players, has some really satisfying euro-game crunchiness to it, but can be played in less than half an hour. There isn’t usually a great deal of need for a 2-player game at Newcastle Gamers, as there’s normally games starting and finishing all evening, and plenty of potential players floating around… but every now and then things work out in such a way as to make a good 2-player title a very useful thing to have in reserve (especially if it plays relatively quickly)… and in those respects, Agricola:All Creatures Big and Small delivers in spades 🙂

I’ll not post too much about the mechanics of this one, since a few weeks ago — in one of my more experimental moods — I made a video all about it. Fortunately, Olly (my opponent on this occasion) is familiar with the regular version of Agricola, and had a dim recollection of checking out the ACBAS rules in the past, so it was a really fast game to teach — a few minutes explanation of the quirks and differences from the parent game, and we were up and running.

I usually play this game with my wife, and I guess we’ve fallen into the trap of going for pretty standardised openings and tactics. The game I played with Olly turned out to be very different from my usual ACBAS experiences right from the get-go … I was shut out of fence-building opportunities until much later in the game than I usually am, which threw my early strategies a bit.

The final scores were 39 – 46 in Olly’s favour. I think that’s my lowest score ever (damn you, Mr Burnett-Hall!) … my main penalties being due to a lack of cows on my farm, and the fact that I didn’t get a second expansion into play. Very enjoyable game though — it’s nice to have your whole approach to a game turned on its head from time to time 🙂

* * * * * * *

It was about quarter past ten when we finished… and — since my last trip to Newcastle Gamers turned into a bit of a late one — I thought I’d try to score brownie points with Mrs Shep by going home early, and decided to call it a night. (This is, of course, money in the bank for the NEXT Newcastle Gamers sesh, which will be an all-day extravaganza on the 8th September!). With the late start and early finish, I probably played a bit less that I normally like to at these meetings… but, nevertheless, I managed to play 3 recently-released, well-regarded, and eminently playable modern euros in a single evening, which is not to be sniffed at 🙂

(The only thing better than playing 3 recently-released, well-regarded and eminently playable modern euros in a single evening is playing 4 recently-released, well-regarded, and eminently playable modern euros in a single evening. Well, there’s always next time…)

Games that I didn’t play this time: Village — After playing village at 4 meetings on the trot, I decided it was time to give it a break. However, John F and Emily were keen for a game, so I brought my copy in for them to play; you can read about their evening on the Newcastle Gamers Google+ feed. There was also a game of Dominant Species on the go, which is another title that’s riding high on my stuff-I-need-to-play-one-day list, but the potential for a Castles of Burgundy / Hawaii combo just tipped the scale on this occasion.

So many games, so little time!

CREDITS:
The pictures were taken by Olly, and have been gratuitously stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ Group. Newcastle Gamers meets on the second and last Saturday of the month. Usual cost is £3 (or £1 for concessions), but your first visit is free. September the 8th will be an all-day session, with plenty of gamers popping in and out all day; a perfect opportunity to come along and find out what we’re all about!

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Thing of the week: Joust!

This week we went to see the Battle of Bosworth commemorative event, on Bosworth Battlefield in Leicester. This entailed lots of battle re-enactments, falconry demonstrations, a huge medieval market, a beer tent selling the (excellent) wares of the Williams Bros Brewing Co… and more living history demonstrations than you could shake a pointy stick at.

One of the more interesting bits was the Jousting tournament. I’ve seen various things in the past that claimed to be jousting events… but they usually end up being some kind of static-target-hitting contest, or choreographed stunt show with people falling off horses. I think this is the first time that I’ve ever seen jousting done ‘properly’ … i.e. a contest in which the objective is to try to break your lance tip while striking your opponent on various point-scoring parts of the body. Interesting to watch and — I would assume — a very difficult / dangerous thing to do.

The battlefield heritage centre has changed quite a bit since we were last there… the changes triggered in no small part — I guess — by the fact that historians have now decided that everything happened in an entirely different place, and that the actual battlefield is a couple of miles off to the south west. All the big banners (and I assume the connected “what happened here” boards — though we didn’t go and check) are gone… and the old “near this spot died King Richard III” stone has been relocated to the visitor centre courtyard, since nobody really seems to know where it should live now, and the farmer wanted his field back. It’s a bit sad, really.

When the staff attempted to panhandle us for a copy of the (new, improved) battlefield guidebook, I was sorely tempted to point out that the one they sold us a few years ago turned out to be entirely inaccurate / largely made up, and suggest we should be given the v2.0 release for free. Though, of course, I didn’t. Because I’m far too nice 🙂

Good day out though. (Albeit helped by the surfeit of hot weather, “Seven Giraffes” Cask IPA, and ice-cream). I thoroughly enjoyed it!

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Newcastle Gamers – 11th August 2012

Saturday was a special day on the Newcastle Gamers calendar. “Special” because it was the date marked for an ALL DAY gaming session. Well… perhaps — technically — not quite all-day, because it didn’t start until 10am. But it definitely went on after I left (midnight-ish)… and, lets face it, nothing worth doing ever happens before ten in the morning anyway.

Things seemed a bit problematic when I arrived. There was already a dozen or more early-bird gamers in attendance… but we only had TWO tables to play on. Unfortunately the store room which contains the venue’s supply of fold-away tables had been left locked, and nobody present had a key. Things could have turned nasty (I’m not as good at playing board games on the floor as I used to be) but fortunately whoever installed the cupboard doors did about a good a job of making it secure as the person who installed the patio doors at my old student flat… and within a short space of time we were fully furnished for an extravaganza of gaming!

A particularly hard-core contingent of gamers (not me!) promptly settled into a game of Twilight Imperium. Twilight Imperium is a long game. A really long game. A “brisk” game of Twilight Imperium runs for around 5 hours. A “proper” game, with lots of players? … well, it’s the sort of thing that you leave set up on your dining room table for a week, and play in easy-to-swallow instalments. I opted to leave them to it and play something a *touch* more brief.

John F. and Emma had got wind that I was bringing Le Havré to the meeting, and were keen to try it out. As we were setting up, Jonny landed at the table and asked if he could join – perfect. Three Johns and an Em — this ticks all the boxes on my previously-established “remembering the names of everybody you played a game with for blogging purposes” guidelines.

Thus began the first game of the day…

Le Havré

Warning: May contain gratuituous gender stereotypes

I like Le Havré. It is — empirically, at least — my second favourite board game of all time (check my board game geek ratings for the statistical proof). Unfortunately, it takes quite a while to play. I mean, it’s nowhere near as long as Twilight Imperium… but it still occupies the best part 4 hours on most occasions (particularly when played with first-timers), so it doesn’t get an outing nearly as often as it might. It was, therefore, great to get an opportunity to give it an airing — it had been months since my last game.

Imagine, then, my sense of despair when I finally got the game out on a table, sit the bits up, and discovered that three critical components were missing! I searched, and re-searched the box… but there was no sign of the three starting buildings.

But… you know what’s great about having girl gamers in your gaming group? Well — actually — there’s a whole lot of great things about having girl gamers in your gaming group, but one of them is this:

If you have a room full of guys playing a game, and you’re all away from home, and you ask a question like: “Hmmm… I don’t suppose anybody here has a sheet of paper, do they?” … then you’re *probably* going just get a few shrugs, and a shuffling of feet in response. Maybe an offer of a crumpled cigarette box if one of them happens to be a smoker. Or a beer mat if you’re in a pub. But … generally … your chances for a positive outcome are NOT high. We, as a gender, tend not to be prepared for eventualities like that.

Emma, on the other hand, had paper. She also had a choice of *types* of paper. Would I like lined paper, or blank paper? And what type of pen? Awesome.

Witness, then, my desperate attempt to save the day. Entirely improvised starter cards… (alongside the “real” cards, which I fortunately managed to un-lose the next day):

Magnificent, no?

Yeah.. well, it was good enough to get us up and running, and a most excellent game of Le Havré was had by all. It was perhaps a little bit different from a typical game, insofar-as Iron-handling buildings made a comparatively late debut, so there wasn’t much of a grab for iron/steel ships (in fact, I’m not sure any steel was made in the game at all)… We were also playing with the Grand Hammeau special buildings deck, and it threw out some of the most oblique/un-useful cards in the whole set (it would maybe have given a better feel of the game’s potential if something like the fur trade, or cobbler, or hide trader had come out… since in lieu of steel, the game’s supply chain had become quite bovine-focussed).

However, part of the fun of Le Havré is that although the card sequence is pre-stacked to an extent, it’s done in a way that often tilts the game in a slightly unpredictable way. This goes a long way towards preventing the game getting stale after a few plays… and I’m sure everybody got a sense of that, despite the quirks of this particular game.

Food break!

One game down… and it was already nearly 2pm; where was the day going? Why wasn’t I hungry??? A quick dash across the road to grab some food from Sainsburys seemed sensible. (Though I found myself standing, staring at the “£3 meal deal” instructions for an inordinately-long period of time. I was looking at the words… but the instructions just weren’t going in. I blame 3-and-a-half hours of concentration on Le Havré for that. If they had little Klemens Franz illustrations of fish, and “2x” arrows, and sandwiches, I would’ve been much happer).

Lunch in hand, I dashed back to the hall to take my previously-reserved place alongside Steve, John F, Jonny and Jerome on a game of…

The Princes of Machu Picchu

I’ll skip too much detail on this one, because we played it incorrectly. Or rather, we played it incorrectly for about 80% of the game, by which point the damage was done; we’d all been aiming for victory conditions that were largely divorced from the game’s actual victory conditions, and by the time the problem was identified, it was (a) too late to get back on track, and (b) obvious that the scoring system that we _thought_ we were originally using was so off-kilter that the final results would be nonsensical. So … we finished the game, but then scored it the “correct” way.

Oh well. it was a learning experience, and at least gave a flavour of how the game works. ‘Nuff said.

Village

No picture of this one… but I’ve posted Village reports so many times now that you’re probably sick of reading about it. I don’t think there was anything particularly unusual about this session… I played an early-death / travelling the world / merchant tactic. Though — of course — travelling the world and ending the game through early deaths is probably _not_ the most viable combo… oops.

I’ve taken Village to every meeting for a couple of months now… (and taught/played it on every occassion) …it’s a really enjoyable game, but it’s possibly time to rest it for a while and fit something else into my gaming bag. I think I might try pimping Hawaii in its place next time 😉

Power Grid: Quebec

This is my most recent gaming acquisition — a new map for the perennial Newcastle Gamers favourite, Power Grid. I only got it a few days ago, so was keen to give it an inaugural play. John F, Emma, Andrew, Jerome and Steve were happy to oblige … with Emily sitting in on the session to handle the bank and help out first-timer Andrew.

I really enjoyed this map. It has a couple of odd quirks — notably, the layout of the “city centre” clusters of Montréal and Québec … and an odd auction tweak which makes eco energy plants more predominant.

In the opening auction, I managed to grab the 03 power plant and get first choice of building location — so snarfed all 4 spots of Montréal. I was then somewhat surprised to grab a 2-city eco plant in the second auction (I was sure people would try to bid me out of that!), which gave me a very strong start. I floated around the front of the player order for most of the game, but didn’t feel quite as punished by the position as I normally do in a game of power grid… but, sadly, I misjudged the point where the game turns from a marathon into a sprint; I _thought_ I’d have one more turn to execute my master plan and hit 15 or 16 cities in single move… but Jerome and Steve linked out to a game-ending 14 cities faster than I expected, and all I could power was 13. The game ended on a tie-break of 7 electros between the two of them. Nail-biting stuff.

The game seemed an awful lot more balanced than I thought it might be, given the odd layout of the map (we attracted one or two Power-Grid-experienced spectators during the course of the game, who all raised an eyebrow at the somewhat-unconventional layout). Of course, I might have a somewhat biased viewpoint, since I got a good starting position … but I liked this one a lot. And I guess the fact that Québec was originally published as the flip-side map in the French-language edition of Powergrid — “Megawatts” — suggests that it’s been pretty well play-tested / had any wrinkles ironed out of it.

By the time we wrapped up powergrid, it was creeping towards 10pm… and — having clocked up 12 hours of board game plying — I was starting to wonder if it was maybe time to head off home…

Wondering — that is — until John F. pulled something new and tempting out of his bag… 🙂

Principato

I’ve never heard of Principato before — a fact which I found to be a little bit odd. I mean… I don’t claim to be a walking encyclopedia of board games or anything like that, but I’ve usually at least vaguely heard of the stuff that gets played at Newcastle Gamers… and particularly the kind of stuff that looks like the sort of stuff I like playing. Principato _definitely_ looked like the sort of stuff I like playing.

It’s a pretty straightforward euro; collect wooden cube resources (food / money / favour from the church), use them to build up your principality, and score victory points. Nothing exceptional so far. However, Principato has quite a neat/unusual mechanism at its core…

Each player is dealt a pair of cards, depicting two possible actions. These include options like adding a food-generator (farm) to your board, build money-storage buildings (banks), add to your city wall fortifications (catapults!)… etc. There’s also a pool of 7 cards in a central area. The card pool works a bit like a conveyor belt; each turn a card disappears from the left-most end of the pool to a discard pile (never to be seen again), everything shuffles down one space, and a new card is added to the right-most end of the pool. A player’s turn comprises various combinations of either taking an action on one of the cards that you’re currently holding, and/or swapping one of your cards for something on the “conveyor belt”.

The game proceeds in 3 phases, with a specific stack of cards feeding into the pool for each phase … you play through the initial stack of cards (which tends to contain actions for developing your basic resource-production facilities), and at the end of that stack, there’s a “battle phase”, in which whatever players have built up the best fortifications get victory points. Then you work through another stack which has stuff from the first “era”, plus additional cultural artifacts — at the end of the second age there’s another battle for victory points… and then a third stack of cards and…

…you know what? This game seems a lot like somebody took the rules for 7 wonders, put them through google’s English-to-Japanese translation service, translated them back to English again, and then made a new game out of the results. Seriously. But it’s actually a much, much better game than 7 wonders, IMHO.

There are some interesting subtleties… if you don’t want to use a card right now, but want to keep it in the pool to pick up again later, you can drop it at the right hand end of the “conveyor” and hope it’ll still be working its way down the line when you get your next turn. Conversely, if you want to deny a particular action to your opponents, you can pick it up and dump it at the left hand end (where it’ll get junked after your turn). Clever!

It’s a difficult game to play on your first attempt… firstly, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that winning the battle phase is more important than it actually is (which isn’t necessarily true … just like 7 wonders, you can forsake the battles and work towards a cultural victory instead) — and not knowing how the balance of cards changes between eras can make long term planning for your (secret mission) objectives tricky. For example, I had an objective card that would give me points for lots of farms, but I didn’t realise how the availability of farms would change as the game progressed. However, that’s the kind of thing that you can only really learn from playing the game, and experiencing its pacing first-hand.

I enjoyed this one… it was my second favourite of the day, after Le Havré. It’s maybe not something I’d rush out and buy my own copy of, but it was certainly a neat little euro that I’d happily play again.

However, I was still a bit mystified by how this game managed to fly under my radar for so long, and the designer’s name wasn’t ringing any bells… so I checked out it’s details on Board Game Geek the next day.

It would appear that designer Touko Tahkokallio might have released another, ever-so-slightly more prominent game in the same year. The success of which might have eclipsed Principato just a tiny, tiny bit.

Hmmm. “eclipsed”. Do you see what I did there? 😉

And so to bed…

Principato ran on slightly longer than anticipated — I think it was about 11:45pm when we finished — and so, after almost 14 hours of gaming, I said my goodbyes and left for home. At the start of the day, I had wondered if the meeting would turn into a bit of a marathon / mental endurance test, and start to drag … but the whole day flew past. Great games, great people (39 this time; a club record!) — I can’t think of a better way to spend a lazy Saturday!

The trip home was a nightmare (the road I usually take was closed for overnight roadworks – ugh!), and the muscular after-effects of sitting on non-ergonomic chairs for far-too-long-at-a-time hit me at about 3 in the morning (double ugh!) … but otherwise, the day was excellent in all respects.

I’m slightly surprised that I only managed to fit in 5 games, since I had very little down-time between them. Le Havre is, of course, a somewhat longer one … but I guess the others were averaging 2 hours each, and when you factor in some overheads for explaining rules, grabbing food etc it all fits. I’m slightly disappointed that I didn’t get to play Hawaii this session (it’s reputation has preceded it… or, rather, the reputation of Tom Vassel’s controversial video review has preceded it — he’s got a lot to answer for on this one!!!) …

However, there’s always next time… 🙂

Oh… and that game of Twilight Imperium that I mentioned? It ran for 11 hours in the end … check out Olly’s game report on the G+ group for all the gory details.

CREDITS:
The pictures were taken by Olly, and have been gratuitously stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ Group. Newcastle Gamers meets on the second and last Saturday of the month… usual cost is £3 (or £1 for concessions), but your first visit is free. Check the G+ group for more info.

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Thing of the week: “A Very British Games”

(or: how I made a TV documentary without really knowing).

A couple of months ago, an interesting email arrived in my inbox. A TV producer had spotted the string of clips about unusual British customs & traditions that I’ve been posting to YouTube for the last couple of years, and was interested in “acquiring some footage” for a forthcoming show about “quirky and eccentric sports” — something that they intended to air during the summer, when Olympic-fever was at its peak.

It seemed like an interesting proposal… but… I’ve had a few enquiries from TV companies about my footage in the past, and they’ve never come to anything. Most of my videos were shot with the web in mind as a delivery platform. They were made to visually complement the (written) articles on my wife’s web site – calendarcustoms.com – and although I *now* shoot most of my stuff in TV-friendly 1080p, for various technical reasons my earlier material isn’t really suitable for TV broadcast.

Anyway, on this particular occasion, this problem didn’t phase my contact… he said they had a “home video/clips” format in mind — something that would be (visually, at least) in the style of “You’ve Been Framed” — so the quality wouldn’t really matter.

And things progressed…

So, fast forwarding a bit: I spent about a week dredging my not-very-well-organised archives, digging out the footage for the various events he was interested in (obviously I shoot a lot more footage than I included in the edited-down YouTube clips)… and even botching together a playback rig for a clip he was particularly interested in which only exists on mini-DV tape. It was quite a long, tedious job … the video data amounted to about 50-60GB of footage, spread over a stack of DVDs. (And my DVD writer isn’t very fast!). I signed a release for the various bits and pieces … (actually, my printer died half-way through printing it out, so half the text was missing and I’m surprised they didn’t ask for another one!), took everything to the post office, and sent it away…

And then kind of forgot all about it. (Too many projects, too little time!)

…Until a couple of days ago. I was happily typing away at my computer when an IM from my mum popped up on my screen. She’d been reading the TV guide that came with her paper, and wondered if *this* was the thing I’d been talking about helping with…

…well, that certainly *looked* like the kind of material that I’d sent off, it was the right channel, and it’s around about the time of year that they said they intended to air the show. BUT… it seemed a little bit odd that nobody had told me that the programme had actually been completed… or, for that matter, was going to be broadcast on that very weekend!

I guess this set off some nagging doubts (I’m pretty good at nagging doubts!). Maybe they hadn’t used my footage after all, and had sourced the material somewhere else… Maybe they’d decided not to credit me and calendarcustoms.com for some reason… Or maybe something else had gone horribly wrong with the process. It was the weekend – I wouldn’t get a reply from the production office. I checked all my spam folders to make sure I hadn’t missed an email in the last few weeks. Nothing.

And — somewhat embarrassingly — we don’t actually receive the channel that the show was going to be broadcast on! (“The Community Channel” is available 24/7 on just about every digital TV platform in the UK *except* terrestrial freeview, which only gets it a few hours a day… with none of those precious few hours happening to cover the period of 8-9pm on a Sunday night – gah!). Fortunately, my dad said he’d be able to PVR a copy and drop-box an mp4 to me (Hooray for teched-up parents!).

So I ate dinner that night… mostly thinking: “wow… maybe some of my videos are being shown on TV now. Or maybe they’re not. That’s weird”… though it wasn’t long before my phone lit up with a message from mum: “It’s all your stuff!”.

And indeed, watching the video that my dad forwarded the next morning, I discovered that it certainly WAS all my stuff. With the exception of a couple of minutes stock footage of the Olympic park being built, the entire programme was made from my YouTube clips.

That was way beyond what I was expecting.

What’s more, they’d pretty much kept the clips exactly as I’d posted them on YouTube… instead of using the (hours?) of footage I’d enclosed, they pretty much went with my original edits… there’s just a couple of segments where they diverged from my cuts — The Kiplingcotes Derby segment (my version features a long clip of Nicky Chapman explaining the race — she happened to be there filming for A Day in The Country, so I sort of “borrowed” her sequence for my video. I didn’t think it was prudent to send that to The Community Channel), and various bits from The Egremont Crab Fair… which I’ve never got around to editing myself, but seemed to be relevant to the programme, so I just sent the raw footage. (Annoyingly, it stayed raw when they used it – lots of wobble, rubbish pacing, and all the camera position changes left in… gah!).

And… I got a big credit at the end (both for myself, and the web site), exactly as promised… so no complaints there 🙂

I find it strange to watch. Really strange. The best way I could describe the experience was that it’s kind of like seeing your own holiday movies, but with a complete stranger commentating over them. I have to admit, I agree with the newspaper review — the commentary is a bit flat (sorry Patrick!). The pacing is a bit strange, and it seems like an odd decision to use all the lower-quality, compressed youtube clips (which I’d mostly just put on to help index the high-quality footage!), rather than the high quality shots … but I guess it was nice and quick for the producer to put together that way, and they were probably after something fairly quick and easy. I’m not kidding myself; it’s a rather obscure channel, on the same night as the main Olympic athletics events were kicking off… it probably didn’t have an awful lot of people watching. But my mum did. And that was nice 🙂

But, yeah, I basically made a TV programme (or a fundamental chunk of it), which got beamed out to the whole UK. It was even listed as a “Critics Choice” in the Telegraph. Cool or what? 🙂

Here’s the intro sequence. The Community Channel might have plans to put the whole thing online at some point, so it’s probably not prudent of me to post any more than this for now (though you can see all the original sequences on the Calendar Customs YouTube channel anyway!)

I’m a bit inspired now. I mean, I sort of made a whole “documentary” by accident; the component parts were never supposed to join up, or tell a story… they were just moving pictures and little slices of atmosphere to back up text articles on a web site.

What if I actually set out with the intention to make something bigger and more cohesive?

*sound of cogs whirring*

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Thing of the week: Television

Did I mention that I’d made a TV show? 🙂

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by The Community Channel, a UK freeview/satellite TV broadcaster. They’d seen the footage I’d filmed and edited for the Calendar Customs YouTube channel, and were interested in acquiring the rights to use some of my material in an “olympic alternative” documentary that they’d be showing throughout August.

One thing led to another, and a 40-minute documentary — “A Very British Games” — was the result. With the exception of a 1-minute flyover of the Olympic Park near the start, the entire show was filmed (and the vast majority edited) by yours truly. The Community Channel added their own titles and commentary, decided which items to include, and topped-and-tailed the segments to fit… but otherwise it’s all my work!

Here’s the intro sequence. The Community Channel might have reserved the right to put the whole thing online at some point, so it’s probably not prudent of me to post any more than this for now:

Considering the fact that I’ve never had any formal (or informal!) training in filming or editing things, I’m chuffed to bits that somebody (a) wanted to use my stuff on television, and (b) thought my original editing was broadcast-worthy and didn’t need any changes (I sent all my source footage, just in case they wanted to do a “better” job on it, but they stuck with my ‘original’ edits throughout). Just goes to show what you can achieve with a cheap camcorder and a copy of iMovie! 🙂

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