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Newcastle Gamers – 14th January 2011

First meeting of the year, and the first in the club’s brand new venue – Christchurch, Shieldfield… just over the road from the Northumbria University design school (or, as most people know it: “That funny-looking building where the Warners cinema used to be”).

I arrived a bit late (got a couple of miles from home, realised I’d forgot my sandwiches, and pulled a U-Turn on the A69… oops!), but was surprised to see the place was already very full, with lots of faces I didn’t recognise.

First game of the evening: Dungeon Run.

I’m not usually a huge fan of dice-based dungeon-crawlers… but, most of the people at the club were already tied up in fairly long games, this one *seemed* like it would be a pretty light way to fill up an hour, and Michael (the game’s owner) hadn’t had chance to play it before and was keen to break it in… so…. why not? 🙂

Well, to be honest… it was a bit of a struggle. Nobody at the table had played the game before, the rule book isn’t particularly speed-reader-friendly, and we were pretty much winging it for the first half of the game. Since playing the game I’ve read the rulebook online, as a few things about the the game seemed a bit “off”, and I was curious to see if we were doing things right… but, surprisingly — by the end of the game — we weren’t too far off the mark with anything. We messed up with some of the subtleties of laying the tiles (so the photo above shows a slightly-invalid dungeon layout) and small things like that, but we got the important bits right… I just think the game has a bit of an odd feel to it even when played the right way.

I’ve since read the Shut up and Sit Down review of the game, and I think they’ve pretty much nailed it; while some aspects of the game are really neat, you get this nagging sense that other elements just haven’t been thought through properly at all.

If you like your games to be thematic… well, this one oozes theme. I controlled some kind of chaos-warped acolyte, who helped defeat the big evil dragon via my dark-magic powers of control over highly-infectious malignant tumours (ugh!)… only to be crushed (and killed!) by a wobbly portcullis while making my escape. Oops.

But… behind the story… it’s all just blind luck and dice throws; typical ameritrash dungeon crawl fayre… which I can take — in moderation — but this one just seemed to drag on for at least an hour longer than it should have. So, not a big hit for me (though I’m sure I would’ve been raving about it in my Talisman-loving, Warhammer-playing teenage years!)

Next up: Red November

Red November is a co-operative game, set on a disaster-prone Nuclear Submarine crewed by grog-swilling…. Gnomes?

Gnomes?!! Why Gnomes? … I have no idea. Maybe they just had a bunch of Gnome figures lying around at the game factory, and desperately needed to use them up on something.

Anyway… basically, you’re all crew members on this (Gnomic!) submarine… fires break out, compartments flood, nuclear missiles go haywire, important life-support thingies break down… and you’ve got to run around with fire extinguishers, booze, reactor instruction manuals and stuff like that to fix things. If you manage to stay alive for 60 (game) minutes, rescuers arrive and you win.

We came frustratingly close to success, but were defeated by a flip of a card in the closing minutes of the game, which caused the reactor temperature to go critical, and everybody to suffer some kind of terrible heat-related death.

The ending seemed a bit anti-climatic and random – the game doesn’t have any of the tension that Pandemic/Forbidden Island has, where you have a vague idea of how the top of the deck is stacked, and which cards are about to hit… It was more a case of: flip the card — “oh bugger, +2 heat!” — and game over.

So… Red November isn’t something I’d necessarily rush back to play again, but it was fun for what it was, and made a nice little filler.

Finally: Ingenious

By this point in proceedings, I was looking for something a bit more thinky and competitive. Olly pulled out a copy of Ingenious – another game that I’d never played before. While I tend to shy away from dry-looking abstracts (and Ingenious looks about as hard-core dry-looking abstract as you can get), Reiner Knizia’s games are usually worth a punt … and Olly seems to have pretty good taste in games, so I figured it was worth a shot.

Verdict: Really nice game! Basically, you take turns slotting tiles into a hex grid. Each tile contains two symbols, and – after placing your tile – you count the number of identical symbols radiating out from it in straight lines, and your score is based on that. It’s a simple – but neat – concept, and the game runs for a very acceptable 40 minutes or so. I would definitely play this one again. (Actually, while writing this, I’ve just remembered that there’s an iOS version… so I guess that’s the rest of my morning wasted…)

* * * * * * *

We finished Ingenious just after 10pm … which was probably a bit too late to start a different game and get home at a reasonable hour, so I decided to call it a night. The evening had flown past… (and I felt a bit sad that it was over already!) …I’m really enjoying these Newcastle Gamer nights. Now, if only I could find a club a bit closer to home for the alternate weeks…

Other thoughts on the night’s gaming:

  1. The new venue seems good… (if a little cold!), and the car parking is far, far easier than the last place. = WIN!
  2. I need to make a new years resolution about not getting into games where nobody has read the rules 😉
  3. I was hoping to get a 4-player Ora & Labora session going… but the amount of table space we had (the game EATS table space) and number of available bodies (it’s not nice to turn away a 5th player when there’s no other games kicking off) made it impractical. Maybe next time…

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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Haxey Hood

My first vid of the new year, showing the 700-year old tradition of “Haxey Hood”…

Quite pleased with this one; I’ve always found these mass football games to be a bit difficult to film, since you usually can’t really see very much of anything at ground level. However, my new monopod doubles up very nicely as an overhead camera boom, and the camera’s motion-sensitive optics seem to do an excellent job of cancelling out any wobble from abusing it this way… Hence, lots of high level shots when the main action kicks off from 2:55 🙂

Had to render the final movie twice, after I noticed I’d titled it “2011” instead of “2012”… oops! I still can’t quite get over just how futuristic the number “2012” looks. We’re definitely living in the future now.

The event was surprisingly well attended, as these things go… especially considering it was on a work/school day. There was a pro film crew present, seemingly recording something british-customs related presented by the Unthanks… we managed to lurk conspicuously in the background during an interview or two 😉

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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 boardgamegeek.com, 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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Xmas Travels

For some inexplicable reason, instead of spending Boxing day morning happily sleeping off the gastric over-indulgences of the day (and night) before, I found myself 130 miles from home, filming obscure yuletide customs in the suburbs of Sheffield. Sword dancing and local folk carols – which we expected to see – and then THIS… which we didn’t.

“The Derby Tup” is a (short) mumming play set to a traditional folk song of the same name. To be honest, it doesn’t have much of a plot… but the play dates back to the late 1800s, and was apparently performed by local children near Christmas (seems like a lot more fun than going door to door Carol singing!). Nowadays, it’s not a particularly common thing to see (most mummers perform the familiar St George material), so I’m really glad we chanced upon it — I love seeing mad things like this perpetuated 🙂

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Newcastle Gamers, 26th November

This week, I have been mostly playing…

7 Wonders – only my third ever game, and this time with a full complement of 7 players. Frankly, I played *way* better on my previous games. (I think my mistake was actually reading the rule book somewhere between my previous game and this one!). Not sure I liked it as much with so many players; way too much to keep your eye on.

Alien Frontiers – First time I’ve played, but I really enjoyed this one. Basically, you’re competing to build the most colony domes on an alien planet. It’s a worker placement game (well.. a “spaceship placement” game, since your workers are actually supposed to be space craft), but – just like Troyes – each of your workers is a dice, and the precise actions you’re allowed to take with a given worker is dependent on what number is showing that round. So, when it’s your turn, you roll a hand full of dice (/ships), dock your ships at various orbital stations to collect resources, build more spaceships (more dice to throw next turn), build colony domes, launch domes onto the planet, collect alien artifacts (rule tweak cards), gain perks for having majority control of various parts of the planet, and stuff like that. Basically, it’s a nice, complex, worker-placement game with lots of choices to make every turn, and a strategy-rich area-control thing going on at the same time. Good combo.

If I had to pick a fault with Alien Frontiers… it would be that there’s a lot of downtime in the later parts of the game. With 4 players, the end-game pace was pretty slow – and I don’t *think* the people I was playing with are particularly analysis-paralysis prone; there’s just so many options available each turn that everything tends to slow down pretty badly when you have a bunch of ships in your fleet.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this game a lot – and somehow managed to get all of my colonies onto the planet first and claim a victory. w00t!

Forbidden Island – Ran through a quick 2-player game while we waited for other players to be free for something meatier. I’ve never played before, but it’s essentially a trimmed-down, family-friendly version of Matt Leacock’s other co-operative game, “Pandemic“. Pandemic is a game I’ve played a lot of (actually, according to board game geek, it’s _my_ most played game – and while my BGG stats aren’t entirely accurate, I’ve certainly played an awful lot of it). Forbidden Island wasn’t a bad way to kill 20 minutes, but the game isn’t a patch on Pandemic. Pandemic is better. Get Pandemic.

Galaxy Trucker – an unusual (and somewhat unique) game of two halves: First you have to build a spaceship. Each player simultaneously grabs component tiles from a central pool (against a time limit) and tries to add them – carcassonne-style – to their existing craft. Each component grants your ship particular powers – lasers for shooting stuff… engines to make you go faster… shields protect you from bad things… etc etc.

When the construction time is up, the second part of the game takes place. This involves flying your ship from one side of the galaxy to the other, picking up cargo, and avoiding asteroids, space pirates etc. All the bad decisions you made during the first part of the game come back to bite you here. Forgot to install sheilds?… oops. Didn’t provide batteries to power that laser cannon?… oops. Attached the entire left-hand wing with a single flimsy connector that’ll be knocked out by the first stray laser bolt?… oops.

Galaxy trucker is a lot of fun — it’s really amusing to watch your opponents’ (and your own) spacecraft gradually disintegrate as the mission takes place… to the extent that you don’t really care who scores the points at the end – merely limping over the finishing line and surviving gives you a sense of achievement …yet the game still has the trappings of a decent, middleweight euro-game. Very little of what happens is 100% random (you can check many the hazards you’re going to face in the second part of the game during the spaceship building phase), and there’s a huge amount of skill involved in piecing together a robust spacecraft in the time allowed.

Yes, there’s a bit of dice throwing involved when it comes to which part of your ship takes damage… but dice are always thrown in pairs, with the peak of the probability bell-curve co-inciding nicely with the chunky middle parts of your ship, so you can mitigate accordingly during ship construction. Plus… never knowing *exactly* which part of your ship is about to fall off adds to the fun factor, so I can live with a little bit of dice-based randomness in this instance.

I’m impressed with this one. Think I’ll be adding it to my (ever-expanding) wish list.

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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