Being your own boss/working at home has a vast amount of perks associated with it… but it also has its downsides. Especially when the particular home that you work from is touch on the remote side. As I creep towards the 3rd anniversary of becoming a self-employed internet-technopreneur geek-of-all-trades, I’ve started to face the fact that I’m maybe – just maybe – starting to feel a tiny bit isolated. Now, don’t get me wrong… daily commutes to a soul-crushing 9-to-5 office job certainly aren’t something I miss… but at least they got me out of the house and into a bit of human contact on a regular basis. I mean, I’m not about to rush out and get a more conventional job again or anything rash like that… but it would be nice to get regular time out of the asylum now and again. So I’ve been keeping my eyes open for opportunities…
Anybody who has been following my posts for a while will know that I have a bit of an interest in board games. By “board games” I don’t mean Monopoly and awful, tedious things like that… or the Dungeons and Dragons / Games Workshop stuff that ate up my teenage years … but rather the new breed of ‘cult’ eurogames that have been emerging over the last decade or so. Titles like Agricola, Le Havre, Caylus, Puerto Rico and Troyes. (If these names mean nothing to you, and you have any kind of serious interest in gaming… wow!… get googling; you have some serious treats in store! …but, I digress…)
Newcastle Gamers is a board gaming club that has been on my radar for a while. They meet twice a month and (surprise!) spend an evening playing modern board games. I’ve contemplated checking it out once or twice in the past, but for one reason or another (family visits / illnesses / stars not being in the correct alignment etc etc), never quite got around to paying them a visit. However, a couple of things occurred recently that give me a tiny bit of extra nudging in the right direction… Firstly, Mrs Shep’s best friend came to visit for a weekend. Her husband is a bit of a boardgame nut too, and we’ve started the ritual of cracking open a couple of beers and playing games to pass the time while the womenfolk go off and chat about girly things in the other room. He’s a regular visitor to a BG club in his neck of the woods, which he really enjoys going to… so he spent a big chunk of the evening urging me to go and check out my “local” thinking that I’d enjoy it too… and yeah, well, he’s probably got a good point there. On top of that – and by timely co-incidence – the founding member of Newcastle Gamers spotted me posting some board-game related geekery on a forum, and dropped me a direct message asking if I’d like to come and check out one of their club nights. I guess the portents were all indicating the time was right…
The next meeting was about a week away, so I figured that THIS time I’d make a concentrated effort to head over and check it out. I didn’t really know how bad the Newcastle traffic would be on a Saturday evening (Joseph Cowen House – the current site of the meet – is kind of on the periphery of the busy bit of Newcastle) or how easy it would be to park near the venue… so I planned to arrive round about 6pm, as traffic should be easier, carparks should be cheaper, and the club should have got going properly by then.
I can’t remember the last time I turned up as the “new guy” at a club where I didn’t already have friends or some kind of pre-existing social connection… and I’ll be honest… it all felt a bit of a weird thing to do, and I was more than a little nervous. Fortunately, the experience didn’t turn out to be too intimidating. The front door of the building was wide open, and it was very obvious where the gaming was going on (the building is in a typical Tyneside terrace, and the club is in the ground floor rooms… you can’t miss it!). I needn’t have worried; everybody was very welcoming.
When I arrived, there was something in the region of 12-15 people already present, playing or spectating various games… (Alien Frontiers, Ticket to Ride Europe, and something odd that I didn’t recognise in the back room). The game of Alien Frontiers was getting close to completion, so I was assured that if I lurked for a bit, there should be some new games starting soon. I took the opportunity to investigate the all-important support resources at the venue (by which I mean: to find the toilet, and have a quick nose in the kitchen…)
Sure enough, the game of Alien Frontiers soon came to an end, leaving enough free bodies around to start a couple of new games. I joined a table that was about to start a 4-player game of Ninjato.
Ninjato is a relatively new release that I’ve seen name-checked on BoardGameGeek a few times recently… so this seemed like a prime opportunity to make the most of the visit and play something that’s attracting a lot of shiny-new-game hype. The game is so new that nobody at the table – including the game’s owner – had actually played it before … but we managed to muddle through the session without any colossally-game-breaking rule blunders. The advised play time is one hour; I think it was closer to 2 hours by the time we’d finished, but I’m sure it would be much faster once you were up to speed on the rules.
Although Ninjato has pretensions towards being a worker placement game (my favourite genre!), it’s only one at a very superficial level … there’s only really one spot on the board where counter placement has any kind of effect on gameplay – and that’s only in determining player order in the next round. The meat of the game is actually a card management / push your luck system, where you try to collect a hand of cards that will enable you defeat a sequence of (randomly drawn) NPC opponents, by matching higher or lower on various stats. Successful encounters grant you “treasure” resources to invest a secondary (and more strategic) territory control / set collection part of the game (which is what brings in the actual victory points). It’s very much a mish-mash of ameritrash and euro-gamer tropes… which makes it a bit of a strange beast. I enjoyed the game that we played, but I don’t think it’s a title I’d want to return to frequently.
After we finished Ninjato there was a bit of a break … and an opportunity to glance through the bags of games that people had brought with them. The club has a small game library of its own… but apparently people mostly play the stuff that members bring in with them on the day. There seemed to be a really good mix of game types + styles on offer – I think most gamers would find something that appealed.
By this point, everybody else at the club seemed to be locked into lengthy games-in-progress … a Puerto Rico game had just started, there was a humongous Battlestar Galactica session on the go (with – seemingly – all the trimmings) … and a Cosmic Encounter game which “might finish any moment now… or might go on for another hour” …so the Ninjato veterans and I opted for a round of 4-player Seven Wonders to bridge the gap…
I’m ashamed to say (at risk of ruining my boardgamegeek cred) that I’d never actually played 7 Wonders prior to this night. Despite all the accolades / awards / acclaim that the game has been getting over the course of the last year, the fact that it (allegedly) doesn’t play particularly well with only 2 players has pretty much kept it off my “must buy” list – so it was great to finally get the opportunity to give it a spin. Fortunately, there was another 7W newbie at the table… so I didn’t feel like too much of a nuisance asking for clarification on various bits and bats as the game went along. Naturaly, I did appallingly badly in the first game (hey, I was still learning!) – and didn’t really have much idea what I was aiming for, or how the cards interacted… but everybody enjoyed the game so much that we went straight into a second one… at which point *something* clicked, and I managed to narrowly win my first (and only!) victory of the night.
I was very impressed by 7 Wonders – it’s easy to see why it’s won so many awards.
So… three games played, and the clock was already creeping towards 10:30pm… I figured it was time to make my excuses and leave (I faced a half hour drive back into the depths of Northumberland, and had promised Mrs Shep I wouldn’t be too late home…). A few other people were calling it a night at around the same point (the Battlestar megagame had just wrapped too), but apparently the evening goes on until around midnight if people are interested. I think next time I’ll maybe try turning up a bit earlier, to squeeze some extra hours of play at the front end of the meeting…
Hmm… did I say “Next time”? … Yes, I guess that means I enjoyed the experience enough enough to go back for another session… 😉
In summary… it was a good night! I got to try out a shiny new game-of-the-moment that I would otherwise probably never have got around to playing … and I also (finally!) got to find out what all that fuss around 7 Wonders is about. Oh… and did I mention that the club membership card gives you 10% off game purchases at Travelling Man? Well… I did now.
I’ll be back.
(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.)