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King of frontier

King of Frontier (and expansion)

King of Frontier (and expansion)

The King of Frontier arrived in the post this morning. I’ve been keen to acquire a copy of this ever since Tony Boydell started making frequent references to it in his BGG blog, but — despite scouring amazon.jp + other Japanese stores for a copy that they were willing to ship internationally — my efforts were fruitless. Fruitless, that is, until copies showed up out of the blue on the Board Game Geek store last week πŸ™‚

IMG_4656

It’s a *really* nice filler-length game, for 1 to 4 people… and could perhaps be best described as Carcassonne-style kingdom building mashed up with the “leader decides” expand/produce/consume mechanism from Puerto Rico, with some cute/distinctive stick-man graphic design in the mix. It feels like a “proper” euro, yet plays really briskly; I can imagine the 2-player game taking about 15 minutes with a bit more practice. (We’ve already played three times this afternoon … it’s proven to be quite a hit with Mrs S).

Translations courtesy of BGG user "sparkplug" (thanks!)

Translations courtesy of BGG user “sparkplug” (thanks!)

There’s a tiny bit of language dependancy on the handful of Agricola:ACBAS-style “special building” tiles that you use to spice up each game, but not enough to be a chore, and there’s a useful set of downloadable translation cards on BGG which make this aspect play smoothly for ignorant gaijin πŸ˜‰

All in all, I’m really impressed. If you didn’t have to pay such a premium to import it, I’d be recommending it unreservedly; it’s a smashing game in a little box. As it stands, expect me to be twisting people’s arms to play this at Newcastle Gamers in the non-too-distant.

The King of Frontier @ Board Game Geek

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Newcastle Gamers – 22nd August

Saturday saw an all-day convening of Newcastle Gamers. We usually have a couple of these all-day sessions each summer (mostly because the Circus School goes on holiday and there are no weekend classes using the hall), but this was the first one that I’ve managed to attend this year. All-day sessions are usually a good excuse to bring out the games that take a little bit longer than average to play, and for this particular meeting I’d arranged to bring along my uber-pimped-out copy of Antiquity, to play with Olly, Camo & Michael.

Due to a last-minute crisis concerning some mislaid (/ tidied-up) car keys, I arrived 10 minutes after doors had opened … and Olly, Camo & Michael had already cracked open a copy of Kigi to play while waiting for me to arrive.

Kigi - Photo Credit @ollybh

Kigi – Photo Credit @ollybh

I missed the rules explanation, but it didn’t take much effort to pick up the basics: it’s a pretty-looking tile-laying (or, more-accurately: card-laying) game, where you add branches to a tree in an effort to create a contiguous row of flowers and/or insects with each card you place. Gameplay is almost entirely tactical — and there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of substance to it truth be told — but it does look nice πŸ˜‰

Next up was the day’s big game… Antiquity. Just setting up (which involved at least 3 changes of table before we found an arrangement which would fit) and explaining the rules (Camo and Michael hadn’t played before) took until lunch time. Antiquity is THAT epic!

Antiquity

Antiquity

With all the preliminaries out of the way, and a brief trip to lay in supplies courtesy of Sainsbury’s next door, gaming finally commenced…

The last time I played Antiquity, I won the game with a San Christofori victory (collect 3 of each food & luxury commodity). This time, I was determined to explore a different aspect of the game, so went for San Nicolo instead (win by building 20 houses in your cities).

Everything went swimmingly at first; I got San Nicolo’s Cathedral up and running nice and early (which accelerates your house-building rate), and a Faculty of Philosophy (which lets you ignore pesky late-game building rules about needing different types of luxury items amongst your building materials), and spent a few rounds successfully churning out new houses … but then … something went a little bit wrong. I hadn’t really been keeping an eye on my food production, and territory expansion; famine hit me hard (not helped in the least by Michaels aggressive exploration of new and interesting foodstuffs driving up the world’s appetite for food!), and then the lack of anywhere to dump the pollution generated by my civilisation triggered a tidal wave of graves into my newly-built second city. From that point onwards, all I could do from round-to-round was wrestle with my wildly-out-of-control machine in a desperate attempt to stay in the game… and by the time I’d started to get some semblance of control again, it was far too late… Olly was creeping up with an imminent win for San Christofori.

This, therefore, was the final state of the game world, in all it’s filthy, polluted, high-resolution glory… (clockwise from bottom left: Me, Olly, Michael, Camo).

Antiquity - end game

Antiquity – end game

Once Antiquity was cleared away, everybody fancied something a bit lighter as a bit of a breather — and a 5th player (Owain) had joined our group, so we played a hand of Coloretto. I definitely felt a bit rusty playing this … and a subsequent check of my BGG stats reveals it’s (amazingly!) 18 months since I last played. Hmmm. That’ll be why then.

Then: Last Will. I bought the “Getting Sacked” expansion for this some time ago, but it’s been sitting on a shelf gathering dust while other — more exciting — acquisitions got played. Recent interest at Newcastle Gamers for an earlier VladimΓ­r SuchΓ½ title – 20th Century – had piqued my interest in finally getting the expansion played, so I’ve had it in my bag for the last couple of trips… just in case πŸ˜‰

Last Will - Photo Credit @ollybh

Last Will – Photo Credit @ollybh

I enjoyed this… it was probably my favourite game of the day. I’m not so sure that the modular actions board from the expansion is a particularly compelling addition (it doesn’t really improve the game nor make it any worse as far as I’m concerned), but the new cards and the getting-sacked-from-your-job mechanism make this feel like a much more “finished” game, IMHO. A good expansion!

Final scoring was very close… Camo beat me into second place by a single point, and Owain was only a few points behind me.

The rest of the evening was spent playing lighter fair. Ticket to Ride – Legendary Asia, Scream Machine, No Thanks and 6 Nimmt!. TTR Legendary Asia was new to me, though it’s a fairly straightforward variant — there’s just a slightly odd twist where you end up trashing an extra carriage marker on certain routes in exchange for 2 points a time. At first, I just interpreted this as a way to accelerate the game for strategic purposes — but it’s actually a pretty good way to ramp up your score. A subtlety which I missed out on. Entirely.

TTR: Legendary Asia

TTR: Legendary Asia – Photo Credit @ollybh

The other new-to-me game was a set-collecting card game, called Scream Machine. Thematically, this should’ve been right up my street (I *love* theme parks / roller-coasters / roller-coaster-tycoon-type games), but — even as a filler-type card game — it left me a bit cold. There was a lot about the game that just felt mechanically loose, and I came away with an overwhelming impression that your chances of winning are a direct product of how the cards are randomly drawn in the one specific round where you’re playing in last (and therefore most influential) position. Now, I _do_ try not to write off a game purely on the strength of my first encounter, and an online scan of the rule book this morning suggests we weren’t playing it entirely correctly … but it’s not a game that I’ll be rushing back to.

Scream Machine

Scream Machine – Photo Credit @ollybh

So… yeah… it was a bit of a so-so end to the day, with the evening dominated by fluff + fillers. Fluff + fillers certainly have their place, but I think I would’ve sooner preferred squeezing in one more triple-A euro title.

Nevertheless, it’s always a pleasure to get out for a full day of gaming and catch up with the regulars at Newcastle Gamers. It was also good to finally put a face to / have a chat with Madison Hanks … a user of Board Game Geek who has been causing a bit of a stir with his proposals to set up a new board gaming cafe in central Newcastle. His plans seem pretty good to me; it’ll be interesting to see how they pan out! πŸ™‚

Newcastle Gamers (usually!) meets on the second and last Saturday of the month. Usual cost is Β£2 (or Β£1 for concessions), but your first visit is free. Check out http:///newcastlegamers.net/ for more info.

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“Previously on John’s bit of the web….”

So, last season’s cliffhanger left me wondering what, exactly, I should do to get my MAME cabinet back into prime working condition? I’d swapped out enough of the hardware to make an O/S re-install mandatory… and that left me with a difficult decision: Should I make the leap to linux? Or should I try to salvage my old, faithful, finely tuned window XP front end?

Spoiler: That looks suspiciously like my old, faithful, finely-tuned windows XP front-end :)

Spoiler: That looks suspiciously like my old, faithful, finely-tuned windows XP front-end πŸ™‚

Well, to cut a long story short, I stayed with Windows. (In my defence, this *is* the only piece of hardware still running windows in the whole house, and it’s completely disconnected from the internet / my home network — so I haven’t gone completely batshit crazy!). And since I was having to do a full install of the OS anyway, I figured I might as well transfer the whole set-up to a solid state drive. Wow… what a difference! No tell-tale sounds of a hard drive emanating from the back of the cab any more, and the system boots in seconds! If it wasn’t for the briefest flicker of a mouse cursor just before the menu kicks in, you’d have no idea it was a windows-powered box. I’m very happy with that particular enhancement πŸ™‚

Nice new SSD drive, top right :)

Nice new SSD drive, top right πŸ™‚

A slightly less-successful mod has been a completely new sound-system. Previously, I was using a cheap 2.1 channel PC amp + speakers; the sound quality on these was pretty good, but it had an annoying tendency to hum when the system was in stand-by mode (i.e. all the time that the cab was live but the PC wasn’t running). So, I came up with a cunning plan to wire a “real” arcade amp directly into the 12v line of the PC PSU; this would mean that the sound system was only live when the cab was actually running… and therefore, I hoped, things would be nice and quiet when the cab isn’t in use.

I didn't realise *quite* how sawdusty this usually-dark corner of the cab is until the camera flash revealed the mess :S

I didn’t realise *quite* how sawdusty this usually-dark corner of the cab is until the camera flash revealed the mess :S

Well… it’s been a partial success. Yes, the sound system is now only active when the cab is turned on. But what I hadn’t counted on is the fact that the power lines out of a PC PSU are really, really noisy (At least, they are on the PSU that I’m using … and reading about other folks attempts to do the same thing on various arcade DIY forums suggests it’s a common experience). So basically, when the speaker is supposed to be silent, you can faintly hear the interference of data moving around the system; kind of like the noise a modem or an old-school tape-loading computer would make. You don’t notice it when you’re playing a game and the system is making game-type noises… but… well… it’s there. And I know it’s there. And that means I need to fix it.

I’ve seen some capacitor-based smoothing circuits suggested on the net, but I’m not entirely convinced; I figure the solution will be to move the new amp over to a dedicated/isolated 12v transformer, and then possibly have some sort of relay switch powering the transformer on on via the PC PSU — that way I should get the best of both worlds.

I’ve just got to wait for another streak of cab-building inspiration to strike…

In the meantime, it’s great to have the old machine up and running again πŸ™‚

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Back on the horse…

Well, that was a bit of an unexpected hiatus, wasn’t it? Stuff happened. Blogging took a back-seat for a bit. Hopefully, that’s all over now, and I’ll find time to write a bit more.

Hopefully πŸ˜‰

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New MAME Brain

A few months ago, my MAME cabinet died; it was either a motherboard or CPU problem (I suspect a motherboard issue, since it was a cheap + cheerful Asrock board) … but once I’d diagnosed the fault to that degree, the exact cause was a bit immaterial, since I’d decided major surgery was going to be involved.

IMG_2397

This is the fix: an all-in-one AMD E-350D board from Gigabyte. It’s very compact, supposedly stands up to all kinds of heat/humidity/power abuse (probably a good thing, when you live in a 1980s arcade cabinet) and comes with the CPU and cooler pre-installed, so it’s a doddle to set up. Pop in some memory, connect up the PSU, and you have a working computer. It almost seems too easy. It only costs Β£45 too!

Now I need to decide whether to stick with my existing software config (which is windows XP based, on a very old IDE drive… so I’ll need to grab a cheap IDE to SATA converter to get it attached to the board, and then jump through whatever hoops Microsoft decide to throw my way to re-activate my totally-valid-and-totally-legal XP license on an entirely different hardware platform), or switch to running linux off a USB stick instead. At the moment — for test purposes — I’m booting linux/GroovyArcade from a USB stick, and I kind of like the idea of dispensing with the hard drive and Windows altogether. But I did invest a lot of time and effort in my old software configuration (hiding the boot process and all obvious traces of the operating system, and completely re-skinning the front end with my own graphics), and I’m reluctant to start from scratch on a different platform.

Decisions decisions… I guess I’ll get the drive adaptor (they’re only a couple of quid!) and see if the XP route is even a viable option first. ο»Ώ

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