Monday, August 29, 2005

Greenbelt disappointments:

    Nobody played games with me - Nanofictionary and Bohnanza stayed in their boxes.

    John Bell fulminating about the phrase "Islamic Terrorism". Come on John, are you saying there is no such thing? Let's not lie to ourselves.

    This Greenbelt2005 tagging thing doesn't seem to work for me.
Tag: ,
My Dad died a year ago this weekend - I actually heard the news when I was queuing to get into Greenbelt. So I have had to face a few demons this year. At the Richard Rohr seminar this morning I had the chance when we split into small groups to talk about this with a few other guys, which was helpful.

I really hope all this Christianity stuff is true, and that we will share in Jesus' resurrection one day. I want to see my Dad again........

Here I am at Greenbelt, posting from The Tank, all fired up to do some blogging after listening to Andrew Jones on the spirituality of blogging. This was a real highlight, delivering 10 memes on the subject that will keep me thinking for a long while.

Other Greenbelt highlights:
    The Other Window - first ever gig by this band whose various Tshirts - Ramones and Led Zeppelin - proclaimed their mission to fuse psychedelia with punk. Amazing lead guitarist. Really hope to hear more from them.

    The Proclaimers - barnstorming performance last night, they had the crowd roaring for more. I used to be a fan - had their first album - now I remember why.

    Enjoyed quite a bit of other loud Christian guitar rock from bands like Quench, Superhero and Tree63. But After the Fire were rubbish.

    Richard Rohr - a 3-hour seminar this morning on maleness and initiation. Really thought-provoking window-opening stuff.
I'm struggling with the fact that Greenbelt is nearly over already. I've been rushing about a little too much and not relaxing with friends quite enough. I'm only starting to slow down today. Another few days would be great. But sadly everyone goes home tomorrow.......


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Greenbelt is just 48 hours away now. Since I first attended in 2003, this Christian arts festival has become a major highlight of my year.

So I'm thinking - what games shall I take?

I don't like compartmentalizing my life, building walls between the different things that I do, the different stuff that enthuses me. So when I'm hanging out at Greenbelt with my post-evangelical friends, I'm still a boardgame geek too. And I'm still looking for opportunities to introduce folks to the hobby.

So what would be the characteristics of a "Greenbelt gateway game"?

1) Portable, so I can whip it out of my Timbuk2 bag in the Tiny Tea Tent at a moment's notice.

2) Doesn't take up much space, doesn't need a table - it may have to be played on nothing more than a camping mat sitting on damp grass.

3) Simple to teach - some of these people think Lord of the Rings is complex!

4) Appealing to the leftie Christian hippy peacenik types that Greenbelt attracts. Nothing with Panzers or nukes.

So I'm thinking - NanoFictionary (Looney Labs) or Bohnanza. Any other ideas anyone?

PS I'm really looking forward to The Spirituality of Blogging at Greenbelt on Monday.

PS Greenbelt are running some sort of blogging experiment this year which I don't really understand but which requires me to include this tag:

And another tag:

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Gavin visited for the weekend. My Mum was down too, so it was 3 generations together in one home. Gavin had read my earlier posting about playing 1825 and was desperate to have a go himself. I spent a happy 4 hours on Saturday afternoon fulfilling his wish. In spite of running the Caledonian Railway with frequent payouts and 90% of the shares, I still lost by a small margin (less than £200). Gavin demonstrated how powerful the minor companies can be - he used his NBR to prepare a route for that minor in the far north (I forget its name) so that as soon as it started it immediately had a lucrative route open to Glasgow. Because the intervals get larger as you approach the top end of the stock market track, if you pick a high initial share price and are able to declare a dividend every turn you get a handsome return on your investment. Great fun, I love this game.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Other gaming news:

Last Saturday I visited Simon at his girlfriend's flat in Battersea. A few months ago they bought a copy of Lord of the Rings, but after an abortive attempt to teach themselves had given up. So after dinner I sat down to teach the game to Simon, Simon's girlfriend Fiona, Simon's girlfriend's sister Clare, and Simon's girlfriend's sister's daughter Daniella. (Are you following this?) It went very well - this is an ideal "gateway game" and I find it easy to teach. The structure of the game, with its early stops in the Shire and Rivendell, breaks new players in gently, and because it is cooperative you can introduce rules as you go along and people who don't quite understand what to do can be helped out by the others. Everyone got deeply immersed in the adventure and took it all quite seriously - there were passionate discussions at critical points. We did very well indeed until we reached Mordor, when we hit a patch of terrible bad luck with the event tiles which pretty much finished us off before we got away from the start point. Apparently they have played twice more since I left so I count that as a successful bit of "evangelism".

I have also been playing Thirty Years War solo. This card-driven wargame was badly hit on its release by unfavourable reviews from a couple of highly regarded game geeks. I think they were wrong. Not only is this not a bad game, in my opinion it is a very good game indeed. It is simple and quick to play, has bags of historical flavour, and tells a very strong story. The big story arcs of pillage and foreign aid, Swedish intervention, the disappearance of the veterans and death of leaders, the increasing intensity as the players' decks are boosted by Intervention and Apocalypse give a strong narrative drive to the game. By the end, when exhausted leaderless bands of militia and looting mercenaries are staggering through the shattered desert landscape that used to be Germany, you really feel as if you've lived through something.

For the record, the Protestants won, but not by much. The Swedes left it very late to get involved, and when he finally arrived Gustavus lost his first battle, but lived long enough to besiege Munich. Lots of dramatic turns of fate along the way, I really enjoyed myself. Will have to find an opponent soon.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Keith came over yesterday evening for a game of 1825: Unit 3. This one is set in Scotland and is specifically designed for 2 players. Because I opted to spend £220 on private companies, Keith got a 60% share in the Caledonian Railway, which proved to be a real money spinner. Neither of us were very aggressive about pushing the pace, so the Caledonian hung onto its fleet of 2-trains for much of the game, and every time it paid out Keith was getting a 60/40 advantage over me in cash and share price gains too. I got the rules about company offer sequencing slightly wrong - I thought the second company offered had to be NBR which has difficulties getting going until the 3-trains come out. We played for about two and a half hours before we scored up - there was probably at least another hour left in the game. Keith came in about £150 ahead of me. He is far too polite to say but I got the feeling he didn't enjoy the game that much. Keith is a dyed in the wool Euro-gamer, and as we played I tried to imagine how this game must look through his eyes - compared with today's streamlined and polished products from Germany, 1825 seems very old-fashioned. It has lots of sharp edges in the rules - complicated exceptions that don't seem to add much value - you need a calculator to play it, and it's just so long! Nevertheless, I love it. Shame that it will probably stay on the shelf in the absence of local opponents!

Yesterday Keith very kindly presented me with a copy of Nicholas Palmer's Comprehensive Guide to Board Wargaming which he picked up in a second-hand bookshop. What an amazing nostalgia trip! Back in the late 70's I used to borrow this book repeatedly from Oxford library and pore over it. What a pleasure to have my own copy at last.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Great Gaming Venues #2: John's House

Location: 8/10 A secluded leafy corner hidden away off grimy Devizes Road in Salisbury. Beautiful semi-wild garden running away into the trees.

Architecture: 8/10 An interesting old terraced house, I would guess nearly 200 years old. Lots of interesting corners and steps up and down. A fine front room with big sash windows.

Facilities: 4/10 John has no gaming table, so we usually end up sitting on the floor. This makes my back hurt after the first hour or so.

Catering: 5/10 A bit variable. You will usually be offered a huge mug of instant coffee and not a lot else. But occasionally a fine wine gets opened.

Soundtrack: 7/10 Obscure renaissance polyphony or baroque concertos, played on John's impressive B&O system.

Games available: 8/10 John has quite a lot of Euros and wargames available. El Grande, Web of Power, Frag or the dreaded Illuminati would be typical choices. John also occasionally lays on a big figures wargame event. This will be very tense, with limited information, chain of command issues (especially if your CO is Steve!) and a spectacularly laid out battlefield.

Other inhabitants: 6/10 A big nervous fluffy cat that loves to sit in a game box or wander across a board scattering bits with its big nervous fluffy tail.

Drawbacks: Parking issues - it's very easy to park in the wrong place and destroy John's carefully nurtured good relations with his neighbours.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

My life has become an empty meaningless shell......

Yes, I completed Final Fantasy X last night. After a couple of attempts at Braska's Final Aeon, I finally got lucky with Yojimbo who delivered two Zanmato's in a row. I love that guy. But then we had to kill him! Anyway, a visually stunning conclusion to this epic which, nevertheless, left me more confused than ever about what was actually going on! And I'm glad that Steve had warned me to keep watching right to the end of the credits, where a little teaser awaits.

I can't believe I've actually finished this game. I probably started (on a second-user copy) over two years ago, and since then it has consumed about 95 precious, irreplaceable hours of my all-too-finite life. But I don't begrudge it, it's been an amazing ride. This is the first time I have ever completed a computer game - it's very unusual for me to get absorbed in this way.

What next? Well Prince of Persia is sitting there on the pile waiting to be played....

Thursday, August 04, 2005

It's very slack at work at the moment, so I've taken the opportunity to tidy up my list of game blogs. It's really grown! There are a lot of new bloggers talking about games - let's hope a good proportion of them keep going past the initial fizzle-out point and become established weblogs.

I've also tidied up my naming of these blogs, for example, "tajmahalfred" doesn't seem to call himself that any more. But the headline name of his blog "Musings, Ramblings, and Things Left Unsaid" is too wide to fit on my blogroll, so I've just called it musings. In spite of the unwieldy and boring name this is one of the best gaming blogs around.

Of the new boys, pearland and lumbersmiths look especially promising.


Monday, August 01, 2005

I've just had an incredible weekend flying at South Cerney airfield near Cirencester. Andy took a group of paragliding students and club members from Green Dragons up for the weekend. The club flyers took part in the accuracy competition that was being held there, and the rest of us got some excellent coaching from Andy and Pauline in winch launching. Saturday morning was a bit frustrating, as we went though hours of ground-handling to get our forward launches sorted out, but by the late afternoon we were getting up into the air on the winch - at first low flights with no release, but as the sun sank towards the horizon higher flights (perhaps 500 ft? it's time I bought an altimeter!) with release from the towline and the chance to do some turns and look at the view. It was just an incredible feeling to be up there in the wind and the silence and the evening sunshine.

We were camping on the airfield but walked down to the local pub for an uproarious time (3 of the club are ex-paras with a good fund of stories), but I regretted the beers next morning. Beer on an emptyish stomach after a day of dehydrating activity is not a good idea!

Next day the flying was even better - winching up to 700 or 800 feet and doing circuits back to take-off made the headache disappear for a few minutes.

I'm really hooked on this sport now. I shall be rushing round the M25 this evening after work to catch another couple of hours on the winch at Green Dragons, I'm booked for more hill training next weekend, and I'm planning to take my wing to the French Alps in September to take it to the next level!

I also got a game of Lord of the Rings at work on Friday! It was a bit weird how this came about. It's a bit slack at the office these days, and on Thursday a few of us were sitting around in the cubicle chatting about books and films, and we got onto The Lord of the Rings. My colleague Steve immediately brought up the subject of the game, which apparently I had told him about enthusiastically a few months previously (although I have no memory of this conversation), and asked me to bring it into work next day.

So four of us ended up playing at Steve's desk over Friday lunchtime, when everyone else was down the pub. Steve, James and John were all non-gamers basically (apart from Monopoly and Risk, the usual culprits) but the game went really well, with the team getting off to a lousy start but recovering well and managing to score 57 in the end. We whizzed through in 90 minutes, and everyone enjoyed themselves a lot. There is talk of a longer session at my place some time, and they are spreading the word too - another colleague called Matt asked me if he could read the rules this morning! And Steve has bought a copy from EBay!

And so the virus spreads......

Les and Trevor came over last Thursday evening for a game session. A few weeks before I had suggested that we choose a "Game of the Quarter" - in other words a game that we would play every time we meet for a few months. The idea is to get away from the syndrome of playing new games every session, with the result that you never get the "meat" out of a game before you skip off to the next one. So after a bit of email to-ing and fro-ing we settled on Taj Mahal.

I missed the first play of our Game of the Quarter a couple of weeks ago, so I read through the rules beforehand, and Les and Trevor turned up confident that they knew how to play. It soon became apparent that they had missed a couple of quite important rules on their first run-through. For example, they seemed quite surprised when I told them that they were entitled to place a palace whenever they won a vizier, princess etc. They had been playing that only the king places a palace!

Once we had got the rules straight the game whizzed through. Trevor was the elephant man, Les was for networks of palaces, and I'm not sure what my strategy was, other than hanging on to the +2 special card at all costs. In the event I just snatched a draw with Trevor, with Les in a respectable 3rd place.

We still had time for a fun game of Ra - another Knizia bidding game, so not much of a contrast there. But two superb games.

I'm glad we picked Taj Mahal as our first "Game of the Quarter". It's important to choose a game with enough depth to reward repeated plays, and I'm sure that Taj Mahal will deliver this.