Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I went a bit crazy on game purchases last Friday. I had just received an unexpected cheque (just like Monopoly!) and decided to splurge it on games. So I rushed off to the Aldershot games shop after work and had a happy time choosing what to buy. I came away with three games:

Colossal Arena: This looks nice, and the game has a solid reputation that shows no sign of waning. Should be a good one for my next pub session with Les.

In the Shadow of the Emperor: Very impressive. Beautifully produced components, everything really nicely done - the board, the cards, the pieces, the rules, the tiles. They have been very restrained with the size of the box - this is a lot of game in a small package. Looking forward to playing this a lot.

Beowulf: I bought this on impulse without checking BoardGameGeek first. Got home after buying it and found a rather disappointing buzz there. Nevertheless, I'm hoping the initial comments are misleading, and that this will be another good gateway game for me (like Lord of the Rings has been), with its gorgeous graphics, simple mechanics, and strong story-line.


Friday, September 23, 2005

I had a good time last night at Keith's place playing Princes of Florence. It was my first time with this game, and although Trevor Les and Keith had played before they needed a detailed refresh. I was in the lead most of the way through but Keith overtook me at the very end because he had the foresight to acquire a Prestige card.

I very much enjoyed Princes of Florence, but at the same time the theme is at the very limit of whimsyness that I can tolerate. I mean when you look at it in the cold light of day, what exactly am I doing here? Building a lake in order to attract a poet??? Is that really how things worked in Renaissance Italy? I suspect that a more common approach was to contact the poet in question and make him an offer he couldn't refuse. And possibly assassinate his current employer as well!

So I am uneasy with games (like Princes of Florence) that have fairly detailed mechanisms simulating a process that doesn't make any sense to me. On the other hand I can tolerate a lot of abstraction - for example Knizia's Samurai doesn't bother me at all. I am happy to accept this as a highly abstracted story of a struggle for territorial dominance in medieval Japan. Whereas Through the Desert doesn't appeal to me at all, because building lines of camels across the wilderness doesn't seem to be connected to any kind of real or fictional world that makes sense to me.

Having said that, the interlocking systems of Princes of Florence are so interesting in their own right that perhaps I can live with the whimsyness in this case.

It's such a pain sometimes not to be able to get at BoardGameGeek when I'm at work. I've just noticed a new game from Knizia and Fantasy Flight called Beowulf. Looks very much like a successor to Lord of the Rings, one of my favourite Euros of all time. And Beowulf is one of my favourite stories of all time. So I can't wait to get home, and away from the corporate firewall, to check out the buzz - or maybe I'll just go straight to the game store after work and buy it anyway!


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Latest news on my so-called career

Today is a big day at work. A few months ago my previous employer XYZ decided to outsource my department to global IT giant ABC. Our jobs are being taken on by ABC India and I have spent the last few weeks handing over my knowledge to Vikas, a polite and intelligent DBA from Calcutta. Today is our first day as ABC employees. Lots of welcome and induction meetings planned over the next few days, and a shiny new laptop to play with. By November I expect to be working for some other ABC client at some other location - none of this is decided yet, so it's all a bit uncertain and I am aware that I am running at slightly higher stress levels than usual for me. But exciting too - I was getting a bit bored at XYZ and this move is a breath of fresh air for my working life.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I sometimes think maybe I dash around too much. Take last weekend for example. Here are some snapshots from my schedule:

Friday 8:30pm, The Yew Tree Odstock, 5 miles outside Salisbury - meeting Simon, Fiona, Simon's two daughters and their boyfriends for a meal to celebrate Simon's birthday.

Saturday 10:30am, Sarah's nice new flat in Battersea - Workshop Team Day, preparing for this year's course by playing games with string in the garden in the sunshine.

Saturday 6:30pm, London South Bank - wandering with Sue through some kind of festival with lots of stalls, musicians, a boat race on the river, crowds of people.

Sunday 7:45am, St Thomas Church, Farnham - robing up for the first time in over 30 years to help at the altar in the Communion service.

Sunday 4:15pm, Woldingham Valley just off M25 junction 6 - in my paragliding gear, clipping onto the tow line ready for a winch launch. Feeling a bit nervous as we are experimenting with a new method for retrieving the line.

Some time soon it might be nice to just spend a quiet weekend at home.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Last of the Summer Flyin'

It' been a great week for flying. On Monday evening I went over to Green Dragons after work, and got three winch flights in the Woldingham Valley. The launch was from the top of a low ridge so I was being towed downhill, which was a new experience fro me. In practice this just meant that I got higher quicker. The Valley was beautiful in the evening sunlight, but like a guy on a date in a Thai restaurant, my gaze was torn away by the greater beauties that unfolded as I rocketed skywards and a panoramic view of London opened up below me.

I was down at Green Dragons again yesterday evening. This time the wind looked good for soaring. We hung around at the Westerly Bowl waiting for the wind to drop, and by about quarter to 7 it was safe to fly. For once everything came together - the weather, my confidence, reverse launching skills, control of the glider in the air, and slope landing on my feet (not my bum). I got four soaring flights along the top of the ridge. The lift was strong but bumpy, so it was like riding a roller-coaster along the ridge. I got the hang of turning gently away from the slope whenever I hit sink, and on two occasions this saved me from landing in the bushes (but not from scraping my butt through their topmost branches). My final flight was beautiful - the sun had set, and a huge moon was rising over the ridge.

To crown a great evening, Andy signed me off as Club Pilot! So after 15 months of struggle and heartache I have finally completed my training. This means I am free to fly anywhere in the world in a Club environment - I'm no longer tied to the school. Foreign skies are beckoning!


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I did some more boardgaming outreach last Saturday evening, playing Lord of the Rings at a dinner party thrown by my boss for his team. Let me hasten to add that I don't normally turn up to dinner parties with a game under my arm - I was asked to bring it along. What was weird was how well it went. We were never under any kind of threat at all and easily made it through Mordor with lots of spare room on the corruption track. Dash (our host) was disappointed after all he had heard about the difficulty of winning the game, and towards the end was actively trying to sabotage our chances to make it more interesting! Everyone enjoyed themselves, and although it was nearly midnight demand was still high for more gaming, so I pulled out Formula Motor Racing which I happened to have with me, which also went down very well. This game is a lot of fun, with many opportunities to do the dirty on people, and is very easy for neophytes to pick up. I won!


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Crusader Rex from Columbia Games arrived on Saturday, complete with a friendly surcharge from the customs man. Fun Tax I suppose. Sue (who is picketing the Docklands Arms Fair this week) said "How can you glorify such a disgusting episode in our history?" Erm.... I don't really know. But just look at the pretty graphics.......


Friday, September 09, 2005

Post-session report

It worked! I won at Taj Mahal last night by a 5 point margin. I followed yesterday's posting pretty much to the letter - dropping out of the first round to pick up three cards gave me an advantage in cards and elephants which lasted well into the middle game. Whenever I had the opportunity to fold with a win in elephants I did so immediately, even if it meant picking up no palaces at all. This meant I was often getting what I wanted from a province for only one or two cards. By about the eighth round I had built up a good points lead, and Keith Les and especially Trevor woke up to the need to give me some competition in the elephants bidding. By that time my hand was shrinking although I had picked up the extremely useful purple special card. I didn't get much from the last few rounds but my lead was just too big for Trevor to catch me up. Over the whole game I picked up 6 province tiles plus one small jewels tile. I don't expect to be allowed to get away with the same strategy next time we play.

One part of my plan that didn't come off was picking up the +2 special card. The courtesan in the yellow dress didn't favour me even once. She was too busy with Les and Keith.....


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pre-session report

Keith just reminded me that we have a game session tonight. Luckily I don't have to worry about reading up on a new game because we will be playing what we always play - Taj Mahal. Last time I managed to scrape a draw without really knowing what I was doing. This time I want to do just as well, not accidentally, but by having A Plan.

I'm thinking I want to go all out for elephants and commodities. I've never yet managed to get a high-scoring network going in Taj Mahal, and it will be a relief to stop trying. I also want to do my best to hang onto the +2 card again, as Trevor and Les seemed quite relaxed about letting me get away with this last time. Hopefully they haven't woken up to the issue yet.

I realize that I will have to modify my plans depending on the cards I get, and what's available in the draw pool, especially in the first round. I'm considering dropping out of the first auction in order to get an initial card advantage.

I know it's risky to publish my planning just before a game session, but hopefully Keith and Trevor will not read my blog before 8pm this evening - they don't seem like the kind of guys who would know about RSS!

I'll let you know how it all turns out.


Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Paraglider’s Prayer

For thousands of years Lord
People have dreamed of flying
Longing to soar in the windy sky

Thankyou for the privilege Lord
To fulfil this ancient dream
Floating in the company of birds

We don’t presume to ask Lord
For safety in freely chosen danger
But walk with us in grace as we launch

Give us courage and clear heads Lord
And whether at cloudbase or landing field
Thankful hearts that remember You


Thursday, September 01, 2005

I got back into the air again yesterday evening. A 2 hour drive around a jammed M25 gave me a 3 minute flight from a winch-tow at Green Dragons. It was worth it though - the air was so smooth, when I released the tow the glider just sat there pointing into wind, I felt almost as if I was in a balloon, looking down at an awesome view of London with the clustered towers of Docklands and the City pushing up through the distant haze. I flew back down the field for a nice landing near launch, but shortly afterwards Andy called a halt because it was getting dark. Shame, but safety comes first I suppose....

Well I may not have been able to play any games at Greenbelt, but I did get to talk about them. I had a long chat with Vic, who runs the London Mennonite Centre, and who is also a keen Euro-gamer. We chatted about favourites, swapped opinions about recent purchases, and - true to our gender - compared the size of our collections. Vic's is bigger than mine by about 150 to 111, but I know the size of mine more precisely....

As a member of a peace-church, of course, he doesn't play wargames, poor guy. I wonder if the London Mennonite Centre (which runs a bookstore) should start stocking "peace games" that emphasize cooperation and trade over conflict and domination? I've thought of a few candidates: Lord of the Rings, Zendo, Industrial Waste, Civilization (?), Settlers of Catan. Any other ideas folks?

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