Friday, December 30, 2005

Christmas stocktaking

Christmas has been good for my games collection - my family seem to have finally woken up to the idea that Peter likes games! and maybe one would make a good gift for him. Now how many years/decades did it take for that little light bulb to switch on?

Zertz: Phil was really excited about presenting this to me on Christmas morning. I love it of course, like all the Gipf games it looks good enough to eat, and the gameplay is as intriguing and fascinating as Yinsh and Dvonn. And spookily it was also on the wish list I gave to my Mum, though luckily she didn't choose it as well. I must have been psychically radiating Zertz-desire for weeks.

Oltremare: Mum phoned Leisure Games a few weeks ago and ordered this for me (having asked me for a shortlist.) She originally thought that Oltremare Zertz Tichu was the name of a single game, bless her. Once that was sorted out she got stung by the new expensive edition of Oltremare (which I wasn't aware of when I made the list) which cost a bit more than I wanted her to spend on me. And then it didn't turn up - a week after Christmas it still has not arrived. The perils of using the post these days. In my day we never had these problems with the post I'm sure. Hopefully Leisure Games will sort me out with a replacement.

Dune: I picked this up on EBay for a mere £22. The auction completed on Christmas Day. Bad time of year for selling games - all the geeks take their eye off the ball for a few days, with the result that there are bargains to be had! It arrived yesterday in great condition and complete. I'm very excited - I've been reading about this game for years.

According to BGG my collection stands at 118 now. Moreover I have a whole load of preorders from GMT lined up for the near future - Battle Cry Ancients, The Burning Blue, Here I Stand, Clash of Giants II can all be expected to arrive on my doorstep shortly. As if I haven't got enough wargames already. So time for another clearout. This is my hitlist:

Axis and Allies: Long and slightly daft. Huge box too.

Battle Cry: Another huge box, and why keep it when I have Memoir 44?

7th Fleet Pretty but complex wargame, when will I ever play this?

Throne World: Looks long and fiddly, ugly components. If I want sci-fi I will play Dune or Merchant of Venus. Or Starfarers of Catan which I may be able to afford after I've sold this lot!

Grand Illusion: More complex than I was expecting from Ted, and the usual issues with post-pub rules changes, which quite frankly I'm getting sick of.

Triumph and Glory: Another one with moving target rules. If I want tactical then This Accursed Civil War looks much cleaner.

The Napoleonic Wars: Great subject, but all those little decks of cards! And the rules are a disaster.

Kings and Things: Never been enthused enough to read the rules. Time to leave, grasshopper...

Slick!: An ancient sibling to Railway Rivals.

Sherlock Holmes (card game): Used to play this a lot, but that was years ago.

Anyone want to make me an offer, or talk me out of the whole thing?


Friday, December 23, 2005

Advent of gaming

Since my paraglider is in the dry-dock for a few weeks after I recently wrapped it around a tree, I have a bit more time for boardgaming. So this week has been good for gaming - last Sunday Les came over to try out War of the Ring. I have been busily painting the figures for a while and had completed the Shadow forces by the time Sunday came. They looked superb arrayed on the board, but badly showing up the Free Peoples in their glistening coats of blue plastic.

It took me about 45 minutes to take Les through the rules. Les was very patient but was starting to look a bit glazed over by the end (especially as he had a hangover to contend with as well!) As the beginner he opted to play the Shadow. We both thoroughly enjoyed the epic struggle that followed. With "Mithril Coat" and "Wizard's Staff" I felt able to push the Fellowship forward twice every turn. Les was a little slow getting his offensive rolling, and also had consistent bad luck on the combat dice all through the game. After about 4 hours of play (plus a break for supper) I managed to get the Fellowship to Gorgoroth with remarkably little corruption. I love the panoramic sweep of this game and its faithfulness to the books - I'm very anxious to play again. Meanwhile the men of Rohan are getting their coat of green paint over the Christmas break....

Then on Monday evening after work it was over to Keith's for my second go at Caylus. I have to admit that my first play a few weeks ago left me underwhelmed - baffled by the rules, squinting at the graphics, dismayed by the playing time, and confused about tactics. But this time around I felt much better about the game. I benefitted from Keith's running through the rules again for John's benefit, plus I managed to keep the rules at my end of the table and took frequent looks between my turns, so I felt much more on top of the mechanics, and I actually started to enjoy some of the decision making. Fairly early on I built a church and enjoyed getting my free prestige point every time someone popped in for a visit. And I was gratified to come in second (but way behind Keith whom we allowed a free hand in the gold-mines for the last few turns). So yes, I now would be happy to play Caylus again, but having said that I would far rather play say Amun-Re, which does the same sort of thing as Caylus but in a much more interesting and elegant way.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I went to see The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe last night - drove all the way to Winchester for the nice independent screen there. It was packed. I was very impressed with the film - with a couple of caveats. Lucy (a crucial role) was just right. The designs were very much based on the Pauline Baines illustrations - excellent. But I was disappointed by the battle - much, much too big and long. Battles in Narnia generally involve a few hundred combatants and last a few (very violent) minutes. So as I feared the influence of Peter Jackson had a bad effect there. I also didn't like the silly frozen river scene. But many, many more good things than bad in the film.

And by the way, this column in the Guardian by Zoe Williams on the subject of the film's "dodgy" Christian subtext is well worth a read.

Friday, December 09, 2005

If there was an award for "Best Game Blog Posting of 2005" (maybe there is? - I'm so out of touch) this would be my nomination: Chris Farrell's tips for getting Civilization back onto the table. This superb article gave me a nostalgic wistfulness for past Civ sessions, as well as an persistent itch to do it again.

Remember that this, along with Francis Tresham's 1829, was essentially the first "big" eurogame. It's a direct ancestor in style to currently popular high-end euros like Power Grid, Age of Steam, Goa, Die Macher, and Puerto Rico. Unlike the Avalon Hill-style games that were then in the vogue – games that tended to make some attempt at simulating something – Civilization is a themed game. That is to say, some stuff in the game may not necessarily make immediate intuitive sense in terms of simulation, but it's in there because the game requires it. Strictly from a systems perspective, this is where Advanced Civilization went awry – it added a bunch of stuff for various reasons of "simulation", but wrecked the finely-tuned underlying mechanisms. This is not to denigrate the theme of Civilization, which is excellent and better than most current euros – but I think it's important to the enjoyment of the game to realize that in many ways this game was way ahead of its time, and is not cut from the same cloth as other Avalon Hill games of that era.


Losing Beowulf

7:30 yesterday evening witnessed me hard at work in my living room with Beowulf and an adjustable spanner. I was setting up a gaming table and then laying out the board and cards etc ready for a session with the Farnborough group. Keith and Trevor were late which was fine, as it gave Les and me time to chat about some of Les's Essen purchases. In particular, I was interested to learn that he picked up the Euphrat & Tigris card game, which I would love to try out

Beowulf only took 10 minutes to explain - the episodic structure of the game helps a lot, as some of the details can safely be postponed. As usually happens when I introduce a game, I got badly stuffed. I committed heavily to several early auctions but lost them all the same. The resulting wound and scratches left me preoccupied with avoiding further injuries for the rest of the game, and I was always short of cards and gold. The final scores were Trevor 33, Keith 31, Les 21 and me 12. When asked what the secret is Trevor replied simply, "I looked ahead." Which on reflection is probably the best piece of simple strategy advice available for this game

We finished off with a fun game of Formula Motor Racing which I also lost hands down. My final card play was a "Charge" which gained me about 5 places before my engine blew up attempting to take the lead! This is a great little game, light, but with lots of interesting tactical choices. More skilful than it looks (and yes, this is from someone who nearly always loses at it!)