Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Civ

I'm spending Christmas with Sue's family in a luxury barn conversion buried in the snowy Herefordshire countryside. Even better, I've been playing Civilization with Sue's 12-year-old nephew Tom. We're using my old Gibson's edition, where the playing area for 2 players (Greece and Asia Minor) is helpfully colour-coded. The 2-player game is surprisingly challenging. Space is in short supply so Tom and I have been clashing for room regularly. We had an easy ride to start with, but then the calamities started coming thick and fast, and we are just emerging from a chaotic dark age of civil war, eruptions, epidemics and revolts. Love this game, still my number one.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Peaceniks at war

Another game of Struggle of Empires last night with the Mennonite boys. Just the three of us, and we were a little worried about the odd-man-out possibilities, but it seemed to work fine, and no-one felt their chances were closed down early in the game. Still, it doesn't matter how many times I play this game, I don't seem to be able to get the hang of how to win. One of my favourite tricks was much in evidence last night - buying a nice tile (such as Reserves) and then forgetting to use it at the critical moemnt. That re-roll could have spared me a lot of pain!

Darren was so inspired by the game that he resolved to buy it immediately, regardless of the OTT prices being achieved on eBay these days.

We finished with a round of Race for the Galaxy, where I managed to scrape a last-turn win against Sam's Spartan war-machine. Very satisfying.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Caucasus Campaign

I've been going quite slow on the game acquisition front - still money left in the 2010 budget - but I recently bought Caucasus Campaign (Mark Simonovitch, GMT) after reading very positive comments from Chris Farrell. Maybe I give too much weight to Chris's opinions sometimes, but I'm very pleased I followed his recommendation on this one.

I'm becoming a bit of a sucker for East Front panzer-pushers, accumulating a small stack of them on the shelf (Roads to Leningrad, Stalingrad Pocket, Von Manstein's Backhand Blow), but this one looks at first sight a little bit special. A beautiful map with large hexes, a small number of large attractive counters, 16 pages of clearly laid out rules printed in colour, and colourful and clear player-aids, all combine to make a very appealing first impression.

It's all laid out on the table awaiting my first solo play-through. Looking forward to it.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The month of gaming

I am having the most amazing month of gaming! And it's all a bit of a misunderstanding.

Months ago Sue booked up for a mediation course, which meant she would be away from home all weekend every weekend in September. So like any gaming husband would, I got my diary out and started booking the gaming sessions. Huzzah!

Then her course was cancelled.

But Sue is lovely, and so the gaming sessions still stand. And I'm getting convention-scale amounts of gaming done.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sunday part 2

It was probably a mistake to follow Maria with another "big beast" like After the Flood. It didn't help that I did not do a great job of explaining the rules, and everyone's brains were a little fried by this stage, I suspect. And to be honest, After the Flood did not benefit from the comparison. After Maria it seemed - well - unpolished. A little bit fiddly, and lacking in drama perhaps.

I still rate this as a very good game indeed, probably an 8, but a game of this complexity and length needs to be the main event. Definitely not a wind-down game. (Chicago Express or Nexus Ops might have been a better choice.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

There's something about Maria

I will eschew cheap smutticisms and just say that I finally got the chance to play Maria on Sunday. I've been excited about this game for a while, bought a copy a couple of months ago, and have been itching to play ever since. Iain "the acceptable face of gaming", and his friend John agreed to try it out last weekend.

I loved it.

As Prussia/Pragmatic I played very poorly. Not really thinking about the implications of what I was doing, I hammered into Austria with the Prussians and into Northern France with the Pragmatics. Won lots of battles, but handed the game to the French. But this game is a beautiful beautiful thing. I love the subtleties of hand management interacting with the suits on the board. I love the positional play and the simple way that the flavour of 18th century siege warfare is captured. I love the look of the board and the pieces. Maria is currently well on the way to joining my exclusive 10-rated list, alongside timeless works of art like Civilization, 1830, and Tigris & Euphrates. When can we play again?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

In which we plays Blackbeard, me lads.

Something else we played at Nick's last weekend was Blackbeard (GMT's new edition). Danni easily beat Nick and me, storming ahead in notoriety and booty after sacking Portobello. This is a fun game, though poor Nick spent most of the game scanning the rules for us. He was effectively a full-time GM so it's hardly surprising he came in last.

I have the 1st edition and used to play it solo quite a bit (back in my lonely bachelor days). A couple of things that struck me about the 2nd edition - first, dumping the hexes is no great loss. It always felt a bit anomalous cruising around the hex-grid with no regard for wind direction. Second, the cards are considerably simplified (and prettied up). However there's a cost - a lot of complexity is offloaded onto the huge player reference card.

Let's face it, Blackbeard is all about the chrome. In fact there's hardly a game there at all - it's all chrome. So not a satisfying collection of graceful interlocking mechanisms. More a chaotic pile of historical accidents. Like a roleplaying game, it's all about imaginative immersion.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A happy time with the Unhappy King

I had an epic game of Unhappy King Charles with Nick last weekend. I was the godly faction, and things were looking pretty bad for my foppish long-haired opponent by the end of 1643, after a series of disastrous attempts to take Bristol. But he hung on to the end, and I scraped home with 13 points. Excellent fun! 7 hours of really first-class wargaming.

This is the second time I've played UKC. The first time I felt pretty lost, and a bit grumpy too with some of the complexities of the game. This time round I pwas better prepared, and I'm beginning to see that this game is a real classic, with serious intellectual muscle under the surface. Whatever you might think of Charles Vasey's online persona, you can't deny that he has put a lot of thought into this design. I can't wait for another chance to play.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Our Island Story

Well I'm off to Cardiff today to meet Nick for a weekend of unbridled wargaming. As we are both Englishmen and wargamers, it seems highly appropriate that we plan to spend the weekend playing games about Englishmen killing each other, namely Unhappy King Charles and Richard III.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Homeopathy at OK Corral

We visited Phil & Laura in their new den in Whitechapel last night. Highlight of the evening was Phil's amazing savoury pastry slices, but I also got to try out Red Dead Redemption. (Aside: why has my son got a PS3 and a huge telly when I have neither of these good things??) It must have been difficult for Phil watching my incompetent attempts to walk into a saloon without getting shot. But I have to say I was disappointed by the importance of herb-gathering in the game.


I don't believe I ever saw John Wayne gathering herbs. Did you?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

45...then you're dead!

Wow! I just won an online game of Shadow of the Emperor. I thought I was swimming with sharks. Turned out they were all sticklebacks like me.

It's a nice game online. Takes a while, but it's thoughtful, interesting. I've never actually got my copy onto a table - there's always something else more compelling. Shame. Underrated I reckon - possibly because of its small box!

Time enough for Ra

The other evening I persuaded my lovely wife to play Ra: the Dice Game. She's a Roll Through the Ages girl really, but she agreed to give it a try. I wasn't sure she was enjoying herself so I was mortified to realize, half-way through, that we were starting Ra from the 4-player spot, thus tripling the play time!

Anyway, in the end she won 69 to 64. And agreed to play again - provided that is that we stick to the long "version" (i.e. rules mistake). Turns out she doesn't like too much time pressure in this sort of game - she likes to have enough time to finish building her little cube projects.

Hmmm....maybe I should try her with Civilization? Plenty of time there.....

Our pledge to you

No sooner was Phil yesterday taken off the road by the theft his beloved bike, than I picked up the baton and cycled through the morning sunshine and traffic into town. Our pledge to you - every day, somewhere, there will always be a Haslehurst on his bike.

I was impelled by the (as it turned out mistaken) belief that the tube would not be running. It was quite a nice experience - only 3 people made a serious attempt to kill me (one of whom was a cyclist - they are always the worst). London was looking its best, and there was lots to see along the way (like the "daring" despoilation of Arundel Square currently nearing its grotesque conclusion).

This morning, out on my bike again - this time the tube really is closed in earnest. Streets a lot busier, crowds of cyclists - some of them quite bad-tempered. And worst of all - day 2 bum, that painful sensation of getting back in the saddle the next morning after a long ride. Still, it was fun to be peddling through Clerkenwell, admiring the quaint streets and dodging iPod-absorbed pedestrians.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What a lovely surprise - World War 2!

I have the loveliest wife imaginable. She has no interest in military history - in fact I suspect she is rather appalled by the idea - but yesterday she presented me with Anthony Beevor's "D-Day". What a great gift! I have to admit I have put my current read ("Last Night in Twisted River") on hold for the time being - I had a quick look at my new book last night before bed, and before I knew it I was at the end of the first chapter. He has a great way of getting on with the story and drawing you in from the first page. The opposite of stuffy.

Must get Breakout Normandy on the table again!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Well I just beat Keldon Jones' Race for the Galaxy AI. OK it went to the tie-breaker, with 33 points each, but I beat the **** thing at last. I think this is worth blogging about.

Key to my victory - thinking hard.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Always confirm the venue

I arranged to meet Sam yesterday at 9:30am for a game of 1825. At 9:50 I was starting to worry - has he forgotten? has he been knocked off his bike? At 9:50 Sam was also sitting at home wondering where I had got to. It turns out we had both assumed we were going to meet at our own place.

Anyway one fast bike ride later and Sam is sitting down at my dining table for a game of Chicago Express (no time for 1825 now) at which I managed to beat him soundly. I do like Chicago Express (he says in the warm afterglow of victory). Such a lot of economic and railway building interest in a short game. Then Sam got his revenge at Race for the Galaxy - I love this game but seem to be totally incapable of winning even one hand.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The power of information

Well, you put up with something for literally years (an annoying green moon-like blob in the centre of the screen when I'm watching films on my Hitachi PJ-TX100 projector) and it's really annoying sometimes, especially in dark films (like Moon for example) but you try to grit your teeth and not make a fuss like your parents taught you, and then one day you wake up and think "Why am I putting up with this? This is the age of the internet!" And after about 10 minutes of research you find the answer (here). You spend £20 on a compressed air thingy (quite a lot, but a lot cheaper than a new projector) carefully squirt it into the correct opening and bingo! It doesn't work. But you try again and again and finally get a torch so you can see what you're doing and - aaaah - it works. Bliss. You've no idea how nice it feels to watch a film without the green blob.

Isn't the internet great?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Barbarossa to Berlin: the "to Berlin" bit

Phil came back today to "finish the job" on Barbarossa to Berlin. I was fully expecting to lose before lunch, but actually managed to drag it out until 4:30 and the penultimate turn. I failed to get "Totaler Krieg" played, but a 2-year siege of Kiev, no less than two failed invasions of France, and a mistimed play of "Casablanca" all kept the tension high right to the very end - Phil's final victory in Spring 45.

What a great wargame! I think Ted Raicer's decision to cut out the phony war and start with the invasion of Russia was inspired. It makes for a tight, compact game (we finished inside 12 hours, whereas I have played Europe Engulfed for 3 exhausting days in a row and still not finished) that feels like World War 2 - fewer opportunities for the weird "what-if" branches from history that a game starting in 1939 has to navigate.

Do I prefer it to Paths of Glory? Not sure, but I'm leaning towards BtB. PoG has the big strategic decisions (East or West) that are kind of settled before BtB begins. But there's still a lot of strategic thinking that has to be done about balancing risks, covering your back (guess where the next invasion comes) and managing your manpower resources (RPs vs the latest crisis). And I definitely prefer it to Europe Engulfed - it's more compact both in time and space.

Monday, July 05, 2010

A weekend of the hard stuff

Yes, a weekend of complicated deep games.


1825 Unit 2 on Friday evening with Sam the Connecticut Yankee, a smart young Mennonite who is in London for 3 years volunteering. I tentatively suggested an 18xx game but warned him they are a bit complicated. "I like complicated games" was his response, and sure enough, he cottoned on really quickly. I got off to a good start but by the end game his Midland was a real powerhouse, churning out £380 a round. He did a great job using the GCR (which was owned 50/50 but run by Sam) as a source of cheap locomotives for his other companies. In the end he nearly caught me, but not quite.

Then on Sunday son Phil came over for Barbarossa to Berlin. As the Germans I kicked off with the Barbarossa card and managed to make a real hash of things. I got nowhere near Moscow or Leningrad, and by the time winter and the Siberians arrived I was having a terrible time - a real fight for survival. But then in 42 Phil eased off the pressure and allowed me to rebuild - but at the expense of losing more ground in Russia. We didn't finish - hoping to do that on Sunday. My biggest worry is I won't get the Totaler Krieg played - I'm already down to 9 VPs. It's a great game - enjoying it a lot in spite of my tribulations. I must update my BGG entry - I was feeling a bit grumpy about errata at the time. Most of my experiences of BtB have been with a certain opponent (yes Dave I mean you) who likes to play the Germans, has his two years of fun, doesn't do as well as he hoped, and concedes - denying me the fun of planning invasions and driving into Germany etc. An antisocial habit, and one I will eschew - I 've promised Phil I will go down fighting....

Monday, June 28, 2010

Game Shop Notes #2: Playin' Games

I was planning this post and decided to walk over to Museum Street one lunchtime and check my facts (like any good reporter). What a shock to find the shop stripped bare and locked up. Gone! And no note on the door with a new address. So who knows if Playin' Games has a future or if they are gone forever.

This is a sad loss of a prime showcase for the hobby. It was a handsome blue shopfront with an appealing window display and lots of the more accessible games on the ground floor. Downstairs there was a really good selection of Eurogames and wargames, with a big RPG section as well. The staff were always friendly and helpful to me, but I gather they could be less helpful to women and other people outside the hobby - an unfortunate attribute given their position in the heart of tourist London (opposite the British Museum).

I spent quite a bit of money in there over the years, but I guess they were being squeezed by online discounters like Infinity Games. I fear for our local game shops.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Game Shop Notes #1: The Orc's Nest

This little shop on Earlham Street in Covent Garden has a big street presence, thanks to the distinctive yellow and white hazard striping around the shop front. This pattern always reminds me of Games Workshop Warhammer 40K artwork, so it was perhaps forgivable of me to walk in a few years ago and ask if they had any genestealer figurines in stock. That question got a very chilly reception I can tell you. This shop is most definitely not a Games Workshop stockist, but they do stock a lot of figures and suchlike from GW competitors. In fact the whole of the (tiny) ground floor is devoted to miniatures, magazines and CCG booster packs. But it's upstairs where the real treasures (for someone like me) are to be found. Up the clattery Red Dwarf style stairs to the little mezzanine floor where they keep a surprisingly good selection of wargames and Eurogames. Everything from ASL Action Packs to Runebound expansion decks, taking in all stations from the latest Simmons to Ticket to Ride on the way. Sure, the staff here are famously surly, but that's kind of part of the place's character, and when you do get a wry smile or an audible response, you feel like you've really arrived. Quirky, unique, irreplaceable- and very convenient for the lab. I'd really miss it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Banks and Braes etc

Where to start?

I'm just back from nearly three weeks in Scotland with Sue, walking the West Highland Way followed by the Great Glen Way. In other words, we walked from Glasgow to Inverness, taking in a couple of Munros along the way.

My legs are tired.

I fell in love with Scotland all over again. What amazing scenery! Glencoe in particular is stunning. Mind you, the country isn't perfect. For example, they have way too relaxed an attitude to pooing in the open up there. Along the banks of Loch Lomond or anywhere along the WHW, every potential lunch stop has its quota of used loo paper lying on the ground, flies buzzing around. For goodness sake folks - clean your act up!

Anyway, back home now, and enjoying the sound of sirens and the shouts of angry commuters. I'm seriously game deprived, and raring for some action baby, you know what I mean? I'd play just about anything right now, maybe even Viktory II. I'm hoping for a Barbarossa to Berlin session with son Phil in the near future, I'll try and persuade Sue to try Ra the Dice Game again, there's the London ASL club in July, there's all sorts of online gaming possibilities (strangely, I'm itching to try In the Shadow of the Emperor again), there's the chance I'll visit Nick in September for Unhappy King Charles, Richard 3 etc, and hopefully a Dune rematch can be fitted in before the autumn.


On second thoughts, I'll skip Viktory II.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dune brings out the best in people.

I'm off to Scotland tomorrow, to walk the West Highland Way followed by the Great Glen Way. Yes that's 170 miles of rugged country from Glasgow to Inverness. And in case I don't come back, in case we freeze to death on Rannock Moor or fall off Ben Nevis or get eaten to death by midges, I want you to remember me for this: I won Dune as the Bene Gesserit. Possibly my finest gaming moment ever. I put my son Phil down for a Harkonnen win on turn 5, manipulated him into an alliance (yes manipulated my own son, callously playing him like I was some Cold War spy handler) and stole our joint win for myself.

The look on Phil's face. Betrayal. Confusion. Sorrow.