I sure hope you've left room for some canal journey dessert!
Well well well, what a delightful sight to see upon my return home after my week with the old man! The long awaited and hotly anticipated (in the Sneaky Meeple household at least) arrival of Obsession Second Edition and new expansion Obsession: Upstairs, Downstairs. Given that Friday was a flurry of other activity I didn't have time to get everything punched and sorted other than a cursory glance over the contents. Into the bag o' games it went as Rachel and I were back off to the marina to spend our Bank Holiday weekend afloat.
An adorable little cottage next to Tatenhill Lock, with old working boat Hadley moored just by.
Never a dull day! Whilst in the queue of boats at Dallow Lock we got talking to the crew of n.b. Penny Lane who were ahead of us in the queue. As it turns out the owners Lisa and Richard were keen to get a move on and lamenting the somewhat slow progress of the lock as they had to make a veterinarian appointment in the village of Willington a few miles north of Burton-on-Trent. After passing through the lock ourselves, we caught them up before Willington where Penny Lane suddenly and inexplicably suffered engine failure. After a gentle nudge from Peggy to get their drifting boat to the towpath (no power means no steering!), we took Lisa and new puppy Penny aboard so we could get them to Willington for her jabs!
Sunday and Monday were somewhat less action-packed than Saturday, but the Trent & Mersey past Stenson switches from being a narrow canal to a wide canal, and thus we entered the first of six wide locks that take the T&M down and finally into the River Trent. We were lucky to share the first three (Stenson, Swarkestone and Weston) locks with n.b. Pegotty and "owner" Suzanne. Very chatty and bubbly, new to the canals and keen to absorb any knowledge we could pass on, it certainly made her day sharing with us as being on her own and negotiating locks is difficult at the best of times, nevermind when those locks are wide.
Our Saturday night entertainment, after some post-cruise refreshment in The Bubble at Stenson, was always going to be Obsession. Rachel was busy punching and sorting while I got dinner on, then it was table cleared and made ready for our first crack at this new arrival! Rach opted for the new family, the Howards, keen to try out the new cook, whilst I went with the good ol' Ponsonbys and their extra starting cash.
The new method of dealing with Objective Cards was instantly well received, being able to keep all five starters and discard as the game goes on allows all the opening Objectives to be equally valid and give some direction to one's strategy. The new servants quickly saw action as well, my first recruit action added a cook to my own service to keep up with Rachel's own, and their ability to allow the invitation of guests slightly outside the family's usual range helps massively in the early game.
Several of the new tiles, both from the expansion and the various promos, saw action and while this one didn't (though I did find the inclusion of "Unrelated" a hilarious yet necessary clarification, well done Dan for heading that one off at the pass) I bought up one of the new Hybrid tiles (quickly switching it over to the Estate side to count it's points for a Courtship) and a couple of the new Service tiles such as the Walled Garden (giving Cooks a continued use in the late game). The new Reserve spaces work great too, allowing the mid- and late-game offerings to stay relevant whilst Service and low-level chaff filter down into the Reserve spaces.
The game fits neatly on Peggy's wide but narrow dining table too which is an added bonus for us at least. The Baileys (for Rachel) and Tanqueray Rangpur Lime Gin (for me) might have had something to do with it but the two hours our game took just flew by with nary a dull moment in any of Obsession's 20 rounds. Rachel won three of the four courtships and also scored well on her Estate and Gentry, but I clawed it all back after scoring all
fivefour of my Objective cards! With only one category to score we were neck-and-neck, and it was Rachel's lead in VP cards that solidified her victory on a very, very respectable (if I say so myself, Dan might disagree) 162 points to my 153.
I think it's fair to say that Rachel and I, and perhaps Dad too, will be playing and enjoying this game an awful lot. Some ideas are already coming to mind, so Obsession fans, stay tuned!
Trials, tribulations, outdoor adventures and occasional board game commentary. Join me as I try to squeeze some gaming time into my life as a travelling IT consultant.
- [+] Dice rolls
You ready for another classic Sneaky Meeples canal boat adventure? Sure you are. Off we go!
Out of the marina and onto the Trent & Mersey (T&M) , into our first lock, Wychnor Lock, lifting us up onto the River Trent. Nettle Peggy looking fine in the August sun with her freshly painted roof, in the original cream colour!
Keeper's Lock. Approaching Fradley Junction now where the T&M meets the Coventry Canal.
Past the toilet factory at Armitage.
I only took half a dozen games on the boat with me as I think Dad prefers to play one thing many times rather than jump from title to title, and I figured Viticulture Essential Edition would be a good introduction to the realm of worker placement games.
Mile marker on the T&M denoting the distance between the two not-quite-ends of the canal. I say not-quite-ends because the T&M continues past Shardlow to lock down into the River Trent at Derwent Mouth (from where you can go onwards into the Erewash Canal, Beeston Cut or River Soar to Loughborough and Leicester) and at the other end, Preston Brook, one goes through a tunnel straight into the Bridgewater, as experienced previously. Of the 93 original mileposts, 60 survived in various conditions and situations (click here for the fascinating story) and this is one, evidenced by the "R&D Stone 1819" maker's mark, R&D being Rangeley & Dixon, an ironworks based in Stone.
Speaking of Stone, the birthplace of the T&M, here we are about to rise up Yard Lock.
Etruria Junction where the Caldon Canal splits off from the T&M is tucked away in it's own little corner of busy Stoke-on-Trent, and below Lock No. 39 is Jesse Shirley's Bone & Flint Mill with the exquisite working boat Lindsay. Built in 1959 she is one of (if not the) last motor-driven boat built for the British Waterways Board to be used as a cargo vessel around the North West.
Viticulture hit the table four nights in a row, with Dad claiming his first victory on the fourth night. As with all worker placements, a delicate balance has to be struck between increasing your work force, building your economy/engine and then running that economy to make points. That said, I think I'm going off Viti as a 2-player game and prefer it more with 3 or more players where the bonus action spaces come into play. These two visitors in the opening hand gave me a (excuse the pun) boatload of cash to get my early game off to a great start.
Right, time for the main event. At Etruria Junction, the Caldon Canal branches off and heads up to the edge of the Peak District towards the towns of Leek and Uttoxeter with limestone being the main cargo. As with all canals it eventually succumbed to the power of the railway companies and commercial traffic ceased entirely in 1952. There was however a bit of a revival in the 1970s when a tableware company based in the town of Milton a bit further up the Caldon had three boats built to move their wares from the factory to a packing plant in Stoke. Transport costs were reduced considerably as well as breakages and the boats were used well into the 1990s!
The first obstacle, Etruria Staircase Locks, raising the canal by 20 feet. Two locks joined at the hip, where the top gate of the first is the bottom gate of the second.
Heading out of Stoke, the Caldon offers boaters a strange mix of post-industrial squalor, renovated parks and new-build canal-side properties for Stoke's nouveau riche. Hints to the past domination of the pottery industry remain, such as these bottle kilns.
Low headroom under the A5008 bridge!
A feature more commonly associated with the Llangollen Canal, the Caldon has three of these lift bridges. The first here at Ivy House has the whole lot, barriers, sirens, flashing lights, all operated by a simple "insert key and press button" system. It gives one quite a sense of power being able to stop traffic for a canal boat.
Patchwork was another hit with Dad, he beat me easily in the two games we played, obviously tile-laying games are his thing!
At Stockton Brook there's a pleasant flight of locks, off to one side is the impressive looking old waterworks and pumping station.
One typically meets oncoming boats at the most inopportune moments, such as on sharp bends, shallow or narrow sections, or on the approach to bridges, as here.
Now that we've left behind Stoke, Milton and Stockton Brook the canal takes on a very rural character, so much so that it often detracts from the canal experience. Greenery and growth is all well and good, but the banks (on both sides) are often very overgrown (the problematic Himalayan balsam is a ubiquitous sight) and many trees have either grown out over or fallen into the canal causing some tricky obstructions.
The Caldon Canal has a junction at Hazelhurst offering the boater two choices, either bear right into the Leek Branch to go (almost) all the way to Leek, or bear left to lock down the mainline and keep heading towards Uttoxeter. Since Dad's never done the Leek Branch we went up there first as it's only about 3 miles long. It's a very intense 3 miles however, full of overgrown green things, moored boats and tight turns.
Right at the end of the Leek Branch is the 130 yard long Leek Tunnel, giving Dad a chance to test out Peggy's new LED headlamp. The canal stops not far past the tunnel, there's moorings and a path should you wish to walk into Leek, a path described by a boating friend as going through "some dodgy scrapyards and piles of dogshit." No thanks, just some lunch onboard before heading back to Hazelhurst Junction in the rain.
Back to the junction and down the three Hazelhurst locks, we go under Hazelhurst Aqueduct which is carrying the Leek Branch over the main line.
It wouldn't be one of my canal journeys without at least one game of Brass: Lancashire would it? As with last week's game against Rachel, I opted to set up the "old" community 2-player variant as I think I prefer the tighter board. Not that it bothered Dad in the slightest, he continues his winning streak by beating me 155 to 152!
Carrying on down the Caldon now, at Oakmeadowford Lock where we lock down onto the River Churnet. This was the limit of my last journey on the Caldon with Joe and Dennis a couple years back, as the Churnet was in flood that day and thus we had to turn around. Despite the rain that Dad and I had endured so far, the river was still inside the navigable limit so on we went.
Wider but just as overgrown. The aforementioned boating friend who described the walk into Leek had an apt comparison for the Caldon in general. "It's like being on the African Queen." he said, and I fully concur, being reminded myself of Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
Running alongside the canal from Cheddleton to the terminus at Froghall (spoiler alert, the canal doesn't go all the way to Uttoxeter any more!) is the Churnet Valley Railway, offering ferroequinologists the chance to glimpse plenty of steam and diesel engines. Here at Consall Station the platform is cantilevered over the canal.
Alas, the end of our journey, the impossibly low Froghall Tunnel with one Dad for scale. Despite the informations boards saying there was 5 feet of headroom it's more like 4 feet something, too low for Peggy unfortunately. Just like that stupidly low "tunnel" on the Droitwich Canal the low headroom in Froghall Tunnel is a huge impediment to restoring the canal past the tunnel that could run all the way into Uttoxeter.
Walking on past the tunnel, this is all you get for the moment, one lock down into a basin which is all that remains of the Uttoxeter Canal. Much of that canal was built over by the Churnet Valley line of the North Staffordshire Railway but since that line has long since been dismantled there's a movement to restore the canal. Better sort out Froghall Tunnel first.
Heading back down the Caldon and here at Consall Forge, could this be Tony Boydell's ideal pub? Nested in a picturesque, wooded Staffordshire valley with river, canal and railway not 20 yards from the front door? The Black Lion is something of a Holy Grail pub for boaters, mainly given it's sheer remoteness as it can only be reached by canal boat (there's only room for 3 boats to moor) or via the heritage train line (only running on Wednesdays and weekends). There's no "proper" road access, though a road does run down to the riverside opposite there's no parking for the pub itself and it's really just access for the few cottages nestled in the valley. Gaining entrance means crossing over the weir, then over the canal, and then over the tracks (Stop! Look! Listen!) before finally following the COVID-mandated in/out one way system.
None of which stopped us from enjoying a couple of lunchtime pints and a pork pie, Titanic Brewery's golden session ale Steerage proving wonderfully refreshing on what was a warm day, though Dad was suitably disgusted at having his stout served in a plastic cup.
As a little extra bonus, whilst having our second pint this Class 33 paid us a visit! Since the line was closed that day it most have been moving some of the line's rolling stock. I should add that this is literally the view from the Black Lion's beer garden, all I have done here is stand up from our table and take one step to the left to be by the fence.
What remains of the Consall Lime Kilns.
Our second game of Brass was a clear win and new personal best for me, a whopping 177 to Dad's 144, I was able to get both of my Tier 2 Shipyards built, making a sizeable portion of my 100 points for railway era industries. Always enjoy this game. I would be remiss to not mention that we also played three games of That's Pretty Clever! on various nights, of which Dad won two!
Thus our overall gaming stats for the week were:
Brass - Two plays - Ben 1, Dad 1
Viticulture - Four plays - Ben 3, Dad 1
Patchwork - Two plays - Dad 2, Ben 0
That's Pretty Clever! - Three plays - Dad 2, Ben 1
Blimey, I think that will do for now, as I need to go re-pack to head back to the boat with Rachel for the upcoming long weekend. Will the newly arrived Obsession: Upstairs, Downstairs and fresh 2nd Edition Obsession be joining us? If I can get it punched and sorted in time!!!
- [+] Dice rolls
18 Aug 2020
I said I would play something didn't I?
After a morning of tidying up, sorting out, putting away and other household tasks, Brass: Lancashire was the first to table. Been a long while since I last played this so a bit of re-learning on rules for both Rachel and I, especially because I figured it would be a good chance to give the other side of the board a go, using the community 2-player rules developed for the old Brass.
An enjoyable game mucked up at the end by my scoring and moving the wrong counters. Final scores therefore unknown but Rachel was adamant I'd won as I was ahead 15 points at the end of the Canal Age and my Railway Era scores of 66 (for links) and 75 (for industry) were both higher than hers.
After the close intensity of Brass, something a bit calmer and a bit nicer was called for, Viticulture Essential Edition filling that role very neatly indeed. Starting with a Cottage from Papa Raymond was a no-brainer and gave me a big advantage in visitors throughout the game, several of which allowed me shortcuts to add extra buildings and workers. A close final round but another win for me, 22 to 17.
Short and sharp today but at least it's something. Expect some canal boat adventures next week, as well as Brass and Viticulture, the ol' man and I should also get in a game or two each of Hitler's Reich and Ganz Schon Clever.
- [+] Dice rolls
Ever stand and look at your board game shelf and feel a bit like Lara Croft?
I haven't really played anything since the last post, other than Dad and I getting in three games of Memoir '44 (he likes it, especially because he won 2-1). I don't really know why. Maybe because my furlough period seems to be dragging on and on with news from the company's fortnightly call being little more than "No news." I'm not hopeful about my future working with the hospitality industry to be honest. As much as I've enjoyed being at home, cooking fresh every day, lifting big in the new garage gym, re-watching Peep Show for the fourth time, the novelty is starting to wear off.
Planned holiday travel to Greece and Denmark falls in and out of jeopardy on a daily basis, with quarantines and rules being imposed at the drop of a hat. On Thursday I had the unfortunate experience of sitting in the barbers awaiting my turn, being forced to listen to a loudmouthed customer repeating all the usual COVID-19 conspiracy bullshit.
"Coronavirus doesn't actually kill you."
"It's all about money."
"The masks don't do anything you know."
"It's been around for hundreds of years why is it only killing people now?"
I think the only thing keeping me sane in that moment was occasional eye contact with the mother sat across the room from me, even with masks on our eyes spoke volumes whilst The Expert rambled on. I'm not sure she appreciated her 7 or 8 year old lad being exposed to such drivel. When he finally paid and left you could feel the tension just drain out of the room. Deep, controlled breaths all around, chair and instruments sanitised for my sheering, conscious efforts from all present to talk about anything else.
Then I went round Sainsburys only to witness several children without masks touching and handling as much of the fresh produce as possible. People wearing designer masks but not over their nose.
I just fucking despair sometimes.
So back to my original point before this goes any further off the deep end. Recently I've been standing in front of my Kallax looking over the games just feeling like Lara Croft in that moment. Just wanting to take (almost) everything out and start again. Rebuild anew. Not sure how I'll do it. Maybe wait for the next maths trade. Maybe turn it into a circus with a GeekList, "make me some trade offers" sorta thing. Maybe I'll finally get Tomorrow shifted from it's apparently eternal position in the For Trade pile. I've certainly go no shortage of cardboard boxes and packing paper from all the various deliveries Rachel and I have had over this strange summer.
I will sit down and playing something this afternoon.
I just don't know what.
- [+] Dice rolls
No posts for a whole month, but furlough life moves along, well, just fine really. June was dominated by my getting out into the Peak District for walks at least twice a week in preparation for a "Virtual 3 Peaks" event with the local fitness group. Since their real 3 Peaks Challenge was scheduled for July 4th and cancelled due to COVID, instead the challenge became "just walk the distance on the day." Walking 23 miles in one day even on the flat isn't something to sniff at, but I decided to make it a "3 Peaks in the Peaks" thing, doing three separate walks of similar length to the Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon trio if not the same ascent, the walks being Kinder Low, Win Hill and finally Middleton Top. A fun day out certainly, about 9 hours total walking, 49,000 steps and over 6,000 calories burned.
Anyway, back to gaming, which might open up a little bit now that my parents and I have broken our bubble and are socialising a bit more freely whilst still taking all appropriate measures when out and about. The recent Kickstarter for the Terraforming Mars: Big Box had me, for whatever reason, hankering to play a game of TM with all expansions, something I haven't done since getting Turmoil last year. With cards re-shuffled and retrieving the colony tiles from the miscellaneous bits box it was off to the parents on Sunday afternoon, mainly because their dining table is big enough to hold everything.
My starting corporation choices were between United Nation Mars Initiative and Utopia Investment, as much as I like UNMI the draw of playing a new-to-me corp was too much. My starting cards gave me a strategy for the first two generations at least, with Self-Sufficient Settlement and Ice Moon Colony offering early access to Mars and Callisto for some energy income. Rachel opted for Arcadian Communities, expanding out across the board from the word go, whilst Dad went with new-to-him Stormcraft Inc. and also deployed cities to the board early.
After that initial plan however my strategy became a bit listless. Energy and heat production came to me quickly but whilst I was the main driver behind the temperature increases, Dad and Rachel were doing far better with their plant production and thus forestry placements. Some good Venus cards came my way though, I was the only player to do anything to that planet, and it helped me maintain a TR lead throughout the game despite Turmoil's "-1 TR every gen" rule.
Venus was my sole playground and the colonies saw some gentle competition, but the Martian Parliament was the very opposite, almost every generation seeing extra lobbyists deployed to swing the dominant party. For the most part it swung between Mars First and the Greens, the latter proving especially beneficial to Rachel when she built her forests, combining the 4MC Green rebate, 3MC Arcadian Community rebate and cash for building next to oceans, she often turned 8 plants into a TR and 9 or 11MC to spend on the next project.
A reasonably full and busy final Mars, though my own yellow assets were sorely lacking. My lead in terraform rating was wiped out entirely by Rachel and Dad's greenery and city scores, despite buying on my final turn a host of 2VP cards. Dad was the winner with 77 points, Rachel in second with 72 and me not too far behind with 68, so a close game all round and one enjoyed by all. Dad was obviously well chuffed with his win, but he played carefully and consistently on the board, making sure to prevent hostile city placements and maintain his plant income.
To finish with something non-game related, exploring some new music has been a consistent furlough experience mainly focused on rock (both classic and new) and chillwave/synthwave/outrun style stuff. Occasionally Spotify's algorithm throws out an absolute banger that both ends up on a repeat and initiates a new avenue of recommendations and "If you like this..." so courtesy of that, Sheffield indie rockers SHEAFS were June's stand-out favourites.
- [+] Dice rolls
A good while ago, my better half and I ventured out along Derbyshire's Cromford Canal. One of the landmarks on that route was High Peak Junction, where I mentioned in passing the Cromford & High Peak Railway and how it crossed the Peak District to bring lead and limestone over the hills and down to the canal.
Well, some recent cursory reading and map checking on the subject, combined with the currently excellent weather the UK is experiencing, piqued my interest enough to give the High Peak Trail a go. The railway itself is long gone, but the track bed has been converted into a solid path for walkers and cyclists.
Something somewhat unusual about the Cromford & High Peak Railway (henceforth the C&HPR) was that it was originally envisioned as a canal. The Peaks, the southern end of the Pennies, was an obstacle for transport and the existing canal network meant goods from Manchester had to go south on the Macclesfield Canal and eastwards on the Trent & Mersey Canal to get the East Midlands. This was a long detour, so when the Peak Forest Canal (which reaches out from Manchester to the edge of the Peak District at Whaley Bridge) was completed in 1800 engineers scoped out a short-cut canal, rising up and across the limestone hills to not only bring cotton into the East Midlands but also tap into the quarries and mines of Derbyshire. The problem was both financial and geological. An estimated cost of £500,000 but yearly returns of only £6,000 was understandably frowned upon, plus water supply would be a constant source of trouble as back then, before the spate of reservoir building, the limestone uplands were rather dry.
So a tramway was proposed instead by Josiah Jessop, son of the great canal and civil engineer William Jessop, and the corresponding Act of Parliament was passed in 1825. Five years later the first stretch from Cromford to Hurdlow was complete, and honestly the design of the thing sounds bonkers. Five inclines, powered by stationary steam engines, lifted the railway over 1,000 feet in 5 miles. Four more took it down from the summit to Whaley Bridge. On the flat sections, wagons were pulled by horses, the track being supported on stones in a "fishbelly" design.
The engine house at Middleton Top remains, at the top of a 700 yard 1-in-8½ incline. The starting point of my walk, we'll be heading away from the High Peak Trail for the first half and going a bit more cross-country.
The path climbs uphill quickly and through typical Derbyshire fields, criss-crossed by dry stone walls and grazed by sheep. Soon enough you're walking along the top of Intake Quarry, limestone from here was shipped out on the C&HPR. As a counter-point, this spot also offers views of a modern working quarry, off to the right from this shot is Hopton Works, the dust and racket of diggers and engines offers a stark contrast.
Down one hill, up another, alongside the working quarry for a bit and then out onto this track, the Portway or the Chariot Way. This is an ancient route that runs from Nottingham all the way through the Peak District to Mam Tor. There's some evidence it was used during the Iron Age, maybe earlier, and it became a major road during Roman times and remained in use during the Saxon and Medieval periods.
Off the Portway now and back into the fields, I turn left onto the Limestone Way. Up hill and over dale for a mile or so.
Through a spot of woodland and out onto the High Peak Trail, which follows 17 miles of the old C&HPR main line from High Peak Junction in Cromford to Dowlow near Buxton. About 3 miles of fairly easy going back to Middleton Top now, but I'll take a slight detour up to the top of Harboro' Rocks.
Plenty energy left in my legs yet, enough to power up to the top of this limestone crag for a brief rest and to enjoy the view from the 1243ft (379m) summit. And yes, I know I need a haircut.
Back now to one of those inclines, I'm at Hopton Top looking down the 457 yard 1-in-14 gradient. In the 1877 the stationary steam engine which chain-hauled wagons up the incline was at the end of it's operational lifespan and the decision was made to allow the running of conventional locomotives, ascending under their own power and descending using their brakes. The peculiar nature of the railway, especially some tight turns such as the Gotham Curve (80 degree curve with a radius of 55 yards), limited the trains that could be used and only 4-wheeled stock was used.
Given the incline, it's not surprising that trains often had to be broken down and a few wagons lifted at a time, and in wet or cold conditions two wagons at a time was standard. Information boards up and down the Trail offer a glimpse into the working past, above is a Kitson 0-4-0 Saddle Tank descending whilst a water tank, acting as a counterbalance, ascends on the other track.
Despite the nature of the railway accidents were very rare. In 1888 a brake van parted from its train near the summit of the Cromford & Sheep Pasture Incline. Unable to make the turn into Cromford Wharf it left the track, sailed over the canal and a double-track railway, and landed in a field on the other side. In 1937, an engine driver was killed when his engine (travelling chimney first at 45mph), three wagons and the 20-ton brake van derailed at the bottom of Hopton Incline and crashed down a 25 foot embankment.
The C&HPR never achieved any sort of profitability for its investors, just 3 years after opening the line was in difficulty and the chairman at the time said that it "never had a remote chance of paying a dividend on the original shares." Traffic steadily decreased through the 19th and 20th Centuries and, even though limestone and burnt lime remained its major cargo, the Middleton Incline was the first section to be closed in 1963, with the rest following in 1967.
There's four circular walks that start at Middleton Top, mine was the longest option at 7.5 miles but the shortest is just 1.5 miles, they're all well worth a go if you're in the area. Those who prefer two wheels to two legs should find the High Peak Trail more than suitable for cycling, though I'm sure the inclines will test your stamina.
Where next? Kinder Low? Win Hill? Personally I've got my eye on Hob Hurst's House, but Chee Dale looks interesting too...
- [+] Dice rolls
Oh my, well over a month since my last post. Truth be told, whilst furlough life is plodding along just fine, it's left me without much inspiration to write anything or even game much. Still, Rachel and I have managed a couple of sessions and a few milestones to boot.
Tapestry has been nickel'd, the game itself now grokked enough to provide solidly competitive play (though my city arranging skills need considerable work), and bullets flew thick and fast in our first two plays of Memoir '44. Finally, after many agonising, brain-burning hours, all ten cases of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases have been solved (to, ahem, varying degrees of accuracy) and the game passed on to my parents. It might be a while before they get round to it though, Carcassonne is still proving their favourite title and the recent addition of the Carcassonne: Expansion 5 – Abbey & Mayor has given them several new avenues to explore.
The real purpose of this post however comes after a recent rejigging of the Sneaky Meeple's Kallax and the boxing up of my Star Wars: X-Wing (Second Edition) collection. Having not played it for a damn good while, and with Tapestry, Memoir '44 and Hitler's Reich reduced to merely perching atop the shelf, Draugr Squadron's X-Wings and TIE Fighters were mothballed and relegated back upstairs to one of the office shelves for the time being.
And then last Friday, FFG only go and release some solo rules don't they? Just as I've packed it all away! No doubt wanting to keep the fan-base engaged and practising their piloting skills during the current situation, these alpha (i.e. still in development and awaiting player feedback) rules allow one (or two) players the chance to fly against 3 waves of AI-controlled ships.
And honestly, it's not bad. The overall rules are still pretty much the same in that ships activate in ascending initiative order and shoot in descending initiative order, but the AIs have a three-step process to their movement consisting of:
Step 1: Clock an appropriate "tally". Target-locked ships are the preference but otherwise it's basically whatever ship is closest to it's forward-facing "bullseye" firing arc. A ship dead ahead at long range is preferable to something close but behind.
Step 2: An "approach roll" to determinate the AI ship's manoeuvre, based on the roll of one Attack and one Defence die and the arc the tally is in. Four tables to refer too, no worse than most war games, but terms like "slowest blue turn" and "fastest advanced manoeuvre" mean the resulting move is potentially different for each ship type.
Step 3: The AI ship does an action, what that action is depends on the result of the previously rolled Defence die and the resulting "attitude" the ship is in. Defensive ships will try to barrel roll or boost away from enemy firing arcs, offensively minded ships will do the same but towards enemies to get better shots.
Cross referencing all this was a bit of a pain at first, in typical FFG style the provided rules (click here!) are not especially printer friendly which let to a lot of back-and-forth through the print outs. The tally step is quick enough to learn off by heart though, and the community has been fast to simplify and clear up the charts, such as this printer-friendly version for the TIE/ln from Reddit.
Actual shooting is straight forward, shoot at whatever is closest basically, spending any tokens and/or re-rolls in such a way to maximise damage dealt if attacking or minimise damage taken if defending.
For the most part, the system works fine and there is very little that's left up to the player to adjudicate, something I greatly appreciate as I like game AIs to be as independent as possible. That said, you do end up sometimes with decisions that make little sense. The above picture, for example. A 3-speed bank would have taken Sabre 2 in his TIE Interceptor right into an almost perfect firing position right up Red 2's backside. Instead he does a 2-forward, and being defensively minded (due to the evade result on his Approach Roll) simply takes an Evade action. There are no enemy ships behind Sabre 2. Nothing in any position to shoot at him.
Now, I'm not too worried about the difference between the 2-forward and the 3-bank. In typical games, players must guess, ponder and predict the actions of their opponents when setting their manoeuvre dials, making the wrong call and ending up out of position happens all the time. But the action a ship can take after it moves is something that Sabre 2 in this instance would have had complete control over. A barrel roll to the right and use of the TIE Interceptor's innate Autothrusters ability to immediately follow that roll with a Boost action would have brought him to point blank range on Red 2. No AI system is ever going to be perfect though so slightly weird happenings like the above are bound to slip through the net, in a thematic sense you can always put it down to bad or panicked decisions on the part of that pilot.
All-in-all it's solid enough I'll be giving it another go one day next week, probably with some more interesting ships for me to fly than just basic Red Squadron X-Wings.
Also, now that lock-down in the UK has been lifted somewhat and I'm still on furlough for the foreseeable, I'll be getting out and about into the Peak District for some walks so you can expect to see some more outdoor adventures in the next few weeks.
- [+] Dice rolls
Well, that's 3 weeks of furlough been and gone, and three more to come in all likelihood. In lieu of solo board gaming I've sunk back into a couple of PC games with friends and colleagues (especially space ninja hack-and-slash-and-shoot 'em up Warframe) and along with the usual "daily duties" and a few things on the house "To Do" list, I've been reasonably well occupied. That said, Rachel and I have found time at the weekends to indulge in some tabletop.
That's Pretty Clever! remains the opener of choice, easily getting the grey matter calculating away and having us both sighing in despair at the terrible offerings that seem to invariably appear. We've three cases left with Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases, the most recent one The Banker's Quietus proving especially frustrating, I'm more determined now than ever to get the remaining cases cracked and move this title on. Carcassonne, Cottage Garden, Alhambra and Castles of Burgundy have all made it to the table at various points, I dare not tag them as I have nothing interesting to say about them.
The economy and life in general may be somewhat stagnant at the moment but there's some ripples of movement in the pond that is the Sneaky Meeples board game shelf, with new arrivals Tapestry and Memoir '44 having to perch precariously on top along with Hitler's Reich for lack of room below. Maybe it's time to pack up Draugr Squadron's X-Wings and TIE Fighters to make some space...
Anyway, why these? Well, I remember Rachel and I both enjoying our first go at Memoir '44 way back in June in Edinburgh, as a result it's been on my list since then. And Tapestry? Well, it was on offer at Chaos Cards...but seriously, it's another that's been on, and off, my wishlist since first hearing about it. Being Stonemaier made it an instant "must have!" and then some more reading made it fall off again. Trawling CC's offerings left it as one of very few interesting choices however, and I can't say I've ever been disappointed by any of Jamie's creations.
Our first play didn't disappoint either, it's been a while since a two player game seriously strained the dimensions of our 1970's vintage table. Tenuous turns at first and a good deal of trepidation from Rachel soon turned into smooth and quick gameplay, ending with what I assume are atrocious scores of 101 for Rachel's Inventors and a measly 71 for my Architects. Two solitaire plays today in the coolness of the kitchen (a pervious attempt to play Tapestry solo in the sunny conservatory led to cards and boards warping in the heat) have shed some more light on the game's ebb and flow, I have no doubt we'll be pushing the 200s when it hits the table this weekend. A "First Impressions" post will surely follow.
- [+] Dice rolls
You know what type of post I seem very, very often on this website?
"This card is totally broken."
"This player faction is ridiculous, they're unbeatable."
"This combo is way too powerful they win every game."
"wE HaVe oNe pLaYeR WhO SeEmS To wIn aLl tHe tImE!"
There's an easy solution to the vast majority of these problems.BE.
If you've got a player at your table consistently winning with the same strategy maybe you should take some steps to throw a bloody spanner in that engine and STOP HIM rather than just focusing on your own engine. Because your engine is a Reliant Robin with a dodgy wheel whilst your opponents is an Aston Martin Vantage DB11 roaring off into the distance.
"Whenever anyone plays Ecoline in Terraforming Mars they always win!"
Maybe that's because you're too busy fucking around with useless cards and you've completely forgot about the actual bloody BOARD, you know the big one in the middle of the table that LOOKS LIKE MARS? You're there adding +1 to your already +22 steel production whilst Mr. Ecoline is putting down his twentieth forest tile. "WHAT BULLSHIT, ECOLINE IS SO OVERPOWERED!!" you scream internally.
"PLAY MORE AGGRESSIVELY ON THE BOARD." I scream at you via forum post.
"Farmers are so overpowered in Carcassonne they always score so highly!"
Wow I wonder what the solution is? Maybe instead of adding another tile to your already outrageously large city for a measly 2 points you should use that city tile to block off their farmer in a shitty little field and deny them 18 points. Are you a card counter? Place that awkward road piece next to his cathedral city and laugh in the knowledge that there is now no tile left that will let him complete it.
I don't know if this is a controversial opinion or not, and yes I know that some games are genuinely broken in some way. But the vast majority are not, and all the problems of X being overpowered, or Y being unbalanced, or Z being too easy strategy, is all too often down to the fact that players are too passive and too scared of playing to intercept, delay and sabotage, instead preferring to concentrate on their own board or engine, completely neglecting what other players are doing and then complaining when they are beaten.It's not the game's fault.
Science cards in 7 Wonders aren't overpowered. You didn't hate-draft them away from your opponent.
Tharsis Republic from Terraforming Mars isn't overpowered. You just need to play the board harder, build your own cities to stop him building his.
Witch isn't a shitty Dominion card. You didn't "see any point" in getting any protective counters.
See the common denominator?
- [+] Dice rolls
Big developments in this, part 4 of my Stellaris playthrough as the Alzir Authority.
Part 1 - It's Hard Work Managing a Galactic Empire You Know
Part 2 - Respect my Authority
Part 3 - I Will Finish What You Started
Well, it seems like the ascendancy of the Alzir Authority has now been tempered. When we last left our firm-handed space lions they were about ready to carve another niche into the Glorious Gwesibor Imperium to open up access to the remaining fallen empire, the Fafossan Remnant. Being the last serious contender to Alziri dominance of the galaxy, taking these xenos down sooner rather than later was key.
Soon wasn't soon enough as it turns out. Just as we wrapped up our war with the Gwesibor, the Fafossan announced to the galactic community that they would be re-entering the stage to reclaim the galaxy they had once dominated alongside the Cirrulans. Exploding forth as the Fafossan Restorers, their fleets were soon met in battle by almost the entire Alziri navy. In an unprecedented turn of events Alziri courage and, perhaps, over-confidence, was no match for the vastly superior Fafossan forces, to say that the battle was a rout would be generous. Devastation more like, the Authority Star Orders were thoroughly smashed and sent back to Laais in tatters. Despite the desire to quickly rebuild the fleet and get back in the fight, events closer to home prompted a quick peace deal with the Fafossans.
We in the Alzir Authority weren't the only ones dabbling in robotics and cybernetics, our allies in the Huvidu-Zaan Republic had been using mechanical workers for decades and, at a most inopportune time for our alliance, reaped the sudden and disastrous "benefits" of the galaxy's second robot uprising. The Tronzaru Architects seized several key worlds and rampaged through dozens of systems with their star-fleet and it looked for a moment as if the Huvidu-Zaan might be extinguished by their creations.
Thankfully for them, the Alziri fleets were now reinforced and reconstituted and sallied forth, quickly destroying the Tronzaru forces and allowing Huvidu-Zaan armies to reconquer their former planets. Understandably shaken by these events, our Grand Marshall decided to purge all robotic and cybernetic populations from Authority space with immediate effect. This work has been completed and policy has been altered to outlaw further AI research and forbid the use of robotic servants and workers. Thankfully, the purge has had no side effects, worries that initiating a purge would cause an uprising in Authority space have proved unfounded. We have clearly faired better than the Gwesibor Nation, whose former workers the Model-16 Incorporators have now conquered almost all of their former masters' territory.
At least the admirals have a new toy to play with in our next war. The completion of the Colossus Project means we now have a Colossus-class vessel available for use. Debate was had about the benefits of the two proposed weapon types, a planet-shattering World Cracker which does exactly what the name implies, or the perhaps more sinister Neutron Sweep, which bombards the world below with a deadly wave of neutron radiation. This instantly kills all organic life (and mechanical "life") on the planet below leaving it available for re-colonisation. There is some collateral damage of course, the natural environment inevitably takes a few decades to recover from such a bombardment, but destroying the planet outright just seems so...wasteful.
Whether the Colossus will be utilised or not depends really on what our next steps should be. Admittedly the entering of the Fafossans into galactic events and our defeat (let's be honest, that's what it was) at their hands has thrown the Alziri high command for a bit of a loop. The fleets are being re-jigged, re-armed and consolidated yet again in light of new technology but unfortunately the purge of all AIs in Authority space also meant the Navy had to give up their sapient shipboard combat computers.
Going to war again with the Fafossans means entering into a 2v3 conflict, us and the Huvidu-Zaan against the Fafossans and their new vassals: the Glorious Gwesibor Imperium and the Pouz-Jok High Kingdom. Alternatively we could opt for easier pickings, working our way through the galactic stragglers and remaining independent entities such as the Empire of Akk, the Model-16 Incorporators and the Principality of Wetij.
The only certainly is that we will never submit to the Fafossans. The galaxy will burn before that happens, rest assured.
- [+] Dice rolls