Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Let's Go Shopping

The Giggling One and I have three weeks of holidays coming up, and we'll be spending one of those weeks in Melbourne.

Top of her list of things to do? Visit Ikea.

Top of mine? Visit MilSims, a games store.

I think we all know which one is more important.

My shopping list consists of three games I've read or heard fairly extensively about:

* The Pillars of the Earth (because it's based on my favourite novel),

* Starcraft: The Board Game (because Blizzard's RTS is one of my all time faves), and

* Ca$h 'n Gun$ (because the guys at The Spiel made it sound criminally fun).

So three new games hopefully coming my way next month. Blog reports most certainly to follow.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Celebrity Hijack Wrap Up

Three weeks ago I put fingers to keyboard to give some impressions of Big Brother Celebrity Hijack.

Now that the show is over it's time for some more thoughts on the show as a whole. I don't intend to summarise what happened. You can wiki that. What I am going to give is the impressions of myself and The Giggling One.

**Spoiler Warning...yada yada yada**

We loved it. As we did for the previous series of Big Brother UK. I think I enjoyed the fact that the house was way more relaxed due to the nature of the show, although Amy spent most of the time paranoid.

I'll start my housemate thoughts with Amy, and proceed in a logical, alphabetical order as I am a logical, alphabetical sort of person (no I don't know what that means either). Amy was the most sensible person in the house, and didn't take any shit from the boys which was good to see. She was good natured, good looking and, dare I say it, the most attractive of the housemates. OK so she does weird art stuff, but a guy can overlook that as she's so damn gorgeous. Such a pity she smokes.

Anthony (aka Anfony) was actually a charming fellow - for a boxer. Like all boxers he was a few fleas short of a mangy dog, but the girls, particularly Calista, were attracted to him anyway. One thing that pissed me off was the way all the prissy celebrities kept calling him "Antony". There's a fucking 'h' in it you morons.

Calista was one of the more talented housemates, though her fellow roomies didn't seem to think so in the rating challenge. Her grasp on music was almost enchanting. Pity we couldn't say the same for her waaaay overdone make-up.

Emilia started off as the coy, flirty one and finished as the bitchy, flirty one. We were staggered to see her get all the way to second place. Maybe the voting demographics were different for this series, because bitchy girls usually find themselves voted out quickly.

Jade's stay in the house was the briefest. We weren't entirely displeased with that, as we didn't have to look at her weird cat-face for the whole series.

Jay was surprisingly funny, while also maintaining the role of the sensitive gay guy.

Jeremy, aka Jeremy Metcalfe, was most certainly not sensitive, but was one of the more amusing housemates, especially when he was roleplaying. He seemed to think he was funnier than he really was, particularly when he made demeaning comments to the women before following them up with the obligatory "I'm joking". No, Jeremy, not funny. Still, sharing the same name and being a moping bastard, I felt a level of affinity for the guy.

John took the role of the most sensitive, serious housemate. The others thought he was a mole. John showed why he is Chairperson of the Scottish Youth Parliament with his mediating skills. I was glad to see him win, but I just wished he'd loosen up a bit.

Latoya was one of the quieter ones, and her constant headwear was annoying. Though it did mean we didn't have to see her bizarre hairstyle every day.

Ooh, there's a segue that I just can't go past. Winner of the bizarre hairstyle by a mile was Liam. A bit young to be starting a comb over one would have thought, but if he keeps up with the vigorous masturbation maybe his hair will fall out.

Nathan was rather 'meh' for me. Middle of the road and relatively unoffensive. Deserved his sixth placing.

Finally Victor. I had a go at him last time, and now I'm going to do it again. Sexist, rude arsehole. The way he reacted to Latoya and Jay's fake argument was pathetic and he thoroughly deserved to leave the house when he did.

Of the celebrities, I enjoyed Matt Lucas, Ian Wright, Alan Cumming, Kelly Osbourne, Russell Brand, Andy McNab (the hostage situation was brilliant), Chris Moyles, Roseanne Barr and Jimmy Carr. Jimmy's final stunt of placing the housemates in a particular order (of height as it turned out - not that the housemates worked this out) and making them guess what the order was, and then abandoning them was sheer genius.

John McCririck was rather disgusting. Peaches Geldof and co-hijacker were pathetic, as were the girls from Hollyoaks and All Saints. Malcolm McLaren was a filthy pervert.

There was a little too much interaction between the housemates and celebrities as well. After getting over the inital shock that the celebrities had conversations with the housemates who weren't in the diary room, and the bigger disappointment of the hijackers actually going in to the house, I began to enjoy that aspect (though The Giggling One did not share my enthusiasm).

However, some of the hijackers seemed particularly keen to share information from the outside world with the housemates, and that was really not on.

The negatives were far outweighed by the positives however, and seeing the lad from Basildon, Brian, re-enter the house for his brief cameo was right up there.

To the final question: Has this whet our appetite for BBUK Series 9? Hell yeah!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

San Marco

It took until the final game of the evening at last Friday's games night to get to grips with a meaty strategy board game. That game was San Marco.

Unlike the previous games I've described from the evening, I'm not going to go into any great depth because I just can't do it justice. For more details about the game, I suggest as always to visit Board Game Geek.

San Marco is a game of area control. The board consists of six regions, including the titular San Marco, and the idea is to place little cubes of your colour in each region to score victory points. You only score victory points if you or another player places the Doge (a big red dude) in an area where you have the most or second most amount of cubes.

Each region awards different amounts of victory points for first and second, so placement is key. You can place bridges between regions to help with the placement of your cubes and to move the Doge around.

Placement of pieces and scoring points is heavily dependent upon what cards you get each turn. This is a very interesting mechanic. Each turn, the four players are randomly allocated into two pairs. Each pair has a "distributor" and a "decision maker". The distributor draws five "action" cards and three "limit" cards, and then splits these cards into two piles in whatever combination they like. The decision maker gets to look at the two piles and chooses the one they would like. The distributor is left with the other pile.

This lends a surprisingly challenging level of strategy to the game. if you're the distributor, you want to divide the cards so that regardless of which pile you are left with, it is going to be valuable to you.

The action cards are used to place cubes and brides on the board, to remove your opponents' pieces, or to move the Doge around to score victory points.

The limit cards have either 1, 2 or 3 written on them and are generally bad to collect. Once any player collects 10 or more limit points, the round is over. Anyone with fewer than 10 limit points gets to have one more turn (unless they are the only one left).

After three rounds, the game is over, and each of the six regions is visited once more by the Doge to reach a final score. Most victory points wins.

Both The Giggling One and I enjoyed this game, though I think she enjoyed it more as she finished a close second. I, on the other hand, was equal last.

We're both keen to give it another play. Like the other games on the night, one play just wasn't enough to get the most out of it. It's certainly not the deepest strategy game out there so it's not too hard to come to grips with. The interaction between the players is fun, and the paranoia even more so. Revenge is sweet.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


The third game we played on Friday night was Familienbande which I believe translates into English as "Family Ties". It's a simple card game with a little, but not a great deal of strategic depth.

There are around 60 cards, each containing an illustrated portrait of a man or woman. Marked clearly on each card, each of these people also has a combination of three attributes (genes) out of a pool of five.

The five attributes are big ears (coloured blue), eyeglasses (yellow), "impressive" noses (green), red curls (orange), and broad lips (red).

Each character has three genes, but these may include more than one of the same attribute. So while one card may have an ear, a curls and a nose icon, another card may have two glasses icons and a nose icon. Five of the cards have three of the same attribute on them.

At the beginning of the game each player secretly takes an attribute tile and peeks at it to see which attribute they have. The idea is then to promote that attribute more strongly than any others.

The promotion of attributes is done via marrying and child birth. The game starts with three cards being dealt face up on the table to represent the first generation. As the game progresses, each player may marry two people, by placing a person of the opposite sex next to a single person.

As a couple, they can now have kiddies. On their turn, instead of marrying two people, a player may instead choose to place a card down as the descendant of a couple. The catch is that the three attribute icons on this card must be made up of three of the six attribute icons of the parents.

For example, if one parent has red/green/yellow, and the other parent has red/blue/blue, then you could place a card with red/green/blue down as the child of this couple. However, you would not be able to place a card with green/green/blue down because that would require two green icons from the parents, and they only have one between them.

If you're not thoroughly confused by this, then please read on. Each descendant represents a new generation. The first descendant of the game will be placed on the table below the existing row, and will form the first card in the second generation. When this card is married, and a child produced, it will be placed in the third row, representing the third generation.

The game continues up to the fifth generation. Each generation can have no more than one more descendant than the generation before. That is, the first generation has three people. The second generation can have no more than four descendants (who can then be married), and the third generation five.

The fifth generation is therefore made up of seven descendants. This final generation cannot marry. Once the seventh card is placed in this generation, the game is over regardless of whether every generation above them is "full".

So, scoring. Kind of important I think you'll agree. Every time a descendant is placed on the table, the attributes on that card score points. The points allocated depend upon the generation. For every attribute on a card in the second generation, two points are scored. So if a second generation card has blue/blue/red, then the blue marker will move 4 places up the score track, and the red one will move 2 up.

The idea is that each player will try and promote their own attribute as much as possible, so they move up the score track. However, saving cards with more than one of your own attribute on it for later generations is a good idea for two reasons. Firstly, you get more points. If you were green and save a green/green/red card for the fifth generation, you'll score 10 points (and you'll give 5 points to red).

The second reason to hold good cards until the later generations is you may not want to give away your colour too early. Not that there's a great deal of blocking strategy the other players can use as they are limited to the cards in their hand, and the combinations on the table.

After the seventh card is placed in the fifth generation, the game ends and everyone reveals their colour. Points are then deducted from each player for any cards remaining in their hand.

Whoever has the most points wins. Obviously. In the one game we played, I finished dead stone motherless last. I didn't get at all strategic, and failed to hold any good cards for the later generations. Rather silly really, but these are the things that you learn in hindsight and make you itch for just one more game...


Ah Bohnanza. We only played it once, and that wasn't enough. Like most games, it takes a few goes to really get the hang of the play and the associated strategy.

Bohnanza is a fun card game. Each card has a picture of an anthropomorphic bean. The idea is to plant beans by placing them face-up in fields (sets) on the table in front of you, then harvest (discard) the fields to gain gold. The bigger the field, the more gold you get.

So it's a simple match making game right? Ooh boy are you wrong. There are a number of elements that make this anything but straight forward.

First and foremost, unlike any other card game I've ever played, you can't rearrange your hand. Cards must stay in the order in which they are dealt/picked up, and you must play all your cards from the same end of your hand. That is, when it is your turn to plant a bean, you must plant the card at the planting end of your hand.

Also, you can only have two fields in which to plant your beans (you can later purchase a third field for 3 gold), and you can only plant beans of the same type in each field. What this means is, as you are forced to plant beans at certain stages of the game, you will be forced to harvest fields if none of them match the bean you are planting.

The additional problem there is that you have to have a certain number of beans in each field in order to gain gold when you harvest that field. Each field can earn up to 4 gold if it is big enough, but you may have to harvest it before it gets that big. In fact, it's not uncommon to harvest a field and earn no gold from it at all as you don't have enough beans in it yet.

The bean cards themselves are very cute. We played the German version, meaning we often had to resort to describing the bean rather than using its German name. The beans include the Soy Bean (a peace-loving hippy), a Black-Eyed Bean (looking the worse for wear in a boxing ring), a Green Bean (puking in a drunken stupour while clinging to a lamp post), a Red Bean (looking all embarrassed and covering its naughty bits), and a Blue Bean (a Wild West cowboy (or should that be cowbean?)).

No two sets of cards have the same number of cards in the deck as any other. They range from a lowly 6 to an abundant 20. The trade-off is that the fewer beans of that type, the more valuable they are, and the fewer you need to plant to earn gold.

Getting to the gameplay itself, each player is dealt five cards. Each turn has four compulsory stages. Firstly, the active player (let's assume it's you) must plant either one or two beans. Remember, you can't rearrange your hand so you have no choice over which cards to plant. You must plant the card at the front of your hand - the one you drew the longest time ago. Your only choice is whether to plant a second bean or not.

If all your fields are currently planted and have beans of a different type than the one you have to plant, then you must harvest a field to make way for the new bean. Choosing which field or fields to harvest is the key and depends on what you have in your hand and whether you want to hold out for more beans in one particular field.

Having said that, there is a limitation to the harvesting process: no field with only a single bean can be harvested unless all fields have only one bean.

In stage two of your turn you draw two cards, and place them face-up, separately from your fields, for all to see. You can then trade any of these cards, or any of the cards in your hand to other players.

Trading can only be done with the active player, and can be in any arrangement (eg. 1 for 1, 1 for 2 etc.). This is very useful for players as it is the only chance you get to change the look of your hand, as you can trade a card from anywhere in your hand. If there's a card in your hand you don't want to have to plant then you can trade it to another player for a card you do want.

Any cards you receive through trading are placed face-up in front of you and not in your hand, regardless of whether you are the active player or not.

In stage three, everyone who received beans in a trade, not just the active player, has to plant those beans. If this means anyone has to harvest a field to make way for the new bean(s), then they must do so.

If no one wants to trade with you, then you're stuck with whatever two beans you drew in stage two and must plant them.

Finally, in stage four you draw three cards from the stack, and place them at the back of your hand (the opposite end to that from which you plant).

Play continues this way until the deck is exhausted. The discard pile is then reshuffled and becomes the new deck. After three times through the deck, the game is over, and whoever has the most gold is declared the winner.

I managed to finish second out of four players in our only game of Bohnanza. That, however, was a long way behind our more experienced host Marca.

I'd love to give Bohnanza another try some time. It was fun and friendly, especially with the trading aspect. 7½/10.

Loopin' Louie

New game number two for the year is Loopin' Louie. It's a very simple dexterity game for kids but it's a new game and I played it so it goes on the list.

The game has a central hub, atop which sits a long arm that can move freely in an up and down chopping motion, as well as rotate under battery power. At the end of the arm is a small plane, and in that plane sits the goggled Louie.

Four legs come out of the base at right angles to each other. Little sloped holders sit on these legs, each big enough to hold three small discs the size and shape of poker chips. Various pictures of chickens adorn these discs.

Left to his own devices Louie and his plane will happily circle around on the end of the arm crashing into the nearest disc in each segment. As he does so, each disc is tipped sideways a little, causing it to drop into a holder below, and causing the next disc to roll down and takes its place.

Of course, players aren't keen for Louie to knock off their chickens, so to aid their defence, each player has a little weighted see-saw. Pressing on the end nearest to the player will cause the other end to shoot upwards and, hopefully, send Louie's plane safely over the chickens as he passes by.

The game continues with players attempting to not only send Louie's plane flying well above their own chicken discs, but trying to get just the right amount of oomph to bring it down on another player's discs. Hit the plane too softly and it will land before the next player's defensive see-saw. Hit it too hard and it'll fly harmlessly over their chickens. In fact, it's possible to hit the plane with sufficient force to send the whole arm to a vertical position and have it come back down on top of your own discs on the next revolution.

The last player left with any discs is the winner.

It was a fun diversion for a little while. We played a few games while we were waiting for the "proper" games to start when more people turned up. It plays very quickly, and even more so if you accidentally jiggle the device and send your own chicken rattling to its demise without the assistance of the plane (a rather easy thing to do).

Loopin' Louie is obviously designed for young children and they'll get a lot of enjoyment from it, as long as the rather fragile looking thing doesn't break. If I had kids, I'd consider getting it.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mission Accomplished!

February 1st, and my goal of playing five new games in 2008 has already been realised. Woah.

With hindsight, it was a rather conservative goal, based more than anything on the fact I played one new game in the whole of last year (Rapidough).

However, I have made a concerted effort to go for gold as it were, and blow me down if I haven't got there already, playing four new games last night.

The Giggling One and I went along to the HoGS (Hobart Games (of) Society - the phrasing is desigend to fit the acronym one assumes) games night on Friday. The night is held on the first Friday of each month and involves, erm, games.

We arrived early to find that no one actually arrives early. Bernd and Maka are the hosts of the event each month and they kindly indulged our early arrival.

Over the course of the next five hours we played four games: Loopin' Louie, Bohnanza, Familenbande and San Marco. So we started with a basic dexterity game and ended with an interesting semi-deep strategy game.

I'll blog about each game in a separate entry, and just say here that we both had a great time. We fully intend to go along to the next games night and play, play, play.

With that in mind, I've decided to revise my new game target upward somewhat. I was initially going to set it at 20, but The Giggling One thought I should aim higher still. So my new goal for the year is 25. That's only 20 more. And you know what; I think I can do it.