Ha! I take a few weeks off and the Net of a Thousand Lies says that the Cabinet is off line! Sorry about that double issue thang, folks, but I really enjoyed the break. We played more games this fine holiday season than we had played during the entire rest of the year.
Check out this month's Sumo Retro for reprints of the first game reviews I ever wrote. I recommended a game by a famous Belgian lounge singer (okay, it was really a breakfast room but if you sing bad enough and loud enough, any room becomes a lounge) and dis a game by Klaus Teuber (aka Mr. Siedler)! Ack!
The arrival of the Holidays always signal that its time for Jos and me to start our Annual 'rents Tour. This year we changed things up a bit and started with my folks in Texas. I'm sure its no surprise that my family are all gaming fiends, too. (Oh, yeah! While we're talking about Texas: a big "Hullo!" to the Gamer's Guild (I hope I got that name right, guys) at good ol' Nolan High! Vikings rule!)
My sister taught us to play Cribbage. I'm not a huge card fan but it was definitely an interesting game. Apparently its all the rage in the Seattle cafe scene right now. If you wanna be trendy you have to have your Cribbage board handy at all times.
The current familial favorite is Igel Ärgern (ie Hedgehogs in a Hurry). Hedgehogs is a race game with very simple rules and some great strategic decisions. Each player races a team of four hedgehogs along a course divided into six tracks. When hedgehogs overtake they pile up on top of one another. On their turn a player roles a six-sided die. The player must advance one of the hedgehogs in the corresponding track. Only hedgehogs on top of the piles (or running on their own) may be advanced. Note that the player must advance a hedgehog in the indicated track even if it is not one of their hedgehogs. Before advancing a hedgehog the player may shift one of their hedgehogs that is on top of a pile (or running on its own) in any track onto an adjancent track. This lets you shift into the moving track or slip out of tracks with dangerous piles of hedgehogs or holes. The holes are scattered about the board and if an unlucky hedgehogs moves into one they are stuck until all of the other hedgehogs catch up to them. Its good fun, very easy to learn, and features some great Doris Mathaus art. What more could you want, really? How about 40 new variants? We had a lot of fun with the variants that Kurt Adam translated for the last issue of the Cabinet. The arrival of the variants may well push Igel Ärgern into our 50+ list.
We also played Ab Die Post which is also a very simple race game but with much simpler strategy and a much more random feel to it. The players are racing mail planes around a board with three tracks. The innermost track is fastest (well, shortest, really) but exposes the plane to nasty storms. The outermost track is the longest and safest. Instead of a simple die to randomize movement and trigger storms, this game includes a plastic cloud full of small colored balls. The distance a player may move their plane is determined by the color of ball that drops out of the cloud. Black balls signal storms. A nice bit, indeed. Before starting to fly players must accumulate plane part cards totalling four or more (I believe). When a storm arrives players must discard a number of parts points determined by the track that they are currently flying in. If their parts point total dips below four then they are grounded till they can repair their plane. If they lose all of their parts then their plane is history and they have to start over at the airport (this happens quite a lot).
While I'm thinking of it: I spotted some pretty hideous errors in the rules translation posted on the Cabinet. This may explain why some folks think this game is a real stinker. Then again, it is very random and will not be to everyone's taste.
Watch for an updated rule set for Ab Die Post "real soon now".
Back home in California, between parental visits, I got to play some more games with two weekly gaming groups (in between mad hacking at ClickOver, that is).
The Tuesday (err, no that's Wednesday, err, I mean, Thursday) Night Irregulars have played quite a mix of games over the last while. Olé and Attacke go down well. These are interesting, light card games. The guys had a go at my own election card game, Bid for the Presidency, in its first 6 player outing. Horrible problems but I think we all had fun anyway. We've also had Richard Breese's Keywood out which is also good fun. They got hold of a copy of Mutant Chronicles last week and we were up to all hours assembling bits and hackin'n'slashin' at mutant hordes. Nice bits but just not quite my cup of tea anymore. It went down well with the one kid present, though, and I'm sure a crowd of kids would have been worked into an absolute frenzy by the sight of the assembled mutant hordes. But I get ahead of myself. Crowds of kids whipped into a frenzy shouldn't come up till we get to Edinburgh...
Christmas time found us in the merrye olde. It was cold but, curiously, not quite as wet as California this time (for those of you on the far side of the planet, there were major floods in California while we were away - good timing, especially since our house was high and dry).
I am very happy to report that Just Games has reorganized to open up the back of the shop a bit. Which is good news since that's where they keep an ample stock of European games! The selection was up to date and incredibly tempting. I settled on the small and obscure: X-Pasch (great game, we just tried it last night), Politika (Italian election card game, political games are a bit of a sub-hobby for me), and Wyrm Wars (card game, haven't tried it yet but it looks like an unfortunate rummy variant). I lusted over Marracash but fought back the urge to lug it all the way home. This turned out to be a good thing since Jos had ordered me a copy for me for Christmas and it was waiting for us on our porch back home (luckily, well out of the rain).
While in London we got together with Mike Siggins and the aforementioned Richard Breese. We had a delightful game of Wildlife Adventure with the Breese family (Hi, kids!) and then settled into a serious game of Palmyra, one of Reiner Knizia's recent releases. Palmyra was good but had a bit too much of an accounting excercise feel to it for my taste. Players start the game with a small amount of cash. There are three kinds of commodity up for sale. As the commodities are purchased the price goes up. A player may also sell one set of commodities per turn. Sets are either three of a kind or one of each (I believe - I'm doing this from memory). The set constraint makes it difficult to unload just part of your stash. That combined with a small initial store of cash create a lot of tension as you try to decide where to invest. Each turn the players also place one card on the board. There are a set number of card spaces on the board (adjusted for number of players) and when all the spaces are filled the game ends. The cards adjust the prices of the various commodities, tax particular commodities, or undo previous price changes. The 'undo' cards are played on top of previously played cards. This introduces an element of uncertainty as to the length of a game.
There were some very nice mechanism at work in Palmyra. The uncertain end of game prevented the last minute dumping rush that is common in games of this sort. Selling in sets made it difficult to hold onto a little of everything. There was a definite tension between playing cards to help your commodity or to hurt the other folks. But, even so, it felt a bit dry and, worse yet, out of control. There were so many mechanisms at work that I felt like the game cried out for control but denied the player's the ability to take control - like a driving a large Mexican van full of people that is low on power steering fluid (not that I've done that this year - it was last year, actually, now - it was okay - the cliffs weren't THAT high).
Siggins and I also exchanged pressies even though we swore that we wouldn't. I took him copies of the Cheapass Games (reviews forthcoming, no doubt). Not to be outdone he gave me a copy of the Die Siedler Kartenspiel. Great bits but loaded with German and I immediately noticed that the Cabinet version of the rules includes English translations of all the cards but does not include any hint as to what the original German was. Watch for a fix to these "real soon now", too.
We spent Christmas and Boxing Day at Upper Heyford, the small, sleepy, Cotswolds village where Jocelyn's parent's live. The Oxford canal runs nearby and canal boats, long narrow houseboats, move slowly through the locks on their way down to Oxford. This year it was so cold that the canal had frozen over. Not to be detterred by a bit of ice, the boaters were still making their way up and down the canal! I helped one lot work their way into the lock nearest Heyford. First they had to scrape away enough ice so that the lock could be opened to let the boat enter. Normally there is only about a 6 to 10 inch clearance on either side of the boat once it is in the lock. Maybe not even that much. Once we had forced the door open, the boat slowly slid into the lock. As it moved forward it would ride up on the ice then crunch down through it. It was a steel hulled boat and we marvelled that sailors used to take wooden hulled ships up into the ice of the North Sea. This was just a thin bit of canal crust and it still seemed formidable. Once the boat was in the lock was started to drain it. The boat had to be rocked from side to side as it settled, sort of like working a bottle of wine down into some cracked ice, to prevent it from getting wedged above the receding water! Opening the downstream lock, which was well and truly frozen shut because of all the drizzling bits where water leaked out around the lock door, took all three of us. Finally, the happy boaters motored on down the canal, ice crunching away. A proper arctic adventure, no doubt. The happy couple reported that they had done the same during the truly frigid cold snap the year before. Only last year they were forced to abandon their boat for two weeks when it got frozen in solid while they slept!
Jos' folks love to play Whist, a venerable pre-cursor to Bridge. Did I mention that I was not a huge fan of card games? They walloped me but good. We used buttons to keep score and my debt alone would have accounted for all the buttons on all the coats at a changing of the guard. Sigh.
We took a night off from familial duties and ran down to Reiner Knizia's flat for a delightful evening of games with Reiner and Kevin Jacklin. Reiner is one of Europe's top game designers with a string of hits as long as your arm. Kevin is well known in Runequest circles as a top notch scenario designer and also served as my partner in crime on the English translation of Reiner's New Games in Old Rome.
Reiner treated us to two prototypes. I'm uncomfortable going into details about these but one of the games we played may well be Reiner's best yet second to none. Unfortunately, we may well have to wait two years before Reiner can collect his Speil des Jahres for this gem as it takes that long for the game to wend its way through the publication process. Reiner is also excited about Tigris and Euphrates, though, which should be released by Hans im Glück at Essen next year. Apparently this one started life as a five hour marathon gamer's game (note how I stopped myself from adding "from Hell" to that description? That's self control, that is.). Reiner worked on it, threw out 60% of the mechanisms, wrestled it to the floor, and pinned down what is by all reports a very nice game.
We spent New Year's in Edinburgh. The city is a great mix of the old (by American standards, anyway) and the new. Arthur's Seat and Edinburgh Castle both loom over the city. And there is at least one great game shop!
If its printed on card stock R. Somerville of Edinburgh probably carry it. This tiny shop on the Royal Mile is packed to the gills with playing cards of all shapes and sizes. They have a nice selection of books on card games, as well. From the look of the well organized files, computer database, and catalogs, if Mr. Somerville can't find it for you, it probably doesn't exist.
In Scotland the New Year's holiday is known as Hogmonay and celebrates the passing the old year and not the arrival of the new one. In Edinburgh, Hogmonay is celebrated with an enormous 400,000+ person street party. Great fun. It snowed on and off all evening, and everything looked great. We wandered around Prince's Street listening to the music at the various stages. I think I'm getting old: I didn't recognize any of the bands playing on any of the stages even though many of them were this year's "next hot thing." Sigh. We watched the fireworks over the castle (great castle - it sits atop the cone of an extinct volcanoe and looks down over the city) then staggered back to the Physician & Firkin for a few pints. If you drop by there, say "Hi!" to Keith, our man behind the bar. We stayed at the Ravensneuk, a really great bed and breakfast. Recommended. This holiday is so popular in Europe right now that they're going to start charging folks to enter Prince's Street on New Year's Eve starting next year. It won't be the same - it'll go the way of Trafalgar Square before it. I'm glad we caught the last of it cause it is one of the great parties this planet has to offer.
Then we came home and got back to work.
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell