The cardboard in question was taken from the loft and left in three different rooms for no more than a couple of hours. It seems that was long enough for the rooms to fill with a foul stench, dust and about seven billion fibreglass fragments which nothing, even the January gales, would shift. The result by the evening was acrid, 'sharp' air that felt like sandpaper to breathe and, for a sensitive soul such as myself, left nowhere to sleep. Fine I think, one sleepless night hanging out of the window and then off to the various experts to get the problem solved. I mean, there's Environmental Health, the Insurance Company, Cleaning Firms, Doctors, Hospitals, Fibreglass installers, even Pilkingtons. The universal response was, ``Never heard of it. You must be allergic or something. Nothing we can do mate. Hoover it up! (and no, you are not covered for expenses)''. Great.
Several nights in a local hotel later, the house by now uninhabitable and stress levels as high as ever before, I get hold of a helpful fibreglass/asbestos removal firm to check if I am actually going bonkers. They tell me to spray everywhere with furniture polish or hair lacquer (fire risk - who cares?), wait for the crap to settle and then hoover and spray it again. This seems to help in certain locations but my room is still a warzone. Three weeks on, and several hundred pounds worse off, everything is covered in plastic and the atmosphere is still like a sawmill. I have air purifiers, ionizers, replacement bedding and clothes, carpets have been ripped up and still it hasn't gone away completely. I have an allergy that can't be pinned down and am sleeping on the floor of the kitchen, unable to access the PC or anything else much. I am praying that it isn't asbestos or something equally horrible, and that my books and other games aren't permeated with the smell. And we still don't know what the cause of the problem is.
Eight weeks later, it seems to have finally eased with little damage beyond that to myself and my wallet. At times I was desperate, I can tell you, and prone to watching flecks in the air with a torch, sniffing everything and falling asleep at a moment's notice. The general view is that it was a cocktail of irritants, made worse by some trees being cut down behind the house, wafting spores around. I have as a result become sensitized to all manner of things and have half a dozen new allergies. The really bad news is that these include house dusts and moulds, with an attached sensitivity to fibreglass, and is greatly aggravated by that musty smell that old cardboard sometimes acquires. As those comedians with a bad routine say, you are one step ahead of me. The heavy irony of a boardgamer allergic to cardboard will be apparent to all - look out for a sale of any pre-1980 game classics soon! The implications are not at all promising and I wonder where I go from here. Computer games? Crochet? And to add to all this, they've decided to sell or merge my company with the likely loss of my job. I've had better months on balance So there you go, the perils of game collecting. More notes from Dr Finlay next time, unless you are very lucky.
Long term readers of Sumo will know that, time and location permitting, I like to get around to visit the few gameshops still surviving in the UK. Thanks to work and selling my Magic cards respectively, I have found a couple more excellent shops deserving of your time and custom. With the steady decline in central London shops almost complete (Just Games and Leisure Games being the notable exceptions until the new Virgin Game Centre is opened), this is just as well. The first is Fun & Games in Woking, a few yards from the BR station, which has a good stock of games, figures, cards, kits, books and related ephemera. The owner is particularly helpful on all aspects of games and has some rather obscure items in stock (which is good news) and some excellent buildings, for those into model soldiers. For instance, it has been a good three years since I've seen all four of the not-at-all-bad Henry Games titles (including Vultures and Ascent), and Fun & Games have them all sitting on the shelf. Go to it, and give them a call. Fun & Games are at 15 The Broadway, Woking, Surrey GU21 5AP Tel: 01483 773035.
The second shop, and it is hard to believe I've not been until now, is Eamon Bloomfield's Games Corner in downtown Watton. These premises are clearly a Tardis as the unimposing shopfront expands inwards to reveal stacks of games, jigsaws and the usual items along with, as you might imagine, the odd trading card. If Eamon hasn't got a title he can get it for you, somehow, and has even taken delivery of the excellent Schmittberger book reviewed last time. There is a room out back where you can take on hardcore Magic fiends or trade for that elusive black Picard and there is plenty going on at the weekend. Eamon's game knowledge is unrivalled and I challenge you to escape in less than an hour without being regaled with fascinating tales of the industry, Nuremburg and the merits of recent games. And finally, if you are a trading card addict or a collector looking for an obscure title, and you don't get Eamon's monthly lists, then you are sorely missing out. Details from Games Corner, 76 High Street, Watton, Norfolk IP25 6AH Tel: 01953 883007.
A shop I haven't yet tried (more's the pity), is Patrick Ruttner's new outlet in Paris. The idea here is to sell classy European games to passing tourists and the student market, and if demand permits, mail order as well. I have said before that I am more than keen on the French games market but seem to have singularly failed to penetrate it with Sumo -- Patrick is one of just three French subscribers (not including noted emigre, Mark Green). I do not pretend to understand this, but would welcome more subscribers at any time. Patrick's shop is at OYA, 22 Rue Daubenton, 75005 Paris, France Tel: 1 47 07 59 59 for those visiting the great city. I shall be there as soon as arrangements permit.
The two major toyfairs (well, those of interest to Sumo readers) have produced very different sensations this year. I thought the new games at Olympia very disappointing, with the possible exception of Gibson's sports range, but that the show itself was a huge improvement. Why? Because all those stands I used to long to see, such as Hornby, Scalextric, ERTL and Tamiya, had installed big windows in their usually sealed off displays. Bliss. Meanwhile, the Nuremburg show has prompted more enthusiastic reports than I can ever recall. We are looking at least ten titles that may work; Teuber has returned and is on form and that Knizia chap has about 323 new games from as many companies. I know this is all puff at this stage, and until we get the rules and play them we will have no way of knowing their quality, but it does sound encouraging. One game that we have played from Nuremburg is Ravensburger's High Society, a small box game in the Hols der Geier mould. I understand a full review will appear elsewhere this issue but suffice to say I consider it one of the best little games to come along since Razzia. Plenty of challenging strategy, quick to play, a good theme and no easy way to win. An excellent filler or closer.
I have recently been in touch with Phil Eklund, publisher of the excellent (but now out of print) Lords of the Sierra Madre, as I heard that he has some new games on the market. I now have them both and, as usual, they look fascinating. Lords of the Renaissance is a sort of sequel to LotSM, but concerns the Machiavellian struggles of 16th Century Europe with trading houses, doges, silk roads and galleys. The game system is similar to LotSM, so we have loads of flavoursome cards and counters and a huge map. This is multi-player, plays pretty quickly by all accounts and will be on my test table soon. Due for imminent release, so you can order them together, is Lords of the High Frontier, a simulation of near future space technology. LotR is $44 and LotHF is $24 all in from Phil Eklund, Sierra Madre Games Co, 3438 N Applewood Drive, Tucson, AZ 85712, USA, or firstname.lastname@example.org for you cutting edge merchants.
There are those of you who sit out there and say innocuous things like, `Mike, what do you think of Bantu/Mediterranean/Astron/Speed Circuit/Pop Up Pirate' as if, by some miracle, I had played (or owned) every boardgame ever invented. I haven't (but perhaps I give the impression I have), so I am more than grateful for tips on games like Cul de Sac (which I have been enjoying recently) or good books, or card games, or anything really. Assume I don't know and tell me anyway. It also means that other people (no names, no pack drill) assume that I wouldn't want to play something like, oh, MB's Square Mile. But now I've lured it into the house and played it, I can see I have missed out. Considering it was designed in the early 60's and the disappointment I had with the sister game, Summit, this was a revelation. A rather clever system, albeit based upon the principle of an ever-rising property market (which as we know in the UK is a cast iron bet), the game has lots of nice features and plenty of decision making. Sadly, the game is distinctly rare and a game kit would be difficult to pull off, so I can only suggest you beg or borrow a copy and try it out.
We played a couple of Piatnik's New Games of Old Rome recently, making a total of six for me, out of the 14 in the box. It is inappropriate to give an overview when you have played less than half the games on offer, yet comments on six system would be way too much for the reasons below, so I'll have to generalise. The games are all short (par for the course for Herr Knizia), simple yet clever systems and all themed to ancient Rome. There are simple card games, chariot races, political and trading systems and even basic wargames. Every game I've played has been at least interesting, with novel mechanics, and range all the way from pleasantly diverting up to extremely good. I am keen to try more, but there is this feeling of needing an entire game session to try them all! One could hardly complain about value for money here. There is, as you may have guessed, a drawback. The strange situation with this game is that the rules are translated but copyright rests firmly with Reiner Knizia (for reasons that will become apparent) and I cannot therefore currently distribute them from the Rules Bank. With no rules available, the game is only available on import and unless you can translate an entire book's worth of rules you'll probably have to wait. However, there may be movement here soon, and I will keep you posted.
Having read Alan Moon's, Mike Clifford's and John Webley's varying comments last time, it was with a high level of expectation that I sat down to play Das Regeln Wir Schon (John has supplied the English rules and Alan the translated cards, which are now in the rules bank). And the verdict? Well, I thought it was a lot of fuss about nothing, something of a non-event and a major disappointment. There is a game system of sorts, which is undeniably clever and largely self-balancing, but in terms of play value seems highly overrated. As for theme and atmosphere, it is virtually abstract, failing to engage on any level. There is no subject matter beyond the rules themselves and the play simply revolves around making the best of the situation and your cards. Apart from the interest over unexposed rules, there was nothing here to keep me interested for more than 20 minutes. This is an odd release, but given what has preceeded, perhaps I can understand it - but this time I think Herr Schmiel forgot to add the plot. The whole thing feels sterile and theoretical -- as if it were being submitted as part of a thesis on game design. More than anything, I am reminded of those self-referential theatrical experiments -- Das Regeln is essentially a game system about game systems, and as such should be experienced once and once only. As far as I'm concerned, the two year cycle still stands!
I had a couple of interesting conversations recently on the subject of parallels between game systems and music, and even in The General (how the mighty are fallen) Joe Balkoski was linking the two forms. Now I know very little about the technical side of crotchets and quavers (though the barbecue beef should definitely be avoided) but the gamers concerned, musical experts both, spoke of the comparable fundamentals between the disciplines. The games referenced were a recent Zulu game from Command that was said to have the right `rhythm and structure' for the campaign in question, and Karl Heinz Schmiel's Das Regeln wir Schon, which was deemed so detached from the standard 4:4 time of games that it merited comparison with Philip Glass. I'd have put it closer to Stockhausen's indeterminacy, but what do I know? Looking wider, Die Macher just has to be Wagnerian, 18xx has signs of Bach's intricacy and counterpoint, Dune is clearly Couperin, Elfenroads is Mozart, Railway Rivals I see as very much a soul anthem (perhaps The Fatback Band or Sybil), Battletech is Motorhead and Assassin was probably penned by Fish out of Marillion (though I'd have preferred John Cage). Okay, I'm on a roll. Blood Royale (Mahler), Modern Art (Chopin), Manhattan (Ravel), Blackbeard (Debussy), Drunter & Druber (Mendelssohn). Any other nominees? Is there a Charlie Parker, Pluto Shervington, Johnny Marr or a Vivaldi amongst games and designers? My, and my wallet's, view is that there are far too many Whigfields. Don't bother, I've already mailed this to Pseud's Corner.
Dixie is Columbia Game's recent entry into the collectible card game field and it's a goody. Concentrating on the battles of the American Civil War, it isn't the greatest simulation or game ever, but it does work well and quickly. In fact, it is the best card game since Modern Naval Battles and stands comparison with any of the recent titles. The main appeal, without question, is the cards provided for each of the units at Bull Run. You can collect all 200 of them if you wish, but you can just as easily play with one pack (£6-7). The cards are nicely done, if not top-notch artistically, with each uniform different and even different poses for each trooper. And you get all those exotic units like the NY Highlanders and lots of Zouaves. The best news is that there is a flat distribution of cards, so no hard to find rares. A set is therefore reasonably easy to obtain, if you are that way inclined. I understand the game has been a big success for Columbia who now intend to move onto further ACW battles and Napoleonics. The former I'd have thought will show a marked drop off in sales (I may be wrong) while the latter, ohhh, might just tempt me to buy a crate or two.
While I didn't spot it initially, the game system owes a lot to the Napoleon/Bobby Lee tactical sub-games for those familiar. You deploy a centre, two flanks and a reserve (cards held in your hand) and must take two of the three opponent's positions, though taking even one will make it hard for him to win. You set up your forces (face down, for a hint of chaos) and then wait for the ideal time to attack - and your opponent does the same. The timing of this is entirely down to you, usually following an artillery bombardment. It is then down to the dice to see how your assault force fares. In practice, this leads to one or two weak positions and one highly rated strike force with the best units to deal the killer blow -- but it doesn't always work.
The system is pretty simple and easy to commit to memory. Everything bar movement runs off dice and it is basically '6 to hit' stuff, which for the level of game seems appropriate. There is a lot of die rolling as a result but it's pretty fast and I would say that with the intuitive system (and an ability to rapidly calculate dice and hits) it isn't too much of a problem. We played our games in no more than half an hour each.
So where does the game get pigeonholed? It doesn't strike me as strong on history or even extended play value. The decision making is of nothing more than a rudimentary nature. It is however quick, logical (and pretty tight on systems), easy to learn and quite flavoursome. It has some nice touches (reserve counter attacks, leader effects, terrain cards, outflanking etc) and the feel is pretty good, often as a result of the special action cards such as railroad movement, rally cards and sharpshooters. It also looks good, thanks to the artwork. Taken as an introductory game (but not much of a card game in the sense of cardplay) it is okay, and better system-wise than most of the collectible games. In truth, it could have been a lot better than a re-hash of an existing design and we await developments to see what they can do with the promised Napoleonic follow-up. I guess Columbia saw the market niche and decided to go with a proven system with an eye to delivery speed and presence, rather than innovation. Whatever, well worth a tenner to try it out for a few games.
The Card Game scene (stop yawning at the back there) is rather quiet considering the flood of new games that has, or is about, to hit the streets. The fact that they are arriving in the States weeks and sometimes months earlier than the UK doesn't help. Whatever, Magic, Dixie and Star Trek apart, I haven't seen any games that are really up to anything or even spark an interest in collecting (thank goodness). So we still haven't seen the One Worth Waiting For. Doom Trooper was initially interesting, with an intriguing activation rule, but fell down badly on a boring combat system and excess spikey content. Blood Wars from TSR is certainly different, and again I pat them on the back for bucking the trend, but this failed badly first time out. It seems rushed more than anything, which I guess we have to expect from many of the upcoming games. I will be trying it again however. Illuminati, even with an established game system to work from, I found rather dated and disappointing and, dare I say it, not as good as the old system. Star of the Guardians I haven't even bought as it is one of the `expensive but looks a bit iffy' group -- £7-8 I'll pay to test a system (well done TSR), £16 (for two packs) I won't. Sorry guys. Echelons of Fire, One on One Hockey and Wyvern we haven't yet seen, but Alan Moon has been playing the latter with positive comments. From what I can deduce, it has some major `rules inconsistencies' but has a quick, fun system. And finally, you can rest assured that as soon as Mayfair struggle out with their Sim City and Cosmic Encounter games, the market will have died and you can safely sell or burn all those once valuable cards (and at $200+ for a Black Lotus and £85 for Picard in a Bromley shop, we quickly need to restore some sanity).
Star Trek continues to please. We have played about twenty full games now and it remains a fixture to quickly open our Friday night sessions. There are few non-collecting stories I can tell, apart from failing to stress in the review that, like Magic, a lot of the strategy is in properly building your deck beforehand. Despite this, sadly the game is indeed repetitive unless you bring the rarer cards into play and once you do that, the power swings to those fortunate enough to own the powerful characters (but why is Jo Bril the most keenly deployed personnel card?). I guess this will largely be solved when the collector's edition surfaces and we can all choose which cards to play with. Whatever, the game is quick enough, rather clever in design and true to the subject matter, rather than the rarified linkage of the fantasy titles. The fact that it has outlasted Magic here is a good sign, not least because of the superb card graphics.
Far be it from me to identify current trends, but from my limited exposure to boardgamers (telephone, chats and letter comments) I would say that an awful lot of them have been bitten by collectible card games, some even to the exclusion of everything else. Many won't own up to this of course, but it has been several weeks since I've heard a comment about a new boardgame. Or perhaps they have simply stopped buying. However, there is plenty of chat on which Star Trek, Wyvern or Dixie cards are needed for the set, perceived card `values' and whether a Colour Guard or a Static Warp Bubble best aids your deck effectiveness. Perhaps it is because I too am involved with these games that I am getting this impression, but there are too many signs to ignore.
While the variant king is undoubtedly Mr Dagger, I have recently come across couple of tweaks that seem to work okay and may well be of interest. The first are for 6 Nimmt, a game that has less and less apparent strategy every time I play it, which leads me to wonder if in fact it is a very clever system idea without much actual play substance. I know I gave it a Sumo and pride myself on being able to spot an Emperor sans clothes, but I may just have slipped up here. Your comments would be appreciated. Anyway, we seem to keep playing it and it keeps selling out at Just Games, so it must have something positive, however small. The first variant is that when you pick up cards as a result of playing lowest or a `6th Takes', you take those cards into your hand. The first player out of cards then wins the round with 0 points (instead of the one with the least penalty points) but points held by other players count against their running totals. Now this means that you are going to play at least ten rounds and probably a lot more, but it adds an angle on which cards you play and which you acquire. Worth a try, but not the greatest variant ever. The other 6 Nimmt variant is to use only enough sequential numbers to accommodate ten rounds of play for the players involved ie 44 cards (4x10+4 on table, 1-44 suggested) for four players. This enables you to at least calculate which cards might be out there, but also turns it into something of a card counting exercise rather than a seat of the pants job. Your call. PS Okay, this is embarrassing. The variant just described seems to be an official one per the rules now I have a full translation. Oh well.
Godzilla Manhattan, purloined from the excellent Game Report, is actually one of those variants that transforms the game markedly, but we have played it three times now - initially for fun, but subsequently because it really functions well. The way it works is that you take your dragon from Elfenroads (or a similar miniature monster from a handy cereal packet) and place him randomly on the board. Each time you play a card, as well as building your storey as usual, it also moves Godzilla on an eight directional grid (or not, in the case of the central square). You have to imagine the centre two cities as in-line with the other four, and the layout also wraps around at the edges, but you'll work it out soon enough. The effect is that Godzilla moves around quite rapidly and, you guessed, if he collides with a building it is removed. The best feature is that playing a card now has two distinct effects, and ones thoughts are diverted slightly from building to potential rampages through your strong areas. It is amusing to see the highest tower stalked and finally eaten, and in the worst situations, depending on your cards, it may even be necessary to commit suicide by destroying your own buildings. Good fun, adding a different dimension, and worth trying out at least once.
What with the ongoing Contamination Disaster, constant housework and the sight of Dennis Franz participating in a shower scene, much of the past few weeks has been spent recovering. The net result has been a dearth of TV (hardly missed) and reading, and precious few films leaving little material for Inside Pitch. We saw Generations which was about what you might expect; funny in parts, not a bad story line, some amazing special effects and the THX sound helped no end. In all though, it was about time Kirk hung up his communicator and it wouldn't have looked out of place as an end of season TV special. Leon was a rather good movie, as one might hope for from the director (having produced the Big Blue and Nikita). Well worth a look. TV has boiled down to NYPD Blue, X Files (as Mr Daglish says, isn't it about time Scully stopped looking shocked every episode?), Space Precinct and the odd film taped for post-dust consumption. The only books I've read, and can recommend, were Stephen Fry's The Hippopotamus and Parker's Three Napoleonic Battles and the best CD by far (as long as you de-program XTC) was Virgin's Best Punk Album in The World Ever. Be Seeing You.