Thursday, April 30, 2009


Thursday night is Beer night

First time I think I've gone to a Beerfest on a Thursday. Might do it more often as Friday/Saturday get pretty packed and Sunday can start to run out of beer.

This year I went with a "Flight" theme so all my drinks had to have some association, either through name or Brewery:

6:47Flight of FancyLoddon4.2%
6:56Summer AleGargoyles4.4%
7:09Red HeronNorth Curry4.3%
7:26Hornets NestLoddon4.3%
7:50Finchcocks OriginalWesterham3.5%
8:44Fly the FlagGreat Oakley4.1%
9:01Black DragonGwynt Y Ddraig7.2% Cider
9:23Dragon AleProspect4.4%
?:??"Angels"Opa Hay's 
10:38Bees KneesGreat Western4.2%

The "Angels" entry I should have taken better note of what I was actually given. I explained to the volunteer bar staff what I was after and they had a look around for me - and this time of night a lot of barrels were empty and wouldn't get replaced until Friday so the choice was not as wide as earlier. "Angels", I was informed, was the drink that would suit my needs, given their wings. What he failed to say initially was that the barrel actually said "Engels" but I took the beer anyway. Unfortunately I didn't make a note of the beer's name - I'll assume it was Engel's Best Bitter.


Sunday, April 26, 2009


Better get ready!

Only a few days to go!

Thursday 30th April : 4:30pm - 11:00pm (£5)
Friday 1st May : 11:00am - 11:00pm (£7)
Saturday 2nd May : 11:00am - 11:00pm (£7)
Sunday 3rd May : 12:00pm - 7:00pm (£5)

Glass Hire £2 (Refundable)


Sunday, April 19, 2009


Student Nationals - Day 2

A shorter day for gaming as the closing ceremony takes up a chunk of time. Still four sessions but now each game is one that is quicker to complete. In one session, we have the time to complete two games. Strangely, I completely forgot to take any photos of the games but luckily others can remind me what we played.


Of all the games this weekend, Citadels was the only one I had played before. A reasonably simple card game where you get to choose to be a particular character (king, architect, assassin, merchant, etc.) each turn and build parts of your city. Our game became unbalanced because one player knew how to play the game well tactically and the rest didn't. Although he didn't win, it did have the effect that one of the other players kept getting assassinated and missing their turn. Missing turns sucks in any game and missing a few in a row kills off your chances.


This is an interesting resource management game where you try to fill the fields of your zoo with animals whilst avoiding having creatures you have no space for - no one likes culling pandas. My risk assessment in this game was pretty poor and my big plans ground to a halt through lack of money.


A few players in this game - rated an impressive 8.1/10 on BoardGameGeek - were familiar with the rules and happily charged off into the distance towards victory as the rest of us started to get the hang of things. It's a card game where everybody starts off level with a small deck but over time you buy more cards to make your deck more efficient - that is, make sure the cards you draw each turn allow you to pick up more cards and generate more wealth. If you know what you're doing, your deck will get faster and faster - Magic: The Gathering fans will be familiar with the concept. Why play 1 card when you can play 5? An alternative approach, favoured by myself, was to force the end game before the power players had started to Hoover up all the victory points. It may not let you win but it sure stops you coming last.

Next were two short river games played as one slot.

Fast Flowing Forest Fellers

This was a quick and easy fun game where you have to move a couple of lumberjacks down a river and off the other end of the board. In the way are logs and other players which you can shove out of the way, Abalone-style. There are also rapids that force areas of the river to flow in different directions. Looks a simple game but when you have 5 players all trying to squeeze past some rocks at the same time, it became nightmarishly hard to predict where you would be come your next turn. Being able to push other players into the rapids and back up the river was definitely amusing. Recommended game for playing with non-gamers.

Mississippi Queen

Out on the Mississippi are Lovely Ladies waiting to be picked up and carried further down-river on your paddle steamer. On the way the river winds through small islets and round bends which limit your speed and force you to spend more coal on manoeuvring. And, like in FFFF above, you can be bumped out of the way by a boat coming through on its turn. Fortune favoured the brave so I didn't win.

After all the games were finished and results taken away, we had to wait for the Awards Ceremony to start so played another couple of games of Dominion to pass the time.

The Awards Ceremony is a long, drawn-out process and, traditionally, is late starting and seems to go on forever. This year's was no exception. The programme stated (amusingly with hindsight):

5:00pm Awards Ceremony
6:00pm Close and Go Home

First up was the charity aspect of the event - a donation to Christie's, who raise money for The Christie in Manchester (one of the largest cancer treatment centres in Europe).

Next was the raffle where, for a change, we won nothing to resell on eBay. There was also a prize for getting a slip stamped by all the traders in the hall - a good way of encouraging people to visit them. And a third prize for guessing the total number rolled by the 400+ dice collected at registration on Sunday. Another Vague novelty.

Eventually, it's way past 5pm and the AWARDS part (where points are dished out to the different teams) starts to kick into life. The Crystal Vague had been a success and Big Bad Jon announced the best costumes (individual (SteamPunk) and team (Wizard of Oz with flying monkey)) and the overall winners before condemning the team that trying to cheat their way to victory. It should have been in the "Bible of Vague Roleplay" that was on sale at the event - BBJ will catch you out.

Nearing 6pm and we get to the actual games played. Unfortunately, we had a train to catch and so started to collect our luggage together and squeeze through the crowds to the exit. Deciding that a loo break would be a good idea, I went upstairs to the toilets by the bar. When I returned, they were calling out the Boardgames results and I was 3rd - the first time ever that anyone from GARPS had placed! By the time I'd clawed my way back to the stage, they'd moved on to 2nd and I'd missed my seconds in the limelight although Judy Bartlett (Vague boardgames supremo) did sing our society's praises for me.

And so to Manchester Piccadilly where we ease into our seats in the train with plenty of time to spare. We had allowed for a lot more time to get to the station than we needed - two thirds of a mile does not require 30 minutes to walk - so I was annoyed with myself for leaving the Nationals so early.

With an uneventful trip to Euston, Waterloo and Earley, we were home by 11pm.

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Mancunian curiosities

Loos - Victorian style on Charles Street.
"Here was the site of Manchester's oldest pissotiere, retained for posterity, last used AD 1896"

So which is it? Medlock Street or Mallard Street? Mallard Street has the newer sign and is the one you will find on the current maps. There is a Medlock Street in Manchester but it is running parallel to this one about 500 yards away. Bizarre.

And now for some Manchester skyline. Nothing strange here, apart from maybe that white girder on the left.


Saturday, April 18, 2009


Student Nationals - Day 1

The Live Action Role Players (LARPers) definitely take their art/sport/hobby seriously...

The games for the Nationals start today so everybody turns up to the Student Union at 9am. Pretty quickly the smell starts to hit you - some male gamers tend not to recognise the need to wash regularly. Luckily there are only "hot spots" of odour and we are off to our events before the air quality deteriorates too far.

The wargamers (large-scale tabletop battles with figures) are off to the sports centre; roleplayers leave for the Geoffrey Manton building; LARPers have a secret destination far away; which leaves the boardgamers to go back to the bar (woot!) to play out our sessions. Having food and beer just yards away from the game tables wins Vague, the hosts, a gold star in my books.

We find that a few players have dropped out and the organisers pressgang other Vague people into filling their spaces. In the end we have 4 tables of 5 people and the gaming commences.

Steel Driver

This is a railway line building game but not very similar to "Railway Rivals" or "Ticket To Ride". There are two phases - the taking of routes by different railroad companies followed by the determining of the company share prices. Unless you've played this before, you won't realise how damned important the second phase is. After setting up an impressive railway network and profiting well as a result, I was pipped to the win by the player with shares in the most highly valued company.


Giants needs you to build Easter Island style statues and move them to the beaches of an island for erection. There's an interesting compromise between distance (statues moved further generate more points) and time (making sure you have four statues in place before the other players). Next time I will make sure I have lots of trees cut down for logs to roll statues over.


This was an interesting strategy/combat game which I won by encouraging the other players to concentrate on fighting each other. Thanks, guys. The concept of the game - moving pieces around and engaging in combat seemed OK but the designers threw in a set of cards to give an extra element of luck (in addition to that of the dice used in combat resolution). I didn't feel these cards sat well with the design - you could have a nice strategy coming along and then somebody plays a card which chucks a spanner in the works. I can imagine the game playing fine without them.

Mission Red Planet

Quite a busy game which I didn't quite get the hang of - another few plays through would be necessary. The idea is to get your troops onto Mars to occupy strategic locations for victory points. The troops get to the red planet via spaceships which are launched as a result of player whim. Or sometimes they don't as a ship gets sabotaged by a player, or they're shot by another. Tricky game.

After the day's sessions of games, Sue and I went back to the Atrium to drop off our bags - I didn't want to carry my rucksack around all evening for no reason. Unfortunately, we napped for a few hours instead and it wasn't until after "Casualty" that we ventured back.

There was a lot going on with the Crystal Vague problem-solving event which we had decided not to enter as there were only the two of us in our team. After a drink or two spent chatting and admiring people's costumes, we went downstairs to the Rock Kitchen. This wasn't part of the Nationals but we did get subsidised entry. Two rooms of the Student Union's first floor were given over to the public for a night of rock music; one large room with a heavy duty sound system and the other with music at a level you could enjoy and endure. Spent a good couple of hours listening to some classic rock before strolling home to get some sleep.

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Friday, April 17, 2009


Student Nationals - Day 0

It's the Easter holidays so time once again for the Student Nationals. As Vague won last year, the event is hosted at the Manchester Metropolitan University Student Union.

This will be the fifth we've attended representing Reading University Games and Roleplaying Society (GARPS). ("We" being Sue and I as no-one else at Reading can be bothered to summon up the energy to go with us.)

Lunchtime we are squeezing onto a train to Manchester that seems a coach or two short without any reduction in passengers. Thankfully we booked weeks in advance so had the right to turf people out of our seats. The ride was pretty uneventful apart from having to endure the whingy kid opposite who never seemed happy.

From Manchester Piccadilly it was a short-ish walk to the Atrium on Princess Street. This place rented out apartments which sounded better than hotel rooms although what we paid for was effectively a very nice bedsit with a bathroom. The fridge came in handy for storing some food but we didn't cook anything - too many restaurants around.

Great view of the Rochdale Canal under the window, which seemed to have more traffic cones in it than ducks and geese.

And across the road was one end of Canal Street, the centre of the Manchester Gay Village.

After dumping our stuff, we set off into Manchester to do some food shopping. Or that was what I was led to believe we were doing. Instead I ended up following Sue round a series of weird and wonderful shops, like Cyberdog and Afflecks.

To be fair, we did eventually find a supermarket in the form of an Aldi. I'm so unfamiliar with this chain that I couldn't even pronounce the name correctly - apparently it rhymes with Audi.

On the way back through Piccadilly Gardens, we spotted some delightful urban furniture against a delightfully colourful wall. I would have to be really drunk to use these - which is probably a good thing as that's when they're most needed.

Next stop was China Town for tea - a HuNan restaurant on Faulkner Street.

After finally getting back to base, we dumped our shopping and set off to the Nationals to register. Importantly, I remembered to take a pair of dice which was the toll for admission - no die, no entry.

We were too late to catch Big Bad John's welcome speech to the masses so retired to the bar where we spent the night chatting to people we'd made friends with over the years and playing "Apples to Apples".

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Saturday, April 11, 2009


The biggest dog in Woodley

This probably appears a lot better from the air but does this look like a dog to you?


Hot dragon's breath on your neck

There I was happily chopping twigs off the round hedge in our front garden when I started to hear a sort of whoomphy whoosh noise. Half expecting to see some dragon stick it's head over the roof of the house across the path, I had a look around only to disappointedly see a low-floating Virgin air balloon passing over Woodley.

Wondering if it was coming into land, I hopped on my bike and cycled off to see if I was in luck, only to see the balloon keep floating on. The pilot was probably looking to land south of the M4 near Arborfield so a good three miles to go from where I saw the balloon.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Dave Arneson - thanks for your legacy

Sadly Dave Arneson has lost his fight against cancer and passed away.

Famously there at the beginning of Dungeons and Dragons (and all the court battles that followed), I'll remember him most for his Blackmoor campaign world. I recall reading "Temple of the Frog" in (a photocopy of) the original Blackmoor source book written back in 1975 and loved it. I spent ages re-writing it for newer editions of D&D with nicer maps but never got round to running it. Similarly, I bought the DA series of modules produced by TSR in the late 80s ("Adventures in Blackmoor", "Temple of the Frog", "City of the Gods") - great reading material but, again, never played. Maybe there will be an opportunity to start it off at the wargames club some time...

Anyway, thanks, Dave.

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