Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Dive, dive, dive!

It's that time again, and this month I have played a range of boardgames including a rather splendid new one that I would have thought would appeal to wargamers in general:

Betrayal at the House on the Hill: A newcomer to the Leeds gaming group brought this and was keen to play and so a few of us happily agreed. I was slightly taken aback when after we had set up someone compared the game to the execrable Dead of Winter, but fortunately there didn't seem to be much similarity as far as I could see. In fact I quite enjoyed the first phase where one's character explores and collects things. I picked up a magic axe and the amulet of power and, when the second, inferior phase began I immediately proved my strength by killing the character of the chap whose game it was. That'll teach him.

Bohnanza: A classic game of trading and planting beans which never fails to provide an enjoyable thirty to forty five minutes. The twist is that one can't change the order of the cards in one's hand.

Captain Sonar: And this is it. OK, it's a deduction game masquerading as a wargame - indeed it's basically a team version of Battleships - and not all the team roles are as interesting as others, but never the less it's fun, suspenseful, makes hidden movement work without an umpire and doesn't last too long. The main downside is that it really works best with exactly eight people - the same problem that bedevils Quartermaster General. I've only played in turn-by-turn mode; the real-time version would be very different (especially louder) and may, for example, bring the chief mate and engineer more into things. Anyway, I strongly recommend giving it a go if you have the requisite seven friends; and you're wargamers so why wouldn't you have lots of friends?.
City of Spies: The city in question is, of all places, Estoril. I've been through it on a train en route to Sintra and am somewhat sceptical as to whether it's a city at all. Why not just use Lisbon? Who knows? What I do know is that, as you will have guessed from the digressions, is that it's not a terribly good game. It contains a number of mechanisms which I couldn't work out how one would ever put into practice.

Condottiere: I have rhapsodised about this enough. If you can track down a copy then try it.

Dark Moon: It's OK for a hidden role game.

Dead Last: Players are members of a tontine aiming in each round to eliminate the others and gain the capital and there is a bit of prisoner's dilemma stuff when you get down to two players. The mechanics are simple enough, but also pretty uninteresting; as is the game.

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong: I've lost the taste for this after a dozen or so plays.

Dixit: I'm not fond of this game and hadn't played it for a long time. It wasn't as bad as I remember, but my own preference is for something more, how shall we say, analytical.

Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space: Another, not as good, hidden movement deduction game.

Exoplanets: A mixed theme, partly about planetary exploration and development and partly about evolution, but obviously not very accurate when it comes to either. The best thing that could be said for it is that one can, if one wishes, do down the other players from time to time.

FUSE: Another example of that rarity: a cooperative game that I like. This one is a fast paced, real time dice rolling game one of whose main benefits is that it lasts ten minutes exactly. For the record we lost, but only just.

Mykerinos: This is a few years old, but is on the seemingly fashionable theme of archaeology. I didn't enjoy it much, but that may be because I chose what turned out to be a rubbish strategy of digging things up whereas the winners were those who gained control of the museum galleries.

The Networks: I enjoyed this somewhat more than the first time I had played it, although with no more success. At heart a card drafting, economic management and strategy game, it has an interesting theme which is amusingly executed.

No Thanks!: A fine push-your-luck filler.

Red7: a fine filler which I have played more than any other game.

Sail to India: A surprisingly meaty game in a small box for a low price, which always appeals to the accountant in me. The various mechanisms are well integrated and there are many potential winning strategies (cf Mykerinos above).

Skull: Always amusing.

Stockpile: The first time I played this I came away thinking that we had all failed to bid high enough in the auction phase each turn. I changed my strategy this time round and won handsomely. The insider dealing mechanisms in this game are well thought through and, sadly, are a pretty realistic reflection of the way the stock exchange really does work.

Sushi Go Party!: This is a bit like Sushi Go! except that...well actually it's exactly like the original. There is no party.

Via Nebula: I was advised that we had played this wrongly the first time, but I'm buggered if I could spot a difference this time around. It's a pleasant enough resource management game with a neat element of unavoidable cooperation, but I'm equally buggered if I know why others rate it so highly.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Nu couché

I haven't blogged about art for a while, and I'm not really going to do so today. It's just that sometimes one is in the mood for a bit of this:

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Samosa, samosae, samosam

"If anything has happened to one who ever yearned and wished but never hoped, that is a rare pleasure of the soul." - Catullus

I hope that you're all having as good an August Bank Holiday weekend as Epictetus is. Although there were some less happy elements - I was approached about a job which turned out to be in the Falkland Islands and the farmers market ran out of samosas before I got there - most of it was pretty good. There was walking in the dales, the big bouncy woman stopped by to nibble on my biscuits and I even painted some figures. Yes, having had to make some more markers (specifically those reading '3') at short notice the mojo settled on my shoulder and on my soldiers (1) and was inspired to make some progress on the Great War project. So it was with some shock that when retrieving the painting tray from the special drying cupboard under the boiler I discovered that I was in the middle of some Roman legionaries. I forget quite why, but no matter - Romans it is.

As it happens the walk took us in part along the Roman road between Olicana and Virosidum as it rises up out of Langstrothdale. This is precisely where my Romans in Britain rip off of Pony Wars is set so perhaps there is some synchronicity at work. I've been thinking of redoing the rules to make them hex based and perhaps amending the combat rules to steal those in Lion Rampant. Perhaps I'm being sent a signal. Funnily enough I've just been reading Mary Stewart's rather fine trilogy about Merlin and the fort at Olicana plays a role in the development of the plot. Stewart identifies Olicana directly with Ilkley; there is some debate, but I think it would be all too much of a coincidence if they weren't the same place.

(1) I've been listening to Traffic's 'Hole in my Shoe' which uses that very rhyme, presumably because it was written under the influence of drugs

Thursday, 25 August 2016

C&C Napoleonics enflé

Wargaming returned to the annexe last night with a game of Command & Colours Napoleonics enlarged somewhat beyond its normal parameters. That it all worked reasonably well is a testament to the robustness of the original design rather than anything I did. Anyone who's been to business school will be familiar with Mintzberg's concepts of emergent as opposed to deliberate strategy. In wargaming terms I lean to the former, to what Lindblom described as a fragmented process of serial and incremental decisions and what Mintzberg himself defined as the allocation of resources before the explicit espousal of the objective.

And thus has been the journey from small units simply designed as a painting exercise through the acquisition of rules and terrain; it's been a series of opportunistic and ad hoc undertakings. The current such small step is to play C&C Napoleonics on my full table, in terms of hexes that's about four times the size of the playing area for which the rules are intended. We had previously played on wider setups, but this was the first time we would play on one that was deeper as well. I took one of the scenarios from the latest expansion and made most terrain features four times bigger While that felt OK for woods and hills it didn't for towns and so those were fudged somewhat to retain shape and position without each being too large. I doubled the forces, partly with the intention of making more space for manoeuvre, and partly because I started to run out at that point. I left the number of officers the same, on an intuition that doubling them would be too many. The issue which seemed likely to cause most problems was that of movement distances, with units potentially taking too long to come into action and into contact. Here, after much thought, I did nothing at all; often the best option when one doesn't know what's best.

And, as I say, it all worked reasonably well and I came out of it with a number of learning points:
  • It's probably time to say goodbye to the official scenarios. They are not balanced and nor are they meant to be. The intention is that they are played twice with sides swapped, which is clearly not what we're looking for.
  • The ratio of officers to units needs to be higher than the 1:8 or so that we played last night - maybe 1:6. And rather than specific officers for specific commands - which is how we play Piquet for example - I prefer to see the officer figure as being analogous to another Piquet concept. In that game firing (as in rolling the dice and calculating casualties) represents the peak of an activity that is in reality occurring all the time. In C&C (or in my mental model of it at least) the presence of a model of a divisional commander represents a peak level of officering, as compared to the normal level which is going on in the background all the time. It therefore makes sense that the player can switch the models about between different groups of units.
  • The Tactician cards in the new(ish) fifth expansion add to the gameplay, and - given that it is a game - that's a good thing. In particular they give a potential outlet when one's Command cards aren't helping, and there's always the tantalising prospect of being able to string a series of cards together to dramatically change the way things are going.
  • A point that applies to all games under every set of rules: don't start the forces too far apart. One knock-on implication for jumbo C&C is how to define the 'baseline' hex whenever these are referred to on cards. We played two rows last night, but I think that needs to be increased to three.
  • The movement rules possibly don't need adjusting at all. Firstly various new Command cards plus a number of the Tactician cards add quite a bit of movement capability. And then there's the question of style of play. I think that even more than in the original game, one must churn cards that one doesn't need and build a hand for the current specific phase of one's overall plan.
We got perhaps half way through the scenario - the morning of Liebertwolwitz 14th October 1813 - in the evening and the Allies appear to have decided on defence, having come off worse in the early cavalry exchanges and been on the wrong end of what appeared to me to be an optimistic French infantry attack on their left. I'm not sure if we'll finish it; I suspect too much time may pass before we get back together and then we'll need to get James' game for Derby ready. In any event I think my ultimate aim - my deliberate strategy if you will - would be to set these larger C&C Napoleonic games up so they can be completed in an evening.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Beardy Branson is a twat

 "Sob, heavy world
  Sob as you spin
   Mantled in mist, remote from the happy:"

                  - W.H. Auden

The spin that Auden referred to was - at least I assume it was - the actual rotation of the earth. ["I hope," says the Rhetorical Pedant, returning after being far too long absent from this blog "I really hope, that you're going to go off on one about the length of days at the equator again."] But my gripe is with spin in the other sense of Public Relations, or lying as it used to be called when I was at school.

I'm speaking specifically of course of all this guff about Jeremy Corbyn and the train. Now, obviously I have no idea what actually happened and have spent many hours strenuously trying to avoid finding out. As Marcus Aurelius put it "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth". Harry Pearson, wargamer and author of Achtung Schweinehund!, puts it thus: "Claims there were vacant seats on a Virgin train a typical Trotskyite slur on great British entrepreneur and his sales force."

However, of one thing I am, from personal experience, absolutely certain, Virgin East Coast provide a terrible service and it is substantially worse than it was when it was run by the state-owned East Coast Mainline. People do, genuinely and often, have to sit on the floor. The power sockets regularly don't work. The train that I came up from London a couple of weeks ago had one carriage out of action because the doors had jammed and one where the heating was stuck on full blast - on a day when the temperature outside was 28˚C; the main point being that no one was in the slightest surprised. They've just put the fares up for the second time this year. Therefore, whatever the rights and wrongs of that particular train, Virgin Trains have rightly been called out for being useless at what they are supposed to do in return for our money.

And yet their slick PR machine, taking full advantage of the media's existing antipathy to Corbyn, have switched the narrative from one where they are held to account for their performance to one where they are the victims. As Mark Twain never said “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”. And all the while the long-suffering passenger longs to see Branson humbling himself in the style of Japanese management as atonement, preferably followed by then ritually disembowelling himself Japanses style as well.

 Before anyone points it out, I know that the line is managed and 90% owned by Stagecoach, but if Branson wants to be the face of the firm then he must take the consequences. Unsurprisingly I would be perfectly happy for Gloag and especially the homophobic Souter to join him. And it's the Stagecoach link I think that explains the attempts to smear Corbyn. A Corbyn government (I shall return soon to discuss whether such a thing is even remotely possible) would not just renationalise the railways, but would regulate bus companies. They're just getting their retaliation in first.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Build barns

Real life has got in the way of blogging for a few days. Can I just say congratulations to the elder Miss Epictetus, who has worked hard, achieved her ambition and will shortly be leaving for a different city. I shall miss her.

"Success is sweet and sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats" - Amos Bronson Alcott

In other news, the great estivation is almost over. I have been happy to make the most of what has by no means been a bad summer's weather, but entertainment options can be somewhat limited in August. Things will start picking up from next week, and I already have tickets for a range of things. You have been warned.

However, there will also be more wargaming. I have even ventured into the annexe for the first time in a while. Notwithstanding the recent heat, it is a tad damp, so a dehumidifier has been set up and hopefully all will soon be well. How long can it be before I'm painting figures again? How long can it be before rhetorical questions start to annoy my readers?

Where's the rum?

 Anyway, damp or not, I have completed the set-up of the C&C Napoleonic game that I almost finished getting ready about three months ago. My declared ambition to double the sizes of the forces in the original C&C scenario to take account of the larger table size hit some snags: I still don't have enough cavalry size sabot bases; one of the Russian infantry units is at paper strength because I didn't have enough 3 markers; and I ran out of both cossacks and Prussian cuirassiers. Still, I think it looks OK.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

You do something to me

In this particular unattended moment I am a Kinks 'B' side from more than fifty years ago.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016


The 1757 Bohemian Blitzkrieg campaign seems to have run out of steam around turn 11 - the penultimate - because there doesn't appear to be much that anyone could do on turn 12 to force a win. I will post a retrospective in due course as hopefully will James. I think that useful lessons were learned, some rule tweaks were already applied and no doubt further ones will be in due course. James has megalomaniacal plans for an even more complicated affair which will use all his Seven Years War figures.

I ought to say some more about Verona. In fact if I was any sort of proper wargaming blogger I would be posting an illustrated report on all the military and naval related things I'd seen. However, what I actually did was go to an exhibition at the opera museum about Maria Callas. This was curated by someone who had a far from healthy obsession with la divina and it both bordered on the creepy and contained too many frocks for my taste. The displays gave an insight into her charisma and her vulnerability - Aristotle Onassis came in for a bit of a kicking from whoever wrote the words - but rightfully it was mostly about the voice.

I also naturally went to see Juliet's balcony. I came to mock, discovered that this was actually the house that the Capulets lived in in ye olden days and so ceased mocking, and then discovered that the balcony was only added in the 1940s and so went back to mocking again. There is a bronze statue of the young lady, the cupping of the right breast of which is supposed to bring luck. The only member of our travelling party who did so was a retired Anglican bishop; make of that what you will.

I hvae made another of my occasional futile day trips, this time to Wilmslow. I normally say at this point that the highlight was a Greggs sausage roll, but in a place as posh as that I went instead for a chicken kebab wrap from an chi-chi independent restaurant, which was indeed the best thing about the journey. But for the record Wilmslow does, somewhat to my surprise, have a branch of Greggs.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Normal service is resumed

 I heard a cry in the night,
A thousand miles it came,
Sharp as a flash of light,
My name, my name!

It was your voice I heard,
You waked and loved me so--
I send you back this word,
I know, I know!

             - Sara Teasdale

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Where we lay our scene

And so to the opera. I have been to Verona and seen both Aida and Carmen in the Arena there, something that I've intended to do for a few years now.

Verdi's opera was the first to be performed in what is apparently the third largest Roman Ampitheatre still in existence, marking the centenary of his birth in 1813, and they still do it every year. One can see why because it's a work that lends itself to the very large numbers of extras needed to fill the enormous stage. This production was suitably spectacular with hordes of Egyptian soldiers marching to and fro with various spears, shields, lighted torches and so on; there were priests; there were Nubian slaves being led to captivity; and there were dancing girls . There were even horses, anachronistically being ridden rather than pulling chariots; a mistake that any wargamer could have pointed out. Musically it was very good. One's hearing takes a few minutes to adjust to the acoustics, but they are superb; those Romans certainly knew what they were at. The performance lasts for hours and hours until well after midnight - not helped by a couple of breaks for rain - and the metal chairs are not at all comfortable. It stops people falling asleep I suppose.

Carmen was also very fine, although less well suited to the environment. On the one hand it's easy to fill the big stage  by throwing in extra soldiers (dragoons I believe), gypsies (many of whom actually look like pirates for some reason); factory girls (rather bizarrely dressed for tennis in 1920s suburban England) and toreros (interesting fact: Bizet and/or his librettists invented the word toreador because the extra syllable was needed to fit the music); yet more dancing girls (for the avoidance of doubt I rather enjoyed the dancing girls); and sundry gratuitous horses and donkeys (one of the horses got spooked and for a brief moment I thought that we were in for a rerun of the animatronic pig ramming the scenery episode from a few weeks ago). On the other hand the dozens of extras and animals have the effect of making it less clear who is actually singing. The dialogue in particular - Carmen is in the form of an opéra comique - gets swamped. However, it would take a harder heart than mine not to be moved by the final, climactic scene and the large crowd was silent as - spoiler alert - yet another operatic heroine didn't make it to the final curtain. Of course they don't actually have a curtain, instead they have yet more extras walking on from the side with a sort of multi-section screen thing. The other noteworthy difference to a normal theatre is that the conductor can't walk through the orchestra to his podium so he has to enter from one side. They actually sprinted on at the start of every act and this puzzled me somewhat until one of my travelling companions - himself the widower of an opera singer - explained that they were doing it because there was such a large space to be traversed that they were worried that the applause might have stopped before they had reached the middle. The ego of the artist is a fragile thing.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Цыгана дикого рассказ

А я... одно мое желанье
С тобой делить любовь, досуг

Thursday, 4 August 2016

A modal realistic Battle of Lobositz

When my biographer comes to write the chapter related to wargaming in 2016 he may get somewhat confused. We have already refought the 1756 Battle of Lobositz once and, if I have been paying attention, will be doing it again at Derby, complete with extinct volcano and mad cavalry charges. Now, in the campaign set one year later we find ourselves once again fighting a battle with the same name. However this time not only is there no Lobosch, but the Prussians under Prince Henry were trying to pass north through the Mittel-Gebirge not south.

You are probably expecting this blog post to be along the lines of ' I rather like Piquet despite the Austrians having been hammered again' and you would only partly be wrong. The Austrians won, as they were always going to given their superiority in numbers, but it wasn't the crushing victory that it might have been. The reason for that wasn't - for once - incompetence on my part, but was rather because that mechanisms in Piquet allow for unusual narratives to develop; and that's certainly what happened. My own plan was to attack on my left with infantry while moving my cavalry, supported by artillery, around the village on the right to take out the Prussian cavalry that I expected to be there for no better reason than there was nowhere else for Peter to put them. I concentrated my infantry on the left, but the extent to which I could do this was limited by the quantity of units and the space in which I could deploy them. The strategic campaign situation made it a fair possibility that the Prussians would attack despite being outnumbered and would hope for the best. In such circumstances my plan, after much detailed pre-battle analysis and consideration, was to busk it.

James has already posted about the game so I shall simply highlight a few points which I think pertinent:
  •  The main reason that things developed the way they did was that for the second game running the Prussians got absolutely all the initiative; they had had more than twenty before I'd turned a card. In a more traditional 'you go, I go' game I would have had many chances to fire at the smaller force as it approached. In Piquet it doesn't work like that. I think it's that element above all others that puts off some people. I won't deny that it can be frustrating, but the fact that things can, and do, develop in a different way every time one plays is what I really like about the game. It is worth noting that the only pause in the flow of initiative to the Prussians was, as so often in Piquet, just at the point where forces had closed and it would have been most useful.
  • Initiative isn't the only variable in Piquet where luck can upset one's plans. I had six commanders: two were average, one - Archduke Charles himself - was poor (resulting in an added Command Indecision card), and three - three! - were abysmal. In the event none of this mattered, but had my ability to rally units been called on, then I would have been stuffed.
  • That was where the luck ran out for the Prussians. Piquet involves a draw at the beginning for morale and other factors. I drew well:
    • I had plenty of morale; not a huge amount, but sufficient.
    • I drew a Brilliant Leader card; effectively a wild card. It only came up once during the game, but served as a very timely musket reload.
    • I drew a Infantry Morale Up 1 card, meaning that my units were more likely to pass morale challenges; given my superiority in morale chips this was very useful.
    • I drew two stratagem cards. I've been playing Piquet for years and do not recall ever even having drawn one before. One stratagem - heavy rain - was no use to me so I returned it (for which I received a Melee card which was never turned in the game), but the second was a belter.
    • This second was Heroic Command; all units in one of my commands could ignore the first stand loss for all purposes. I designated my largest command, that on the left under Arenberg, with which I was to make my main attack. As luck would have it that was where the Prussian attack came in. Without this card things would have been much worse.
  • My final area of luck was one that could have happened in any wargame. I kept hitting things every time I fired. I had been on the receiving end of something similar during the Battle of Sobotka. Sometimes that's just what happens.
  • I thought the latest withdrawal rules had a lot of merit. The fact that I didn't achieve anything during pursuit fire was irritating, but simply proved for a non-Piquet mechanism (this is real bucket of dice stuff; I could only just fit my twenty seven dice in my hands, or find space on the table to roll them) it provides a wide range of possible results similar to the game onto which it has been bolted. It's also entirely consistent with Charles being poor and in command of a bunch of abysmal generals.
  • The decision to end the game was driven in large part by timing and logistics, but I was happy with it. I was about to finish off the Prussian cavalry with artillery and the infantry in the centre by sheer weight of numbers, but looked likely to take further losses on my left. I was also somewhat worried about Arenberg, who appeared to be aiming to fight the Prussians single handed, and whose loss would have had negative consequences in the campaign.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Mrs Browne's boy

The 1757 campaign is back on track, with the continuing multiple misunderstandings of the rules being put behind us. Readers will be aware that my tabletop performance has been dire, but on the map things haven't been so bad. The conclusion that I came to early on was that the Austrian player has to be opportunistic. The commanders' low initiative means they often don't move so when they do it's best to make it count. So, when - to my complete surprise because I didn't understand the rules - it turned out that Browne was temporarily in charge instead of the Archduke Charles, then the best thing to do was to seize the moment by sending him off on his own so he could at least act more frequently. Charles always has to have the largest force and Konigsbeck is wandering round Bohemia with quite a large army (albeit smaller than it used to be following the disaster at Sobotka) so Browne couldn't have a large force. This in turn suggested that it had to raid rather than fight and, I think to everyone's surprise, his small band of troops managed to cut the supply of both the Prussian armies manouevring on the road to Prague.

Somewhat against my expectations Prince Henry didn't use the breakthrough rule to brush past the entirely ahistorical von Krappa, who would - in my interpretation of things - only have had his personal two dice to use in the resulting double pursuit fire. The Prussians have therefore been surrounded and brought to battle by Charles of Lorraine, due in no small part to another rule that I'd overlooked; so much time has now passed since the invasion that the Austrians' initiative has improved somewhat. The battle starts tomorrow. Will it go better on the table this time? History suggests otherwise, but we live in hope.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Girlfriends Day

August 1st is, apparently, Girlfriends Day. Twenty four hours seems a bit short for that to me, but at least it takes the focus away from Yorkshire Day, which is also today. Normally I try to be out of the county, but I have failed this year. Whoever decided that the locals require a formally designated day on which they are encouraged to tell everyone how great they are, needs their head examining. So I shall hide inside (it's just about to piss it down anyway) and produce the ever-popular monthly list of boardgames played. Before I do that, I just have time for Yorkshire's motto: "You can always tell a Yorkshireman, but you can't tell him much".

6 nimmt!: A pretty random card game, but it passes the time.

7 Wonders: I actually had a bit of a strategy this time, but was undermined by the selfishness of my neighbours in not building the resources that I needed to use. I got my own back though by going heavy on military in the third age and stuffing their chances of winning.

Abluxxen: An interesting card game that packs a lot of strategy and choices into a short game.

Broom Service: I enjoyed this more than the previous time - which wasn't hard - but despite it winning awards it's not for me. It revolves around pre-programming one's moves in advance, but there is, for me, too little chance of them actually happening.

Cosmic Encounter: I like this, but the development of each game rather depends on the mix of races in play. I also don't really understand players who settle for a joint win. Where's the kudos?

Five Tribes: I think this game, like many others, is actually rather spoiled by the ability to purchase special powers during play. I do however like the mancala mechanism. At the risk of repeating myself there are not five tribes involved.

The Grizzled: As always we failed to get our soldiers to survive the Great War. I do recommend the game though.

Kryptos: Hanabi meets Game of Trains, but not cooperative. It was OK.

Mission Red Planet: To successfully exploit (NB not explore) Mars one needs to anticipate the moves of other players, which often proves a step too far for me.

Mysterium: I like to leave enough time between plays of this to forget why I don't like it. On the plus side the English version is better than the original Polish version.

No Thanks!: This is still a nice quick push-your-luck game and I still push my luck too far every time.

Notre Dame: Enjoyable, thinly themed (it's the 14th century and it's Paris, but there appear to be Hansom cabs rolling about) drafting game with a bit of area control.

Peleponnes: A peculiar spelling, but nothing like as odd as the way my fellow players were pronouncing it. This is a fine, if brutal, game where one's carefully built (and paid for) buildings and people are laid waste periodically by plague, famine, earthquake and so on. I rather like the twin track scoring with one's position being determined by the lower.

Perfect Alibi: I normally like deduction games, but I couldn't get my head round this one. The special roles (which basically don't only allow one to lie, but actually mandate it under certain circumstances) meant that I had no idea what on earth was happening.

Red 7: Nothing much more to be said about this excellent little game.

Robo Rally: This is not dissimilar in mechanics to Colt Express, but doesn't have that game's sense of fun. It also goes on too long.

Sail to India: This is a clever little game and excellent value for money. There are a lot of possible different winning strategies.

Stockpile: This is a stock market game with some clever mechanics and one which I'd like to play again. I think all of us consistently underbid during the auction phase.

Via Nebula: I'm going to reserve judgement on this one as it subsequently transpired that we weren't playing it properly. Who'd have thought it?

I need also to point out that perhaps for the first time ever I chose to sit out and play nothing, because all that was on offer was the truly dreadful A Fake Artist Goes to New York.