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I know it’s been way too long since my last blog post.  I’m mentally in one of those places where there are other things going on and maintaining a blog is way, way down on my priority list.  To be honest, board gaming has ceased ever since the onset of the global heatwave beginning in June and video gaming has been sporadic.  I do have three half-finished board game reviews in my drafts folder but little impetus to finish them, not least as there are no pictures (as yet) to accompany them.

Catch-up on my activities: sun dodging and seeking refuge behind fans for the most part.  There’s been very little of note going on, more a case of “same old, same old”.  Weeks at work, weekends spent trying to chill/cool off with the odd foray to places like Borough Market, Camden Market et al.  I have been buying a few canvas prints of video game art from Camden.

And on 15 July, I did attend the London Gaming Market at the Royal National Hotel (that concrete monstrosity just off Russell Square) which was a nice change of pace.  I’m not a photographer so please forgive the lousy snaps coming up.

The market was in a room…I’d say 300 square metres or so, lots of stalls selling second hand games but also some selling board games, fan art and general merchandise (some bespoke, some official).  My aim – if it can be called that – was to try and track down a copy of Silent Hill for PS1.  Only one of the vendors had a copy and the joker’s were wanting £30 for it.  Nuts to that.  Nobody seemed to be buying games although a couple of stalls were buyers as well as vendors; separate arrangements needed.  I got a good lead for when I finally get around to pricing up my games.

I did buy a piece of art – bead art I guess you’d call it.  Again, lousy photography.

Next Market is 21 October.  Also bought a copy of Widows Walk Expansion for Betrayal at the House on the Hill.

Anything else significant?  Can’t really think of anything.  Saw Heathers at the Prince Charles Cinema on Monday with Paul and KKOB, planning out my 40th birthday next year with a cross-Europe trip to some of my favourite places + the States and the Consolecation.  Um…yeah, that’s it.  I’ll try and finish off at least one of the board game blog posts I’ve got in draft.  Soon – week off next week so will have more time on my hands.

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The Land of Vimto

Hullo,

Been a busy old time again what with my recent trip up to Manchester and trying to solve other people’s problems.  And a fairly involved time of it at work, tbh.

Starting with Manchester: first trip to the land of Vimto in something like eighteen years and I was determined to get something meaningful of it.  The cover story is work…well, that’s more the truth than a lie but I took full advantage of the opportunity and extended my stay.  Bunked in the Mercure – nice hotel (as my review will attest on booking.com) but my room overlooking Piccadilly Square the way it was, the sound of the tram horns blasting from 6am was not a welcome phenomenon.

The agenda: visit the board game shops, gawp at the city centre, form a revised opinion of the city and the people, see Scott and Joey, ensure I eat something “local”, buy something nice and do something indulgent.  Succeeded in all my goals.

Post work event, the first stop was to have something to eat and upon Scott’s recommendation, we went to Gorilla, close to Oxford Road station.  Nice place, good food – bit loud (music) but I’m an old fart and don’t appreciate these things as much as I used to.  Then a slow trip back up the road to the hotel to go and pass out because it had been a long day and surrendering to blissful unconscious was most welcome.

Thursday; I ticked off most of the list above.  As for overall impressions – there’s a lot to be commended in terms of the city’s ongoing development and reinvention.  I can understand why Mancunians are proud of their city but when it comes to comparing with London, it’s comparing apples with circuit diagrams.  With Manchester, you can walk across the city centre in 20 minutes.  In London, you’ll be lucky to make it from one end of Oxford Street to the other.  Yeah, there are all sorts of reasons for this but they are two different places; there’s no competition (despite what the current Mayor of Manchester might think).

The board game shops were quite nice, well stocked and decent staff on hand.  I liked the street art in the northern quarter, ate lunch in a vegan diner, looked at some of the more off-beat places and then went to lie down for an hour as I needed _some_ energy for the evening.  In terms of games, I bought the Puppies micro-expansion for Munchkin and the Hallowe’en expansion to King of Tokyo (re-release).  Didn’t feel like buying anything bigger.

At S&J’s we played Secret Hitler but with the Donald Trump expansion (and I ended up being Trump twice), Salem and a few games on Jackbox.  Met some new folk and enjoyed catching up.  Good times.  Final day in Manchester saw me head off to the Manchester Museum in the morning, a late lunch at the Dough Factory before…amusing myself until it was time to catch the train home.

So now for other odds and sods:

I finished my latest play through of Fallout 4 (first time completing Nuka-World following complete massacre of the gangs, Minuteman ending) and started on Fallout New Vegas.  Making heavy reliance on VATS as aiming is a sod and I’ve been spoiled by playing number 4 first.  More to come on that later but I’m enjoying it for now, the only exception is a lack of a companion at the start of the game to help ferry items around.

But what I did want to say is that just for shizz and giggles, I started a game of Fallout 4 on Survival Mode.  Only lost my temper twice this far!  Essentially, I wanted to see how it played, see what a difference having to properly regulate your character makes as well as all the other game changes.  Day 3 in the game was the toughest for me: I wanted to get the double meat perk early from Sunshine Co-operative (given the need to constantly feed your character) but each time I made it there, something killed me off as my character was unarmoured (hadn’t run into any raiders yet) and I was only about level 5 from building stuff at Sanctuary Hills and Red Rocket.  Mirelurks, Smacky-Smack Smacks (Ghouls) – each time I got clobbered/killed just when I thought I’d made progress.   The only other thing of note about this game is I’m going to avoid the Pesto Gravy & the Minutemen as there are unique options for Nuka-World before becoming the General.

Not sure how I feel about the Fallout 76 announcement – given that all the rumours are pointing to an online game (no thanks, not with this one).

What else?  After a couple years’ worth of general abuse, something went horribly wrong with the lightning jack for my iPhone and I’m the sort who won’t upgrade to wireless despite snagging the damn things repeatedly on swivel chair arms at work.  I felt compelled therefore, to go to the Apple Store in Covent Garden on what felt like the wettest day of the year (snow days don’t count) the other day to try and buy a new one.

Yeah, you’ve guessed it, this is going to turn into a rant.  You may want to switch off now or skip ahead.

You may have heard of the phenomenon “IKEA Rage” whereby happily partnered couples can descent into bitter enemies just by crossing the threshold of the flat-pack kingdom, sulks going on for days.  Several couples I know have agreed to never, ever go to IKEA together again.  IKEA rage can also cover the joys of assembling the furniture but the in-store rows are for me, the most memorable.

I’d like to add a new term to the lexicon: “Apple Store Rage”.  This is the phenomenon – which I have dutifully reported on before (see purchasing of iPad Pro about a year ago) – where despite knowing what you want, what you’re prepared to spend and being an organised (albeit still prospective) customer, the lousy service you receive from the blue/red/green shirts thrusts you into a homicidal rage, unless you’re a bimbo with an ample buxom which male members of staff tend to leer over (except the gay ones, then it’s the muscle nerd boys leered over).  Twenty minutes.  It took twenty stinking minutes to find someone to take my payment; I refuse to believe they were *that* busy.  About the only thing I can do is leave negative feedback but every time I go to an Apple store, the experience is the same.

Anything else?  No, not really.  Plus I suspect most of you have switched off by now.

Fallout: The Board Game

A spontaneous trip to Finchley, an impulse buy, another £50 I’m not going to see again… that’s the brief story as to how I ended up with a copy of Fallout: The Board Game. I’d heard Stefano mention it a while back and although I didn’t really think about it at the time, there much have been something in my subconscious which resonated and made me paw the game three times before plucking it off of the shelf. Well, that and Munchkin Undead booster pack. Kinda timely – that very morning, overcome by a little nostalgia, I put in Fallout 4 into the Xbone to start a new game (with the goal of finishing as aligned to the Minutemen).

Anyway, the vagaries of my neuroses aside, the game.

Broadly speaking, the Fallout board game, which is for one to four players, consists of elements from Fallout 3 and Fallout 4. For those who haven’t read my blog or who’ve never played a game (or cannot be bothered to do a cursory search on Wikipedia): the world of Fallout is set in a different timeline to ours. The transistor circuit was not invented in the 1940s; its discovery won’t be for another 100 years and as such, the electronics revolution does not happen. Because vacuum tubes are the vanguard of the digital revolution – such as it is – power consumption is massively up and the world embraces nuclear energy. Design and architecture is largely stuck in the 1950s, possibly as a deliberate attempt to show American Capitalistic power against Chinese Communism. By 2040 or so, most of the world’s fossil fuels are depleted leading to various wars. China invades Alaska in an attempt to seize control of the last major oil resource and ultimately, this leads to a nuclear exchange in 2077. 200 years later (events of Fallout 3 & 4), survivors are struggling with every day existence in a post-atomic landscape full of mutants, hostile bands of people and persistent levels of radiation.

The way that the board game of Fallout works is that there are four principal missions which pitch two factions striving for control of the Wasteland and players will interact with the two factions as well as get swept up in various side-quests that emerge. The player characters are a Vault-Dweller, a Brotherhood of Steel outcast, a Ghoul, a Super Mutant and a Wastelander. Each character starts off with a character card giving them something unique as a way of differentiating between the five. Each mission requires the board pieces (there’s no main board, just hexagons à la Settlers of Catan) arranged a certain way and will have other set-up requirements. The way the game progresses and the story unfolds is at the discretion of the players.

For the player(s) to win, they need a certain amount of influence with the inhabitants of the Wasteland which is scored through “Agenda cards”. Each player has an Agenda card at the start of the game which is not disclosed unless a player is choosing to align with one of the main factions. Each card is worth one influence point and can be worth more if the criteria on the card is met. A player may only hold four agenda cards at any one time and these are typically awarded when main or side quests are completed. Players are up against the clock however, as the two factions vying for dominance will also be progressing towards their final goal of control of the Wasteland. If they manage to complete their goals (by reaching the final space on the mission sheet), that faction will automatically “win” and all players lose.

How is the game played then? It’s a bit reminiscent of Eldritch Horror. Players take it in turns to make their moves and receive two actions per turn: they can explore the map, move their character, explore ruins or settlements, set up camp to heal & trade, fight enemies or complete quests. Unlike Eldritch, players can choose the same action twice. Once all players have had their turn, enemies on the map get to move around and attack players if in range. If killed, enemies will immediately respawn (where appropriate) – just like the video game!

Each story card (deck of 160 cards) will result in a number of choices and progress is determined by a player fulfilling a particular success criteria. An simple example would be say: Choice 1, kill a robot enemy. Choice 2, reach a landmark on the map. Other missions may have more complicated criteria to be fulfilled. There are also encounter cards which do not count as story cards but can be drawn when a player is on a ruin space or a settlement space. Ruins typically (but not exclusively) allow players to draw loot from the abandoned rubble. Settlements typically allow players to buy and sell items at shops.

So that’s a description of the game in a nutshell, now for my thoughts.

Physical Bits – the game is made by Fantasy Flight games (Eldritch Horror, Talisman et al) and like their products, the board/board pieces are made from a pretty solid cardboard, the character figures are wonderfully detailed and the other playing pieces are not too fiddly. Each player’s pip boy (or personal playing area) has slots for their tokens and stats like health and rads are marked by peg rather than by counter which is a nice change. There are three dice with symbols that will need a bit of getting used to but they are a good contrast of black and green (like King of Tokyo). Game cards are a standard size and a micro-size (so they fit with FF/Generic card sleeves if so desired) but are perfectly readable and all together the game fit on my table without needing to pull out the extending bits (think 1m by 1m).

Artwork – the board doesn’t have much artwork, it’s pretty crude but icons and space segments are clear. Enemy tokens and item cards are the of the same sort of feel though it’s vaguely reminiscent of hand-drawn posters from the 50s keeping with the theme.

Box – Medium sized, just about fits all the bits and pieces in but you’re going to need a few zip lock bags for tokens once punched out. You can live with the cardboard insert but I suspect if/when expansion packs come out, you might want to chuck it away. Nice art on the box and the back gives you a good flavour of what to expect.

Complexity – Like many games, I feel that the rules could have been clearer in places as I had to refer to BBG message boards twice because neither the “learn to play” rules, nor the glossary book could adequately answer the questions. The back of the glossary features a summary of the turn order though chances are that’ll be passed around inexperienced players. It took a while to get used to the nuances of the rules but once comprehended, I was able to fly through my turns. I think a board game n00b could probably get through a game of Fallout as the game concepts are simple, the player actions are clear with few rule “exceptions” and players don’t have to keep a running tally of other game concepts issues in their head.

Gameplay – I think that the linear dynamic worked pretty well. There’s a definite flow of stages in a player’s turn and also in the turns of the enemies. The only time this is interrupted is when a quest is completed with immediate effect and the rewards and subsequent game effects must be resolved before continuing. As a solo player, I almost forgot to finish my turn but with more players, the chance of skipping out a move is unlikely. Fighting enemies and tests will be a large part of the game and that’s simple enough to resolve once a player gets the hang of how combat works. An interesting feature of the game is how it’s not quite co-operative, not quite competitive, more than one player can win simultaneously and everyone can lose. I can’t think of [m]any other games which play with this style so there’s something new as well as familiar, given the subject matter.

Favourite bits – For me, what I liked particularly was the XP system; being quick to level up in the early game but taking longer as it progressed (just like the VGs). Being an addict of the video games, I liked how the board game managed to cram in lots of references and make them an integral part of the board game. I also liked the fact that pegs were used to track game progress rather than a million counters and tokens although after a few plays, will the cardboard be irreparably damaged by inserting and removing the pegs? I thought the glossary was very helpful in looking up rules, better written than Eldritch Horror.

Who will the game appeal to? Regular gamers, fans of RPGs because that element is there, co-operative gamers, competitive gamers, a real broad appeal. And don’t forget to download the Fallout OST or look up the radio stations on YouTube to accompany the game!

Restaurant rant

If I had a twatter account [sic], I’d post this there but…

At what date did restaurants become obnoxious selfie central? Show some dignity, instawhores.

Fallout: board game review coming soon…

Unstable Unicorns

Capsule Review: Unstable Unicorns

Darren backed this on Kickstarter and received his set shortly before Xmas.  We played a couple of games then and in January before he gave me a copy for my birthday last week.  I reckon now is as good a time as any for a capsule review.

Unstable Unicorns is a deck-building card game, reminiscent of Exploding Kittens, for 2-8 players where the goal is to form a stable of unicorns (exact number depends on the number of players.

There are three types of unicorn one plays with and several card types.  Each player on their turn can draw a card from the pool, play a card from their hand (or draw a second card from the pool rather than play) and discard down to a maximum hand size.  Most cards have particular actions affecting game play and it is possible to play specific cards out of turn in order to screw over players.  Once one player hits the stated goal, the game is over and that person wins.

There are three types of unicorns: babies, normal and magical.  Everyone starts with a baby unicorn, and it’s possible to get more through other cards.  Normal unicorns come in different styles but there are no other differences between them other than card design and name.  Magical unicorns have abilities that can affect the player each turn.  I should probably mention that as well as unicorns, Narwahls also feature and count as unicorns.  Again, just for a bit more flavour.

Other cards played can boost one’s stable, diminish another players stable, act as game changers or cancel the last card played.

It’s a very simple game to pick up as the game is more reactive rather than proactive.  Experienced players can anticipate particular cards and adjust their plans accordingly so novices may struggle against experts.  There’s a certain amount of king-making, much the same way as game like Munchkin and Settlers of Catan are played where the player in first place will be ganged up on.

In terms of aesthetics – the box is compact but tough, not flimsy cardboard.  The artwork on the card is cute, very Japanese in influence.  The text on the cards is a little small considering the size of the cards although I appreciate that “more text” can be a turn-off.  If you’re trying to read the cards in other player’s stables around the table, that can be hard.

There’s a bit of a learning curve in the game given all the different types of cards and effects.  There are also a few notable instances where rules lawyering is required.  However, a game be played in under thirty minutes, even with a larger group which can help.  The artwork will keep people amused and the game interrupts present genuine tactical choices.  Unstable isn’t quite top tier for quick card games like Dominion but it’s a worth addition to anyone’s collection.

I’ve also got the Uncut Unstable Unicorns Expansion pack full of more…adult cards, themes, graphics and the like. Good unwholesome fun.

Gaming Catch-Up

I keep trotting out this phrase – and its variants – but post move, I’m starting to rejoin my life.  And catch up with gaming, of course.  So this blog post will be a brief catch up on games, both video and board.

First on the list: the Doomsday Heist on GTA Online.  Essentially, James Bond is in the world of GTA online.  First of all, you need to buy a “facility”, an underground bunker not entirely unlike one used by a supervillain.  But relax, you’re not the supervillain.  Once you buy the facility, you’ll be contacted by Lester who has an opportunity for you…

I won’t ruin the story should you not have indulged, it’s a pretty good one, as these things go.  There are three parts to the heist and each part has a number of missions, both a set-up and the mission itself.  Set-ups typically involved undertaking an activity on a lobby map so other players can interrupt you and make your life miserable.  Missions are undertaken independently of the main lobby.  Anyone in your organisation or motorcycle gang (you need to be a CEO or Chapter Leader) can help in the set-ups and a minimum of two players are required to do the heists missions and finale.

Sales aside, the cost of purchasing a facility is several million dollars which is a significant in-game investment but the pay offs after each part of the overall heist are very much worth it.  But perhaps the key part of the Doomsday Heist update are the new vehicles available, including (and I’m not using the in-game names) the flying DeLorean with missiles (aka Flying Troll Car), Lotus Submersible, the Jet-Pack and others.  There’s also the Avenger – a mobile flying base like the big-rig introduced in part two of the Heist.  Lots of stuff for players to indulge in.

Each Facility can be pimped out, has storage for a number of cars and has a few optional extras.  These include strike teams to target other players, a receptionist to hand out free snacks & Pegasus Concierge services and perhaps the most interesting feature, the orbital cannon.  Instadeath on another player – it costs a lot to fire but can be satisfying to get back at trolls.  There’s also the usual deathmatches and other lesser vehicles in the update but most people don’t care about them.

Next on the list: Star Trek Timelines.  Version 4 of the game was released t’other week, the main updates were around rewards in the cryovault for immortalising specific groups of characters (races, traits etc) and more options for organising your crew, making it easier to compare, see who needs upgrading etc.  For those of us playing over two years, collecting the rewards for immortalising characters was amazingly rewarding.

Nothing new with Animation Throwdown except the addition of a new category of card: animal.  Been getting back into Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus after a long hiatus.  Managed to get past the Roswell base and into the Uberkommando assassination missions.  Still refused to change from “normal” difficulty into easy although shouting at the Xbone is more the rule rather than the exception.

And in board games: I bought myself Ticket To Ride: France/Old West edition for my birthday as well as Eldritch Horror: Masks of Nyarlathoep expansion.  And P&D gave me a copy of Unstable Unicorns with the rude expansion pack. Haven’t tested any of them out though.  Gave away Scotland Yard to a work colleague and need to start putting my other games on eBay soon.  At KKOB’s yesterday, I played Power Grid for the first time and Small World with a number of expansion packs (except the Pirate one).

Relocation; a tale of blood boiling

It’s been six days – at least when I started writing this post – since I/we moved from Casa Beaufoy to Hasiera Heyford (Hasiera is Basque for home btw) and I think I’m over the traumas of the experience.  Time for a record for posterity.

Move day was Wednesday 21 February.  The packing crates arrived on the Monday and once they arrived, so began the chaos.  I think it’s fair to say that neither of us had done much sorting out of items to move the weekend before – with the exception of the clothes.  So as I was filling my crates, I also took random breaks to wrap a birthday gift for Karl, updating my scrapbook before I lost various loose items, putting photos in an album – that kind of thing.  On Monday afternoon as I was putting the books away, I felt a pain in my lower back becoming sharper…yeah, perfect timing.  From this point onwards, movement became an issue and slowed me right down.  Moving full crates out of the way was a chore.  A very painful, inconvenient chore.

But we soldiered on, dropping off a load of rubbish at the charity shop (clothes, books, DVDs) and getting ourselves inexorably ready.  As we were moving less than 100m away, we also took the time to make several advance trips armed with items to drop off at the new flat (which cut down on the number of crates we needed) and items such as glassware and crockery could be immediately put away rather than messing around later.  That evening, I went to go sit in a spa whirlpool to see if it could do anything for the pain.  It helped a little.

Tuesday was more of the same except I panicked and bought a pack of five cardboard moving boxes from Argos thinking there wouldn’t be enough crates and not enough possible trips to the new flat.  Although in hindsight, it was a very sensible move as the boxes can go into the attic with various odds and sods.  I filled two of those crates with just wine and spirits – to say nothing of my imported beers.  Dr Do(o)m remarked at the weekend that if the flat ever caught fire, we’re so screwed…

I managed to finish my packing by Tuesday evening (apart from a couple of final insignificant items) despite the lousy back and so went to the Griffin quiz.  Fortunately we didn’t win the beer.  Packed away my Xbone, went to bed.  I felt very hot under the duvet.  Very, very hot.  Very, very familiarly hot.  I was starting to run a fever.  The Catherine virus had been running around the office and had knocked out several colleagues over the last few weeks (so named after the first member of the team to succumb).  I had a horrible sensation that owing to the stresses of the move, my back etc, the obscene amount of dust and garbage flying around, it was taking advantage.

Wednesday: woke up at 4am, body overwhelmed with viruses.  Cursed my luck and lay awake for the next four hours before I made myself get up to get ready for the movers.  Tried to get ready with crates and boxes but the only way I was going to shift them was sheer force of will/bloody-mindedness which sapped what little energy I did have.  Opened the flat’s front door, looked at the lift which had a little sign saying “lift out of order”.

I swore.  Profusely.

Fortunately an hour later, it was back online.  By 11, I collapsed on the bed and lay there for an hour.  Shortly before 1, the movers arrived to assess the situation.  Think we put the fear of god into them.  Had I been fit, I could have helped but I was less than useless.  Dr Do(o)m and I did our best to spur things along but when they suggested more people (and higher prices), I immediately said yes.  It was around 3pm when the van was full so we were in overtime.  I slunk off to the park café for a late lunch – needed to get away from the dust and boxes for a bit.  By the time I got back to the new flat, the latest drama was that the bookcases wouldn’t go through the front door of the flat, they were a hair too big.  So everything was hauled up into the flat whilst the book cases lay downstairs inconveniencing our neighbours.

As my mood was steadily declining (along with my will to live), I ended up giving my remaining Star Wars toys & items to one of the removal men (he’s a huge fan and collector), I left behind the countertop freezer and decided to recycle my SNES and Megadrive.  I regret nothing.

We made a vain attempt at unpacking but there wasn’t much we could do, not without the bookcases in place as half the crate contents depended on them being in position.  After trying to get the cases through the doors ourselves, I gave up and dismantled the book cases myself, causing significant cosmetic damage to one of them in the process through my impatience and lousy mood.  We got two in the flat and assembled before quitting for the night.

Thursday: woke up feeling worse than the day before.  Sneezing like all hell (Dust? Virus?), felt like head was full of rocks and cement.  I managed to fill two shelves of one bookcase with things before returning to bed for a snooze.  Then the interweb engineer showed up so I let him in before retreating to the duvet.  Got up an hour later, did two more shelves, too tired, went back to bed.  Woke up by Amazon Prime delivery man dropping off a few odds and sods c/o the new landlords and again at 1pm by the crate hire firm who’d come to collect the crates.  I had it in my head they were coming on the Friday (and the lack of email confirmation despite chasing didn’t help) so I gave them what we had emptied (1/3 of the boxes) before going back to bed.

Around 6, I had enough energy to resume unpacking and Paul and Darren came over at 9 to help us with the other two bookcases.  Darren was in his element, Paul explained and so I let them get on with it.  Once they were in place, we could empty out most of the other crates (comic books) which helped significantly.

Friday: better than Thursday though not by much.  Nothing noteworthy happened on Friday except we’d cleared enough of the lounge to have dinner on the dining table c/o Happy Family.

Saturday: finished the kitchen and got the lounge into shape.  Fired up the tv and xbone, watched Labyrinth.

Sunday: finished my room (with the exception of the final charity shop items).  I ventured out of the flat after lunch, mainly to go shopping and to perk myself up a bit.  After a week of ordeal, it was time to get some form of reward.  I went to good old FP first; no intention to buy anything but did pick up the new expansion to Eldritch Horror (Masks of Nyarlathotep) and the Andre the Giant TPB which was on sale.  It’s fine – I’ve already done the one in-one out process.  Then onto Scribbler for early March birthday cards.  Picked up a novelty cushion which is blue, has a rainbow and some clouds and in the rainbow, it says “Get Lost”.  Says it all, really.

Bought a few comic book boxes to tidy up my collection,  shouted at two people – one a black cab driver for failing to stop at a junction when I wanted to cross (he ignored the give way sign).  And another was a woman who blocked the street by randomly stopping in it.  Really narrow Soho street so those behind were forced to stop too.  Dummy.and then headed home.  Didn’t realise it was 6 when I came back (time just flew by yesterday) so settled in for a quiet evening at the flat and cooked my first meal.

Monday evening, we emptied out the final crate (just some power extensions and other miscellaneous tat) and relocated a few boxes & items into the attic.  The remaining crates get picked up Tuesday afternoon.  And I think that then, Hasiera Heyford is open for business.  Bring on the games.  We’re definitely doing a house warming event this time.  Not least as there’s enough liquor in the house to fill a barrel.

A difficult week to get through, on a personal level that is.  Glass half full: I can rejoin my life, so much has been deferred until this point.  And I can make an attempt at saving again now monthly expenses are down.  I just wish I felt more positive overall.

The state of the letting market

Let’s tell the story of finding a new flat – not least because I need to record this for posterity.

So, Dr Do(o)m and I are due to find a new place in February because the contract is going to expire at Casa Beaufoy.  Whilst there might have been the possibility to extend for a year, we agreed that the time was right to move on.  Searching properly began on 6 January although I’ve been keeping half an eye on what’s happening with the aggregator sites.

However, for the first couple of weeks, we weren’t having a great deal of success.  Every time we even thought about expressing interest in taking a place, the damn place was already snapped up.  And prices seemed to have increased rapidly in the area.  That said however, we also noticed a number of properties with falling prices over days and weeks (optimism on the part of the letting agencies?) so didn’t want to be fleeced.

This caused a bit of a rethink for us so we rallied and organised a blitz on a cornucopia of properties.  Couple on Monday, couple on Tuesday and a flood on Wednesday.  Ultimately, our choice came down to three: two close runners and a distant third place property. Property number one is behind Casa Beaufoy, a flat in a Victorian house.  A little larger in terms of floor space, a lot larger in terms of attic space.  Perhaps the biggest sell is the fact that there’d be significant cost savings from living there.

Number two was in Lavender Hill – close to Clapham Junction.  This flat blew me away – just under 1000 square foot of space – it was a huge place, great rooms, light, two bathrooms but the location (and lack of walkability to work) was the only off-putter.  Still, I was having visions of social events, multiple activities in the same room and the quirkiness of having rooms that weren’t quadrilaterals.

And the final one was a place near Stockwell.  Three floors, huge garden, older furnishings but still had a retro charm going for it.  Saw it when it was chucking it down with rain which might have contributed to a negative impression.  I mean it was quirky, different and the large garden was different but for me, wasn’t enough.  I just saw problems with space, with the narrow staircases which would be a bugger to move things up and down and there was definitely a lack of heating.  It was as if someone saw a gap between two houses and just bunged a property there.

Over a fantastic Ethiopian dinner (Harar – South Lambeth Road), we ruled out Stockwell.  It just wasn’t ticking the boxes and was an easy decision to make.  So we debated the two flats, using the scientific method, using the emotional method, using every comparison tool we could think of and there was just no X factor making one place triumph.  As you might have guessed, we were championing our respective corners.  I wanted Lavender Hill, he wanted nearby.

Went home in the end, to bed but neither of us got any sleep.  Even in the morning (after I did pass out) there was still no clarity.  Unfortunately, this is when I was thrown a curveball.  Y’see, there was one more property on the list which we didn’t fit into the blitz down by Bakery Close towards Oval.  More or less the same as where we are currently living except no pool/gym.  I’d come around to taking the flat close by – I have my reasons as to why.  But there was a certain amount of…persuading going on over having a look at Bakery Close.

That flat was ok – but not great.  The price was more or less the same as we are paying now, just a little further out.  The clock was ticking – a decision had to be made, not least as we’d been chosen to take the flat near us by the owners.  I cannot describe (in the few minutes I’m taking to compose this paragraph, it’s not going to be my magnum opus) how fraught things were.  A spontaneous walk mid-morning, quiet meditation in the afternoon, hastily composed Whatsapp messages… in the end, it was Heyford that won out (the flat near us).

So then all that’s left is the paperwork, the inevitable clearout, the actual moving and vague vows about never having to do that again.  Amazing how this move is focussing one’s thoughts.  The prints that I bought back from Berlin for example, I’ve framed them up rather than having them squashed in boxes.  And I’ve been eyeing up books, games and the line with a view to parting ways. Mixed bag of emotions.

Exit: The Abandoned Cabin

So, a spoiler-free review of my latest board game (which went into the recycling as soon as we finished playing it)…

Exit: The Abandoned Cabin.  I bought this half on a whim, half because I wanted to try one of these escape room board games a few weeks ago.  Now that the nightmare of Xmas and New Year is over, schedules can return to normal and we arranged a game for last night.

E:TAC is one of six games in a series where players are required to solve a bunch of puzzles in order to escape from a room, in this case, an abandoned cabin where you just happen to have broken down outside of in the middle of the night.  Anyway, after passing out, you wake up to see you’re locked inside the cabin with nothing but a note and a decoder wheel taunting you to solve the puzzles and escape before whomever trapped you in the cabin returns.

The game is designed to be played between 1 & 6 players – we did it with 5.  There’s no strict order in which you have to solve the puzzles but there is something of a linear progression: one puzzle will unlock a second puzzle and bits and pieces for other puzzles.  There are also clue cards in case you get stuck which can give you hints or outright solutions if you’re really confused.  Puzzles test observation, wordplay, pattern analysis, number work – no special skills are really needed to crack these puzzles.  Some are straight forward logic, some are more cryptic.  There are no intuitive leaps to be made.  So as these games go, it’s a good entry-level game to the world of escape rooms.

Now, the main problem with this particular board game is you can only play it once.  You could try and play it twice but for three problems: 1) you need to destroy parts of the game.  2) there’s no new content.  3) The surprises would be ruined.  And because you need to destroy parts of the game (it is technically possible to work around but very difficult), you can’t pass it on or resell it.  However, at only £13, it’s no more expensive than a cinema ticket.  So yeah, once we finished it, the game ended up in the recycling (less what I wanted to keep for my scrapbook.

In terms of the physical specs: the box is A5 sized, the materials are clear and concise.  The artwork is alright – good enough for the puzzle solving although a bit cartoony and small.  And colours do play a significant role in the game so anyone who is colour-blind may have some difficulties.  Play the game in a well lit room.

So overall, a fun little game.  Challenging but rewarding and with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting and fresh.  Looking forward to the next one.

A farewell to 2017

‘lo,

My belated review of 2017.  Hadn’t made time to jot this down until today.

So, how would I sum up 2017 in a snappy sentence?  Difficult.  In some respects – and being my own worst critic – it was kinda wasteful.  I think for me, I allowed many opportunities to pass me by.  Kinda turned into the sort of person who I loathe in respect of maintaining contact with people and forgetting appointments by not writing them down.  However, I did try some new things, visited two new countries (Malta and Poland), did a couple of small, personal growth activities so there’s some stuff to cheer as well as boo loudly.

World events: lots of schadenfreude.  The chickens of 2016 are starting to come home to roost in 2017 with 2018 being I suspect, something of a “crunch” year.  The sexual abuse scandals hitting people in positons of privilege, certain MPs being forced to resign because they think they’re above the rules, humiliations of celebrities because they just don’t know when to stop (Katie Hopkins, Milo Yiannopoulos, Piers Morgan).  More optimistic than pessimistic I think overall.

Travel: As I said earlier, Malta and Poland were the new countries of 2017.  Having the two trips to Cardiff at the start of the year were quite nice, forgot how much I enjoy the place.  Did Swansea a couple of times, always a pleasure.  Squeezing in a couple of visits to Brussels didn’t feel like a chore this time, not least as I got to play tour guide with a colleague.  It’s nice to feel useful.

Personal Life: Like 2016, it’s been pretty good in terms of mates and doing stuff together.  I also feel that with work colleagues, a number of them have stopped expecting stuff to happen just because we all happen to work together and things are being more organic, spontaneous and that works for me a lot better.  Still gaming most weeks and meeting more people through the gaming network.

Vices: Because of a certain Mr Ringsell, beer consumption went up in August and September which is why I had a month away from the sauce in “Stoptober”.  Developed a taste for Erdinger Blue though.  And December was a particularly booze-heavy month thanks to Germany and Xmas.  Sadly, snacking has been a constant except for those virtuous weeks where nothing happens.

Love Life: Erratic.  Failure.  Depressing.  However, I have at least recognised that most of the failures are of my making and am seeking to improve that for 2018.

Ailments: Achilles Tendon healed nicely and there was no further limping after February 2017.  Had two really nasty summer colds where I felt lousy but other than that, a good year in terms of health.  Keep getting praise from the dentist every time I go which is nice to hear.

Gaming: With the release of Battlefront 2, Wolfenstein the New Colossus and South Park: The Fractured But Whole, I’ve been returning to video games a little more in the latter part of 2017.  Board gaming has been a strength: tried to stick to buying more expansion packs rather than whole games although there’s still a copy of Rebellion on my shelf which has yet to be played and I’d love a copy of Ghostbusters and Thunderbirds.  I have also been investing more in card protectors – 7 Wonders, Bang, Sushi Go Party, Avalon, Resistance and some of Talisman are now protected up.  Worth it!