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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


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!

Berlin & Szczecin

My annual pilgrimage to Berlin was 6-12 December this year.  Xmas markets, Currywurst and Köstritzer were just three of the things I was looking forward to.  And boy was it needed – I was working right down to the wire, there was no early check-out of work and certain other people in the office were turning into basket cases as it dawned that I wasn’t going to be around for a week.

I managed to secure a lunchtime flight this time so didn’t have to worry about getting up early.  It might cost a few more pounds but not rushing to the airport at 6am is totally worth it.  Anyway, checked in fine, passed through security without being dragged aside for looking like Walter Heisenberg and had brunch at Giraffe (Huveos Rancheros & an espresso martini for dessert!) before boarding.  There was a certain amount of whispering going on – eavesdropped harder and realised that Ricky Gervase was on the plane and everyone had noticed.  Probably more exciting celeb spot at Heathrow than Chris Eubank a few years ago.

Flight was ok, had the entire row of seats to myself on row 20, landed as the sun was setting and was able to make a quick getaway from the airport over to Kurfürstendamm as I was staying in Schönberg rather than Friedrichshain.  Naturally I got off the bus at the wrong stop (one too early) and had a longer schlep down the road to the hotel.  Still, I got to walk through my first market – ominously guarded by large black concrete barriers.

The hotel – the Axel – is sited about three minutes away from Wittenbergplatz U Bahn station, next to KaDaWe so for me, it was slap-bang in the centre.  Day 1, I was content just to unpack and head out to the markets looking for dinner and a beer rather than experience the comforts of the hotel – as there is an onsite gym, spa and rooftop Jacuzzi.

I didn’t venture very far, back to Ku’damm in fact.  Just wanted to poke around the stalls, see what was hot, what was not etc.  Crowds were half local, half tourists.  I dunno if it was my imagination but there were more food stands in evidence and fewer ornament/gift-type stalls.  Either way I enjoyed my food and then went out for a couple of drinks and then back to the hotel to pass out.

Slept badly – new bad makes for an uncomfortable Joe although the room temperature was just right.  Fortunately, that issue didn’t bother me for the rest of the stay.  Dragged myself out of bed as I had some planning to do. Y’see, one of the goals of the tip was to have a day trip to Poland, to Szczecin as it’s within easy reach of Berlin.  I had a look at ticket prices on Deutsche Bahn and they seemed to vary wildly.  Tried to book a fixed-train ticket but the site would not let me make a reservation and in the end, I took the U Bahn over to the Hauptbahnhof so that I could obtain a ticket from the Reiseburo there.

If you are planning to travel to Szczecin from Berlin, DO NOT TRY AND BOOK A TICKET ONLINE!  I was able to get an open day return from the ticket office at the station for 1/3 the cost of the online stated price at €22.  With that reward in my pocket, I decided to go east to attend to my second goal of my trip, a visit to the Stasi Museum in Lichtenberg (and coincidentally, where I’d need to get the train back from the next day).

The museum was very confusing to find that day because of all the filming going on – some TV or movie.  The Ministerial floor (i.e. head of the Stasi) was totally out of bounds that day so I only got to visit floors 1 & 3.  But what I did get to see (history, rooms etc) was very informative and I found I could read most of the German as well as the English translations (very happy).  It’s worth a visit, doesn’t cost much to enter and a good warning on the dangers of state surveillance.

Post-museum, it was to Galeria Kaufhof for clothes shopping, back to the hotel and then for something to eat at the nearby Mexican place before trying out the hotel spa for a late night sweat and steam.  All in all, a good first full day.

Friday: Poland.  Got up early, headed over to the station early and had a McDonald’s breakfast as the queues were shorter before hopping on the train.  It was a Regio train – double decker.  It was a nice smooth ride with a change at Angemünde which is the other side of the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve.  Arrived in Szczecin around 11.  Remembering the advice by novelist Sue Townsend (when in a new city, deliberately get lost so as to take your time and see things properly), I turned right at the station instead of left so that I could sweep the city via the south rather than enter right into the city centre.  I’m glad I did, as I got to see some interesting things.

I wanted something traditionally Polish for lunch but could I find anything?  Could I hell.  It wasn’t until I ventured into the Galaxy Shopping centre that I found a nice place in the food court and had something that cost me by weight rather than by item; escalop, boiled potatoes, curried beetroot and creamed spinach – very not bad.  And of all coincidences, I sat next to the only other British people in the food court.

Did a little shopping (Xmas t-shirt, Polish version of the board game Incan Gold), saw more sights, bought souvenirs, took the 1730 train home rather than the 1930 and then scrambled around looking for somewhere to eat which ended up being the Vietnamese place round the corner from Nollendorfplatz U Bahn.  Good stuff.

Saturday is when the snow started.  There was a light dusting on the ground when I woke up – but a good chunk of it had already melted.  I didn’t leave the hotel until just before noon as I didn’t get out of bed until really late.  All that walking around Szczecin had taken it out of me.  Kept the day pretty loose with a wander around Alexanderplatz (clothes), Friedrichshain – the Zozoville Gallery as that was another “must do” item on the list of activities.  Then back to the hotel for a couple of hours in the spa where I sat in the rooftop Jacuzzi in the middle of a snow flurry.  It was a surreal and very memorable experience.  Eventually dragged myself out to have a massage from the hotel masseur, a very late dinner in Vapiano and then a night at Woof.

The snow didn’t loiter the next day in Berlin although a number of the Brits in the hotel were annoyed as their Sunday flights home had been cancelled as the UK had its usual panic.  The week before when there was a brief snowfall in the morning, I made the joke of “look, there’s five snowflakes, better cancel public transport in its entirety”.  Clearly someone didn’t get the humorous nature of my comment.  I was half worried but also half praying that the snow would cancel my flight so I’d stay on in Berlin at BA’s expense.

I had to admit being somewhat lost on Sunday for want of something to do.  I’d accomplished everything I’d wanted to do with the sole exception of Monday’s activities.  Something I hadn’t done was to pop over to Potsdamerplatz so went over to see what they had going.  Totally forgot about their Bretzel market stand with all sorts of savory items for sale but in the end plumped for a Knusperwurst; basically Currywurst in a crispy batter as a bowl.  Totally fattening, unhealthy and delicious.  On a whim, I went to the Museum of Espionage just down the road, part of which rehashed the Stasi Museum but there was more from the BDR side of events.  I didn’t participate in the laser web room: the memory of my Crystal Maze experience was too raw still…

Thought I’d try the Schnitzel restaurant around the corner from the hotel for dinner.  An obvious tourist trap but I didn’t care.  Glad I did – had one of the best waiters ever who conversed with me in my broken, incorrect German and the food…the food was exquisite.  First of all, I didn’t expect a piece of Schnitzel the size of a hatbox and secondly, the local brew served was a great accompaniment.  I read my book, watching the snow cover the streets outside.  By the time I was done, I had to go straight to bed, bloated and barely able to stay conscious.

Monday was my last full day and the plan was the Boiler, the Xmas market for those last minute gifts and Zsa Zsa Burger.  As always, the Boiler was a treat and I managed four hours before I had enough.  Rather than going back to the hotel, I went east to Alex yet again because I was toying with the idea of buying a SNES-mini from Mediamarkt.  Although virtually impossible to get a hold of (now) in the UK, they had a stack of them – albeit pricier.  It took twenty minutes of prevaricating before I decided not to buy.  I just couldn’t justify it.

Zsa Zsa once again, was a real treat.  I had the Kentucky Burger (Bourbon marinated burger topped with roasted bellpeppers and Swiss Raclette cheese) and three rather loaded cocktails, rounded off by a piece of cheesecake.  On the off-chance I’d have fallen into the river Spree, I’d have sank like a boulder.  Managed a final drink in Woof before passing out.

Tuesday morning – checked feverishly BA’s flight schedule – only two cancelled flights that day and neither of which were mine.  I was at something of a loss for things to do and on a whim, spent an hour in the spa before I had to leave.  Somehow, I still had about €150 on me and I made myself a half-promise that if I came across an opportunity to buy that damn SNES-mini, I would.  The nearest Mediamarkt was a distance away and I _could_ have gone into Karstadt but saw the bus across the road to the airport so decided on that instead.  KaDaWe didn’t have anything.

Had a really nice toasted advocado bagel for lunch which I lingered over before heading over to the check-in counter where I anticipated stupidly long queues of people packed onto the flight owing to cancellations.  I was right.  The queues were stupidly long.  This is when the worst part of the trip happened; y’see, it was chaos at the airport, or rather at the BA check in desk.  Obviously frazzled people weren’t thinking straight at all and were behaving like klutzes.  My flight and the next flight to London City were not that far apart and passengers for both were being admitted at more or less the same time so the waiting area was chaotic.  Then when it came time to call us for the plane, they called business class & oneworld members – but for those of us in cattle class were we called?  Were we hell!  And because the lounge was full of LCY passengers too, there was no mass exodus to serve as an example, just dribs of people disappearing but with a critical mass remaining.  Of course I’d checked in so there’d have been an announcement by passenger name but I just thought it was pretty shoddy of BA to have stiffed us over like this.  And there wasn’t any of the usual friendly greetings/farewells.  The only thing I could do was leave them snotty feedback on their inevitable post-flight questionnaire.

As usual, the trip back from the airport to home was the inevitable homicidal rage-inducing event.  I felt compelled to yell at several people behaving in a brain-dead fashion.  I rarely do this in normal circumstances but when I’ve a suitcase in tow, give me a wide berth.  Got home, dumped off bag, headed out for the finale of the Griffin quiz where we won the season prize of afternoon tea at Mr Foggs gin emporium for six.  Very nice.



From where I sit, I’ve no idea when this blog was last updated but I’m sure it’s at least a month ago. My inability to be a good correspondent continues unabated – but don’t feel too left out folks, I’m neglecting others as well. I have a free hour in which to compose something for posterity so here we go.

Core Themes: Video Gaming, Board Gaming. In board gaming, my latest acquisitions are Sushi Go Party and a new one by Repos Games called Secrets, both of which were bought in the Swansea board game shop, The Gamers Emporium. Secrets is a hidden identity game, not unlike Avalon or Resistance but players score points and their identities can change in the course of the game. It provides a fresh take on the hidden identity game and is well worth checking out. I’ve also tracked down the 7 Wonders promo cards and a copy of the Catan Wonder for my collection which are on order.

In video gaming, there hasn’t been much outside my regular games. Star Trek Timelines have introduced the Starbase feature. When missions are completed, they drop components for upgrading Starbase rooms and you have to work together in fleets for perma-bonuses for your characters or to raise the Chroniton cap. Animation throwdown is about to have its one-year anniversary next week with gifts for players and our guild is doing pretty well at the moment. GTA Online launched the Smugglers Run update (basically huge planes that drop bombs) which I’m resisting for now – when there’s a “sale” on, then I’ll move into that feature, otherwise I’ll stick with the gun running type missions.

August wasn’t a bad month, for the most part. The weather turned ugly, much to the joy of a lot of people. After a really muggy, sweaty summer, having the temperatures hover around 21-22 degrees was a welcome respite. I had a little time off of work, kept things manageably quiet for the most part and finally got around to having a clear out of surplus and broken stuff. Two rubbish sacks of clothes got the chop, my small suitcase which had two old Sky decoders and my two broken 3DS XL consoles, one rubbish sack full of recycling (papers etc), one rubbish sack of just stuff destined for landfill/incinerator. My Xbox360 is going to go to CEX once I wipe the memory and I might take my old 3DS & DS games to be sold at the same time. That said – I haven’t decided if I’m definitely getting the Xbox One X when released in November.

Oh, we topped the Vauxhall Griffin Season 23 competiton ; god knows how. 

Stressful week – other people in hospital with serious stuff. No further details but hard times indeed.

A rainy day in July


We’re officially in the second half of the year – if you adhere to the standard calendar. The English summer has returned in its humid glory, flying ants are busy creating new colonies (those that aren’t being crushed underfoot) and I’m continuing to adhere to the rule of three (in prose).

So, what’s new at the zoo? I had the day off last Friday and after two hours’ worth of prevaricating including two changes of clothes, I finally made myself leave the house, travel up to Finchley to Leisure Games and I finally got a hold of a copy of Oktoberfest. Don’t ask me why this particular game caught my attention – I just saw it and knew I had to have a copy. I’ve not played a round as yet but I think I get the basics of the game. I had assumed it was a worker placement but it’s a hybrid of auctioneering and poker, at least in part. Then there’s some strategic placement of items so all in all, it’s something of a fusion of several gaming styles. I also purchased Mind the Gap which is a London Underground card game, sorta like dominoes or Uno where cards are played and the next card must have some connection with the last one played. There are several interrupt cards which can mess up the sequence (again, like Uno) and points are scored at the end of the turn. Again, not yet played at least of time of writing but I’m sure I’ll get round to it soon (i.e. this Sunday).

It was nice to have had Friday off and a three day weekend. I know it had only been a month since the Spring Bank Holiday but June has been incredibly draining. General Election and its aftermath, particularly on work. The heatwave took it out of everyone, particularly when it came to sleeping at night. And the various activities happening in June during the week and at the weekend. Other than the two board games, I’m still in cheap mode post new iPad. Lunch has been a steady stream of reduced-priced quiche and bread rolls (thank-you Sainsbury’s), dinner has, more often than not, been masses of chilli or again, items with a yellow sticker. And even cola consumption has been cut down to no more than two per day.

Video gaming: still ploughing through GTA online and have drifted back to Rome Total War (the original) on the PC – though I see it’s available on my iPad (for £9.99). I’ve three unfinished games on the go: Carthage, Brutii and Greek Cities. Pretty much it for now – short update, more soon.

Once again folks, there’s been another blog gap. I’ve not had much impetus to complete an entry – there have been several false starts but after getting to a second or third paragraph, I realise that my scribings are utter drivel and just cannot bring myself to inflict them on the public. But today, I wanted to catch up re E3, GTA Online’s latest update and of course to whine about the summer. 

So in that order – E3. IMHO, Nintendo were the winners although the new Super Mario is basically a rip-off of the Amiga game Putty. Or Kirby. Still, they got people excited and talking by just announcing stuff without actually committing to anything. For yours truly, what I’m looking forward to most has to be Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. I watched the trailer and have to say, I bought that recording of “Danke Schoen” by Wayne Newton so every time I hear it, I can mentally picture BJ running through the USA blasting apart Nazis.

As for the new Xbone, looks good, upscaling might be a very nice feature to have but the biggest drawback as far as I could see, is that the console only comes in a 1TB HD model. Surely a 4K game is going to be bigger than a regular HD one and the internal HD won’t cope. However, my concerns aside, I think the better news has to be the fact that backwards compatibility is going to extend to the original Xbox console. With any luck, that’ll mean Battlefront 2 (as in the original game) will be re-released! I mean, I enjoy the occasional killing spree on my laptop but I seldom switch it on these days, not least as the dining table is horrible to sit at.

GTA Online – last Tuesday saw the release of the latest addition to the online world: gun running. It starts off by using your in-game funds to acquire a bunker where Agent 14 (aka the contact from the Prison Break and Humane Labs heist) inducts you into the world of weapons development. You can also acquire a truck to act as a mobile operations centre (which clearly underscores somebody’s affinity with Knight Rider – first KITT, now the FLAG Mobile Unit) as well as a much welcome anti-aircraft gun to swat Hydras from the sky.

The point of the base is that you can either manufacture weapons, develop new weapons (not available at Ammu-nation) or do both. All the bases are located in Sandy Shores, Paleto bay or other isolated spots in the north of the map thus further addressing one of my long-held bugbears, that players tended to spend huge amounts of time driving around LS itself whilst neglecting Blaine County. And you can access your base whilst being a CEO or heading up your local MC so both options are available to the player.

I’ve not really immersed myself into the game too much – other things going on. That said, I did manage to rack up a few hours. My in-game bank balance of $5M has crashed to $1M by just buying the base and the add-ons which _were_ optional but still… Still don’t have enough for the truck, not without buying in-game currency or grinding horribly. That said, my car warehouse is full of vehicles that are begging to be sold. Anyway, I’ve taken care of a few resupply missions and they’re actually pretty challenging on the main map and a great deal of fun as armoured vehicles are de rigeur. Driving halfway across the map to drop off a tank whilst blasting apart army jeeps – great fun.

My last post was about a month ago so I haven’t really commented on the election. One of my abortive posts which I still have the draft of read:

“Speaking of the election, in Vauxhall the Liberal Democrats are really going all out to see Kate Hoey (current Labour MP) dumped, principally on her pro-EU exit stance. I’ve had correspondence and flyers every day this week, stickers are appearing all over the borough – on lamp posts, on telephone exchanges and the like. Given as Lambeth recorded the highest pro-Remain vote (Gibraltar aside), it’s not looking too good for the incumbent.”

Alas, that didn’t become manifest. I did see the candidate on polling day, with child strapped to his chest in one of those baby carrier things but no sign of Labour’s electoral machine. Ah well, I think that she’ll be dumped ahead of the next election. Correction – I hope that she’ll be dumped ahead of the next election.

Oh, and I wanted to post the following about the Griffin:

The refurbished Vauxhall Griffin has opened under new management. The new landlords have gone for an idiosyncratic look, kinda like the old place but there’s a smash-up of two very different styles (possibly three) which I have a hard time seeing it blending together. I don’t know if they’ve deliberately gone for eclectic (or post-modern) deliberately – it’s just…odd. The two feature walls: one is red brick, the other is recovered (and painted wood). The bar area is white ceramic, the furniture is contemporary, the light fittings are quite nice (hi-tec lanterns), the toilets are a vast improvement but the upstairs function room hasn’t been touched other than a clear out of the art (so far). It’s definitely lost something but I’m at a genuine loss as to say whether anything has been gained. The landlords seem nice enough. So all things considered, I don’t hate the place – I don’t ‘like’ it – I guess cautiously neutral for now. If nothing else, at least I still have Zeitgeist (although I still object to the sneaking in of Adnams behind the bar for the real-ale twats).

S’all for now.