Category: Report


A rainy day in July

Ahoy, 

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.

 

Big Trouble in Little Malta

Nah, that title is totally misleading. But as was frequently referenced in blogs passim, I went to Malta on 26 March to attend an international road safety conference & stakeholder event.  

The first day began in the usual rush; I set my alarm early so there’s plenty of time to get to the airport, I wake up and think “I’ve more time”, get up late, panic and fling myself out the flat door hoping everything is in order. I’d booked myself on an early morning flight y’see as I wanted to get there in good time to see the place. As I’d dithered in the flat and not had time to eat anything, I treated myself to one of the more upmarket restaurants and had an Indian-themed breakfast (special of the day) – very not bad.

I was flying with Air Malta – first time. The plane was delayed in taking off so we missed our slot and therefore were stuck in a long queue of planes flying out. Once we were under way, I enjoyed the view from the window, gawping at the peaks of the Alps popping up above the cloud layer – think I spotted the Matterhorn as I’m familiar with the shape/outline. And then looked at the Mediterranean and the ships travelling about, particularly around Sicily. The descriptions of Sicily from the Michael Corleone interlude in novelisation of the Godfather stuck out in my head and I tried to picture the land below as if it were post-war 1946.

We made it to Malta about ninety minutes late, then the next task was to get to the hotel. I tried to do the right thing and get the bus to Sliema but owing to exiting the airport at the wrong entrance, I missed the X2 by seconds. So I joined the queue for the next one. After waiting two hours for buses that just failed to turn up, I eventually cracked and took a taxi, getting in this rickety cab which I think was brand new in the 1980s. Malta was the first time I’d ever seen wild cacti growing – Prickly Pear. They were festooned in every field and in every garden between the airport at the hotel. 


Finally arrived at the hotel, checked in and took a good look around. Sliema is across a bay from Valletta (the capital) and also overlooks Manoel Island (ex leper hospital, fort and boatyard). Lots of hotels and waterfront eateries, boating activities of all sorts and a shopping centre. After sufficiently cooling off, I enjoyed a stroll along the coast line before finding somewhere to eat and partook of the local brew, Cisk. Wasn’t a bad beer, kinda mild but with more flavour than garbage such as Fosters. Had a ravioli made with local produce – there’s a lot of rabbit served in Maltese dishes but I didn’t partake in that. The bar filled up quickly as Malta was playing Slovakia in football though people were far less excitable than in a UK pub (blessedly).

 

Monday was my day to myself. Hadn’t slept all that well owing to the air conditioning unit which only seemed to pump out hot air regardless of the setting and maintenance not picking up their phone. After breakfast (and this is when I saw that I was the youngest person in the hotel by 20 years excluding staff), I had a kerfuffle over switching my room before deciding to walk to Valletta. A ten minute ferry ride would have deposited me there but I wanted the exercise so strolled all around the harbour for an hour before arriving in the capital. But I’m totally glad I walked. The far end of the Marina you could see rainbow fish swimming in the water and lizards (or salamanders) darting between the rocks. Very few skanky pigeons and gulls but you could see falcons on occasion as well as sparrows by the dozen.

 

Many of the buildings in Malta are made from local materials (i.e. sandstone) which obviously crumbles quite easily and makes the place look more run down than it otherwise in because the interiors are nice, modern and well kept. Streets are about as wide as they need to be so drivers appear to have developed a reasonable etiquette over road use. Bicycle use in Malta wasn’t prevalent at all. But pavements were seldom wider than a meter except in Valletta itself which is almost totally pedestrianised. But boats were everywhere and from the number, it seems that every house has access to even the most basic sloop right the way up to luxury yachts.

 

So Valletta itself: I thought the Parliament building was a library until I saw a sign telling me otherwise. Though I enjoyed looking around at the contrast in architecture. You could tell what was built when Malta was a Crown Colony – the Presidential Palace and square had a distinctly colonial feel to it, right down to the uniforms worn by the guardsmen. And because Brits were the predominant breed of tourist, there were a number of instantly recognisable high-street brands that one could patronise. I did go to Costa a couple of times – the iced drinks were most welcome as the temperatures climbed every day I was there. But resisted the others.

 

Monday was sort of like Sunday in Malta, a lot of shops were shut or had different opening hours. But it also meant that the streets were less crowded (contrast with Tuesday and Wednesday) so getting about was pretty facile. Lunch was a sammich in a local café, dinner was Italian again, asparagus risotto. Also had drinks with a local thanks to the power of the interweb which was a nice change of pace. Alas, I didn’t sleep well again – opened the balcony window only to let in the damn mosquitos.

Tuesday was the day of work, the conference. I got up extra early to ensure I was able to get to Attard which is in the centre of the Island, not far from the former capital of Mdina. Glad I did because navigating the buses was a nightmare. Although I’m glad I did elect to stay away from the hotel where the event was happening – Attard is…if you’ll forgive me…in the middle of nowhere. It was just suburbia with the occasional shop. The hotel was another colonial relic, both inside and out though the gardens were very well kept and the food was excellent. Again the air conditioning struggled, particularly in a room with a couple of hundred people in it. I won’t go into detail over the event – it was…well, it was work. And you can read the Valletta Road Safety Declaration online if you’re really desperate.


Getting back to Sliema: another nightmare in public transport. It was rush hour and every bus was jam packed. I went from one bus stop to the next and in the end, I traipsed back all the way to the hotel where in some places, there was no pavement to walk down. That aside, I got to see stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise have observed and my walk to Valletta the previous day paid off as the road from Attard rejoins the route to Sliema. My vague plan that evening was to go to St Julians up the coast but my feet were aching and I could not be bothered so went to the Tex Mex place up the road which caught my eye earlier – totally glad I did. They had amazing cocktails, a great dinner of quesadillas with again local cheeses and vegetables + an Oreo cheesecake dessert. Decadence all round.

 

Final day: actually slept that night but I think had there been a nuclear blast, I’d have been zonked out right the way through it. My flight home was at 5pm, checkout the hotel was at 11 so had to amuse myself for a few hours. Went back to Valletta by ferry for a couple of hours for some last minute souvenir shopping and to see the old fort at the tip of the island. Then to the shopping centre in Sliema to source some local food and drink to take home. It was wonderfully cool inside, next time I’m pitching a tent and staying in the mall! Very UK-like which was handy.

Once again, the fickleness of Maltese public transport hit me: I turned up to the bus stop about thirty minutes early as I was just done for the day. The bus showed up thirty minutes early (or late) so I jumped on and the journey took longer than the promised 45 minutes (more like double that) which was a bloody good thing. So readers, if you ever find yourself in Malta, take the bus timetables with a fist-full of salt, hire a scooter or walk! Plundered duty free for the usual treats (6 cans of Cisk, Maltese wine + locally made prickly pear jam) before queuing for the plane. 

Flight home was uneventful and I found myself a little bit down at the thought of leaving. I was finally warming up to the country – usual sense of personal caution in accepting something readily – and have decided I’ll go back one day. About the same time of year, I reckon but with more organisation over activities. 


Coming up next: back to the video games and the latest acquisitions…

 

Hallo, 

It’s April and once again, I feel like a little public self-flagellation, fessing up that I’ve not been the best blogger/diarist. Mainly as most of March was “more of the same” rather than something new and different. I wrote the below two paragraphs a couple of weeks back but quickly grew bored and left them to languish in drafts. But I feel I need some filler so here they are in their unmodified and unsexy glory.

The rest of my birthday went by fairly calmly and quietly. Played a couple of games, had a burrito, watched the Changeling (George C Scott) and went to bed. Not exactly a raucous affair but what I wanted in the end. Did a little gaming with Paul and Darren in Brixton the following day and then the main event on Saturday: Eldritch Horror followed by dinner in Belgo’s. We failed at the latter (barely got one mission completed before Nephren-Ka woke up) but had a blast necking fruit flavoured beers and stuffing our faces with fatty foods. They tried to drag me off afterwards but I was struggling to remain awake so had a drink at Retro before succumbing to unconsciousness.

Sadly I was up the next morning rather early owing to the need to get a train down to Cardiff as I was going down there with work. So bleary eyed, I staggered down to Paddington and on to Wales. Like Dublin, the weather was quite nasty (damn the Celtic fringes) for a good chunk of the day and put off any vague sightseeing/entertainment plans. I’ve been to Cardiff twice before but both those trips were just for the day so this was a time to actually have a proper gawp around. Naturally my first stop was the Board Game shop, Rules of Play. It’s sited in an Arcade so not much floor space (probably less than Orc’s Nest) but was very nicely organised and arranged. Couple of Welsh language games in the shop – novel as well as the usual selections. Would go back.

Sorry.

What else then? Had a second trip to Cardiff on 20 March, rain was far worse than the first visit. And I bought the Cthulhu Monster pack for King of Tokyo and the board mat for 7 Wonders. I only wanted one item! Otherwise, March has been a pretty quiet month. For Mr Beer’s Birthday, we went to the “Secret Escape” Room Escape game. It has, I was relieved to discover, nothing to do with that annoying woman on the adverts for the similarly named company. The premise: disappearance on a 1960s/70s film set. We escaped though we did require a lot of help, I think. Some of the clues were quite cryptic and did not flow organically. Still, there was a fair amount of fun had.

Speaking of room escapes, Tuesday night we revisited Time Run as they have a second game added to their repertoire which played differently to the first one. This time we were required collect items in each of the rooms that we were due to escape from to use in the final room. Our score was 97/100 + 13 bonus points so 110/100. Don’t know if it’s the record for the game but it certainly was the best score that day. I shined in the Russia room where there were a lot of problems like “Keep Talking or Everyone Explodes”.

Last night we finally finished Risk Legacy (the usual Wednesday mob) and I unexpectedly won. Everyone had a “last gasp for glory” style run by amassing tonnes of soldiers and going on an all-out attack. Actually, Brendan, Paul and myself did two gasps and mine was the successful one. But it was an epic finish to the game lasting two hours. I’ve had a stinker of a cold this week so was drinking copious amounts of brandy to keep me going. Feel much better today.

I’ll write a separate blog post for my adventures in Malta.

38

Nope, not the flat number, nor my lucky number.  But the number of successful orbits of the sun whilst maintaining my status as a passenger on planet Earf.

Like most people, I’ve taken the opportunity to bunk off work (read: taken  a couple of days off) to mark the event.  And  it’s been a quiet old day so far, noise from the street excepted.  The last two days were spent in Dublin with work.  I had a quiet, pleasant stay although the rain felt quite incessant at times.  There was allegedly some snow on Tuesday morning but it had melted by the time I emerged from my hotel room.

So what’s been new, hip and happening?  Answer: not much.  More of the same, really.  Am I in a rut?  Perhaps, though I’m not rushing out to embrace the new.  Is there anything that’s truly new?  Apart from picking up a new mobile last weekend, no.  Letting February slide by as quickly as possible, I guess.

Continuing to enjoy Star Trek Timelines and the recent events have given my inventory a chance to rest and rebuild following a succession of missions which have drained them dry of all the really useful stuff.   And finally have a couple of friends playing it although they are not quite as into it as I.  Still, good times.

On the Xbone,  I downloaded the free copy of The Force Unleashed and replayed that, forgetting how much fun it was to throw Felucians into Rancors.  And to fry that bitch  Shaak Ti.  GTA continues to be my most played game although I’ve been trying to get into Banjo Kazooie Nuts and Bolts again.  It’s just hard to like it.

Board games: lots of 7 Wonders, finally got around to breaking in “Under the Pyramids” expansion for Eldritch Horror and whilst in Dublin, I treated myself to “The Dreamlands” as it was cheaper there thanks to the collapse in GBP. I was particularly proud of this game with Joey and Scott:

 

Finally folks, I was doing a YouTube crawl and stumbled across this parody music video.  I almost wet myself cackling as I think I’ve experienced every one of these deaths:

So that’s your lot, just a quick update before my second coffee of the day and hopefully, a decision about what to do with the rest of my time today.  And if anyone else is celebrating a birthday today (Ron Howard, Harry Belafonte,  Dirk Benedict, George Eads, Doris Hare and of course, Frederich Chopin), PISCEANS ROOL!

Year of the…Blank

Tag, 

Although January was a fairly active month – in terms of social activity, there has not been much worth of pen and ink (or its 21st century equivalent). So that’s why the lack of blog posts. There’s been the usual gaming sessions, pub quizzes, work stuff (plus trips to Swansea and Bristol) and random activities that comprise of 21st century living. But other than going to Bristol (city centre rather than one of the suburbs), there has actually been nothing “new” to enjoy. Is that the theme for 2017? Take comfort in the familiar?

Something I did manage to do in both Bristol and Swansea was to visit the board game shops. I know, other folk in new places will make a beeline for the cultural sights, others the pubs, me – the board game shops. My lack of general life aside, I enjoyed my trip to both stores: The Gamers Emporium (High Street Swansea) and Excelsior Games (Bond Street Bristol). Both stores had play areas, bigger than those in Leisure Games but that’s not exactly difficult – no offence guys. And the stores were tastefully arranged showing the stock (sealed and opened). I felt compelled to make purchases in both of them (Eldritch Horror expansion Signs of Carcosa and Boss Monster 2 + some card sleeves) cos you have to support these businesses otherwise they’ll become something pointless like nail bars or tanning salons.

So looking ahead to February and beyond, there isn’t much more to note at present other than the usual run of birthdays and weekly activities. There’s the possibility of heading off to Dublin later in the month with work, might even be the day before my birthday. I’ve been trying to think of stuff to do either on the momentous day or that weekend but so far, I’ve drawn a complete blank. Well, that’s not true, there have been many ideas but all of them rejected for…well, pretty good reasons actually. If I don’t get something in diaries soon, it’ll be a re-run of last year’s couch fest. 

I think the vague plans I was formulating to head to Boston in late March are postponed – cash flow is an issue at the moment. The collapse in the pound has hit my finances too. I hadn’t noticed until January just how much more money I was haemorrhaging from my monthly stipend. I think these things are going to bear much closer scrutiny for the time being. It’s incredible how the newspapers aren’t screaming about this phenomenon but considering the political affinities of said papers, it’s not all that surprising. Put it this way, any dreams of home-ownership have receded even further away. Unless I can get a mortgage on a cardboard box around the back of Waterloo station.

Lastly, if you [happen to] read back through the reams and reams of material appended to this blog, you’ll see that I have a tendency to name years, sometimes after things that have happened to me, occasionally in response to other events. I’ve narrowed down 2016 to several possibilities before I settle on one: is the Year of Death – in response to the celebrity bloodbath? The Year of the Achilles – after my damn ankle issues for most of the year? The Year of the Sole Survivor – after enjoying Fallout 4 so much? The Year of Mitteleuropa – after my trips to Berlin, Austria and Slovakia? Or perhaps the Year of Stupid Decisions? I don’t think the latter requires any explanation. Comments on the back of a postcard please.

 

Picking up the January pace

Intended for publication on 12 January. 

Salut,

The gentle beginning to 2017 continues unabated, eleven days into this new calendar. Only one person has complained of being broke but that’s because they cannot leave the sales alone rather than having overspent at Xmas or anything like that. Some of us can do restraint, it seems.
It was a pretty busy weekend at Casa Beaufoy. Friday night though was “lie prostrate on the couch”, particularly after the spicy chilli I cooked for myself. The week had by no means been busy – though exercise has been upped now leg is feeling better – but I felt drained and needed an evening of nothing/very little. Saturday morning, I pottered around the flat, finished off the chilli for lunch and then went out for much of the day. First stop was the board game shop in Finchley. Bought myself an expansion pack to Resistance (Hostile Intent), picked up one for Joey for Coup Resistance and 100 card protectors which will fit Talisman cards and Eldritch Horror cards. But if I were to protect all those games’ cards, I suspect well over 1500 will be needed. I don’t want to price that up…

Unlike most trips to Finchley, there was no time for coffee and pastries, it was on to the huge Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road for stickers (the mundane sort for identification mark purposes) and birthday cards. If like me and Adrian Mole, you find stationery buying vaguely erotic, then stay away because the sale will tempt you will all sorts of items. Exercise books, jotters, diaries, pens, pencils, weird and wonderful items…all designed to test the maxim “a fool and his money are soon parted”. Why Paperchase hasn’t supplanted WH Smiths as a good supplier I just don’t know as their merchandise is far superior. Distribution networks, I suppose. Why mention the stickers? Board games. My plan in the next month whilst things are still relatively quiet, is to begin to amalgamate/merge board games and their expansion packs together, particularly given the small space in the flat. If you remove the cardboard inlays, the boxes are far bigger than are needed but will hold more items. The problem is separating out multiple expansion items (characters, cards of various types, tokens etc). So different coloured stickers are my way around this. I don’t think _much_ space will be saved but it really needs to happen.

Back to the story-telling: post Paperchase, Orc’s Nest in Covent garden and the other board game shop where I felt suckered into buying the Eldritch Horror Expansion, Under the Pyramids. I just wanted to check to see if the price of Labryinth (the War on Terror Game, not the Ravensburger maze game) was cheaper. Somewhat poorer, I threw caution to the wind and had a late afternoon tea at Patisserie Valerie, chiefly killing time before going to Mr Butterley’s drink in the Welly. Vile place. I lasted an hour before my general antipathy drove me out of Soho. Certainly will not be trying that again without some fortifying Valium or similar. Way, way too busy, loud, obnoxious and full of nasty people. And no, not the people I was with, the general Soho-going masses.

Sunday was the board games day at the pub and it was utterly, utterly rammed. Tube strike didn’t deter _that_ many people. I was the principle target in Ca$h & Gun$ but my demonic leer made people drop out a lot (I don’t like using my powers for evil). Avalon – evil won three back to back games (idiot good types). One of the “children” in attendance had a mini-meltdown which served to put me in a ratty mood. Real childish stuff over losing games – if you can’t hack losing, don’t play.

This week, thus far, is your standard January week. We’re all doing our best to get through it even though there’s not much to get excited about. Routine hasn’t varied though last night we played a game of Shadows Over Camelot and the armies of good once again let Camelot fall to the armies of Mordred by siege engine victory. Did well on Spaceteam – level 12! 

Back hurts today. Was walking out the front door when I felt the stabbing pain of a trapped muscle/nerve. No painkillers yet…

Goth-HAM

Hullo, 

Normal service can be resumed readers, the Xmas/New Year/Winterval (whatever) period is over and we’re now in the unofficial month of starvation where many resolve to stop eating unhealthily, drinking too much/at all, exercise greater financial restraint and typically have less fun. 

Quitters.

Mind you, I’ve been more austere in day-to-day living the last couple of weeks. In fact, I somehow ended up with more money at the end of December than I did at the end of November, despite having my week in Germany. What’s the secret? NO LIFE! Cutting right back on the alcohol, no pub quiz, no work (no work lunches in the canteen) and a steadfast refusal to engage in the usual end of year activities with family and friends. And when I listen to the stories of friends and colleagues about what they got up to and how bored they were by it all – unless they’re telling me what I want to hear – I have to ask “why do you put yourselves through it every year”?

Right, I’ll get off my moral high-ground now and launch into the few activities that did take place in the last couple of weeks. Steam’s Xmas sale was participated in, the Xbox sale was not. Nothing untoward and also ironic considering how little I’ve bothered with my PC this year. But I did see that several older games had made it to Steam, notably Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds and Star Wars Rebellion (aka Supremacy for the UK owners of the game). So I snapped up those as well as the latest expansion for Age of Mythology HD (the Chinese expansion). Grand total – about £7. Galactic Battlegrounds does NOT like MacAfee however and any time I want to play the game, I have to go through a convoluted start up process. Basically, it confuses the intro video with a Trojan and autodeletes the file so the game won’t initialise.

I did find myself playing my PC a fair bit over the break as it happens. Not just the new games but also a couple Age of Empires 3 campaign games, a return to Beyond Earth and finally made some progress in Cubicle Quest once I figured out what the hell I was doing and how the game is played. Usual games on the Xbone, no new purchases to enjoy.

The Blue Oyster Cult would have us not fear the Reaper. They’re correct, you should fear the Werewolf instead. Yeah, in Berlin there was a bit of time to kill so I may have played more than a few games of Talisman on the iPad. Have to say that even though I’ve been a fiend for buying the various expansion packs, I’ve seldom made time to play, not least as a typical game – even on top speed – will take at least two hours to get through (with six players). But man cannot live by sightseeing, re-reading novels and Glüwein alone so I indulged in a few games. And I have to say that the Werewolf, introduced by the Blood Moon expansion pack, is perhaps one of the most challenging characters you face in the game. Why?

First of all, the Werewolf character moves around the board like the Reaper which doubles the chance of being landed on. But not only that, when the night card is in play (i.e. every other event card will trigger night), the Werewolf doesn’t need to land on a character. If his movement catches up to a player, they automatically encounter the Werewolf. The Werewolf doesn’t kill the player outright (like a roll of one on the Reaper chart) but he has three opportunities to rob players of life points and can turn other players into werewolves. Oh, and they add +1 to the dice on the Werewolf chart (allowing for greater chance of reward). What does this mean? At night, werewolves get +2 to combat rolls and must attack characters on the same space which sucks if the other player has better stats. And they can’t steal items except with spells or killing a player outright. But with more expansions in play, especially those adding to the board’s play area, it’s easier to dodge.

It’s the fact that the Werewolf can go flying around the board, aided by a number of adventure cards which interact with him unlike the Reaper who only moves after a player rolls a one for movement. But you can’t play with the expansion without the Werewolf because it’s a pain to separate all of those cards. Playing on the iPad, the AI is particularly vicious in sending the werewolf after any/all human players. So it’s harder to play the game successfully, as evidenced by my three losses which is a shameful blot on my win/loss record.

Outside of gaming, I watched the first and second seasons of Gotham – less “Batman, the teenage years” and more “what if everyone else took a level in badass in a world without a Batman?” Some episodes were very well put together and had lots of Easter eggs for the die-hard fans. Others struggled to advance the plot which did make you wonder if the series really needs 20+ parts per season. There is a fair amount of hammy acting: Jada Pinkett Smith’s smug snake (aka Fish Mooney) was getting more and more Eartha Kitt, especially towards the end of the second season. James Frain as Theo Galavan just reminded me of a young Lloyd Grossman sans the spectacles. I kept thinking he’d come out with “who lives in a house like this”? Even Ben McKenzie’s James Gordon isn’t immune to it when he’s in shouty mode. Whilst an entertaining watch, it makes you think what is this world’s Batman going to do when he comes of age? Many of his foes and villains are already established, unless we go back to the 1960s and resurrect characters like Egghead and King Tut.

C’est tout…pour maintenant.

More from Mitte

‘lo, 

End of the working week today (assuming this is finished/published on Friday and not three weeks hence or whatever). Yesterday, I was feeling somewhat drained folks, a combination of post-holiday fatigue and Wednesday’s office lunch which began at 12.30, moved to the pub around 3pm and where we remained for eight hours. It wasn’t a pretty sight when I came home. The food was very good (hats off in particular to the sweet pumpkin dish), the company pleasant, the crackers appalling and the twenty or so games of Spyfall very welcome.

Picking up from the last blog entry, the rest of the Berlin trip was pretty quiet, pretty chilled. I was able to wander around the city mostly unaffected by ankle problems and as reported, my shoes and I have reached a state of détente. I think that all in all, I visited a dozen Xmas markets, most of which were the usual tat but the ones at Alexanderplatz and outside the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church had more arts and crafts and handmade goods than the others. I bought a couple of odds and sods (pictures maybe in the next blog entry), drank some Glüwein, ate some bratwurst and dodged the pickpockets – there was one who wasn’t being discreet but after a fierce scowl, she skulked off.

General shopping: not much. Only bought a single pullover in a sale which is a massive change from the usual haul. Sweets & chocolate – naturally although that’ll mostly be given away. Except the Ritter Sport and the Riesen Pieces. I also bought myself a Lego kit of Berlin from the Architecture range. You build your own mini Reichstag, Fernsehenturn, Mauer, Victory Monument, DB Tower and Brandenberg Tor. Spent an hour last night putting it together, very enjoyable. Was tempted by a couple of the board games which had English rules included but ultimately wimped out. And at the Video Game Museum (I had three hours to kill between leaving the hotel and heading to the airport), I bought a Monkey Island towel and a Gameboy cookie cutter. Geek-chic at its finest.

What was old and what was new about this trip? I finally made it to the Communication Museum which was a nice way to spend the Sunday morning – well, it was either that or get drowned in the rain. Worth a trip, especially with a mere €4 entry fee. I also went to a new bunch of eateries – Café Em about ten minutes from the hotel, a Vietmanese café just up the road from the Hotel, few other places that don’t necessarily stick out in my head but were nonetheless all good fare. Of course a lot of time was spent gawping at Xmas markets. Probably spent more time around Kreuzberg and Mitte this time compared with other areas of Berlin. 

Think I need to head out to Spandau and/or Potsdam next time, definitely want to have a day trip to either Leipzig, Dresden or Warsaw. And I’m going to visit the Stasi Museum for sure as well as another museum on the Island.

Back to Arkham

Dontcha just love it when you spend too much money, panic about it and then realise you actually had more cash than you realised so actually the overall impact of your reckless abandon is negligible? That was pretty much the sum total of my Saturday. 

There was only one thing on my mind Saturday morning; pretzels. This after having slept for nine hours btw and still feeling ¾ dead so naturally, my first thought was something arcane. As my last blog post indicated, I was toying with the idea of Borough Market but I knew that if I went, I’d just spend a load of cash in Utobeer. In my groggy state, I vaguely formulated a plan of starting in Camden so that I might go to Melissa’s bakery (at least) and working my way south through central London. Like many of my spontaneous plans, it went totally organic and I ended up…doing something completely different.

Starbucks have dropped the Cheese and Marmite rolls – most disappointing. Another post EU-exit casualty (given the hysteria over price rises for the yeast extract product)? But that’s where I started my day, looking at all those about to go to and come back from the gym judging from all the tatty sports bags on display. Why they thought I’d need four sachets of HP to go with my breakfast roll I don’t know. Meh, whatever. Hopped on the tube and considered where I might change to get to Camden. But for some reason, I just didn’t feel like changing trains at Warren Street or Euston. So instead went to King’s Cross and decided to walk through my old stomping grounds. Glad I did because I hadn’t appreciated the changes that the last couple of years have wrought. Former building sites are now fully fledged apartments or offices, shops have gone, new ones are in their place. Not much has changed of Barker Drive though; this was pleasing and I felt a hint of nostalgia as I passed by the old flat.

First stop on the tour was Game. Actually no, the first stop was the bank, then to Game. I made up my mind that I was going to splash out on a copy of Return to Arkham even though it’s only an HD remastered version of Arkham Asylum & Arkham City albeit with all former DLC bundled in. But it’s been a while since I last acquired a new Xbone Game, the last being Zombi which has barely been touched. Game were selling it at £40 which I point-blank refused to pay, not least as Sainsburys’ were retailing it for £32. So instead went to Cex up the High Street and found a second hand copy (not unexpected) for £30. Sold!

After buying the aforementioned pretzels at Melissa’s, I decided to harass Xian and bullied him into a visit and for tea. He had what looked to be an impressive hangover but we caught up. It’s been ages since I “dropped in” on anyone, these days visiting friends tends to be done by appointment only (not least so you can pretty-up the homestead). So was nice to be a little different.

Forbidden Planet next stop – I’m weaning myself off of comics and about the only titles I’m still buying are Back to the Future, Simpsons and Futurama (whenever you can find the damn things) and Batman DKR 3: The Master Race. Star Wars I stopped after Lucas sold out to evil, Star Trek (or at least the Kelvin-verse) has come to a natural end with the destruction of the Enterprise in the last film so I’m quitting those. He-Man finished ages ago and I haven’t seen Munchkin for a while. Anyway, picked up BTTF and Part 6 of DKR3 as well as an expansion pack to Resistance (the “Avalon” pack – it was the only one in the store) and some more card protectors. Ran into Dr Do(o)m and the girls in the comic section though I’d actually walked right next to them earlier and they completely failed to spot me.

Late lunch in Herman ze German (delicious), birthday present for Brendan in Hotel Chocolat, then stuck in traffic on the bus home because of the wretched Million Mask March. And I’d noticed that FP had unsubtly put the Guy Fawkes masks in prominent display… kinda think that takes the P-One Fifty-Five (sometimes I’ll swear, sometimes I’ll be oblique and cute). After waiting thirty minutes in traffic, I got off and went to Embankment to get the tube home although I detest changing at Kennington just to go one stop. Why didn’t I walk? Goddam ankle AGAIN. At least I’ve finally registered for a GP, just need to book the appointment when I confirm I’m not a spambot or whatever. Then fired up Batman and settled in for the evening.

So Batman: Return to Arkham. Only played Asylum thus far (as of last night, I’m about to start the Killer Croc lair section). The HD graphics look wonderful; a great deal of detail on the characters and the lighting is really good – you can see so much detail on the background scenery. When you’re going from the Batcave to the surface in that section where you can’t use the Batgrapple (is that its name?), the difference is stunning. I can’t wait to see Wonder City in the next game, I’m sure it’ll be spectacular. The first Scarecrow interlude was also wonderfully eerie. I didn’t notice much different from the sounds or v/o. 

I noticed that Joker is now a playable character in the challenges (I’m sure he wasn’t before, or not on the 360 but I could be mistaken). But have stuck to the main game for the most part. On the downside, a couple of the cutscenes still have ropey animations, almost as if they were Claymation (I’m thinking of the Harley Quinn/Electric Floor interlude). But that really is the only downside. More when I get around to Arkham City.

Sunday: mostly chores, a little obscenity in the evening. Monday: work, home, sleep. Nowt worth reporting.