A Little Introspection

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I’ve been a tad quieter than usual for a couple of weeks, having recently moved house, and I think most people would agree that this is a fairly stressful and time consuming process both before and after the event. It’s obviously a completely normal occurrence that happens all the time and I guess some people cope with changes better than others. It is a big upheaval, especially with a child in tow, and one that requires a lot of effort and planning. If you’re somebody (like me) who feels better when their daily life is routine and things are planned, then moving house feels like everything is thrown into disarray. All of a sudden I can’t find anything, nothing is where it’s supposed to be, I can’t remember where my socks are, and it’s these little things that can send my mind into a tailspin. To give myself some credit I do roll with the changes the best I can and recently I’ve become much better at taking things in my stride once again, which is something I used to pride myself on pre anxiety-brain. In the case of the recent house move it’s been a bit of an odd one for me. I had a mini meltdown on moving day but I pretty much anticipated that one, but thereafter I was pretty much ok. That is until we got to the new place and I realised I wouldn’t have any Wi-Fi for about 2 weeks. I knew we wouldn’t have Broadband but I thought my 4G would be fine and my data allowance was sufficient to see me through. But apparently in this neck of the woods it’s frankly impossible to keep a signal. I internally freaked out, because being able to speak with people, interact on my social media and share stuff is a huge part of my daily life.

Since Gwen was born I went from being a (semi) normal person who left the house without nearly dying of stress everyday and acted on my own terms for the most part. I could freely walk out the door whenever I pleased to do things like… go to work… Or pop to the shops, book appointments, see a friend without planning in advance, go out to get my nails done at the last minute. You get the idea. It was really hard for me to adjust to being a parent, and right now (and I have to stress that part because things obviously aren’t going to remain this way forever) I spend much time alone with Gwen or out with Gwen and don’t have a great deal of other human contact. I don’t have a huge group of friends nearby or many friends at all for that matter; I seemed to lose quite a few after having Gwen, partly through my own fault, partly because I had quite a few younger friends who didn’t really get my new mum status, yet I still have virtually no ‘mum’ friends. I have a core group of people who I see every few months and they’re my oldest mates, but on a daily basis I’m a bit of a loner. And having no easy access to the Internet really bothered me. I can honestly say it’s a lifeline for me. Not just the friend aspect, but as somebody who creates content that’s all online, and is constantly researching (or window shopping!) or listening to music or watching videos, and keeping up-to-date with goings on, y’know, just those little things that make me happy to be alive and feel connected to other parts of the world, the small pleasures in life, it was a bit like having a limb cut off. I actually got really depressed for a few days, and strangely I just felt like my confidence had died. All of a sudden I couldn’t imagine doing anything, or enjoying anything ever again, telling myself I was a terrible mum and awful human, and anyone who has experienced this will know what a horrible and unnatural feeling it is. Thankfully it didn’t last, and I think a large portion of that unraveling of emotions was down to actual exhaustion, and after a couple of early nights I felt of lot better.

Gradually I found ways to get around my lack of Internet issues, like various locations in the house that picked up signal better than others, or taking opportunities when I was out to go online if possible, or like right now being at my parent’s house so I can post this to my blog. This past week has really made me question my reasons for feeling the way I did. Have I turned into one of these people that have irked me so much over the years? Am I simply one of the many casualties of Facebook era bullshit? Do I over share? Do I post too many selfies? I mean I have to admit at this point if I see one more person with Snapchat selfies especially the bloody flower one I might accidently-on-purpose gouge my own eyes out of their sockets. Yet I take selfies. Not multiple times a day, but I love posing and always have! And I love sharing! But why do I have a compulsion to share? Why am I doing any of this? Do I even want to continue? Believe me, during this introspection I didn’t let myself off the hook easily. But I think I finally got my answers….

I wrote a blog post almost a year ago, when comparatively I didn’t know many people, and no one really knew me, and I spoke about meeting friends through the Instagram tabletop community and what it meant to me at that point. Everything I said in that post still stands true, and as time has passed I have found some pretty solid friendship groups. I have a laugh with people, I like people who I get and also get me. It’s not that I just share my own stuff either, I also love having a peek into other people’s lives and interests, and I care about what other people are up to and how they’re doing, and not always necessarily tabletop related stuff. So it’s not a one-sided thing by any means. I like interactions and fun! One of my online friends said that he understood my feelings, as he is an extrovert who doesn’t get to be around others that often, which is exactly like me. Sure, I’m shy in some respects, yes I experience anxiety, and I definitely like my solitude. But I do like other people (some of them…sometimes) and I definitely have an extrovert side with the right crowd. Admittedly I like hearing that someone enjoyed my video, or found one of my silly comments funny, because that’s a nice feeling, I honestly feel it’s the place where I can be myself; where I don’t feel worthless, useless or belittled or any of those other negative shitty things. Whether I’m talking about music, games, movies, food, or any number of random things, it’s like I’ve waved my little weirdo flag high, and mostly nice likeminded people have found me. So I think that’s why I felt so scared and vulnerable at the prospect of losing that, even for a couple of weeks. Not just because I’m an attention seeking self obsessed arse. Well, for the most part. Which is a relief.

So, there is a brief insight into what’s been going on in my mind this past week! I’m pleased to say that I’m feeling slightly more confident again and very really excited to keep sharing parts of my life, and continuing to get to know the good people of the tabletop community and otherwise.

Thanks for reading!

The Five By, Episode 3

For anyone who hasn’t heard of The Five By yet, we are a new podcast where every other week 5 tabletop gamers (myself included) each talk about a different game each episode for 5 minutes. When the first episode launched I wrote a post on who we are all and what it’s all about, and that can be found here. I wanted to share this episode on the blog this week because over on Instagram I’ve been singing the praises of Tyrants of The Underdark, and I said i’d review it. But since I discussed it on this weeks episode I thought i’d direct you there instead!

On this weeks episode as well as me with Tyrants, we have Ruth talking about The Oracle of Delphi, Mike discussing Above & Below, Stephanie chatting Gruff and Mason with Bibilos. It’s a lovely and relaxing 25 minute listen, so please do go have a look and download from our website! I’ll leave you with some gorgeous photos from Tyrants…

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Inis, Christian Martinez

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Inis. I coveted it. I swooned over it. I was starry-eyed-head-over-heels in love with it. And I hadn’t even played yet. I didn’t go out of my way to read reviews or look at photos, I wanted to be surprised and I’d pretty much made up my mind I’m going to like this game. Not just because it looked epic and gorgeous (and it is an undeniable beautiful game) but because I really enjoy area control games and I don’t play enough of them. As I mentioned in my Essen ‘fantasy wishlist’ video last year I was weighing up Cyclades and Kemet for quite some time and not really knowing which to go for, and then Magatot brought us Inis and I thought ‘Yes! This is the one!’

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Well it’s a month and a good few plays later so now I need to ask the question…was it worth the wait? Well if I say no I’m going to look just a little bit silly now aren’t I?! Luckily it’s not a no. It’s not a no but… it’s complicated. I’m still trying to get my head around it. In the sense that for a game which has fairly straightforward game play there’s a lot going on, and it’s good stuff, but it’s taking some time to click into place for me. I didn’t have the ‘this is amaaaaaazing’ reaction that I tend to have with some games that I instantly fall in love after playing, but I can tell you that every time I’ve finished I want to play again. Which of course is a very good sign and I think it’s a very clever game indeed.

As with most of my posts about ‘big’ games- those that have been well covered and are pretty well known, I won’t go into the rules and game play, I only tend to do that with games that haven’t had tons of coverage, or Kickstarter games that are brand new and perhaps unfamiliar to you. As always there is a link above if you want to find out more about how the game plays and there’s also multi language rule books on the publishers website. What I will tell you is a few things that have stood out for me in the games that I’ve played so far and my overall thoughts. (Also please note that I’m basing these opinions  on a two player game at this stage. This is important as there are couple of minor variations for two player only.)

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  • It is a highly tactical game. You have to keep your wits about you and strategise from the get-go. During a couple of games when I’ve been tired I’ve taken my eyes off of the ball for a moment, then I’ve realised I’ve missed an opportune moment or pretty much handed the victory to my opponent. It really isn’t a case of moving your clans around and seeing what happens, you need to be really focused and have a plan. Sometimes I haven’t done this and I’ve unceremoniously lost. There’s three victory conditions that can win you the game. I’ve found that the best thing to do is figure out in advance which one you’re going to try for and go with it, but not stick to it too rigidly, because when the clashes start then the course of things can change. Tactical but flexible, that’s my motto! And I like it.
  • The card drafting. The way the system works gives you two opportunities to change your mind about your selection, two chances of being ‘stuck’ with a card that you didn’t particularly want, but enough choice to decide what you do want to have (depending on what you plan to do each round) and a high probability of  getting hold of a few  sought after cards. So it’s a good balance I feel.
  • You only have a hand of six action cards (two player only) and you need to play them very wisely. I love the Geish card- he basically says ‘Oh you want to do that? I don’t think so sunshine!‘ and there’s nothing more satisfying than your opponent taking an action and you putting a Geish down. I know, I’m a meanie. Of course on a few occasions I’ve been on the receiving end of it and it’s highly annoying. But then there’s the Druid who allows you to search the discarded action cards and add one to your hand. So if you haven’t lost any action cards during a clash then you essentially receive an additional action. This is really handy  if someone Geished you because you can waste that by redrawing the card you lost. Or a better one. Mwuh hu ha!

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  • However this brings me on to the Epic Tale cards. There are significantly more of these and a few ways to get them during the game. In the case of the Epic Tales you really have no idea what your opponent will have up their sleeve once they get one. Then you also have that decision of the best time to play them. Big hint- many Epic Tales will really save your ass from losing clans and action cards during a clash. Others do all sorts of cool things to alter your fate. There’s also the territory cards. Once you are the Chieftain over a territory (you have more clans there than your opponent) you are allowed to take the corresponding card, and again these can come in super useful at times with the special abilities they provide.

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  • As I mentioned I’ve only played this two player so far and it’s brutal. When you are forced into the position of having to clash, say you migrated onto an adjacent territory with your opponent’s clans present, then you decide between you whether to clash. And if your opponent wants to and you don’t then basically you don’t have a choice. That’s when it’s good to have a handy Epic Tale. So prepare for some heavy confrontation in a two player. I’m very interested to find out what this could be like with a larger group.
  • I think my favourite territory so far is ‘Gates of Tir Na Nog’. Whilst you’re present in this territory you flip the ‘Flock of Crows’ token (which is used to determine the direction of play in a 2-4 game but in a two player you do not need to use the token unless this territory is on the table.) If the direction changes you must lose a clan from the territory and draw an Epic Tale card. So this is an interesting one, you could use it to accumulate Epic cards but it’s a risky place to be hanging about y’know? This territory also ties in with the Celtic legend, some of which are fabulously detailed at the start of the rule book. Gates of Tir Na Nog relates to ‘The Otherworld’ Epic Tale and refers to a land of ‘gods, dead people and endless joy…’

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  • I was thinking at one point that I wish there were just a few more action cards to choose from, because you’re repeating the same actions between you every round. But in a way it’s nice not to have tons of cards to remember and consider. The limited amount also gives you an idea of what your opponent is holding; this enhances your chances of figuring out what they’re up to. Also, in my opinion it’s more of a challenge to only have the six cards available to you, because as I mentioned above you are then in the position of having to play them carefully.
  • Deeds are also desirable. If you manage to pick up one of these during the game they will decrease the number of clans/sanctuaries/land tiles you need to be present on to 5 instead of 6, making victory all the more possible. Happy days.
  • The cards although awkwardly sized for sleeving, and the tiles- that are a difficult shape when shuffling- make up for the practicality they lack with gorgeously illustrated and detailed artwork. It is really lovely, and the cards in their size and art style remind me of Tarot cards a great deal. Absolutely love this about the game.
  • I certainly hope to see some expansions in the future. I’d love to see one that draws further on the ‘otherworld’ aspect with abilities to transport (teleport?) you around the board, or specific gods or spirits to conjure into your clashes on the board.

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So there’s my thoughts on Inis! An overall very positive and interesting gaming experience, that was well worth the swooning for in my opinion. I also made an unboxing video at the start of the month if you fancy and this can be found here. Thanks for reading!

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Tabletop I’m Excited For: Spring 2017

Every couple of months I feel the urge to talk a little bit about games that I’m interested in or excited for, whether they are new releases or upcoming. In recent months I’ve made videos on this, but at the moment I’m a bit pushed for time so I thought I’d get back to a bit of old fashioned blogging on the topic.

As much as I like to keep up to date with my games news I do sometimes miss the boat entirely and when I do it’s an absolute clanger. But for those times I overlook a Kickstarter game or see one that I can’t afford to back, I am then pleasantly surprised when a few months down the line it’s available for pre-order. Then I know goodness is on the way. Mostly I find out about new games from an Instagram or Twitter friend, and other times I’ll just trawl the Internet on a game hunting mission. So read on to hear just a little bit about a few that caught my eye of late…

Doomtown: Reloaded reloaded

Anyone who knows me will know that I absolutely love Doomtown: Reloaded. When it ended with AEG last Summer I was really sad. Even though I hadn’t played too many of the expansions (as I discussed in my Arkham Horror post, LCGs are an even more expensive hobby than board games) and I didn’t really keep up with the inner story of the game. But I always enjoyed the games I had. I’ve literally never turned down a game of Doomtown, I just think it’s so thematic and so clever. I enjoy the poker-playing element, and I love the shootouts and how epic they can be. I liked all the weird west characters, especially the ones that you can equip with hexes. Even though it had many hardcore fans it always surprised me more people weren’t into it. But then I remember the early games and how fiddly it seemed and how confusing the terminology appeared to be and I think that can put people off. But it’s one of those things, after a while it all made perfect sense. I always thought of it like Magic The Gathering to make it easier (e.g.- to ‘boot’ a card means to tap it). Anyway, when it came to an end I was like ‘Whaaaaa? No more Doomtown? That sucks’. I felt especially gutted after watching Westworld late last year and getting nostalgic for the weirdy westy stuff. Yet here we are a few months down the line and hell yeah it’s coming back! Pinnacle announced on their Deadlands Kickstarter update that the rights to  Doomtown: Reloaded have been passed back to them, and they will be releasing new material with Pinebox Entertainment. Thankfully it’s going to add-on to the original game. We will be in for a bit of a wait I should think, but I was really made up to hear this news. You can read more here.

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XYBrid

XYBrid is Kickstarting in March and looks really rather nifty. Yes I’ll admit that transparent cards (bear in mind I don’t actually own a game with such things as of yet) caught my attention when I saw this on an Instafriend’s page. My first thought was ‘oooh transparent cards’ followed by ‘a hawk with robotic arms, what the hell is this all about?’ and in XYBrid you are creating a magnificent mechanical beast to fulfill the mad whim of whoever you’re supposed to be playing as (I’m not super clear on this yet myself). But y’know, why not? Over three rounds you are card drafting in order to build your monster machines with endless ways to assemble them. This one has definitely peaked my interest and I’ll look forward to checking it out.

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Ahead In The Clouds

I must have been living under a rock because Button Shy wallet games are a thing, and now I want them all- awesome, clever and unique games in wallet size. I love ideas like this- that games don’t have to be epic space-hogs to pack a wallop. I especially like the sound of Ahead In The Clouds designed by Daniel Newman. This is described as ‘euro influenced resource management distilled into 18 cards’. In brief you are an industrialist living in a fictional world where air is no longer breathable, and you are collecting dust particles from the air and water vapor in the cloud city to convert into hydrogen and oxygen. You collect and convert resources to fulfill specific contracts and the player to do so first wins the game. You can read more about the game play on the link above. I really can’t wait to get this, I think it looks and sounds like awesomeness.

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Photosynthesis

Described as a ‘green strategy’ board game by Blue Orange Games. You can read the little blurb here, as I have no information other than what I’ve seen over on BGG and photos on Sweet Lemon’s Instagram page taken at the Nuremburg Toy Fair. Let’s just say I’m intrigued.

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The Kings Will

Again there’s not too much on this one as of yet, but I like what I’ve seen so far on the publishers website and the BGG page. It sounds very much like a solid Eurogame, and I love my Euros. The Kings Will is set in the 10th Century where you play as Dukes, building up provinces and accumulating prestige, meeting your own objectives whilst keeping the poor folk happy…and if said people are unhappy you’ll feel their wrath at the game end (I’m predicting in the form of hefty VP deductions!) The designer Hans Peter-Stoll mentions in the video on the BGG page that the victory conditions change every game and players are allowed to select those conditions…interesting. I think this is going to sneak up on us this spring and I’m keeping my eyes open for it.

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Deadline

I discovered Deadline whilst poking around the Internet last week, and somehow ended up on the Cross Cut Games website. This sounds like a really interesting co-op mystery game. It is in the same vein as Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective as in you have a number of cases to choose from and each game you work on one case together to investigate clues and answer set questions at the end to see just how well you did or didn’t do. The difference however is that instead of sprawling maps, newspapers and casebook, Deadline is condensed into a card game. You follow the story through the cards and each use your own hand and character’s skills to meet the objectives on the clue cards and progress the case. The more you move through the game the harder the clues become to solve. I also adore the setting- it’s ‘30s Film Noir style and looks very cool. I’m looking forward to this one.

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Tyrants of The Underdark: Aberrations & Undead Expansion

I’ve recently fallen in love with Tyrants of the Underdark from the Dungeons & Dragons family and I’ll be talking about this on the next Five By podcast. One of the first things I said was ‘I hope there’s an expansion on the way’. So imagine my joy when I discovered that the Aberrations & Undead expansion is coming soon. That’s two new half decks to combine with the core game- unhappy  dead things & badass monsters. I want in, now.

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Carcassonne: Manege Frei!

Carcassonne was one of the first modern board games I played and it’s always a nice comfort game. It’s friendly fun isn’t it? Aside from the Star Wars version I haven’t really gone in for any of the large expansions. But Manege Frei! has got me. I’m such a sucker for an old-fashioned circus theme and it just looks like a super adorable and fun expansion. I’ve never actually been to a circus and I’m very much against the use of animals for entertainment, but in terms of board games a circus theme (not the enslaving animals part) is ok. And what do I love most about Carcassonne? The old school wooden meeple of course. Circus meeples. It’s a yes from me.

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Unfair

I was really annoyed I couldn’t back Unfair on Kickstarter. I was so into it from the moment I heard about it, signed up for updates, followed it until launch date and then literally had no spare cash for the game. I was hankering for a decent theme park game since Coney Island, which was a cute game for sure, but I didn’t really enjoy it. Steampark never took my fancy, and Alan’s Adventure Land looked quite good, but was met with fairly ‘meh’ reviews, that coupled with the fact that there is no two player option just didn’t buzz me. Then Unfair came along. A card based board game incorporating some of my favourite mechanics; set collection, hand management, variable player powers with a promising cutthroat edge to satisfy the meanie gamer in me. It’s now on pre-order here in the UK, and I can’t wait.

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Campy Creatures

I’m not in the position to be making any large Kickstarter pledges. It’s a big unfortunate no-no. But $20 for a fun little card game featuring some beautifully illustrated B-movie classics? Why not right? I’ll have a spare £18 in a couple of weeks surely. If not the Specsavers bill will have to wait again. I’ll be so happy to have that pop through the post this summer. It’s by Keymaster games whose recent Kickstarter release Control was very well received. In Campy Creatures you are a mad scientist using the likes of The Blob, Dracula and The Mummy to capture poor mortals to experiment on, which is deliciously horrible. It’s a bluffing and deduction set collection game, and it looks to be light and easy to pick up. In all honesty I usually try to avoid anything too light nowadays, but I had in mind that this would be a good one to play when my non-gamer brother (who is a horror movie nut) and his girlfriend come over to play. It’s live for another 15 days if you want to check it out.

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Backpacks & Blisters

I just loved the idea behind this game, brought to us by UK publisher Ragnar Brothers. It was actually released all the way back in 1993, and last autumn it got a reboot on Kickstarter where it funded successfully. I managed only a small pledge, and I am still to pre-order my copy, but hope to get one in when I can. I liked the theme as I have enjoyed a ramble in my time. I rambled all around the Isle of Wight once, and feared for my life when we stumbled upon a field full of angry sheep, and I’m telling you it was scary. Backpacks and Blisters however is set in the lovely Lake District and in this 1-6 player game your exploring the mountains, villages and lakes of the area on a central and rather nice cloth map. Board game reviewer Rick Royal made a great demo video, and he described it as a ‘Euro game with a British heart (or Brit Box… damn I wish I’d thought of that one). Starting out at 10am you walk on through to dusk, picking up points for locations that you visit and the routes that you take. In a multi player game you are also trying to reach the ‘cairn’ locations before your opponents to score the greatest bonus points. You execute this using your rambler cards and by picking up equipment or a refueling chocolate bar (always a must have). Like on many walks in the open countryside the weather is often not your friend and how this changes can affect the course of the game. You also want to avoid the heavy rucksack and blister cards at all costs. It’s like a slow and steady racing and route making game, I just think it looks so fun and lovely. You can check out the Kickstarter page and still pre-order the game here.

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That brings my post to a close, with so much good stuff coming out there’s literally never a dull moment in the land of tabletop. Love it.

Thanks for reading!

My Happy Places

I thought I’d write a little post to share a few things about myself. Obviously this is a blog dedicated to tabletop games and I sometimes lapse into personal territory but it’s mostly always related to board games. I started another blog late last year but I haven’t really felt like posting on it. Shiny Happy Meeples is  definitely my preferred choice.

I’ve been feeling pretty low this week, definitely one of those ‘notch it up to a bad one and move on’ weeks. When you have bouts of depression and anxiety you start to lose sight of simple things that make you happy. So I wrote this today to remind myself of those things that make me happy and try to end the week right. Let me begin with…

Games!

I’ll start with the obvious. I basically live and breathe board games, if I’m not playing them I’m talking about them, researching them, talking with other gamers about games, photographing them, writing about them, making videos and now contributing to a podcast. Board games honestly make me so happy it’s ridiculous. But since I always talk games I’ll leave it there.

The Telly 

If I fancy some downtime from games I do love a bit of telly. I occasionally give new shows a try but I’m not someone who will watch something for the sake of it. If I stop enjoying a show I won’t see it through until the end just because. I’ve watched some really good ones in the past couple of years, a few faves being True Detective, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Humans, Stranger Things & most recently, Westworld. I like stuff that’s a bit freaky or gets me thinking. I love documentaries on pretty much anything, and I really enjoyed Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie the other week. I’m really into my comedy but I prefer older stuff that I liked when I was a kid, mostly British cult classics; Red Dwarf, Bottom, Phoenix Nights, Brittas Empire, Alan Partridge & The Office. I love Ricky Gervais and through him I became a huge fan of Karl Pilkington who I think it’s a secret genius & sometimes think may be the male version of me (aside from the genius part). I still listen to their podcast from years ago, it will never not be funny. I’ve actually laughed out loud like a nutcase on public transport listening to it and tried to style it out like I was coughing. I have a penchant for weird comedy too, like Snuff Box, Man to Man with Dean Learner, That Mitchell & Webb Look, Mighty Boosh & IT Crowd. Most recently I devoured Inside No 9, a very odd dark comedy which I thought was brilliant and clever.

Movies 

I guess this goes hand in hand with telly but I’m such a movie geek. Mainly horrors, sci-if and thrillers, but I do like a good comedy. I love 80s & 90s cult classics. I’m a movie quoting machine.

Food

I like eating. A lot. I’m massively into naughty food, and I typically love anything bad for me. I try to be good most days because I have bad metabolism but the days when I can eat burgers, chips, pizza and Chinese make my life. If I’m eating out I adore Mexican, Indian & Italian. Which doesn’t happen often. It’s kind of like £40 for a meal or a board game? Board game wins. Did I mention I love sweets? The days I can’t have sweets or chocolate I’m convinced a piece of my soul dies.

Working out 

I have a love/hate relationship with workouts. I don’t really enjoy it, but I like the way it makes me feel. It almost always perks me up if I’m feeling a bit low and I love putting my headphones on and banging out some tunes whilst going hard with the work out. I do high intensity 20 minute workouts and then whatever I can fit in that focuses on specific areas. I’ve found this works pretty well around my daughter. I don’t have time or money to go to the gym, but I used to and actually always enjoyed it. Aside from the other humans there.

Reading

I absolutely love to read. I don’t do it all the time, I’ll go through stages where I’ll read whenever I get the chance then not so much for a while. When I do I must consume the book in one hit. I never got into ebooks, I much prefer regular old fashioned book books. I read in the bath, it’s an absolute must. I don’t really have a favourite genre, I just pick and choose different titles from each. I do enjoy a bit of King though but I also read anything by Daphne Du Maurier. She was really ahead of her time, especially with sci-if novels like ‘House on The Strand’ and short horror stories like ‘The Birds’ and ‘The Doll’. She’s amazing.

Music 

I’m perhaps not so much ‘into’ music as I was when I was a teenager and in my early 20s. I was obsessed with alternative rock/post hardcore/metal/punk for years, and used to go to a lot of gigs. Nowadays I’m a bit more open to listening to anything but I will always lean more toward alt rock and metal. My all time favourite bands are The Misfits & Alkaline Trio. I used to play guitar and sing in a band, I still like singing (mainly in the shower) but I’ve really let my guitar practice slide over the years which is a shame.

Photography

I studied photography, I actually have two qualifications and worked as a portrait photographer for a few years. I’m not into it so much these days as in I don’t have an amazing camera or equipment, but I still have an eye for a good photograph and can’t go anywhere without spotting a potential photograph. I still love doing it.

Trend Forecasting

I have a Degree in this subject and for three years I gave endless Powerpoint presentations, did ethnographic studies, conducted interviews, and asked people the strangest questions. I spent countless hours researching in the library and online. I did a dissertation on the wearable technology and the female form. Looking back now I like to see some of the predictions I made come to pass! The most fun thing I did was go around a few cities in the UK doing research for Channel Four and interviewing random people on the streets. The other memorable one for work experience was sitting in for a couple of days of ‘mind-mapping’ with top-dogs from Absolute Vodka. Fascinating! I also liked the free lunches. I haven’t done this for a long time since I left uni, but i’m very much hoping to start again. I think i’ve got good antennas for trend forecasting, and now I have a topic- tabletop games!

Clothes & Shoes

I’ve always loved dressing up and styling cool outfits, I’ve toned it down quite a bit with age, but I still love dressing up when I can. I can’t really afford lots of new clothes or shoes anymore, again I’d rather buy board games if I have the money. I don’t think you have to spend a lot to have a bit of style though so I mainly shop at cheapie online stores, but I do have a few favourite brands: Killstar, Disturbia, Sugar Baby & Current Mood. I also love slogan t shirts! I hate going shopping though. I’d much rather buy online, I don’t like other people getting in my way or making rushed decisions.

Silly Humour 

Bit of a weird one but nothing makes me happier than laughing and being silly. I am very silly, love strange and wrong humour and can often be found cracking up at the most stupid things and often my own ridiculous jokes.

Going new places, Urbex & Adventures 

I don’t actually do this too much anymore but I hope to again. I really love visiting new places, seeing new things and doing anything adventurous. I used to rather like daredevil-ish activities (e.g. paragliding, quad biking, terrifying theme park rides) but now I have my daughter I don’t think I’ll be doing anything voluntarily potentially life threatening. The thing with the rollercoaster at Alton Towers a few years ago gave me chills. I used to like urban exploring (or Urbex) and ghost hunting. Really! Yes I believe in the paranormal and I also believe in bad things that can attach to you & bring negative s**t into your life. So I don’t want to fall down any cavernous holes or bring a demonic presence home. I know, I’m strange. But even though I doubt I’ll be doing these things again I would love to travel more, meet tabletop friends in other countries, do some safe adventurous activities and visit some more landmarks. I hope I can do this with my daughter.

And I think that sums up my happy things. I know I haven’t mentioned friends, family, partner & daughter, they have their place in there too but that kind of goes without saying y’know? Also i’m careful not to talk too much about people who might not want to be discussed online.

I hope you enjoyed this little insight into my happy places, and now regular board game service will be resumed as normal. Thank you for reading!

Tash-Kalar & Why I Can’t Abstract

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I don’t like not being good at a game. I define ‘not good’ as lacking skill, the inability to master it after a period of time, and repeatedly losing. Losing badly I should add. I don’t mind being beaten if I fought a good fight, I like to know I accepted the challenge & gave it a shot. I like when I start off as a blank canvas and can then build on my knowledge and hone my skill, thus allowing me to get tactical on my opponent’s ass. I like logging the game to see that I exceeded my previous score and feeling positive at how much I’ve improved. So winning isn’t really up there for me. But I can’t stand just plain sucking at a game.

This has very much been the case with Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends and abstract games in general for that matter- I’m just not very good at them. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so bad if my regular opponent, Jon, wasn’t so good at them. At least if you’re both rubbish you’re on an even keel!

As much as I hate being bad at it, I still somehow enjoy playing Tash-Kalar. I look forward to playing, admittedly the excitement is laced with slight dread at the thought of losing 3 times in a row, but I’m excited nonetheless. Because my focus is on ‘make this game the one where you actually get it right’ coupled with ‘I need to take this mother down!’ whilst casting death stares at my long suffering opponent. After a month of playing this game on and off there have been occasions where for a fleeting moment I’ve thought ‘Yes! Cracked it!’ But the insight was short lived. Because playing abstract games requires particular practiced skills that apparently I lack. I believe that you can improve on most things with practice and patience, and unfortunately I don’t have much of either.

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So before I get too far ahead of myself I guess I should really tell you a bit about Tash-Kalar. It’s a 2013 Vlaada Chvatil- a card driven abstract game, themed around mythical creatures getting their fight-on in a magical arena (the checkered board) and you summon these awesome beings to do battle. The game offers a few variants but I’ve only played the ‘High Form’ so far, so I’ll be focusing on that. Each player has a deck of cards, or ‘schools’ and it’s recommended that you play with basic red & blue to begin with. These are identical sets, meaning that your initial games will have total balance (believe me it still didn’t make a difference to my suckiness). Other decks in the base game include Highland school (Barbarians) and Sylvan school (Elves) and subsequent expansions have added more weird and wonderful creatures to the furor. The cards detail the piece arrangements required for summoning these beings, and you must create those formations on the board using your coloured pieces. Once summoned you can use the beings ability such as making combat moves on your opponent’s piece; either removing them from the board or moving them to a different square, placing/moving your own pieces or upgrading your pieces from ‘common’ to ‘heroic’. You only have two moves to take each turn (unless you summon a being that says otherwise) so you have to use those precious moves carefully. You win the High Form game by completing the ‘task’ cards that are available in the central marketplace, all of which have different values and objectives, such as ‘summon a least two beings this turn, one of which must be summoned on a red square’. The first player to 9 points wins the game. You can also score points if you choose to add the Legendary cards/pieces to your game. These are advanced beings i.e.- trickier to summon because  not only are you looking at the form, but also if you have heroic and common pieces in the right place. If you manage to get these onto the board they will give you points to assist you in victory. So that’s the High Form game in brief summary, and like with most Vlaada/Czech Games Edition there’s a big ol’ rulebook with loads going on and a beautifully written backstory and amusing anecdotes.

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One of the main aspects of Tash-Kalar is that you have really got to plan two/three steps ahead and be constantly on the ball, and trust me when I tell you this is a hard job when your opponent keeps moving your pieces. The amount of times I’ve had a plan in place where I’ve got my eye on a task card, I’ve got all the pieces set up correctly (so if my plan comes to fruition I can summon a second being as well) and I’m all ready to go. Then my opponent moves one damned piece and my plan has gone to hell along with my sanity. Yet I’m desperately still trying to find a way. I’ve got to the point where I’ve stared at my card and at the board for 5 minutes then said ‘look, I’m not going mad, there really is no way around this is there?” I was going to describe this game as unforgiving but in all fairness there’s often a chance to turn it around, or at times your opponent may unwittingly sway the next move in your favour. If you find yourself in a real tough spot you can always use a ‘flare’ card that helps give you a couple of extra move if able, but I rarely use them, I seem to forget I can, because like with most things I insist on doing it the hard way.

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One of the problems for me is my brain and my lack of spatial awareness. I guess this is the reason I’m not so great at abstract games. I’m quite good with strategy, I’m fairly au fait with planning my moves in advance, and I think playing board games often has really refined those skills. But what I can’t seem to do very well is visualise the formation on my card in relation to what I’m placing on the board. It’s really challenging for me. Like I said earlier you have to be super alert and concentrated. The times I did ‘get it’ is when I had a good sleep the previous night and when I was playing in the afternoon as oppose to the evening. Not only could I visualise the formations with greater ease but I also managed to rotate them in my mind (?) as to other ways they could work if summoned in the same formation but from a different angle. This gave me the ability to achieve more on my turn, cease getting thrashed for a minute and actually score a few tasks. It was exhilarating! It sounds mad doesn’t it? But as I mentioned before, it was a fleeting insight. I just think you need absolute concentration, focus and practice to be good at this.

Tash-Kalar also lacks what I found most other abstracts have and that’s the chill factor. I find I can concentrate on an abstract game and stop to have a chat half way through, or listen some music or a watch a show simultaneously and still make a good go of it. I can categorically say that Tash-Kalar has no chill. However, as tough as it may be and as challenging as I have found it I’ve still managed to enjoy it. I’ve made a lot of frustrated noises and pulled a lot of ‘are you f***ing kidding me’ faces, but it’s a damn fine design. Despite the questionable choice of card art (in some instances), despite not even attempting the ‘Death Match’ variant yet and despite being beaten within an inch of my life on most occasions I really think Tash-Kalar it is a bit genius. I’ll come back to you in a couple of months and tell you if I can indeed abstract Vlaada style or if this game’s really not the one for me.

Thanks for reading!

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