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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
I was fortunate to get my hands on a copy of ElemenZ, a fantastical themed press your luck, dice rolling and set collection game. Brought to us by Scottish publishing company BatCat Games, the Kickstarter launches on 16th February.
The game is very much a ‘2 in 1’, as the 2-player game is different from the 3-4. As I only managed to play the 2-player I’ll be focusing on this aspect alone. Both games use the same components (although the 3-4 has some extras that aren’t needed in the 2 player). Make sure to keep your eyes open on the Kickstarter page when it’s launched for reviews that focus on the 3-4 variant!
I for one am really happy the designer, Jason Maclean Jones, considered 2p and cleverly managed to create a game that works both ways. I play a lot of 2p games and I’m always a bit disappointed if a game I really fancy doesn’t give me that option.
There’s a fun backstory to the theme that you can read about here, and now I’m just going to tell you a bit about the game play.
In ElemenZ you choose your Alien Shamans that represent an element (water & air vs. fire & earth, as a typical Aquarian I chose the former) and the corresponding dice & boards. Each dice denotes four elements and a ‘Z’ that is a form of ‘wild energy’. You set up your boards so the monoliths on each are aligned and you’re ready to get rolling. The aim is to unlock all energy spots on your monoliths and the first to do so wins the game. You begin the game with 6 dice each, 3 of each of your chosen element. Depending on your roll you either:
I enjoyed ElemenZ a great deal, for someone who claimed last year that dice games weren’t her penchant I’ve been playing more and more recently and am thoroughly enjoying myself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again rolling for movement in a monotonous fashion I find a bit of a drag. In-the-moment decision making with dice is where it’s at and that’s what ElemenZ is all about. It appears like innocent fun but it’s got bite. I think younger players would pick this up pretty quickly but I don’t think I could play against them, not with the ummm, coarse language I was using! Not only because of the ‘take thats!’ I was getting swiped with but also rolling those pesky ‘Z’s was genuinely frustrating. But in a nice way that makes you feel determined, if that makes sense? It’s the decision making I enjoy. Should I re roll one more time? Or should I place them now? My opponent is getting ahead of me, should I forgo my move to target his? Shall I get another dice? Then your last reroll is a damn ‘Z’. Gutted.
I must say I was also very impressed with the quality of the prototype, which is a great sign pre campaign of quality and attention to detail. I especially loved the vivid artwork and screen-printed dice bag. The publisher also included a nice hello letter/instructions as well as the rules and I thought that was really lovely, that extra thought and care goes a long way. Also a good sign!
So as well as being a rather nice bunch they have a real treasure on offer here. If a challenging dice chucker with weird alien beings & quick-fire tough choices sound like your thing then you can read more here. When the campaign launches I’ll update this post with a fresh link to the Kickstarter.
Thanks for reading!
Please note: This is a personal post, and not strictly related to board games.
After a few weeks of umming and aaahhing I started a Go Fund Me page on Friday and I felt really quite terrified. I won’t go into the full details of what the content is, but if you want to find out more please do pay the page a visit, I’d love for you to have a look and see what you think. I wrote up a personal campaign as fully as possible to give as much detail as I could to potential donators. If I am going to back a game or fund a person I would want to know everything, so this is no exception. The basis of the campaign is I want to go to a Con, I want to go to a big Con and I would like to get to GenCon. Some people love it and say it’s amazing, some people say it’s not so good, but that is my Con of choice nonetheless. Whether I’ll make it this year or not time will tell!
Admittedly I was worried about a few things beforehand:
So that is a run down of a few of the things that kept me awake at night for the past couple of weeks. Also having to move out of the house we’ve lived in for three years made for a rocky start to 2017. Now the dust has settled I think it’s a blessing. We have found a place to live that’s far more manageable for me, and closer to our families, which also makes finding a part time job around my daughter easier. I’ve also been scouring the house for things to sell on good ol’ eBay and I’ll be finishing my qualification and setting up my business in the next couple of months, so fingers crossed for all that so I can help myself out a bit!
I’ll finish this on a huge positive- I’ve had some lovely feedback from my campaign so far, a few great interactions and some donations already and that’s made me really happy. I just hope those people know how much it means to me and that I truly appreciate it.
Thanks for reading!
The first episode of The Five By podcast aired today and it’s super exciting to be a part of it. I was first asked to join by Mason from WDYPTW who I knew from Twitter, and was told that his co-cost on What Did You Play, Mike, had an idea for a new show with a concise no nonsense format- 5 board game enthusiasts talk for 5 minutes about 5 different games every other week. I thought it sounded like a great concept, and absolutely achievable for me. I love talking, I love games and I have never done a podcast before so I thought ‘why the hell not?’ I don’t think I could do a podcast that wasn’t pre-recorded, i’m not so great with on the spot wit, I feel like i’m more of a slow burner, i’ll usually think of a good retort or point tomorrow. I like to research and plan so this was perfect for me. The plus of not faffing with my hair and recording in my pjs was also rather appealing. I was also very nervous; since I started making videos I have become a lot more confident but this is new territory. Let me tell you audio recording is tough, and editing was strange for me as it’s completely different to video. Luckily I had some help from Mike and with the support of my co-hosts I pulled together the confidence to create a decent segment.
So, if you like podcasts, or perhaps want to pop your podcast cherry, and you have a half hour to spare you can listen to Ruth of Sequential Gamer talk about SeaFall, Mike discuss Automobiles, Mason cover Troyes and Stephanie from Geeks Who Drink share her thoughts on Kanagawa. Then there’s… me, with Order of The Gilded Compass.
Next time I’m talking…Myrmes, where I will share my experience of how a self confessed insectphobe can grow to love a worker placement game about surviving in an ant colony.
Thanks for reading!
This past weekend consisted of a variety of different things; house hunting because we’re (politely) being evicted in March, eating sweets and bread as a hysterical displacement activity (I’m definitely wheat intolerant so now look like a football), being mind blown by the current events going on in the USA, watching Louis Theroux My Scientology Movie of which I spent most of the time saying ‘what the f*****k?’ whilst dealing with the usual cat vs. baby calamities in-between. Somehow, amidst all of this I managed to play three games. Those games were Inis, Troyes & Combat Commander: Europe. I was struck by how radically different each game can be to another. I don’t feel like I’ve played these three enough to review them as such, so just for fun I wanted to give you a little taster of what they have to offer…
Inis is one of those games that got a lot of coverage, had quite a bit of hype, attracted a lot of attention for it’s beautiful artwork and then sold out far and wide.
I can honestly say it’s all well deserved from what I can tell so far. I played three games and they were all were very different from each other. The first was very much a practice run, but it’s one of those games that once you get the rules and structure clear in your mind then you’re away. What intrigued me is how the more I played I realised that this isn’t simply a game of playing cards and moving minis about. There’s a deeper strategy that you have to access to win and I’ve yet to do that. This is the kind of game I love because I’m excited to play further and tap into it. I can’t wait to give it a full review and I’ll try to get that up within the next week. As an aside the art really is gorgeous, so vivid and intricate. I was majorly into Tarot for years and the cards have a real Tarot vibe, as in they could be a Tarot deck- but instead they have wonderful player abilities in a super fun area control game. Exciting stuff. Expect more soon!
Troyes is a pure Eurogame employing a clever dice mechanic, and I can see why this game is so well liked and the reprint much anticipated. I love the way you can utilise and manipulate your dice by using the cards available. You have secret objectives to achieve that other players can score too, so as well as trying to meet your own goals it’s also a good idea to attempt to figure out what your opponent is holding. As well as this there are negative events to battle each round and countless ways to accumulate money, influence, and of course- victory points! I love having lots of choice, where you really have to hone in on the best route to take to achieve your objectives and win the game. There’s lots going on in Troyes, and again I’ll look forward to writing a full review. I’m also a fan of the basic but beautiful artwork.
Lastly Combat Commander: Europe is a game I never thought I would like. On the rare occasions a few years ago I would go to a game store I would almost always skip the war games section. I think I said something along the lines of ‘real life is grim enough’, which is still true, but in the respect of relating that to games I’ve moved on from that train of thought. Yes real life is pretty grim at times, things are tough, and games should be for fun. But nowadays I am very open to delving into different genres. I want to have new experiences and learning curves in gaming so when given the chance I said ‘yes’ to this one. I’ve now had three games and played three scenarios, two of which were really very good and one that fell a bit flat. Last night’s was a good one. This so different from my regular board games and I liked that that. You ‘roll’ by pulling cards from your deck that have dice printed on the bottom right corner. These multi use cards also represent a wealth of combinations that can lead you to victory if you play them right. I also liked the fact that the appearance isn’t too fancy as in there aren’t any pretty components. It’s paper maps, hundreds of cardboard bits and card stock score trackers in a muted colour palette. It was nice to focus solely on the gameplay without distractions and of course I do that in every game, but I’ll admit I’m often found whimsically staring at pretty cards or cubes with a far off dreamy expression. So this just has a different and raw feel. It does have a couple of negatives too. It’s heavily luck based when pulling for dice rolls and most of the time there’s not much you can do about it, at least in the scenarios I’ve played so far (apart from an initiative card that allows you a re-roll that then gets passed to the other player). There’s not too much freedom within the game in some instances and that can be frustrating. I seemed to have a mental block about not being able to use a second action with a unit who already had an order. Every now and then I’d go to take an action and be told ‘no you can’t do that….’ to which I would respond with an indignant ‘but why!?’ Despite the negatives spots I did enjoy myself and I’m very much anticipating trying the other scenarios and finding a favourite. I can totally appreciate why some people get fully into war games. Just to say though that I’m not actually gung-ho about real war. Y’ know… just to put that put that out there.
Funnily enough in between rounds I had a tea break and was looking at some news whilst boiling the kettle. What’s actually happening in the world is surreal and f***g frightening. Real people are going through some dark and awful times that have a knock on affect to everyone. I almost feel bad that I’m playing games and enjoying myself when so much bad is happening. I watched a great video by board gamer/designer Tony Miller aka Bearded Rouge who addressed some current issues and gave some heartfelt thoughts. One part especially rang true to me and that is you do have to have a level of self-care in hard times. I have to tell myself that it’s not selfish to look after yourself and it doesn’t mean you don’t care. When faced with stressful, difficult and negative events going on in the world, and individually in our own lives, I hope everyone out there is finding joy in something. I certainly do with tabletop games.
Thanks for reading and stay safe everyone!