Cafe Culture

So this happened…..

At my place of work a couple of us believe there should be a games based degree (I work at a University) so we persuaded the powers that be that we needed to buy a whole heap of games. Then we persuaded them that a game is no good unless it’s played. So the games cafe was born.

It was a joy to go there today and play, next to a table of student playing!


Invited round to a friends place during a break out of some nasty water born bug…and they live in that restricted area. You better hope they offer you something other than water to drink. (Tea, i was driving).  Food was great and of course followed by board games. A quick round of Pandemic, which we had both chosen independently as game of the evening then a treat. The unboxing of the, never used, Christmas game. Why was this beauty still in it’s cellophane? It needed more than two players….oh, wait, no it didn’t! In fact one of the first things you notice about The Witches is that it can be played solo.

The Wytches

The Wytches

The set up suggested that tis could take all night but the rules were more complex to read than to play. You take the role of trainee witch (Terry Pratchett style) in the strange, yet familiar, Discworld universe. Naturally as a trainee you cannot cast powerful spells and gain power (cards) as you progress. The aim is to beat the board although it’s sometimes difficult to remember that you are playing together. As ever  there are more ways to lose than win. It’s a family name though with slightly rude bits for those that get Pratchett’s humour. Play involves wandering round Lancre and district curing sick pigs and defeating various baddies. There are hard and easy issues to resolve with a throw of the dice or by playing the cards in your hand. Each card can be played in a variation of about 5 different ways to complex to explain in brief here.


All in all it took us around an hour to be thoroughly beaten by the forces of evil but next time I’m sure we will be better prepared (or more of us will be drinking the water and therefore clearer headed). Should the board not beat you the winner from amongst the players is decided on a points basis with various hexes both adding to and subtracting from individual totals depending on what tokens the player has collected.


It is definitely worth keeping the special conditions caused by the hard-to-beat characters close to hand as these vary with each boss and range from imprisonment to loss of points. In the end we lost in the simplest way possible…too many elves on the board!

Risky Business

One thing I notice over the holiday period is that a number of normally game abstaining shops suddenly pile high the family favourites. Twister, Scrabble, Buckaroo… and Risk a simple family game of world domination.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/98e/38166799/files/2015/01/img_6681.jpgIf you’ve never played the object is to use your army to invade and conquer your opponents. First to the prerequisite number of territories wins. Players initially place troops according to the draw of territory cards. They then place additional troops and attack/defend on the roll of a die or dice (depending on the number of troops available and continuing to attack as long as they want to) before consolidating their position and drawing, if territory has been won, an additional card.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/98e/38166799/files/2015/01/img_6683.jpgI have one complaint against the manufacturers of the new version…the tokens are rather small and fiddly to stand. We know it’s a game, it doesn’t matter if the pieces are realistic, give us simple wooden blocks to stand for one five or ten troops. A small variation in size, cube to oblong to L shape, would be enough to indicate which is which. German manufacturers have made an art of using renewable wooden pieces. Rant over!
You can play Risk with two but, let’s be honest, all out warfare against the whole family is much more fun!

Back to basics

In the primordial ooze we were all amoeba….and returning for the holidays to my parents house, my own primordial ooze, in the attic I found an old game from my childhood. Amoeba!

The concept is simple enough. A board covered on pieces which form circles set one way and rotate to link turned 90 degrees. You are dealt a set of three cards each worth a value from one to five depending on the difficulty of the shape you are trying to form. Your opponent also has three cards and three shapes. You take turns (avoiding the last piece turned) trying to make the shapes on your cards.

When one of your shapes is completed you claim it and take the next turn. First person to 50 points wins.
Yes it’s green. Yes it’s very 1970s but it is both frustrating and fun. I promise.


Not a reference to the current Ebola outbreak but eerie, when we played this over the weekend, to consider that our world’s governments could be playing this live right now. I’m writing some ideas for a games based degree with some colleagues right now and the social significance me context of games would make a pretty good module don’t you think?
Technically Pandemic is a ‘eurogame’.
Eurogames are a particular genre of games which invariably involve some element of trade or co operation within the game mechanic. They were born out of the idea that ‘winner takes all’ game bred the ideology of world domination and we need to learn to cooperate. Hmmmm, maybe we should buy some of our world leaders a eurogame or two!
Actually Pandemic is difficult to win. If you’ve played Forbidden island or Forbidden Desert, Matt Leacock’s other games, you’ll understand the mechanics. The game sets up a situation where players need to work together to cure and eradicate deadly diseases. Periodically an event card will spread the virus to a new city or cause and outbreak spilling the infection along predetermined connections.
Players can build research centres, swap research knowledge, fly each other over the world to effect a cure depending on the role cards chosen but every turn brings the potential of another outbreak. There are many was to lose and only one way to win, curing the diseases.
Moral lessons aside this is a tough game to win with the rules ramping up the threat level according to the number of players and their level of experience.

In it to win it

Hey folks sorry for being quiet of late life got a bit hectic. (I have a new baby niece) I don’t know if you ever thought about games of chance. Ok, you may play the lottery or do the occasional scratch card. You bought that ticket for the school raffle right? I’m not going all ‘Vegas Baby!’ on you I’m asking if you ever play those ‘answers on a postcard’ competitions on the TV or in a magazine. For the most part they are glorified prize draws with obvious answers and the charge for your call & thousands of others clearly more than pays for the prize. Some, however, are more genteel or require a little effort.
I’ll admit it I do a lot of competitions. At least 20 a month. I’m one of those people who get the great stuff (though as yet the big money prizes have eluded me) you think no one ever wins. Holiday, spa break, games console, behind the scenes visits, tickets….the list goes on. The easiest ones to crack are the ones that require a little effort. If you have kids they can paint or write their way to prizes but so can you as an adult. If you could win a trip round the world just by taking a photo of your cat doing something funny would you? A surprising number of people think
it’s too much effort which is fine by me.
My latest win was a private view at the Royal Academy of Art summer exhibition. There were 4 winners and their guests. Chatting to fellow winners I discovered that one had festival tickets they couldn’t use because they clashed with a cookery festival this person also won tickets to. Another was off on safari the following week through a competition win!
Obviously there are tricks and tips to get you to the winning post but how often are we taught that it will never happen to us? Children learn very quickly only to do what is obvious and easy and that everyone is equal and life should be fair and balanced. Admirable sentiments but not the way the world works. I’m not suggesting that we should trample the backs of others to get what we want but a little effort gets you a long way. In fact ‘compers’ are some of the nicest people I know always happy to share an entry form or a clue. Take a look at Loquax or Competitors Companion if you’re in the UK. Let me know if you’re a winner.

Play – Dough

A last minute dinner invitation on Monday brought not only excellent chicken pie but the opportunity to exercise my inner Rodin. A quick game of  Rapidough.

RapidoughFor the uninitiated the rules are these. You play in pairs. (See it’s already a social experience) One player turns a card and shows it to the maker on all other teams. Then they battle to build something that represents what was on the card. A bit like charades their partner now guesses. First to guess gets to plug a chunk of dough out of the block available to the other teams. Less dough = more difficult modelling!

But I can hear the other teams guesses won’t that help? Nope. Sometimes you’re modelling something different depending if you’re playing red, yellow or blue. (OK, not great if you’re colourblind) but you could be making the same thing too. There are easy and hard cards and I have to say wcen the easy ones sometimes left me scratching my head as to how I would make a representation.

First to lose all their dough loses. (As in life, unless you’re a banker, then everyone else loses) I’d quite forgotten how wonderful playdough smells and the urge to eat it!

It’s a wonderfully silly game which can lead to all manner of creative rule bending, miming, furious pointing and nodding/frantically waving encouragement to your partner.

Long live silly games for silly people of all ages