Monday, 24 March 2014

Two Gamers Seek Three-Player Board Games

Should we just stick to two
player games? Pictured: Confusion
As most people know from talking to me, my gaming life is chiefly two-player and this is what drives our game purchases. Catan has no purpose in our lives, I desperately tried to explain to my fiancé: we cannot play it regularly. He disagreed and it's sat on the shelf ever since.

I'm so glad he disagreed. It's amazing to have the perfect game around when opportunity strikes. I'm typing this after five days of gaming with various friends - all having completely different interests and complexity thresholds. It was amazing.

We played four games of note and only one is specifically playable for two players:

The Resistance: there is little more exciting for me when somebody comes into work (Rules of Play, an independent board game shop) and tells me they have only played Monopoly. The thrill of being able to show them a sparkly, plastic-wrapped universe for the first time is very special. When friends tell me the same thing, on a day when I have bagfuls of games - well there's little hope for them to leave without murmuring to each other about the next time they can play *that* game. In this case it was The Resistance - an evening of it being requested over and over again, "I'm not a spy!" being protested loudly and regularly. Playing multiple games strengthened the laughter and doublethink - 'Well last game you said exactly that, and we all know you were a spy then!'

Survive: Escape from Atlantis

Survive: after playing the Resistance high-interaction was a must and there is little more entertaining than depositing your opponent in the sea only for them to be devoured by a shark. I sat out at this point and helped clarify rules and strategy points as they arose. Watching a group desperately swimming for safety with the banter and jollity carried over from the Resistance was amazing. It also allowed the new gamers to both play a board game (as opposed to card-based, party game The Resistance) and be introduced to the meeple. I strongly believe meeples are a board-gaming essential!

Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan: the next day was a pub-day. We usually bring something along (Resistance is a staple as is DixitLove Letter and Cheaty Mages are also very welcome) but felt as a few had enjoyed Survive so much the day before that we'd introduce them to the modern classic that is Settlers of Catan. Having sold over 18 million copies since 1995, in over 30 languages, it is the most well-known modern board game, and is sold alongside Monopoly, Cluedo and Risk in most retailers. The simple ruleset (and the "wood" puns!) charmed the players and as time had ticked on, we brought it the next day as well - and this time, having practiced the game the day before, strategies began to roll out and a new victor was crowned.

Twilight Imperium (Third Edition)

Twilight Imperium (Third Edition): Yesterday was the other side of gaming, we'd been invited along to play something different, never before played by us (it's three players and up and blossoms with a high player count), something that when people come into Rules of Play and talk to me about it I hang on their every word because it has always looked so incredibly exciting: Twilight Imperium. Despite having only the smallest of understandings of the actual rule-set pre-game, we managed to get into the game quickly (I built the strongest ships, War-Suns, on turn 1! It was so daftly unexpected and brilliant from my perspective) and delighted in weighty political discussions, intrigue, back-stabbing, quickly made reparations for fear of worse to come, distrust and uneasy alliances, trading and threatening our way out of situations. It was an interactive game at its finest, and my only regret is that I couldn't have played it again immediately (it was 9pm by that point - this game is long even if it doesn't feel like it!)

Opportunity struck and I've had several amazing experiences in quick succession because of it. I no longer regret having games on our shelf that will only come out every couple of months (and perhaps even less often!) because the joy a game can bring cannot be expressed in mere words: it's an intensity of feeling that I will do my best to continue grabbing whenever the moment offers itself. Next time I'm going to prepare better: the expansions for adding extra players for Settlers of Catan, Survive and Carcassonne are next on my to-buy list, and I never thought I would be saying that!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Valentine's Gaming, a message for my fiancé.

Dear Gareth,

I would love to be playing games with you this evening. Tidying the kitchen and buying pringles, popcorn, skittles and all the rest of it whilst you're at work, and then settling down with the radio on to destroy each other(!) I know instead we are going to have a nightmarish evening with the house invaded by two manically yapping dogs and my mother being quietly, endearingly awkward somewhere. I'm sorry. I'm sorry this has been every Valentine's Day, because my mother's birthday is 15/02 and spending that time with her is very important to me.

Know that I will be mentally playing board games with you. Do please text me your reciprocating moves on occasion - luckily we are both capable of doing so while Midsomer Murders blares in the background and we both feign interest.

This is what I am dreaming of playing with you tonight:

1. Hive. I love playing this fast-action, complete strategy game with you. I love that it was one of our first ever games and led us into this fantastic hobby. I love seeing your face wrinkle with confusion when I play the Queen early, and I love how you trap my moves until I can only admit defeat. I'm white, my spider has been placed first.

2. Space Hulk: Death Angel Card Game. We're both sci-fi (and yes, I will always pronounce this wrong, forever - there's a promise) nerds at heart, and working together to battle horrible genestealers (aliens) sounds like some excellent Valentine's fun. Maybe Brother Claudio and Brother Leon will go down at the last possible moment, maybe we'll escape. Either way, let's get trapped in a spaceship together.

3. Confusion. For every time I've driven us in the wrong direction, not seen the correct exit and completely missed something very important (a road sign, traffic lights, potholes...) we have Confusion. This game that highlights my
 horrible spatial skills and where I have to continually ask you how the characters are meant to be moving is something that we have to play tonight. Take the briefcase by all the way to Russia, but I'll come and clasp it from your hands (somehow..)

4.  Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. We save it for special occasions, limit our play due to the lack of cases (and that they won't publish the French expansions in English..) but I would love for today to be special. Sat with glasses of wine, debating furiously about how many more places we can visit before Sherlock Holmes whops our rather rubbish arses completely. He'll win anyway, let's have the satisfaction of a case well-solved.

5. Dominion. Darling, I know this may not be your cup of tea for tonight, I know it burns you out, but I promise I won't combo too hard and I'll let you have all the Duchies.. And hey, if you do burn out and no longer fancy more games then perhaps it's time to relax and find something else to do.

With love, and apologies,


Thursday, 23 January 2014

Cardiff: Geek Gift Shop

Perhaps because I work for a really cool independent shop but sometimes I think about shops on the high street and feel a little mournful, because in my head (which is sadly different from practical, money-centric reality) they could be so much better. This has particularly hit home today.

February is an expensive month for me. At the start is a good friend's birthday and then within two weeks I have: Valentine's Day, my mother's birthday, my fiance's birthday, my mother-in-law's birthday and fiance's nephew's birthday.  Also at this point is my mother and father-in-law's anniversary and in the two weeks following there is my brother-in-law's birthday, another good friend's birthday and our own anniversary. It's nearly as horrible as Christmas and I rarely manage to save up as well. Nevertheless, a lot of those could be catered for in one shop - a really good geeky gift shop.

Cardiff doesn't have one. It has a Forbidden Planet and the fab Comic Guru (who I  love, but it rarely has the cool stuff I'd like to buy.) Firstly neither are gift shops - they are comic book shops that also sell some geek related merchandise. They are both small shops, with grimy poster-ridden exteriors and swap between gloomy and eye-hurting strip light interiors. Neither could be called particularly welcoming, despite generally having lovely staff, they are "serious geek territory" - enter at your own risk.

I would love if there was a gift shop - rather than a comic book shop - hidden away somewhere in the arcades. Somewhere welcoming with their door open (not with a badly sellotaped scrap of paper demanding the door is kept shut) and warm lighting. Somewhere you could walk around the display units (wooden, not finger print covered plastic) and see all the items.

And of course what items there are would be the important thing. Here's my quick idea of the items stocked in my dream gift shop (of course a lot of these probably don't actually exist..)

Actual from show merchandise: 
Sonic screwdrivers from Doctor Who, wands from Harry Potter, light sabers from Star Wars, the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (Portal gun) from the Portal video games, the mockingjay brooch from The Hunger Games, Batarangs from Batman. There is a massive wealth of cool replica items that pretty much always look awesome because they're from the actual show/movie/comic/animation.

The compulsory mugs with Red Dwarf, Firefly and Buffy logos plus cool

patterns/designs from the shows - shields from Game of Thrones, Gallifreyan writing from Doctor Who. But not just mugs: have you seen the awesome Lakeland range of items for Doctor Who including Tardis teapots, and Dalek cookie cutters?  Aprons that dress you like favourite characters, salt and pepper pots in the shapes of your favourite monsters, TV dinner trays with beautiful images from the show, glass chopping boards with logos etched into them, Star Trek Enterprise bottle openers and pizza cutters.

Stationary and office stuff:
Hundreds of pens with slogans and lovely artwork and more subtle ones you can
actually take without automatically revealing your inner geek - plain black pens with the Deathly Hallows symbol on, for example. Notebooks with glossy "from the movie" covers, but also retro styling and hand drawn versions. Mouse mats, the Arc Reactor from Iron Man as a USB stick, novelty USB hubs (Tardis, robots), rocket shaped post it notes, calendars, address books, diaries, laptop cases, phone and tablet covers.. 

Whilst some may argue that a door painted to look like a Tardis is just going too far, there are loads of geeky (and giftable) nods to your favourite fandom. Have a few scatter cushions on your sofa but now one's a Sherlock design, one is of The Birds (Hitchcock) and one proclaims Bazinga!  (Big Bang Theory.) Scream coasters on the table with a Naruto canvas on the wall. Of course having loads of posters available is necessary, but the odd cool thing would be nice like these Marvel night lights and Dalek Christmas Tree baubles.

Jewellery:Whilst this could potentially just be an offshoot on clothing, I think jewellery would be one of the most important elements of a geek gift shop. Something that accessorises you and what you are thinking, wearing your personality visibly for
all to see. Plus there is so much cool stuff; I'm still gutted that Harlequin Goldsmiths (who produced Doctor Who themed sterling silver and gold-plated earrings and necklaces) has gone into receivership. However there's loads of other stuff: Minecraft Diamond Pickaxe Pendant, Final Fantasy necklaces, Wolverine dog tags, Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter) pendant, Arwen's Evenstar earrings from Lord of the Rings, Game Controller cufflinks.

Whilst perhaps not having a cosplay section (because let's face it, that's not a gift - it's cool stuff you buy for yourself) having a few costume items and novelties like
the Fourth Doctor's Scarf, a Star Trek Red Shirt, some Sherlock deerstalkers and the like would be sensible. After that the options are basically endless, stocking from places like Last Exit to Nowhere (best hoodies ever!), and reaching deals with Qwertee to buy any excess after their Insanitee sales so there is constantly different and unique items would be ideal. Of course you'd also need to accessorise, so having Sherlocked bags, various rucksacks, comic book "collage" items like this jumper, even funky Supernatual pants, awesome wallets and belt buckles (here's a Batman set) and fab Superman converses, or Batman wellies for the little ones.

Whilst most cool geek stuff is going to appeal to children as much as it does to
adults, there is some really nice stuff specifically for children. Having a few of the Superman: I Can Read series (or Green Lantern, or Spiderman should you prefer..) on the shelves would be lovely. Add in the Marvel Colouring Book, Marvel Sticker Book, a toy Batcave, pencil cases, Lego Minifigures and sets (e.g. this fab Indiana Jones one), Minecraft merchandise like this Light Up Torch

Books and Comics:
Preferably the comic session would be more of the gift type - lovely graphic novels and compendiums: Watchmen, Sandman omnibus, Walking Dead, Death Note Box Set, Peanuts Box Set, Hell Boy and Sailor Moon

And then you can look at all the cool directories, encyclopedias, script collections and coffee table books. Some of the most fabulous things we own are our Batman "museum in a book" items - books/folders containing loads of sketches, old posters, script extras such as The Batman Vault. Books and literature is a section that could go forever but here a few cool things that I'd love to see in shops: Star Wars Origami, Screenplay of The Monty Python's Life of Brian, The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule HistoriaStar Wars: Frames, Transformers Vault, Chronicles: Art and Design (The Hobbit.)

Games and Puzzles:
Of course, working where I do, I'm incredibly aware of the cool licensed board

games that are around. They range from Firefly: The Game where you roam around space completing goals, to awesome miniature games Star Wars: X Wing and Star Trek: Attack Wing. Of course if battling in space with awesome ships isn't your thing then there's a game where you all have to work together as Marvel superheroes in Legendary - and if you don't like Marvel then there is also the DC Comic Deck-Building Game. If you'd prefer high fantasy then there are several great Terry Pratchett games out (Discworld: Ankh Morpork and The Witches) as well as many games based on the Tolkien licenses.

Gift Wrapping:
A gift wrapping service would be offered, with several levels of fanciness and wrapping paper would also be available to buy for those who'd prefer to wrap at home. I love some of the wrapping paper that is already available such as these Cybermen (Doctor Who) sheets (I love the stylish nature of the BBC Shop wraps), this Lego Star Wars sheet, and this Super Mario Bros wrapping paper.

And for now that's it! What would you include in your dream geek gift store?

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Getting Old

Last week I turned 22. I'm practically still in the womb compared to some of my closest friends and colleagues.
And yet I've been nagged by a phrase today. A nasty little creature has been on my shoulder muttering. It's been muttering that I'm getting old.
It started last night, when I sat down to write a shopping list before going to bed. Firstly that level of organisation is rare for me - normally I'll go in for eggs and come out with a newspaper. Secondly the list of items was so mundane that reading it for a second time made me age twenty years: black bags, toilet roll, kitchen roll, toothpaste, milk.
The creature visited me again this morning - I woke my fiancé up simply to ask him to put the clothes I'd put on to wash in the tumble when he got up as I'd be on my way to work. (Okay, maybe I'm confusing increased organisational skills with aging..)
Driving to pick up my fiance from work I saw two teenagers clinging to each other against the wall, groins moving in tandem. The monster giggled and suddenly I was thinking of how cold and uncomfortable it must be, how nice a bed with clean sheets was. I was getting old and they didn't care - to them it was an exciting stolen time never to be forgotten.
And this evening, the creature left. He left because I realised I needed to take responsibility for looking after my mother, all over again just like I did when I was a child. He left because I understood that getting old doesn't mean I know how to solve problems, it just means I have to keep trying until I succeed. And really, that's something I should have remembered from being a child.

Monday, 13 January 2014

A Year of Gaming

Despite the regular set reports, She-Goat is a personal blog - I occasionally attempt to remember this and post something different to "I saw Matt Smith today!" - and this was certainly something I tried to capture when I named it. This isn't the Tardis Chronicles - I am the she-goat, I'm grumpy and will end up at loggerheads with people near accidentally. I don't quite eat sheets on a washing line, but the name feels apt.

I've been with my fiancé, @gabundy, just under three years. The year before that I was on a depression-fuelled kick of self destruction where anybody was fair game, life was for sleeping until 6pm and staying up until late morning and tears were my showers - I was attempting to deal with a nasty illness diagnosis. I didn't deal with it very well. Luckily things changed, I met Gareth and he turned my world around (well more literally: he moved my world to Wales, which worked beautifully.) and I settled back down to being a less extreme human being.

A year or so into our relationship, my best friend visited. We played Monopoly, Scrabble, Battleships - anything we could pick up quickly from the shops. It reawakened old memories of constantly nagging my mother to play Monopoly with me (I was an only child) - I loved the mentally competitive nature, I loved the social nature of sitting at a table in friendly rivalry, I loved being completely absorbed in something. I loved gaming. Luckily we remembered a shop where six months before we'd visited to buy a Go board. The shop had been filled with different shiny, colourful boxes - immediately intimidating, but immediately fascinating - never forgettable. We met the staff, and chatted and they gave us recommendations that we seized upon and took straight to the pub.

Munchkin, Hive - one a silly, fun, fast card fest and the other a two-player strategy game where you try to surround your opponent's queen bee. That was enough - it widened our eyes, and we were hooked. It's been a busy couple of years and it's now weird to think of a time firstly and foremostly without Gareth, and secondly without games. Things have changed now: the days where we don't play a game are the unusual ones, I work at that very shop we bought those first few tantalising steps into the hobby, our friends now know games that haven't been produced by Hasbro by name.

I am very grateful for this.

I am grateful for the constant distraction, the mental stability it helps provide me when I still struggle with negative moments - the psychological satisfaction of doing something productive (the end of Agricola: looking over your board and seeing the farm you painstakingly created), the assurance of social contact (the Resistance: are you lying to me, am I lying to you? We don't know, but let's work together and find that spy..), time away from the digital world (which I desperately need as it harms my eyesight, but like everyone else it's hard to pull myself away from twitter, just in case @WaterstonesOxfordSt is funny again.), the mental training of heavy strategy (Mage Knight: is fighting rampaging Orcs but getting wounded the best option for me?) after my mind feeling dead from not being able to read for two years is amazing.

Playing games is fun. The best bit is that playing games is more than fun, it's a way of life for me and one of the many ways I keep my sanity track from dropping down to zero. It's a little bit of sparkle and sometimes she-goats need tinsel wound around their horns.

Friday, 10 January 2014

#dwsr: The Maltings, Splott, Cardiff.

Dan Starkey, Neve McIntosh and Catrin Stewart film in The Maltings.

On the 7th of January 2014 Peter Capaldi started filming Doctor Who. On the 7th of January I was watching Doctor Who filming. Logic might indicate my fellow set reporters and I were watching the 12th Doctor for the first ever time. Sadly this was not the case. When we arrived at the Maltings we were delighted to see Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax filming a Victorian scene, but I must admit I was keeping an eye out in case a shiny, expensive car drove up - I can't wait to see Capaldi!

Intriguingly a blink-and-you-miss-him character from the 2012 Christmas Prequel, Vastra Investigates, was also at filming that day. All information about this character is courtesy of the encyclopaedic knowledge and memory of @Ruther2. Paul Hickey played Inspector Gregson of Scotland Yard, and it looks as though this likely to be the case again - he was in similar clothes, and there were many uniformed policemen on set.

Inspector Gregson in Vastra Investigates

We were somewhat late to filming that day - it was my birthday and getting up a little late, opening presents and having breakfast all seemed reasonably necessary - and so we only saw an hour or so of filming. The Paternoster Gang (Vastra, Jenny, Strax) are at a shipyard and watching (waiting to collect? Needing to interrupt?) items being unloaded from a cargo ship. Inspector Gregson is talking to the trio and his policemen are dotted around the scene. An alien gadget is unloaded and delivered to Vastra in a large cloth sack - it is a transparent glass orb with a glowing orange light and has four dull silver coloured metal prongs sticking out of it. At one point Jenny uses her sonic gauntlet. The majority of the filming I saw was crowd reaction shots (potentially to do with Jenny using the gauntlet), and a scene where policemen barge through the Victorian crowd in an alarmed fashion.

The mysterious alien gadget.
Note: fellow set reporter, @ryanfarrr, tweeted me with some more information on the various alien devices (Jenny's gauntlet and Vastra's hat pin which you can see in Ryan's picture. The link he sent me is to the Blue Peter competition, where children designed three new sonic gadgets. Jenny's gauntlet blasts open locks and Vastra's pin, which turns into a sword.

The lovely Neve McIntosh waves goodbye.
She is quite possibly my favourite actor in
Doctor Who - always friendly, even
after the slog of filming. Cheers Neve!
At lunchtime they wrapped and the cast left. We were informed that they were going to continue the day's filming in studio - where Capaldi already was, judging by the lovely photograph released by the BBC. Possibly this was to film the cargo ship side of things, which was just a green screen in the filming we had watched. We left very soon after - it was time to get home for drinks and silly card games. Doctor Who starting filming again on my birthday was a lovely birthday present.

For larger pictures just click on the image you would like to view and a slideshow will open.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Gareth's stocking for me. I'm a lucky girl!
(without the tea, because I was already drinking it!)
So finally it's Christmas day. I've had my annual stress about cooking Christmas dinner ("we can't cook roast potatoes in half an hour" I wailed to my fiancé, after arriving home a little late and a little tipsy from visiting the in-laws.) - although this was far less traumatic than last year when I managed to throw an entire canister of salt in to the gravy I'd spent ages making from the turkey entrails and slow cooked onions.

Anyway - Merry Christmas to you all! I hope you've all got past the rush of the presents (and the breakfast of Buck's Fizz..), the grumpiness of standing in the boiling kitchen wondering why something just won't boil, and the traditional arguments and are now sitting in a warm fug in front of the telly contemplating why anybody needs dessert after that massive meal (yet knowing it's compulsory for good reason - it's bloody lovely.)

This year has made me more set in my desire to have children early. An adult Christmas full of booze and relaxation is glorious, but lacks magic. I see photos all over Facebook and twitter of rooms filled from Santa's sack and the faces of nieces and nephews beaming. I can't wait for that in our house. However the few solely adult years are great in their own ways - it's been great fun to do the stocking challenge we set for ourselves, and treat ourselves to more generous gifts than we normally would choose to.

My stocking for Gareth.

Here are the results of our stocking challenge (the names are the person that gave the present):

Something for £1 or under:
Aimee: a "hit die" (a di(c)e with different body parts on it) and various massage tokens.
Gareth: a miniature wheelie bin (because I constantly moan about the fact the council owes us two bins.)

Something shiny:

Aimee: a pack of cards covered in gold foil.
Gareth: A welsh dragon keyring, a badge with English and Welsh flags (seeing as I am now half-Welsh apparently) and some lovely glittery nail polishes.

You want but is disguised as a gift for other person:
Aimee: massage oils
Gareth: The Matrix Blu-Ray box set

That reminds me of you:
Aimee: a toy frog with long legs (an in-joke)
Gareth: a book of WW1 poetry (my favourite literary period)

To keep:
Aimee: a notebook with photos of family, friends and events from the past year cut out and pasted all over it.
Gareth: a certificate saying he is mine forever. (This is a useful confirmation prior to getting married!)

Second Hand:
Aimee: The Eternity Clock PS3 Game
Gareth: a cuddly toy bear with an awesome hat.

Aimee: white chocolate fudge covered pretzels
Gareth: tea leaves, a tea diffuser and a posh tea cup.

To do together:
Aimee: Gormenghast: the board game.
Gareth: Doctor Who puzzle.

You hate:
Aimee: A magnet saying "Keep Calm Cameron's in Charge!!!" 
Gareth: Thorntons chocolates (which I think taste really plastic-y), a Justin Bieber calendar and One Direction tissues. (Yes, I think he went a little overboard on this category.)

Aimee: a Dominion Board (for the board game Dominion)
Gareth: a little book of Cocktail tips (epic!)

All in all I really enjoyed buying presents from a list, and if it's interested you then I recommend trying it next year. It curbed my habit of impulse-buying everything cool I see, and it meant I paid more attention to what I did get. It also meant I could spend more money on his main present (a Last Exit to Nowhere hoodie and loads of cool geeky t-shirts) - which I think is much nicer than loads of random tat.