April has been a month crammed full of stuff, including lots of Easter cake and BBQ’s, so without further ado, let’s take a look at what I’ve been up to.
With the Easter break falling in April we decided it was high time that we got the dog used to travelling in the car again.
Living in the countryside has meant that there hasn’t been much call for putting him in the car, as we can go on plenty of different walks just by stepping out onto our doorstep. But we though we should really be getting our money’s worth out of the National Trust membership we pay for, and so, into the car he has had to go.
He’s become a nervous traveller, an occasionally sick, nervous traveller, so we started with a few short trips to Benthall Hall, where we left the car and walked into Ironbridge.
The walk is only about a mile and half, and is quite enjoyable passing through the woods, though the journey back is extremely steep as you climb a few hundred meters.
We did this walk again on the following day, but this time Yasmin accompanied us – bribed by a takeaway of chips in Ironbridge (West Midlands chips are the best in the country – so says me!), though she was put out by the climb on the way back.
We took a diversion, coming up the slightly longer route, which made the climb longer, but shallower, and took us past the old power station and its huge cooling towers. The place is destined to become a housing estate, such a shame as the towers offer an impressive reminder to the areas history and it is such a pity it couldn’t have been turned into a museum to join the many others scattered around the local area.
Dudmaston Hall and Estate, being a longer car journey, was our next excursion. This was our first visit here and we took the hour-long route around the large lake and the majority of the estate, though realistically it was more like a 40-minute amble than an hours walk. We stopped for a picnic and took in the sites.
The grounds are very well tended and there is an abundance of wildlife; we came across several nesting swans and a heron, which seemed to be lost and appeared to be pecking the fields for worms.
As we had the dog we couldn’t all look round the Hall, so whilst Sue and Yasmin ventured indoors I took to exploring with Bertie. We took a path leading out of the Estate towards Hampton Loade, a small Hamlet on the River Severn, and one I recall from my childhoods fishing adventures.
It was about a 2 mile walk, slowly undulating down toward the river, and just as we got there It was time to turn back, but not without a quick peek along the stretch of pegs where I remember catching some big Barbel so many years ago… good memories, me and my dad fishing the river…
So we turned back, and with a gentle jog, made it back in pretty good time. The Hall received an okay rating from the girls, saying it was a bit odd, mainly because it is still lived in so there is a mix of original and modern, a bit like Benthall Hall. Photos weren’t allowed inside, so I haven’t got any pictures to show what it was like.
All in all, the trips went down well, though there was some tired legs after all the walking, especially after the steep climbs, and even the dog retired to his bed early. In terms of dog meet car, things turned out better than expected, and on the last journey home he actually settled down enough to lie down, as opposed to trying to climb onto someone’s knee, tremble with nervousness, and shed hair all over them!
Steamrollers – this has seen quite a bit of table time this month, mostly because I wanted to review it, but also because it is a nice quick filler game, and one that my wife likes playing too. Every game has ended with only a few points separating first to last place, even though we all approach the game quite differently. As I mentioned in the review, I always find the first game enjoyable, but never really want to play it again in the same session, but I do keep reaching for it to fill in a free half hour or so.
In the Easter holidays Yasmin decided that the two of us should have a games day, but much to my chagrin, the first game she chose was – wait for it – Battleships! Of all the games we have she often pulls this one out to play, why? Because she’s so damn good at it, that’s why!
We only played one game, and I though I had her beaten. I’d located her last airplane (I though it was supposed to be Battleships!), which needed three more hits, and she still had to find my tank (two hits required), and lo, she went and destroyed it with her very next to goes – I’m sure she cheats!
I can’t remember the last time I beat her at this, or if I even have, this was certainly the closest I’ve come in a long while. The annoyance is that I use a sure fire grid method to finding her ‘ships’, whereas she seems to randomly pick coordinates out of the air, and I still can’t win!
We play on an electronic version, but I have fond memories of playing with a pen and paper against my dad, I must have been about eight at the time, and I seem to recall losing then too.
Wanting to maintain her winning streak she chose Suburbia next, a game she enjoys and is equally as good at – indeed she played a blinder, setting a new high score for us at 123 whilst I managed a respectable 102.
Win or lose she always enjoys this game, especially at the end when she likes to tell you all about her suburb and how it functions, she’s quite good at story telling.
To stop the rot I introduced her to Viticulture, unfortunately for me she took to it like a duck to water and I suffered another defeat, though I like to think it was because I was helping her through her first game.
She liked it so much she immediately wanted to play again and, after a really close and interesting game, normal service was resumed as I managed to scrape a win, just!
I asked what it was about the game that she really liked, and it seems that worker placement is now her thing, as she found this part of the game entertaining as well as strategic – I wish I could pick games up as fast as she does, though only if they interest her in some way.
I’ve now got enough games of Viticulture under my belt, at varying player counts as well as solo, to finally get a review done, and the same can be said about the next game we played…
…Dominion. My wife joined us for this, she’d never played before and I’d promised her it was a quick game… how I lied!
Don’t get me wrong, Dominion is usually a quick game, taking around 30-45 minutes, but sometimes it can blow this out of the water depending upon how people approach it. Ideally you want to have an idea of what strategy you want to pursue right from the start, if you do this then the card piles can get depleted quite quickly, thus ending the game. If you try to develop or change your strategy as you play, taking cards from many different piles, then the game can go on far longer than you might think.
As this was Sue’s first game we played quite sedately, and it lasted for a little over an hour. She felt it dragged on, but when I explained how you would normally build a deck to follow a certain strategy, usually taking cards from just a few piles, and how this would bring the game to a more intense a quicker finale, she seemed to be willing to play again another day.
I love Dominion – I like the differing strategies open to you, and how it all comes down to the timing of when to start gathering those synergy-killing victory point cards into your well working deck. For anyone wanting to try a deck-building game for the first time, then this is the place to start – with the daddy of them all!
We also played a few games of Tokaido, possibly the most relaxing game there is. It’s a game that has a serene presence on the table, and gameplay to match. It is very easy to learn and play, strategy is simple and everyone is in with a shout of winning. It’s one of those games that, even if you lose badly, you feel like you’ve had a really nice experience, and more often than not, want to play again straight away, which we did.
Finally, we managed to fit a few game of Magic: The gathering in, the first we’d played for over a month, and Yasmin was on a mission to close the gap I’d opened up in wins.
She stuck solely to her ‘Living Dead’ deck, a deck made up of lots of undead creatures, and I tried a similar deck that I’d put together, though I have to admit it doesn’t synergise as well as hers.
Yasmin deck is difficult to play against, and once it gets going it really proves a nightmare to break down. There are lots of creatures that work well together – gaining life or power when another creature is summoned or does something specific, and it also hits the table quite quickly.
As we haven’t got the greatest range of cards to choose from when creating decks, and a lot of mine are from very early sets, it can be hard creating something that works with a lot of synergy – you really need multiple cards of the same type, up to the maximum of four – and I’ve struggled to build a deck that can defeat this one, though she does has a green deck that is even better!
In the end she won 3 of the 5 games; I only managed to beat her with a bit of luck, getting my cards down faster than she was able to. That closes the gap slightly to 13 – 8 for the year.
Earlier in the month I managed to persuade my dad in to trying out a game that I’d come across in a charity shop, a game that was Spiel des Jahres recommended in 1982 – Kensington.
Now, Kensington would never win any awards for looks – there aren’t many games out there that look less exciting than this does – and the components are equally as dull and cheap as anything you’d find scouring the vaults of BGG. The rules take just a few lines to explain and yet, with all this, it was nominated for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres!
Once you’ve played the game then you can understand why. It is an abstract strategy game that has no luck involved other than deciding who goes first. Game play is simple, but strategy and tactics are not, and it really gets the brain ticking over – all you have to do is get your paces on each corner of a hexagon, one that is in your colour or a white one. You do this by first placing your pieces on the board, one at time, and then taking it in turns to slide one along to an adjacent corner point. Completing all points of a square or triangle means you get to move one or two of your opponent’s paces to a less convenient (for them) place on the board, simples!
Both of us enjoyed this simple game, and I’m sure it will be something we keep coming back to, especially as it is extremely quick to set up, about 20 seconds, and fits right into the kind of games my dad likes to play.
I’ve been busy here, at least for me, so here goes a quick rundown of my painting achievements for the month…
It’s pretty much all Star Wars: Legion stuff, starting with the Stormtroopers. These I’ve added some weathering to and have applied the base texture, which I’ll add some forest terrain to once the rebels are ready. I then just need to apply some varnish – I’ll be using both a matt and a satin varnish, as I want the armour to appear a little shiny.
I’ve painted up all the rebels to the point of weathering, I’m just waiting on a paint that I’ve ordered – citadel’s Typhus Corrosion – and then I can base them up as per the Stormtroopers.
I’m reasonably pleased with the rebels, though I don’t think I took the camouflage far enough, it’s a little light on some of the figures, though when you look at current uniforms worn across the modern world’s military services, there’s such a variety that I don’t think this will be an issue as it replicates some of them.
I’ve just started to prep the two AT-RT’s I have for priming, and I have high hopes for them.
All the Star Wars: Legion figures have so far be painted with reference to Sorastro’s YouTube painting videos, excellent stuff and a big thank you to him for sharing his work.
Finally, I’ve prepared and assembled a K9 Attack Dog, which came as a free gift sometime ago with Tabletop Gaming magazine. The figure is from the range available for the Warcradle Studios game (Wayland Games), Wild West Exodus. It was a little fiddly to prep and assemble due to the very small size of some of the parts, but other than that is of reasonable quality.
I found the plastic to be extremely soft, and had to be very careful removing any imperfections as the figure just seemed to disappear before my eyes!
I put this together to practice a few airbrushing techniques, and want to complete it with little use of a brush – I’ll let you know how it all goes next month.
I’ve deliberately kept the painting section short this month, despite me saying that I’d achieved quite a lot, because I intend to do a post on the finished Stormtroopers and Rebels separately.
I also want to put something together to highlight all the things I’ve recently learnt – holding a brush differently, different techniques, using a magnifier, airbrushing, and so on – I really feel like I’ve made some progress in my painting recently, and want to pass my new found knowledge on to other beginners out there, so look out for that in May.
We’ve been watching the latest series of Victoria, series 3. I say watching, I’m slowly losing interest in it, for a few reasons:
- I haven’t enjoyed the way Prince Albert has been portrayed throughout the program – I find him to be wooden, and very unsympathetic towards Victoria’s role and duties as Queen, I wonder if they really argued as much in real life?
- The latest series has seen the introduction of several new characters, most of which bring nothing to the program, and are also fictional, the Duke and Duchess of Monmouth for starters, along with the new footman.
- The introduction of The Queen’s half-sister, whilst based upon a true character, brings another wooden performance to the show, and her inclusion and scheming manner are in no way historically accurate.
- Finally, it is the branching away from history that has seen me turn away from the show. I understand there has to be some artistic licence in making a program like this, but if you are to branch away from actual events then the portrayal of the characters needs to be stronger, there are just too many wooden people with false accents! In my mind the standouts are Jenna Coleman (Victoria) and Laurence Fox (Lord Palmerston), both of which do an excellent job of their respective characters – Historically these two were often in dispute with each other.
I’ve even managed to watch a few movies this month, most unlike me, and it started with Dr Strange…
Ever since I was a boy I’ve had a liking for all things Marvel, especially the comics, though so far I’ve yet to see a movie in this genre that fills my expectations of what one should be like (Okay, it might help if I’d watched more than a few of them!)… And I’m afraid Dr Strange doesn’t either!
It’s by no means a bad film; I actually enjoyed it, especially Cumberbatch’s performance, as well as the odd bit of humour. I felt the special effects were often unnecessary and over the top, all that building warping and stuff just went on for too long and was confusing to watch. I personally though the story dragged when it could have been moved along and seen much more included within the time frame. It’s feels like the opposite of cutting long story short!
The same could be said of The Green Lantern, which was another film I watched with my daughter. I almost felt like I was watching a remake of Top Gun, but with aliens! Again, it was an okay film, but nothing to shout about.
We finally got round to watching the last disc in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the extended version. I’ve seen the whole lot several times, but it was the first time my daughter had watched them. She really enjoyed them, only finding the ending a bit ‘dull’.
I know what she means, after all the action in the preceding 2 hours it draws out a very slow part of the film, which is a pity, imagine what they could have done if they hadn’t killed off Sauroman and followed the book!
The ending in the book is one of my favourite parts, and it could have warranted another film in it’s own right, but as it is, at least in the extended version, it let’s the whole experience down with its very dull and drawn out ending.
The three films overall, my daughter loved, but then she hasn’t read the books. I also think they’ve done a very good job, though it will never be on a par with Tolkien’s classic tale.
Finally I managed to get Yasmin to watch The Simpsons, it’s her first experience of them, and though the movie isn’t as good as the series, she laughed her socks off!
So, all I have to do now is buy the box set of the entire show, and I’ll have many days of Father/Daughter to look forward to!
Between The Sheets!
Not quite so many books this month, starting with ill met by moonlight, which I had just started at the end of March.
Written by W. Stanley Moss, this is the true story of the kidnapping of a German general, taken whilst travelling from his place of work on the Island of Crete.
The book flows nicely and is an easy read, the author never makes either himself, or his fellow conspirators, out to be the heroes they most definitely are, and maybe that is also the issue with this book.
It’s all rather an anti-climax – there’s a distinct lack of action throughout. I don’t know if it is because he’s played parts down or that it really did go without much of a hitch. All the way through you’re waiting for them to get caught out and have to fight for their lives, but it all boils down to a hike, all-be-it not a simple one, across the country. A good read for those who like true military stories, and you do gain an affinity with the main players, just don’t expect much in the way of action.
Blue Max was next, a story about a German World War I fighter pilot, and his emotional turmoil based mostly on his need for alcohol to settle his nerves.
The main character, I can’t really call him the hero, is one Bruno Stachel. He comes into the story as a newly trained pilot, and we follow his story through twists and turns as he tries to gain the fame and fortune he thinks he deserves.
I rally enjoyed this book, especially the way you keep go from to disliking, to hating, to then to feeling sorry for, the main character, only to see him throw it back in your face and the process start again.
Written by Jack D. Hunter, this is one book I’d recommend to anyone who likes this genre.
Alistair Maclean is one of my favourite authors; I like the way he can change the perspective of his writing from one book to the next, and yet retain a style that is easy and fast flowing to read. I’ve just finished San Andreas, a story about the battle a merchant ship goes through to get back to Blighty.
But it isn’t a battle one would expect, The San Andreas is out in the open seas, stalked by aircraft and submarines that apparently have no intention of sinking it. All this and there’s a saboteur on board!
It’s a great read, as one would expect from Maclean, and it keeps you guessing all the way through. It’s also, along with all his other books, one that I’ve read many times before!
Finally, I’m part way through another Maclean book, When Eight Bells Toll, which could almost be a book starring James Bond… more on this next month.
I had loads of fun writing the second instalment of my ‘Adventurer’s Tale,’ especially the inclusion of Nymmestra, and I hope to develop the characters further as they continue on their adventures – the next part should be posted in May.
U-Boot has been packed away and is now gathering dust on my shelf, still awaiting a definitive rulebook and app. Very disappointing that the game was released too soon, and it feels under tested, or it was play-tested by continually using the same group of testers, because as soon as it was delivered to the backers the game play was pulled apart on BGG, and with good reason.
I really do hope they get it together and give the game a set of rules it deserves – if they don’t, well, I’ll write my own!
Finally, there’s something going on at the end of the month that will be taking up plenty of my time – The UK Games Expo 2019!
Yes it’s that time of year again – already? – and I’ve finally got my list together for games I want to look out for, but I’m not sharing it now, it can wait until after the event when I do a round up of my two days there.
I’ll be there on the Friday and Saturday – Friday is for browsing and buying, Saturday I’ll trying to get plenty of demo’s played and I’ll be meeting up with some old work colleagues – hopefully heading back home together for games, beer, games, chat, and more beer… not necessarily in that order!