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Thursday, June 18, 2009

There came a wanderer #3: Dining out and gaming on!

Beside the Clyde
Friday dawned later than expected, as happens when two people with shared passions can't resist sitting up chatting until the wee small hours, as you do. Not often a problem, this put a cramp on our plans for the afternoon. Donald had again volunteered his driving services, and we'd decided to visit New Lanark, which neither of us had seen before. New Lanark is the former model mill village on the banks of the upper Clyde that made Robert Owen a household name in the late 18th century, and which is now a World Heritage Site.

In any event, we left late thanks to yours truly; and- no driver, I underestimated our travel time through the narrow and twisting country roads between the motorway and New Lanark. Soon the afternoon was getting on; and we were under a deadline because Friday night is Scout night for Donald. The day was saved by the happy consequence of rumbling tummies (not unlike the night I discovered Two Fat Ladies in Partick), which led us to stop for a late lunch at the Riverside Restaurant in the picturesque village of Kirkfieldbank.

I don't know what Keith's thoughts were, but Donald and I have enough experience of British pub cooking to have had low expectations of the meal we ordered. Whether it's identikit menus obviously cooked largely from frozen; or more individual menus cooked to a disappointing standard; we've learned just to look for something passable to fill us up.

Keith finishes off his steak sandwich

Initially pleased by the '3 courses for the price of 2' lunch offer, we began to suspect something was up when we got to work on our starters. They were just fabulous! Our steak sandwiches were top class too. And the puddings that followed were just the best.


Donald and Keith on the Riverside Restaurant patio (which actually does overlook the River Clyde)

We left the Riverside Restaurant knowing that we'd unwittingly stumbled upon something special. Exactly how special Donald and I didn't find out until Monday last, after Keith had left: it turns out that head chef Alex Thain has won awards. He certainly received high praise from us, I can tell you. Donald and I are already looking for the excuse for another visit.

Keith and I chat on the patio of the Riverside Restaurant

Badger and Gav were due to appear for boardgaming in the evening. They duly arrived, to be fed on Penne alla Toscana from Moyra Bremner and Liz Fillippini's Pasta for Pleasure. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that, in the past 10 years, this book has had as much influence on my pasta cookery as did Philip K. Dick and Lawrence Block on my appreciation of SF and crime fiction respectively.

Unpublished prototype
Keith had brought with him a current boardgame design project; a game so secret that I could tell you what it's about, but then I'd have to, yadda, yadda, yadda, you know the drill. The idea of this caught Badger and Gav's interest, as you can imagine, so we began our evening's session with a game of this work in progress.

I can't say anything about the themes, mechanics or gameplay of this game; other than to note that they are respectively catchy, straightforward, and well-judged for the game's simple concept. I can add that the design looks to be a solid one in a fairly late stage of development: whether it was Keith's tinkering; or our questions about features of the game; notional changes generally proved unnecessary after we'd mulled them over.

"Mine, all mine! Mwah hah hah ha!"

Our game went well, and Badger, Gav and I all enjoyed playing (although my enjoyment was tempered by my utterly dismal performance, naturally enough). In fact, Badger liked it so much he announced his intention of buying a copy when the game hits the shelves. For my part, I was amazed that Keith had taken the 2 features of family boardgames I most dislike- namely roll-and-move and the linear movement track, features which turned me off of Talisman on sight, for example; and made them the basis of a really enjoyable game. That's good going in my book.

Oh, and Badger won!

Score
The Badger 1
The Ratpack 0

Gloom
Gloom is a cardgame designed by Keith with the unique feature that it uses transparent plastic cards so that modifiers located on different parts of different cards can all be seen at a glance. The game features the comically macabre theme of unhappy families, desperate to die; but not just any old death - it must be a death sufficiently unusual as to be memorable.

Key to this is the playing of cards to stack them on your own or your opponents' family members. These use the transparency system to add or obscure positive and negative points scores; to 'depress' or to 'cheer up' up the family members. Your goal is to make your family members worth enough points to merit finishing them off with a death card; your opponents' is to prevent this; and vice versa. The winner is the person whose dead family members are worth the most points when the game ends; which is as soon as any player's family is completely dead. There are other features to the game, but that's the gist of it.

Keith deep in his Gloom

I'd played Gloom before; with 'Uncle' Martin in Edinburgh airport, during the predawn hours while we awaited our flight. I confess I wasn't hugely taken by the game back then. The cards and the theme were cute, I thought, but the gameplay was too simplistic to appeal to me. And now? I enjoyed the game much more.

I suspect playing with 4 players instead of just 2 was important. Although there are strategic subtlties to the gameplay- as you'd expect from any game involving hand-management; these aren't really to the fore without the crossplay invoked by 3 or more players. So Gloom might be a multiplayer game particularly poorly served by 2-player play (the game's BGG ratings would seem to bear this out).

However important the extra players were, most important to my enjoyment (I was playing miserably again!) was the fact that I made the effort to narrate my cardplay, making up a wee story about the card I was playing and its effect on the family member I was playing it upon. Recommended by the rules, and by Keith, this has no effect on the gameplay at all. It just makes the game a lot more enjoyable. In fact, as Keith confirmed: the gameplay is as simple as it is precisely because the story-telling element is at least as important to the game as is the race to fill the family plots in the graveyard. This is also precisely the element of the game Martin and I left out that morning in the airport. Nuff said, I think.

Gav ended up handing the game to Keith on a plate. Faced with my bemoaning his half-assed decision, Gav pointed out that he'd been unlikely to win, and that he had achieved his secondary objective: stop Badger winning. Gah!

Score
'Curses, foiled again!' Badger 1
'Peace of the grave' Keith
1
Living losers
0
;)

Related@RD/KA!
-
Epic adventure!
- There came a wanderer #1: Well, that was unexpected!
- There came a wanderer #2: Return to Eberron
- There came a wanderer #4: the wind-down and the send-off
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