The most recent Gathering of Friendless coincided with Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. This festival commemorates the legendary time when Rama returned to Ayodhya after helping Vishwamitra destroy the demons of the Dandaka-van and demolishing Ravana's army at Mithila using the power of the Brahm-astra. You must remember that. Anyway, it's something like a Hindu Christmas, and with our household being as Hindu as it is Christian (i.e. not at all), we lit some candles and got some Indian sweets and celebrated Diwali. That makes sense, doesn't it?
So the subtitle of the Gathering of Friendless episode was "The Festival of Lights". As the only "light" games I could think of were Nacht der Magier, which only takes 4 players and is played in the dark anyway; and Khet which is a 2 player game; we completely ignored the light theme.
We started with a two-team game of Bamboleo while waiting to see who might arrive. CyberKev made a mathematical mistake and took his team down very efficiently, leaving the team of Aaron, Hubertus and John to win 21 points to -1.
We'd all played Trans(Europa|America) but only a few of us had played the Vexation expansion, so we then played Vexation with TransEuropa. When I read the rules of Vexation I was sure I'd hate it - why take a great game and make it malicious? - but it's not malicious at all, it just has blocking. That I can cope with. Most of us didn't get the hang of the expansion at all, with the game only lasting two rounds, with Aaron on 12, me on 10, and nobody else above 1. Even Scrabblette, who is very good at the Trans games, did very badly.
We progressed to one of CyberKev's favourites, Frank's Zoo, which apparently takes up to seven players. There were six of us, and it seemed to me that the game was significantly weaker with six than with four. It wasn't likely that there was a pair of anything in someone's hand, and I found it hard to judge what might be a good play. Scores were very even for the whole game, with Scrabblette eventually winning on 24 and last place being up to 15.
We then played something we'd been hoping to play for months - Mystery of the Abbey. This is one of the four games I rate a 10 (Scrabble, Trias and Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation), and I don't often play it. CyberKev argues that it's too chaotic and the card-passing takes away from the deductive aspect; but I say that if the card-passing has much of an effect you're not very good at the deduction. Last time we played this at Critical Mass I stole the win from Scrabblette so there was some tension at our end of the table - she determined not to let it happen again, me determined to be even more cunning this time.
Very early in the game we discovered that all of the Fathers were in people's hands, so they didn't do it. There weren't many clear clues for a while then until the second round when the event at Mass was that novices were confined to their chambers. For this event each player places a novice in front of their cellula. Scrabblette didn't have one, so there were 5 novices on the board. A few people asked questions about the other novices and I realised that with 5 on the board, one in my hand, one in Aaron's hand, and none with anybody else, that there were two missing. There was one card in the Parlatorium, so the killer must be a novice. A good deduction I thought, but way too obvious and I was sure everybody saw it.
CyberKev immediately went to the Capitulum and revealed that the killer was a novice. I was trying to figure out how I could figure out which novice. I tried to get around to see as many of the face-down cards as I could in the round, but only managed to get to two of them, one of which I knew about already. That left 4 novices I hadn't seen. Then Scrabblette went to the Capitulum and revealed that the killer was a brother. HUH?
Scrabblette had figured out that there were 8 novices in play, so therefore the killer couldn't be a novice. Except that there are 9 novices. One of those completely stupid screw-ups that happen from time to time. But the best part was, at the second mass she was protecting her brother cards and so passed me a novice - the one from the Parlatorium. That narrowed it down to three! I was first player in the third round and hot-footed it to the Capitulum! I wasn't really clear who the killer was, but I had a suspicion that Hubertus had novice Guy, and I knew which of the other two novices Aaron didn't have... so I guessed that was the guy. Further questions between other players while I was on my way only served to confirm my guess, and when I arrived at the Capitulum I accused the correct killer.
In the post-game analysis, I think it was the novice in my hand that saved me. Nobody knew who he was, and Scrabblette, who was definitely smart enough to Figure These Things Out, was off on the wild goose chase with the brothers. Nobody else quite cottoned on that my novice was the last one who wasn't the killer, and maybe they hadn't seen the novice cards outside the cellula in the second round either. In the end, it was an honest victory to me, which is satisfying but not as much fun as stealing a win from somebody else.
The final game for the evening was Unspeakable Words which is becoming a comfortable favourite, even though we do keep discovering new rules. It's a quick and easy word game, and despite the die hating me I always enjoy it. As often happens, Scrabblette thrashed us.
My stats program tells me that this day was my best day of gaming ever. Here's hoping we can continue in that vein!