Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sordid Johan Gets An Axe, or, Johan Causes A Fence

Time went by, and the chief's daughter became older and more bitter towards Johan for his perverted ways and smoking in the house. Johan should have recognised she was suffering from an iron deficiency because he never bothered to feed his family meat, but Johan always had his mind on less salubrious solutions. That's when Johan met the axe. There it was, in the window of the general store, beckoning to him, and Johan fell in love.

The other great love of Johan's life was his sweet daughter. All grown up now, she had built the pottery and the basketmaker's workshop without her lazy father's assistance. Yet, she still loved her father dearly. Perhaps madness ran in the family, perhaps it was a misplaced Cupidean arrow, but soon Johan and his daughter realised they loved each other in a way that was forbidden. Johan of course recognised this as the course his life was destined to take, and showed his daughter the axe, and told her his plan.

Several days later, news arrived at the neighbouring villages of the terrible massacre. Disguised as a rich grocer and his trophy bride, Johan and his daughter avoided detection, though maybe the authorities were reluctant to search too hard for such a lunatic. Johan worked off his anger and frustration by chopping wood with the axe, and within weeks of arrival in the new village had built a five room wooden house. Of course, the next task for him and his young bride was to fill the house with squealing brats, and Johan's daughter work as energetically at that task as she had with others. Johan completed his third family in record time.

If there was one thing Johan excelled at, it was delegating work. He set the babies to work digging a Carp Pond with their rattles, making a Fireplace out of mud, forcing them to build an Outhouse as part of their toilet training. The children scoured the countryside searching for more resources to build additions to the house. Johan's life had never been better. He scored 76 points against a target of 59. (Note: I think I used the Builder's Trowel wrong. I assumed it gave you a free Renovate + Major Improvement action, but on consideration it probably really only gives you what it says it gives you. So this score probably should have been at least 2 points lower.)

Cheaters never prosper, and all good things come to an end. Johan's daughter eventually realised what a good-for-nothing her father / husband was, and had him arrested for his various crimes. She got the house, the pottery, the basketmaker's workshop, the fireplace, the clay oven, the well, the stone oven, the carp pond and the outhouse. He got 8 food.

But then, he got lucky, in all senses of the word. The local sheriff was a tough woman who loved "bad boys". Why else would she have taken that job? A dangerous lunatic like Johan was just the kind of man she was looking for. When she "took him to jail", the two were never seen again.

They settled in another village, where Johan took a job as a merchant specialising in major and minor home improvements. Having lost his axe, Johan found it much harder to establish himself this time. He again used a builder's trowel, but did it correctly this time. He planted fruit trees, built a mini-pasture, and subcontracted out building of many improvements to his house. However Johan resented his honest way of life, and decided to join the Masons so he could pull some strings. Sadly, he misunderstood... it was actually a course in masonry, not masonics. Johan acquired a useful skill despite his best efforts. Despite his best efforts, Johan couldn't reproduce the success he'd had with his axe and the baby slave pack. He scored 74 points compared to a target of 62.

Of course, now that he'd somewhat reformed, Johan's wife found him not so attractive. Life's like that sometimes.

To be continued...

The Fairly Sordid Tale of Johan the Hedge Keeper

As John the Meat-Seller got a bit boring, I dumped him after seven games and started a new solitaire Agricola campaign. I now have lots of games of Agricola under my belt, and find the campaign mode more relaxing than my "must get 60 points" target. Johan is using the E-deck still - I'll get to K and I and Z and X later. Maybe not X. I'll play that with the kid. Anyway, one thing Johan realises is that it's not necessary to max out everything if he can make equivalent or better points by doing something else.

Well, that's his excuse for being so lazy in the first game. Of course, feeding your family is worth the most points, but it also requires a huge number of actions, so it's the activity most ripe for optimisation. That's why Johan learned to brew beer. He figured beer made him fat, it would make his babies fat as well. So Johan started his career as a master brewer. He later became a conservator (renovate straight from wood to stone). That caused a problem, in that if he wasn't going to have a clay house at any stage, he couldn't use clay to add a room to it. Consequently Johan used all of his wood adding rooms to the house. When the Chief's Daughter came to stay, and mentioned flirtatiously how she liked stone houses, Johan couldn't get the place renovated fast enough. Then he realised he had no fences, and hardly any animals, and that in fact the rest of the farm looked like it was run by a family of drunken fat slobs. That's when Johan hit upon the idea of becoming a hedge keeper. Just in time, the hedges grew, the animals were herded in, and Johan scored 59 points compared to a target of 50.

Johan then decided to change his ways. Abandoning his family, and eloping with the chief's daughter to another village, Johan presented himself as an itinerant hedge keeper. However, passing the window of the general store, Johan spied a baker's oven and decided it was the finest thing he ever had seen. Johan then resolved to become a baker. Living from his savings, Johan worked hard in the fields growing grain while the chief's daughter went fishing. Soon he was able to build a clay oven and purchase the oven upgrade kit from the general store to build his baker's oven. With his elite baker training, Johan was able to bake 2 grain to 5 food each in the harvest phase, and the family had as much bread as they could eat.

Of course, they had nothing else. When the children were old enough they asked "Mummy, are we vegetarians?" to which she answered "No darlings, Daddy just refuses to cook meat in his oven. Why don't you run down to the shop and get a kebab?" As before, Johan just couldn't find time to get around to the fences, and didn't get any animals until round 13. That was just in time to max out points for boars, and of course there were flocks of sheep. Johan never did quite finish the fencing, and ended up with 3 pastures, but one of them held 14 sheep. Having built a pottery and a basketmaker's workshop, Johan scored 63 points compared to a target of 55.

Johan noticed the chief's daughter was looking older and worse for wear. He wondered if the next village needed a baker.

To be continued...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Clusium, 225BC

Ozvortex came over this morning to play C&C Ancients, and we played Clusium, 225BC. This was in the time when the Romans were trying to subjugate the Gauls. For the first match, Ozvortex played the Gauls and I took the Romans.

This photo is of Aneroestes "the Wolf" and Concolitanus "the Merciless" planning their attack.

Concolitanus chases the Roman light infantry all the way across the board and eventually destroys him.

An unidentified Roman commander chases Aneroestes off his own side of the board (no banner for that).

Aneroestes seeks approval from Concolitanus for her role in a crushing victory.

Other than the photos, I don't want to talk about the match. I didn't make any clever moves, and hardly even any competent ones. I was thoroughly outplayed in the rematch as well, for a 12 banners to 5 loss.Ozvortex did a brilliant job of harrying my cavalry with his evasive light infantry, and I couldn't come up with an alternative plan. Well done to Ozvortex!

Ozvortex gives a very detailed account of the game on his blog.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Yes, we all miss Scrabblette but we're not all quite so demonstrably miserable!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I received a gift voucher from a games store from Miss Jane for Christmas (thank you Miss Jane!) so yesterday as our part of stimulating the economy we headed off to the new LGS to spend some money. I was quite impressed - they do have a large range. Sadly my wishlist has shrunk a lot over the last year, and there were no intersections. However, as usual, Scrabblette found a new word game - Word Spin, and we decided we also needed Anasazi. I've sort of avoided Anasazi because it rates very badly on BGG. However, those 2 games took my total of games owned (not counting books, but counting expansions) to 400.

Word Spin is a very cool set of bits, but the game is not very interesting. We sort of made up some rules and played while I was watching the cricket. I think next time we play we'll need to make the rules a bit more solid. Also, it's a game that can benefit from having multiple sets.

We played Anasazi this afternoon, and I was confident during the whole game that I was well ahead. I thought Scrabblette's secret colour was white, and I had more of those than she did. At the end, she got a majority only in red, though reds were worth 4 points each. Then we revealed secret colours, and she had red! So reds were worth 8 points each for her! The final score was 51 to me, 50 to Scrabblette, and I'd hung on for the narrowest of victories.

In other news, Scrabblette is off to India for a holiday in a couple of hours. That will leave me (and the dog, and the kid, half the time) home by ourselves for 4 weeks. Normally I would cope easily but I'm sick at the moment, with a viral thing I think I got from the kid, and I'm not very enthusiastic about having to look after myself. Still, it's better to be sick at home than to be sick on a flight. I'd like to get a lot of gaming done while Scrabblette is away, but I can't see myself going anywhere very much for a week.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

John the Meat-Seller Goes To Monte Carlo

John the meat-seller has been continuing his adventures. Last time we talked about John he had been a meat-seller, clay deliveryman, carpenter and master brewer, and had scored 70 points in the 4th game of the campaign.

He started the 5th game with 4 food which gave him a comfortable buffer at the start of the game. The occupations available included the plow maker (when you plow, pay a food to plow an extra field) so my plan for the first phase was an occupation, 2 plows, 4 grain, and a sow. That gave me bucketloads of grain, an advantage which I mostly failed to exploit - after all, I was a meat-seller, not a baker. It was a lacklustre game, and John scored 68 with a target of 64. The other occupation I took was seasonal worker, and I think it was my enthusiasm to use that which caused most of the problems.

Game 6 started with the plow maker as the kept occupation, of course, but only 2 food left over, and they got used up doing the plowing. The best occupation on offer was the stone carrier (when you take stone you get an extra one). That not only gave me access to more stone, but also let me get enough stone to do useful things a turn earlier. That was much more of an advantage than I'd guessed. In addition to the usual Clay Oven, John was able to build a Stone Oven... and a Well and a Reed Pond and a Bean Field and a Basketmaker's Workshop and a Half-Timbered House. All of those children were kept busy busy busy! Of course the score was huge - 77, compared to a target of 65.

At this point I wondered about the wisdom of continuing to play the campaign - 77 points is enough to claim a win, and each game is similar to all of the previous ones. I wanted to see what occupation John would learn next, so I continued. So we're in Game 7 - John has 6 permanent occupation cards and only gets dealt one occupation. Luckily it was useful - the Mason. He gives you a free stone room once when you have 4 stone rooms. I realised that gave me an opportunity - if I was going to get a room for free, I could pay for one less, and if I declined to build the wooden one I'd been doing I could use wood earlier in the game for fencing.

I started with 6 food, so I didn't need to work to feed my family in Phase 1. I was able to plow 4 fields and sow 3. I got to work on the house-building in Phase 1, but still couldn't fit a Family Growth into Phase 2. I did have fences built by the end of Phase 2, and by the end of Phase 3 had a 3 room clay cottage with a fenced sheep yard and a kid looking after them. I immediately built another clay room, and added another kid, and then with all my stone renovated and with my secret masonic powers made a new room appear. With 3 rounds to go in the game I had my full family and 5 room house, with several ovens. It was then a matter of waiting for the resources to come out and to milk them for as many points as possible. I made it a policy to add a Major Improvement each round, and ended up with a Clay Oven, Well, Stone Oven, Baker's Oven, Basketmaker, Pottery, Quarry and Clogs. Yes, I did give an oven back when I built the Baker's Oven - I built the Stone Oven twice.

John was clearly now some sort of superman - doing 7 jobs at once and adding massive improvements onto his house with a snap of his fingers. I decided then that that would be the end of John's career - clearly nothing is beyond him now, and he can't get any more occupations in the 8th game of the campaign.

I'll start a new campaign soon, if this Christmas thing will give me a chance.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Got Bitten By An Intrepid Ibex

Oh what a disaster! On Monday evening I clicked on the update manager on my Ubuntu box - also known as, and it told me there was a new distribution release. I was previously running Hardy Heron and Intrepid Ibex was now available. The Ubuntu update process has always worked beautifully for me, so I did it without hesitation.

Of course if something didn't go wrong I wouldn't be telling this story. After all the updates were installed and the machine rebooted, nothing happened. It got as far as starting the GUI and just hung with a wait cursor. So I restarted in safe mode and grabbed the kid's laptop so I could Google a solution. I eventually figured out that it was GDM - Gnome Display Manager, which is responsible for starting X and managing user logins, which was hanging. So I tried upgrading that, removing it, whatever, only to realise that my wireless networking hadn't started either.

By this time I'm onto the second day of debugging. It took me a long time to figure out that the interfaces wifi0 and ath0 are the same thing, but I have to work with ath0. There are very good instructions on the Aetheros site about how to get ath0 going, so I followed them exactly. It all worked up to the point where I use DHCP to get an IP address. It couldn't get one. The router sees my machine connect, but won't give it an address. I figured out I can install a debugging tool for the Aetheros driver, but I'd need networking to do that.

This morning I tried turning off security on the wireless router so I could connect even if I had the security stuff wrong. The router instantly became inaccessible to everything. Well, I guess it's secure. I had to take the laptop to the router, connect with a cable and turn the security back on. Then I gave up on the wireless networking problem and set up the card table next to the router so I could connect my machine using the cable. That at least allowed me to install all of the debugging software, but I haven't had time to use it yet.

The beautiful part of Linux is that everything else still works. I started the web server and the stats generator, so extended stats is working again, for the moment. This evening I'll have another bash at getting wireless working again because I don't really like having my computer on the card table. I'd just like this problem to go away, it's not very interesting. Damned ibexes.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fifty Reviews!

A few weeks ago I wrote my 50th review on BoardGameGeek. Since they introduced the system-awarded microbadges I'm trying to collect a set of Golden Session Reporter, GeekLister, Reviewer and Image Uploader. I have gold in the first two, and silver in the others. I don't even have copper in anything else, so I have no ambitions there, but for the record the options are File Uploader and GeekBadge Designer.

Anyway, to get my silver Reviewer badge I needed to have written 50 reviews, and I spent a long time at about 41. Now that I've got to 50 I'm thinking of the gold badge for which I need 100, and I'm thinking that's a long way off. I just checked to see how long it has taken me to get to 50. My first review was submitted in November 2004, so that's 4 years! There's no way I plan to take 4 years to get the gold badge, so I'll have to up my rate.

Fifty is a lot of reviews! I got to 40 without really noticing I was doing it, so I wondered where they all came from. Here's the year-by-year breakdown.

2004 - 2 reviews
2005 - 19 reviews
2006 - 1 review
2007 - 15 reviews
2008 - 17 reviews (and one more submitted)

There were a few patches where I wrote a lot. In 2005 I acquired quite a few games from thrifting, and had some quite odd ones lying around the house. I always feel more motivated to write about a game that's uncommon so that I can get the word out about it. For example, I wanted to warn other people away from Batman & Robin - the Board Game, and wanted to alert them to the pleasures of Nodwick - the Card Game. In 2006 my life was very focused on things other than writing game reviews, though I did play a lot of games that year, and the only game I managed to review was The 24 Card Game, and that's STILL the only article for that game.

In 2007 I found a few more odd games, particularly from Scrabblette's visit to India, so they needed to be talked about. One day in December I figured it would be mighty useful of me to talk about all of the Runebound expansions I own, and I reviewed 6 of them in one day. Then at the beginning of this year I played a lot of children's games, assessing them for an award, and so wrote reviews of them as well. It seems people want to review the games they want to play, whereas I like to review the games I think people will be glad to find any information about. No four year olds are going to review games, so I'm happy to do that job on their behalf!

That was where things stood when the microbadges arrived, and I decided I had to write more reviews. It's a little hard to get motivated sometimes, which is why progress has been slow. I've mostly continued reviewing word games and children's games, but occasionally I'll write about something more popular. I just HAD to write a review of Rheinlander because I thought Greg Schloesser's review didn't do one of my favourite games any justice.

Yesterday I wrote my 51st review, and today my 52nd, 53rd and 54th. I don't know how long this burst of energy will last, but I can't see myself knocking out another 46 reviews this evening. I'm not Tom Vasel, after all :-).

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Partial Adventures of John the Meat-Seller

Yesterday I finally got around to trying solitaire Agricola with the standard game. As described in earlier posts I'd trained on the family game and now I understand what you have to do to succeed. The thought of other players interfering with my plans still annoys me, so I'll be playing solitaire for a while yet :-).

Of course my very first hand of occupations and minor improvements seemed like a basket of treasures compared to the family game! However with no Storehouse space to get food from, and the different Day Labourer, I knew I'd have to change my plans. Furthermore I just wanted to play for the fun of it rather than plan everything like I needed to do to score well in the family game.

I knew the chief (+1 VP per stone house) would be a good idea, as he'd take some of the pressure off me aiming at the points target. I knew the stone carrier (+1 stone when you take stone) could come in handy towards the end of the game, and the hedge keeper (+3 fences free when you build fences) would have some use, but as I only build fences maybe twice in a game it wouldn't be huge. However the meat-seller (convert meat to food in any oven) would be of use during the game - he's essentially a fireplace - so I aimed to get him first.

I had to modify my standard plan of 3 grains and 3 plows to fit in the early occupation, but I figured if I was going to be relying on meat to feed myself I could afford to fall behind in the grain production. The meat-seller plan worked reasonably well, and an awful lot of sheep died to feed my family. The spindle (bonus food if you have sheep at harvest time) and the baker's oven (bake bread for 2 grain gives you 5 food each) also came into play, and I didn't want for food during the game. However at scoring time I was a bit short in all of the animal categories, and scored 56 points.

That was basically OK because it gave me three food to take into the next game. With at least two starting food you don't need to eat grain or day labour to feed your family in the first harvest, and that's an extra action you get, and possibly an extra grain field you can have in production. So in order to assure future stability of my food supply I took the meat-seller as a permanent occupation.

Game 2 was much more difficult, as there were no occupations or minor improvements to help me get food. There was a clay deliveryman (bonus clay rounds 6 to 14) and a clay roof (use clay instead of reeds when you extend) and a mason (bonus room when you get 4 stone rooms) so I tried to form a strategy around those. With all of the clay I built myself 5 clay rooms, then upgraded them to get a 6th stone room for free. Looking back, I think that was a mistake - I didn't need 6 rooms, and it cost me a point for the field I missed out on. My score for game 2 was 57. I decided that the clay deliveryman might be nice to have at the beginning of the game, so I made him a permanent occupation.

As I started Game 3 (with only 1 spare food) I realised I was de-facto developing a strategy for the campaign meta-game. My choice of the meat-seller and the clay deliverman had pretty much guaranteed I would get a clay oven and my family would become meat eaters rather than bread eaters. And one occupation from this game would be added to my permanent collection, so I needed to take the future games into consideration. I didn't like many of the occupations I received in this game, except for the carpenter (build a room for 3 of the base resource plus 2 reeds), so he was the only one I added. I sort of like the potato dibber as well, until I realised at the end that it hadn't gained me any points.

Anyway, I figured out the strategy for this game. With a strong supply of clay I could build 1 wood and 2 clay rooms, and get the clay oven as well. In fact I build the extra rooms so quickly I ended up getting my 5th family member before Family Growth Without Room appeared, and I had lots of spare actions. I hadn't thought very hard about what I would do in this situation, but I ended up building a pottery which earned my 5 VPs at the end. With all of my people working for me I scored 4 points in 4 categories, and got a well as well. My score was 63 compared to a target of 59.

That game left me thinking there was more I could do. I had a really good combo with the clay deliveryman and the carpenter, so for the next game I'd like to get someone like the Chief who can give me VPs, or someone to get food more easily. As I had a couple of bus trips intervene between Games 3 and 4, I worked on a plan. It was pretty sweet.

No plan survives contact with the enemy. This one didn't even survive the deal of the occupation cards. I received the master brewer (convert 1 grain to 3 food when feeding the family) and decided I wanted him for the future and might as well get him in phase 1. My plan was PLOW / GRAIN / PLOW / GRAIN / PLOW / GRAIN / FISHING / SOW (remember I had 2 food from the previous game), but I needed to put an occupation in there. I figured out I could do PLOW / GRAIN / PLOW / GRAIN / PLOW / GRAIN / OCCUPATION / SOW, and then convert a grain to food to feed the family and eat another grain. (BTW, my interpretation of the rules is that the first occupation per game is free - that's what it says in the book - but I could have made it either way.) That left 4 food on the Fishing space, which I would be able to use later. Using my speed-building strategy I had plenty of actions and was able to build a dovecote (5 food), animal pen (about 10 food I think) and the well (5 food), and I had so much food available I didn't need to eat sheep at all. When I finally took the sheep and pigs that had built up I needed to eat some of them because they didn't fit in my pastures. I maxed out 7 categories (not cattle) and received 14 points for improvements, for a total of 70. The target was 62, so I'm fairly pleased about that.

For the next game I won't need to fish in the first phase, and I'll only need to use one grain at the first harvest. There'll be spare time to get an occupation in Round 4! I'm hoping it will be Chief or something that gives me VPs, as that should set me up to complete the campaign fairly easily, and I can focus on stupidly large scores rather than on food.

To be continued...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Oh Yeah! I Rock! 61!

Well, after a dismal failure yesterday (56) I've at last achieved my goal - a 60 point solitaire family game of Agricola. In fact, I got 61. It took every trick in the book and a touch of luck as well.

The touches of luck were:
  • sheep came out second, rather than 4th. When I started eating them I effectively got 2 bonus food, and was able to breed them as well.
  • family growth without room came out in round 12 rather than round 13.
The added tricks were:
  • use day laborer to get an extra clay (and an extra food) at just the right time.
  • defer plowing and sowing until the plow and sow action came out.
For the theorists out there, the order of the action cards was fences, sheep, sow, improvement, stone, renovations, family growth, vegetables, boars, stone, cattle, family growth, plow & sow, and renovations.

I'm going to stop playing the family game solitaire now, and start playing with the occupations and minor improvements. I hope to be a bit more relaxed about it, instead of planning every game turn by turn before I play it.

I Like the Top Ten

Dominion has entered the BGG Top 10, pushing out Through The Ages. That to me, is an improvement. I can't even bring myself to try Through the Ages - there seems to be way too much theme and way too much time, and it just looks boring. This from someone who loves GIPF. I think my problem is that it looks like the game is doing all the playing for you.

That is not to say that I think the Top 10 are all excellent games... I'm no MWChapel. I don't like Power Grid, Twilight Struggle, El Grande or Caylus either, and Princes of Florence is not something I rush to play. I don't know why I don't like Princes so much... maybe because of the mish-mash of mechanics I can't figure out what it's trying to do. Oh hang on, it has a sucky auction...

There have been quite a few games in the Top 10 I wasn't interested in enough to even try, and they've all fallen out. Age of Steam, War of the Ring, Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, Shogun, Paths of Glory and 1960 have all been studiously ignored. Mostly they're longer games, and I really fear being stuck for 3 hours in a bad game, as happened when I played Twilight Imperium (that was 10 hours!).

I don't like long movies either.