Three days in the Midlands with The Game Pit

So last weekend myself and Sarah went to visit Sean and Natalie (of The Game Pit ‘fame’) and their five-year-old son in their Midlands HQ.

This meant playing everything from games for babies, some games for big babies, and right on through to some meaty Felds – as well as plenty of game talk/rows/trash talk along the way. Below you’ll find the highlights of a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.

This isn’t an exhaustive list: although you can find one if you look at my ‘plays’ list over at BGG (those who care will know how!). And this is purely the gaming highlights, so don’t plough through all the gaming nonsense expecting to find food pictures or details of what dress/shoe combo Natalie was wearing when we went out for dinner…

Kids stuff

With the youngest spawn of the Pit hanging out with us for the start and end of the weekend, it was inevitable we’d get some kids’ games played.

It was fun playing Dixit with him and seeing into the imaginative mind of a five-year-old! It’s a party-style game with beautiful artwork where you look at images on the cards in your hand, pick one, and think of a word or phrase to describe what you see.

Then each other player looks at their own cards, pick one that matches your word/phrase, and puts them into the middle face down. They’re shuffled, then everyone else guesses which was your initial card – and you want some but not all people to get it, so you can’t be too obvious or too vague.

Sean and Natalie always made sure to ask their son about why he thought certain pictures related to the word or phrase used, which was a great test of his imagination and a source of some good laughs for the rest of us.

Other highlights were Haba titles Monza (a dice racing game where you have to role the right colours to progress around the track) and Diego Drachenzahn (a dexterity game where you flick three balls and try and get them in the right hole to score you points – without the other players guessing which hole you were aiming for).

Both games were 4+ and were done in about 10-15 minutes, and provided enough fun to keep the adults entertained too. The dexterity element of Diego proved to be a great leveller, while Monza was funny purely for the rotten luck a few of the players inevitable had (namely Sean and me).

Family games

The definite family game highlight for me over the weekend was Thurn and Taxis; an oft maligned one-hour euro game that I think thoroughly deserved its SdJ win.

Sean and Natalie hadn’t played so I was happy to teach and I was pleased to find they both really enjoyed it to. It’s the kind of game that can seem a little bland, both in play and look, at first – but as you near the end of your first play you can start to see its hidden depths.

We also had a quick and fun play of For Sale, for my money still one of the greatest filler card games out there. But I have to say I was really disappointed with the new artwork from Iello. The pictures of the houses are OK, but why on earth would you remove the animal from each card? A real misstep.

We also played Potion Explosion, which gave Sarah her first win of the weekend (in her first game if the weekend!) and was her favourite game played. I wasn’t as keen, partly due to the slightly shonky components (this was a first edition copy – apparently it has been improved since) but also because it was a little too light for me.

It sees you removing marbles from a grid to make others of the same colour knock together (match-three game style) to get the ‘ingredients’ you need to complete potions – which in turn give you points as well as special bonuses. There’s nothing wrong with the game at all and it would work well with non-gamers: it just didn’t do it for me.

Gateway games

I very much enjoyed my first ‘real life’ play of Vikings; one of Natalie’s favourites which I’d only previously played online at Yucata. I started like a train but got reeled back in, with Sean taking a rare Vikings win at the death.

Much like Thurn and Taxis it has a lot of tricky decisions packed into a short game length, but has a little more complexity in terms of moving parts. As a new-ish gamer Sarah found it hard going at the start, but had the hang of it by the end of this, her first play.

Sarah took to Kingsburg much quicker; a game with a similar complexity level but in truth much simpler decisions and more obvious outcomes. While I enjoy the process of Kingsburg – dice placement for action selection and tableau building – it lasts too long for what is a pretty basic game. If they made a version that was done in an hour I’d be a big fan, but it doesn’t have the depth to justify a two-hour play time.

Natalie and me also played Carcassonne: The Discovery, which we both thought was a trivial and pointless version of a classic game we both love; while Sean and me got half way through Belfort before deciding the two-player version really isn’t worth the bother – but I saw enough in it to want to try again, preferably with four players.

Cthulhu corner

With Sarah having to head home and James off with the grandparents, we started to break out the big guns. I’d been hoping to enter the Mansions of Madness since the second edition arrived, so jumped at the chance here.

as a Lovecraft fan, both Arkham and Eldritch Horror had provided me a lot of entertainment – but had always been a little heavy on the rules to be the perfect Arkham experience.

the new Mansions of Madness solves all of the old issues with a tight set of rules that still sees you rolling plenty of dice, but also has a brilliant app to add sound effects, story telling and a little bit of variety to the mix – alongside a way to add downloadable content for replay value. Projected from a laptop onto a big TV screen, this added tons to the experience.

We played scenario 2, Escape From Innsmouth – a short but tough story line (4 out of 5 difficulty). We started slow, had a good run of luck but then made a few mistakes which wasted a bit too much time – and suddenly everything was either on fire or trying to eat us. We died horribly in the end but it was so much fun – a great gaming experience.

Heavier euro games

Despite all three of us being Feld fans, we only got two of his games to the table over the weekend – but I enjoyed both very much.

I introduced Sean and Natalie to Bora Bora and even managed to get most of the rules right (I think). It’s a typical ‘point salad’ era Feld game but I find it really charming; it’s definitely still one of my favourites. Luckily the guys liked it too – so much so I left it behind for them, so finger’s crossed I’ll get it back at some point…

In  return they taught me Amerigo; a game I’d heard poor reports of and had never bothered seeking out. It turned out to be another thoroughly enjoyable euro game which I’d certainly like to play again, but don’t think I’ll seek out to buy. While I enjoyed the exploration aspects and the cube tower mechanism, it felt a little too like Oracle of Delphi to own both – and I prefer the race element of Delphi.

Sean and me also played one of Natalie’s most hated games, Shakespeare. I didn’t enjoy it as much two-player and it also showed itself to be a little bit lacking in depth. The best euro games tend to have multiple paths to victory, but in Shakespeare you have to do a little bit of everything to succeed – and while turn order can get you out of most scrapes, if you can’t get your hands on gold you’re at a real disadvantage.

We also played Armageddon (which Sean had only played once and Natalie not at all). It was nice to put a few of Sean’s worries about the game to bed that had surfaced on their first play, while it was lovely to hear Natalie say it’d been one of her highlights of the weekend. It won’t win any awards and there were a few missteps made in the final version that should’ve been play-tested out, but overall I’m still proud of it.

Shooting the breeze

We did, of course, also talk a lot of crap. One of the biggest differences of opinion Sean and me have is on Firefly: The Game. We had a proper long discussion about it and, if all goes to plan, I’ll be playing it for the second time this week. I’ll take all the things he said on board and, with any luck, will post my thoughts on the experience next week.

Until then though, I’ll leave you with an in-joke that will hopefully still be funny to watch despite you probably not knowing why the hell I’m posting it. Enjoy!

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