Hot Games

Friday, 28 October 2011

International caching - 5 countries in a day

We haven’t had a lot of time for caching recently, but an occasion presented itself recently when we could not just grab a few caches, but could cache in no fewer than 5 countries in a single day! [I did look at adding in Luxembourg, but never realised before how inconveniently situated it is]. The occasion was a road trip to stay with friends who live between Dusseldorf and Essen – the draw being Spiel at Essen the following day.

Well it is said that planning and preparation are key to performance and, true to form, I commenced my planning at around 7.30pm the night before. That was exactly 7 hours before we were due to leave with just a little question of some sleep to squeeze in as well. The plan was to find two ‘cache and dash’ locations in each country close to the chosen route. How difficult could that be? Well quite difficult really – the cache density is considerably lower in Europe and the language issues meant that the cache descriptions were double dutch to us – quite literally in Holland. Anyway sufficient possibilities were found and uploaded to the GPSr and I sloped off to bed for a couple of hours kip.

Leaving home at 2.30am. our first port of call was ‘Ghosts & Goblins - 7 – Ghoul’ in Chiseldon, part of a series that had only just been placed and less than 5 minutes from the M4. Even in the dark the cache container was clearly visible from the car and it proved our easiest find of the day. One down at only 2.40am.

The next port of call was Membury Service Station 10 miles eastwards down the M4 to pick up ‘The Teddies Motorway Mayhem Membury M4 East bound’. This is on my regular commute to work and, for once, my usual policy of “I just can’t be arsed” had paid dividends and an easy find was available, exactly as promised by the hint.

Thereafter followed a nice straight-forward run down to Dover. We had a stop for a coffee and bacon roll on the way and were still parked up waiting for the ferry at 5.30am.

We were first car onto the ferry as well (for the first time) and, unsurprisingly, the first off. Our luxurious Sea France vessel awaited. Well it wasn’t that luxurious really, but I don’t think you can quibble for £48 return. The continental breakfast was a snip at only £6 and before we knew it we were launching off the ship ramp into Calais and hitting France just like in Saving Private Ryan. Except there were no bullets, or dying or Germans (except the one in my car), but you know what I mean!

The plan unfolded – the next cache was in a quiet part of Calais. This was ‘La Plage (Géocalais 4)’ and was quickly found . It was in a cassette case (ever heard of them children? They were a bit like iPods …) which makes for a nice slice of nostalgia, but a pretty poor cache container. Anyway who am I to criticise our snail-eating neighbours, after all it was my first cache in La France.

We then set off for a nearby park to locate French cache #2. Ten minutes later and despite a text exchange with the UK for translations, we still couldn’t locate the damned thing. To cap it all I managed to step in a helping of Chien poop and was far from pleased. The words “Bloody French” and worse were heard ringing around the locality. It took me 15 minutes to remove this particular piece of France from my shoe. If only I had a longbow to hand, I could have re-enacted my own version of Agincourt with the local canine population of Calais.

However not to be outdone, we relocated to a park near Calais town hall to bag no. 2 in France. 15 minutes later we still hadn’t found it and our quest for 2 caches in each country suddenly became a quest for 1 cache in each country. Persistent light rain later reinforced this decision. Anyway a note to all readers – don’t organise a caching trip to Calais, you’ll be very disappointed and you’ll end up hating the BLOODY FRENCH. Having said that, there is nothing amiss about Catherine Deneuve ….

Anyway it was off to the Autoroute and the quick road to Belgium, home of Poirot, Tin Tin and, um, that’s just about it actually. Next stop was a Service Station on the motorway between Gent and Antwerp. Needless to say, our run of continental DNF’s continued. This was turning into a disaster – all that planning time had been a waste!

Luckily our trusty car-bound GPS has a ‘co-ordinates’ setting and so we put our back-up grid reference into it and zoomed to our next Autoroute exit point. Unfortunately our trusty
Garmin led us into a farmyard (quite literally) on the wrong side of the motorway. We beat a hasty retreat – you don’t want to provoke a Belgian famer – and re-located to the correct site. Unfortunately it meant parking on a busy(!) single-track road and a muddy scramble in the rain up the motorway embankment. The ammo can turned out to be ‘TB Hotel – HAASDONK’ and we logged our one and only cache in Belgium.

We then had a choice of either turning round and driving the 2 miles back to the motorway junction or not turning round and driving miles and miles through dull Belgian countryside. We chose the latter.

Time was pressing and we crossed the border into Holland, a place you pass through but where you very rarely stop – an international version of Milton Keynes really. Anyway we headed off to ‘Stop 'N Go - Carpool Geldrop’ and a very quick find under the pine trees. It was supposed to be a Car Pool, but I didn’t spot a single ‘No Petting’ or ‘No Bombing’ sign, so it was all a bit disappointing. Our Audi left in disgust, after the promise of a Dutch aquatic adventure for like-minded Automobiles vanished in the drizzle.
So four countries down and just one to go. We crossed the border at Venlo and just a couple of miles later we were at ‘TB-Hotel D-NL/NL-D an der A40’. Another quick find just off the Autobahn (bahn bahn bahn bb-er Autobahn I hear you all sing in a Kraftwerk accent). By now it was knocking on towards 5pm, or 17.00 as they say on the continent, and we had cached in 5 countries.

Not long after we passed the motorway exit for my favourite German town. A bit juvenile, but it cracks me up every time.

Did we feel elated? No not really … a drive-by cache is a drive-by whether it is in the UK or Germany. However there is now a bit more shading on my profile map and we’ve ticked another virtual task off the list. However next year we’ll do the journey via Luxembourg – why stop at five countries?

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Short Review - A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well I've played the board game, seen the TV series and now finally read the book. I was amazed how close the TV series was to the book. Sean Bean was perfect as Ned Stark, even if he does support Sheffield United. A great book - normally I wouldn't touch a 'fantasy' book, but this is one hell of a read. 800 pages for £4 on Amazon as well - bargain of the decade.

Part 2 now ordered - I can't wait.

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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Birth of a new game group

I’ve been playing in a group in Swindon since September 2006. We play every Tuesday at the home of one of the group, although at one stage we played twice a week. The group works well: nobody is up their own a*se (important), we generally like the same sort of games, everyone is open to new games and we all win roughly the same percentage of games. How did I come to join the group? Via Boardgamegeek – I found a Swindon-based gamer and asked him if there was a group in Swindon.

Roll forward, and there are occasional enquiries on BGG about gaming in the area. I must admit that, as a natural miserable git, if I have spotted them, I usually just ignore them. However a forum post this year by James Mullard called ‘Swindon?’ seemed to generate some traction and it appeared a new group in Swindon was a distinct possibility. Several local-ish gamers chipped in and there seemed to be a genuine interest in getting something started. The two drivers of the forum post were Tony (fellonmyhead), long-standing Tuesday night gamer, and Jess (castaway). Somehow I volunteered (not like me!) to check out a couple of potential venues.

I ended up visiting a couple of local hostelries – the Sandgate (my pub of choice back in 1976, aged 16) and the Check Inn at Wroughton. To cut a long story short, the Sandgate is a sh*thole, and the Check Inn is the total opposite. As a Fullers pub, the Check Inn not only boasts a superb range of real ales (London Pride, Eldridge Pope etc), but also does excellent food as well. Tony the landlord lets us use the dining room for free each Monday and seems very happy with the arrangement. The extra food and drink sales on a quiet Monday means that it is a win-win all round.

We held our first meeting on Monday, March 21st, advertised entirely through the Geek and word of mouth (as it still is today), and 11 people turned up. We have now met 13 times including on 3 bank holiday Mondays. The highest turnout thus far is 14, the lowest 5 (on a bank holiday). We average around 9 a session, most weeks being 8-10. Already a nucleus of attendees has formed who tend to come along each week.

The group tends to play Euros, usually light-medium weight, although we have also played Power Grid and some Wallace titles. Games played recently include Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Fresco, Dixit, Keltis, Forbidden Island, Kingsburg, Ingenious, London, Power Grid, Seven Wonders, Braggart and Alien Frontiers, to name just a small selection.

A good feature of the group is that we try to mix it up so we play with different people and everyone seems to enjoy the sessions. The group is very informal which I think works well. There is no ‘leader’ or ‘organiser’ – it’s just a case of turning up and playing. I’m sure the group will continue to thrive – if you’re reading this and fancy joining us, we meet at the Check Inn, Wroughton every Monday from 7pm-ish to around 10.45pm.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

UK Games Expo – mixed feelings

I love the concept of the UK Games Expo, but seem to enjoy it less and less each year. I can’t put my finger on exactly why this is the case, but as a boardgamer, I’m increasingly seeing this as an optional visit rather than a destination event. So what are the positives and negatives of the event?


• A range of games retailers (but I wish there were more)
• A good smattering of small publishers – this to me is probably the most positive thing about the Expo
• A lot of demo tables (even more so for miniatures)
• A good mixture of serious gamers and families/casual gamers
• Er, that’s about it.


• The venue is now stretched – the Expo needs to move. Some of the outer areas suffer markedly in footfall terms.
• No significant new boardgames released – without a Treefrog or Ragnars release there was no “must go” reason to attend
• No price competition between the retailers – the prices were all very samey across the board. A bit of competition on hot games like Seven Wonders, Dixit and Dominion would be a start!
• The format is a bit tired – a bit of innovation is required.
• The entry fee - £8 is too high, and must put off casual gamers/families.


• Refreshments – limited and over-priced, but at least Ladypool Road is nearby (we went to Imran’s after the show)

So what changes would I make? In no particular order:

• Change venue (though keep it in Birmingham if possible)
• Tie it into cons to get the regular/serious gamers in (of all persuasions). Talk to the Manorcon and Midcon guys and arrange an “Expo-con” at the same venue.
• Persuade more retailers to come along – maybe tie their costs into a %sales basis to reduce their exposure; encourage discounting and price competition
• Twist the arms of all local publishers to release new games – make this a de facto pre-Essen roll-out for UK publishers. Invite German designers such as Reiner Knizia and Michael Schacht.
• Encourage small publishers – maybe by discounting
• Promote tie-ins with complimentary hobbies – such as comics (a la Essen).

So, despite all the above, did I enjoy the Expo this year? The answer was yes. Find of the day was undoubtedly Totemo from Surprised Stare Games. Yes I know it was there last year, but I only tried it this year. An excellent abstract strategy game that will go down really well with the family.

I also bought Braggart – not my favourite type of card-game,
but I know it will be well received by both gamers and family. Therefore a good buy – the 2 young ladies who demo’ed it also won me over with their enthusiasm for the game. I also purchased KingBrick – a 2-player flicking game. As a Subbuteo addict in my youth, this simple straight-forward game was a no-brainer and, at £10, also a bargain. I’m sure it won’t see much table-time, but I still couldn’t resist it. A couple of other small purchases completed the day.

I hope the Expo continues to grow and thrive, but I feel that it needs a shot in the arm to move forward.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Book Review: Fortress of Spears

Fortress of Spears (Empire, #3)Fortress of Spears by Anthony Riches

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third outing for Anthony Riches series about a Roman Centurion/Fugitive from Justice based around Hadrian's Wall. Like the previous books this is an excellent romp, with some interesting scenarios and storylines. The book is well worth reading and I'm already looking forward to #4 in the series.

So, why only 4 stars? The fact that I had the book for 3 weeks before picking it up speaks volumes - a Giles Kristian or Sam Barone book would have been started immediately. I would rate these books slightly below those of Cornwell, Scarrow, Kristian or Barone, but not too far behind. The main problem with the book is that the main character is almost a super-hero and is simply not believable. Added to that the dialogue, although improved from the previous books, still does not ring true as being of the correct era. Finally the status of Marcus as a fugitive has been played out to the full - I cannot recall the details of how this came to be, and don't particularly care anymore. I hope that the author will concentrate more on the relationship between Marcus and his colleagues moving forwards.

Having said all the above, this is a very good book and I will definitely pre-order the follow-up.

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Saturday, 21 May 2011

Book Review: Odin's Wolves

Odin's Wolves (Raven #3)Odin's Wolves by Giles Kristian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the third book in the Raven saga, and a worthy follow-up to the two others, both of which were 5* books. It is over a month since I finished the book, so some of the details are not so clear, but needless to say, I pre-ordered the book and eagerly devoured it as soon as it arrived.

The book describes the Viking band's journey from the French coast to Rome and Miklagard (Constantinople). The book really takes off from about the half-way stage and the sections describing the band's adventures in Rome and Miklagard are riveting and extremely well written. Of course there is a surprise at the end, but I won't be spoiling that here.

One of the best aspects of the first two instalments was the development of the characters. Unfortunately many of these have now been killed off, so more will have to be introduced in the fourth book. The author shouldn't shy away from this, as he did such a good job before.

What sets these books apart from others in the genre is the quality of the dialogue in Giles Kristian's books. You really feel that the characters are real and 100% believable. I think he does this better than any of his contemporaries, including Messrs Cornwell, Scarrow and Iggulden, and that's a mighty fine list of authors!

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Wilko Johnson

The Fleece, Bristol 6th May

Growing up in the seventies, I liked T-Rex and I liked Slade and, of course, I fancied Suzi Quattro and Linda Ronstadt, but the first group I was really into were Dr Feelgood in 1976. I still remember coming home clutching the seminal Stupidity album the week of it's release with it's classic cover picture of Lee Brilleaux and Wilko. That album remains my #1 favourite live album, and yes, even better than the Johnny Cash live prison albums.

I finally got to see Dr Feelgood live in Autumn 1978 at Brighton Top Rank. Of course by this time Wilko had left, but nevertheless they were still storming live. I saw Wilko live for the first time shortly afterwards at the Marquee. I’ve seen him since, of course, and also with Ian Dury (on the DIY tour). To my mind, Wilko is a national treasure that needs preserving and it's great that he's still strutting his stuff over 30 years later.

So to the Fleece on a Friday night. It is warm and packed, almost definitely sold-out. Just the sort of atmosphere you want for a slice of R&B. First band up were Billy Whizz: dire. Second up were 3-piece The Soulvents whose musical influences were given away by the singer's Fred Perry shirt and Mod-ish haircut. The guy was one excellent guitarist and his repertoire was impressive, unfortunately he had no stage presence whatsoever. Anyway Steve Marriott & Weller influences aplenty, he covered one Weller track and finished with a crowd pleasing All through the City. Definitely worth catching again.

And so to Mr Johnson, who as per usual was joined by Blockhead Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe on drums. Wilko looks more and more like Alf Garnett every year and Norman is like the butler in a Hammer Horror film. Pretty they ain’t, but my God can they still brew up some R&B! Wilko is as energetic as the very first time I saw him and this is music as it should be – R&B in a small sweaty bar.

As usual the Dr Feelgood songs go down best – I remember Back in the Night, She Does It Right, Don’t Let Your Daddy Know, Sneakin’ Suspicion, Keep it Out of Sight, The More I Give, Paradise and Twenty Yards Behind. Wilko was joined by Jerry Tremaine (I think that was his name) on vocals and harp for a storming Woolly Bully and Roxette. Dr Dupree was also in the mix somewhere. A single encore – a rollicking Bye Bye Johnny – it is always good to see Mr B Goode, the patron saint of R&B, make an appearance!

I’m already looking forward to the next time Wilko and co. are in town!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett

Reading South Park, 5th May

I first saw John Otway live around 1981/82 on the same bill as UK Subs and Gary Glitter (go figure!). I need to point out that this was before Mr Glitter had been outed as a paedophile. On the night, the UK Subs were Sh1t, I was totally underwhelmed by the young-ish Otway and Gary Glitter (and the original Glitter Band with 2 drummers) were superb!

Rolling forward to about 2 years ago, on a whim my friend Jarrod and I caught a JO & WWB show at the Windsor Arts Centre. I remember saying at the interval that what we had witnessed was either total cobblers or absolute brilliance, but I didn’t know which. Anyway after the second half we decided it was the latter and are both now confirmed fans. We also saw him last autumn in Gloucester, with his ‘Big Band’, although I drank so much that night that frankly, memories of the show, and the afternoon rugby game, are somewhat hazy!

Anyway to Reading: instead of the usual tiered seating at the venue, there were just chairs on the floor. The audience was perhaps 200-250 people, mostly fat fifty-somethings (yes … like me!), but with a smattering of people outside that profile. As usual a fair number were diehard fans and, again as usual, both Otway & WWB mingled with the audience before the gig, in the interval and after the gig. Pretentious they are not.

Seeing Otway is an event rather than a gig. The songs don’t change much, the patter between songs is familiar, Otway’s boy-ish enthusiasm, honesty and showing off would be totally daft in other settings but just works. Add in WWB’s excellent musicianship and dead-pan humour and you have a winning formulae. As Otway says … Wild Willy is just a Musician, whereas I’m a star!

So what was new on the night? It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a wheely-bin used in an act for a start. It housed Wild Willy’s amp for his electric guitar and was open and closed as appropriate. Totally idiotic, but it worked brilliantly. WWB also introduced a Pete Townshend guitar wrecking segment, although the damage was done DIY-style with a hammer and saw! After the show the guitar was flogged for £35! Musically, the highlight may well have been a touching(!!) rendition of Rolf Harris’ ‘Two Little Boys’.

An Otway concert is like a Jonathan Richman concert (another favourite of mine), in that you smile all the way through it and all the way home. It is that kind of experience.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Five & Dimes 2010 (+ a peek at 2011)

American gamers seem to enjoy doing their annual ‘Five and Dime’ analysis of games played, and thanks to BGG it is quite easy to compile these:

Five and Dimes from Jan - Dec 2010

10 or more plays



Pinguïn Party


Don Quixote


5 or more plays



11 nimmt!


7 Wonders




Gambit 7




High Score


Hoppladi Hopplada!


Shadow Hunters


The above list is quite typical of the average year for me: one or two ‘dimes’, usually light family-friendly games, and a handful of fives. The two dimes were both introduced to me by Steve Kearon – PP at Baycon and Don Quixote at Manorcon. Both are fairly light family-friendly games, PP has become our standard light end-of-the-evening card game but the family also enjoy it. DQ was an initial hit, although I haven’t played it for months.

11 nimmt! is often dismissed as just a 6 Nimmt variant, but is far superior to the original game. Excellent for 4/5 and a light card game for gamers. Seven Wonders was the hit of last year’s Essen and continues to be played on almost a weekly basis. I first played Fresco at Origins last June, and it remains a favourite of mine although the group I play with it don’t enjoy it as much as I do.

Gambit 7 (the UK version of Wits & Wagers) and Dixit are both excellent family-friendly party games. Most of their plays will have happened around Christmas.

High Score is the American name of Wurfel Bingo – an excellent family-friendly push-your-luck dice game. Hoppladi Hopplada! is another family-friendly push-your-luck dice game, this time featuring rabbits and hutches. Silly fun really. Finally Shadow Hunters was the starter of choice for the Bolton games group – not a game I particularly enjoyed, but well you just have to join in!

So, of the above ten games, no fewer than six are essentially family games. The remaining four are fairly light-weight games. So, let’s move on to 2011, so far:

Five and Dimes from 1 Jan - 16 Mar 2011

10 or more plays



7 Wonders


Pinguïn Party


5 or more plays



Hoppladi Hopplada!


Seven Wonders and PP continue to be played on almost a weekly basis. They are both quick, fun and varied. My guess is that the number of plays will be a lot higher by the year end. The plays for Hoppladi Hopplada! were primarily around Christmas, but like 7W and PP, the first thought after a game of HH is ‘Why don’t we play again?’

All pics copyright Boardgamegeek

Friday, 4 March 2011

February Caching Outings (Part 2)

The following Saturday was the Wiltshire Event. We love Stan’s events and always attend if possible. Great attendance, excellent food and, of course, Wadworths 6X from Russell the landlord and a good old chin-wag with RoobyDoo (Keith), Furtive Ferrets (John) and TurnerTribe (Suzanne) among others. Even won a minor prize in the raffle. Before the event we did a lovely little circuit of 8 caches along a very quiet and still K&A canal.

Got home from Devizes and found that a cache (1st Stratton Scouts) had been published close to home, in fact probably the closest one there’s ever been. Well it had only been out for less than 2 hours, surely we’d be in for a shout for the FTF. Logging on to the cache page we found it had already been visited by 5 caching teams. The initial disappointment was quickly replaced when I saw that the Chaos Crew had bagged the FTF – a long over-due FTF for Sarah & team!

It was further dissipated when, a couple of hours later, two new caches (2 = Cuddly Toy Hotel and 1 = On The Way.....) were published by Newmanmadhouseteam up near the Great Western Hospital in Swindon. I knew that I was due a Sunday morning lie-in, so donned the head-torch and set off in the pitch black. The mud ensured that I had grown 6” by the time I had reached the caches to grab the FTF’s. The Cuddly Toy hotel is a really good cache, but is a bit out of the way – it deserves a lot of visits in the summer. On the way back I grabbed the 1st Stratton Scouts cache (couldn’t resist). I was a bit spooked at GZ, at around 10.30pm, when I heard a noise behind me as I re-hid the cache. A youth was in the woods about 30 yards behind me – doing what I have no idea. Needless to say, I legged it out!

Had a Sunday morning lie-in, had Sunday lunch and then was just getting ready to go out and grab a couple of caches on the Downs when a whole new series based around Covingham, Eldene and Liden was published by Newmanmadhouseteam (again). Well what to do? Grab as many as possible of course! Over the next 2 hours I got round all 10 caches, grabbing no fewer than 5 FTF’s! It could have been more: I failed to find one cache first time round (Toolaroola grabbing it!) and was beaten to another by the Middleleaze Moles as I stood and watched. Great to see new caches being hidden on this side of town though - an excellent weekend of caching thanks to this new-ish team.

2 whole days then passed before my notifications signalled a few new caches being published near Lacock, south of Chippenham. In fact these were right on the edge of my notifications area and it turned out to be 20 caches over 6 miles in a circular walk from Lacock. The next morning dawned and it was absolutely pee-ing it down. I logged on and noticed that the Lacock village caches had all been nabbed first thing, but the rest were pretty much untouched.

Therefore, after lunch, I drove across for a FTF hunt. I’ve never been to Lacock before and was surprised at how pretty it was. Ditto for the surrounding countryside – the route cut through some delightful areas and was absolutely full of varied and very cunning hides from start to finish. I won’t spoil it for anyone who reads this, but I would recommend you give this a go! I would rate it as definitely a 5* series, I can’t think of a better one (well maybe my MDT!).

If I were you I’d start on the village caches mid-morning in Lacock and aim to be at the Bell on Bowden Hill for lunch. You can then walk off the lunch around the circuit and return to Lacock for a cream tea – what a day! By the way, here is one of my favourite caches from the series – not a clever one, it just made me smile - Simples!

Anyway I had a pretty busy day rather than a pleasant amble around the caches fortified by real ale and a cream tea. In the end I finished in the pitch black, reaching my final cache (#1) at 6pm and fumbling blindly for the cache container. I managed to bag 21 caches with only 1 DNF. Among these were no less than 14 FTF’s, so a good day all round!

The following evening a new cache was published just outside Watchfield, Force 10: Zoe by Eaglegale. Another first hide by a cacher I met briefly at the last Swindon Soirees event. Sniffing another FTF I was up with the larks the next day and snagged the cache about 10 minutes before Flones, another local cacher. To paraphrase Robert Duvall, I love the smell of an empty logbook in the morning!

The weekend, last one of the month, was wet, full stop. No geocaching at all. But all was not lost: on the Monday at tea-time 3 new caches were published – one by our friends Newmanmadhouseteam at McDonalds on Great Western Way (Take Five) and two over in Sparcells by new hiders the Dartmoor Devils. We quickly rushed out to Maccy-D’s straight to the cache. Whilst piling in (subtle I’m not), we were approached by another cacher who turned out to be iBertie (Paul), who had beaten us to the cache but couldn’t find it. This has happened to me a few times and is a right b@st@rd to put it mildly. Anyway I quickly located the item and even offered a joint FTF with Paul (must be going soft in my dotage!), but Paul, who is a gentleman and a scholar and also hider of the very good nearby Central Park cache, was having none of it.

We returned home, feeling pretty pleased with ourselves and over the course of the next couple of hours I noticed the Sparcells caches hadn’t been logged. Cue action! So a quick drive to the first – Sparcells’ First Cache – Bridge Over Troubled Water – where I parked up close by (just how I like it …). Needless to say the cache was under a bridge. Opened it up, blank logbook: good call! The second cache was less than 200 metres away, walked quickly no other cachers in sight. The log book contained a name – beaten to it by the Furtive Ferrets; I uttered a rude word and signed the log. But a good evening to end to a great month.

Summing up February: lots of finds and lots of FTF’s. Discovered a great series at Lacock and pleased to see all the new caches around Swindon, mostly put out by new hiders. The future looks very bright indeed!

A review of my cache series

Marlborough Downs Trail – 1 or 2 visits per cache. Will refresh sometime around Easter.

Lower Stratton Loop – remains popular. At least one cacher a week does the series.

Sevenhampton Puzzles – not much interest since early in the month. Interest waning - puzzles too difficult or are puzzles just not popular?

Caches found this month: 94 (2nd highest month ever)

No. FTF’s this month: 25 (record month)

Total caches found to-date: 1,078 Total FTF’s: 89

Thursday, 3 March 2011

February Caching Outings (Part 1)

A local caching friend of mine, Sarah of the Chaos Crew, includes a monthly summary of her family’s caching adventures in her Are you flowin’? blog (referenced below). These are both interesting, including a good selection of photos, and brilliantly capture the essence of why this is such a good hobby (read it – you’ll see what I mean).

Of course this also provides a good historical summary of each month’s caching. Well, I’ve never been shy of stealing someone else’s good idea, so I’m going to do just that. However I’ve never been one for taking many photos so they will be sparse at times to put it mildly. Also I’ll label them outings rather than adventures: my caching outings tend to be enjoyable rather than exciting.

The month began with a visit out to Sevenhampton to check on one of my puzzle caches there (The Man with the Golden Pen). A Wantage based cacher had visited it the day before and whilst walking back to the village had been surrounded by a gang of armed locals

(hunt supporters, or more likely shoot helpers) demanding to know what he was up to. He had calmly explained geocaching to them and they left him alone. It was thought that they may have removed the cache. Anyway I went and checked and the cache was still safely in-situ.

The weather was pretty appalling on the first Saturday of the month so I just had a couple of hours to do the 5 caches in the triangle between Hodson, Chisledon and the M4. The wind was in the ‘right’ direction and the noise from the motorway was taken away from me making this an exceedingly pleasant little outing. A cock-up on the final cache of the afternoon meant I ended up in someone’s back garden and had to climb over their back fence – oops!

Sean (Smenus) joined us the following day and we were determined to go caching. However again, the weather in the morning was foul and we only got out mid-afternoon. We then proceeded to do 15 caches in the Coleshill and Coxwell Circuit (CCC), this being a circuit that starts at Badbury Clump, proceeds cross-country to the attractive NT village of Coleshill, then goes cross-country to the attractive village of Great Coxwell, before circling back to the Clump. Badbury Clump and the villages are very nice, but the bits in-between are dull and boring.

Unfortunately we left it too late and this ended up being a bit of a forced march to finish in daylight. We were pretty pooped by the end, to put it mildly. We did however record our 1000th cache on the circuit. This happened at a particularly dull cache. We recorded the momentous 1001st cache, which was marginally less dull, with a picture where we unsuccessfully attempted to spell ‘1001’ with our fingers!

On arrival at home, we noticed that a new puzzle cache had just been published – Whomping Willow to give it a name. The Cache Owners were the Hegwig Hawks who appear to hide mostly Harry Potter themed caches. Now young HP leaves me cold, but Sean and his sister read all the books and so I thought we might be in with a chance. We both started independently on the puzzle; I was about half-way through it, and feeling quite pleased with myself, as I’m not good at puzzle caches, when Sean announced he had solved it. 5 minutes later we were in the car, armed with a couple of torches. It was all quiet at GZ – I love a bit of night caching – and within a few minutes I had located the cache. Our first FTF in February. It later turned out that another caching team were also planning to go out that night and only changed their minds when Sean logged the find. In the FTF race, he who hesitates is Second-To-Find!

As an aside I heard recently that a local caching team grabs FTF’s but deliberately doesn’t log them for a few hours just to encourage others to join the FTF race, obviously without a hope of success. Charming!

On the following day we went back and polished off the last 2 caches in the CCC series and also completed RoobyDoo’s The Best Ale? puzzle cache. This contains some internet research, which I completed in June 2009, some locally gained information, for which I used Google Earth (naughty I know!), and then the walk to the cache. This cache now holds the record for our longest to solve cache at 20 months!

The logo has nothing to do with caching, but 6X is the best ale! ... to answer RD's question!

After the puzzle cache we legged it over to the nearby Watchfield Windmills cache where we grabbed this picture. Economically bankrupt (they cost more in subsidy than the electricity value they produce), and an environmental eyesore, they are strangely compelling up close.

The following Saturday we drove on over to Grove, near Wantage to attend the Logging Yer Lurve! event. Beforehand we did a really super circular walk in the winter sunshine around Grove starting from the aircraft on the edge of what was the Grove airbase (Grove’s Venom), taking in a stretch of the abandoned Wilts & Berks canal.

The following day we attended February’s Swindon Soirees meeting. Very good, as always, but I had to leave early to see John Cooper Clarke in Reading. Next day I had some business to attend to in Halesowen and couldn’t help taking in a local urban micro called ding dong!!! F-narr, f-narr to quote Viz!

A couple of days later we had a visit to Nottingham Uni with Smenus, grabbing a cache on-site and one just outside. On the way we visited Aladdins Cave which is a puzzle cache just outside Nottingham Centre – basically an ammo can in an Army Surplus Emporium, not many ammo cans there then!! The very friendly store owners are cachers themselves and we had a mega chin-wag; their prices are also great, so a visit is highly recommended if you’re ever in Nottingham.

To be continued ...

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Seven Wonders

An impression, not a detailed review

I joined a small, but friendly, gaming group in Swindon in Autumn 2006. On night #1 we played Age of Steam – my initiation into the age of modern gaming had begun. The group members have pretty similar tastes in the main, and I can never recall any serious falling out over choice of game. We all have our preferences – they can generally be accommodated and, if not, they find table time elsewhere when everyone around the table will enjoy them.

We are definitely followers of the Cult of the New. With the exception of fillers, we tend to play new games each week. Or at least that was the case until a few weeks ago. In the last four years very few games have made it to the table three weeks in a row: I can only recall Agricola, Le Havre and Automobile doing so. Of course there are other ‘staples’ that we regularly return to, most notably Ra, Power Grid and Steam. The latter two being highly variable because of the range of different maps available for each.

Since Christmas we have held nine Tuesday game sessions. Seven Wonders has been played no less than 13 times and at seven of these sessions. So what has made this game buck the trend? Why do we continue to play it?

Firstly a little history. Seven Wonders was definitely the ‘hit’ of Essen 2010 – maybe not to the same extent as say Agricola or Dominion in previous years, but definitely had the ‘buzz’ coming out of the show.

Since its release last October it has risen to 15th place on Boardgamegeek, easily the highest of the latest Essen crop. I first played it at Midcon in November 2010, playing it 4 times with up to 7 players. I then ‘helped’ Father Christmas procure a copy and it duly arrived, as if by magic, under the Christmas Tree.

The game in a nutshell

  • - Civ-building game, based on one of the Seven Wonders
  • - Plays 3-7 players
  • - Takes around 30 minutes, slightly quicker with experience
  • - The playing time is constant irrespective of the number of players
  • - Simultaneous card drafting
  • - 18 decisions per game
  • - Generally plays differently each time

The good

  • - Scales well
  • - Quick playing time, you generally play at least twice
  • - You feel that each game is different
  • - Elements of strategic and tactical play
  • - It is fun!

The bad

  • - Maybe a bit lightweight for some (not for me, I love lightweight!)
  • - Nothing else

It helps that we all enjoy playing the game; there is no dissent on that score. There are many paths to victory and each game feels fresh and new. As the playing time is so short, even if you finish with a low score, your first thought is to re-shuffle the cards and have another go. Still a great game – destined for my Top 10 methinks.

It is also somewhat ironic that we have recently discovered Glory to Rome, a more involved game (that we also enjoy) that has some similarities to Seven Wonders. We have now played it two weeks in a row, but will it last?

Any pictures above are copyright Boardgamegeek.