Saturday 28th December 2002: About four hours sleep, shower, final packing. Issue 28 of The Game Report, an always-fascinating American printed 'zine about modern board games, turns up in the post. Arrive at Middlesbrough bus station with about five minutes to go before the coach arrives; buy a newspaper. I am planning to take a coach travelling (Hull -> ... ->) Middlesbrough -> Sunderland -> Newcastle -> Edinburgh -> Glasgow; two coaches turn up, each of which will be calling at some stops rather than others. Get the correct coach. Journey dull, except for reading said Game Report, which features an outstanding report of the editor's experiences participating in the recent Microsoft-ish "Shelby Logan" puzzle hunt in Las Vegas - a must read for puzzle hunt fans. Catch half an hour's nap.
Arrive in Edinburgh. Find relevant bus stop surprisingly easily. Find relevant bus surprisingly easily. Bus driver indicates correct stop. The event, "HogmanayCon", is taking place at the house of Tanya Fox, which turns out to be massive - really old-fashioned with separate servants' quarters, an internal system of bells and the like. (On the downside, no central heating, but easily sufficient fan and electric heaters.) Several who have travelled afar to attend are staying at Tanya's overnight in sundry cubby-holes; I am staying with fellow attendee David Tittle, who lives about two miles north of the city centre compared to Tanya's two miles south. About half of the attendees are local to Edinburgh and commute in daily; the other half know Tanya from elsewhere, most frequently from her days at Cambridge University, and are travelling up to see her. Most of the travellers, like me, will arrive on Saturday 28th and leave on Thursday 2nd, but the locals are playing for even longer.
Tanya is expecting about 25 or 30 people in total to turn up for at least some part of the proceedings, but generally there will be two or three games (usually each with three to six players) in progress at any one time. I arrive just as a game is about to start; it can cope with six players as easily as it can with five, so I join in. (For convenience, I'll detail all the games played at the end of this document.) After this, David and I cook up a bland but nourishing stir-fry in the kitchen from two peppers, two onions, a large handful of green beans, two packs of chicken cubes and half a kilo of rice; it makes eleven reasonably small (and fairly bland) platefuls, but people have garlic bread as well. After this, games continue until about 1:30am when David drives us back home and I settle in for a night's sleep.
Sunday 29th December 2002: Wake, shower, shave. Fellow attendees Sid and Debbie Ramage, both Edinburgh residents, have offered to provide a brunch for David and I; their vast kitchen is their favourite room in their beautiful, huge flat because they both like cooking so much. Brunch is an assortment of antipasti, cheese and salad veg hanging over from a Christmas Day tea that they were too zonked to eventually prepare; they are even confident enough to mix and serve their own salad dressings. We visit Tesco and advance to Tanya's. Edinburgh is relatively hilly for a major British city and is traditionally said to be built upon seven hills; some attendees are climbing up Arthur's Seat, which is the tallest of the seven at a towering altitude of 250.5 metres and only about a kilometre from Tanya's. Unfortunately the cloud level is low enough that they can't see much from the top. Lots of games, an ovenful of jacket potatoes and we call it a night shortly before 2 am.
Monday 30th December 2002: Wake, shower, shave. (Today's dream sees me trying to run the fifteen-player negotiation/puzzle game Haggle at the Middlesbrough Gamers Club, as indeed I nearly did back on the 6th. I actually get the game on the road in my dream but explain it terribly poorly and it doesn't work well. A poor omen, perhaps, especially as I have been discussing running it here at HogmanayCon.) Quick breakfast then off by bus for more games. (Unusually, the The weather for this week is forecast to be a mixture of "cloudy" and "showery" (later I learn that England is suffering downpours which lead to floods) but today looks like being the day with the least worst weather and so I set off for Arthur's Seat on my own. Tanya gives me directions for one possible route to take; however, there is a considerable degree of mission creep as I am aware of the hidden "Path to Arthur's Seat 2" geocache and try to find it - admittedly, without the benefit of a GPS unit with which to measure my longitude and latitude.
I take a difficult route to get to about the correct location, fail to find the hidden treasure, discover that the hill I'm climbing isn't Arthur's Seat itself, climb Arthur's Seat, use the waypoint at its top to confirm that I actually was searching in about the right place (a little bit of seconds-to-milliminutes mental calculation is required) and declare defeat. I did climb Arthur's Seat, I climbed a second hill, I must have been within twenty metres of the geocache, I got my boots nice and muddy without falling over on my bum and it was a nice walk so a reasonably good result all things considered. (Safety warning: don't go on your own. I wouldn't do so again, and not just because company is fun.) Games, a tasty delivery from a curry house, more games and the last day bus (though there are some rather more inconvenient nightbuses later) back to David's for bed.
Tuesday 31st December 2002: Wake, shower, shave, breakfast. (Final dream of the year ends up featuring a cameo from an irritant in my life previously referred to within this LJ as Fat Bastard who is promoting a production of the Abba/Tim Rice musical "Chess". Unfortunately for FB, all the performers have walked out half-way through and he is struggling to improvise a second half.) We decide to walk to Tanya's in order to look at parts of Edinburgh that we haven't seen before - particularly enjoyable was a trek through the Botanic Gardens. A little later I pick up some souvenirs (a spoon for the house collection and a crystal shot glass) and we reach Tanya's place a little after noon.
Today is a day for gentler, sillier games; we order in pizza and Chinese food and tie the evening up with a game of Articulate - a description game in the Pyramid mould (i.e., Taboo without the taboos). I'm rather better at guessing things than I am at describing them, confusing W C Fields and W G Grace, then forgetting the name of Osama Bin Laden (Osama Bin Laden, crivvens) when trying to describe Afghanistan, but the games are close and enjoyable all the same.
At about 9 o'clock in the evening, fifteen of us (thirteen gamers, two not) scarf, glove, hat and coat up to prepare ourselves against the Edinburgh cold, ready for the street party on Princes Street. Access is controlled by a wristband system, where a limited number of wristbands are allocated by not-too-onerous lottery. We crocodile the two miles up the hill and down through the checkpoints to the action, arriving in good time for the official start of the street party at 10 o'clock. We occupy ourselves by wandering down Princes Street through the crowds at some fraction of a mile per hour strictly less than one. There are at least two large stages with bands (one generic Scottish, one Culture Club and Ms. Dynamite) and video screens, but the main attraction is the view of Edinburgh's Castle. Fireworks are planned to be fired from each of the seven hilltops at 000000, spotlighting the view of the castle underneath.
Having slowly wandered down to one end of Princes Street, we split into a going-to-the-pub party, a standing-where-we-are party and a wandering-up-and-down party. I am in the latter. We wander from nearly one end to nearly the other and back, which takes about 45 minutes. I decide to visit the toilet at this point, which occupies the next 45 minutes; 5 minutes making my way to the queues, 29 minutes 15 seconds in the queues/scrums, 45 seconds on the toilet - but what 45 seconds they were! - and 10 minutes making my way back from the toilets. (I completely miss Ms. Dynamite's set.) The crowds are "can seldom move" busy at the choke points where access and egress to Princes Street are governed and vary from "wait to get into the rare moving stream of traffic" busy to merely "main shopping street on the last Saturday before Christmas" busy elsewhere. I don't mind this.
The HogmanayCon group reforms and waits for the crucial second. A countdown is displayed on the video screens and people chant out the last twenty seconds or so; inevitably, but annoyingly, the chant is rather faster than the onscreen clock and people start to celebrate 2003 at least a second and a half too early. Didn't think of checking for leap seconds, come to think of it.
Wednesday 1st January 02003: There is much bouncing, hugging, kissing and miscellaneous merriment. Many fireworks are fired. It's an excellent display, but only lasts 6-8 minutes. Shortly afterwards, people start to leave Princes Street. Our crowd of fifteen, remarkably all still in contact with each other, join the mass exit. Someone has bought an official-merchandise teddy bear which is held aloft as a mascot for our group so we can indeed follow the bear, as per the old beer commercial. (The bear is soon named Waverley, after the train station.) I borrow people's mobile phones and try to phone home to wish my parents, but it takes three mobile phone networks and half an hour before I find sufficient gap to permit the call.
All told, well worth doing at least once and I'd like to do Princes Street again, but it has become very international with probably more tourists than native Scots. (They're presumably all celebrating at home or in the pubs.) The event wasn't quite as uninhibited as I had expected, thought and hoped - some random hugging of strangers, but not really very much. It's enough to make me consider making myself more uninhibited next year, painting my face ("HNY" seems a safe bet), rigging up helium balloons onto my clothes and so forth.
We return to Tanya's and sing Auld Lang Syne. 12 of us (soon dropping to about 9) then see the year in with a marathon game of Apples To Apples (weakly-competitive fitting of nouns to adjectives) that sees us exhaust all 100 adjectives in the adjective deck. (There are 99 adjectives and a blank; our blank was "top-heavy".) David and I get a lift home and I get to sleep some time around five or so.
We rise shortly before noon, shower and David improvises a pasta dish with a sauce of melted cheese, tomato soup and kidney beans. More games, more pizza, a round of goodbyes then back for the last night. I sit down and chat with David for twenty minutes - the first time we get to sit and chat, though we've talked quite a lot while in transit - before packing and getting to sleep at about 3:30.
Thursday 2nd January 02003: Rise at 8:30, shower, shave, finish packing. David gives me a lift to Princes Street and I wander up and down for about 40 minutes trying to find a newsagent that's able to meet the enormous property costs. A McDonalds brunch (for I hadn't had my full complement of twelve evil value meals in 2002) with gratuitous ice-cream was wolfed down before catching the coach and a very unremarkable, wet journey home.
Over the four and a half playing days, I played twenty-nine games, of which twenty-four were different. Eight of these twenty-four were new to me.
New thrills: Streetcar, Settlers of Canaan, Shark (x2), Trias (x2), Abenteur Menscheit, Marracash, Anagrams and Articulate. Old favourites: Pizarro and Co., Acquire, Ra (x3), Perudo/Liar's Dice (x2), Medici, Sherlock Holmes Card Game, Railway Rivals, Mamma Mia, Carcassonne, Hols der Geier, Apples to Apples, Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers, Seafarers of Catan, Cities and Knights of Catan, Drunter & Druber and Bohnanza.
Most interesting new game was Marracash, which brings a number of satisfying auction and tile-placement decisions, though I enjoyed all eight in their own way. The new game least to my taste was Trias, but I'm weak at it for similar reasons as I am in Web of Power, El Grande and other majority games. I enjoyed playing four Settlers of Catan variants without playing the original. Seafarers remains the weakest, having very little of extra interest and boards which tend to permit little production and make for a slow, frustrating game. The additions in Abenteur Menscheit (it translates to "Dawn of Man", though known pretty generally as A Bender Mineshite) and particularly Cities and Knights do make the game rather more interesting to compensate for the increased length. Settlers of Canaan introduces little, but at least has a turbo-charged board leading to satisfyingly much production.
In general, I won more than my fair share at Perudo/Liar's Dice, despite one particularly memorable hand where I managed to forget there were only seven dice and in all seriousness bid eight fives. (The last bid had been four ones, all seven dice were ones or fives and I didn't fancy raising to five ones.) The only non-Perudo game I won was Drunter & Druber. I managed straight third places at Ra, regardless of whether there were three, four or five players.
The main reason why the weekend was so memorable was the excellent company - far more fun than another New Year at home with the parents. It was particularly cool to get to know Eric Norton, whom I had only briefly met previously and had never played anything with before. Eric is very nice-mad indeed and has a fantastic sense of humour. He even got most of my geekier references; when I made a passing comment to a sound effect from a laser game ten years ago, he even knew what I was on about. (That sounds somewhat gratuitously obscure even for me, but it did make some sort of sense in context. Trust me.) It's probably fairly unhelpful to say that two people are like each other, but I enjoyed Eric Norton's company in much the same way that I enjoy Nick Parish's company, thus making Eric responsible for HogmanayCon's para-Parish paradise. Ayyythengyew...
As usual I ended up being the overcompensating-shy-extrovert attention-seeking class clown; alas, as usual, probably more of my jokes missed the mark than hit. Ah well. I'll grow up one day and I hope that it will be in the company of entertaining folk who share the same passions and interests as me. For instance, I can see where people would be coming from if they thought I was like David Tittle, though an alternate universe twelve-years-younger version. (And I wouldn't mind the comparison one bit!)
So here's to friends, here's to gatherings of friends and here's to having proactively generous friends who go out of their way to create good times for others. Of course, I think they enjoyed creating the good times for others; they said they did and you could tell that there was a lot of communal cameraderie, convivial company and good humour going round. All you can do is pay their hospitality, generosity and goodwill forward. If ever there were an argument for erring on the aggressive side when acquiring wherewithal, it would be the potential to do good things for others that money enables.
Happy New Year!