Friday: got a little sleep, caught coach without any problems. Slept a little on the coach. Changed at Milton Keynes Coachway/Hellhole, which happily wasn't nearly as bad as last time I got stuck there. Got to Cambridge without a problem. Walked through possibly the third or fourth most attractive town in England to the house of j4; it had been raining on and off all day, but I had been in a vehicle throughout the showers, until about 300 yards from Maison Badgère. Found that I was a little later than I had thought, discovered that folk had departed for the pub. Walked to the pub. Happily I had an umbrella, but unfortunately my bag was less waterproof than I had hoped. Fortunately, I had packed things inside in plastic bags so that they escaped the worst of the wetness, but it still wasn't so great.
Caught up with >lj users="j4","lnr","bopeepsheep" and "imc"< at The Carlton Arms, which had very comfortable decor. j4 and lnr were looking show-stoppingly attractive in their dress-to-impress outfits. Incidentally those of you who were at university at about the same time as me and read the local ox.* newsgroups may be amused to know that imc indeed is owned by the one and only famous poster imc; he hasn't used it yet, but it was registered for him by his wife. How sweet.
Ordered fish and chips from the bar. Apparently my friends hadn't had a bad meal from there before, but I fear my visit heralded the first time for everything; the batter of the fish was tasty, but the fish inside got very cold - inedibly so - rather more quickly than you'd like. Couple that with my lack of sleep and a fairly intense soaking (even with an umbrella) and I called it a night quite early, walking back to the house and making a very early leap into bed.
Saturday: dreamt I had slept very late, woke up very early - 5:30am. Tried to get back to sleep and failed. Showered and made my way to the MSO Cambridge board games event. Morning: Puerto Rico, the board game fandom's huge hit from last year and the strongest "Best game since..." contender for about five years. I'm not convinced it's all that and a bag of chips; it's certainly a clever piece of work, though rather short in the laughs department. 14 players in the tournament. I finished 3rd of 5 in round 1 and 4th of 5 in round 2 to end 10th of 14 overall - entirely acceptable and two entertaining games. There wasn't quite enough time for a third round in the tournament, but five of us played a non-tournament game of it afterwards just for fun anyway. (I went for weird things that I would never normally do and came last by a country mile accordingly.)
The other entertaining thing that happened in the morning referred to a stall at the event where a couple were selling a word game of their own device named Blank. Imagine, if you will, a loop of 32 lettered chips. (You can turn these chips over for variety.) The loop attractively marshals them in position so that six of them are visible in a matrix of two rows and three columns at any one time. There are blank spaces between the columns and three blank spaces on either side. Accordingly, a typical setup might look like:
_ _ _ A _ E _ T _ _ _
_ _ _ N _ R _ I _ _ _
You play the game individually or as part of a partnership of two. You have the duration of a three-minute sand-timer to write down as many legal words as possible according to the matrix shown.
Words must pertain to either the top row of letters or the bottom row. You have three ways in which a word might be legal:
1) it takes the form ___A_E_ (that is, it must use the two leftmost letters with precisely one letter after each one and one or more letters beforehand - eg stAgEd);
2) it takes the form _E_T___ (that is, it must use the two rightmost letters with precisely one letter before each one and one or more letters afterwards - eg dEnTist);
3) it takes the form ___A_E_T___ (that is, it must use one or more letters followed by the leftmost letter, one more letter, the middle letter, one more letter, the right letter and then one or more letters - eg tAlEnTed).
You score points according to the length of the word in each case. Type 3 words, involving all three given letters, earn bonus points; producing a type 3 word for both the top set of letters and the bottom set of letters earns a super bonus in excess. It's not that good a game, simply because a very strong tactic is to find an appropriate prefix or suffix which fits the pattern and then come up with as many words as possible featuring that prefix or suffix.
The game had been in attendance at the previous year's event as well. It's an excellent tournament to hold at an event, simply because people can roll up, learn the game in a minute, play it in three minutes and have their word list scored in about one minute - an ideal no-previous-preparation five-minute chunk of fun. Repeat as many times as you care to. Last year's tournament operated on the basis of whoever scored the largest score over the day won a copy of the game. I managed to win two sets of Blank with different partners last year, the latter with Hogmanaycon hostess Tanya Fox (see first entry of 2003, passim).
This year, Tanya and I repeated our partnership. In our first game together this weekend, we scored 224, the highest score of the day by about 50. (Most pairs tend to score 30-70 in their first game depending upon how easy the set of letters drawn is; nice frequent consonants and an odd vowel or two and you're motoring, something weirder and you're struggling. Scoring over 100 first time is an excellent sign. 200+ is perfectly possible but takes practice.) This score topped the leaderboard all day.
Afternoon: ate a baked potato with butter. The afternoon's tournament was the Reiner-Rama, four modern proprietary board games connected only by the fact that they were designed by the same man - Reiner Knizia. The games in the tournament were Modern Art (auction game about selling paintings), Traumfabrik (bidding game about producing movies), Africa (rather random tile collection game about exploring the Dark Continent) and Taj Mahal (bluffing cardplay game with a tacked-on theme that makes no sense at all). There were 10 in the tournament, arranged as two groups of five - accordingly we ran this as two rounds in which each group played two games.
I taught Modern Art to the three new players out of the five in our group; a fortunate seating position, some good card draws and steady, competent play on my part saw a comfortable win here. Traumfabrik featured a litany of unfocused decisions on my part from start to finish, good for last place. Africa had apparently very few meaningful decisions so I wasn't at all upset at a joint fourth place finish here.
Now at this point it was time for the day's grand final of Blank; the top-scoring four teams were all invited back to play three more identical boards against each other, so it was a test of pure comparative skill rather than a competition to see which pair would get the luckiest sets of letters. Tanya and I scored a miserable 39 on the first set (compared to 45, another 39 and a 3) and a considerably chirpier 259 on the second set. As next best there was about half that, we were hopeful for the last place. The last set saw everyone come up against the softest set of letters ever; between us, Tanya and I notched up a ridiculous 333 points to win the competition by what might politely be referred to as "a distance". It was most entertaining. We each earned a Blank set for our troubles. (Again, but they make great presents.)
Much of the fun of the game is coming up with fancy words. I was particularly pleased to produce KHALIF (legal according to our dictionary - can't remember which one, except that it was about yay thick) and the illegal but very entertaining KNICK-KNACKS, BOTTLE-NECKS and PTOLEMY. Other people pulled LOBOTOMIES out of the bag, which was amusing. Tanya and I were the strongest (and by far most practiced) team by some margin, but not necessarily that good at the game; there are many of you who after only half an hour's practice I would only want to face with a considerable handicap in my favour.
After the Blank final, we returned to the end of the Reiner-Rama to fit in a highly abbreviated round of Taj Mahal, where my haven't-a-clue-how flukey third place contributed to a final Reiner-Rama position of 6th out of 10. We were all kicked out of the building at 7 o'clock and I returned to the party, given a lift by the long-suffering and ever-kind MSO Cambridge co-co-ordinator Paul Smith.
The party in the evening was even more entertaining than the night before's, not least caused by the presence of addedentry and huskyteer. However, even getting glittered and eyelinered up (alas no sparkly fingernail polish, but this was the cultural equivalent) wasn't enough; the stresses, tiredness and general lack of comfort soon caught up with me. Even seeing other nice people who I hadn't seen for years like fivemack and nice people who I nearly hadn't seen for years (well, had only briefly seen once, but other than that, not for years...) like beingjdc and truecatachresis wasn't as inspirational as I had hoped it would be. I just felt I had nothing to say to any of them; they were all so witty and well-dressed and comfortable and they all just fit in in a way I did not.
I don't want to dwell on it, but my body meant it wasn't really a great night. This is no slight on j4 or sion_a who clearly did and do give excellent parties, but more just a reflection of the unfortunate coincidences of food, weather and tiredness. (I particularly didn't enjoy hearing people sing Happy Birthday to Janet while I was being ill on the toilet, though I was joining in myself quietly.) It was nice to see people again, but somehow it ought to have been a lot more fun than I found it.
There's more I could put here, but I don't think I will. Please make appropriate implications from the fact that I've spent a long time telling you about a not-particularly-good word game and a little time telling you about the party. Don't feel that anything bad happened or that it reflected badly on anyone who was there, least of all the hosts. These things just happened and they were nobody's fault.
Today: got up at a reasonable time, showered, had a chance to chat with j4 at last, distributed book presents. (Winning the Blank yesterday caused, shall we say, a favourable redistribution of birthday / housewarming / thank-you present availability.) :-) Went to the MSO again. Very pleasant day. Morning: Acquire tournament, a tileplay game about share dealing in big businesses. I finished 3rd of 5 in all three of my games and accordingly - and satisfyingly - finished exactly midway in the rankings. Afternoon: Dwarves, a small-press cardplay/tileplay game with some intricate, innovative and very cleverly interweaved mechanics whose theme is that of dwarves mining the ground for precious deposits. A distant 3rd of 3 in a slow game, a close 1st of 3 in a quick one, 4th of 6 overall.
Company at the MSO is always very pleasant and there was a definite, positive buzz this year about the forthcoming MSO 7 about which I am going to go on and on and on in the coming months; maybe it isn't just me who feels that this one really might be the best yet after all. Good people, good games, good times. This year's MSO Cambridge is apparently about a quarter or a third bigger than last year's, though I perceive it is about twice as busy and has about twice as much buzz to it. Fingers crossed that the growth continues for next year.
Evening: went back to stay with Geoff Hubbard, a MSO-regular Othello player who kindly hosted me last year. Geoff made home-made hamburgers and rice for dinner; it was the first time that I had had hamburgers which included carrots and oats in with the usual mince, onion, garlic, spices and binding egg, but it did work well and I do hope that it won't be the last. Afterwards we watched the first part of the World Snooker Final in the background and I've been checking my e-mail and Friends list on a borrowed laptop. Tonight's been a really lovely, quiet night. It does seem strange and contradictory that I should have enjoyed tonight rather more than last night, but that's the way it's turned out.
Tomorrow: the English Settlers of Catan championship. Last year, I ran it and played in it, finishing 5th (? 6th?) out of 20 (effectively, 16). I'm hoping this year's event will be bigger and better still. After that, it'll be the overnight coach home, which promises to be interesting, but hopefully not too challenging.
Better night's sleep last night, but I really need to call it a night now. Type to you again on Tuesday.