RogerBW's Blog

Summer Stabcon 2015 06 July 2015

This long-running games convention started off as a Diplomacy gathering. These days it's a blend of board-gaming and roleplaying. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

Friday

Not the best trip to Stockport I've had; it took a total of six hours where it's usually doable in about four. (Red sections are below 50mph. Note that apart from the ends this trip is done entirely on motorways.)

I spent most of this evening chatting and trying to cool off. Did get in some Splendor, and a game new to me, Quartermaster General.

This is a quick-playing WWII game, basically about supply chains, though it's dressed up a bit. The frustrating thing is that you're limited in what you can do by your cards: you have seven in hand, and you can discard as many as you like each turn, but once your deck is exhausted you can basically take no actions for the rest of the game. Each nation has its own deck, and since we had six players each had one nation. (UK, USA, USSR, vs Germany, Italy and Japan; it's a team game.)

That said, the cards are interesting: apart from the obvious build and attack actions, there are events which give some sort of special one-off bonus (e.g. General Winter lets the Soviets destroy enemy armies in specific locations). There are also Status cards, which permanently change a rule for you (Shvernik's Evacuation Council means that Soviet armies are never out of supply), though they can occasionally be lost, and Response cards, which are played face-down but which are triggered when specific events happen.

Unfortunately you can only play one card per turn, and there are only twenty turns. So my early dreams of spreading across central Asia were entirely unattainable.

I found that as the Soviet Union I was able more or less to hold off Germany – which was unfortunate, as I wanted to tempt them in and then kill them off with General Winter. Japan and Italy ramped about all over the place and built up a strong points lead, though not enough to win the game.

By the end the Allies had caught up with and overtaken the Axis, not helped by Japan running out of cards (and the UK had too). I think I was the weak partner, but an awful lot of it was luck of the draw. Even so, I'm distinctly tempted to play this again.

Saturday

A present for the organisers (who have now put on fifty of these things). (See the 25th anniversary celebratory box given out in January.)

Chat in the morning and an RPG session in the afternoon, using the Maschine Zeit rules, intended for cinematic styles of play. I enjoyed the game but felt that we didn't quite get into the spirit of the thing; our goals weren't really all that incompatible, so we acted more like a normal RPG party (which sticks together to fight the external threat) than like the squabbling self-interested people we were probably meant to be. (This wasn't helped by the weather being horribly hot; I had trouble thinking on my feet, which like many indie systems this one seems to require.) An interesting conceit, though, and I wouldn't mind trying it again. Or stealing ideas; I've had vague plans for a horror game set aboard the International Space Station for a while now.

Most of the players from that game went on to play Tokaido, which has been floating around for a while. You are a traveller along the road from Kyoto to Edo; you can stop at various places along the way to buy souvenirs, donate money to temples, bathe in hot springs, and so on, and your goal is to have the most enjoyable experience overall. Each character gets a different bonus rule, encouraging them to do different activities.

The main interaction is that the rearmost player moves first, and has to move forward (as far as he likes), but can't stop on a spot where another player already is. So we progressed more or less as a cluster, occasionally skipping ahead one or two spaces to get to a particular sort of place but generally without much in the way of gaps between us.

It's simple to learn (though the iconography is not ideal in poorish light), but surprisingly complex. I definitely want to play this again.

Sunday

I was wandering around after breakfast when I came across a game of Firefly just getting started. I asked if they had space, and they said yes if I already knew how to play. Er, yes, I know how to play.

Ships and captains had already been chosen, but Nandi was still available (as was Malcolm, oddly enough). The story card was not yet revealed, but turned out to be Patience's War. (OK, Malcolm might have been a better choice.)

We soon dashed off in various directions, completing initial missions to get reputations with the necessary contacts.

I gratuitously overused Nandi's ability to hire crew without charge (don't ask). This meant I ended up paying $200 to complete a Harken job, but it was worth it to avoid Customs Inspection.

The Mr Universe job was a bit harder to arrange, but eventually I managed to get things together.

I quietly headed off for the first goal, with a bunch of expendable fighters. A couple of other players also qualified, but needed to build up their resources more before starting.

Towards the end I was building up ridiculous amounts of Contraband (from salvage ops and misbehave cards), and stopped off to sell them, which dealt with any money worries. Even with that, and another delay to recruit more meat-shields, my first-goal lead of two or three turns was enough to win me the game. (Not something that happens often.)

In play at another table: Cthulhu Wars. I think this is the second-biggest boardgame I have seen. (I own a copy of OGRE Designer's Edition.)

And so home again in around five and a half hours, with more jams and roadworks on the M6 and an especially long segment just south of Birmingham, waiting to get past a disintegrated caravan. (Why are caravans even allowed? All they seem to do is cause trouble: they're slow and unresponsive because they're towed by underpowered cars, they have lousy visibility, their drivers don't seem to grasp the idea of an articulated vehicle, they're supremely fragile… at least a motor-home is built on a truck chassis and suspension that's designed for that class of load. And you can't go anywhere with a caravan that you couldn't go with a tent, which is probably warmer.)


  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 12:55pm on 06 July 2015

    I have slept in both caravans and tents. There is no way in hell anyone will get me to willingly sleep in a tent again. A caravan I'll do in warm weather. Caravans are just so much more civilised inside than a tent.

    When my family went caravanning in the late 70s and early 80s, my dad bought a Peugot 504 2 litre automatic as a towing car. It weighed just over a ton (23 cwt) which matters for braking (you don't want the caravan shoving the car about), and had the power to accelerate pulling a 15 foot caravan uphill. Going over the pyrenees into Spain we used to overtake lorries going uphill. Of course the car did 22 mpg normally and 18 mpg towing the caravan, but that's what you need to tow. And the automatic gearbox really helps with getting going, my dad once drove carefully out of a flooded caravan site where everyone else was paying the local farmer to pull them out with a tractor.

    We also use to weigh the nosewheel of the caravan with bathroom scales which most people don't bother with, and load all the weight (including the gas bottles) over the caravan axle to avoid fishtailing. It was a completely stable setup at 70mph, way above the legal caravan speed limit.

    As with many things in life, with caravanning knowing what you're doing and having appropriate equipment are both important.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:15pm on 06 July 2015

    If I had had to bet on one of my readers having caravanning experience, it would have been you. Thanks!

    It seems to me that, judging by the number of drivers who seem surprised by the way their newly-articulated vehicles behave, at the very least an extra bit of compulsory driver training is needed. And perhaps a minimum power/weight rating for the assembly.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 03:05pm on 06 July 2015

    My information is 30 years out of date. But there was then a legal requirement for the towing vehicle to weigh quite a bit more than the thing being towed, I forget the ratio but it may have been of the order 50% more. And that required the thing being towed to have brakes of its own (which push the towing vehicle to activate, you hit the brakes and the caravan pushes into you). If the trailer is unbraked like a lot of small car trailers the required weight ratio was greater.

    There was no requirement back then for extra driver training, I have no idea of the current situation but I note my licence permits towing a caravan. However as with many things on the driving licence that could be grandfathered in from when I passed my test in 1983, if you pass today you get a more limited set of things you can drive and I don't know about caravans.

    My dad also uprated the shock absorbers and springs on the rear axle of the Peugeot 504. He bought shocks with extra springs round them to go inside the main springs. I remember having to grease the rubbery sheath that was round the new springs to get them through the mounting brackets, hammering them in. This is while laid under a one ton car up on car ramps on the drive helping my dad. I loved helping my dad work on cars when was in my teens.

    My dad understood the behaviour of an articulated vehicle because he was an engineer by training. He used to get out and study a corner he had to back round and plan how to do it before moving anything. He used to cheat and had a big bungy band to put on the reversing lever, normally when you reverse a caravan the lever only holds the caravan brakes off until you pull forward but that was a pain, hence the big bungy band. Totally illegal, highly effective. Just remember to stop and take it off before driving down the road any distance.

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