Tag Archives: Chess

Michael Parker (1958-2021)

Michael Jonathan Parker (mostly known as Mike in gaming circles) was the only son of Stan and Pam and was born on 27th August 1958 in Oxford at the Nuffield Maternity Home (part of the old Radcliffe Infirmary).  Brought up in the Botley area, he went to Mathew Arnold School where he was one of just three pupils who took O-Level Astronomy—a first for the school and pretty unusual anywhere at the time.

Mike Parker
– Image by Pushpendra Rishi

In 1976, Mike went on to study electronic engineering at the University of Hull, after which he returned to Oxfordshire to work in the developing world of IT.  Mike spent the rest of his life in the county, living in Botley until 2015 when he moved a short way down the A34, to Didcot.  Mike had many interests, including music and American football where he was a statistician for Oxford Saints.  One of his most enduring past-times though, was playing games.

Mike Parker & The Magic Folk
– Image from Mike Parker (origin unknown)

It was as a young man that this interest first developed, when he played Chess with his father.  They played regularly, both together and with friends.  Then, when the Oxford Magic: The Gathering scene started in the mid-1990s, Mike became hooked on that.  In the early days he played at events and tournaments, but more recently his passion was his Cube, the curated set he used for drafting.

Mike Parker
– Image from Didcot Games Club (origin unknown)

Mike worked hard on balancing his Cube, introducing new cards with each new release and attended every pre-release event in Oxford.  He also bought premium foil versions of cards, making his a very special Cube to play with.  Mike was well-known for favouring green when drafting, so if you were sat next to him at the table, you could usually be fairly certain that colour would be taken before you saw it.  Mike’s Cube Sundays were legendary and he continued to draft weekly until events intervened.

Mike with Mike and Joe setting up a new club
– Image from Mike Parker (origin unknown)

Around the turn of the millennium, every Friday night, Mike was playing Magic in Didcot.  So, when one of the Magic players started Didcot Games Club in 2001, Mike joined them too.  He was there from the first night, and took responsibility for looking after the finances.  His interest in the collectable nature of Magic quickly transferred, and he developed a fondness for Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot, and later Dominion which Mike collected all the expansions for and also played often.

Mike Parker
– Image from Didcot Games
Club (origin unknown)

As well as playing at Didcot Games Club, he was also an occasional visitor to the Oxford Meeples meetings and always attended the quarterly “Big DoG” events that they run.  Over the years Mike also put in appearances at other conventions including OxCon and UKGE.

Mike Parker
– Image by Pushpendra Rishi

In time, he became a much valued regular at boardGOATS too (where he was “Burgundy” on the website, and known as “Ham, Egg & Chips Man” by the staff at The Horse and Jockey).  When he moved from Botley to Didcot after he retired from working at Sophos, Gweeples became his local group and he soon started playing games there as well.  In fact, if there was a local group playing games, it was highly likely that Mike would be a regular.

Mike Parker and firends at Thirsty Meeples
– Image from Mike Parker (origin unknown)

Mike was an omnivorous gamer: while he loved playing complex strategy games, he also really enjoyed lighter games.  Aside from Magic, Concordia and Orléans were two of his favourites and he was well known for his good-natured grumbling, muttering and moaning just before his strategy paid off and he emerged victorious.

Mike Parker
– Image by Pushpendra Rishi

As well as complicated fare, Mike was equally at home playing family-friendly games like Bohnanza, Wingspan, Ticket to Ride, and 6 Nimmt!.  Indeed he was almost unbeatable at Splendor and at one point held a two year unbroken streak.  The only games he really wasn’t fond of were “social deduction” games, but even then he’d cheerfully join in if that was what someone else wanted to play.

Mike Parker
– Image by Daniel Monticelli

Mike sadly passed away suddenly, but peacefully, in December 2021 (funeral 4pm on Friday 28th January in Garford).  Right up to the end he was engaged in his gaming passion, playing in person and also online via Steam (where he was mike_parker), and researching material on Board Game Arena and Board Game Geek (where he was Bored_Mike).  Below are some of the comments from friends and fellow gamers who will all miss his unique blend of humour, gaming brilliance, and kindness.  Very simply, Mike was a lovely man who has gone too soon.


I’m going to miss Mike Parker, those of you who knew him from Magic he was around from pretty much the beginning of the scene in Oxford.

This guy had a heart of gold.

– Seraphina Namine Lorell, Oxford Magic


Mike was very welcoming when I first started playing with the Oxford Magic group back in 2001. I remember the many occasions we compared our RG builds at pre-releases and drafts! (Before Gruul was invented 😉)

– Mark Walker, Oxford Magic


Mike was always lovely to see and play against at prereleases – kind and friendly with a great sense of humour (especially if his pool or your pool was bad).  He was a lovely man and my dad always loved seeing him at magic events as the “older crowd” too.

– Alice Walker, Oxford Magic


I am really sorry to hear about Mike 😢

Mike to me was a really gentle man even when he was completely destroying you at a game! I am really going to miss his complaints that the game was already going horribly wrong on turn one before proceeding to beat us all! I have many great memories playing against him.  He was friendly and warm and will be sorely missed.

– Tom (Ivory), boardGOATS


Mike was such a lovely person. I’m so sad to hear this.

– Katie Roberts, Oxford Magic


I’m gutted. Mike was such a lovely man. Gentle, kind and welcoming. His Cube Sundays were legendary and I will miss him dearly.

– Jamie Ball, Oxford Magic


Such sad news, Mike was a true gentleman and all round great person. I fondly remember seeing him and interacting with him at pre-release events for every new set, and loved playing against him, as well as his legendary Cube sessions held over the years, I will miss sitting down at the table, seeing all the packs laid out and of course, the box of mini rolls that he always seemed to have readily available. I also saw him quite often when he still lived in Botley as he would often come to my checkout when I was working in the co-operative food store there.

Needless to say, he will be greatly missed and will stay in our hearts for all time. Rest In Peace Mike ❤️

– Aaron Williams, Oxford Magic


Mike was always willing to play any game with anybody whether they were hardened gamers or new to the joys of boardgames. He was definitely one of the good guys, he even put up with me calling him Eric for several of our days of gaming until Joanne (my wife) asked me why I was calling him that when his name was Mike.  Mike, the gentleman that he was, never corrected me and just carried on as if it was normal. Every time we met up we joked about it.

Joanne, said that he was a kind man, and she always enjoyed gaming with him; she knew she was going to have a good time, no matter what the outcome.  She’ll miss the muttering when a card draw went badly, or someone sneaked in and took the space/card/resource he wanted. He played a mean game of Concordia, a favorite game for both of us, I know because he beat me on many many occasions. I was also part of the 2 year Splendor losing streak 🙂 and so were a lot of the other attendees at our events.

I never got to play his favorite game Orléans with him, but I do know that some of my friends bought the game after his teaching of it, which I think says a lot about him.

– Andy Gordon, Oxford Meeples


Really sad to hear a great person has left us 😥
Rest well Mike you will be missed by the MtG community

– Andrew Gardner, Oxford Magic


Mike would often give me advice on what to do in a game if he saw I was struggling. Quite often I would take a resource/place a dobbie/pick a card that he was after, and he would mutter, grumble, and be gracious about it. In all the short years that I have known him, he had always been gracious, and good humoured. He will leave a gigantic hole in the Oxfordshire gaming family.

– Purple, boardGOATS & Didcot Games Club


That’s awful news. Mike was such a lovely bloke, always had a top time going round his place to play his Cube.

– Huw Morris, Oxford Magic


This is such sad news. He was instrumental in inducting myself and many other Gweeples friends to heavier Euros like Concordia and Orléans. He will be sorely missed.

– Daniel Monticelli, Gweeples


His steady presence and gaming skill will be missed. I can’t tell you how many times he beat us at Concordia and Splendor. Happy gaming Mike.

– Pushpendra Rishi, Gweeples


When I first started to play in the local magic tournament scene Mike was my opponent to beat. Our Mike-Mirror-Matches will be amongst the fondest of memories of my early years in Didcot.

The generosity Mike showed to new and young players was characteristic. He often donated many of his drafted cards to those just starting into the hobby. Years later I saw the room he had dedicated to storing the larger portion of his collection, and I can understand that the moving of those excess cards might not have been purely altruistic. 😀

Mike was a good friend. As he moved to Didcot my wife, Nikki, and I lived just around the corner. We had him over for many a games night. The Christmas before my daughter was born we had Mike over for a Christmas meal, all our plans had been messed around due to ill timed hospital visits. So, missing our family we reached out to him. Had we not been in the mix of the pandemic we had hoped to invite him this year too. As it was everyone here went into isolation for the first two weeks of 2022 so we were clapping ourselves on the back for not exposing him. When we found out he’d passed, that felt hollow… on top of the grief.

– Mike Hargreaves, Didcot Magic & Gweeples


Mike was a large part of our gaming community being an active and respected member of every group between Didcot and Oxford (and likely a few more we do not yet know about!). He was a patient teacher and introduced many of our members to games such as Orléans and Concordia… but will likely be remembered for his skill at Splendor, a game I have lost to him many times.

In our community there is a well known phrase that when playing a game the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning. Mike embodied the virtues of this statement and will be missed by many.

– Dave Stephenson, Gweeples


Mike was a structural part of boardGOATS, always present, and always happy to play any game from Love Letter through to Terraforming Mars with great skill and commitment. I can honestly say, if I managed to beat Mike at anything, it would be an occasion to come home feeling that I had really achieved something.

– Anon., boardGOATS & Didcot Games Club


Gutted. Mike was such a nice guy.

– Max Gilbert, Oxford Magic


So sad, but so many fantastic memories. Like standing in the pub car park after games night, freezing to death for well over an hour and getting a crick in the neck spotting Perseids. Or playing games remotely with Mike who didn’t have a camera, and everyone instantly knowing his dice roll hadn’t gone the way he wanted by his immediate response—he could so easily have changed the result and we’d all have been none the wiser, but that would never have occurred to him which made it all the funnier. Or recently, when we did the Quiz, Mike indignantly marching off with his stick to correct the Landlord and Question Master because their answer to a question on NFL wasn’t right (he got the verdict overturned). And so many more great memories.

Mike was such a lovely chap, kind, funny, modest and unassuming. He was competitive and brilliant competition, but always magnanimous in victory or defeat, even if he had been hard done by (though he generally won more than he lost).

We will all miss him so very much.

– Blue, boardGOATS & Didcot Games Club


I first knew Mike from Magic tournaments 20 years ago…

– Jonathan Challis, Oxford Magic & Gweeples


Mike was very welcoming when I joined the group a few years ago. I will miss his good natured grumbling about how badly he was doing, often before he pulled off a masterstroke and won the game.

– Jez (Pine), boardGOATS


He will be missed. He was such a lovely gentleman.

– Kirsten Christensen, boardGOATS


Mike was a very good game player. He was one of those who it was challenge to beat. Whether he won or lost he just seemed to be happy to have played. When he started muttering and huffing about his in game choices anyone who didn’t know him would think he was doing badly and was going to lose, but for those who played him regularly we knew that he was most likely going to win with a big margin. I’ve been playing games with Mike for nearly 10 years now. He was amiable and fun to play against, a joke and a laugh about the game was never far away.

An abiding memory of Mike I will always have was actually when our game group did the pub quiz. When the answer to an American Football question was not what Mike had told us, he went straight up to the quiz master to inform him his information was out of date. It was funny as we had never seen Mike so forceful before! The point was given after all.

We will miss Mike at BoardGOATS, as a gamer and as a friend.

– Chris (Green), boardGOATS & Didcot Games Club


Rest well Mike. You were a lovely person to know and it’s a huge shame I hadn’t seen you in a long time since I moved away. He was a wonderful man.

– George Youens, Oxford Magic


I didn’t get out to gaming events very often, but pretty much every time I did, whether in Stanford, Didcot, or around Oxford, Mike was there. We seemed to have pretty similar tastes in board games, so played together a good many times, and I enjoyed every one of them, with a sense of friendly rivalry and appreciation of a game well played.

As things return to normal and we get back to seeing people to play games again it will seem wrong to not have him there. Mike was a lovely guy and will be very much missed.

– Rob Harper, Didcot Games Club


I’m very sorry to hear about Mike. He had a great sense of humour and was guaranteed to win any game of Splendor he played. However, he would do it with such a cheeky smile that you could not be angry at him for long. His knowledge of and interest in board games was profound, and it was always great to chat about the moving and shaking in the board game world.

He will be greatly missed by everyone at boardGOATS, and I am sending my best wishes to all his family and friends.

– Claire Murray, boardGOATS


He was a very enthusiastic MtG fan and good guy in general. A blow to the community for sure.

– Felix Lloyd Read, Oxford Magic


We will miss you Mike; Ham, Egg and Chips will always have your name on it – as will the end seat at the Jockey – may you spread your wings wide to play Wingspan again – onward and goodbye.

– Stuart (Lime), boardGOATS


We would like to say in a few words:
Mike was a huge and unforgettable part of GOATS;
What’s the best way for Mike to start the games or quiz
Than having his Ham, Egg and Chips?!

Mike would never follow Twitter,
But we always liked the way he wittered;
It was never silent during games,
Once you found out that Mike was in his winning place;
Mike and Splendor?
Brace yourselves as you would always have to surrender.

If you want to play the Wingspan game,
Just think of Mike, as it would be the winning name;
And if you want to play some more,
Be prepared for it, as Mike would always score!

And in case you don’t know this —
But Mike the wizzer was also an excellent quizzer:
Mike would score a lot of points
For our incredible Team, “GOATS”;
And we all know where Mike was also at his best,
It would be his American football interest.

Mike’s American football passion
Scored the points for GOATS in a matter of seconds;
This became clear to us and averted disaster,
When Mike decided to approach the quiz master!
Do you know anything about the Washington Football Team?
Mike could definitely tell you,
As he had American football expertise.

And with a great honour to our friend
We will always play his favourite game in Mike’s name;
Mike was our very precious friend
And without him, GOATS will never be the same.

We all know when playing a quiz or a game,
we will think of Mike as he was the best gamer friend.

Mike was such an amazing and humble gentleman.
He will be greatly missed by all,
And the gap will never be filled.
He might be gone, but never forgotten.
Rest in peace, Mike. 💜

– Jirina (Lilac), boardGOATS


Huge thanks to everyone who contributed, especially those who helped with information and detail without whom this would not have been possible—you know who you are and your help is greatly appreciated.


Playing with Money at The British Museum: Currency and Games

Following on from their visit to see the “Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered” exhibition at the V & A Museum of Childhood, under beautiful blue skies, Blue and Pink set out to Oxford Parkway once more, to visit The British Museum to see their “Playing with Money: Currency and Games” exhibition.  Entry to The British Museum is free, which is excellent value given the number of truly remarkable, internationally significant exhibits that are there, including the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles.

The British Museum
– Image by boardGOATS

Of more interest to gamers are a large number of pieces from the Lewis Chess Set, one of which was recently discovered in a drawer in a family home in Edinburgh.  These are actually a number of pieces from at least four sets and maybe more, but are iconic and were used as the basis of the design for the Chess set in the film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  In addition to the Lewis Chessmen, The British Museum also has a permanent display entitled, “Games: People and Pastimes”, which includes a Nigerian Chess Set, a Syrian Mancala board, and a selection of Iranian playing cards.

The British Museum Exhibits
– Image by boardGOATS

There is also currently a specific exhibition entitled “Playing with Money: Currency and Games”, which is available until the end of the month.  This is in a small, side-gallery and and really focussed on the development of money in board games, from it’s use in The Landlord’s Game and Monopoly, to more recent games like Speculation, Dominion and Black FridayThe Noble Game of Swan, Ratrace, and Magic: The Gathering also featured, though the gallery was quite small so there were not as many exhibits as there were at the Museum of Childhood, nor were they as varied.  One of the most interesting displays was perhaps some of the money cards from Alhambra with the actual coins that inspired the artwork on the cards.

The British Museum, "Playing with Money: Currency and Games"
– Image by boardGOATS

Given the other exhibits, The British Museum is well worth a visit although the “Playing with Money: Currency and Games” exhibition is only open till 29th September 2019.

The British Museum, "Playing with Money: Currency and Games"
– Image by boardGOATS

Boardgames in the News: The Million Pound Lost Lewis Chess Piece

The iconic Lewis Chess pieces were found nearly two hundred years ago in the Outer Hebrides.  Also known as the Uig Chess pieces, they were made in the twelfth century and were carved from walrus ivory and whale teeth.  The “set” consists of seventy-eight pieces, most of which are exhibited at the British Museum, with the rest housed at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.  The British Museum suggests the pieces were made in Norway and belonged to a traveling merchant who lost them on his way to Ireland.

Lewis Chess men
– Image from britishmuseum.org

Although the collection is often referred to as a Chess “set”, the pieces show a large variation in size suggesting they may actually comprise several different sets, albeit with several pieces missing.  Six months ago, one of these turned up in a drawer in a family home in Edinburgh.  The walrus tusk “Warder” (the equivalent of a Rook) had been bought in 1964 for £5.  Now that authenticity has been confirmed, it is due to be auctioned at Sotheby’s on 2nd July and is expected to fetch up to a million pounds.  The original hoard contained a total of ninety-three artifacts, the whereabouts of four of which remain unknown. The moral?  Have a clear out – you never know what may be hiding in your sock drawer!

Lewis Chess men
– Image from Sotheby’s

5th February 2019

Far from being over-run by new people flocking to games night in response to our advert in the Parish Newsletter, it was one of the quietest weeks for ages.  With Ivory still on “sabbatical”, Mulberry in the States, and Pine, Pink and Red all having something better to do, for the first time in ages, we were down to just five and a single game.  Burgundy was just finishing eating and Blue was waiting for the imminent arrival of her pizza, so the group decided to play something short that could be played while feeding.  After a brief discussion the group began a game of Walk the Plank!, and inevitably, Blue’s pizza arrived just as it started.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Walk the Plank! is an old favourite that has been somewhat neglected by the group of late.  It is a very silly programming game where players control pirate meeples who try to push each other off the ship and, when plans go wrong, occasionally jump overboard.  The idea is that each player begins with a hand of action cards and simultaneously everyone chooses three cards to play and the order they are going to play them in, placing them in a stack with the first card on top.   Once everyone has chosen their cards, the players take it in turns to take the top card off their pile and carry out the action using one of their three “pirate-eeples”.  Actions include shoving other players meeples closer to the end of the plank (or into the sea); running towards the ship; retracting or extending the plank, and even changing along the plank pushing another player closer to the sea.  As we were playing with the Limited Edition which comes with some extra cards, so for a bit of variety, we added the Dynamite and Ghost Pirate cards.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

The first of the extra cards, “Dynamite”, pushes everyone on a given piece of plank one space closer to the sea. The other, the “Ghost Pirate”, scares everyone on a a piece of plank so much that they run away, half towards the sea and half towards the ship.  The newly bespectacled Green was of the opinion that the extra cards were generally a little over-powered, so we house-ruled it so that they could only be played once each.  When we play this game we include a couple of other house rules too:  according to the rules as written, the last piece of the three piece plank should not be removed when shortening the plank and the game is supposed finish when there are two meeples left.  While we understand why these rules exist, we find that sharing victory means the game feels a little unresolved so we play through to the bitter end.  Similarly, we quite like the madness removing the last plank adds, and in such a short game, crazy chaos seems entirely appropriate.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

And chaos there was aplenty this time round too:  Burgundy was quickly out of the game when the third and final of his meeples was banished to the deep.  As the first person to be eliminated, Burgundy was given the slightly dubious honour of returning as a Ghost.  In this mini-expansion, the player returns as a white pirate-eeple doomed to haunt the ship and generally cause mayhem for everyone else by playing one shove card per round.  When the last of Black’s pirates joined Burgundy’s there was some discussion about a second ghost, but we decided it would just prolong the game.  It wasn’t long before he had company on the sidelines though, leaving just Blue and Purple.  With both of them perched precariously on the end of what was left of the plank and Blue set to go first the game was her to take.  However, she decided she couldn’t take advantage of the position and instead retracted the plank unceremoniously pitching both of them into the drink.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

With Blue finished with her pizza, and it clear that nobody else was coming, the group decided to move on to the “Feature Game” which was to be Through the Desert.  This is an old game, but one that is very simple to play, though difficult to play well.  It is an area control game with pastel camels that many feel is reminiscent of the classic game, Go.  The game begins with players placing one camel in each colour on the board.  Each of these has a rider (Leader) in their own colour, so these camels are the start of the player’s camel trains or Caravans.  After the initial placements, on their turn, players take any two camels from the general supply and add them to the board.  There are a few rules about placement – each one must be placed next to camels of the same colour to become part of one of that player’s caravans, and must not be placed next to a caravan of the same colour belonging to another player (as this would cause them to join).

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

The aim of the game is to gain points through via the four sources.  Firstly, there are several oases marked with green plastic palm trees; players who connect a caravan to an oasis get five points.  There are also watering hole tokens—players who place a camel on these spaces can claim these tokens which are worth up to three points.  Players who finish with the longest Caravans in each of the colours are also rewarded with points at the end of the game.  The most lucrative source of points, but also the most risky is enclosing areas.  It is in this way that it is most like Go.  Go is a very ancient game played on square grid with black and white stones.  People often try to compare it to Chess, though in truth, beyond the facts one play plays black, the other white and the game is played on a rectilinear grid and both are very old, the two games have almost nothing in common.

– Image by Unsplash contributor sk

Chess is a game with a very rigid structure where players control armies that are lined up to face each other.  Each piece has a clearly defined role and movement pattern and games develop in a very particular way.  The highly structured nature of the game means strategies are developed by analysing all the possible or likely moves which makes it highly programmable.  In contrast, Go is all about territory and pattern analysis, which has traditionally made it much more challenging for computer programmers and it is only recently that software engineers have been able to use machine learning algorithms that have the ability to beat Go champions.  In Go, players place their stones on the intersections of a rectilinear grid with the aim of marking out territory.  There is a lot of psychology in the early moves with players declaring their space; if a player is too aggressive at the start, they won’t be able to defend their position, if they are too timid with their opening they will have lost before they’ve begun.

– Original image by Tomasz_Mikolajczyk on pixabay.com

Ultimately however, Go is a complex game of strategy where players are trying to capture their opponent’s stones and with i,t territory.  A single empty space inside a group is called an eye; for a group to remain alive it must contain at least two eyes.  Creating eye spaces in a player’s groups and trying to prevent their opponent from making eyes is one of the key aspects of Go.  It is in regard to building territory that Through the Desert is similar to Go, however, there are two significant differences.  Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the game is played on a hexagonal rather than a square grid.  The main difference is in the game-play though:  in Through the Desert pieces must be added to an existing caravan and surrounded pieces are not removed from the board.  Nevertheless, despite the differences it is unquestionably true that the Through the Desert is reminiscent of Go and was likely inspired by it.

– Original image by Przemek Pietrak on flickr.com

With five players, everyone starts the game with Leaders mounted on four of the five different colours of camel.  Starting placement was quite difficult because nobody really knew constituted a good starting position, though some claimed to know what a bad one was.  Maybe there was an advantage in going last, or perhaps Black had a better idea than everyone else, but it quickly became apparent that that he had a large corner of the board all to himself.  This put Burgundy in a very difficult position as he was the only one who could do anything at all about it, but he had other plans.  In the end, Burgundy decided to do his own thing because the damage he could do to Black was minimal and it would be a significant expense to himself.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

Elsewhere, Burgundy was in a four-way tussle with Purple, Green and Black for access to an oasis and Green and Burgundy combined to prevent Blue from connecting two of the oases.  Meanwhile, Purple collected a pile of watering-hole tokens, and Burgundy was attempting to enclose an enormous space in the middle, while Green and and Blue were hoping to fly under the radar and get away with discretely annexing small areas at the edge of the board.  It wasn’t long before the number of pale blue camels was dwindling and Black was left trying to decide whether it was in his interest to bring the game to an end.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

When Blue reduced the handful to one lonely looking camel, Black could resist no longer leaving Burgundy’s audacious attempt to claim on the large central area incomplete and looking temerarious as a consequence.  Everyone had thought Black was so far in front that they were playing for second place, however, it turned out that the game was much closer than expected.  Green had scored slightly more for his oases and the length of his Caravans than Black and Black’s large corner hadn’t given him quite as much territory as it had first appeared.  It was very close, but Green took it by just two points.  As the group packed away, feelings were generally positive, but everyone was agreed that they’d play it differently next time, so we’ll have to give it another Go sometime soon.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

With five players, the options were limited – we generally try to avoid two-player games and we were a bit short on good five-player ones.  In the end, it was either yet another game of Bohnanaza, or the 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Isle of Skye, and Isle of Skye won easily.  Although this is a game we’ve played quite a bit and know reasonably well, we decided not to add the new Druids expansion as it is a while since we last played the base game and we felt we could do with a reminder.  The game is a sort of upgraded tile laying game with a lot in common with Carcassonne, but with an auction at the start of each round and scoring at the end of each round.  The scoring is one of the interesting parts of this game as the four scoring criteria change from game to game and, and each one scores three times during the course of the game.  Choosing how to prioritise these to drive a strategy is one of the keys to playing well.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, points were available for cows in the largest field; brochs; completed areas, and lighthouse-longboat combos.  The game proceeded along its usual course:  Burgundy had stacks of money but no tiles because everyone kept buying them while Blue and Black had plenty of tiles, but no money.  Black with a very linear kingdom was reminded by Purple that the goal for that shape wasn’t in use this time.  It didn’t seem to matte as he stormed off into the lead with a large field full of cattle, but it wasn’t long before others gave chase.  The winner in this game often comes from the back, because there is a “catch-up mechanism” where players get money in the later rounds, with those at the back getting more.  So, when Green and Blue eventually caught up with Black, the positions were important and Green looked ideally placed one point behind Black who was one point behind Blue.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Although the points awarded at the end of the rounds are valuable, it is usually the end game scoring through the scrolls that is critical.  These provide personal targets for each player, and score twice where terrain is “completed” (i.e. completely enclosed).  So towards the end of the game everyone scrabbled to maximise their points.  Green took a tile Blue wanted to keep, so Blue took one that Burgundy had priced very highly giving him even more money, but not the one tile that was really crucial to his plans.  Black added a couple more farms, while Green went for ships Purple went for light-houses and Blue tried to get both.  Burgundy and Blue were also working on the communal, end of round scoring for the brochs (prehistoric circular stone towers found in the highlands and islands of Scotland).  In the case of scoring for brochs though, one would give one point, two would give three and three six points.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

With two players fighting for them brochs were scarce, but by the final round both Blue and Burgundy had managed to get their quota of six.  They were less than impressed when Black pointed out that the brochs only scored if they were in the same mountain region.  Although Black had read the scoring in full, somehow it had failed to make it to the end of the table as both Blue and Burgundy had missed it.  Green pointed out that anyone affected should be called out for cheating, but Burgundy was in such dire need of points nobody was going to contest him claiming them.  The scoring at the front was a bit closer though.  As the points were calculated though it was clear that Green needn’t have worried.  Although he was only one point behind Black, Blue’s fleet of ships meant she was twelve points clear, and it was obvious that even allowing for the extra points, she would still have won.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  If the rules are that important to your game-plan, clarify them first.

Boardgames in the News: Drawing Out the 2018 World Chess Championship

The World Chess Championship is run by the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), and in recent years has been settled on a two year cycle with the reigning champion playing against the winner of the Candidates Tournament.  The Candidates Tournament is an eight player double round-robin tournament and this year was won by Fabiano Luigi Caruana, an Italian-American Chess prodigy.  Currently number two in the world rankings, Caruana become the youngest ever Italian or American Grandmaster, earning the title in 2007 at the age of 14 years and eleven months.  Caruana is playing Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen (known as Magnus), a Norwegian Chess Grandmaster.  Carlsen is currently number one in the world rankings, a position he has held since 2010, when the became the youngest person to achieve the highest rank at just nineteen.  In 2013 Carlsen won the World Championships for the first time, retaining the title in 2014 and 2016.

– Image by Unsplash contributor sk

This year the protagonists are very evenly matched, ranking one and two in the world and separated by just eighteen months.  What is remarkable though is just how evenly matched their Chess has been:  the World Chess Championship is a twelve match game played over three weeks, and for the first time in history, all twelve matches have ended in a draw.  Each of these matches was played against the clock with a maximum possible time of over three hours.  Since these ended in a tie, the players will be challenged further by increasing the speed of play, increasing the chance of errors.  Thus a series of four “speed chess” tie-breaks will initially be used to decide the match each taking approximately half an hour.  If this fails to separate the combatants, there will be up to five mini-matches of best-of-two blitz games (five to ten minutes each).  If the match is still tied, this will be followed by an an “Armageddon” game where White starts with five minutes on the clock and Black with four minutes, with both players receiving a three second increment after sixty moves.  In the case of a draw, Black wins.

– Image by Unsplash contributor Felix Mittermeier

The tie-breaks will be played on Wednesday 28th November, with the winner taking 55% of the €1,000,000 prize pot, and of course, the title of “World Chess Champion”.

Boardgames in the News: Rolling the Dice in the British Virgin Islands

With Hurricane Maria currently devastating the Caribbean, people are once again battening down the hatches and preparing for winds that could reach over 150 mph.  While they are waiting, they could do worse than play a game or two to try to take their mind off it.  That is exactly what the Virgin tycoon, Richard Branson, did when Hurricane Irma struck his home, Necker Island, in the British Virgin Islands.  According to his blog, Richard and his team settled down to an evening playing Perudo (aka Liar’s Dice) before the whole team slept together in two rooms, listening to the parrots chattering away next door, waiting for the arrival of the approaching menace.

– Image from virgin.com

This is not the only time Richard Branson has shown an interest in games.  He has expressed a love of chess previously, but he also nearly had a commercial interest in another well known game.  Back in the early 1980s, a friend in Canada, introduced him to a new board game.  It was such a hit that developers invited him to travel to Quebec and seal a deal to distribute the game globally.  Since Richard was incredibly busy with Virgin Records at the time, the trip was postponed so the developers sold the game, Trivial Pursuit, to another company, and the rest is history.

Boardgames in the News: Biscuit Boardgames at Bake Off

This week on The Great British Bake Off, it was biscuit day.  So, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith set the remaining eleven bakers the challenge to bake a biscuit-based showstopper with a boardgaming theme that could actually be played.  Now on its eighth series, The Great British Bake Off recently moved from BBC to Channel 4, a change that was accompanied by a rejuvenated presenting team including Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding.

The Great British Bake Off
– Image from Channel4.com

Sadly, the games depicted were all variants on traditional games like Snakes and LaddersCoppit (similar to Ludo), Operation and Chess rather than some of the fantastic modern classic games now available.  Nevertheless, there were some interesting renditions, including from one contestant, Kate, who went for something slightly more modern, basing her creation on Jumanji, the game from the eponymous film.  Stacey was more ambitious deciding to design her own game called “Get to School”, as well as bake it.  There wasn’t time to play test that, but Paul Hollywood did challenge student Liam to a game of Noughts and Crosses played with his compendium of biscuit games.  In the end, the title of Star Baker went to Steven, the Marketer from Hertfordshire, for his “Check Bake Game”, based on Chess.

The Great British Bake Off
– Image from Channel4.com

The episode is available to watch on on demand for another three months.

Game Plan: Rediscovering Boardgames at the V & A Museum of Childhood

Inspired by the recent articles on Saturday Live and the Today Programme, on Easter Sunday, Pink and Blue decided to visit the V & A Museum of Childhood to see their “Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered” exhibition.  Catching a train from Oxford Parkway and negotiating the London Underground, they arrived in Bethnal Green.  With its vaulted ceiling and exposed metal work, the Museum building looks for all the world like a re-purposed Victorian Civil building, a train station, swimming pool or maybe some sort of pumping station.  Much to their disappointment, however, after extensive discussion and investigation, it turned out that the building was designed for the purpose, albeit after relocation of parts from “Albertopolis” on Exhibition Road.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The exhibition itself was well presented and occupied a sizeable portion of the overall floor space.  Although it was located in one of the upstairs galleries, the exhibition was well advertised and, from entering the main hall, games were brought to the visitors’ attention with table space and signs offering the loan of games should people want to play.  It wasn’t an idle promise either, as there were several family groups making full use of the opportunity, albeit playing what might be called classic games rather than more modern, Euro games.

– Image by boardGOATS

A quick look at the model train cabinet and brief spell side-tracked by one or two other exciting toys preceded entry to the exhibition which was shrouded by an eye-catching red screen.  The first exhibit was a copy of Senet, arguably one of the oldest games in the world – so old in fact that we’ve lost the rules and nobody knows how to play it.  This was followed by some traditional games including a beautiful wooden Backgammon set made in Germany in 1685 and decorated with sea monsters and a lot of fascinating Chess sets, old and new.  Next, there were some ancient copies of Pachisi (which evolved into Ludo) and Snakes and Ladders, both games that originated in India and were originally played seriously by adults.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Further round there were many other curious games, for example, The Noble Game of Swan from 1821, which was an educational game for children, itself developed from the much older, Game of the Goose.  Education was a bit of theme and there were a lot of games from the nineteenth and early twentieth century designed to teach geography in some form or another.  These included Round the Town, a game where players had to try to cross London via Charing Cross, and Coronation Scot, a game based on travelling from Glasgow to London inspired by the eponymous 1937 express train made to mark the coronation of George VI.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Education didn’t stop there either:  for those that had been members of RoSPA‘s “Tufty Club“, there was a game promoting road safety featuring Tufty the Squirrel and his mates Minnie Mole and the naughty Willy Weasel.  However, when designing this roll-and-move game, they clearly ran out of imaginative “adventures” with a road safety message, as they had to resort to “Picking and eating strange berries – Go back three spaces…”

Tufty Road Safety Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Progressing through the late twentieth century, there were the inevitable copies of the childhood classic games, including Game of Life, Risk, Cluedo, Mouse Trap, Trivial Pursuit, Connect 4, Scrabble and the inevitable Monopoly, all of which risked bringing a tear to the eye as visitors remembered playing them as children.  The exhibition eventually brought us up to date with modern Euro-style games, presenting copies of Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan.

– Image by boardGOATS

More interestingly, there was also an original prototype of Pandemic supplied by the designer, Matt Leacock, complete with his scribbles and bits of paper stuck over infection routes he decided to remove as the game developed.  One of the final display showed how the influence boardgames have had on the computer gaming industry is sometimes strangely reciprocated, with a copy of the Pac-Man game, including the title figure wrought in sunshine yellow plastic.

Pac Man
– Image by boardGOATS

Leaving the exhibition, there was just one last game – “What’s Your Gameface?“.  This cute flow chart entertained Blue and Pink for far longer than is should have as they tested it out with all their friends, relatives and fellow gamers (nobody came out as “Cheater”).

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

With the exhibition done, there was still time for a wander round the rest of the museum and a quick cuppa in the cafe.  Reflecting on the exhibition, perhaps one of the best aspects had actually been the quotations that adorned the walls.  It seems luminaries from Plato to Roald Dahl have all had something to say on the subject of games.  Perhaps George Bernard Shaw supplied the most thought provoking comment though, when he said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  With this in mind, we did what gamers do when they travel, so tea and cake was accompanied by two rounds of Mijnlieff, the super-cool noughts and crosses game.  With the museum closing, it was time to head home, but there was still time for a game or two of 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel! on the train back to Oxford…

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The Exhibition is only open till 23rd April 2017, so there isn’t much time left and it is well worth a visit.

Boardgames in the News: Risking Imprisonment to Play

We are very lucky:  when our little game group meet, the worst anyone risks is a telling off for staying out too late.  In some parts of the world, however, gamers could be risking their liberty or worse.  Just imagine a world in where playing Puerto Rico or Agricola risked imprisonment or torture.  It seems absurd, but for for some people this sort of response is a reality.  In February, police in the Thai resort of Pattaya arrested thirty-two elderly Bridge players when they raided their local Bridge Club.

– Image from innontheprom.co.uk

In Thailand, there are strict anti-gambling laws, so despite the fact the Bridge players declared that they were not playing for money, they were arrested for “possessing more than one hundred and twenty unregistered playing cards” in violation of section eight of the Playing Cards Act of 1943.  In this case, the members of the club were released after twelve hours, but Bridge is not the only “risky game”.  According to the Saudi Grand Mufti, Chess is forbidden in Islam, a view which could mean that players in some parts of the world genuinely risks a fate worse than death at the hands of fundamentalists.

We are very fortunate in the UK.

– Image by BGG contributor unicoherent

Boardgames in the News: Google plays Go

Go is an ancient Chinese two player game played with black and white stones on a nineteen by nineteen grid.  The game is one of territory where the aim is to surround the most intersections.  Although the game itself is very simple with players taking turn to place stones on the points of the grid, There is significant strategy involved in the game, and the number of possible games is vast (10761 compared, for example, to the estimated 10120 possible in Chess).

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ManCorte

In addition to the huge number of possible moves, Go has also always been considered to be particularly challenging for an Artificial Intelligence to play well as strategy involves patterns rather than specific moves with a finite solution tree – something that humans generally do better than computers.  Thus, for twenty years, devotees Go, have smugly pointed out that while Deep Blue first beat the then World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in February 1996,1 a computer has never beaten a Go Champion.  Yesterday, however, Google announced that it’s AlphaGo software (part of their DeepMind project) had beaten the reigning three-time European Go champion Fan Hui winning five consecutive games.  The work has been published in the scientific journal Nature,2 which seems to have been making a bit of a habit of publishing boardgaming articles recently…

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ManCorte

1 Campbell, et al., Artif. Intell. (2002), 134, 57; doi:10.1016/S0004-3702(01)00129-1.
2 Silver et al., Nat. (2016), 529, 489; doi:10.1038/nature16961.