There’s a fantastic board games shop in Stoke on Trent called Shire Games. Nick, who runs it, knows more about board games than anyone else I know. You can turn up at the shop, list off a few games that you like, and he’ll make you several recommendations of other games that you should try. To date we’ve never had a bad recommendation from him. Since having kids the geekdaddy and I haven’t had as much time to play our board games as we would like, but we very much hope as they grow older it will be something we can enjoy together as a family.
Every year the Shire Games team organise a board gaming weekend, which they call The Cast Are Dice. Nick brings his personal board gaming library along, loads of other gamers turn up with their games, and the net result is two days with access to hundreds of games and friendly people to play them with. We have some good friends who went two years ago and raved about how good it was, so the geekdaddy went along with them last year, and then he raved about how good it was. This year I really wanted both of us to go, so bought two tickets, hoping that we would be able to find some kind person to have our kids for the day. Whilst kids are welcomed at The Cast Are Dice, our two are really too young for the kind of games we like playing, and I felt they would find it boring. Thankfully some friends agreed to have our kids, and so the geekdaddy and I set off for a rare child-free day.
The Cast Are Dice 2015 was held at the Stoke on Trent 6th Form College, which was a perfect venue. Loads of space, plenty of classrooms with tables in which to set up games, and the refrectory was open all day to provide food and drink. The first thing that greeted us when we walked through the door was pile of board games, and that was pretty much how the day went on!
When you arrive at The Cast Are Dice you are given a lanyard with your name on, and a piece of paper that acts as your “library card”. Each time you borrow a board game from Nick’s library, you hand your ticket in, the librarian makes a note of which game you have, and you are then free to find a spare table and play. Here is just a small section of that library:
You are welcome to play with existing friends or make new friends as you wish. We went with our good friends who had raved about the event 2 years ago, and didn’t meet any new people, but the event was definitely very friendly, and there were even little laminated signs you could borrow to put on your table to indicate that either your game was full or that you were looking for additional players. It was fun to wander around and see what other people were playing, but we soon got on with the serious business of board gaming.
Game 1: The Kingsport Festival
We started off with a game that one of my friends had had recommended to him, and it did not disappoint. I haven’t played many games set in the H.P. Lovecraft world, but those that I have played have always been very high quality with lots of atmosphere. This one was just the same. There was a whole story around being a cult leader, praying to different diabolical gods and setting up your own cult, but to be honest I’m generally less interested in the “flavour text” and more concerned with gameplay. The gameplay was good. Whilst all four of us were competing against each other, we were generally able to do that without being mean to each other, and so it felt fun rather than competitive to play. It was a “gain resources, then use those resources to expand your empire whilst defending against attacks from the good guys” kind of game. The game took quite a while to play, probably about 2 hours. Obviously we took longer as we were learning how it all worked at the same time, but it was certainly going to be a 1-2 hour game to play if we played it again I think. I enjoyed it very much, and would definitely play it again.
Game 2 – Takenoko
Another one I’d never heard of before, but it had cute models in it, including a panda, so what’s not to love?!
This turned out to be a simpler game than the previous one. It had a tile-laying mechanic not unlike Carcassonne, and a reasonably free style of play where you could choose your objectives and then work towards them. Turns could consist of placing a new tile, moving the gardener to grow bamboo or moving the panda to eat bamboo. Each player had a selection of cards with goals such as “lay tiles in this pattern” or “grow this colour bamboo to this height”. Again, whilst being competitive, it was perfectly possible to play without being mean to each other (although there was the potential of fun if one player got the panda to eat your beautifully grown bamboo!). All four of us really enjoyed this game, and it’s gone onto my Amazon wish list to remind me to purchase it when I next have some funds available for games.
Game 3 – North Wind
Whilst we were playing Takenoko we were fascinated by the game being played by the group sat at the table next to us, which seemed to involve little models of ships and pirate-y things. It helped that they were playing the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean on one of their phones at the same time! They noticed us watching, and kindly told us when they were taking the game back to the library so that one of us could follow them back to borrow it. This is one of the joys of The Cast Are Dice – getting to watch what everyone else is playing. It was an added bonus to see that North Wind had been produced by the designer of one of our favourite games, The Settlers of Catan.
This was a great game. We each got our own ship, and sailed into adventures on the high seas! We could upgrade our ships (to make them more likely to bear any pirates we might encounter on our travels), or could stock up on trade goods to deliver to the port towns. One of the gamers from the table that had just played very kindly took the time to talk us through the rules, which helped us to get up and playing quicker. This is definitely one I would like to play again, and might be my favourite from the day, although it’s very hard to choose between this and the previous two!
Game 4 – Tsuro of the seas
We wanted a quick game just to finish off the day with, and Tsuro of the seas was suggested – the geekdaddy and one of our friends had played it before.
This was, in my mind, the only duff game of the day. The board represents the sea, and each player has a ship. On your turn you pick a tile which represents shipping lanes, and attempt to use this to direct your ship away from the sea monsters dotted around the board. A dice roll decides if the sea monsters will move, and where they move to, and the random nature of this was what I didn’t like about this game – my ship got eaten by a sea monster after two turns!
So that was my day at The Cast Are Dice 2015. I had a whale of a time, and I’m very grateful to the kind friends who looked after the kids for us so that the geekdaddy and I could go. If it’s at all possible I will be there next year, and I dream of the day the kids are old enough to come along and play the games with us (perhaps then we can spend the whole weekend there!)