It is often said that writing things down can be cathartic and a form of therapy? Well to see if it is true, I write here in the blogosphere to alleviate myself a little, and to share an insight recently gained into the darker workings of the human mind.

It is said that to truly know someone you must live with them… in this I agree but will also add another two categories that not only yield quicker results, but their authenticity is harder to disguise, these are ‘the holiday’ and the ‘board game’. Of the latter I cannot speak highly enough of it’s unfailing ability to reveal the dark and dank parts of the character, that are either denied or forcibly repressed. Anyone who has witnessed the unsavoury backstabbing, plea bargaining, bribery and sheer avarice in the previously placid company of family and friends (whom you thought you knew well) after a game of Monopoly will know what I speak of?

As the title of this blog would suggest it aims to discuss what can happen when humble bits of card and board, with rules and tokens are put together. I’m not writing here to discuss Monopoly, as myself and my board gaming friends have moved far beyond the warm ‘red’ spectrum of more humble games such as this… we now occupy a space in blazing Ultra Violet (and its implied health considerations) where few can tolerate the harsh conditions.

It is said that person should not sniff glue, as it would inevitably lead to a progression ending in harder drug use. Well the same can be said of board games, and we are already ruined! More modest games like Scrabble, Mouse Trap, and Trivial Pursuit can barely stimulate a response from the hardened gamer, just as it is hard to get excited by a glass of water. They are of course the basics of which it’s hard to do without, but once one has tasted the seductive and dangerous cocktails offered by more challenging games naivety is at an end, well almost, until last Wednesday that is.

The game in question among many others that I enjoy playing with my friends in this instance, is a game called ‘Power Grid’. A deceptively unassuming title that would barely raise the eyebrow of a novice. To the seasoned campaigner however this is a game of quite some taste. In the aim of protecting their privacy I cannot name my gaming friends directly, and there is another loose group that play at many levels. This blog will focus on two in particular, together with myself making the ‘formidable Three’. We represent the hard-core, and orbit each other like gas giants, and if a match should be lit then the mix can be highly combustible!

Now these two ‘Gas Giant‘ friends of mine, let’s call them Uranus and Saturn (I would classify myself as Jupiter if I may, but I’m sure upon them reading this it will be disputed?) are two of the most conniving and cunning ‘so-and-so’s’ it’s been my fortune to come across (there is one more but he is currently AWOL on a nomadic journey around the world). Over the years I have closely observed their often brilliant wickedness at close quarters. This is not for the faint hearted! Seeing such things can change you as a person, and shake you to the very foundations of what you thought possible for a human being to contrive! None the less, after many years of swimming with sharks I have come to learn their ways and behaviors. What flanks to avoid, which teeth are the sharpest and what meat it likes to eat, to the extent that I have even managed to win a game or two in recent months, and can now even emerge from the cesspool with pride in hand and reasonably intact. This was not the case last Wednesday!

HST image of Uranus showing cloud bands, rings...

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I mentioned Power Grid, and I hinted at other more challenging games, there is Steam, Agricular, A Brief History of the World to name but a few. This was not an ordinary game of Power Grid on this occasion as we were playing with a new expander pack, having exhausted the other maps based on America and Germany. Last Wednesday we tried out a new board set in Russia. I should of recognised the omen, especially as something akin to a bleak Russian winter was inflicted upon me by Uranus and Saturn.

Like the various tides of history within Russia, some of it starts off well, and indeed so did I. But like all the best Russian stories the veneer of calm starts to crack and fall off, harsh realities are revealed, and find yourself beckoned to the Gulag! This is what happened to me. This was all the more disturbing considering I was doing a very good job of elegantly repressing my opponents, making my moves both swiftly and efficiently, and quietly enjoying the well rehearsed howls of anguish that are frequently offered up (which I have learned to ignore) while I built up my war chest to blitz the board.

For the uninitiated, Power Grid is a game where you have to power as many homes as you can by buying a selection of power stations and their required resources to do so. Oil, Coal, Rubbish, Uranium and Wind power which is  free after the set up cost. Towns and cities where homes can be built have a three tiered cost, 10, 15, and 20 coins (depending which phase you are in) and this fee is paid as well as the connection charge to reach that city, which could be cheap or very expensive. A player can only place one of their own colour in each city. One can quickly see the complications… however I was happy, I had two oil power stations that were not expensive to maintain, and one Uranium plant, that only needs one unit per term to power it… while Uranus was heavily leveraged in oil and swapping barrels between power plants, Saturn was lamenting taking yet another sip from the poisoned Challis that is the Rubbish plants and was firmly in last place, while I sat contentedly and raked the money in watching my cash pile grow closer to the ceiling. This contentment did not last!

Having thought I had seen it all from my fidgeting opponents, I was completely unawares as to the depths of depraved scheming I had pushed them both to. Subconsciously the two had twinned into a united front to unseat me from power. As what can usually happen with flat mates, the ability to anticipate behaviour becomes accentuated even if both are not consciously aware of it. Intimidated by my vast wealth, each independently reached into a fetid pool of a shared subconscious, and read verse together from the book of dark arts. Remembering their wicked incantations they returned to unleash an attack of almost debauched ferocity. In one devastating move Saturn delivered an avalanche of house building to take him within the cusp of winning. Barley leaving a space on the board unmolested, his hands were a blur of activity, as house after house, after house was laid in a virtual pandemic of frenzied building, the likes of which have not been seen in Britain since the late 50’s. Such was the torrent of connection charges and fees, that this normally numerate investment banker had to call on the calculator for assistance! With barely time to draw a ragged breath in horror, Uranus then unleashed a fury on the board of near identical proportions, like a horseman of the Apocalypse to complete the ravishment!

Natural color view of Saturn, composed from a ...

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Needless to say I was thoroughly shocked and feeling quite abused. In one move I was ruthlessly dispatched into last place, much to the cackling joy and uncomfortable smirks of my opponents, one resembling a deranged Hyena and the other a starved Piranha! I on the other hand had gone from graceful, and enigmatic Swan to a lame half plucked Duck with a tire mark running through it! Barely able to stir myself from my shell shock, and trying to stitch together my tattered pride, I reached the required number of 17 houses like the others (due to my funds) but I could only power 11 of them.

This I vow to never let happen again! It will be difficult. As much as I dearly love the two gas giants, never will I think that any board game mercy lies hidden within their rancid little hearts! I’m left with not choice but to unleash the dark side and beat them at their own game? I once gave Saturn a lifeline previously when we were playing a game called ‘Brass’ (a microcosm of the British Industrial revolution) for the first time. He wildly gambled, was far too heavily leveraged, up to the eye balls in debt, with no meaningful income and living up to every recent stereotype of his banking profession. I mercifully protected him from a move that if unleashed by Uranus (which he was fully willing to do) would of meant bankruptcy and certain death, which I thought was harsh considering it was the first time we had all played the game. I shouldn’t have bothered!

Just as in current reality give a banker a lifeline and a bail out, he will not remember your kindness, forget you exist, go on gambling and then screw you over!

Well now my lesson is thoroughly learned. From now on its operation ‘No Mercy’ and I have every intention to wreak sweet revenge on my fellow Gas Giants, action resumes this Sunday. As usual we will share a delicious meal, wine will flow, and a pudding will be revealed to sweeten the mood while in the throes of a difficult crux in the game. It will be dignified, to start with. Rest assured the war correspondence will be detailed here next week, I hope I make it out alive, I will not be satisfied till I have roasted my pound of flesh. One needs a thick skin and a sharp dagger when you swim with sharks, may the best man win!

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