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Last train to Wensleydale by Martin Wallace

News from the Frozen North: Attila and Last train to Wensleydale (Treefrog)

Christmas has been quiet and, bar a play-test of the updated rules to Backpacks and Blisters, there has been little gaming. But now it’s the New Year and all that is about to change. Of the Ragnars, only Dicken and Spiller have been known to trawl the mysteries of Facebook – but not so Phil’s wife. Apparently she has ‘met up’ with Aidey, an erstwhile acting buddy from her days of yore. Whilst obviously interested to renew acquaintances with Lisa he is even more intrigued by the prospect of getting over to do some gaming. (Risk and Cluedo may not be quite Wallace- and Knizia-country, but the Ragnars all began somewhere). Aidey is keen. Very, very keen. It is the least Phil can do to get Charlie over and to summon Slade the Beast from his lair in Bradford.

Aidey arrives early (”to catch up”). He has had a traumatic journey. Frequent weather checks have taken place all day (a fresh layer of snow arrived overnight); Phil has sent detailed route plans; the wife has been ‘up Deanhouses’ earlier and has rated it as ‘fine’. Aidey eventually arrives quite a number of minutes late quivering -“My heart is racing” (and it won’t be at the prospect of meeting the Beast). For reasons best known to himself he has ignored Phil’s instructions and used his Sat-Nav. This has taken him along the back roads and down the very steep and appropriately named ‘Miry Lane’. This was tricky enough in walking boots earlier in the day – in a car in the pitch black on a road surface resembling the Cresta Run it verges on the suicidal. “I just put the brakes on and hoped”. Not a good start.

However it is soon game on. Aidey, in the manner of a latter day Paul Daniels, produces a bag full of chocolates – three boxes of goodies and a bag of Minstrels. Phil smiles politely and adds them to the nibbles: Ragnars don’t go for sweets – rather effete – Ragnars eat Doritos and Sea salt and Balsamic vinegar crisps. However, just as the Ragnars have never tried to set up as a harem or to follow Huddersfield Town to the final of the Champions League, this is not to say they aren’t averse to something different. Slade and Charlie tear into the chocolates like there is no tomorrow. The evening is already successful.

First up is ‘Attila’. Last played and reviewed in 2001 (see elsewhere on the site) this made an aborted outing at the last Ragnar bash (Phil mistakenly thought it could accommodate six players). Touted as a game of Barbarian colonisation of the old Roman Empire, it bears more resemblance to various supermarket chains competing to buy up prime sites around the Huddersfield ring road. The ‘war’ is very cosmetic, the links to barbarian peoples non-existent; basically you invest in the most promising tribe and try to make sure they continue to do well. It does prove, however, thoroughly entertaining. Phil whips through the refreshingly short rules at breakneck speed; Steve and Charlie nod sagely; Aidey spends much of the game slightly puzzled.  Phil trails at the halfway point, but then wins by several lengths from Charlie.

And so to Martin Wallace’s Wensleydale. Much has been made of the garishness of the map – nuff said (although ‘human entrails’ is an interesting addition to the genre). The game is Age of Steam come to the northern Pennines. White ‘rock’ and orange ‘cheese’ are spread around the map (“Shouldn’t it be Red Leicester?” quips Slade – a less than enviable standard of humourous remarks being established). Red and green customers pile into small towns throughout North Yorkshire waiting for the day a railway turns up so that they can satisfy their desire to ‘be a passenger’. Phil manfully works through the rules. Verbal flip-flops, beloved of Ragnars the world over, take place; Phil slogs on; there is a general air of ‘might as well start because we haven’t got a clue what to do’. Phil stresses that important bonus points can be gathered for each set of four items (cheese/rock/green passenger/red passenger). “Yes, yes, got it”. “So you can’t just build in one part of the map.” “Yes, let’s start”.

Phil and Charlie start from Northallerton and Darlington and head west for the riches of Leyburn and Aysgarth; the Beast opts to build from the deep south and builds towards Hawes; Aidey takes it steady and works his way from Ripon into the hills, and eventually south to Skipton. Phil and Charlie then compete to connect to the south by different routes (got to get those red passengers to somewhere); Slade creates an impressive cheese collection business around Harrogate; Aidey does some gentle mopping up, first in the north and then in the south.

Time to determine the winner. Slade proudly displays his vast range of rock and cheese.

“But you’ve got no passengers”. “I thought you had to collect pairs of cubes”. “What???” He is last, and deservedly so. Phil and Charlie remain locked in battle within a point of each other. And to everyone’s surprise (especially his own) Aidey is the winner, and by quite some way. In the three-player game, ambition is everything. Intriguingly this doesn’t seem to be the case in the four-player game. Clearly Wensleydale will have to be revisited, and sooner rather than later.

All in all, an excellent evening’s gaming. Aidey seems to have enjoyed himself. All he now needs to do is drive himself home.

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