Bahlactus has decreed: It's Black and White Friday Night Fights. And what do you get when you mix black and white? Well, first of all you get that gosh-awful song by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. But you also get the color gray, and is there no place more gray than Northern England? Let's go there now through the magic of 1980s pop music:
But what has a clever lyric hook and a melancholic guitar line got to do with Friday Night Fights, you ask? (Aside from wanting to punch the guys who did this country-fried remake.) Well, for the answer to that, let's travel via British Rail to Hartlepool, Durham in the northeast of England: hometown not only of cartoonist Reg Smythe but of his famous creation, the shiftless but cheerfully violent Andy Capp. No single man personifies the spirit of Friday Night Fights better than a man who gets into frequent brawling matches with his long-suffering wife Flo:
Oh, Andy Capp, you may be an unemployed, shiftless, gambling, alcoholic wife-beater, but no one can deny the tasty appeal of your mouthwatering Andy Capp's Hot Fries:
It's a spooky and chilly evening, and tonight I'm reading The Spirit's Casebook of True Haunted Houses & Ghosts, a 1976 collection of "true" ghost stories, heavily illustrated with the art of Will Eisner and narrated by his most famous creation: The Spirit:
Yes, long before Mike Ploog or Darwyn Cooke got their mitts on him, Mister Denny Colt was moonlighting as a Rod Serling-esque horror host. Minus Crypt-Keeper puns, the Spirit is actually a pretty good fit with these moody, spooky stories, and even if you don't buy the supernatural explanation for the stories (most of them are documented with "evidence" from no-name magazines like "The Spiritual Magazine" and "The Journal of Psychical Research" and "Newsweek") Eisner's line artwork is still gorgeous and it's fun to see The Spirit shrugging away each story to say "Heck if I know what happened." Here's one of the 22 stories contained in the book, "The Barbados Ghost":
Bwah! That was sure scary, wasn't it, kids? Did you see those coffins flying right off the page at you? Oh wait, sorry, the book isn't in 3-D. Anyway, I'm off to sleep with a big flashlight underneath my bed with the door locked and a chair wedged under the knob. If you think you can stand the fear, used copies of The Spirit's Casebook of True Haunted Houses & Ghosts are available for just a few bones. Check in with your local bookseller...he's dying to sell you a copy!
Portobello Road! Portobello Road! Street where the riches of ages are sold!
On my last holiday in the UK, I visited Portobello Road market, one of London's most famous (some might say infamous) street markets. Made famous in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the Paddington books, and the movie Notting Hill, it's a crowded and cramped and tourist-trappy street market, especially on Saturday afternoons when everyone comes out to look for bargains (hint: you probably won't find them):
I like Portobello Market, but it gets a little crowded and overwhelming sometimes for a little stuffed bull like me:
Or, as Cat Stevens sang:
Cuckoo clocks, and plastic socks
Lampshades of old antique leather
Nothing looks weird, not even a beard
or the boots made out of feathers
I'll keep walking miles 'til I feel
A broom beneath my feet
Or the hawking eyes of an old stuffed bull across the street
My eyes are not hawking, they are sharp and smart. That's why if you're a little overwhelmed by the crowds of Portobello Market, I highly recommend staying safely at home with a hot sweet cup of tea and instead playing a rousing round of Portobello Market, the board game created by Thomas Odenhoven and published by Playroom Entertainment:
I love both London and board games, so Portobello Market the game is a sheer delight for a little stuffed bull like me. It's not so much fun to play a board game by yourself, so I'm enlisting the help of my good friend Shelly the Little Otter Puppet. Here she helps me take out the many, many game pieces:
Two to four people (or stuffed animals) can play. It's trickier and more challenging with four, but I'll show you how it's played with two so you get the gist of it. I'm choosing to yellow pieces...
...and Shelly is red.
It always helps to read the instructions (which, like many high-end board games, are thoughtfully provided in a wide assortment of languages, so if you like, you can brush up on your French at the same time you play). It looks complicated but it's simple to learn.
In our house we always play that the last person who took a bath is the first person to go. That means you, Shelly! Shelly is placing the police constable ("bobby") piece on an open square. You can only build on a street if the bobby is adjacent to your street, but you can move the bobby from square to square during your turn.
Each player gets three Action Tokens labeled "2," "3," and "4." Flip one of these over to make two, three, or four moves during your turn. After three turns, when you have flipped over all three action tokens, you can turn them all face-up again. I'm going to make four moves in my first turn:
You can lay down your "market stall" pieces on streets adjacent to the bobby during your turn (one stall per move you're allowed that turn), and you can also move the bobby from square to square, taking point penalties if you move him across a street which is controlled or dominated by an opponent. You have to start building your stalls from only one end of a street at a time, so the first person to start building on a street controls the direction in which building proceeds:
If you're clever you can strand the other player away from her stalls through a clever combination of moving the bobby and placing your stalls down. Shelly can move the bobby back to where she was, but every time she moves the bobby across a street on which I've got the most market stalls, she loses a score point:
Twice during the game you can use your entire turn to claim a score of an entire square of market stalls. Place either your "two" or your "four" action token on the center of the square and multiply that by the number of stalls you have in the entire square to gain that number of points. I've laid down my "two" disc in a square I have populated with three stalls, so I gain six points.
Then, take a replacement action token disc from the pile so that you keep a total of three to play the game...
...so that you still have three action token discs to play the game. The replacement discs are numbered from 3 to 1 (stacked downwards), so it could be good strategy to play your "two" disc on the board early in the game and gain a replacement "three" disc, which gives you an extra turn when you use it.
As the game progresses you can use a move during your turn to place a randomly-chosen customer token at the end of any street. When there is a customer at both ends of a finished street, the stalls are totaled and added to each player's score: each space has a specific value labeled on the board, and the color combination of customers multiplies that total. A pink Aristocrat is worth more than a grey Citizen, so the combination of pink and grey or two pinks adds up to more than two greys. (Here the ends of the streets are occupied by one grey Citizen and one pink Aristocrat, so the total street score for each player is multiplied by 2.):
The score points are tallied by moving your colored scoring cube on the numbered spaces around the perimeter of the board. I'm yellow and ahead of Shelly: I have 18 points and she has 3.:
As the game continues stalls are built, customers are placed, and the bobby moves from square to square...
...leading to entire blocks being built up with shopping stalls.
The more finished streets and placed customers, the higher the scoring can rise:
And when Shelly puts down a well-placed action token to score an entire square...
...she moves ahead of me in points! Can I catch up in time?
The game is finished when one or more players has no more stalls to place. Highest score wins! I challenge you to a rematch, Shelly!
Portobello Road is great fun: as they often say, easy to learn, hard to master! It's a very fast-paced gameit takes about 35 minutes or so to play regardless of the number of players. We've played it with two here, but the addition of another player or two can complicate your building strategy until you'll pulling out your hair! Or, fur. It's beautifully produced with a gorgeously-designed and colored playing board and solid wood stall and customer pieces. It looks complicated but you can pick up the rules in ten minutes, and after one practice game you'll be eager to play another. If you enjoy strategy games, you're gonna like this. You can buy it on Amazon by clicking the box to the right, buy it direct from the manufacturer, or find it at your local strategy specialist game store. Just watch out for sneaky otter opponents when you play it!