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A trip to the Postbox: an All Outta Bubblegum experience…

bubblegumI’ve recently become interested in RPG games. This is a genre of gaming where you use your imagination to build a world, generally with some rules to help provide a framework to make this easier.

Given my relative inexperience, I’ve asked my friend Alan to play a game of “All Outta Bubblegum” with me via email. Its a particularly silly game, designed for a short play through with ridiculous effects. The rules, such as they are, are below:

All Outta Bubblegum

Based entirely on a quote from an 80s action film “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all outta bubblegum“. In AOB you can do one of two types of action; you can do normal things, like walking, answering the phone, getting dressed, etc. Or you can do kickass things, like hacking a computer with a single keypress, flying a helicopter, or barrel-kicking a zombie through a wall.

Characters in All Outta Bubblegum have one stat — Bubblegum. It’s technically a number which varies from 0 through 8, though the designers highly, highly recommend that you don’t do anything so banal as write down a number, and, instead, pass out actual sticks of bubblegum to the players.

Bubblegum always starts out at 8.

Resolution

Any action which does not fall under the broad category of “kickass” is resolved by rolling a d10. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the amount of bubblegum the character has left, then the character succeeds in his task.

Any action which falls under the broad umbrella of “kickass” is also resolved by rolling a d10. However, in this case, you wish to roll greater than the amount of bubblegum that you have left.

Losing Bubblegum

Whenever you fail a kickass roll, you lose a stick of Bubblegum. You may also sacrifice a stick of Bubblegum before the roll to ensure success.

Zero Bubblegum

When you lose your last stick of bubblegum, you are officially all outta bubblegum. You may no longer attempt any kind of non-asskicking activity. Simple devices like, say, the handles of doors confound you (eerily enough, you have no problem field-stripping a .50 caliber machinegun to clear a jam in 15 seconds flat). However, you automatically succeed in any kickass-related activity. you are a nearly unstoppable ball of bubblegum-less fury. However, bear in mind that it’s relatively easy to trap a zero-bubblegum person in a situation he’s totally incapable of dealing with.

A trip to the Postbox

We both wake up in a bedroom, the one that we share. We have adult bunk beds, Alan in the bottom bunk, I’m in the top. We’ve been asleep under the covers, when we are woken by an alarm clock going off on the other side of the room. The digital display is blinking 8:00am. Its an alarm, set to remind us that we need to post a birthday card in the postbox at the end of the road by 12pm. The race is on!

chrisI sit up blearily, narrowing missing banging my head on the ceiling. That bloomin’ alarm is driving me mad, and I know from experience it won’t turn off without us pressing the button on top.

I peer over the edge of the bed, but you are showing no signs of moving. “Wake up, you pathetic scottish pillock!”. A vague moan sounds from under my bed, but no visible evidence of sentience.

This is a normal action, which needs an 8 or less to succeed. I roll a 6. What happens Alan?



With a spritely and unexpected burst of energy, I roll out of bed with a cry of “get your ass up muthaf***a!”.

I roll a 1, successfully completing the action of getting out of bed.

I decide to forgo the stifling, square, and outmoded convention of dressing and walk naked to the door.



chrisMy book glances off the alarm clock, successfully turning it off, in fact, smashing it completely. From the shards of broken alarm clock, a few sparks flash, and a wisp of smokes starts to rise, unnoticed so far by us.

I sit myself up, and try to somersault from the bed, directly to landing on my feet on the floor, doing a kickass roll. I get an 8, failing it


You land a wonderful handspring, surprising yourself in the process, rolling otter-like to your feet like a sleek, denuded Chuck Norris. You celebrate by lifting your arms up in the momentary pose of an Olympic child gymnast.

I ignore you, eager to get my s**t for the day done.  I got no time for showboating.  I have a letter to deliver dagnammit! and Im going to get it in by first post if it kills me.  Nothing will stand in my way.  NOTHING!

I reach for the door to exit from the room, rolling a 9 in my normal roll, failing it…

chrisEagerness defines Alan, sweat dripping from his face (and hairy back) as he swings his entire body in anticipation towards the door. Sadly, such enthusiasm has led to a miscalculation and he crashes, testicles first, dramatically into the doorhandle. The entire door mechanism snaps off, impaled as it is into his scrotum, and they fall to the ground as one, a bleeding, whimpering mess at the foot of a firmly closed door.

Next to the bed, I wobble unsteadily, surprised to have completed such a kickass feat when I initially thought I’d failed, and gaze blearily at the misery in front of me. Despite my obvious repulsion, I lean in and offer a hand to Alan to help him get up. I roll a 10, failing a normal roll…

Still unnoticed by either of us, up on the chest of drawers a smoke trail flickers in and out. A small flame rises within the remains of the alarm clock, as the wiring catches alight, and begins to gentle spread along the innards of the broken timepiece.


You fall forward, missing your balance and tumbling – eye first – into the corner of the chest of drawers, which obligingly pokes it out. You tumble to the floor grasping desperately to steady the eye swinging out of its socket.

I have no time for your sufferings.  Posting mail is a serious business, and its a business I intend to do well in! I grasp my swollen balls with one hand, and with the other I reach up to the door handle to help right myself.

I roll a 4, passing a normal roll…

chrisYou stand up with no difficulties, and pluck the doorhandle out of your scrotum, ignoring the trickle of blood trailing from the prominent gash it has left, and attach it to the door. It clicks back into place masterfully, and the handle turns. Sadly, the door appears to be locked, and stays firmly shut.

There is little of the alarm clock visible anymore, and the top of the dresser has started to catch. Cheap and cheerful chipboard is great for building an ikea special, but it doesn’t half throw off a lot of smoke. Alan notices that his letter is around 10 inches away from the crater that used to be a timepiece.

I scream. And scream. My eye is hanging out. I scream some more.

My action this turn is going to be to simply attempt to stop screaming. I’m going to make that a kickass roll by attempting to turn my scream into a manful “Oooooh yeaaah”. I roll an 8 (a fail, and my bubblegum number has dropped to 7)…


Your scream raises in pitch, through the little girl octaves and right up into the ultra high range of 80’s symphonic metal singers. A crack appears in the window pane. Suddenly there is a short ‘twang’, like a rubber band breaking, and all sound other than a gurgle instantly stops emanating from your throat.

It would appear you have broken a vocal chord (spare me yer scientific doctor bulls**t about how this is physically impossible – remember – the correct reponse in improvisation is always ‘yes’).

Seeing the peril of the hallowed letter I manfully stride over to pick it up. Your face is showered with my testicle blood as I attempt to straddle you en route to retrieve my precious cargo from the flames.

I roll a 2, passing a normal roll…

chrisYou deftly swipe the letter from the top of the chest of drawers. The air above the unit is starting to shimmer from the heat, and you step back from the blaze. It’s already started to curl up the curtains, and presents a formidable barrier to anyone wishing to reach the window.

You cough a little, as the smoke irritates your lungs. Visibility is reducing, and its hard to even see the other side of the room properly. You wonder briefly why there is no fire alarm ringing, but recall that your evil landlord is the exact kind of person to skimp of that sort of “luxury”. As you peer at the blackened wall and obviously smoke damaged ceiling, you suspect you are not going to get your rental deposit back either…

My world has gone into slow motion. If you’ve seen 28 Days Later, there’s a bit where the dad gets angry and kicks a post, and you see a single droplet of infected blood inexorably drop into his eye, and he rapidly deteriorates into a rage filled monster. I’m already half blinded, and barely able to talk, due to my laryngeal luxation (yep, that’s the correct medical term), and I can only draw breath in horror as I see a gush of scrotal blood fall from your ravaged groins towards my face.

Slight break from the rules, because why not? I’m going to roll for the result. Not an action, we just get to see what happens to me from mundane to insane based on the roll. Maybe I turn into a were-Alan…I roll a… 9!


You rise up in a frenzy, breathing hard and contorting in the grip of a terrifying, and obviously painful transmogrification…. you drop to your knees as your fingers extend – one of them forcefully pushes its way in between your teeth, which are reforming themselves into gangrenous, yellowing icebergs…

Your face itches as a pair of tangled pelts speedily sprout from your jowls….

More hair begins to form a greasy blanket over your back and your genitals take on herculean, bulbous, proportions….

Your effete middle class English exterior is successfully transformed into a heinous mockery of humanity which draws itself up to its full height, glorying in its new found, hitherto unexperienced, masculinity…

Much like Harry Potter under the influence of polyjuice potion, your spectacles are still in place (one eye still dangling below the lens), and your accent remains unchanged as you exclaim “bloody hell!”.

I gaze at the horrific transformation in front of me with a sense of awe which overpowers the rising panic at the burgeoning blaze and gather my thoughts.  Quickly thinking through the weight ratio, I grab your form and attempt to break the glass by lobbing your sweating form at the window….

I roll a 5 for kick ass…

chrisFailing miserably at the attempt for two, obvious reasons. Firstly, the large steel bars on the window present a formidable opponent to any projectile, however well tossed.

Secondly, whilst almost laughably oversized, your upper body is comicly misproportioned. Your forearms snap audibly, arms hanging limply as you stare at them disappointedly. (Your bubblegum number is now 6).

Under the onslaught of your full strength attack, I have been moved across the floor towards the window almost three eighths of an inch. Shrugging it off, and temporarily ruling out the window as an exit point, I decide the door is our best opportunity for escape. Whilst I could use the key that is in my pocket, I attempt a triple backwards somersault scissorkick into the upper panel of the stout Edwardian door.

And that’s a 1 on my kickass roll, an epic fail…


The flames begin to spread across the wall – the heat in the room increases as ugly black smoke begins to fill the room.

As you breathe in deeply to begin the wind up for your kick you fall to the floor in a coughing fit, vomiting several times and almost inhaling your swinging eye in between heaves, accidentally crunching it like a ripe lychee between your teeth.

I nudge you with my foot in an effort to motivate you “mone man – get yer s**t together, eh” and reach for a discarded t-shirt to cover my mouth while I decide what to do.

I roll a normal 1 – an epic win…

chrisYou are mighty proud of both your actions.

Firstly, your old tshirt is, predictably, disgusting. It’s a soggy greeny brown that belies it was once sold to you at an Avril Lavigne concert as a “medium white”. Almost a decade of abuse has imbued it with colonies upon colonies of anaerobic bacteria. Given that they have evolved to dwell in close proximity to your body, they are able to survive in incredibly inhospitable environments, and can generate their own oxygen.

As you hold it to your face, you realise that the air entering your lungs has become a) powerfully nauseating but b) safely breathable. You have saved yourself from any danger of smoke inhalation.

Secondly, that nudge with your foot had unpredictable consequences. Hitting me on the side of the head, it has caused a frontal lobe haemorrhage in *exactly* the right place to give me an excellent idea…

Temporarily ignoring the vitreous fluid dripping down my jaw, I attempt a normal roll to open the door with the key in my pocket! That’s an 8…


In your haste to get the key to the door, it flies out of your hand and it ricochets around the room before – with a comedy ‘plop’ sound – lodges itself halfway into your arsehole, sticking proudly out like Excalibur,

Arms flopping at my side , barely gripping the letter between my aching teeth, I run at you, pelvis first, in an attempt to push your bulbous frame to batter the door down. I attempt a normal roll with a 3…

chrisWe both crunch into the doorway. Our combined body weight cracks the bottom panel off, and we roll through into the passageway.

As we lay in a bundle, an influx of air passes through, nearly ripping the letter out from your teeth. The heat behind us triples in intensity with a roar, blistering any exposed skin on the back of our legs.

Finally, a smoke alarm begins to wail in the corridor, and you can hear raised voices from down the stairs. I try to put my feet out from the flaming room, with a 2 on a normal roll…


You extract your feet from the room without incident and try to regain some form of composure as the voice from below comes into focus – its (our mutual friend) Dave!

“You alright boys? Whats happening?”

“BA***RD!” No one – CHUFFING NO ONE – is going to get between me and this letter getting into the first post of the day. From prone position, I launch my self head-first at him trusting that his body will act as a soft and mushy springboard by which to get a good head start at the mail box.

I roll a 10, on a normal roll…

chrisDave is, of course, our landlord. Who else would be running a slum rental business with bars on the windows and no smoke alarms?

Unfortunately, as well as being a bad person, he is, of course, a triple dan sumo ninja. Before you manage two paces, he pulls out a pair of nunchucks and crashes them into your teeth. They all crumble. Each and every one falls outs, and your letter falls to the floor.

“I HrrrAAAATTTE DAAAAAFFFFE!!!!!” I scream, my shattered voice roaring out a death rattle. I pull double samurai swords from the dual holsters on my back, and swing them out in a symmetrical arc, centring on Dave’s neck.

My kickass roll is… 4! (My bubblegum drops to 6 due to my reliably failing rolls)


You leap like a hero, silhouetted against the flames, like a mongoose falls upon the cobra, eye bulging red, intent on dismembering this, the author of our ills. Dave deftly flicks his wrist and in a flash speaks a commanding word… “leviosa!”

You halt, suspended in mid air, eye stalk dangling and limbs flailing furiously against fresh air. It will take you a while to ‘swim’ through the ether, that’s for sure.

“Basthad!” I cry through bleeding gums. Woozy from the loss of blood and smoke inhalation I decide there is only one chance of bringing this to a decisive end. Using my bollock blood as lubricant, I attempt to leap upon the bannister and surf down it like Orlando Bloom.

I roll a mighty 4, failing utterly, and dropping my Bubblegum to 5…

chrisYou surf completely successfully down the banister. Sure, you totally lose your genitalia, but what good were they anyway? The reason this is a failure is that you left the letter upstairs, next to the fire…

I hang in the air, head entirely engulfed in smoke from the raging tempest behind us. Bleary from the lack of oxygen, I decide to move fast.

Whilst I am floating in the air, both my arms are free, so I attempt to fling both swords at Dave at the same time. Each one a normal roll… a 1 and a 9.


Your first sword splits Dave’s skull like a melon, but your second falls to the ground with you on top of it. Your next d10 roll will also indicate how many fingers you loose as you try to grab it. If you roll 10 you lose all your fingers and are impaled on your own blade.

I try to stem the gush of blood from my genitals. I roll an 8 on a normal roll…

chrisLacking working hands, you attempt to make a bandage and apply it to your groin using your feet. The contortioning required to do this proves too much, and the increased strain in an already injured area causes your femoral artery to rupture on one side. This is bad now, blood is absolutely torrenting out, spraying on the walls and all over the bottom of the stairs. You’ve got about 2 minutes before you bleed out, tops. You could call for help, but its hard with no teeth.

It does seem that help may be on the way though. You hear a siren as a fire engine makes its way towards us. Given that the flames are now licking up the outside of the house, that’s not hugely surprising.

Meanwhile, I fall to the ground as my second blade bounces off the carpet and swings up towards me. My devastated vocal cords allow me only a gurgling cry as 7 of my fingers are sliced clean away.

Despite my ruined eye, my hideous transformation, my burned legs, all my destroyed possessions and the fact I’ll never play piano again, I give a smile. 2 fingers and a thumb remain, the perfect number to give a thumbs up on one bloody stump of a hand, and pick up the letter with my remaining pincer limb…

Its a successful normal roll of… 4!


Triumphantly, you hold aloft the letter in your three remaining fingers, blood pissing everywhere and the smell of charred flesh in the air.

I arch my back in attempt to elevate the bleeding area, while simultaneously trying to put pressure on the wound with one of my feet.

I roll a 4, succeeding a normal roll…

chrisThe bleeding stops, finally. Panting for breath from the loss of blood, you stagger to your feet. There you stand, in a pool of your own life fluid, your legs blistered by fire, and absolutely caked in darkened blood. Everything from the hip down is a mass of clots and ravaged flesh.

Your arms have the appearance of having two elbows, the normal mid arm joint and then a horribly unnatural twist just after, with bone and gristle poking out, your hands hanging flaccidly and uselessly below.

Finally, a face, already horrific before you awoke this morning, now dominated by a toothless, gaping maw. You are truly a fearsome sight to behold. Worst of all, you realise you have not had breakfast.

Oblivious to all else, you decide clearly and triumphantly that everything will be better once you have gone to the kitchen and had a bowl of cereal.

The flames are truly ferocious now, 6 feet high, and hundreds of degrees in temperature. All clothes and skin on that half of my body is actively smouldering. I decide that enough is enough. Despite the sound outside of competent firemen arriving to put out the blaze, I decide to vehemently urinate so copiously that I put the entire fire out.

This is a kickass roll of… 9! A dazzling success!


A shower of sparkling, clear urine erupts from your loins. The spray casts a dazzling rainbow as the reek of sweet smelling steam bursts around your heroic form.

I meet the firefighters at the door and, passing them a tenner, attempt to sweet talk them into praying for me to be completely
healed.

I roll a spectacularly miserable 2, dropping my bubblegum to 4…

chrisIt was an audacious move, trying to call down God’s healing power through the intercession of strangers. Unfortunately, these particular firemen are staunch secularists, and are wildly offended by your suggestion. Together (and this move has been suggested by my 5 year old) they lift you up and push you into the kitchen bin. Your useless arms flap impotently against them, and they easily wedge you in and close the lid.

The fireman then rush back out to the truck, and start several hoses spraying into the top of the house. Coupled with the thousands of gallons of urine I already discharged, the fire has been abruptly replaced with a flood. A tsunami-like all of water appears in the corridor, and, still triumphantly holding the letter aloft, I jump onto Dave’s desecrated corpse and surf him down the stairs, voraciously pirouetting all the while…

I roll a kickass of 6, failing and dropping my bubblegum to 5…

 

 

…in progress, refresh for updates…

Board gaming in July

I love spending time with people, and I love being decimated by them in games of strategy, humour and imagination. Hence why I’m a proud member of…

boardgamesgroupfacebookBoston Board Games Group

Meeting on sporadic nights in and around Boston, we get to try out various exciting new games. All games are fully explained by nerds experienced board gamers, and beginners are welcome.

Go on… join the group on Facebook!

We’ve play games like Settlers of CatanLords of War, 6nimmt!, Carcassone, Coup, 7 Wonders, Dead of Winter, Android: Netrunner, Between Two Cities, and Discworld: Ankh Morpork. In other words: no Monopoly, just fun new table based explosions of co-operation and competition.

Last night…

With 50% of our regular members leaving Boston – forever – over the next 2 weeks, we decided it was important to meet and be mean to each other whilst the opportunity remained…

gameoftrainscoverGame of Trains

Game of Trains is a pretty simple card game from Brain Games. I picked it up at the UK Board Games Expo last month, where it actually won “Best General Card Game”.

It benefits from quick to learn mechanics, a streamlined gameplay style with fast rounds, and mild player interraction. Definitely not my favourite game ever, but its simplicity, and beautiful artwork gets it to the table more than I’d expect.

There’s something very satisfying in getting the carriages in ascending number order, and its light enough to be great for playing whilst chatting. And seriously, look how pretty!

gameoftrains

Jon and I played a few rounds whilst we waited for everyone else to arrive, and it fulfilled its purpose, wetting our whistles for an evening of good natured cardboard aggression…

camelupCamel Up!

Camel Up is a recent classic in the small, slightly inbred world of tabletop fun. It won the coveted 2014 Speil Des Jahres Award in Germany. In board gaming circles, that’s like winning the World Cup, Wimbledon and, I dunno, the Conservative Party Leadership Race.

In simple terms, there’s a camel race afoot. The field is represented by funky wooden stackable camels, you spend your time betting against each other, trying to a) guess who is going to win the current leg, or b) the entire race.

The reason its great fun? Because Jon will decide to make your exact guess about the red camel’s inexorable victory… 4 seconds before you do, meaning that your prize of 8 Egypt Pounds drops to a disappointing 5 Egypt Pounds. And then, in the last second, the yellow camel gaily leaps over your pathetic rouge dromedary, transforming your hoped-for earnings into a penalty charge of one pound, and gaining Robbie an unstoppable lead.

I’d never played it before, but I can tell its going to be a family favourite. It’s short, its simple, very interactive, and wonderfully silly. Just a shame that Craig broke my cardboard dice pyramid!

projecteliteProject: ELITE

We were only at the UK Board Games Expo for a day, so there wasn’t much time for playing games as much as childishly running around in excitement. One stall did catch my attention though, and we managed a quick-but-intense play through of their offering – Project:ELITE.

As it turned out, it was awesome; so awesome in fact, that Robbie bought it there and then, with both expansions. That’s a big chunk of money to throw down on a game we’d never heard of, and had only played for 15 minutes. What was it that drew us in?

The sheer pace of each round – and the degree to which fighting for useful dice rolls can delay you – lends itself to moments like this, moments of “Oh right, my plan was to go in there and then retreat…

The premise: You are space heroes, or soldiers, or whatever. Basically, you = generic good guys. You work as a team to complete a mission, generally along the lines of capture all objectives, or maybe collect things and take them to your base, or simply “survive”.

Up against you is a never ending swarm of different monsters/aliens/demons/generic bad guys. Thanks to Robbie picking up the expansions, there’s also Boss monsters, and around 20 other different types of scary things to attack you in a variety of intriguing ways.

So far, so blah. It’s fun, but futuristic combat themes are ten-a-penny. Where this little gem shines is in its the core mechanic: each scenario consists of 8 two minute long rounds, which progress in real time…

  1. You start with a quick team strategy talk, then someone presses “Start” on the two minute timer.
  2. Each of you has 4 dice. They are custom dice with symbols that let you walk, shoot, open things, use equipment, etc.
  3. You will be frantically rolling and re-rolling to get the outcomes you need.
  4. If you roll a red alien symbol, you have to immediately stop and move an alien.
DSC_1223
Craig making bedroom eyes at me

How does this work out? For two very focused minutes, each of you is obsessively picking up dice, groaning, moving aliens, rolling again, groaning *again*, moving more aliens, then finally getting the symbols you actually need, giving a yelp of joy, before grabbing the dice again at a corybantic pace, wincing as someone shouts out “Ten seconds left!”

The round finishes as abruptly as it began, at which point you step back and look at what actually happened to the rest of the players during your entirely introspective 120 seconds. Its a fun moment – you’d think it would be frustrating to miss the action on the rest of the board – but in fact it invites story telling: everyone gets to boast/commiserate about their own activities during the frenetic dice storm.

DSC_1231Our match left me with plenty of memorable moments. After the first round, where I had quite easily kept the right flank at bay, we debriefed, and it turned out that Craig’s sole achievement had been to open a box, and we were close to being completely overrun by aliens on our left flank. Despite a well thought out plan, the dice had defeated us, and it took concerted effort to stop us losing the next turn.

The buzzer blew on a later round, and everyone realised I had managed to leave myself wounded and stranded in the middle of the alien base. The sheer pace of each round – and the degree to which fighting for useful dice rolls can delay you – lends itself to moments like this, moments of “Oh right, my plan was to go in there and then retreat…

Our final turn involved me limping across to Craig, where he tossed me one of two jetpacks he’d somehow stolen from somewhere. I eventually equipped it with one of my two remaining dice, allowing me to boost across the board to Jon, who, thanks to my injuries, had to give me his medkit and help me use it. Meanwhile, Craig had turned back to the final objective, effortlessly completing it and, using his own jetjack, nimbly launched himself back to the safe zone. Robbie was probably doing something cool too, but he was the other side of the board from me, which might as well have been the other side of the world given my ultra-focused (read “selfish“) approach to the game.

I definitely recommend Project: ELITE. It scales well, has a solo mode, and there’s plenty of variability, even with just the base set. Setup is a little fiddly, but the rules are surprisingly simple and quick for new players to pick up.

chrononautsChrononauts

Next to the table was the time travelling card game Chrononauts. From the creator of Fluxx, its a set collection game with a very thematic twist.

Setup involves laying out a grid of cards in chronological order, representing the last 150 years of world history. You are then given a hand of cards, which give you the power to mess with your opponents, or flip over key “linchpins” in the timeline.

There are three ways to win. Be the first to:

  1. Get the timeline to match up with your ID card: this will have some real historical events, such as “Assassination of JFK”, and some alternate timelines, such as “World War 3”, or “Titanic Avoids Iceberg”.
  2. Collect the three artifacts on your Mission card: ranging from “The Mona Lisa (an obvious fake)” to “Live Triceratops”.
  3. Play 7 patch cards: these sit on top of flipped “Paradox” timeline cards, repairing worrying holes in time and space.

chrononautsThe rules take a few minutes to sink in, but once you have them it makes sense. Flipping over cards in the past affects events in the future – if Hitler is assassinated, how can he open the 1936 Olympics? – so small changes to one card can ripple down the timeline, affecting multiple events in the future.

I enjoyed myself, but you can tell that it came from the same mind as Fluxx: player progression is not respected. At one point, I accidentally played a card that took Robbie’s hand, swelled by the 5 patch cards he’d played, and gave it to Craig, putting him into the lead. Whilst its a satisfying way to mess with people, there’s something that puts me off about any rules that let you play tactically for 25 minutes only to have your entire role swapped so easily. In the end, I actually won, but only because the timeline almost randomly ended up matching my ID card. Too luck based for my blood.

coupcoverCoup

We started the evening with a lightweight game; rounding things off with Coup seemed equally appropriate.

DSC_1239An early Kickstarter success, Coup is practically a micro game, with rounds lasting perhaps 2 minutes, and being entirely based on straight-faced lying to your friends, being challenged on that bluffing, and throwing your cards to the table in frustration as they beat you. I covered it in my December round-up, so check it out there…

And there we were, five different games under our belts, and only 10:30pm, meaning I could avoid my usual played-game-until-midnight sleep deprivation hangover the next day. Good stuff!

Feel free to drop a comment below, or check out the posts from November, December and FebruaryDon’t forget to visit the facebook group!

Brexit: do you know enough?

I’m going to voice an unpopular opinion here: many of us probably shouldn’t be voting in this referendum.

Yes, yes, “people died for our right to vote”, “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain when you don’t like the result”, etc. But having a right to vote means we also have a responsibility to know what we are voting for.

europe-flagThe truth is, we are voting about a hugely complicated event, with no crystal ball. There are big issues on the table: economics, immigration, security, sovereignty… Understanding them requires intelligence, and dedication to sourcing the least biased information available.

Whilst I’d love to believe that most people are putting in the time and effort needed to understand, I don’t think that’s the world I’m living in.

We aren’t voting on “do you hate foreigners?”

The reality I’m living in is called “Lincolnshire”. Its a rural county, filled with small towns that have seen a sea change due to Eastern European immigration. When I talk to people in Skegness, they are not presenting me with calculated, well-informed debate… “Well yes, Norway haven’t been allowed to negotiate free trade without free movement, but we bring a lot more to the table, so may able to hash out a different deal…”.

One is a recent UKIP poster, the other part of a 1930s Nazi anti-semetic propaganda campgain…

Now, I’m aware that many of my friends have made a decision based on very careful research, thought and reasoning. In which case, please do not be offended by my next statement.

That said, it is true to say that the vast majority of the arguments I’ve been hearing on the train; that are being posted on Facebook; that I see on the front pages of the tabloids; are, frankly, racist.

An opinion I’ve had voiced to me literally ten times in the last year: “I’m all for leaving Europe. You can’t hear even hear English on the street in Boston any more, them foreigners are taking over”.

My response has been simple:

“Firstly, many of ‘them foreigners’ are my friends.”

“Secondly, this is not what the debate is about. We aren’t voting on ‘do you hate foreigners?’. Leaving the EU is very unlikely to reduce our immigration levels. When you vote “Leave” thinking that’s what it gives you, you risk damaging the country you wish to protect!”

I’m voting Remain

I am voting Remain, because I think it makes more sense. In almost every area, the majority of our experts seem to think we are better off in Europe.

RemainPolitics: I think it says a lot that the leaders of the Labour party, Tory party, Lib Dems, Green Party and the SNP actually agree on this one. Five of Northern Ireland’s political parties have joined together on the issue. Think about that – when do those guys ever get round the same table?

Economics: I also think that there are some pretty intelligent people in the Treasury, the Financial Times, the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. They, along with 279 leading economists paint a brighter picture for the UK in Europe than outside itSure, 8 prominent economists wrote their own letter supporting Leave. But I’m good enough at economics to know that 279 vs 8 = a landslide consensus against Brexit

Immigration: Norway isn’t in Europe. But to be allowed the trade advantages, they had to accept free movement. Ie. the same immigration situation that we are in. Norway’s President wrote to the UK and told us there is no gain from being in their situation. Leaving the EU is absolutely no guarantee that our immigration levels will reduce.

Sovereignty: the EU is a democratic body – what do you think MEPs are? Furthermore, the turnout for MEP elections is around the same as for local council elections (around 30%). Should be all be campaigning to leave our local council too?

I’m not writing this post to go into everything in detail: there’s plenty of links for that below.

Not sure? Educate yourself.

learningIt’s difficult, it’s complicated, and it’s important. If you think it’s worth voting then it’s worth voting right.

Here’s five options for you to learn more:

  1. FullFact.org are a politically neutral organisation, whose aim to check facts, with no agenda. Read their information on the EU referendum.
  2. Wanting something lighter? My friend Raj has written “A simple-ish summary of Vote Remain“.
  3. The Financial Times has written a brilliant article entitled “Brexit in seven charts: the economic impact“, which answers a lot of difficult questions in an easy to understand way.
  4. Visit Open Europe – an organisation that has declared itself officially neutral on the issue – for their analysis of what a post Brexit UK might look like. That said, its a fairly complex read.
  5. Another friend of mine, Gareth, has written a more detailed, but still very readable look at things – “Should we stay or should we go?“.

Still not sure? Don’t vote.

My wife’s grandfather has made the decision not to vote. He’s a firm believer in democracy, and feels that he hasn’t been able to fully enough understand the debate to be sure he’s doing the right thing.

I think his decision is honest, and honourable. If you aren’t sure why you checking that box, you risk hurting the UK. Be true to yourself, be true to our democracy, and don’t just blindly guess.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for being part of this great, free and democratic union!

EAT IT! EP by My Pizza My World Review

EAT IT Cover ArtPunk rock and folk music have a common heart. They share a singalong-round-a-campfire mentality. Things are a bit rough round the edges. There’s an understanding that its time to talk about real issues with honesty. And both are a bit niche; you aren’t going to be hearing either on Radio 1 any time soon.

My Pizza My World embody this heart. They are the proud sole proponents of the laughing, self-deprecating genre of pizzacore; and the message is clear – music is awesome, but let’s not take ourselves too seriously, right? They are currently in the middle of a shambolic tour across the US, playing in squats, tattoo parlours and bars, spreading a message of hope, grounded in reality.

A passing moment,
A missed connection
Something gone before you ever knew you could grasp it.

I’m not totally sure what random combination of searches led to me stumbling upon their EP on bandcamp, but I do know that I love it. The plaintive pitunkerings (yes, yes, not a ‘real’ word) of a banjo, accompany a delightfully homemade-looking upright bass and a tenor ukelele, as their joint female/male vocals ring out and “refuse to waste away”.

The second track “Forgotten” stands out, and has led to me wandering around the house humming the vocal line. It reminds me a little bit of “Restless”, by the shortlived Hot Water Music side project, Rumbleseat. Less of the thudding momentum of Rumbleseat, but similarities none-the-less. The friendly parp of a trumpet on “No Time for Cryin’” also sticks in your head rather enjoyably.

A fragile mindset
Teetering on a hilltop,
Built of stones of regret over a sea of broken glass.

My thoughts on Eat It? Pick it up. Its not the best recorded EP ever, but the lo-fi works in its favour, reminds me of listening to old blues records from the 20s. The lyrics might be pretty far from Blind Willie Johnson’s material 90 years ago, but the discontented souls sound smack-bang the same. Don’t get me wrong, they know how to play, and they can sing too, but that kinda misses the point. With music like this, its not about how well you can play, all that matters is that you are.

…but darlin’ you know me too well – cause I’d rather be lost here then forgotten.

Check out My Pizza My World on Bandcamp or on Facebook.
Buy some pizza and share it with someone you love too.

10K Chris

Beacon Medical Practice running teamFollowing on the heels of my determined decision to become fit, slim and healthy a couple of years ago, I’ve been running pretty regularly. Since then, I’ve clocked up roughly 700km of sweaty boring hours, and have even begun to find it less boring, if no less sweaty.

Last year I completed my first Triathlon, and yesterday I managed my first proper 10K road race, running with some of my colleagues from The Beacon Medical Practice. I thought I would share a little about it below…

Location

City Of Lincoln 10K Route MapMy friendly local medical practice, as part of encouraging holistic healthy living, offered to book anyone who wanted to run onto the Lincoln 10K. Nine of us ran it, ranging from an ultramarathon runner to first timers, so the pressure was nice and low.

The City of Lincoln 10K is a very flat course, running two squares around the Cathedral quarter slap-bang in the centre of historic Lincoln. Click the route on the right for a nice big version.

Training

I… didn’t do any. I meant to, but this year has been pretty rough so far. I’ve been ill quite a few times, had a scary exam to prepare for, and suffered from a fair bit of stress/tiredness. Looking back over my fitness log, I’ve been managing around 2-4 shortish runs a month since the new year. Probably enough to maintain fitness, but definitely not improve.

I’d hoped to put in some serious practice, but instead, a week before the race I found myself texting my sports performance specialist friend Jon, asking “How do I knock 5minutes off my personal best for 10K in a week”. I settled on the following plan

Monday 10K at race pace
Tuesday 5K at race pace
Wednesday Rest day
Thursday Long walk
Friday 10K at pace
Saturday Rest day

Regarding nutrition, I ignored this in the days leading up to the race, but on the morning of, I had a quorn and halloumi omelette, plenty of protein and fat, with some carbs in the form of a pack of mints.

I had planned to eat a slice of toast with jam as well, but felt a bit full following the omelette, and felt longer acting carbs vs running whilst overfull was a difficult call. Should have got up earlier, and kicked off with some porridge…

Experience

On the starting line, waiting for kick-off...I had a great time. I slotted myself into the sub 45 minute group at the start line, more to avoid the crush of people slowing me down further back.

It was a great race overall, and my first real experience of the need to pace more carefully.

The first kilometre, I got much too excited by the atmosphere, and the people around me to overtake, and pushed a bit too hard. My earphones fed back to me that I’d managed a 4 minute 11 km, so I made a conscious effort to slow down over the next 2km, picking slightly slower people in the field and keeping pace with them.

I settled into a rhythm, and generally just found 3-5km great. However, I hit the halfway mark, and hit a mental wall, struggling to keep my pace, which was apparent by around 7km, where I’d started to drop from 4:30-4:40s to nearly 5min per kilometre.

Talking myself out of the doldrums, I was able to pick up the pace again at 8km, but then hit more of a physical wall – I’d been pushing pretty hard for 35 minutes by now, and there weren’t any reserves left in my legs. Over the final 2k, I didn’t get my usual burst of energy with the end being in sight, and clocked up my slowest times, at 5:08 and 5:16.

It was a great race overall, and my first real experience of the need to pace more carefully. I think that if I hadn’t had a pacing reminder early on, I’d have carried on pushing a bit too hard, and really crashed later on around 6-7k, almost certainly harming my time overall. As it was, I probably ran it a bit too much as a 5K, with a PB for my 5K time too!

I wonder if fitting in some complex carbs in the morning would have sustained me a little better – difficult to say, I suspect it wouldn’t have made much difference either way.

Results

I was aiming for a sub 50 minute time, solely to beat my brother’s time from his 10K last year. On Monday, 6 days before, I ran a practice run in 55 minutes, which was not terribly encouraging.

What did I manage? Not just one, but two personal bests! New PB for 5K at 22 min 44 seconds and for 10k at 46 minutes 46 seconds. I came 717th out of 4,682 (15th centile).

Even more importantly, we bonded as a team, and I got to eat 2.5 pizzas in the 7 hours following the race. All in all, a total win.Having a well deserved pint to celebrate a combined 90 kilometres of running

Bad Medicine: Why the doctors are striking.

This is a cross post from my Huffington Post column. Feel free to read it there instead…

I am a big believer in Good Medicine.

Notice the capital “M”? We all know about “medicine”, which often takes the form of tablets that help you to get better. But Medicine is the art of getting people better. Learning Good Medicine is a process of skilled training that takes doctors decades of experience, practice, mistakes and reflection.

Good evidence = Good Medicine

GoodmedicineScience means “using evidence to prove a theory”. Applying science to Medicine means that all our actions need to be based on reliable, good quality evidence.

It is impossible to practice Good Medicine without evidence – a fact that is drummed into us at medical school. Science is the reason doctors don’t try to cure impotence with electrocution, cure migraines by drilling holes in people’s skulls, and never encourage people to drink their own urine.

Look at some of these examples, to see how important evidence is:

Why do we ask Mrs Jones to take tablets for blood pressure?
Because the evidence shows that it reduces her risks of strokes, heart attacks, heart failure, kidney failure, and lots of other nasty things.

Why do we use paracetamol when little Timmy is burning up with his sore throat?
Because the evidence shows us that it relieves distress in children with raised temperatures.

Why does Mr William’s GP always ask him about smoking?
Because evidence shows that simple advice from a GP nearly doubles the chance that Mr William will quit in the following year.

Being a good doctor means practising Good Medicine. If we are going to take risks with people’s lives, we need to be sure that what we are doing is helpful; I’m sure you agree.

The government doesn’t have good evidence

Unfortunately, there is a problem. The NHS isn’t run by nurses, and doctors, and pharmacists, and radiologists, and dieticians, and the many, many other professionals who understand that evidence is the most important underpinning of everything we do together.

David_Cameron_(28_January_2011)The NHS is run by politicians. Politicians like David Cameron, and Jeremy Hunt. Politicians who don’t seem to understand that Medicine without evidence is Bad Medicine. We, the doctors, are terribly concerned, that the politicians are in a hurry.

We want a 7 day NHS. Oh yes! We want a better health service, no doubt about it. But “7 day health service” is a buzzword. On its own, it doesn’t mean anything. Even if Jeremy Hunt sits on the toilet one morning, and has a brilliant idea, its very important that we test his idea.

Many of you will remember the incident in 2006 in London when a new drug, TGN1412, was given to 6 men, all of whom nearly died, with multiple organ failure. Ultimately, there was several problems with that trial, but a fact point is: aren’t you glad they didn’t try that drug on thousands of people at once?

The government isn’t proposed untested drugs, but it does want to roll out a junior doctor contract across the country, without testing it first. The junior doctors are concerned that it runs the risk of making problems much worse. Why is there such a hurry to take action without getting more evidence first?

What evidence we do have doesn’t support the government’s claims

Mr Hunt claims he has evidence that 11,000 people die each year due to weekend staffing. But let me read you a line from the conclusion of the very report he is quoting:“It is not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable; to assume that they are avoidable would be rash and misleading.” In other words, he is claiming the study as strong evidence to support his actions: but the report makes it very clear that it is absolutely not.

Mr Cameron wants us to “become the first country in the world to deliver a truly 7-day NHS“. But he talks about 24/7 GP practices, despite the initial evidence we have not supporting this in practice. The Public Accounts committee grilled policy advisers on what their cost-benefit analysis evidence was, to discover that they haven’t done any. They asked a key question: “If you don’t know in broad terms what the answer is, how can you be doing the policy?”.

We would agree, strongly. If the government doesn’t know its changes will save lives, how can they be implementing them?

Why the junior doctors are striking

The government has said they are going to force a new contract onto doctors. But they don’t have any evidence that the new contract will save lives. We, the doctors, are very concerned that it will cost lives, and we keep saying it, but the government isn’t listening to us.

Knee jerk decisions?
That’s Bad Medicine.

Actions without evidence?
That’s Bad Medicine.

Changing the NHS that 53 million people rely on without trialling to see if the changes are harmful?
That’s Bad Medicine.

Bad Medicine kills people. Support your junior doctors, and tell the Government we want a safe, evidence based NHS, and we are willing to take the time to do it properly. #notsafenotfair

I’ve cross posted this on my personal site, AllAboutChris.org. If you feel strongly, please post it on your site too. Feel free to contact me me on twitter as @bigonroad. Thanks for reading!