Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

This book begins like many contemporary thrillers with an ordinary guy going about his routine, until something out of the ordinary happens. For Jason Dessen, the unusual event is that he is kidnapped. And, when he wakes up from being knocked out, things are not what they were, to put it mildly.

At this point, the thriller becomes stranger and stranger. I don’t want to say more as it would spoil your enjoyment. If you are an open minded reader who likes their fiction with a touch of the bizarre spicing up some interesting ideas and classical morale challenges, this is for you. It’s an adventure with brains. If you read it, you may never look at the world around you in the same way.

Running out of time

This week’s session got off on the wrong foot as we set up the excellent Terra Mystica, only to realize we wouldn’t have time to finish it. Instead, Azriel, Roy, Sheer, and I did a five lap version of Automobiles. This was new to Roy, but Sheer did a great job of explaining the rules and we were soon off and running.

Unfortunately, Roy ran out of time, so we crashed his car and had the three survivors battle it out.

Azriel was out in front first, and was steady, steady, and steady. He just wasn’t fast enough. Sheer and I overtook him on the second lap or thereabouts, after which we took it in turns to have the lead. Just as it was getting to the final lap, two awful draws by me meant my car was stuck and going nowehere, leaving Sheer an easy run to be first across the finishing line.

My pet hate about Automobiles is that with the wrong cubes drawn, there is nothing you can do. That luck element – supposedly – balances out. But I am not convinced. I wonder what would happen if we allowed a player to play two for one (or three for one) so that he could always trade for one or more cubes that would allow movement,

I then introduced Azriel and Sheer to Ivanhoe. This is a fine filler from Knizia, being a trick taking game with a tournament theme tacked on.

Azriel again was out front first, but was overtaken by Sheer. I caught up a little, but had burned my cards in too many lost challenges, and could not keep up with the pace, allowing Sheer the win after a struggle over the final tournament.

Lots of losses, an element of frustration, but also lots of fun.

The Fix – David Baldacci

This is the third in the series featuring Amos Decker, the man whose football injury changed his character, and gave him perfect recall. This time around he has to use his skills and investigative talents to solve the mystery of why Walter Dabney, a family man with an impeccable background, apparently commited a heinous crime and then suicide.

Of the three, this is the weakest. The plot is up to scratch. However, at some points of the narrative I felt there were absences – of empathy and interest – that somewhat reduced the tension. The action was not as intense as in the previous books, and the dialogue more extensive, presumably intended to develop the character. Unfortunately, it was boring in places before getting back on track.

Decker remains a fascinating character and so the combination of him and a truly puzzling plot made it, overall, a good read. But I may wait for reviews of the next one before buying it.

Down Mexica Way

Avri, Azriel, Sheer, and I had fun this week with two closely fought and tense games.

Dominion: Prosperity was first, using one of the suggested preconstructed decks that allowed for much friendly interaction. Sheer got off to his usual quick start, and was soon amassing all the money he needed to buy the necessary victory point cards. Avri, Azriel, and I were slower in starting, but managed to generate some momentum and grab a decent amount of victory points. After a while all of our hands – suitably stuffed with VP cards – started to slow down a bit. It was at this point that I though we might catch Sheer, but alas it was not to be. Sheer held on for a win by four points, with Azriel and I behind, and Avri only one point further back.

Next, I introduced everyone to Mexica. This is a classic action point area majority game where, as usual, you can never quite do enough to advance your own plans and, simultaneously, beat up your opponents. Everyone picked up the game reasonably quickly, though Azriel struggled somewhat with the scoring. We tried to help him out, and by the end he was in contention if not enlightened. The game has two rounds of scoring, and after the first my advantage was reflected in my leading position. In the second round, Avri did all that he could to haul me back, so it was no real surprise to me that this allowed Sheer the win. Again, a tight game. And the stabbing and backstabbing – metaphorically of course – was great fun.

Thanks to my three plucky visitors for a fine night of entertainment.