“Did you ever play ‘Butt Comin’ at Ye’?” said Colly. We were walking through Lurgan, my hometown, and we had begun to talk about some of the more esoteric memories of our shared childhood. Fifty metres away, the town’s police station rose like a fortress out of the street, surrounded in green sheets of amoured metal, steel grates and breezeblock walls the colour of the Irish sky. We walked on past it.
“Butt comin’ at ye?” I said.
“Dave and I used to play it. You finish smoking your cigarette and you say ‘here Dave, butt comin’ at ye’ and then you just…”
He mimed flicking a cigarette. I laughed.
Brendan: Amar moves his knight to c6 and I feel my lungs seize up. It is my first game of chess against another human being in over 10 years and remembering to breathe has become a problem.
When I first arrived at the chess club, hidden away on the shadowy second floor of an old school hall, like some secret society, Amar greeted me with a kind smile and a friendly handshake. He had a soft voice and an Einstein moustache. Now he is moving his knight to c6. Sometimes Amar makes his moves slowly, thoughtfully. Other times, he takes seconds, as if the order of play was pre-ordained and he was just there in some formal capacity as piecemover. What else can I say about Amar? Oh yes. He is destroying me.
Oh yeah, and watch out for all the blood because one of you is dying.
Brendan [exhausted]: Ah. Ho. Ho boy. Hi, everybody. I hope this man didn't frighten you. This is Silas, a fictional character I invented when I realised I was going to be late for the review. I sent him ahead with his horse, which I also created. Such is the power of the board game journalist. Phew. But now that I have arrived, I can-
Silas: Stick 'em up.
Brendan: What? Hey, that’s my wallet! No, Silas! Come back here, or I swear I’ll... Hey! Stop riding around on that thing. And stop firing your gun in the air, it’s irresponsible. Don’t make me invent a sheriff, Goddamn you!
Brendan: Scratchcards – the most worldly and humble of the lesser gambles. Although I am far from being one of the people who are inexplicably and tragically addicted to them, scratchcards nevertheless maintain a power over me. I was talking about them with some friends recently and concluded that my enjoying a scratchcard has more to do with ritual than money. Although, let’s be honest, like all forms of gambling, the money is at the nucleus of its strange charm.
Supercomputer: Anomia. Latin origin. Meaning “without name”. Would you like me to run a simulation of the universe without names, nouns, pronouns, designa—
Brendan: No! I mean, no Supercomputer, but thank you. I just want to play this simple card game with someone. I’m sad that my friends left. You remember what we talked about? Sad? It’s an emotion.
Supercomputer: Runtime error. Do you mean when those called Paul Dean and Quintin Smith inexplicably abandoned you to become an accountant and a low cost assassin respectively? Reducing the number of your human friendship circle from 2 to 0?
Brendan: It’s not zero! Matt is still my friend.
Supercomputer: Initial and ongoing analysis of his facial expressions indicates that the one called Matt Lees regards you as subhuman and without merit. Would you like me to run a simulation of some friends?
Paul: What is it?
Brendan: It’s Snake Oil. It is made from snakes and it is an incredibly potent remedy for all sorts of ailments, from headaches to baldness.
Paul: I’ll take ten!
Brendan: But wait because all is not as it seems. You see –
Brendan: No Paul, because Snake Oil is not actually –
Paul: Just take my wallet, my PIN is 1234! Now give me that!
Brendan: No, Paul, stop! Just listen to me for one second! Come back. I need that box. It’s a board game I’m supposed to review. Paul! Paul? Nope, he’s gone.
This is a game all about guesswork, language and stifled communication, about creating brilliant new ways to express old ideas – oh, I forgot the game. Hang on, I’ll go get it. Quinns, don’t eat my pizza while I’m gone.
Quinns: Of course not!
Brendan: Okay, I’ve got the ... You’ve eaten my pizza.
Here then, is a set of problems for you to ponder. Can you discover the correct move(s)? Or maybe even better Brendan’s efforts? There is only one way to find out. Read on for the problems! (Note: If the only problem you see is a mess of abstract shapes untied to rules or regulations, please check out our review of Hive, which is a lovely game about creepy crawlies.)