Monday, June 7, 2010

Contrail 2010, with Additional Wildlife

Some things are better left unsaid, but this isn't one of them. It was a weekend of games, games, and some more games, a bit of food, some wildlife visitors, and then more games to fill.

I've only got some wildlife photos, but soon there should be some gaming photos and descriptions on the Mind Shaft Gap blog site (our group's official blog site).

Contrail is my board-gaming group's annual weekend away, dedicated to spending as much time gaming as possible. Originally it was part of Paul's birthday celebrations, but has moved beyond that. You would have to ask Paul where the name come from (something about a gaming convention on the bush trail, and seeing a aircraft contrail at the same time). Paul schedules the weekend, and books the venue. Everyone brings lots of games. It is a highlight on the group's calendar, and eagerly awaited.

The focus seems to be on longer games that can't normally come out on Sunday nights, and other games that don't often get a regular playing. Newer games also get a look in, as well as old favourites, but really any game is welcome (even the relatively frequently played Power Grid and Brass were opened up).

The Venue
We stayed at the Equestrian Lodge in Del Rio Resort, Wiseman's Ferry, NSW. This was my 3rd Contrail, and I think the venue has hosted 5 so far. It is about 2 hours (2.5 hours in rainy peak hour traffic) north of my place, on the Hawkesbury River. The lodge itself is on one end of the resort, about 950 meters from most of the other accommodation, so we weren't subject to other people's noise, and more importantly, they weren't subject to our raucous commotion at all hours of the day and night. It is situated about 250 meters from the river, overlooking a large field where wallabies and kangaroos graze during the day.

The lodge has 10 bedrooms, 5 on each side, with 2 cots and a cupboard in each, 2 sets of toilets, showers and basins, a well-kitted out kitchen, a wood heater stove, an outdoor barbecue & balcony, parking, and a large open space in the center with plenty of chairs and big tables. It also costs only about $500 a night, so is quite economical with 10 or more people. It is slightly rustic, and more or less well maintained.

We have analysed other venues, but the lodge has proved to be a nearly optimal venue for a weekend of gaming, it is:
  1. Sufficiently remote, but not too remote;
  2. Economical;
  3. Well kitted out for gaming;
  4. Well layed out for gaming;
  5. Accommodates 10 to 20 relatively comfortably.
Because there were only 6 of us arriving on Friday night, I booked a smaller cabin. After booking, I contacted Del Rio and offered them the option of allowing the six of us to stay in the lodge instead at the small cabin price, which would be beneficial for both parties, as we wouldn't have to move in the morning, and they wouldn't have to clean the cabin after we left. They accepted my offer, which was very generous for them, and economical for us.

I volunteered to cater food for the weekend, for the 3rd year running. 2 identical lunches, and 2 identical breakfasts. Most of the guys took up the offer. I make the offer for a couple of reasons:
  1. It frees the other guys from having to plan for any meals, so they can focus on the enjoyment of the weekend;
  2. It allows for more game time for everybody else (they don't have to cook, or drive off to the club for a meal and wait for them to prepare it);
  3. It is very economical for everybody (it works out to about $5 per meal each);
  4. It saves on contention for the limited kitchen resource at mealtimes;
  5. I can make nutritious, fulfilling and hopefully tasty meals;
  6. I enjoy the cooking, and challenge of catering (i.e. I get to play 'Masterchef: The Home Game', and fortunately no tall fat guy in a kravatte made disparaging comments);
For the breakfasts each day I made fresh Bearnaise sauce and eggs Benedict (poached eggs & thin-sliced ham on a toasted English muffin), along with Bircher muesli (boxed toasted muesli, some dried fruit, soaked in fruit yogurt overnight), with coffee, juice, milk. The leftover Bearnaise sauce was kept for lunch to put on the steaks. I have these nifty microwave egg poachers which work reasonably well. I like the eggs Benedict because they can be quickly made individually, so everybody can get up at whatever time they feel like.

For the lunches, to save time & effort (and to ensure I had the right tools and a clean preparation area) I pre-prepared most of the components at home. In the food processor, I shredded some different cabbages finely, and some carrots & red onion finely, then packed them up. I similarly shredded some brown onions for the barbecue. I made & bottled a coleslaw sauce, which was mixed with the cabbage/carrot/onion mixture on-site. I bought some cheap porterhouse steaks in bulk, cut them in half, and marinated/packed them in my homemade barbecue sauce (last year I had full steaks, but they proved to be too much to eat for lunch). I packed mushrooms (which I cleaned and sliced on-site, for sanitary reasons, for the barbecued onions). I also packed some basic condiments (ketchup, mustard, salt, pepper, butter, sugar, etc).

For bread I got some bags of Lebanese bread at my local Lebanese bakery. This worked really well, because they were fresh, flat & very cheap (7 pieces for $1.30). I didn't need to worry about them getting squished either.

We had 2 vegetarian eaters, so for their lunches instead of the meat I purchased a couple of bags of frozen pastizzi, which were quite simple to just throw into the oven in a pan. Any extras were gobbled up by the meat eaters.

Everybody also brought lots of crisps and other snack food (I previously advised that I wouldn't cater snacks or fruit), along with moderate amounts of golden beverage.

For dinner on Saturday the tradition is to go to the Del Rio Club, so that's what we did.

The Timeline
On Friday afternoon Richard collected me at home, and we drove up together. We stopped at the pub at Wiseman's ferry before crossing the river. Don and Al joined us at the pub for dinner.

We inhabited the cabin, set up extra lighting from the rafters, claimed our rooms, loaded the fridge, arranged the tables and chairs, Don started a fire in the heating stove, and we started some games. Andrew soon arrived. We played a number of games (including Atlantis, Power Grid {the Korea board, which I led most of the game, and came last in one of our closest games ever}, Geshenkt/No Thanks {with a full deck}, and others) until about 2am. Andrew made some coffee around midnight, which must have been quite strong, as I had great difficulty getting to sleep (Richard later reported he also had trouble getting to sleep that night). Ed arrived from Canberra around 12:30am.

I woke early, cleaned up a bit and made breakfast. After breakfast the games started, and the other guys arrived in dribs & drabs. Lunch was had, and we played more games. It was quite a nice day outside, but I don't think anyone noticed that. I got in a nice game of Endeavor outside on the balcony just before sunset (Euhan made a bold strike against my network of colonies, but I managed to sneak in the win).

An hour before dinner we started a deduction game of Mystery Express, which Don brought still shrink wrapped. It ended in a 5 way tie for the win a couple hours after dinner. The others may have enjoyed it more, but I found it to be a slow game with limited scope for interaction or decisions, although it was very well produced. Because this game was so long, others had started some longish games (including what turned out to be an epic playing of Dune), we had a go at my $6 bargain purchase from the Salvation Army Store of an unused copy of Last Chance. The game was really very ordinary, a kind of Yahtzee with lots of betting. But this was an absolute scream, because we all just wanted to be silly and stupid, and made enthusiastic bets with lots of cheering and hollering at the die rolls. Probably didn't help the rather serious game of Dune next to us. We continued playing various games until around 1:30 I was exhausted, and turned in, this time quite able to fall asleep almost immediately. The others continued on til 2am or 3am. Somebody tidied up before retiring.

I woke early again (around 7:30). Andrew was up and preparing to leave. I made breakfast again, and almost everybody was up by 9. Pat was the last to emerge from his room. Another blur of games and lunch. After lunch Pat very generously indulged me in a 2-player game of 1960: The Making of the President, which I had requested he bring, as it was something I had wanted a first playing of for a long time. As everyone knows, Pat only plays blue in games, so he was Kennedy, and I had to be Nixon (although red is my gaming color, I have very different political views from that particular president, and once forgetting during the game that the donkeys were the opposition). I thoroughly enjoyed the game, and surprisingly managed to win (it isn't often I beat Pat at anything). After that a number of us played Betrayal at House on the Hill, which has never been one of my favourite games, and it didn't help that when I became the villain in the scenario played, the rules were somewhat unclear and incomplete. I tried to play with good spirits irregardless, so the others could enjoy the game.

Suddenly it was time to leave, so we packed up, tidied the place, and left. Neil joined Ricard and I on the drive back, as he lives quite close to us, and there was now plenty of space for him in the car since all the food was now eaten. We all chatted about our individual experiences of the weekend.


Here we have Steve not observing the vista from the front balcony (he isn't the wildlife). Most of the mobile phones didn't have coverage, but those on Telstra could get one bar of reception. Just before I took this photo there was a Kookaburra sitting on the rail across the path behind Steve.

During the day there were usually 3 or 4 wallabies browsing around the paddock.

While Steve and I were chatting, a large mob of around 100 kangaroos came hopping towards us into the paddock, chasing the wallabies away.
Here you can see a wallaby on the road, with some roos protecting their turf.
A moment later they turned around, and moved quickly towards the lodge. I don't often get the opportunity to get a photo of wildlife coming in my direction.

They split into 2 groups, and ran past the lodge on either side up into the bush.
Then some sat at the tree line observing us.
Later they dispersed, and a few stayed in the paddock. I think they may have wanted to get into our game of Ghost Stories, but it only takes 4, and our session was fully subscribed (I killed the most ghosts I think).

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