Let the Dark Waters flow!

Dark Waters Trilogy

Happy Halloween everyone!

As the night draws in, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at a great little trilogy from one of my favourite genre writers, Graham McNeill – it’s the Dark Waters trilogy!

Released from Fantasy Flight Games between 2011 and 2014, the trilogy takes place in the Arkham Horror universe, and features characters from that game as well as introducing a new, central character Oliver Grayson, a professor at Miskatonic University. The series follows him on the trail of a mystery that starts with the disappearance of some female students on campus, and uncovers a plot to destroy the world.

As a tie-in, the novel has a lot of ground that it sometimes feels like it needs to cover, however it actually turns out to be a really great story. The first novel actually features a sequence that is strongly reminiscent of the actual Arkham Horror gameplay mechanics! Certainly appeals for fans of the game. Something else that appeals to the gamers is the opportunity to get game extras by sending off a coupon in the back of the novel – the first two books, at least, had this, where you could get cards for both Arkham Horror and Elder Sign:

Dark Waters Trilogy

A nice touch, I thought, and well worth getting if you enjoyed the books. Which leads to a weird kind of cyclical argument for recommending these things. Most of the people who bought these books, I gather, did so for the cards on offer, without reading them. However, I’d say that you’d get more out of seeing these things come up in-game if you’ve read the books.

The books are a great adventure romp set in the world of Arkham Horror, a bit like a cross between Indiana Jones and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (specifically Reptile Boy from season two) though perhaps a more suitable comparison could be Jules Verne’s ‘gentlemen adventurers’. It’s certainly an enjoyable trilogy, much more straightforward fun than Lovecraft’s cosmic horror.

Have a happy Halloween, everyone!

Unseen Forces

Hey everybody!
Welcome to another game day blog here on spalanz.com! As Halloween approaches, I thought I’d get in the spirit of things with a feature on the first expansion to that classic of dice/card games, Elder Sign – it’s time for Unseen Forces!

Elder Sign Unseen Forces

This expansion was first released in 2013, and was one of the first new games that I bought following moving into my new flat. As a result, I have certain fond memories of this game that perhaps override any other feelings I might have towards it. But anyways! It was an eagerly-awaited expansion to a game that had been out for two years already, and a lot of people had begun to feel was stale and easy. Perhaps as a result of this, the expansion features a lot of things that seem specifically engineered to make it harder than the base game, though also a lot of the new stuff is super thematic that it still manages to appeal to me. Let’s take a look!

In addition to new heroes and new ancient ones, we have a plethora of new location cards, and these are one of the ways the game tries to make things harder. The tests are tougher, there are more locations where monsters appear, or that have at midnight effects and so forth, so that generally you have a much harder time in the museum this time around.

There are very few actual new mechanics in the expansion – in fact, if you’re going to remember this expansion for anything, it’ll be just one: cursed/blessed. This is something that is very present in Arkham Horror of course, but hadn’t been explored in the base game for Elder Sign. If you’re an Arkham Horror fan (or if you’ve read my blog on that game), you’ll know that cursed investigators only achieve a success on the roll of a 6, while blessed investigators achieve success on a 4, 5 or 6. So how to implement that mechanic in a game with no basic six-sided dice? Well, the method is actually quite effective.

Elder Sign Unseen Forces

We have a black die for cursed, and a white die for blessed, and they have exactly the same sides as the normal green dice from the base game. However, while the white die is just a generic bonus that gives you a greater chance of achieving your tasks, the black one removes any result it matches from your pool, which can sometimes be completely innocuous, or other times completely treacherous and, well, cursed! It’s a really fun way to implement an old favourite mechanic in a new game, and I’m really glad they kept it in the second expansion, Gates of Arkham!

Elder Sign Unseen Forces

In the spirit of making things harder, we also have two small tweaks to the Mythos deck. First is the “mythos insight” mechanic (shown above in the top rank of cards), which allows the investigators to choose what happens when the card is revealed. You must choose something that can actually happen, so in the above example you can’t choose to discard an Other World card if none are in play. This does add to the tension somewhat, as the lower option is usually much, much worse than the upper portion. Secondly there is a small number of “master mythos” cards that can be shuffled into the deck. These have a red-tinged border, and generally provide a tougher experience for players.

What other fun times do we have in here? Oh yes…

Elder Sign Unseen Forces

The entrance card is now four separate cards for each section – because certain card effects can close these sections, either temporarily or permanently! While this is a fairly big change of course, the bigger change is that you can no longer purchase elder signs at the souvenir shop, which in many gamers’ minds – mine, included – is a very sensible decision. Anyone who has seen the Tabletop episode will know that this potentially game-changing mechanic is actually quite un-thematic. I mean, elder signs are supposed to be powerful and rare artifacts: would they really be on offer among the other novelty keyrings and paperweights? Hm. Good move there, I feel.

Elder Sign Unseen Forces

It’s not all bad, of course, as we see there have been some interesting changes made to the common items, unique items and spells. Rather than merely providing bonus dice, or ways to lock down favourable rolls, we have more cards that do actual stuff – of course, not as many as Gates of Arkham provided, but certainly enough! This has definitely taken the expansion line in the right direction.

If you’ve been reading this overview thinking “this is just more of the same”, then you’re absolutely right. Like many board game expansions, this one provides a slew of more components to add to existing decks, with very few actual gameplay tweaks. A lot of game lines start off this way, with future expansions providing the really game-changing stuff, and of course Elder Sign is no different there. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. Yes, it comes across as possibly one of the most generic expansions of any board game ever, but as I have discussed a lot in previous blogs, there is actually a lot to be said for these types of expansions. While Arkham Horror fans often delight in the maddening complexity of using multiple expansions with the base game to create an enormous gameplay experience, and I’m certainly one such fan, sometimes a game is enjoyable enough that having just more of the same is more than enough. This is particularly true of any game with an exploration element to it – games like A Touch of Evil, Runebound, and yes, Elder Sign. Of course, the nature of the base mechanics of Elder Sign means that continued expansion in this manner is perhaps unwise, and Gates of Arkham was without a doubt exactly what the game needed to freshen it up, but I feel that the totally game-changing nature of that expansion has left Unseen Forces somewhat overshadowed now.

If you’re new to the game, I can definitely recommend this expansion over Gates of Arkham for providing new gameplay options without the weight of a massively-changed system. Aside from the Dunwich Horror throwbacks, it has a lot of small tweaks that enhance the experience from the base game while remaining playable right out of the box. Don’t be tempted by the allure of the new, as this one still has a lot to offer!

A quiet week

Hey everybody!
It’s been a fairly quiet week for me, where not a lot has happened due to being embroiled in stuff with work. Lots of late nights, and as a result I’ve not really had much time for the exciting stuff that life has to offer. Unfortunate, but these things can’t be helped I suppose. Work, after all, funds this life of awesome, and so we soldier on!

 

 

However, while not playing any games this week, I did buy the new Thunderbirds co-op game that was released after a successful kickstarter campaign. It looks good, though I think the enthusiasm of my local store’s manager might have more to do with my purchase than anything else! Back in the early 90s, the BBC repeated the iconic 60s show, and the enthusiasm of my dad kinda made a fan out of me then – though I was always more of a Captain Scarlet fan if I’m honest. Wonder if they’ll make a board game out of that one day… Anyhow, I haven’t actually played it yet, though hopefully will soon, whereupon I’ll obviously be bringing it to blog-form here!

I only went into the store to buy a paintbrush, as I’ve been slowly getting back into Warhammer and whatnot! After something of a hiatus from painting towards the end of the summer, I’ve found it difficult to get motivated into doing anything, if I’m honest, something I mentioned last weekend. I have been slowly working on the Necron Night Scythe, which has had most of the base colours blocked-in on the chassis, though has been sat all week with no further progress made. Despite this, I’ve been building up more models, including the Tesseract Ark from Forge World – another exciting model there, the process vaguely reminiscent of last year’s Tomb Stalker!

Let's build something! #Warhammer40k #GamesWorkshop #Necrons

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

"To the stars!" #Warhammer40k #Necrons

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

Currently, this chap is primed and ready, though obviously still in bits due to the complexity. I’ve also been playing around with the idea of doing something with space marines again, so now have all five of the assault squad built up (can’t believe it was Easter when I started looking at these!) I’m still building and priming where the weather allows, as I want to have enough stuff to see me through the winter, where I hope to recapture my painting skills! We shall see, anyway.

For my battle brothers! – revisited

Hey everybody!
It’s game day Tuesday, and in the spirit of trying something different, today I’m doing a sort of twelve-months-on thing for a blog I wrote last September, around the very excellent Space Hulk: Death Angel from Fantasy Flight!

Space Hulk Death Angel

I have no idea if this will become a regular thing, though I think it might be nice to look back on some of the games that were featured here as a first look rather than because I have a lot of experience with the game. So I’ll take a look at the initial blog, see if I’ve changed my mind on some things, and just generally waffle in my own inimitable way! You’re probably used to that, by now, anyway!

So!

I suppose the main thing from my previous blog was that the game was super-difficult, super-thematic, and super-fun, with some print-on-demand expansions that really add to that all around. Having played a fair few games with this now, some with the expansions thrown in, I can definitely say that my initial assessment still stands!

Space Hulk Death Angel

There is a whole load of flavour coming out of this game, as you set up the formation, you lay out the locations, and then fill the blip piles. You can almost hear the tension as the event card is flipped and those genestealers are spawned… Or maybe I play too many solo games. Whatever. There is definitely a moment of dread as you see the bugs spawn behind your marine, and you’re left wondering if that chump with range 1 will be enough to take out the swarm…

Which brings me onto something that I think is slightly unexpected – or at least, I wasn’t expecting it! More than any other game I’ve played, this one has forced me to think much more tactically about how I play. I think I’ve mentioned a few times now how I really only play games for amusement and don’t take them seriously at all – the few times I’ve played against a really tactical player I’ve ended up ruining their day by just going into the middle and blowing stuff up. I can kinda see how that could be irritating, too – maybe I should take things a little more seriously… Anyway, with this game, I’ve suddenly begun to think super tactically about how I set the formation, where the marines are facing and who can cover who, etc. It’s something that has really surprised me, as in the past I would have set this game up completely at random, thinking I’ll react to things once they’ve happened.

This is definitely a new experience for me, anyway!

Space Hulk Death Angel

The expansions to this game are just terrific, as well. I’ll keep the discussion focused on Mission Pack 1 and Marine Pack 1, as they’re the ones I’ve used most often, but all four have so much to commend them!

Mission Pack 1, above, includes a whole new set of rooms to explore, along with an extra room and a new type of enemy, the adrenal genestealer. In the tabletop game, adrenal glands make Tyranid creatures fight into a frenzy, making them tougher to kill. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really come through in the mechanics here, where the big difference about this monster is that he has two movement icons, making them more likely to move when the event card is drawn. It’s kind of a deal, but not really. If he made two attacks, or something, then it could perhaps be more in-keeping with the fluff, but no matter. I do like the fact that, if the attack rolled a 0, the swarm will shift down and attack again, but this never came up in the games I played to really get the effect.

Playing with Mission Pack 1 is the only time I have actually won this game, which is something that definitely goes in its favour! I can’t say that the new rooms add anything specifically new to the game, they’re very much in the vein of more of the same, but that doesn’t really matter as it’s different enough that it can still provide some tension if the base game is becoming stale.

Space Marine Pack 1 brings two new teams to the table, and I have to say, I really like both of them! In my blog the first time around, I thought the grey team looked good, but I have to say, they’re both really great – the dark orange team proved to be particularly effective in the games I’ve played with them! In addition to the “target lock” support card that allows you to place a support token on a swarm, and use that to re-roll attack and defense rolls, the “cyclonic volley” attack card proved to be incredibly useful! I lost track of the amount of times I wound up saying, “Brother Adron, you animal!” as he decimated through the swarms!

I’ve only tried the Deathwing marines once, using half the pack essentially, and these guys look like a lot of fun. A lot of the cards seem like they should be incredibly overpowered – cards that let you attack in the support phase, cards that let you just spend support tokens to slay genestealers – but they really aren’t, which I suppose says a lot about the balancing of the game! There’s a card called Secrets of the Brethren that allows a marine to spend tokens to slay genestealers, rather than roll that damn die, but whenever I’d managed to set it up so that he could do some major damage, I would always draw the event card Stalking from the Shadows prior to his attack. And because I’m an incredibly lucky person like that, he would be the only viable target to have all of his support tokens removed. So yeah. Tough.

I’ve mentioned the Tyranid expansion before of course, and I can’t say my feelings there have changed, either! Very brutal, though you can get lucky and only draw generic Tyranids, which are really no different to the genestealers from the main game. I do wish there had been more alternate art used for the generic bugs, though I suppose with four other types of Tyranid creatures in the deck, overall there is enough variety.

Space Hulk Death Angel

Overall, I love this game. I love how it makes me think about what I’m doing, and how difficult it can be to overcome. When you lose, it makes you want to try again, and when you win, it still makes you want to try again! Due to the amazingly modular nature of the components, it never feels like a solved game, so you keep trying no matter what. If you can get past the weird nature of the rulebook (or just check out youtube!) then you’re in for a really great experience. This is definitely a game that I am glad to have in my collection!

Post #345, or A Catch Up

Hey everybody!
It feels like a long time has passed since I’ve written a non-game-day blog, so thought I’d write something meandering and wonderful today as a sort of catch-up. Like the tradition of Age of Sigmar posts that I wrote over the summer for each release week, I guess!

Getting right into it, then, I’m kinda pleased to see the emphasis on Tau coming from Games Workshop, as it really gives my wallet a rest! Having invested heavily in Age of Sigmar during the summer (as you all know!) I’m glad for the respite here, though the models do look really nice. Something particularly impressive is the Tidewall, a terrain piece that, should I collect Tau, I’d most certainly be drooling over!

Tau Tidewall

Fortunately, I collect Necrons, but I really hope this means we’ll be seeing more diverse scenery kits in the coming months, and perhaps we’ll get something for the undying legions soon! Amazingly, the pre-order for this has already sold out within an hour of going up on the webstore, so it looks like we’re back to End Times/Shield of Baal shenanigans once more… At any rate, they look cool!

Games Workshop have also produced a sort of campaign box set but not, in that they have also put out for preorder two box sets, one for Tau and one for Space Marines. They look like the expansions to the Warhammer 40k starter set, Dark Vengeance. What’s interesting is that these have the “Damocles Warzone” icon on the boxes, which could be suggesting we’ll be seeing a lot more of these mission-orientated boxes in the future. Though the price tag isn’t exactly all that inspirational – I’m assuming they’re priced so high due to having vehicles as well as infantry models, but it’ll be interesting to see what comes next for 40k. Damocles was between Raven Guard and Tau, and the second such warzone supplement, Damnos, was fought by the Ultramarines and Necrons. So we’ll see what turns up next…

While I am still very much excited about pretty much anything that comes out of Nottingham these days, I’ve been feeling that my painting skills have atrophied since the spate of painting Stormcast Eternals over the summer. In an effort to try to revitalise my interest, I bought myself a Tyranid carnifex just over a week ago, thinking that having something completely new to paint would help re-inspire me or whatever, and for a time it did, as I was considering various paint schemes for the guy, but sadly I built the entire model up before painting, meaning that a lot of him is particularly difficult to get to now:

More #Tyranids progress! Going slow… #Warhammer40k

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

So I’ve kinda lost interest there. I’ve been trying out a new scheme for them, and alongside the carnifex I have the broodlord from the Space Hulk game that I’ve been fiddling with. Progress has come to a standstill, anyway, and I’m currently thinking I might just move back to some Necrons and see if I can’t recapture some of the patience and skill from the summer. Stay tuned!

With so much Warhammer going on, it’s perhaps no surprise to anyone that this has made a come back in recent weeks, too:

#SpaceHulk #gamenight

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

Stay tuned for more here, as I will be once again featuring this in a game day blog next week!

On the subject of board games, anyway, I’ve not really been that inspired by some of the latest stuff from Fantasy Flight, sad to say. We’ve had the Tyranid deluxe expansion for Warhammer Conquest (there’s just no escaping those bugs!) and Imperial Entanglements for the Star Wars LCG, along with some previews for the new Runebound and, most recently, Warhammer Quest. Of all of this, I’ve been most intrigued by the latter, which is shaping up to look like a really exciting card game, with elements of both Lord of the Rings LCG and Rune Age coming through (to me, at least). Very excited for this one, I must say!

For the most part, however, I seem to have been ploughing my money into Magic: the Gathering. I mentioned this on a blog back in July, where I’d finally discovered it and it looked like a really great game. Having tried it out a few times with my usual gaming buddy, I can confirm that initial reaction was correct, though I haven’t gotten to play all that much with it, proportionate to my investment in the game to date. While I’ve been buying the odd bits to make up a couple of Standard decks, I’ve also been delving into the recent past, buying cards from the past 9 or 10 years of sets just because they look cool.

This has, in turn, made me reconsider how I actually store my games in general. Having looked into the Magic community only a little, something has nevertheless come through very clearly, and that’s the time and effort that goes into protecting the cards as an investment. I’ve always thought of games as just games, and something to pass the time rather than anything more serious, but having spent a fair bit of money now on individual cards, my whole paradigm has shifted! I’ve not only been double-sleeving my Magic decks to ensure they remain as pristine and neat as possible, but I’ve also bought some pro-binders to keep my Lord of the Rings LCG cards in, as that’s certainly the game I’ve played with the most, and the cards – while I take good care of all my games – are in danger of seeing wear soon.

I never thought I’d spend so much money on gaming accessories…

So anyhow, that’s that! My latest degree module has now begun, Myth in Greece and Rome (I think it’s called), with the first essay due next week. In the final year now, so that’s getting real. Nevertheless, I’m hoping I’ll still be posting here with more frequency than of late – it’s always quite upsetting to see just one post a week in my history, whether anyone reads them or not…!

Why I like deck-building games so much

It’s time for something a little different for game day here at spalanz.com today! While I normally showcase something awesome from my game collection, today I thought I’d just talk more about what seems to be the largest-represented subtheme of games that I have, the deck-building game, and why I like them so much.

Dominion, of course, is the grandfather of the deck-builders, and has a whole slew of expansions. First released in 2008, it ignited the spark that brought us so many more since. However, precisely because of the developments that have taken place in board games over these past seven years, I find Dominion to be quite a dry experience today, with its generic medieval-themed cards and its basic mechanics of buying as many cards as you can to win. There’s more to it than that, of course, and I won’t deny, managing to set up those killer-combos can be a lot of fun, but I eventually sold my Dominion collection earlier in the summer, as it had become a game that merely took up too much shelf-space.

Thunderstone (2009) immediately began to shake things up. Following the basic idea of having a set of cards that you can buy from, the game included a separate action that felt so much more like an actual game, where you went into a dungeon to fight some monsters. This is where the deck-building game really takes flight for me. While Dominion’s premise was to build a deck as the end result of your game, Thunderstone combined deck-building with an actual game to simple yet highly effective ends. Fans of Dominion will recognise the village as the usual card pool, but while in the older game, you bought cards which would allow you to buy more cards, and the goal was all about trying to refine your turn and maximise your resources, here you buy cards to actually do something with them. You hire warriors and buy equipment to outfit them better to fight the monsters.

There’s something about Thunderstone that remains highly appealing to me, and it’s a game that I continue to enjoy the more I play it. It’s the idea of deck-building for a reason that is so enjoyable for me.

Ascension (2010) is a curious blend of the two, I find. The biggest departure from both is that the “village” idea of a collection of cards you always get to choose from has now been replaced by a centre row of just six cards. This combines the idea of buying cards to refine your deck, as well as elements of the dungeon from Thunderstone, so that heroes and monsters can both emerge from the main deck. I think Ascension is my favourite type of deck-building game, and it’s also one of my favourites for the theme, also. It’s a fairly generic fantasy-style world, but the theme of each faction you can recruit really comes through very strongly. The best thing about this, however, is the variety that comes from having an ever-changing line-up of six cards. No two games will necessarily be the same, while Thunderstone has the potential if you use the same set-up (though the monsters will change as you go through, of course). Of the three games mentioned so far, Ascension wins hands-down for its variety!

I play most of my Ascension through the app, which is actually pretty awesome as well, and definitely worth downloading.

Rune Age (2011) is a curious mix from Fantasy Flight Games. It’s a little bit like a pared-down Thunderstone, with just a few cards on offer to buy rather than the whole village. It also uses an event deck, which can be both beneficial and harmful. The greatest departure here, of course, is that you start out in a specific faction, and build up your deck from there. The object of the game varies with each event deck in play, and the result is almost like a third way for deck-building games. I love this game for so many reasons, chiefly among them of course is the setting of Terrinoth. However, while there is so much to enjoy right out of the box, it’s unfortunately starting to get a little stale for me now, as so much of any deck-builder is dependent on the different ways you can build your deck. For Rune Age, that depends on the faction you play, and also the event deck you use, and with only six of each to choose from, it has become clear that more variety is needed! But when it’s been a while between plays, it’s always a real pleasure to come back to this one.

DC Deck Building Game (2012) is almost a straight copy of Ascension, featuring a main deck and centre line-up of six cards, where you recruit heroes and fight villains. However, there’s an added element that makes it a little more exciting, but the theme is perhaps the greatest draw here. You get to play as classic DC superheroes, and fight the arch-nemeses such as the Joker and Lex Luthor. The design isn’t particularly ground-breaking, but the execution is really great, leading to a fairly straightforward, yet super-fun game. While the base game may be a pared-down Ascension with a superhero theme, subsequent expansions have introduced several different keywords that alter play a lot, while the Crisis expansions have really served to deliver a really interesting game experience. Importantly, Cryptozoic have used the game engine for several other deck-building games, that are all compatible with each other – Street Fighter, Naruto Shippuden, and Lord of the Rings to date!

Marvel Legendary (2012) continues the superhero theme, and has been one of the break-out games from the deck-building genre of recent years. Of course, the runaway success of Marvel movies no doubt has a part to play here, but the game is actually really, really great, more than justifying its success. It plays very much like two games of Ascension happening at the same time – or more accurately, a game of Ascension where the heroes and the villains have been separated out, so you have two decks that are spewing cards each turn. However, we’re very much back to deck-building with a purpose here, as the villains are being led by a Mastermind, who is trying to get his scheme to go off. The object of the game is always roughly the same – defeat the villains and the mastermind – but the addition of schemes means they always play a little differently. Subsequent expansions have succeeded in both appeasing the fanboy need for more superheroes and also enriching the game experience.

Marvel Legendary is definitely the deck-building genre grown up.

So what is it about these games? Why do I have so many, and why do I keep coming back to them?

Well, first of all, I love variety. I could have the same game in several different themes, and love them all equally. I love card games such as the LCGs from Fantasy Flight and the recently-discovered Magic, and deck-building is obviously a highly intrinsic part of such games. I’ve said it before that, for me, the best part of Android: Netrunner is the deck-building, as you try to put together the perfect deck that should, in theory, run like clockwork. Getting to make a game out of building a deck just sounds so cool, and the fact that it actually is cool is just the icing on the cake, really. In a game like Ascension or DC, you get to choose the cards you want to buy not because they’ll be worth a lot in the end (though that is certainly a strategy you could go with), but because they’ll allow you to do much more. It’s always fun to see people around the table start with the same basic cards, but end up building entirely different decks as they attempt to go about their strategies.

I said at the beginning that I’m not the biggest fan of Dominion any more, but I’m certainly more than grateful to it for having provided the basis for so many of my favourite games!

My trip up north!

Well folks, I’m back from my trip to the north of England, and it was absolutely glorious!

102_2136

I love a good ruin, as you may know from some of my previous posts, and this trip was replete with them – a Carthusian monastery, two castles, and a stretch of Hadrian’s Wall, to boot!

Mount Grace Priory in Yorkshire was a fourteenth-century Carthusian monastery, where the monks lived in private cells and only came together on specific feast days rather than living communally as with other orders. It was suppressed following Henry VIII’s dissolution, of course, and a private house was built out of one of the guest houses. This house was later renovated in the late Victorian era in the arts and crafts style, while the monastic ruins were preserved out in the back garden. I’m a big fan of monastic ruins – indeed, religious history in general – but was really fascinated by this one, having never come across a Carthusian house before. Really interesting, I have to say!

Just outside of Newcastle, Prudhoe Castle was a Norman castle built shortly after the Conquest by the son of William the Conqueror but taken over by the d’Umfraville family, which I just think is an amazing name! Sometime mid-fourteenth century, the castle was taken over by the Percy family, the hugely important medieval Earls of Northumberland from nearby Alnwick Castle (which you may know as Hogwarts, from the Harry Potter movies). I find it really telling as to the wealth of the Percys, that they basically bought the place for their land agent to live in. Honestly! In the eighteenth century, a new house was built in the middle of the castle, which was uniquely allowed to just decay following the civil war, rather than having any deliberate damage done to it. Seems a bit strange that a country house would inhabit a shell of a castle like this, but I guess it was the height of the romantic period, and such things were fashionable!

102_2236

Aydon Castle is on the way out of Newcastle towards Hexham, and was a real discovery for me. Built in the twelfth century by the Reymes family from Suffolk, very much in the manner of setting themselves up as landed gentry in the area. What started as a manor house ended up becoming fortified as it stood on the main road from Scotland, and was being built as the Scottish Wars broke out. Now, I love the medieval period, and something I’m particularly interested in is seeing the domesticity of the era – sure, the big fortress-castles and enormous monasteries and cathedrals are stupendous to look at, but these sorts of manor houses have a much more intimate feel and, while they obviously aren’t indicative of the everyman of this time, there’s something much more “real” about them.

Finally, we come to Hadrian’s Wall! I actually visit the north of England quite regularly, and four years ago I went around a few of the forts in the area, but there was something really cool about seeing just the actual wall this time. This stretch is roughly two miles of mainly vallum – the ditch in front of the actual wall, Scottish-facing side – at Black Carts Turret, part of the stretch associated with the now-levelled Milecastle 29. While the forts were busy with people (and the dreaded school trip!), this stretch of wall was deserted (apart from some cows), which always helps to add to the atmosphere of a site. It had been quite a misty day, and despite the fact the weather was lovely, you could really feel that sense of being at the frontier of the world. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of parking here, but it was well worth hunting out!

So there you have it, some awesome places to visit if you’re ever in the Durham/Newcastle area!