Wellycon 2012


Last Friday I headed off to Wellington, a quick and hassle-free flight away across the Tasman strait. There I was picked up by a relatively new friend of mine and his son; he’s a boardgamer and designer I met online and who has dropped over to visit once in Sydney, and apart from us having those two interests in common, he left the city life in Melbourne to live in New Zealand some years ago and was a bit of an inspiration for our move.

I haven’t been to Wellington before and it seemed quite a happening city; we went for a wander down Cuba Street and went to an Indian restaurant for dinner, then along Courtenay Place by the waterfront, which was buzzing with people packing out the busy bars and restaurants. At the end of the street is the Embassy Cinema, which hosted the Australasian premieres of the first two Lord of the Rings films, and the world premiere of the third, The Return of the King. A strange tripod movie camera creature—from Weta Studios, naturally—towers over the square opposite.

The next morning we embarked on two days chock-a-block with boardgaming, 10am to 10pm, at two rooms in Massey University—the 5th annual Wellycon boardgaming convention. Tens of tables over which hunched groups of figures, alternately sitting in intense silence or erupting into gales of laughter, frustration or elation. People standing around discussing esoteric points of boardgaming lore. Tables of games to buy or borrow.



I immediately went straight to the Seriously Board retail table and snagged myself a copy of Lords of Waterdeep, and within seconds I was at a table ripping off the shrinkwrap and settling down to an excellent game with some total strangers.

I got in games of Lords of Waterdeep three more times over the weekend, along with Jaipur, Mage Knight, The Resistance, Blood Bowl: Team Manager, and Santiago de Cuba, with only occasional breaks for lunches and dinners supplied by the organisers.

On the Saturday evening I joined an informal ‘industry panel’ made up several attendees involved in the creation and publishing of boardgames. I chatted about some of the processes behind creating graphic design for games, notably Tales of the Arabian Nights, and some questions were asked and answered about the frustrations and satisfactions of getting boardgames to market.

The main thing you take away from an event like this, however, is how people are brought together by a shared interest. To my surprise, I didn’t have to endure one crack about being an Aussie, and everyone I met was happy to hear how much I was enjoying living in their country. On Sunday night after the convention shut up shop, my friend and his son headed back home, and one of the organisers was hospitable enough to put me up for the evening at his house, where we relaxed with a few beers and covered a huge range of conversation topics until the small hours. The next morning he even drove me back into town to catch my flight home.

It was a great weekend and a nice chance to get away by myself and meet some new people in our new country. People from all walks of life enjoy the fun and challenges of boardgaming, and it’s a remarkably sociable activity. There’s no doubt that Wellycon is only going to get larger and large each year.

My fav for the weekend? Definitely Lords of Waterdeep. Award for the worst game ever? Mage Knight.

Three Weeks in NZ


It’s been a busy few weeks in our new life.

Catching up with work, endless miscellaneous life administration tasks, continually discovering that you don’t have that useful thing that you’ve always had but you put it in storage so you have to buy a new one … it all takes up time. Hence the delay with recording my exploits on this blog. That and the understandable preference for sitting down at the wharf sipping an excellent local Gewürztraminer rather than sitting at a computer typing.

Cats at homeThe cats arrived without incident, as expected, though one person in our relationship (hint: not me) almost spontaneously combusted with stress and worry about them. They were a little sad and sorry for themselves when we picked them up at the airport after their ten hour day travelling, but as soon as they were in their new home they were both pretty happy and running about. Drusilla loves the extra space and has taken to the house from day one; Ripley gets a little lost and confused occasionally but she’s beginning to see the advantages of big rooms with lots of sunny places to lie full length in.

We’re still dealing with the incredible contrast from tiny, claustrophobic, noisy inner city Sydney terrace to spacious, sunny, country house. We’re surrounded by huge double glazed windows with astounding views down the hill to the coastal village of Mapua and Rabbit Island beyond, Tasman Bay, Nelson, and the mountains beyond that; and at night there’s a 180º vista of glittering lights in the distance. In the mornings there are stunning sunrises and mist rising from the forests, and snow is beginning to crown the mountain peaks. The view continually surprises and delights.

As for Nelson, it really has become one of those places you don’t want to tell too many people about, because then they’ll all realise how good it is and come over and spoil it (whoops). There are groovy pubs (delicious local craft beers) and cafes (comfy mismatched couches and free trade coffee); people are really friendly, the food is excellent and there’s a thriving music scene in the area I’m looking forward to exploring. It’s just big enough to be buzzing and small enough to still have that small town feel, and you can always get a parking spot. Everywhere we’ve gone for food and drink has been really good. Frankly, there’s nothing I miss about living in Sydney (except for friends of course), and it confirms to us how complacent and mediocre Sydney has let itself become since the big high of the 2000 Olympics.

Five minutes down the hill from us is Mapua, where some excellent cafes and restaurants cluster around the wharf and a ferry takes you over to Rabbit Island (walking and bike trails). Jellyfish is already a favourite—great breakfasts, and you can stop in for a glass of wine and some delicious nibbles and watch the sun go down over the ocean (many cafes here are licenced, which is very civilised). Nearby is the Golden Bear Brewery—craft beer, LA Mexican food and live music—looking forward to that opening again next month.

Mapua wharf

To get our veges, we drive to a nearby farm known as Todd’s, where fresh food, grown about ten metres away, is displayed for your delectation; count up your total bill and leave the money in an honesty box. Inexpensive real food, straight from the farmer, that tastes ten times better than the garbage that Woolworths, self-proclaimed ‘fresh food people’ sell in the supermarket. Then we buy apples and pears from a stall on the side of the road on the way home.


Sure we don’t get to see the occasional big gallery show or exhibition, but it’s a very small price to pay. That said, on Sunday night we saw Sir Ian McKellan at the Nelson Theatre Royal, in his one man show to raise funds for the Isaac Theatre Royal theatre in Christchurch, damaged by the terrible earthquakes.

We had dinner beforehand at The Vic, an old pub in town which has been beautifully redone into a welcoming place with really high quality, cheap food, a big range of local beers and friendly service (everyone’s really friendly and cheerful here—we’re not used to it!)

A minute around the corner and we were at the theatre. McKellan started with the Balrog scene from The Lord of the Rings (from the book)—he had his sword Glamdring with him—and then most of the first half was a really casual Q&A session with the audience (no, I didn’t think of anything to ask on the spot!), broken up by singing an old song, and reciting poems by Wordsworth and Gerard Manley Hopkins, among other stories and anecdotes.

The second half he encouraged the audience to call out all the plays of Shakespeare while he ticked them off in a ledger, stopping to do the most astounding, magical scenes from Richard II, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Coriolanus, Hamlet etc. You could have heard a pin drop when he went into character. It was an amazing night, like being invited over to his house for a chat.

We both feel a peace and happiness that we haven’t experienced in years. If it’s been a busy day we can drive for five minutes from the house and be on the shore at Ruby Bay, hearing the waves pull back over the pebbles, looking out to the horizon and breathing lungfuls of fresh air. I’m also working more efficiently and creatively, no longer continually interrupted by slamming car doors and people spitting on the pavement as they walk by and jumbo jets flying ten feet overhead. Instead I’m getting into ‘the zone’ again when I work, spending solid time working on a job without distractions—something I haven’t done for quite a while.

Apart from the obvious, there are many little things that make life here better than in Sydney. You can always get a park in Nelson—the town cleverly has large carparks behind the shopfronts, and parking only costs a dollar an hour (free Saturday afternoons). You don’t feel like you’re continually battling hordes of people to carve out a bit of breathing room all the time. People smile and chat in the shops, and still say hello when you pass them on a walking path. This afternoon a kid rode up behind us on his scooter when were out walking, and when we got out of his way he said “thankyou!” as he passed. Hell, even booking a seat at the cinema is easier—no online registration rigmarole and we could select our seats. But it’s the space that gets me, after the cheek-by-jowl living of Sydney. There’s just more room per person.

Well, enough of my rave. Suffice it to say we don’t regret our move for a moment, and doubt we’ll ever be returning to city life. Next weekend I’m flying across the strait to Wellington and Wellycon, NZ’s biggest boardgame convention, for a weekend of gaming and meeting new people. I’m even part of a Q&A panel on Saturday night, in my role as occasional graphic designer of boardgames. Should be great fun; I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.

So, How’s It Going?


Best decision we ever made. More news soon after we settle in a bit.

The Deeply Moving Episode

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I’m sitting on the floor of the living room and experiencing the rare delight of not packing boxes—which is something I’ve been doing pretty much continuously for several weeks now. Instead I get to sit here and watch the removalists do all the work. Oh frabjous day! Of course we’ve made it pretty easy for them as we’re obsessively organised. One hundred and twenty-eight boxes—that’s one hundred and twenty-eight boxes people—all carefully packed, spreadsheeted and stickered. Sixty of them are filled with books, about thirty with games, and the rest with useless stuff that we probably won’t need when we eventually repack them again one day. All going into long-term storage. To our new life we take only two suitcases each and five air shipment boxes.

Tomorrow the cleaners clean the empty house, and then all going to plan we have one free day to relax before we fly out on Friday.

I’ve been surprised by how hard it’s been to organise this BLC. Several friends said we were ‘brave’ to move to another country—the truth is it’s just bloody hard work and hassle. The packing just seemed to go on and on, and after one broken little toe, one bash of my head so hard I had to lie own for a while, and countless bumps, scraps, cuts and bruises, I’m waking up in the mornings feeling like a ninety-year old after a big night on the tiles. There were last minute house fixes and a room to replaster and paint, stuff to sell on Ebay, things to give away to the neighbours (we’ve made a huge contribution to the guys in the shared house across the lane), selling two cars and buying one in NZ, and an endless list of sundry administrative duties. It’s amazing how complicated life becomes and how much stuff you accumulate over the years, though we’ve taken the opportunity to purge a backyard-sized amount of junk.

And I had to decide which games to take with me in our small air shipment. In the end, oh fellow boardgamers, I decided on Dreadfleet (after all that painting it had to come with us), Wiz-War, Cosmic Encounter, Mansions of Madness and Blood Bowl Team Manager. And the main Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay box, as our group is determined to continue playing it via Skype. On my last visit I took Battles of Westeros, Rune Age, Lord of the Rings Card Game, Arcana, Jambo and Babel. A respectable little collection then!

Anyway, we had the last gathering of friends at the pub and said a temporary goodbye to everyone, and our first house guests are already confirmed for September. Everyone has been very supportive and positive about our move (or maybe they’re just happy to see me go?) and thinks it’s a great idea. In fact I’ve been surprised at a few people thinking of doing something similar themselves, or at least agreeing wholeheartedly with our current opinion of living in Sydney.

My next post will be from the wilds of Nelson, New Zealand—well, half an hour from town anyway. After weeks of tip-toeing through a tiny terrace filled with half-filled boxes, I can’t describe how much I’m looking forward to a spacious house, a great view, and most of all, NO PACKING!

BLC (Big Life Change)


There’s been a lot of changes brewing at the Universal Head headquarters. JoJo and I have decided we’re fed up with inner-city Sydney life and need a Big Life Change, so after much mucking about we’re renting our terrace and moving to Nelson, New Zealand at the start of May. Nelson is a lovely little city of about 60,000 at the top of the South Island, with three national parks on its doorstep, some of the best caving, climbing and hiking in the world and the best weather in NZ.

The photo above shows the view from the terrace of our new rental home. Sure beats the postage-stamp-sized backyard and the shared walls we have at the moment! The house is about four times larger than our terrace here, and on a big block of land; it’s an easy half hour out of Nelson and close to a lovely little bayside village with cafes and restaurants. There’s plenty of room for friends to stay, an office each and even a seven metre-tall climbing gym room where I can practice my climbing moves!

We’ve decided to make this change in our life because we’re sick and tired of gridlocked traffic, planes flying ten feet over our heads, hordes of psychotic barking dogs, millions of frantic people, polluted, humid air, and all the stress and madness of living in the biggest city in Australia. It just seems a crazy way to live and the time is long overdue to focus on the most important things—health and happiness.

So, I’ll occasionally be updating this blog with a little taste of what it’s like to move from a big city to a very small one, if you’re interested—the joys and the inevitable challenges. Whether we end up staying in NZ or moving on to somewhere else is yet to be decided, but it’s going to be a fun experiment trying on a completely different life for size.

Selling Stuff

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In you’re in the market for some secondhand games, lots and lots of DVDs, some Xbox 360 games, and even an old digital camera, check out my Ebay items at the moment. I’ll be adding lots of stuff over the next week—especially DVDs.

Just posted two rare Warhammer Fantasy Battle boxed sets with extras – 4th and 5th edition.

Peter Cushing: Actor-Slash-Miniature Gamer

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Found on the blog Hammer and Beyond, this surprising and fascinating insight into the off-hours of screen legend Peter Cushing.

Universal Head on The Hatchet Job

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Apologies for the long break in updates, I’ve been swamped with personal and professional matters, with no time left over for blogging. I did, however, have the honour of being interviewed recently for The Hatchet Job, a fascinating video and board games podcast. Enjoy!

Hang on after the music for a last bit about Not the Nine O’Clock News, TISM and taking the piss.

R.I.P. Steve Jobs

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One of the very few free thinkers in our time of conformity and fear, he understood that design is not making something look great—design is making something great.

Eulogy from David Pogue.

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” Steve Jobs, interview with Fortune Magazine, 2000

For the Love of .. WHY?


People just blow me away with their complete lack of grey matter sometimes. I’m sitting here trying to work when two vans pull up outside my house and proceed to sit there for ten minutes, with their engines running, while the two drivers have a loud conversation over the noise. I mean … splutterwhy? Is it really so difficult to turn your engine off, then turn it on again when you leave? This seems to be some epidemic amongst tradies, who often stop in our cul-de-sac to have lunch or a chat. For some inexplicable reason they seem unable to do without the soothing sound of their own car engines for five minutes. The noise … the pollution … the waste … the complete pointlessness and thoughtlessness…


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