Sunday, 17 December 2017

Treats and Treaties

Sunday was Stan's birthday party - his actual birthday is in a couple of days - but before we set off for the annual Three Hours of Carnage Including Putting Cake Into Fizzy Drinks, there was time to try out Rajas of the Ganges, the game that has already made Martin recoil at its very mention and Sally shiver at the memory of her crappy History GSCE exam. With those endorsements ringing in my ears, I set it up in the front room and had a gander at the rules. Then, sensing it was a Stanley game, I called him down to play it.

board looking busy

workers looking confused

So in Rajas of the Ganges you are the aforementioned Rajas, seeking to  out-Raja all the other Rajas by developing your province with buildings and markets. Designed by Markus and Inka Brand, the couple behind Village and A Castle For All Seasons, it was always going to be as Euro-y as Guy Verhofstadt, and so it proved. It reminded me slightly of Marco Polo too, in that there is dice-rolling, but then dice are spent rather than placed - they don't return to you, so you have to make your workers generate dice for future actions. Yes! It's worker-placement too. It's lots of do stuff to get stuff, and I suppose the only new thing about it is the winning conditions - you're simultaneously pushing your markers along a cash track (counter-clockwise) and a glory track (clockwise). When two markers of the same player meet, the end-game is triggered and the person whose markers are furthest past each other wins.


Inevitably, this person was Stanley, who won in convincing style whilst my markers could barely see each other by peering across about a third of the board. We both loved it, but outside of Martin hating it I'm no longer sure who likes what at GNN. I'm certainly up for playing again, though, and soon.

Theistically accurate depiction of god of Euros

There was now the three-hour cake-throwing interlude...

...after which Joe and Sal pitched up on the sofa to watch Blue Planet while Stan and I played 878: Vikings - Invasion of England. The title does most of the explanatory work here, so suffice to say Stanley was the invading hordes (Norsemen and Berserkers, serving Leaders, of whom one appears per round) and I was the defending Thegn and Housecarl, with occasional feeble help from the Fyrd. Over a maximum of seven rounds the vikings arrive in great numbers, and the English counter-punch as best they can. The vikings win by controlling 14 city shires at the end of a round; the English win by having the vikings control none at all. Or - as with happened to us - you can end the game by forming a treaty - two of the same side need to 'sign' the treaty in order to trigger the game end, at which point the Vikings need to control 9 or more city shires.

Thegn considering movement. Housecarl considering rebelling

With one eye on bedtime I triggered the treaty in round six. Stan had played his Norsemen and I had played my Thegn. With my Housecarl I bombarded into three city shires, and won back just one of them. One I had most hoped to win had been defended successfully, and to my chagrin I realised I'd left an undefended city shire behind!

Coming over here...

There were just the Berserkers to go, and they had to win three shires. One was a gimme, but Stan couldn't see how, despite his well-supported leader, he could win two more - he was shackled by having only one movement card and could move only two armies. But working together we spotted a way it was possible. As Leaders can move, fight, and then move again, he could take two shires - but only if he defeated me on his first roll in combat in the initial battle, as any further battle rolls would cost him a movement point.

Arthur - the only English Leader in the game - just watches on 
until round five, when he suddenly gets involved

As it turned out, the Berserkers and Norsemen were in feisty mood, and my treaty-playing lassez faire turned out to be the petard that hoisted me. Never mind! We will fight another day.

It's a more asymmetric game than the predecessor I've played (1812: Invasion of Canada) because as you would expect the Vikings are very much the aggressor here - the English are simply defending, and play very reactively. But there's still room for tactics, and the dice-rolling throws up the odd surprising - and funny - result. Good, solid, pillagey fun.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

What dreams are made of

On Friday, Paul made one of his occasional journeys across land to join myself, Sam and Chris for some old-style gaming fun. And when I say “old-style”, I’m mostly referring to the jokes.

Ha ha!

My day of gaming began early when I had a dream that morning with the four of us in it. I’d invited them round to play games in my posh London flat. We were all sleeping in the same room, so we had to push the furniture to the walls, which I was a bit annoyed about, but never mind. We were playing a game where the board was illustrated with tree tops and a white hexagonal grid over them and we all had coloured cubes. Paul suddenly said “I’m going to sack all my butlers!”

That’s all I remember. I told the rest of them my dream, and they said that was a very Paul thing to say. Will Butler Forest ever become reality? No one knows.

As for the real games, we began with a couple of rounds of Avenue. This path-making game is simple to learn and even easier to get wrong. Sam showed us a solo game he’d done in which he ended with zero points.

On the final round of the first game, Chris realised he’d completely cut off the last scoring farm and completed the routes to his castles, leaving him with nothing to do. If only he’d played it a little different, he could’ve got a win on his debut.

Sam 42
Chris 41
Andrew 30
Paul 15

A second game was quickly arranged, since Chris and Paul felt they’d only just got a hang of it. If I remember right, Chris painted himself into a corner in the last round, finishing one point behind Sam again.

Andrew 55
Sam 41
Chris 40
Paul 30

None of us managed to go through an entire game without having at least one non-scoring round.

Next up we chose Council of Four. This game is not just a points salad, but also a bit of a gameplay salad, using ideas reminiscent of other games. Chaining, area-control, set-collecting, doing things. You know the sort of thing.

Almost the only thing it doesn’t have is a chance to trash your hand and draw new one. This caused Chris some anguish with his hand of all purples which were decidedly not fine. His options were non-scoring moves preparing the councils to be more purple-friendly in the future.

Sam started well. He explained to us newbies how getting the 5-point bonus for building in both blue cities allowed you to pick up an additional 25-point bonus tile for completing the first bonus. And then he went and did just that! You can’t accuse him of not giving us advice he wouldn’t take himself. Chris and Paul also got in the bonus tile action fairly early on.

I ignored the build-in-coloured-city tactic, preferring for a long chain of buildings that paid out like a malfunctioning slot machine every time I added to it. In the latter stages of the game it helped me put together a move that included two extra moves! Very nice. However, my extensive lead on the score track was not enough of a buffer against Sam’s end-of-game bonuses.

Sam 70
Andrew 68
Chris 56
Paul 42

We played a swift game of NMBR9 as a palette cleanser.

Andrew 87
Sam 74
Paul 70
Chris 69

Then we played Quest For Eldorado, another game new to everyone except Sam. It’s basically a deck-building race game. Since my opening hand allowed me to move four spaces, I decided I would. Sam and Chris hung back early, buying cards and Paul walked back and forth investigating the same cave.

In the middle, I struggled through villages, while the others used machetes to go the long way round. Then, when out of the village, my best machetes refused to come out of my deck, so was either stuck or forced down the winding path through the overgrowth.

Sam then, by his own admission, got a huge dose of luck. His last two hands just came out perfectly to get him across the last tile. Chris ended in a not too distant second while Paul and I seemed to be lost, no doubt shouting advice to each other in the darkest part of the jungle.

As eleven o’clock approached we dug out two old favourites. 6nimmt. After a low scoring first round, Chris picked up 26 in round two. I got stuck in a death spiral in round three for 31 points. After that things settled down until Paul and I crashed out together, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid bursting out of their hideaway to face the insurmountable massed guns of the police. Only far less cinematic.

Sam 43
Chris 53
Paul 71
Andrew 77

Then we played No Thanks. Chris went for a high-card strategy which earned him lots of coins. But he then found it much funnier to let 30+ cards go round until I had run out of coins and had to pick them up.

Sam 17
Paul 30
Chris 41
Andrew 77

And with that we were off to sleep in various rooms in Chris’ house. I slept well, dreaming about us playing board games again! No Butler Forest this time. Instead, it was all about ghost hunting. In this game, you first got the commission, then went to the place and then you had to chase the ghost. Chris must’ve played the game before because he explained to me that rolling a six after a one was actually sixteen, which was far too many movement points and I’d gone past it.

Thanks all, it was fun. And thanks to Daisy the kitten for keeping me entertained in the morning.

Friday, 15 December 2017

While the cats are away...

With our respective other halves both out at the Immediate Christmas do, Joe popped round to mine for a rare 2-player games night. To the accompaniment of Effie singing herself to sleep (piped in by the baby monitor), we started puzzling out Joe's recently acquired Bridgette.

As the name implies, it's a scaled-down version of Bridge, specifically for two players. There are three special cards called 'colons', leading to an amusing section in the rulebook headed 'Colon Irregularities'. Fortunately we didn't suffer from these.

Joe made a tentative 2 No Trump bid in the first round but my terrible cards meant he comfortably made it. In the second hand, I benefited from an odd rule whereby if an Ace is the turn-up card, the dealer can draw 9 extra cards and then choose the best 13 from 22. My hand of 11 clubs and two other Aces pretty much played itself...

We decided to move on to another one by the same designer - mad genius Joli Quentin Kansil (also responsible for Montage). This one is called Krakatoa and it's a part-dexterity dice game: you're trying to roll particular combinations of colours on the three sets of d12s, but each successive roll must knock into and move one of the dice lying on the table. The rules also stipulate that it be played on a soft surface such as a tablecloth, encouraging the dice to turn over when hit rather than just skidding.

Joe seemed to have an innate talent for rolling matching sets of three ('volcanoes'), raced into the lead and never looked back. I had a brief moment of hope when I achieved the best combo in the game - a 'Big Eruption' with all 9 dice showing the same colour (pictured). This quadruples your scoring for the next two throws, but sadly four times nothing is still nothing.

It was already 9.30 and we were yet to start the main event! Joe has recently acquired the long-awaited 'Distant Lands' expansion for our old favourite Manoeuvre, offering four new armies with interesting new powers. I went for the Indians while Joe was keen to try the Japanese. Unfortunately, after several minutes of meticulously shuffling the freshly-unshrinked cards, he realised he'd picked up the Swedes instead so an unlikely battle ensued.

The new armies seem to have lower basic strength than the original ones but with a few tricks up their sleeves - my Indians could launch rocket attacks! I made a couple of positional blunders and Joe seemed to have the advantage in the midgame. We settled into an attritional battle, mostly managing to heal wounded units before they could be eliminated, and proceeding through our decks quite slowly.

The tide started to turn when I drew a handful of cards for an infantry unit which had spent the game so far hanging around lazily far from the front line. Now they charged forward and delivered an instant kill to one of Joe's units. We'd now made 4 kills each (5 is needed for an instant win) but our decks were also close to depleted, which brings the game to an end with victor decided by territory occupied. Neither of us could quite manage another kill and my slightly more advanced units gave me a tight 9-7 win.

The ladies still seemed to be happily partying so we finished off with Joe's Secret Santa gift Qwinto. It's another roll-and-write game and most similar to Qwixx. However, while the decisions in Qwixx often seem quite obvious, Qwinto offers a lot more freedom. You can start a row anywhere - not just at the ends, but it's still quite easy to box yourself into a corner later in the round.

Joe easily won the first as I ended it with a sequence of 'fehlwurfes'. The second seemed to go much better than me and we calculated a 79-79 tie until I realised that I'd added 12 points I hadn't earned.

Midnight was striking and it was time to call it a night - and Sarah reported they were just having the last dance too!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Lord of Mis-roll

I left my flat this Tuesday evening to the warm tones of Silent Night coming from a nearby group of carol singers. Nice of them to come out on the night of the GNN Christmas special.

I went to Joe's for a lift, and then we sat in traffic on our way to pick up Sam. As such, the three of us were the last to arrive at Adam and Hannah's, joining Katy, Matt, Martin and Ian.

First there was the little matter of the Secret Santa to settle. Everyone had bought a game related gift for everyone else, and we opened them in order of age, youngest first. We were all very happy with our gifts since they all seemed perfectly chosen for us. Even for the last minute entry, Matt, which required a slight change in the pattern of gift giving.

Ian's festive jumper won many admirers

After all that generosity, we all played a game together: Avenue. In this game, each player has a map (all identical) of grapes, castles and farms. As the oldest player reveals a card showing a road (straight horizontal, straight vertical and four ninety degree turns) which we all have to draw on our maps. The idea is to link the grapes to the farms and, eventually, to the castles too. But be careful! One farm won't score at all, so take care not to waste useful roads on that one.

It's like a simple Karuba but despite the simplicity, it caused anguish around the table. Katy was appalled to see that the last farm to score was the one she couldn't reach any more. Joe, in contrast, was only one tile away from connecting all of his roads into one long super highway (for grapes).

Joe 78
Andrew 66
Martin 63
Sam 61
Hannah 58
Ian 58
Katy 55
Matt 42
Adam 41

After this was a break from gaming for mince pies and the Quiz of the Year. Sam was quiz creator and question master and the teams were Joe, Martin, Katy and Ian against Hannah, Adam, Matt and me. Since I had written most of the blog this year, it was considered only fair that I should be partnered with those who hadn't been able to attend.

Katy didn't realise mince pies had been served
until there was only one left.

However, my spotty memory was no match for the other team who had, after all, actually been there.

Katy, Joe, Martin, Ian 22
Adam, Hannah, Matt, Andrew 17

Next, we split into two groups. Katy, Ian, Martin and Sam chose The Quest For Eldorado while the rest of us played Zendo.

It was the first go on Zendo for everyone except Joe who talked us through the rules. It's basically a game of Spot The Rule, communicated through the medium of coloured plastic shapes. We played for three rounds. Adam won the first round, with Matt guessing right in the second.

Then disaster struck! As a bag of salty nibbles was passed across to Matt, his bottle of beer was knocked over. Quickly, we leapt into action, saving the rule book. Then we realised that, since all the pieces were plastic, the game itself was waterproof.

All we had to do was dry it, so Hannah got out the salad spinner and we put all the pieces in there. Despite several brisk spins, each piece still needed some personal attention so we spent a little time drying them off one by one.

And after all that, Hannah correctly guessed the rule!

The people on the big table were still playing Quest For Eldorado so we tried Joe's secret santa gift of Qwinto. This is a roll and write game whereby you have to right the results of some rolled dice along one of three rows. Each row has to contain values that increase from left to right. Complete a row and you get a number of points equal to the largest number in that row. There are also a few columns to complete, too. You must write a number on your turn, but can choose to pass on other players rolls. If a player completes two rows or goes bust four times, the game ends.

Since each roll can be used, there’s always something you need to be aware of. As such, I preferred it to other roll and write games. But my warm feelings for the game were nor reciprocated, as I ended the game with four mis-rolls giving me –20 points in the final reckoning. It would’ve been a whitewash if I hadn’t kept rolling eights.

Andrew 63
Matt 63
Hannah 40
Joe 39

Eldorado had, by now, had the shit quested out of it, with Martin getting there first, fighting off a late burst of activity from Ian and a machete-weilding Katy. Sam was only a couple of hexes further back, too.

1 Martin
2. Ian and Katy
3. Sam

So we were all together and a final game of 6nimmt was enough to persuade Hannah to postpone her bed-time. In a display of festive cheer, we also invited Dirk to join us. This loose cannon is always good for a chuckle or two as he either falls on his sword or pushes someone else into danger.

In the first round, Dirk ended with 39. Martin had 22 and I felt obliged to point out that he was the worst sentient being in the room. Ian scored only two in round one and then finished round two clear of any points at all! Adam and Sam were struggling and Sam reminisced about when it was usually him or Adam who won. Sam managed to get through round three with only a single point. Adam did not fare so well. He scored over twenty in each of the three rounds, leading me to dub him “The Human Dirk.” My, I was in a feisty mood this evening!

Ian 24
Andrew 30
Sam 37
Matt 38
Hannah 39
Martin 45
Joe 46
Katy 48
Adam 65
Dirk 80

And so we were off. Full of the joys of the season, with happy memories of mince pies, festive jumpers, wet plastic and mystery presents. Big thanks to Adam and Hannah for hosting and see everyone soon!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Best Games of 2017!

You know the rules. They don't have to be published this year, just New To You.

I just browsed through the last year and jotted down all the new games worthy of consideration for my own top ten. Ended up with quite a few...

Many of them I didn't want to leave out. But for brevity's sake, let's keep it to ten. I found myself adding extra criteria (different types of games) just to help me make a decision though! Starting with three who have to be here on account of getting played so many times it seems weird to leave them out.

1. NMBR9 - the vertical version of Take it Easy. Always guaranteed some swearing. I rarely play a game by myself, but I kept doing so with NMBR9 - I found it addictive. Easy to teach, quick to play, zero set-up. Lovely.

2. Flamme Rouge - a hit with almost everyone who played it. Always enjoy this game and love the way the play genuinely resembles a race: to break or not; if so, when? Pushing on will tire you out, and someone far ahead at the halfway stage is usually caught as they run out of puff...

3. Near and Far - this is the game I play a lot with Stanley. It's very simple to teach and the mechanics by themselves are a reasonably streamlined get-stuff-to-do-stuff. What elevates it into the ten is partly the story element: not as absurdly silly as Arabian Nights, but fun all the same. And partly - mainly - its presence here is down to the joy I've had with Stanley.

The Euro. Let's get it out of the way. I really enjoy Clans of Caledonia but for it's big, bizarrely abstract great behemothiness it has to be...

4. A Feast for Odin. When I first played it I thought Uwe had had some kind of episode, but I then I found myself wanting to play it more and more. Until I played Adam.

The co-ops. Not a massive player of co-ops, but I think I will be hanging onto...

5. Black Orchestra. Perhaps not as elegant a design as Pandemic, but Andrew and I have really enjoyed playing this. Like Lord of the Rings, it suffers from the actual moment of victory or defeat not quite having the fireworks that the rest of the game does, but I like it all the same.

6. Flipships. Just genius. We played it again last night. As with Lost Expedition and Insider, I'm grateful to Flipships being a game (little) Joe asks to play.

The (other) silly one.

7. Polterfass is one I'm always happy to play and just about bumps Auf Teufel Komm Rass.

The wordy one.

8. Montage just sneaks in ahead of Paperback and Movable Type, even though I am shambolic at it. All three are great.

The hidden identity one.

9. Chameleon. I love Insider too, but Chameleon avoids some of Insider's occasional lop-sidedness, where the Insider can win just by being quiet.

The new one.

10. The Quest for El Dorado. There had to be a new one! And it was this or Azul. Though I have also been enjoying losing at Stanley to Pulsar 2849 and been impressed with the beige-looking Council of Four.

Bubbling under:

Voodoo Prince, Jorvik, Eggs of Ostrich, Hit Z Road, Ethnos, Kingdomino, Downforce, Alchemists, maybe even... Time of Crisis?

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Those Sassy Sassanids

The semi-regular Time Of Crisis crew met up on a chilly Friday evening with one change to the usual line-up: Sam replaced the otherwise engaged Ian. He’d played on the very first game of Time Of Crisis, back in July, but not since so he needed the occasional pointer and rule-refresher in the early stages of the game.

In round one, everyone played the usual hand of three blue and two red, to get a second province. Everyone except me. I played two blue and three red to buy an expensive governor and build a new army. “How odd,” said Martin.

Before the game, I had decided that my previous failings had been due to me treating ToC like a war game, building up a base from which to attack others. But, after last time when Martin went from almost no presence on the board to Emperor of Rome in one turn, I decided to be less concerned with defending my governors. Thus, when I had to place one, I didn’t put it next to my starting province of Thracia, I put it in Brittania.

This annoyed Martin, since he was about to go in there. Oh well, I thought, he can do that and I’ll get my governor back to put somewhere else. Thus I filled my hand with blue cards for voting purposes. Unfortunately, although Martin tried to unseat me, he failed by rolling two ones. This meant he didn’t get Britannia and I didn’t get my governor back. Suddenly all my blue cards were looking pretty useless.

Sam, in North Africa, was about to attack Zinobi in Egypt when he drew an Event card that gave both sides in a battle one extra hit. Since Zinobi already has three dice of her own to roll against any opponents, she suddenly became too powerful and Sam turned his attention elsewhere for now. Egypt, meanwhile, attracted more Nomads and, in time, fell from Sam’s control back into neutrality.

Joe occupied Asia and Galatia and sent an army into the Sassanids to attack the barbarian hordes slowly building up. But he could only manage a draw, and came away with no points. He continued to do this for the next round, again with no joy.

At 9.25pm, almost ninety minutes into the game, Martin become Emperor of Rome.

Sam then drew an event card that removed all active Sassanids from the board, leaving Joe’s army alone in the Golan Heights looking for someone to fight. Then Sam finally did away with Zinobi (much to Martin’s relief, too, since she reduced support in Rome).

Joe, deprived of enemies, headed into Sam’s Syria to attack some Nomads there. His dice-rolling was haphazard enough that the dice kept bouncing out of the dice tray, and had to be rerolled. After all that, he could only manage another draw.

I, meanwhile, had a quiet game, picking up points for my improvements and going from not being able to buy cards at all in the first two rounds, to being able to buy 3-value cards. Luckily for me, everyone else had terrible luck with the dice, so that many of their plans were ruined. In this way, I remained either first or second for the first half of the game.

Sam killed off those pesky nomads in Egypt and, by 9.50pm, Egypt was finally free of barbarians. In Syria, Sam used a Foederati card to recruit a lone battalion of Nomads into his army there. Alas, those were the Nomads that Joe wanted to kill for points. Once again, his hapless red army was left fruitlessly scanning the horizon for people to fight. Instead, he built a Basilica in Asia. Something for his exhausted armies to admire when they finally returned home.

The Nomad tribe recruited by Sam before Joe had
a chance to kill it

Martin and I fought in Gallia, since I was keen to reduce his presence on the board before I stood for election in Rome. Sam failed to become Emperor, so he took out his frustration on some Nomads instead. Joe finally got a kill in far off Brittania.

I then attacked Martin’s army in Rome. I did’t wipe it out, but I did win the battle, forcing him out of the capital. I now needed just two votes and I had eight dice to do it. I considered splitting my dice for other purposes, but finally decided against it. I wanted to be Emperor, and nothing else really appealed. Eight dice for two votes might look like overkill but I was glad I did it when I saw that, among those eight dice, I rolled four ones. I so easily could’ve failed. I am crowned Emperor at 10.25pm.

My Empire!

Martin took my now-undefended Pannonia and then, on a whim, tried to take Asia from Joe. He needed four votes and, with exploding sixes, quickly got three. He rolled his last die: it was a one. Martin failed, much to Joe’s self-righteous relief. After all the bad luck he’d had until then, he said it was only fair that he get a bit of good fortune.

Sam then swept aside two Sassanids and their leader, and was looking very strong all along the coast of Africa. He then announced that his next hand was “the crappest hand I’ve had all night.”

Barbarians swept into Galatia, bypassing Joe’s army still camped in their homelands. His army now looked like someone who’d turned up at the wrong place for a party and was stuck on its own, painfully aware that all the action was happening somewhere else.

Martin failed to unseat me as Emperor. “Well, fucking fuck,” he said in disgust. Sam, though, used a Pretorian Guard to take over in Rome and at 11.05pm, the third Emperor was crowned!

Joe mobilised two armies to fight the barbarians who had now reached Asia, but neither won. At this stage of the game I was on 59 points and desperate to become Emperor and trigger the end of the game before my bloated deck of cards could slow me down even more. Alas, my hand was not suited to a quick counter-coup against Sam.

"Endless manoeuvres in East Asia," says Martin.
"Sounds like a Genesis album," remarks Sam.

On his next turn Joe decided to go for all out war, but he triggered an event: Bad Auguries. This reduced all Roman dice rolls in battle by one pip. More bad luck for Joe. He had more luck, politically, when he went for election in Pannonia and won. This weakened Sam in Rome and I was able to become Emperor again! Since I was starting player, my three opponents all have one turn each before the game ended.

Martin won elections in Thracia and Rome, but Sam had no blue cards in his hand. Instead he went fighting Sassanids and Nomads before building an improvement. A high scoring turn and enough to keep him ahead of me and Martin even after our bonuses for being Emperor.

Near the end of the game

Joe said he could see little point in taking his turn since he couldn’t improve on his position in fourth. We chided him into action and he won a fight against barbarians before making an attempt at being Emperor. He needed eleven votes and he had two dice. “My luck has to change,” he said hopefully. It didn’t.

Sam 73
Martin 70
Andrew 70
Joe 45

What a game! What a night! Congrats to Sam on his win, and commiserations to Joe on his constant misfortune. We’ve yet to have a game where there wasn’t one player in a distant last. Maybe that’s part of the fun?

Having fun.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

It must be LoV

Tuesday evenings are our weekly helping of jollity and humour, but it's also a chance to show off our tactical nous and this week saw a number of devilish moves that any strategist would be proud of.

At the start, there were six of us. Joe the host, Sam, Martin, Katy, Matt and me. Ian was expected later. The presence of Matt W prompted a little discussion about what happened to the other two Matts and some other fleeting visitors, and we considered the possibility that perhaps we aren't as much fun to be with as we think we are.

But we pushed such negativity aside and set up a six player game to occupy us until Ian arrived. We chose Auf Teuful Komm Raus as a jolly push-your-luck game.

Instead it was luck that pushed us around. Devil after devil came out in round one, much to everyone's surprise. We had to keep assuring Matt (playing his first game) that it really wasn't like this usually. Round one ended with five of us occupying the lowest space on the score track. A shocking situation. The one player who wasn't stoney broke was Matt, whose inexperience actually helped, since he didn't bid absurdly high.

Early Devils

We slowly dragged ourselves up the score track, with a bit of luck and a lot of advice to people who looked as if they might be about to stick too soon. Only Joe stayed mired in the lower reaches of the score track. His propensity for bidding as high as possible and then drawing a ten tile followed by a devil was remarkable enough for me to write it down in my notes.

Joe did enough to regain a little respectability but at the business end of the scoring, it was the dark horse, Matt, who stole the win from a confident Martin in the final round.

Matt 1640
Martin 1620
Sam 1540
Joe 1380
Andrew 1150
Katy 910

Ian still hadn't arrived, so we started a game of Funf Gürken, with the agreement that we just stop when Ian gets here.

This trick-taking game is all about not winning the final trick. Sam played it well, and was able to poison the well in the final hand by playing a 1 card. This doubled the penalty for Katy who won that hand, leaving her with Veir Gürken, only one off being eliminated.

Ian arrived during the next round so we finished up. Matt lost that round, just for the record, picking up two gherkins.

Now we were seven, we split into two groups. Sam, Martin and Joe were keen to play The Quest For Eldorado. On the other side of the table, since it was Ian, Katy and I, Lords of Vegas was suggested. A bit late to start, but certainly possible. Matt joined us on Sunset Strip. Matt had played before, but not for a while. I gave him a brief rules refresher, sure that once he had begun, it would all come flooding back.

Katy's early tactic was to get lots of one-tile casinos in order to push herself up the score track. But, as the cards came out, the four of us were very close early on. Interestingly (if you were playing, otherwise probably not) three Strip cards came out very early on. The first was drawn before anyone had actually built on the Strip!

Perhaps the pivotal moment was when Katy remodelled her two-tile casino (with a six die) into a silver, thus joining my silver three tile casino (with no six dice) to Matt's two tile silver casino (also with no sixes). Thus she had control of a seven tile casino. Albeit one where she only had one die. She needed it to pay out before Matt reorganised.

Katy's audacious move

It didn't. And that seven-tile casino became a major point of contention between Matt and I with Katy always hopeful at every reorganisation. Always hopeful, but always disappointed. Matt had major analysis paralysis when thinking about whether to add a neighbouring one-tile casino to the melee before a re-roll or after. In the end, it became a nine-tile casino under Matt's control. Katy's lone die never posed a serious threat to the issue of ownership.

So, since I had shared the management of a large casino with Matt, we had pushed ahead, the two of us trading blows while Katy and Ian remained stuck.

Eldorado ended much closer than the previous game. Sam had clearly learnt from his last game when he slowed down in the middle of the board. He arrived first with Martin hot on his heels and Joe not far behind.

1. Sam
2. Martin
3. Joe

Since we were still knee deep in Vegas, they began a game of Azul. I know little about this game, except for Martin complimenting himself when he said “I made some really good piles.”

But it was, once again, Sam who made best use of Martin’s piles. His victory was large enough that Martin and Joe discussed where they went wrong. They decided it was when Martin tried to stop Joe and, instead of trying to stop Sam, Joe turned on Martin. This left Sam largely unaffected and able to do whatever he wanted to do. It looks like he wanted to humiliate his two opponents.

Sam 75
Martin 46
Joe 38

In Lords of Vegas, their was also a certain amount of spoiling tactics. Katy tried to sabotage me, with the logic that I wouldn’t be able to respond until three more cards had been turned over. Ian, by rights, should’ve been doing the same to Katy, but he had other plans.

Ian and his plans

He built up a healthy and unchallenged five-tile purple casino in one corner in only one turn and then he fought over a six-tile brown casino with Matt in the other corner. Suddenly, his fortunes turned. The brown casino paid out twice and then the Strip paid out for the final time. This sent Ian from grim third into a slim first place right at the end, despite Matt’s ownership of the nine-tile silver casino on the strip. Ian’s huge reserve of cash was the tie-breaker. An astonishing comeback.

Ian 32 + $64m
Matt 32 + $29m
Andrew 29
Katy 16

Katy’s distant last place was due to her green casino not paying out at all. In fact, once the game had ended, I looked through the remaining cards to find a lot of greens and a fair few silvers, too. The results could’ve been very different.

Now we were all together again and in the mood for a seven-player game to cap off the night. We chose a three-round game of Take It Easy. Thanks to Joe’s two copies of the basic game, all seven players were easily accommodated.

Sam began, choosing sitcoms as his topic for calling out the numbers. This showed his age as the younger (relatively speaking) players claimed no knowledge of sitcoms like “Robin’s Nest”. At the end of this first round, Sam found himself in a healthy first place. I languished in last, with less than half of Sam’s 205 points.

Martin took the second round with the topic “sub atomic particles”. I think it was during this round that the phrase “I’m still intact” was devised to describe a player mat where no lines had been broken. A very useful phrase, and one that was well used for the rest of the game.

I had a better second round, lifting myself out of last place. But it was a brief respite. Joe hosted the third round, with the topic of “Cartoonists”. There was a recurring theme of people needing a tile that had already been played. The English Language needs a word for this feeling.

What is Martin trying to say?

I had a terrible last round, leaving me nailed to the bottom of the results. Back in fourth, we had a rare example of a tie in Take It Easy. But Sam, on the other hand, had built upon his early lead.

Sam 622
Ian 483
Katy 473
Matt 429
Martin 429
Joe 403
Andrew 376

And so we were done. All that was left was for everyone to make Katy nervous because we’d all sorted out our Secret Santas and she hadn’t.

See you all next week for the Christmas Special!