Sunday, 17 September 2017

Lost Causes

Saturday games began early yesterday, with Andrew and Ian rocking up at 6pm as Stan and I set up Clank! for a four-player. We'd already cranked out a game of Railways during the afternoon...

 Going loco

During which I raced off into an early lead thanks to grabbing all three of those point-scorers: four different cubes, delivered, three-link delivery and so on. In fact I was at one stage about twenty points ahead of Stan with less bonds, but as my goods dried up on the east, his bigger network on the west starting paying out big. I held on for the win, but in the end Stan had ground his way back to a two point deficit. 

Back to Clank! I played this a couple of weeks back with Adam and Hannah and we'd really enjoyed it. And I played with Stan with similar results, although I'm not sure it's best as a two-player really. The game is like a card-drafting version of Incan Gold; grabbing what you can and hoping to get out before you're knocked out by the dragon. 

forgot to take pics of Clank, so here's Adam again

Ian decided to get out early, and put the pressure on the rest of us - once one player leaves, everyone only has four turns left to do the same. This strategy worked for Adam, but it proved Ian's undoing: despite numerous dragon attacks, the clanking cubes coming out of the bag didn't stop us all reaching the surface. There was only one winner though:

Stanley 94
Sam 79
Andrew 70
Ian 64

We all liked it. Next up was a quick blast of Lost Expedition. This can be played as a head to head game or a co-op, and the six of us combined into a three-player version. It's a pretty simple game of trying to make your way to the Lost City of Z - following the footsteps of the explorer Percy Fawcett, whose recently inspired the recent film. (Though there is plenty of doubt about the film and Percy himself, as this somewhat huffily worded critique points out). 

In the game everyone plays cards which form a 'hike' - one in the morning, one in the evening. How you negotiate each hike - from left to right - dictates your progress, as many cards have mandatory events, but also opportunities to manage both your resources (health, food, ammunition) and the hike  itself (adding/discarding cards). You begin with three explorers but only need one to reach the city in order to win. 

But a combination of my desire to push ourselves quickly along the trail, and Joe killing off Roy (the only explorer with the specialist knowledge we needed at a crucial moment!) meant we failed three-quarters of the way!

Ian, Andrew, Stanley, Joe and Sam: lose
Peer Sylvester: wins

With our leafy graves assured just as Andy walked through the door, the boys were packed off to bed and we perused the Alcove of Joy. Much muttering was heard before we finally agreed to revisit Lords of Waterdeep. It's been a long time, but we were all familiar enough with it - bar a couple of rules-checks - to include the Skullport expansion. 

Andrew rocketed off into an early lead, before we caught him up and - occasionally - overhauled him. Ian began to regret his big-quest strategy early on, as the rest of us were ducking and diving he was stoically left to collect adventurers - or cubes, as everyone but me insisting on calling them. Despite Andrew's healthy lead I felt pretty confident at this stage - I had the fewest skulls, and planned to play an Intrigue card in the final round to make having them even more punitive for the others. My only concern was Andy, who seemed to be collecting numerous Arcadia quests and chaining them in classic Bate style. 

Then Andy allowed everyone to return skulls to the corruption track and my plans suddenly didn't look remotely effective any more. I'm not sure what happened to Ian - he said he was coming last from about the sixth round - "just like my life" - and he was right: 

Andy 123
Andrew 109
Sam 100
Ian 81

Sticking with the Old School, we then played Poison. Once upon a time this was the GNN go-to filler, but it doesn't come out the box much these days. 

Maybe because the box is something of an artefact itself, with Berger artwork from that classic sitcom Games Night. Andy hadn't played it before, but that didn't stop him taking us to the cleaners on his very first round, scoring a measly two points. I had to draw on all my Knizian powers/luck to pull this one back from the dead:

Sam 15
Andy 17
Andrew 20 
Ian 28

With the time now gone ten, we finished off with a recent classic - NMBR9. I love this game, but despite my many plays I made a humdinger of an error - leaving a space for a 9 where I could only actually place it the wrong way up. I wasn't alone - all manner of swearing made its way around the table as the game entered its final furlong. But Ian shucked off his three last places to claim a very convincing win:

Ian 81
Andrew 76
Andy 68
Sam 60

And that was that! 

Oh, except to say Stan and I played Steam Park on Friday night. This is a dice-rolling, funfair-building game where what dice you roll dictate your tactics for the round: you want to build and attract visitors, but visitors bring dirt with them, and too much dirt at the end of the game will get you hit with huge fines.

Circular dirt, bottom left

In the midst of this simple roll-to-build thing though is a race: everyone rolls simultaneously and as soon as you're happy with your dice you grab the first (or second, or third) player marker. Finishing your dice rolling first gets you the bonus of removing dirt - and if you're last to finish, you add dirt instead. 

This can be really brutal in a two-player game, especially your opponent declares themselves happy with their very first roll. I wasn't sure how I felt about it, but I can imagine Katy getting a kick out of this one. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Nicht noch einmal!

This week's GNN was looking to be reasonably populated, only for work and weather to cull us back to five: Ian was first in out of the heavy rain at my (Sam's) house, followed by equally sodden Martin and Katy, before Joe strolled in looking catalogue dry. The evening began in most un-GNN-like fashion as we sat with Sally and the boys chatting and eating apple pie, almost as if there were no games to be played.

But there were, and our plans of Clanking or Rocketing (Stephenson-wise) were abandoned for some five player options: we started with The Chameleon, the cross between Spyfall and Codenames.

Like Spyfall, cards are dealt during each round that denote who the chameleon is, whose task to A. not reveal themselves and/or B. work out what the word of the round is. The other cards and a set of dice decide on the word, which is one of about 16 visible on a face-up card - and the visible words are of a theme: animals, music genres and so on. Everyone but the chameleon knows which word is the chosen one, and after a short period of "thinking time" everyone says a single, ostensibly related, word. Then everyone discusses and guesses who the chameleon is. If they choose wrong, the chameleon wins. If they choose correctly, the chameleon can still win by identifying the word.

 chameleon not pictured

The latter was the case for us half the time - in all but one round we nailed the chameleon, but half the time they guessed the word anyway - like Spyfall, you're trying to give the impression you know the word without actually giving it away to the chameleon, and we were being rather obvious. In the final round I was the chameleon, and I decided to go fairly random and just say the word "Orange", hoping to bluff my way out of it. But as luck would have it, I was last to speak and the other words revealed to me that the correct word was Christmas. I stuck with orange, happily remembering that oranges - or satsumas, as Joe correctly pointed out - appear in stockings. Thanks to kismet and some vague words from Ian and Katy, I pulled off the only outright chameleon win of the night!

We moved on to the meat of the evening, which was Beowulf. I rarely request this but I always enjoy it, and last night was no exception. The very first bid turned into an epic battle where everyone felt too committed to drop out, and as a result cards were a scarce commodity from early on. Joe and I both took scratches and wounds, but I managed to pick up a couple of scrolls as well, whereas Joe was bereft of them.

Oh, Beowulf

Ian and Katy both managed to build themselves enormous hands of cards at some stage, whereas Martin and I seemed short of them. Halfway through I sensed it was a battle between Katy and Martin, as Joe looked to be struggling still and Ian seemed too forlorn - but I had forgotten that is merely Ian's natural demeanour.

But spare a thought for Martin, who gallantly reminded Ian in the final, epic battle - where both of them successfully risked into existence numerous cards - that when Ian's risk finally failed him he had a special card to play that negated the risk and allowed him to go again. He did, and it proved a crucial moment in determining the victor, as Martin's risk response did not fare as well:

Ian 28
Katy/Sam 26
Martin 23
Joe 14

Martin's successful risks weren't quite enough...

After the tension of bidding in Beowulf we went for a different kind of tension: bidding in Perudo. This perennial classic showed all its qualities - apart from the Calza rule - as we bluffed and brinkmanshipped our way through another twenty minutes of GNN history. Despite Joe's death spiral, it was Martin first out as the others shed dice down to palafico status and I somehow held on to all five of mine. Ian and Joe soon exited too, although my dice were depleted by the time I faced Katy thanks to two moments where I wanted to call Calza (and would have been successful) but had to raise, and was successfully dudo-ed.

It was now a face to face between Katy (one die) and myself (two). I rolled a 4 and 6 but bid one 5, hoping Katy wouldn't bid a single six. It was risky, but it paid off as she went one ace and I dudo-ed her out of the game.

Despite Joe, Ian and I agreeing we were collectively 'pooped' Martin corralled us into one more game, which was Noch Mal ("Again" in German), one of Joe's roll-and-write purchases that have been making their way to the table recently. I was curious, since I really like Rolling America and Qwixx, but was less impressed than everyone else by Kribbeln. It was new to everyone but Joe and Katy, but the game is pretty simple: six dice are rolled - three numbered, three coloured - and then the active player chooses a combo of colour and number to cross off boxes on their Noch Mal pad. All the other players then choose one of the remaining combos for themselves, with the caveat that if they can't cross off adjacent boxes exactly (i.e. they can't access those boxes from previously filled ones, or they don't have enough space) then they can't cross off anything. Players completing a column or all the boxes of a particular colour score points, and certain boxes are minus points if they end the game un-crossed.


I thought it was a decent game, but compared to Qwixx or Rolling America it did seem to go on for a while; long enough for some to feel it out-stayed its welcome somewhat. Everyone eventually ran out of the helpful 'joker' spaces on their pads, meaning there were turns were you could do nothing but stare balefully at the table. I think a second play would change a number of tactics and alleviate this, but I didn't get the impression it would get played again soon... Ian hated it so much he lost all his powers of arithmetic and thought 12 + 2 was twenty.

Sam 22
Joe/Katy 18
Martin 16
Ian 14

Early-game boxes. Note that columns further from the centre 
(where you must start your box-crossing) score more points. 

And everyone - bar me - stepped into the windy night. Despite the underwhelm of Noch Mal, a very fun evening. Thanks all!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Crisis? What crisis?

The third evening in GNN’s accidental games weekend took place at Joe’s and saw a rematch of Joe, Martin, Ian and myself over a hot game of Time of Crisis.

Storm clouds brewing

We began at 7.40, and decided to roll two dice to see who would go first. We all rolled eights. Clearly the omens for an evening of peculiar rolls were strong. Joe set off on his audacious new plan of trashing a card on his first go. It looked like being a mistake as his army-less Pallonia swiftly fell to an invasion from Ian and his early options were limited.

Martin began in Africa again, and clearly was making preparations for a pretender empire. I had a lot on my plate as I began in Syria again and the previously docile Sassanids were suddenly very active.

Of course, the benefit of barbarians is that, should you beat them, you get a lot of points. I had some luck with my dice, so I was able to keep knocking them back. But the real lucky dice belonged to Joe who became Emperor of Rome by getting three votes with just one die: a six, another six and then a four. People kept saying how audacious it was, but the audacity and historical importance seemed to be lost on Joe’s family who continued to drift in and out of the kitchen as if nothing had happened.

Ian fretted as he was now a firm last place with no clear path to victory. Or even to a respectable third.

The other notable event was the large number of notable events: that is to say we kept rolling sevens on the crises rolls, meaning that a new card was turned over from the event deck. We were worried that our game would be curtailed too soon because when that deck is exhausted, the game ends.

However, the sevens seemed to peter out and the game continued as normal. Joe, by now, had his feet firmly under the table at the Senate but he had to deal with mobs and his shrinking number of provinces. Martin set himself up as a Pretender in Egypt, thus robbing the Emperor of even more of the benefits.

But that ruined my plans, too, as I wanted to be Emperor and with a Pretender on the board, there isn’t much point. So I steamed across the Mediterranean and attacked him in return for Joe placating the hordes of barbarians in Syria with his Tribute card. This plan was carefully worked out between us while Martin was on the toilet. I reckon real politics is very similar.

Ian was now rock solid in Eastern Europe and had been picking up points by invading the barbarian regions when he revealed a hand containing nothing but fifteen red action points, with a card that allowed him to use them for electioneering purposes. He became Emperor of Rome and then had an epic battle against some barbarians whose exploding sixes whittled his four-legion army down to one wounded (but victorious) legion.

Martin’s game was very swingy. He went from Pretender to real Emperor and then fell right back to only having one province. As the game drew to an end, Martin had an eye on Rome and Spain and he had twelve dice to do it with. He needed six votes in both and, amazingly, he got five each time. Not a single six in any of the twelve dice he rolled. His hopes of a last minute boost up the score track were dashed.

By now Joe’s lead was insurmountable: he’d already passed the 60 point mark and all he had to do on his go was become Emperor and the game would end.

As it happened, Joe rolled a seven, turned over an event card and it was the Diocletian card and the game ended anyway. Joe had won, and in some style. He wasn’t convinced by his opening tactic despite it ending in victory. I might try it, though.

Joe 68
Ian 54
Martin 48
Andrew 42

All told, it took about four hours, as we ended at around half eleven. Totally worth it, and each one of us had at least one moment when our plans worked perfectly, along with the many moments when they didn’t.

But we hadn’t finished the whisky that Joe had generously poured us, so we ended on Kribbeln.

I rolled twenties early on, Ian picked up eleven points in round two alone but it was mostly Joe and Martin in their dice-rolling pomp. Das Exclusive deserves such displays of luck as the two locked horns. They couldn’t unlock them again by the end, though, and the tie-breaker couldn’t separate them.

Joe 26
Martin 26
Ian 17
Andrew 13

What a night, ending at 24 o’clock according to Joe’s oven. Cheers all.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Glen More and More

Chippenham, Friday night, and Paul Jefferies had made the long trip from Croydon, eager to play games. I made the much shorter one from Bristol, and Chris had to go nowhere - except to collect me from the station - as he was hosting.

Ashton, also hosting!

After a scrumptious roast courtesy of Jacquie, and some catching up, it was time to get down to the serious business of playing Glen More, our starter for the evening. We had nearly finished playing a rule slightly wrong when Andrew arrived, and saw enough of the play and general confusion to pick up what was meant to happen.

Me (blue), jumping rather far ahead

The conceit is we are competing clans in the Highlands, building a landscape of tiles, and the turn order is - like Tokaido - determined by who is the farthest back on the path. Jump far ahead to juicy tile and you're gifting other players more turns. But on the other hand, in the end-game scoring it pays to have taken the fewest tiles. Placement is key, as well, and it has a quirky scoring system. I enjoyed it a lot, but unlike the game with the rules played wrong, I didn't win:

Chris 56
Paul 44
Sam 43
Andrew 38

The Chief Chieftain now crowned, we travelled continents to another earlier time: Ninjato. This mash-up of Stone Age and something else I can't quite think of sees you raiding houses and claiming ownership of clans by bribing envoys.

Creeping around on Ninja toes

It's a slightly chaotic looking board when in play, but the mechanics are simple enough to get your head around. I put my regular thrashings by Stan behind me with a win this time:

Sam 118
Andrew 91
Chris 75
Paul 72

By which time the ale and crisps were freely flowing, except for Paul who was trying to shake off a cold. We inducted him into Barenpark, which is a game almost made for Paul.


Whilst Chris took early digger tiles and Andrew fretted over his tessellation skills, it was looking like a fight for first between Paul and I - or so I thought. But as it turned out, I wasn't really in contention:

Paul 93
Sam 79
Chris 71
Andrew 69

There was just time to, as Andrew put it, "squeeze out a quick NMBR 9" before we retired to bed. Chris ran out a comfortable leader this time, as the rest of us cursed our lack of elevation:

Chris 83
Sam 73
Andrew 57
Paul 53

And with that, the curtain fell on Chippenham for another night. Thanks all!


Friday, 8 September 2017

The Art of Noise

Thursday night games! Adam and Hannah were the hosts, and I (Sam) was the guest. The first point of order was to change my clothes, as I had come straight from football and was drenched. That resolved, we stepped lightly to the Games Cupboard and debated our choices. It quickly narrowed down to either Tinner’s Trail or Clank!, which I had brought along, and Hannah plumped for Clank over TT.

I went through the rules and we set off. In Clank! you’re racing around a dungeon trying to emerge victorious by having the most treasure, which comes in the form of artefacts and gold, (many cards also score points). It’s a deck-building game, so you’re improving your cards as you go, and they have three currencies: skill to gain more cards, travel to navigate the dungeon, and swords to deal with any lurking monsters. 

The dungeon, Easton

Which all sounds very generic, but the clank of the title is the noise you make that puts you in dragon-related peril. Whenever you play a card that makes clank (it’s a noun as well as a verb) you have to place a cube of your colour on the Clank! area - and when the dragon attacks all these cubes go in the bag, before a certain amount (it increases as the game goes on) are pulled out. If your cubes are among them, you take damage. 

That's clanking!

That's clank!

That’s basically it - there are some other frills on the board that can help you and cards that can hinder, but the gist of the game is grab loot and get out. The getting out is also pertinent though, because as soon as one player returns to the surface (getting a Mastery bonus for doing so) there are only 4 turns left for the remaining players underground to try and make the surface, and in each round the dragon attacks again!

Adam chickens out whilst Hannah and I are stranded

This endgame was pretty tense. Adam was first to the surface, and Hannah and I had to dash back as quickly as we could. I made it thanks to a fortuitous deal of the cards, but Hannah was blasted to unconsciousness by the dragon. Adam!!!!

Adam and I are safe, whilst Hannah (red) is one cube from comatose

Because she wasn’t in the depths - the lower part of the board - she could be rescued and score her points. But she missed out on the Mastery token, and as a result, finished third behind me. Adam was first!!!

Adam 105
Sam 92
Hannah 73

It was really fun. Very silly, with no dice-rolling but a genuine push-your-luck feel throughout. The best treasure is down deep, but then you have further to get back. If you do trigger the endgame, you need to be confident you’re going to outscore your opponents. And the dragon attacks are laced with tension, because you really don’t want your cubes to come out. Like Hit Z Road, I found myself rooting for Hannah to make it. 

Thanks guys - thanks for bailing me out with T-Shirt and socks too!

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Fun lovin' Kribbelners

This week saw the well-oiled machine of GNN execute a pin-point 180 degree turn as initial host, Adam, had to hand over the duties to Sam at the last minute. Well, at the last couple of hours or so, but you get the point.

This left Sam fretting as the change in venue sparked off a number of late cancellations. Did this mean he wasn't popular? But in the end the exodus wasn't as big as he'd first thought and eight of us were in attendance tonight.

We started as a four: me, Sam, Ian and Joe. We began with Animals On Board, joking that just setting the game up would set off the doorbell. It did, and it was Martin.

Animals was replaced by Abluxxen. Early on, Sam asked if a hand full of different numbers was bad. Martin confirmed that it was.

The game ebbed and flowed, with Ian surprising us all by putting down a trick with three jokers in it. That was quickly abluxxed by Martin, if I remember right, which might have been the key move.

Martin 21
Sam 11
Joe 11
Andrew 5
Ian 5

By now, Adam, Katy and (after his cameo last week) Steve had arrived. The eight of us split into two groups of four. I pointed out Ponzi Scheme in Joe's bag, and a triumvirate of eager players volunteered themselves. I'd been keen to try it, so I happily joined them.

The other four went for The Networks. The game of schedule planning for a cable TV station. Or something. I understood very little since, from where I sat it was a long way away and upside down.

Ponzi Scheme, though, was much nearer. And the right way up. Unfortunately, I didn't understand it either. The rules are simple but the gameplay can be very opaque. Trying to work out a value for industry tiles in the trade round is a bit like licking your finger and holding it in the air. Not much to go on.

Joe stated he just wanted to stay solvent until the end, since that had never happened before. Katy bought industry tiles with glee, insisting I take a photo when she had three of three types.

Martin had loads of tiles and then, the next time I looked, he only had a few. Possibly due to the large number of "bear markets" that were triggered, meaning we have to lose a tile.

But Katy couldn't sustain that level of tile ownership and I felt less than inclined to try and extend my game any longer than necessary, so we ended up failing simultaneously. Martin won, despite Katy buying a tile off him to try and get Joe to win, but Martin's had a huge reserve of cash which got him four points. It was enough to give Martin another win.

Martin 8
Joe 4
Katy and Andrew BUST!

I found it all a bit dull. It was as if I was playing a game of Mornington Crescent, were people ostensibly follow some rules, and then there's a big reaction at something, the joke being that nothing has actually happened. That's exactly how it felt. Can't see me playing again. Pity, but there you go.

The Networks was still underway, so we brought out Polterfass. Clearly not my night for bluffing, mind-reading type games.

Surprising final round, though, with Katy and Martin poised to win. Katy, the customer, had 72. Martin, the barkeep, had 70. Katy only had to bid three and hope for a return, and then she'd win. But she bid zero, expecting Martin to be a mean bartender and not roll again, hoping to take advantage of Joe or my greed. She was half right. Martin didn't roll again, leaving eight pints to share. But Joe and I bid only one! No one went bust and Katy rued her choice. It was enough to give Martin another win.

Martin 76
Katy 72
Joe 50
Andrew 18

The Networks was still being played. In fact, by now, they were all standing up and checking the rule book. Serious stuff.

We went for Kribbeln, the game where Martin cocks a snook at Lady Fate and gets away with it. We all said his second Krib of 34 was a mistake, but then he pulled at 35 out of the bag in the later stages while the rest of us struggled in the high twenties and low thirties. It was enough to give Martin another win. (I should probably just have that sentence assigned to one of the F-keys on my keyboard. It would save a lot of time.)

Martin 25
Katy 19
Joe 17
Andrew 17

Finally, The Networks ended and we could clear the table (leaving behind one purple cube that no one could identify the source of). The game ended:

Adam 253
Sam 251
Steve 247
Ian 227

The eight of us played a rousing game of Pairs. Well, not really. My game slump continued, even in victory. I was on 14 points when I managed to fluke a first place, getting me eight points and pushing me past the 21-point mark. A huge anti-climax: I hadn’t even realised I was close to winning. The other notable event was Adam deciding to stick after he'd only been dealt one card (got him five points, though).

Andrew 22
Katy 15
Joe 14
Martin 13
Ian 11
Sam 11
Adam 10
Steve 8

Then the Eastonites left en masse, leaving the rest of us for one last game. Since I’d had such a poor evening, they let me choose the final game and I went for Unearth. But even then, I failed to get very far.

Sam 28
Joe 21
Katy 17
Andrew 16

Not a great night for me but I’ll write this off as an aberration. There’s always the weekend!

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Sho' Nuff

With last night's Shogun still tingling my brain, Stanley and I cranked out a game of The Networks this afternoon. The idea is we are running competing TV channels, and choose shows to fill three slots between 8pm and 11pm, raising both cash and - crucial for winning - a larger audience share than your opponents.

My channel was VCK

Abetting this shows are adverts or stars that will garner more audience or cash, and there are also Network cards that are essentially McGuffins - a little fillip here or end-game bonus there. 

I'm wary of games that pass themselves off as funny, but to be fair to The Networks it makes no claim of being 'hilarious' but did provide some comedy - at one stage my channel had An Hour of Shouting at 9 and Get To Know Your Lower Colon at 10.


This goes on for five seasons as your older shows lose audiences and get consigned first to reruns, and then the archives. Twas ever thus...

I'm currently the undefeated Cube Quest king in our house with something like ten victories in a row, but I simply can't defeat Stan in anything heavier than that, it seems, and he trotted out with a debut win:

Stanley 140
Sam 136

It was a lot of fun. I would happily have played again, but Stan had been pushing for us to play Shogun, so after tea we sourced a 2-player variant from BGG: where some areas are uncontested and both players take two special cards, instead of one. Other than that though it was much the same deal (except we played the rice rule correctly this time) and with the rules fresh in my mind I explained them a little more clearly today!

Black cubed areas remain off-limits

Too clearly, perhaps. Competitive dad came out and I really wanted to win this one, but I was defeated by both tactical play on Stan's part and a couple of awful cube tower moments that had me cursing Dirk to the skies. At the end of the first year I led by a single point, but Stanley's blue armies were amassed and ready to attack.

Winter isn't coming

We broke for tea, and realised we were being watched through the window by a snail.

Then the second year commenced, and we went toe to toe. I thrice pulled out the attack-with-a-single-army manoeuvre but though it did thin Stan's forces out, it wasn't enough. And in the autumn of the second year I stupidly didn't bother picking up money, forgetting - somehow! - that I needed it to build buildings!

A couple of tactics worked well - while Stan was busy in the middle of the board I claimed majority in castles around him. But my forces kept being attacked and the game ended with a convincing debut win from the boy. 

Stanley 41
Sam 35

Another whupping

I think I may leave it another four years next time.